It happens everywhere in just about everything we humans do. A pecking order is established--someone or someones have to be on top, superior, which means someone has to be on the bottom--inferior, less than. I've been observing this in the world of publishing for a while now.
I looked for a definition of pecking order and here's what I found:
the order of power within a group; the order of power or importance within a group of people or animals.
In the beginning, to be a true author, you had to have an agent who represented you and your work to a 'traditional' publishing house and your book was published in hardback. You'd made it--you were an author. You were important.
Then small independent presses cropped up and writers no longer needed an agent to get their work submitted and, potentially, published. Authors who were published with the big 'traditional' houses said, "Wait, you're not an author. You haven't paid your dues. You haven't received enough rejection. You don't even have an agent." And, so, the pecking order began.
Enter the advent of e-publishing and ebooks. Small electronic presses open their doors and say, "Submit your book to us. You don't need an agent. If we deem your book worthy, we'll publish you electronically and, in some instances, even in trade paperback through print on demand. You'll receive editing services and professional cover art just like the authors with the big 'traditional' publishers. Was this true across the board? Not really. Let's be honest. Vanity presses began to offer major publishing deals that turned out to be fee-for-service packages anyone with a book could purchase. Some of the small presses and the e-publishers did and still do offer quality editing and cover art. Some do not. I know this because I've read lots of ebooks published by several e-publishers. Some are well done and others not worth the megabytes in terms of quality. Frankly, I believe the same is true with traditional houses, though perhaps less so.
And, now, we come to self-publishing. Anyone with a computer can publish a book. And, so, many do. Let's not forget the pecking order, though. Now those who went the route of small independent presses and e-publishers say, "Wait, you're not an author. Your work isn't vetted by a real publisher. It isn't edited by a real editor." There are a lot of complaints about the poor quality of some books that are self-published and how this avenue to publishing has glutted the market with poorly written and/or poorly edited work. With this point, I somewhat agree.
Quality is always of concern in publishing. With sixteen books published by three e-publishers, I recently stepped into the self-publishing arena. Gasp! I've learned a lot from that initial experience. Editing is essential. Good cover art is essential, but need not be costly. Some of my colleagues would say I've taken a step backward, should turn in my 'author card.' I'm a traitor to the profession.
It's probably a good thing I don't care that much what other people think of my choices. Here's what I know. I know that there are some very good 'traditional' (for lack of a better word to describe what has been called the 'big 6') publishers out there who employ professionals to take your book and make it into something as perfect and desirable as possible. I know there are small presses and e-publishers who do much the same thing on a smaller scale. There are also small presses and e-publishers who produce sub-standard work. I know there are writers out there publishing their own work without care or concern for the technical quality of that work. Not everyone can or should write a book. It is that simple. I know there are authors who are previously published with a publishing house who, for whatever reason (having more control over their work, reaping greater benefit with regard to royalties, expanding their publishing options), opt to self-publish. And they do it the right way by ensuring their work is edited and their cover art is professionally done.
The common denominator for every author today is Marketing and Promotion. I'm not the only nobody on Facebook or Twitter or other social medias pushing my books. I'm a nobody standing there alongside current and former New York Times bestselling authors who are doing exactly the same thing. Competition is a great leveler.
Those authors who self-publish find themselves, often, on the bottom of the pecking order. Is there a certain snobbery in publishing. Yes. It is true for everyone. No. At the end of the day, it's really just all of us chickens in the coop trying to hatch our next masterpiece.
Would it be fair for me to say that all authors who are 'traditionally' published by the big houses are snobs? No. Would it be fair of me to assume that all authors published by the small presses and e-publishers are there because they are 'not good enough' to make it to the bigger houses? No. Then how is it fair of anyone to assume that an author who chooses to self-publish does so because they're work is so bad, a publisher doesn't want it? It isn't. We do a great disservice to one another when we generalize and assume one's lack of ability, talent or, yes, importance, based upon the road they choose to get to the same goal.
I should add here that I am very happy for my friends who are published with the bigger houses and have agent representation. I'm equally happy for my friends who are with small, independent presses and e-publishers. And I am happy for those who have taken the self-publishing route and done it the 'right' way--meaning giving care and attention to the editing and cover art. I'm happy for myself that I've done both small press and self-publishing and plan to continue both. I've been blessed with some very good editors and cover artists, for the most part.