Friday, July 13, 2007

We Interrupt this Program

I planned to do a final "Choosing a Publisher" post today--on other warning signs that a publisher is losing its hold--followed by some exciting news for the rest of the summer Fridays. But I feel the need to post about this new RWA debacle, so I hope you'll all tune in next Friday for the Publisher post.

My regular readers know that for some time I've been vocal about the need for RWA to get much stricter about what publishers it deems "Recognized" or "Approved" or whatever. (here) for example). So it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I saw on Wednesday evening that RWA did just what I thought they should do...

Except, NOT.

On the surface, I agree with the changes. These are the new standards:

"After much research, member input, discussion and deliberation, the Board has determined that the blanket application of “Publisher Recognition” to allocate RWA’s resources is not serving its members, many of whom mistakenly perceive that RWA is placing a “stamp of approval” on these publishers. Therefore, the Board has examined its programs and services, item by item.

By substituting the word Eligible for Recognized, and limiting the scope of the term Eligible Publisher so that it deals solely with RWA’s allocation of its programs and resources, primarily at our national Conference, the term and concept of “Recognized Publisher” no longer factors into PAN and PRO eligibility, the RITA and Golden Heart contests, RWR content, and many other sections of our Policies and Procedures Manual.

Commencing with RWA’s 2008 National Conference, for official publisher participation, a romance publisher must verify to RWA that it: (1) is not a Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher; (2) has been releasing romance novels via national distribution for no fewer than three years, with no fewer than two full-length romance novels or novel-length romance anthologies published in each of three consecutive years; (3) provides per book advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays all authors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500.

A Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher means any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the cost of production or distribution in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishers who withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishers whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site; publishers whose list is comprised of 50% or more of its books written by authors who are principals in the publishing company; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates."

The business of the advances has angered and upset quite a few epublished members. Since most epublishers don't pay advances (and the one who does, Samhain, pays, I believe, $100 or so), this new standard automatically excludes all epublishers. While this doesn't please me entirely, I'm really okay with it. RWA should be making sure the publishers it allows to solicit authors at its convention are able to provide a decent amount of money to authors. This is a step in the right direction.

Personally, I think an epublisher should be able to prove average earnings of over $1000 or $2000 per book, and thus still be eligible. It's all about the money, or at least it should be.

So this is good. I like that they're trying to provide for their members.

The problem, the shameful problem, somes in their definition of Subsidy/Vanity publisher. Did anyone catch it? It's this line here:

publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site;

Which basically means, every epublisher.

This apparently caused quite a stir at the general meeting yesterday, as well it should have. To imply that epublishing automatically means vanity publishing is frankly disgusting.

We all know there are epublishers out there who will seemingly accept just about anything. We've all read epublished books that are essentially crap: poorly written, poorly edited, dull, ungrammatical, etc. But that certainly doesn't mean all epublishers accept anything, and RWA does writers a disservice by both implying they do, and failing to distinguish between the good and the bad. They should be helping their members do that, not ignoring those questions.

When this fact was brought before the board, they claimed to be shocked. Shocked! They enlisted a publishing attorney to help them draft this definition of vanity publishing--an attorney whose name they have not given, and who is apparently a total moron--and they never, ever intended to imply epubs like EC, Samhain, and Loose-id--publisher who were Recognized by them until this convention--were vanity publishers.

But they have not as yet changed the wording. This is highly disturbing.

Whatever the current board says, in an attempt to cover up their shameful ignorance and lack of research into the most basic facts about epublishing, the fact remains that this definition as written equates all epublishers with vanity presses. This board will be up for re-election in a couple of months; who's to say the next board won't choose to rule by the language and not the intent?

The board claims they meant the definition to mean publishers whose only form of distribution is their own websites, and not Fictionwise or Ingrams or any other form of distro.

But the correct wording for that--which one would certainly expect a group of published authors to know--would be "publishers whose exclusive means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site;", not "publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site;".

The fact that none of them caught this is cause for real concern. That one reason alone is more than enough to vote against every member of this board when they come up for re-election soon, and it's exactly what we should do. That they claim to represent us and be the face of all of us with regards to the romance industry, and yet apparently can not adequately use or understand written language or do any amount of basic research to benefit their membership is grossly incompetent.

We all know they're trying to prevent another Triskelion-style blowup, and that is admirable. But hiring the Keystone Kops to protect the President is a bad idea, and keeping any member of this failure of a board in office would be irresponsible for any member of the RWA to do. Today they're ignorant of how epublishing works; who knows what new issue they'll be incapable of dealing with next?

This new rule also does NOT address in any way how they will treat epublishers when it comes to the problem of e-piracy. Will the RWA aid epublishers in their efforts to prevent it?

I am quite upset that Ellora's Cave has lost its status with RWA. I am quite upset that Samhain and Loose-id, after finally winning Recognition only a few months ago, ahve now been demoted (apparently, the RWA hasn't officially said yay or nay but these new rules leave little doubt of their intent.) I am quite upset that the RWA isn't taking changes in the industry into account.

Of course there's more; the board managed to claim the reason they haven't added an erotic category to the RITA is because nobody could give them a definition of erotic romance, which is probably one of the silliest excuses I've ever heard (we could give them one, and next year they'll try and tell us their dog ate it).

I've done a lot of thinking over the last couple of days about whether I want to keep my RWA membership. I don't know for sure. As I've said repeatedly, RWA does pretty much nothing for me; in my eyes it's basically a useless organization full of silly women who spend most of their time behaving like they're back in high school. The much-vaunted PAN (Published Author's Network) doesn't, to my knowledge, offer much for its members either, although I'm hoping that now it's harder to get into they'll expand it and make it worth a damn.

For the moment I'm staying in; my membership isn't up until October anyway. Beyond that, we'll see.

But please, if you are a member, and you're reading this, join me in voting against every member of this board. They failed at the very basic tenets of their job, which is to understand the industry and the authors they're supposed to represent, and they do not deserve to keep their offices.


Bernita said...

I was very impressed with Samhain's response to this.

BernardL said...

Whiskey Creek Press offers their authors a paperback option for ninety dollars, which I think is pretty nice of them. I guess this new rule makes them doubly ineligible. It sounds like the board crossed the line of common sense and logic, or else this reflects the current New York Publishing dip into epubs.

Arin Rhys said...

I agree. Word, my friend, WORD. I think the RWA has to figure out exactly what the hell they are.

Are they a professional organization? Because they don't seem to give much to their published authors. Are they a organization for the unpublished? Because they are just giving misinformation to their members. What are they trying to do?

Seressia said...

I am stunned that the board, who consulted an attorney to write this definition of vanity/subsidy publishers, didn't at least GOOGLE the definition that most other organizations and even Wikipedia uses and isntead came up with one that effectively disses every epublisher.

I am stunned that the board, made up entirely of people pursuing writing careers, did not realize that their word choice of PRIMARY effectively dissed every epublishing effort.

I am further stunned that, even though they protest that they DIDN'T MEAN IT, the wording is still there and no board member has posted on any RWA-owned loop with clarification of this issue.

Unfortunately, only half of them have terms expiring this year. Speaking as someone who renewed in June after much internal debate, I will let them know how I feel about this. If they change that one word--and sooner rather than later--I can live with and even support the changes they've made as the best of a bad situation, and then work for change and understanding of an evolving industry. If that one word does not change, then one can only assume that once again, despite what this organization says, its actions proves that it does not like epublishing.

Robyn said...

I feel like a bit of a dunce. I never joined RWA (mostly because I always had other things to do with that money) but I must ask again: what, exactly, does it do? That's the part I never really understood.

Other than a certain amount of networking, the benefits of which are obvious, I can't see anything besides contests, a great convention, and a right to the "I'm in the club" smirk.

Anonymous said...

Ugh, I am fed up with several writing organizations (HWA and RWA at this point. Occasionally SFWA too, but they seem to be quieter.)

Is it too much for them to identify that epublishers are different and must be treated differently? I completely understand wanting to avoid Trisk and the mess of lackluster publishers out there but there has go to be a way to do that without bringing their heels down on all epubs.

Lynne Simpson said...

I've been very impressed so far with the debate on this. It will be interesting to see how the Board chooses to respond. I'm THIS close to canceling my membership.

Anonymous said...

Much as I'd love to see the people who came up with that definition ousted, I'm not upping the cash required to participate in the doing of it.

And money is what it's all about.

Epublishers met the earlier requirements based on number of books. Consider that for every ebook bought a print book is not purchased (retail economics: consumers only have so much money; if they spend it in one place they aren't spending it somewhere else). Authors who only sell print are seeing losses for every epublisher who makes it to RWA glory.

I am aiming for epub, always have been. RWA offers me nothing.

Camille Alexa said...

My membership lapsed a few weeks ago. I will not be renewing in the foreseeable future.

Bernita said...

Seeley, do you see it as a form of protectionism - not from incompetent publishers, but from e-publishers in general?
Not for authors in general, but for print authors in particular?

December/Stacia said...

Yep, Bernita, Angela is a real class act. :-)

I have no idea what the board is smoking, Bernard, or why they would do this. Frankly, it seems to me that none of them know much about publishing in general, which is really shocking.

That's exactly the trouble, Arin, or at least one of them. They're trying to please everyone and pleasing no one at all. They seem to offer net-to-nothing to anyone, really--I've heard a lot of people saying how much they would miss the people in their local chapter if they left RWA, but only one person has pointed out that leaving RWA doesn't mean they can't get together and have crit circles and speakers anyway. It's not like they all use code names so RWA is the only way to contact them, FFS.

December/Stacia said...

Hey Seressia! Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, it is shocking, isn't it? Like I said above, I really wonder if the board members simply don't know much about the industry in general and can't be bothered to learn. As you said, fucking Google would have given them the info they needed, but they were somehow either incapable of using it, irresponsible enough not to educate themselves, or simply arrogant enough to think they knew what they were doing anyway.

Oh, no, they don't like epublishing. It's those nasty girls writing about sex and those filthy gays and those terrible menages who are spoiling the purity of their lovely romance industry, don't you know?

December/Stacia said...

You've pretty much listed it all there, Robyn. I should say, though, that I was impressed and pleased with RWA's quick and decisive response to the Esnips website a few months back, where copyright theft was rampant. I haven't heard an update on Esnips in a while, but it was the first time since I joined that I was truly proud of the organization. They flexed their legal muscle, and that was good.

Unfortunately, if the lawyer handling that case is the same incompetent twat who defined Vanity/Subsidy publishing for them...I don't have high hopes for the outcome.

Yes, there are much better ways of avoiding another Trisk mess, Michele. But the board seems to lack imagination. I know of a few people who sent good, common-sense suggestions to them which wer eignored.

It is very tempting, Lynne, very tempting indeed. I'll see what happens; as I said in an email to my Juno editor, Paula Guran (who's been saying some interesting things at the Juno blog, btw), at least membership in RWA gives me something to blog about. :-)

December/Stacia said...

I'm beginning to realize how little RWA does for almost all of its mebers, Seeley, but I think I'm going to save those posts until I know a bit more about the situation.

But you're right, it is about money.

And please answer Bernita's question, I'd love your take on it!

Good for you, Camille! I'm honestly thinking of keeping mine just so I can work for change. It might not happen, but if we get enough board members...there's a bit of a drive to get people to run over at Romance Divas (a forum I also find essentially useless, sad to say, as they run from the first sign of controversy and delete useful threads) but their hearts are in the right place and they do try to help authors.

Mark said...

Anya Bast has an entry on the same topic at her livejournal.

Just a heads up.

Anonymous said...

After having looked up protectionism on Wiki, I must admit I do see it as a form of de facto protectionism. They are imposing their standards on the entire romance industry.

Two years ago when I started writing I learned about the RWA. The way it was told to me, membership was necessary, various steps of status within the organization were goals and career markers, and publication with a company they prefer was the only route to go. They sounded like the end all be all of the industry.

When you are just starting out in a new industry, one of the best places to get info on that career path is through a professional association. When newbie writers (as I consider myself since I've yet to submit work for consideration) see things like all epubs are vanity publishers, and unless you are getting $1K as an advance you are being had, they will believe it. And the first thing you learn is always the hardest to unlearn.

Though The Man is cautioning me to choose my words carefully, I am aware that this is an open forum and may be viewed by anyone. I know that my theories may not be accepted by everyone and may offend some:

RWA refusal to acknowledge epublishing may result in a drop off in submissions to epubs. Newbie writers and those who are unfamiliar with the process of researching publishers will believe the information they receive from the largest professional association in the industry. They will stick with publishers whom they are told will advance their careers.

The drop in submissions may result in a drop in the amount of material available to publish. Contrary to comments made recently by an agent, even the smallest of epubs have slush piles and actually refuse stories.

With fewer pieces available to publish, fewer editors will be required and fewer books will be available for sale. This leaves the consumer no choice but to buy print books.

The RWA is a private association and has every right to make their own rules. It is up to members of the industry to decide if those are the rules they want to live by.

Anonymous said...

Its the friggin Romance Mafia. It should be called the RMA. I am not a member, and have never even considered it. What a waste of money - for what? The general consensus I hear from authors is they love their local chapter. Swell, cant they meet at the local IHOP or something and save themselves some fees? Do you need to be a member of the RWA to have a meeting, ffs??

Who gets paid for this? Does the pres get a salary? I honestly think the big publishers - paper - could have something to do with it.

Ebooks are more dangerous for them than for some dried up hoochies pretending their in the social elite. If ebooks got really big, the paperpacks would have to come down in price.

Why the hell are some of them 20 bucks for a romance paperback, anyway? Fucks sake!!

Though, I have to say, I know a few EC authors who do not average 1000 bucks per book, so I dont know if EC could go there or not.

Anonymous said...

And I do know the difference between they're and their, believe it or not, lol.

PS - I considered Seeley's approach, but in the end, I just cant be arsed. I really do think its a mafia and if totally biased people are allowed to treat the rest of us like second class citizens, I think its time to invest in something else.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what you mean about my approach, Isa...I'm with you that it's an old broad's club only looking to protect the interests of their huge purses.

Anonymous said...

I meant the one where the man was telling you to choose your words carefully. I assumed you had taken his advice?

Anonymous said...

I suppose I did temper my reply a bit... I mean, I didn't use any four letter words or anything...

Anonymous said...

Honest, it wasnt intended to be that personal. I was just saying Id considered being diplomatic (as Id thought youd been) and decided against it.

Bernita said...

Seeley, I thought it was an elegant reply.

December/Stacia said...

I thought it was good too! Hey, is that you who got honorable mention in the PI contest?

Anonymous said...

'Fraid so. I'm finding it somewhat ironic that just as I decide RWA isn't the group for me, I place in one of their contests. I'm still putting it on a query letter. :)

Anonymous said...

"Ebooks are more dangerous for them than for some dried up hoochies pretending their in the social elite. If ebooks got really big, the paperpacks would have to come down in price."

Well said, Isa. -V95

Anonymous said...

Cripes, I didn't say anything was wrong with her reply. If yall really are reading it that way I will not make any more comments.

And thank you, V95, for noticing.

Arin Rhys said...

December- You noticed that too about Romance Divas? It seems whenever something juicy or controversial comes up in the message boards about a publisher that they tear it down. I don't get that. Isn't it a writer's group? I love the place, but I go to places like Absolute Write if I need real information about publishers. Do you know why RD is like that?

Demon Hunter said...

I think you should follow through with what you stated at the end of your post...good luck...

December/Stacia said...

Oh, I noticed, Arin. And it isn't just publishers, either--it's all sorts of issues in the industry.

I have no idea why. They certainly have the right to run their board however they please--if they don't like or are uncomfortable with controversial issues, it's their perogative to remove those threads. I just wish they wouldn't, as I feel it does a disservice to writers.

Gabriele C. said...

So, there it is. I was already waiting for the RWA Stupidity of the Year. :)

I don't write romance, but since I read some blogs by people who do, I've come across all the RWA scandals those last years. By now, I have problems taking that RWA any serious.

I think they want to keep the epublishers out, be it for the higher erotic level of many e-books, be it because they're afraid that new way of publishing will cause problems for the print publishers in the long run. Whatever te reason, it's unprofessional and makes the RWA board look like a state government. And we all know how honest those are about their motives. *evil grin*

December/Stacia said...

Isa, I don't think anyone was reading anything in any way. And I certainly don't think you need to stop commenting. I agree with your comment and I think the rest of us do too.

Heh heh, Gabriele! And yes, it does seem to be an annual thing--or even semi-annual. :rolleyes