Publishing and Class

 (I was supposed to post this yesterday, but I was traveling.  Sorry, Marie.) 

So, I’m sitting here in sunny Italy, Tuscany to be precise, sipping white wine and chomping on wild boar while the rain pours down outside, and it occurs to me that one of the biggest differences between mainstream and genre is class.  Economic class. 

I’m thinking this because the villa I’m staying in is owned by a guy who used to be run one of the major publishing houses.  And one of the people I’m here with works for one, too.  And I’ve met several other people from publishing while I’m here, but none of them work for Harlequin.   

Or Tor.   

Or Daw. 

This is not surprising, when you remember the history of publishing.  Genre came from the pulps (I’m not sure about romance – the internet is down and I can’t do any impromptu research), which were never the reading material of the upper class, with the exception of pre-adolescent boys or James Tiptree (there are always exceptions to everything).  Mainstream book publishing, however, has a more genteel history, at least since the ‘20s.  Working at a book or upscale magazine publisher was one of the few acceptable jobs for a young lady of means to take if she wished to work before settling down to marriage.  And it was also an acceptable occupation for a young gentleman with an interest in the arts.  Book publishers have always paid horribly at the entry level, and the pay scale doesn’t tend to go up much either.  It’s only natural the business has always attracted a fair number of trustfundistas. 

The pulps paid even less, but, given the fact that they lacked the cache of working for Knopf or Farrar Strauss, and were written for an audience that hadn’t attended Harvard or Bryn Mawr, they attracted a different sort of employee.  A lot of them started out as fans, especially the sort of fans who ran fanzines out of their bedroom.  Not that the folks who work for mainstream publishers are any less enthusiastic about what they do.  They were just more sophisticated about their passions, ate at better restaurants, and wore better clothes.  They were likely to have had more expensive educations, too. 

I don’t mean to imply any moral judgment by any of this.  I am the genre writer who’s sipping wine in Tuscany right now, after all.  And I do think it’s all changing.  Who knows whether Knopf or Farrar Straus – or Tor – will even exist forty years from now. 

But I’m sure genre will be thriving.

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There are 3 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Tara Maya

    I think it’s true the entire purpose of High Art is to distinguish the high from the low. This is not to say that the non-rich don’t have unique and outrageous ideas, but without connections and money, those ideas are simply seen as weird and outlandish.

  2. 2. NewGuyDave

    I believe the last time we hung out we had Subway, so good on you for splurging. LOL

    I don’t know much about class, at least from experience, so I can’t comment too much today. *grin*

    Nice post, though. Thanks.

  3. 3. S.C. Butler

    Tara – I think it’s more than just the difference between high and low art. I think it’s also a matter of what interests people with different educations and backgrounds.

Author Information

S.C. Butler

Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.



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