Wednesday, April 04, 2007

If a book gets published, and RWA doesn't recognize it...

I'm sure you follow the rest.

Yes, in my second post on the RWA (that's Romance Writers of America, btw *wink*), I'm going to bore all you non-RWA people by discussing publisher recognition. Because I've been hearing a lot about this, and (surprise!) I have some opinions on it.

These are the current standards for publisher recognition (to view them in situ, as it were, in the issue of RWA E-notes I took this from, go here and scroll down a bit):

To be an “RWA-Recognized Publisher,” a publisher must be a royalty-paying publishing house that (1) does not offer is not a subsidy or vanity publisher contracts to RWA members, (2) has been releasing books on a regular basis via national distribution for a minimum of one year, and (3) has sold a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies in any other format, including print on demand, of a single romance novel or novella or collection of novellas in book form, in bona fide arms-length transactions, and continues to sell a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies in any other format of a subsequent romance novel each year.

That's it. Those are the standards. What this means, my lovies, is that many epublishers are not recognized (among them one of my own publishers, Whiskey Creek Press-Torrid).

What that means to the authors who write for those publishers is that they cannot join PAN, RWA's Published Author's Network. PAN benefits include things like first pick at editor/agent pitch meetings at RWA conventions, being able to attend the PAN retreat (which I envision being a bit like a summer camp, with lots of pillows and a fireplace, and a bunch of ladies in pajamas toasting marshamllows and discussing passive voice), co-op promo activities, and, according to the PAN page on the RWA website, "other activities designed to adavcne the professional interests of PAN members."

All of which sounds pretty good, right? But hardly stuff worth losing sleep over.

I'm not a PAN member myself, although I've been provisionally eligible since April of last year and fully eligible since December, when Black Dragon released. So perhaps my view is biased. I am eligible. I've not bothered to send in the form to become a member. Which makes me lazy. I readily admit that part of my general contempt--or rather, my disregard--of RWA is because I haven't bothered to get all I can from it. I never joined my local chapter in Florida, for example, and apparently it's the local meetings that most members find beneficial. I am a member of Passionate Ink, which is the online erotic romance chapter of RWA.

And that's where this is coming from, really. RWA is currently not accepting any more publisher applications for recognition, while they decide if the standards need to be changed (read: should it be harder for publishers to get recognition?).

Yes, it should.

See, a lot of epubbed writers feel really hurt by RWA's refusal to "acknowledge" them as published authors. And to some degree, I'm with them. It hurts to work hard for something and think you've acheived it, only to have the professional organization to which you pay not-inconsiderable dues every year doesn't think your publisher is good enough for them to send you a little gold pin and let you into the slumber party.

But this shouldn't be about feelings. It should be about careers. It should be about A) reaching a certain level of proficiency; and B) making sure the publisher you're selling your work to is really going to allow you to make any money. Seriously, y'all, I've read some books from smaller, newer epublishers. They are not all the same, and the books are not all what I would consider ready for publication. Should we start allowing anyobdy to say they're a publisher, and get recognized? Should we start allowing Publish America authors to join PAN? Should RWA, one of the largest professional writer's organizations, start recognizing fly-by-nights and scammers, giving author mills their approval, just so the scamees can feel good about themsleves? No matter who else is hurt by that recognition?

1500 books or 5000 ebooks is all well and good...for one title. Just because a publisher is capable of selling that many copies of one title doesn't mean they're capable of selling that many copies of all their titles, though, or even a decent percentage of their titles. Selling a book to an RWA-recognized publisher should be a big deal. It should mean the writer can have some expectation of decent earnings. It should mean that the publisher will automatically:
--Make the book available on time
--Make the book easily available to potential customers, either by adding it and the author to all search engines on its website, or by putting it in the print catalog and working to make sure bookstores order that book
--Provide royalty statements
--Provide professional editing, not just copyediting and spellcheck
--engage in at least some form of promotion, even if that promotion is simply announcing releases on its site and Yahoo group and sending copies for review.

It should mean that an author can reasonably expect that the publisher has the clout, either online or with bookstores, to sell a reasonable number of copies of the author's book. An average, if you will. Not just one book that managed to meet the goals, but a lot of books.

Those standards are there to protect authors, not to denigrate them. No publisher should be RWA recognized if it's publishing books that sell copies in the single digits. It simply shouldn't happen.

See, this is where I think making RWA recognition such a big deal, such a be-all end-all in people's eyes, has seriously backfired. Publishers are now so eager to get the recognition that they focus on meeting that goal, and on no other (IMO). And a lot of books, a lot of authors, are getting screwed, either by being ignored so the publisher can focus on those books, or by simply thinking they've got a shot at making real money, finally--at least enough for a really nice pair of shoes, if not more--only to discover that their publisher is not what they thought. That the hits aren't there, the interest isn't there. It's not always the fault of the publisher. Some books are hits, some are misses. But an RWA recognized publisher should at the very least be giving each book an equal shot. They should have the juice to do that.

Because if they don't, being recognized means nothing. And it should. Because if it doesn't, the writers whose feelings are hurt are right--it's just a way to be mean to them and exclude them.


Bernita said...

Excellent post and analysis, December!

Sonya said...

Yes (to echo Bernita), excellent post, excellent points!

Though I have to admit, it would be interesting to see RWA accept PublishAmerica as a "real" publisher. Talk about making yourself a laughingstock...

And knowing about all the fun you've had with certain publishers doing certain things (we won't name names) these are very valid points. I hope RWA does put more stringent guidelines down.

Rebecca said...

yes December - a most excellent post - and you've made some truly spot-on points :)

Robyn said...

You are spot-on. These things should be part of your decision when submitting, no? If being with a recognized RWA publisher is that important to me I will only submit to those houses, not protest outside the gates that RWA is unfair. Yeesh. RWA membership is voluntary, right?

Sam said...

I'm not a member of RWA (too expensive) but it's good that they are trying to look out for the authors of romance books. I know that at the sci-fi association it is even tougher for publishers to get recognition, for example.

Ann(ie) said...

I'm constantly amazed at the author vs author mentality. There's a real bitterness from authors who aren't recognized by RWA to those who are, and I've seen a number of ugly, envious posts on the subject. Such folk seem to think it's all about exclusive without addressing any of the points you make about publisher quality.

December Quinn said...

Thanks, Bernita! It's always nice to hear you think so--your good opinion is so valuable. (Which, like all sincere compliments, sounds sarcastic when written. But it's not meant sarcastically.)

Exactly, Sonya(!). While contracts have nothing to do with RWA recognition--and I don't know if I think they should or not--recognition should confer at least some promise of earnings. That's what the guidelines were originally there for.

Thanks, Rebecca! I'd love to hear more thoughts on the subject, too!

December Quinn said...

Thanks, Robyn, and yes and YES. Nobody HAS to be a member of RWA--honestly, once I had a sale or two to put in the bio part of my queries, I stopped even mentioning RWA membership on them (which maybe I should, I just honestly forgot and don't see why anyone cares if I'm a member anyway.)

Wow, Sam, I always assumed somebody with as many sales as you was a member! But you're right, at the SFWA rules are even stricter...and they should be. I don't know a lot about the SFWA, but I think RWA could learn something from some of the things they do--lists of bad publishers, for example.
I don't even want to get into the gender split between those in charge at RWA and SFWA and what that says...which I never noticed before and is gonna bug me now.

December Quinn said...

It's terrible, isn't it Annie? Cutting off their noses, you know.

Of course, not I'm off to hunt for ugly, envious posts...:grin

Anna J. Evans said...

Hey D,

I agree with all that stuff you said. I've been PAN for awhile, and so far...well, it's nice to have the little red tag and all but it's not such a big deal. I think it's important for our trade organization to work for the best interests of all their members--as much as is possible--and I agree that tougher standards could help accomplish that, no doubt.

It isn't about competition, or that people who are working with a PAN publisher are 'better' in any way than those who are not. It's about trying to protect all of us as we do our best to not only get published, but be able to afford those shoes you were talking about :).


December Quinn said...

That's exactly it, A, it's not about competition or who's better, it should be about helping all of us, and about being supported by our organization. I read a great post from last year about this that I'm going to link to tomorrow, I think, which basically says what I said, but more in-depth and less ranty. :-)

Jules Jones said...

With being primarily an sf rather than a romance person, I think in terms of the SFWA guidelines, and I do think the RWA guidelines could do with tightening. But I get very irritated with the way they go about it, because it always comes over as moving the goalposts to keep out the riffraff authors, rather than a genuine attempt to look at what makes a press professional. When you get things like "trade paperback" being redefined in such a way as to exclude a particular publisher, it's hard to believe that it's accidental or that it's purely about professional standards, especially after the nonsense a couple of years ago about explicitly trying to exclude erotic romance and gay and poly romance.

There's been a fair bit of discussion about SFWA's recognition criteria in the wake of John Scalzi's campaign for president, and one of the things people have been discussing is that they're all about whether the *publisher* is professional. Is it being run in a manner that suggests that the people involved have the cash flow and experience to make money over the long term by selling books to readers? That's one of the reasons for the clause about book publishers paying a significant advance on all new books. Paying real advances, and doing it over a long period, makes it clear that the publisher expects to sell enough copies to get the money back.

Something that was clearly about making sure that a publisher has the ability to put the books out there and get them sold in respectable numbers -- I'd be fine with that. But RWA's past history of attempts to exclude certain groups for political reasons means that I'm always going to wonder whether something that has a disproportionate impact on those groups has completely pure motives.

My publisher is a small press by SFWA criteria, and I'm fine with that. Small press is not an insult in the sf genre, and there are some very highly regarded small presses. What I would have an issue with is it being redefined out of RWA recognition by changes that are aimed more at keeping out The Wrong Sort Of People than a serious look at whether it's competent at selling books. Because the latter is supportive of authors, and the former most certainly is not.

BernardL said...

Anything keeping your name out there in public view, whether it be joining an organization, blogging, or commenting in different venues, is a very good thing. This marketing your work through name recognition is a cheap form of advertising, and pretty effective. All of your points are valid, but it all comes down to how many times you can get your name out there. I used to think the writing and editing were the toughest part of this gig. After reading all the hoops you published writers have to jump through after selling your work, I've revised my naive conclusions. :)

December Quinn said...

That's a really good point, Jules, about making the rules both tighter and more fluid. You're right, they do go about it badly, which causes even more hurt feelings and anger.

And yeah, it shouldn't be about genre, it should be about professionalism. I've thought they might do a private, anonymous survey of the authors--but that creates its own problems, doesn't it? :-)

Thanks so much for the insightful comments!

December Quinn said...

Yep, Bernard, sadly it's the promo part that's really hard these days. Especially if you're not really comfortable with promoting yourself in a mercenery way like that.
I ttally admire writers who can do it, and I try...but I'll never be a pro at promo.

Arin Rhys said...

Well, there is no point in getting a gold star, if the gold star doesn't mean anything. I support tightening guidelines, but I wish the RWA wouldn't do it in such a catty manner . Romance is moving and changing, and it seems like the RWA is using their guidelines to try and stop the tide.

Great post as usual. You put me to shame. I blogged about scrunchies. :/

Serena Joy said...

I don't know much about RWA or the Romance genre in general, but your analysis of the situation is very logical and educational.

December Quinn said...

That's so true, Arin, and I wish I knew why. I think the problem is their attitude as a whole, and it seeps into the guidelines question. But I also think some of this may be leftover pain and frustration from the Taylor Quinn debacles, because it seems to me--and this is strictly my opinion--that the new RWA leadership is more open than the last.

Nothing wrong with blogging about scrunchies,!

Thank you, Serena Joy. I appreciate that.

ERiCA said...

You're not a member of your local Florida chapter?? (Yes, I know... all that rant, and I choose to comment on one random line. *g) Whereabouts are ya? If you're near Tampa, come over to the TARA meetings--we don't bite. Hard. ;)

December Quinn said...

Well, Erica, unfortunately I don't have a local Florida chapter anymore--I'm an ocean away now in England. I did live in Ft. Lauderdale, which I think may have been part of the reason I didn't go--there didn't seem to be much happening down South.

If I hear anything about anyone in the Tampa area afraid to go to a local meeting or unaware of TARA, though, I'll refer them to you?

Isabella Snow said...

I didn't know Loose Id wasn't recognized when I signed with them. Now they are and it's nice for them, but, again, eh.. what's it mean?

I'm not really the slumber party type.

I'm the chick who soaked your jammies and then woke you up and asked you why you wet yourself.

I don't think I'd fit in.. so it's just as well I'm not a member. I surely don't care if the author's I read have joined or not.

If I like it, I read it.

Anonymous said...

Many of us current and former RWA members are pubbed with small presses. More than a couple of them have been very burned while trying to achieve "recognition" status...this sort of treatment gets around, IMO, amongst the small presses. One does hear horror stories like the small press who met the standards with a single title, only to have RWA raise the floor-number and disqualify them.

I'm currently anticipating my 5th published novel and no matter how many I sell, I won't qualify as a "real" author--just ask my chapter mates. That's part (not all) of the reason I quit RWA and won't go back anytime soon.

Life's too short and I'm busy writing & doing promo.