On Feb. 5th Donald Maass wrote an engaging blog post, The New Class System, on Writer Unboxed, about the current state of the publishing industry that has people talking. It views the publishing industry as a hierarchy.
The beauty of metaphors is that they they allow us to look at something more closely in a slightly different light. Lets look at what he said:
It’s not a Publishing Revolution – It’s an Evolution
“… the new electronic “paradigm” is not the glorious revolution that true believers would like it to be. What’s happened instead is an evolution of the publishing world into a new class system, and like any class system it has winners, losers and opportunities. “
On the bottom is the “Freight Class”
“Self-published authors and electronic micro-presses must haul themselves. While the means of production are easy and low-cost, the methods of marketing are costly either in terms of cash or time. Success is rare. The pleasure of being in control is offset by the frustration of “discoverability”. ”
“…it is an ocean of genre imitations if not amateurish writing. Freight Class novels generally take few risks. Too often they rely on character stereotypes, heavy-handed plots, purple and obvious emotions, and messages and themes that are time-worn.”
In the middle is “Coach Class”
“Here we find decently-written literary fiction and nicely-crafted commercial fiction that achieves print publication but sells best at trade-paperback level ($14.99 or so), or discounted in e-book form. Coach Class novelists support each other yet find it difficult to gain a foothold with the public.”
He says the quality of the writing is more engaging, and, “Coach Class authors, however, are professionally edited and get goodies like nice covers, ARC’s, and plenty of blurbs. Plus, their books are in bookstores, a big boost in visibility.”
On the Top is the “First Class”
“The cream class gets a double shot of extended life in bookstores, both in hardcover and later in paper. Their books can sell well at $25 and live long in trade paper. For First Class authors, success looks effortless. Goodies accrue easily. Recognition is instant and wide. Sub-rights sell. Awards happen.”
“First Class writing makes us whistle in admiration. Characters are not only likable and self-aware, but also follow a singular destiny. First class novels shake our way of thinking, challenging us to see the world in new ways. They confidently break rules, may transport us to unlikely cultures and times, teach us things we knew little about, and always feel utterly unique. Each novel creates its own genre. First Class fiction is imitated but never matched. Its authors are revered and for good reasons.”
And Why is this Important?
While rigid class structures can feel like prisons, this one can be broken out of. Maass says, “You don’t need a phony revolution. You can change your class by yourself, right at home, one keystroke at a time.”
My Three Cents…
1. Maass is right in wanting us to aspire to be great writers, not just mediocre ones. Isn’t that what we all want.
2. Yes, it is disconcerting that mid-list writers have to spend so much of their time editing, marketing and self-publishing…but that’s the breaks.
3. Whether you call it a revolution or an evolution doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about change–rapid change. And we need to adapt to it as best we can.
I like Donald Maass’s article. I think he makes some good points and delivers them in a powerful way.