Author, agent and blogger Donald Maass has written a nice post about what he describes as the new class system in publishing that’s developed as the industry has moved forward. He does not see an industry of dinosaurs slowly being replaced by the plucky mammals gaining evolutionary dominance.
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. It’s a system that, if not recognized for what it is, will trap frustrated writers in a pit far more hopeless than the one they yearned to escape.
Maass breaks down the “classes” of authors into the very understandable “first class,” “coach” and “freight,” best defined by their status, quality and available opportunities in the publishing industry. He goes on to describe the limitations inherent in these classes, the obstacles faced by an author hoping to move up to the next level.
It has a lot of similarities to the description of the “publishing castle” that I’ve used for years, to illustrate a system where a publisher acts as final say over publishing—the king, as it were—and immediately circling this royalty of publishing control are the cherished favorites, the knights and other rich or popular royals, whose accomplishments are lionized by the royalty, and whose works are immediately recommended to a populace all but coerced into supporting the status quo.
Below them, but still in the castle, are lesser figures and talents who have managed to enter the castle under accomplishment, hook or crook; and having gained access, now enjoy some of the benefits of castle life. They often spend more time kow-tow-ing to the kings and royals than the amount of benefit they gain from the relationship; but it’s still better than being outside the castle, digging in the mud to support the king.
And therein do we find the bulk of the talent (or lack thereof), outside the castle and hoping to find a way in. Outside, life is tough, opportunities are scarce, and even the smart, strong or lucky can be cut down by unfortunate circumstances, or simply never given the opportunity to prove their worth. Though some may almost miraculously gain access, most will never enter the castle and gain its benefits, no matter what they do. Maybe a few will manage to leave their lot, and find another location where they can shine… but more likely, they’ll end up in the employ of another castle through which they are still denied entrance.
The choice of metaphors—Maass’ and mine—are clearly designed to suggest the hope/possibility of an eventual revolt of the system, a breakdown of the present feudal system and the subsequent installment of a new reality, a hopefully more equal state. Clearly this would please the many people on the outside looking in, and I freely confess to being one of those. (Of course, we all know that revolutions often result in new states as unequal as the previous state, just for different people.)
Being that Maass is an agent, I’m not sure how he really feels about the possibility or value of a revolution. All the same, I’d rather see the revolution come, as it’s my opinion that a shakeup couldn’t hurt.