Donald Maass's Disturbing Metaphor - Jo-Ann Carson

Donald Maass’s Disturbing Metaphor


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.

Your turn. What do you think? Painful Evolution or Glorious Revolution?

4 Replies to “Donald Maass’s Disturbing Metaphor”

  1. I still haven’t read his article itself but I have read responses he’s posted in response to writers who have been his client. It’s very apparent when he replies to the individual writer that it’s not quite so cut and dried. He clearly likes and admires one of them and feels she has the skills and energy to do well as an indie as do Joe Konrath and some others.

    He wasn’t able to get them from Coach class to First class although, at least for the one writer he did at least try. Indie is clearly working best for her.

    Break out novels are a rule unto themselves but many of the writers haven’t it hit it out of the ball park on the first trip out and I believe publishers will continue to pay authors such as Amanda Hockings as well as writers of books such as Fifty Shades to cross over to traditional when the market demand is there.

    So really for writers I think you write the best, most creative work you can and hope there’s a market for your book at the end.Oh, to have a crystal ball!

    1. Hi Pat
      Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.
      I love your last line. All we can do is our best and cross our fingers. And oh I’d so like a crystal ball.
      Best Wishes

  2. I, of course, do have an opinion.:) I agree that we all want to write those words and phrases that catch a reader up and swing them through the story. But I’m telling you, those are not always found in those $25 works, Maas seems so fond of. They can just as easily be found in the paperback novel. When he talks about the “Freight class” novels, some of those are published by large publishers, and they specifically want the stereotypes and set in stone plot. People like to read those and many of those authors are making a pretty penny.
    Should we all work to do a better job? Absolutely. But when he talks about the top tier novel and says, “Each novel creates its own genre.” Well, no, not if the author want to be pubbed by one of the big 6 who only want safe books. You’re much more apt to find cross genre books from those small e-pubs that Maas puts down. A little truth in advertising here: I’m pubbed by one of those small e-presses, so I’m probably a bit biased. 🙂
    Last comment, promise. It is important that as authors we look at the business of books and become aware of what’s going on. I heard an author talk once who said it wasn’t an either or situation. You needed to be ready to do all three: small press, self-pub, and big publishing house. That’s what she was doing and she was making a bundle. Thanks as always for a an intriguing topic.

    1. Hi Marsha
      Love love love your first line. You’re right, some of those $25. books do stink! I paid big bucks for a book in New York from a big author expecting a big read and couldn’t get past the opening. The cost of a book does not dictate it’s worth.
      I love your idea of having a finger in all the different publishing venues. I’m all for being a hybrid.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and adding to the conversation.
      Traffic is particularly light today. I figure people are busy with love, and that’s find with me.
      I’m going to go start our special dinner. Happy Valentine’s day.
      Best Wishes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.