The Hierarchy of Authors

It occurred to me recently that there seems to be a pecking order for authors. That some command more respect and admiration, or are considered more talented, than others.

At my first meeting at the writing group I attend we had a talk by one of the members. Her first book had been picked up by an agent and a bidding war had followed between two major publishers. She chose Harper Collins and was offered an advance and a three-book deal. Wow. I was pretty star struck, I admit. (I bought her books, by the way, and they were indeed extremely good. You could buy one here.)

I'm a published author too, but I don't have an agent, I didn't get an advance and Harper Collins isn't my publisher. I took a different route and was published by a small publisher serving a niche market. So while that still makes me a traditionally published author, it's certainly a step down from Michelle Cunnah's level.

A few people in our writing group are self-published authors. If you read my blog regularly you'll know that I change my mind about self-publishing as often as I change my clothes, but what it boils down to is that they have published without the validation of an industry professional prepared to invest in their work. So maybe that puts them another rung down the ladder.

And below them are the aspiring authors who are still honing their craft or completing their first manuscript and haven't been published at all yet. Yet. They aspire to the lofty heights of those who cling precariously to the higher rungs.

It's very easy to be in awe of writers who have huge sales, rave reviews in national newspapers, or are backed by big names, but I like to think that the work itself should be what authors are judged on. Yes, a lot of self-published books are put out which are really poor quality, but we've all read books by big name publishers and wondered why on earth some acquisitions editor or agent thought it was worth investing in. Who hasn't read a book and thought, "I can do better than this"? And there are many self-published books, or books put out by small presses, which are extraordinarily good.

If we're going to position authors on a ladder according to how highly we esteem them, then we shouldn't judge on their publishing deal, the number of books they have put out, their route to publication or even how many copies they have sold. We should admire them because we have loved their books, and recognise their talent and the work they put in.


  1. This is one thing I love about the Whitney Awards. So often the playing field in publishing is not level--a book from a huge publisher with a giant advertising budget is generally going to sell far more copies and be far more popular than a book from a small press or a self-pubbed book, even if the quality of the books is just as high. But with the Whitneys, books can be judged on merit regardless of sales figures. If you look at the lists of finalists and winners, there are huge NYT bestseller blockbusters, small press titles, and self-pubbed titles, all there together.


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