A blog by horror author Brian Keene offering the most thorough explanation I've seen lately about the root causes of the death of the midlist:How the Mid-List Died
In brief, he blames "corporate stupidity" and changes in publishing. His overview gives an interesting brief history of those changes. He doesn't mention one other source of the problem, alterations in tax laws that made it more expensive for publishers to store large inventories of backlist books.
He discusses the importance of an author's having books available through online sales, independent bookstores, and what's left of the nationwide chains (if possible). That said, he pessimistically expects Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million eventually to go extinct as Borders and Waldenbooks did.
Here's Keene's follow-up essay on the practical aspects of diversifying as an author:Making a Living in a Post-Mid-List World
Again he emphasizes the need to avoid putting all one's creative eggs in the same publishing basket. No longer can a non-bestseller expect to earn a living wage by writing for one or two publishers, as Keene did at the beginning of his career.
He mentions that he started getting published twenty years ago; from this bit of data, I infer that he's younger than I am. When my first book was published (when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), I broke into the mass-market paperback realm by selling an anthology of vampire stories, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (you can find cheap used copies on Amazon), to Fawcett. In my early twenties, with no professional publication or editing track record whatever, I got a contract to edit an anthology—a type of book nowadays considered a very hard sell—for a major genre publisher. Not only that, I received an advance (in 1970 dollars) almost half as large as the one Harlequin paid me (in 2005 dollars) for my only mass-market novel, vampire romance EMBRACING DARKNESS (still available as an e-book).
Verily, the past is a different country.
Margaret L. CarterCarter's Crypt