A post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group
In February 2014, one of the best known American literary agents Donald Maass published an article in Writer Unboxed. In it, he discussed the state of the publishing industry as he sees it. Read the full article here.
According to Mr. Maass, writers now are divided into three classes. The lowest class, “Freight Class,” consists of self-published writers and writers with micro-presses. Mr. Maass has nothing good to say about them. They are a “nimble army of small, warm-blooded mammals whose claws are the sharp, smart, flexible tools of electronic publishing.”
The middle class, “Coach Class,” is… well, the middle. Better than the Freight Class but not by much.
The top class, “First Class,” is where all the bestsellers published by the Big Guns are. Mr Maass sings dithyrambs to them. “…fiction is characterized by memorable characters, unique premises, story worlds instantly real, plots that grip even when slow, gorgeous writing, and themes that surprise, challenge and change us. Not only do we read every word, First Class writing makes us whistle in admiration. Characters are not only likeable 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.”
I belong somewhere in between Freight Class and Coach Class. I have two novels published by Champagne, a small but respectable e-publisher, and I published a book of short stories myself. Do my books sell well? No. Everything Mr. Maass said about the marketing problems writers of the two lower classes face is true. Distribution and marketing (or rather the lack of both) is killing us.
Distribution is a friend of big publishers. “Like giant banks that have discovered that banking is boring and the real money is in gambling, big publishers are now free to focus on the high-risk/high-reward game of finding the next Twilight, Hunger Games, Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Are all the writers in the big league really as good as Mr. Maass claims in the quote above? Do readers “whistle in admiration” at Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey? No, not everyone, not even the majority of readers. Just the opposite. Cultured and experienced readers scoff at those books. Their commercial success doesn’t mean they have outstanding literary value, or any literary value at all. Still, their authors are First Class, while I’m Freight (or maybe Coach). Does it imply my novels are worse than theirs?
I have to say No again. Sure, some of the best writers in my genre are better than me. On the other hand, some of the recent hits are dismal in terms of characters, plots, or even editing, much worse than me. I’m somewhere in the middle, I think.
Why doesn’t it cheer me up? Because all the First Class stories sell by millions, while mine don’t sell at all, and I don’t have a way to change the situation. Nobody knows about my novels, even though I ‘m trying to market them. Could I improve the quality of my writing or my stories? Sure. I’m constantly learning and improving. Does it really matter? No, it doesn’t. I don’t have a way to move into First Class. I want to, oh yes. Everyone of us wants to; Mr. Maass is right about that, but his definition of the First Class is faulty. First Class isn’t about “gorgeous writing” or “themes that surprise, challenge, and change us,” not always anyway. It’s about stories that sell.
Alas, I don’t write what sells. I write from my heart. It should make me feel smug and superior, but for some reason, it doesn’t. Perhaps for my next novel, I should forget about story arch, hero’s emotional depth, and sentence structure and concentrate instead on what is selling: a tale about a shallow girl, preferably in bikini, and a hunky vampire. There’re scores of those in bookstores, where First Class resides. Would it boost me to First Class too?