Literary Hierarchies

Today is a good day. Snowy outside and nothing much else going on. Perfect for reading through Sugar Shack, deepening the third character’s pov, and giving the rest of the book a final polish. Really, not that much to do. The manuscript it pretty clean. I am even enjoying reading it. Again. I’m also excited to think about putting it out on CreateSpace/Kindle.

I’ve been talking with friends about this particular project and a few people have mentioned that self-publishing can be a handicap for a writer hoping to break into contracted work. I do know that. In fact, there’s a whole hierarchy when it comes to what kind of writing gets the most (and the least) respect in the literary world.

Vanity publishing is the worst. You pay someone to edit, market, and print your book.

Self-publishing comes next. Unless you’re doing a boutique type book of poetry or something similar, which has been done so often with now-famous writers that it has its own cache. With self-publishing you do the artwork, the edits, the marketing, the distribution. You only pay to have the book printed by a good company and the cost is far less than a vanity published work. I did this with my first book and made back the money I spent fairly quickly, because you don’t have to split profits with anyone.

Digital and POD (print on demand) self-publishing is next. That’s when you do all the work yourself, pay no fees, get no advances, and are paid only a portion of royalties. The amount of royalties paid is significantly larger than royalties with traditional publishers who pay advances. That’s what I plan to do with Sugar Shack. Why? Because I couldn’t sell it to a traditional publisher. My agent almost sold it to Harlequin, but when they ultimately passed on the project, and I revised the story for the single title market, she couldn’t get another house to even read sample chapters. But I love the story and believe in it and so that’s why I’m choosing this option.

Why not Digital First or ePublishing, which is next on the hierarchy? Most ePublising houses are interested in romantic erotica. The only one who even considers women’s fiction (Carina Press) won’t let you submit if you’ve got a submission into Harlequin, which at the moment, I do.

Next comes genre fiction, including romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy. 

After genre fiction, commercial, “popular” or mainstream fiction, including women’s fiction, is next.

Then at the top of the heap, literary fiction. How is literary fiction different from mainstream fiction? If you make too much  money, or stick to standard plot structures, you are “popular” or commercial. If you make hardly any money, and don’t really give a crap about plot, or do “interesting” things with narrative, you are literary.

There are exceptions. A few authors are genre and literary. A few are popular and literary. I’d say these books trump everyone else on the hierarchy as far as respect goes. The real money however, remains with writers of  “popular” fiction. The more popular, the more money.

So my thinking on this is, it’s all kind of junior high. Well, except for the profit part, which is important yet illusive for most writers. We write what we write. How it gets out, who gets it out, where it comes from, all of that is just kind of a gloss that some people take more seriously than others. When I first started writing, I had aspirations to be “literary” like Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman,  Margaret Atwood.

Selling a literary novel is the toughest sell out there. And also, I really don’t write literary novels. I write romance, fantasy, women’s fiction with a dash of romance. I can’t see why any editor would care if I love a novel I couldn’t sell and put it out myself on CreateSpace. What’s the big deal?

Which brings me to another writer discussion I was part of recently. What to write on blogs. We fiction writer/bloggers, so this discussion goes, need to be really careful about what we say in our posts. For example, maybe, since I have a novel at Harlequin, I should not say I’m doing another one for CreateSpace. Because of the “way it looks.” Because of, frankly, hierarchy.

Here’s what I think about that. I think I am so far down the totem pole it really doesn’t matter. And I doubt very much that Harlequin editors read my online diary entries. They are too busy reading manuscripts!


  1. You have done your research and are going into this process with your eyes wide open. I think there is more than one way to reach a goal and whichever path you choose will be the right one at this time.


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