Monday, June 3, 2013

Welcome To The Hierarchy

Many years ago, I attended my first writer's meeting. I was chipper and excited and raring to go, a typical newb. I knew nothing about the industry. I was still working on my first book, and trying to get the hang of POV and conflict.

It didn't take long for me to figure out a very key component of the writing industry.

The Hierarchy.

It wasn't just a group of like-minded women (and a few men) sitting in a room, supporting each other, offering advice.

It was a room divided.

The published vs. the unpublished.

The agented authors vs. unagented.

The romance writers vs. the erotica writers.

The print authors vs. the digital authors.

It never occurred to me, as a newb, to assign value to these things. Was a digital book less "valuable" than a print book? Did an erotica writer have less value than someone writing romance?

But I could see that these things were extremely important to many of the authors in this group. To the organizations we belonged to.

Perhaps because I started as a reader--a voracious, obsessive, 5-book-a-day reader--my viewpoint was totally different.

As a reader, I cared about one thing.

Do I like the book?

I didn't care if the author had an agent. I didn't care if the book was cross-genre. I didn't care if the writer was a man or a woman, self-published, made the NYT best-seller list, won an award.

Do I like the book?

I didn't care if it was a debut novel or the author's 27th book. I didn't care if the author had a website, or a Twitter account, or was fat or thin, or bitchy or nice.

Do I like the book?

Readers don't give a shit about the hierarchy. They don't give two shits about the hierarchy. Only the industry cares about the hierarchy.

Do I like the book?

The authors, and agents, and editors, and publishers, and publicity departments, and booksellers, and writing organizations, can carve us all up and assign us our niche and decide who has value and who does not.

But the readers--the ones who buy the god-damned books, the ones who belong to a book club, and recommend their latest fun read to the check-out girl at the grocery store, the ones who are the reason why we all write in the first place--don't care about the hierarchy.

Do I like the book?

That's all they care about.

Liking the book,


Katie O'Sullivan said...

Nice rant, Penny! You go girl!

Ella Drake said...

Well said.

Moira Rogers said...

Well said.


Very well said!

Scarlett Parrish said...

This reminds me of the Two Ronnie's sketch with John Cleese. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, DOOM ON YOU.

Anyway, yeah. Everyone needs someone to look down on. Hell, I was once told that ebooks weren't 'real' books. By an unpublished writer, who was knocked back by every agent she subbed to. I just told her the food and clothes I buy with my royalties seem real enough, so she could bite me.

'Cause I'm classy like that. And as far as I know, she's still unpublished.

There's also a romance writer who regularly has not-so-little digs at the Young Adult genre on Twitter, saying it's all sparkly vampires and Hunger Games rip-offs.

It amazes me how she knows, if she never reads the genre.

Me, I'm above all that. And I'm above everyone BECAUSE I'M THE BEST WRITER EVER.


Scarlett Parrish said...

Actually I'm a crappy writer because I put an apostrophe in "Ronnies" when it's a plural, not a possessive.


Phew. Don't think anyone noticed.

Penny Watson said...

Thanks, ladies!

Penny Watson said...

Scarlett...don't you hate that there is not an edit button for posts? Gah! It drives me nutty!

Also, I like your "I AM THE TOP OF THE HIERARCHY! BOW TO ME, MINIONS!" attitude.


Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Well said!

Tales of Whimsy said...


Denise Janikowski-Krewal said...


Anonymous said...

Great post, Penny. I have also found that the people most protective of the hierarchy are folks who've learned how things work in publishing but aren't yet published. I've gotten comments like Scarlett has from unpublished writers. Meanwhile I've met some writers who fulfill the highest level of hierarchy but are so supportive for newbies in any publishing path. But anytime you see someone on the offense like that, it's really a defensive move. Kind of like sour grapes, "Oh, I could've self pubbed or sold to a digital publisher, but I'm better than that."

I think once you actually get published, it levels out a little bit, because we all do play on the same field in terms of Amazon rankings, Goodreads reviews, etc. It really is just about the book, in the end.

Penny Watson said...

Thank you to everyone stopping by today!

Amber--I have a good story about that. At my first writer's meeting, I was sitting next to a very nice lady. She asked me what my book was about, and I told her. She was so enthusiastic and excited for me. She loved my story idea. Later I found out it was Hannah Howell! I had been chatting with Hannah Howell and I had no idea! She is a sweetheart.

I have great respect for all writers creating good work--and that includes published, unpublished, and those writing as a hobby. It doesn't matter to me. It's all good. :^)

Geekamicus said...

Like. Fascinating post and comments.

Do you suppose the self-imposed caste system is simply caused by massive insecurity? Are they waiting to "make it" so they can be magnanimous? Fascinating psychology.

I've seen similar attitudes with people who want you to know how much money they have and people who just happen to have more money than God. Mrs. Astor and Mrs. Hunt are lovely and dress in jeans. Joe Doyouknowwhoiam wears every expensive brand name and is an ass and he reminds you of that everytime he opens his mouth. (Ah, the things you learn working retail.)

Julia Barrett said...

OMG! You said it, girl! I'm so proud of you!

Unknown said...

I echo all the comments of "Well said!" and "Good show!"

Maybe I'm just too new to writing/publishing but I honestly do not see the upside in having a publisher or an agent. Would be interested if someone could explain this to me... If I can write my own books, create my own covers, manage my own publicity, identify/use a competent editor, and find support in my fellow authors then why do I need a publisher? EXPLAIN IT TO ME!!!

Scarlett "I just told her the food and clothes I buy with my royalties seem real enough, so she could bite me."


pamela1740 said...

Love this. I don't know if you puked it out or polished it for days, but it's wonderful!

Scarlett Parrish said...

Penny Reid - One must do one's best to amuse, mustn't one? ;)

And I blame Penny - you know, the other, horrible one with hair like a lion's mane*. I never used to swear before we 'met' on Twitter.

*I legit once saw her bite the head off a gazelle.

Penny Watson said...

Hey Geek. I think insecurity is part of it. For every colleague who is sincerely supportive and kind, there is another one seething with jealousy, and sticking pins in a voodoo doll with my head on it. ;^)

And I agree with your observation this is universal, and applies to many other situations. Folks like to know "where they stand"...and so the hierarchy pops up to clarify.

Penny Watson said...

Thank you, Julia!

Penny Watson said...

Hi "The Other Penny"!!!!---

Scarlett has a way with words, doesn't she? :^)

I can answer your question about needing a publisher/agent from one angle...for sure, I don't see the need in romance, especially if you have already established yourself and have a fan base. However, since I just self-published a children's book, I can see it is much more difficult to promote/distribute than a digital romance novel. In fact, I'm thinking about getting an agent/publisher for that book to increase exposure. I'm ruminating about it!


Penny Watson said...

Hi Pam! I try to "puke out" the blog posts as quick as possible. PUKE IT OUT! Hee hee!

Penny Watson said...

Scarlett...I told you not to tell anyone about the gazelle.

Anonymous said...

I've seen this hierarchy/class distinction aspect between authors everywhere I go, whether its online forums or traditional writer's groups. When I had the opportunity to Skype with one of my proofreaders, it clarified everything for me. There's only one group that really matters, and that's the readers. Everything else is negotiable.

Great post!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Edward! I now realize it "goes with the territory" of publishing, but I find it disappointing that our writing organizations/groups can't be more inclusive. The divisiveness is the last thing we need, IMO.

Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment!

Bill Peschel said...

The hierarchy exists because IMHO we have a natural desire to rank everything.

Doesn't mean we have to follow it, of course.

Otherwise, I completely agree with the idea that the book matters. Not the author's reputation. Not the marketing. Not the pretty shiny embossed cover. Not the Famous Author blurbs.

If the story doesn't work, the book doesn't work, and no pretty wrappings can change it.

(This also goes against nature. Studies on wine drinkers show that price and labels can affect people's judgment on the quality of the plonk they're drinking.)

Lena Goldfinch said...

Ode to Penny:

A woman who is a living example of someone who doesn't care about the boundaries or the hierarchies...
and is just herself:
a woman who loves books
and promotes authors--
no matter who they are.

You've been a good friend to me and many others in this crazy business. You have a heart of gold. :)


Penny Watson said...

Hi Bill! You're right. We like to put everything in its tidy little niche so we know where we stand. The problem with this hierarchy is once we jump up one step, there's another one, and another one. It's never-ending. Finding value in the work itself is a much better path to follow.

Penny Watson said...

Lena! Oh my goodness! No one has ever written me an ode before, not even hubby. Thank you!

It's true that I don't care what genre it is, who published it, if you're 10 years old or 100. If I like it, I'm thrilled. And then I like to blab about how great it is! I'm just a reading-obsessed, enthusiastic loud-mouth. :^)

Anonymous said...

Giving you a standing ovation right now. I hate to say it, but I see the same dynamic in my beloved RWA chapter. And the sad thing is that most of my fellow writers don't seem to notice. Because I am a huge reader too, I do the same thing. I'll read the back of a box if I think it's interesting. Very nicely said!!

Penny Watson said...

Hi Casey! I am sure this dynamic occurs at every RWA chapter, and even with writing groups that are not necessarily "industry-driven" but rather "craft-driven."

Barb Wallace said...

I can't believe I missed this post! As someone who spent 17 years on the unpublished side before crossing over, let me say it's nice to see someone recognize the divides on the other side. Of course some of this is the old guard not wanting to let go. And there's a chip on the new guard's shoulders that makes them very vocal. But you are so right - the reader is the bottom line. Don't know what inspired you, but rock on.