Have you heard of the Peter Principle? The Peter Principle is a little something I learned my freshman year of college. Unlike the 300 architectural elements I was required to memorize in Art History, the salinity rate changes due to climate change in Oceanography 101, and other pieces of academic history that at one time were so critical to passing or failing that I have since forgotten…the Peter Principle will not follow the same fate. For those that have not heard of this concept, the Peter Principle basically sets forth the idea that in any business structure incompetence rises. This is why upper management positions are sometimes run so poorly. “Frank” has been with the company for fifteen years, they can’t offer him any more raises, they’re capped on vacation time, so they promote him to a higher title. “Frank” may not have the abilities to effectively run a management position–he could have been perfect in his last position–but the Peter Principle provides this flow. Instead of ‘the cream always rises’ it may be the curdled sour milk. I’ve witnessed the Peter Principle in practice at different jobs I’ve had over the years, and I also see it now in publishing:
I see publishing companies sprouting up, claiming their prestigious backgrounds translate into their business…and their previous experience has little to nothing to do with publishing.
I see writers churning out books on topics they think they are experts in, then I see unsuspecting readers believe the author is an expert figure.
I see magazine editors poorly manage assignments, neglect to send contracts by proposed deadlines, and then journalists miss out on the work, editorial content lacks, and advertisers decline.
I see writers being pushed into non-writerly positions that not only frustrate themselves, but others.
What I don’t see too often in publishing are warning labels. (Yes, there are some great services out there like Writers Weekly’s Whispers and Warnings, and ASJA’s PayCheck [Members Only] that offer a heads up.) As writers we don’t have someone telling us to stop and question the integrity and experience of a publisher before we contract with them. With the rate magazine editors change, without an executed contract we have no way of knowing if our accepted query will truly translate to a byline and a check. Start questioning the individuals and businesses that may affect your writing career. No need to be paranoid! Just take a step back. Maybe ask them if they’ve ever heard of the Peter Principle.