People who complain about “the upper echelons of literature” being closed off to them, for whatever reason, strike me as a little bit old-fashioned, like they are trying to have a 1953 career in 2013. If I understand what they are complaining about correctly (they’re kind of vague), the “upper echelons” are the areas occupied by writers who publish in the New Yorker or Granta, get reviewed in the New York Times, and win the “most prestigious” literary awards and grants. To be in the “upper echelons” is to have the approval of a very small, very tony, very isolated and insulated group of upper-middle-class literati and publishing industry insiders. It’s a closed circuit: prestige comes from the approval of those in the upper echelons. The upper echelons have this power because they are prestigious. Their prestige comes from the approval of those in the … you get it.
In other words, the “upper echelons” are just another niche market, and not a very popular or vital one, especially now.
Back when a deal with a particular publisher, a positive note from a particular critic, or the engagement of a particular agent, could get you on The Tonight Show to debate ethics or economics or foreign policy with Norman Mailer and Charo, there may have been some value to getting yourself known in the old-fashioned back-patting boy’s club. Those kinds of appearances doubtless sold books. These days, you’re better off sucking up to reddit editors than New York Times editors — the former have more actual clout with more actual readers.