Monday, December 15, 2008


I was going to do another post about the RWA today, specifically focusing on their stated purpose, which is "...[to] support the professional interests of its more than 10,000 members..." and " help its members pursue a career in romance fiction..." (which is a bunch of bullshit, is it not? Since they have no interest in helping ALL of their members pursue a career in romance fiction, only those who write romance without that dirty sex stuff in it) and on their Code of Ethics, which, in light of the new RITA rule, is a total and complete joke.

Check this out (it's the middle "principle" of ethical conduct an RWA member should exhibit):

"RWA members strive to treat fellow members, RWA staff, and others with respect."

There's also one about adhering to RWA's bylaws, to which I no longer have access since I decided last year to stop throwing my money away by giving it to them as "membership dues". Last time I read the bylaws they didn't allow discrimination, but my memory could be faulty. Either way, I hardly see telling writers who qualify for PAN that despite qualifying (by earning over the minimum "professional" amount--in other words, RWA considers PAN members to be professionals and thinks they should be treated as such), they're still not allowed to enter the RITA, respectful. Or honest. I certainly don't think the rule belongs on the same website as the words "integrity" or "honesty".

Oh, members are also not permitted to engage in "conduct injurious to RWA and its stated goals"--that of helping members pursue careers etc. etc. Seems to me that the new RITA rule is awfully fucking injurious to a lot of writers' career goals, and that that might be something a group of those of you who retained your membership in order to "change from within" might be interested in looking into--why not get that change started now? Why not DO SOMETHING from within the organization?

There are disciplinary actions in place, you know, designed to deal with violations of the Code of Ethics.

I'm just thinking out loud here.

See, here's the thing. I know I'm actually blogging about the RWA when I said I wasn't going to. But there's something I realized a while ago, and it's something I think is worth sharing with everyone else.

The RWA is a writer's organization--at least, it's supposed to be. Membership is not obligatory for success. It's a nonissue. The RWA board is made up of writers. Not agents. Not editors. Not anyone who makes any decisions as far as your career is concerned.

You do not have to be an RWA member to get an agent. You do not have to be an RWA member to get published. You do not have to be an RWA member to have a long and successful career.

The RWA is a straw man. So many writers are, I think, a little afraid of speaking out against the RWA. And I understand it, I do. We all hear so often that editors and agents are reading blogs and paying attention to our conduct, and that if they get the slightest whiff of us behaving unprofessionally we'll be blackballed. No more contracts for us! We're done.

But it's not true. Not at all. The RWA has NO power other than what writers give it. None. And while I'm sure most agents and editors are happy to attend RWA events and genuinely enjoy them, I really don't think they're going to leap to defend the organization as a whole and decide writers who speak out against the disrimination in the organization--discrimination against paying members who have done nothing wrong except write the word "cock" a few too many times in their books--are Bad Eggs, unprofessional attitude problems they don't want to deal with. In fact, I imagine it would be extremely difficult to find an agent or editor who actively CARES what anyone says about the RWA; and I bet you'll find one or two agents out there who represent writers who are also epublished, who are just as angry about this on behalf of their clients as I am on behalf of friends of mine who are hurt by this.

The RWA is NOT the publishing industry. They're not. They're just a group of writers. In the past they have gotten together AS WRITERS and done some good things--forcing Harlequin to give up rights to pen names, for example. But they didn't do that as Publishing Movers & Shakers. They did it as writers. Because that's all they are.

They don't make decisions about your career. The board members don't spend their days on the phone with agents and editors discussing in what direction the industry should go. CEOs of publishing houses do not have them on speed-dial to ask them for advice.

In other words, speaking out against their shameful discriminatory policies is not going to get you blackballed from publishing. It just isn't.

The only reason they have ANY power, any at all, is because their members give it to them. And by saying that I don't mean the RWA is like Freddy Krueger, gaining power from fear and becoming stronger and stronger with every scream (well, okay, maybe I do mean that a little.) But what I really mean is, they are powerful because you give them power in numbers. If the RWA was comprised of fifty people nobody would give a shit what they did (well, a lot of people still don't give a shit what they do, but you know what I mean). But because they're so large, they have power. Because they tell people they're there to help and advocate etc. etc., and people believe it, that gives them power. Because they have somehow managed to spread the propoganda that belonging to the RWA is an important part of having a professional career in romance writing, a lot of people join believing it--and stay even when they're not sure what they're getting out of it.

But their scope is so limited. The RWA has power over the RWA's members, and that's it. Not over any individual, not over the industry as a whole. They just don't.

So don't be afraid to speak out and insist that the RWA--which is your organization, and you should have a voice in it--account for itself. Insist they live up to that Code of Ethics. Insist they start treating their members equally according to their own rules (PAN members are RITA-eligible if they released a book in the last year, period.) Insist that they represent ALL their members, not just the ones of whose books they approve.

You do not answer to the RWA. They answer to you. Without you they're nothing. Make sure they know it.


Seeley deBorn said...

I think calling the RWA a "professional association" is a huge mis-nomer.

They are not.

Sure they're self-goverend, have a bunch of codes and principles, and claim to represent "professional" writers, but the fact of the matter is that the vast (I was told near 90%) majority of the membership is unpublished and not writing for a career.

I've belonged to professional organizations. They have entrance requirements. Educational requirements. Ongoing professional development requirements. They also offer group benefits like insurance and legal assistance. I can't see where they can claim any kind of a professional organization.

If they were to restrict full membership to those with mass-market production, advance offering contracts, they'd go broke. RWA seems more like a social support group for people who want to write, maybe are writing, and might have even finished a couple stories. (Oh, yay, you, that's such a big step *pompom swish*)

December/Stacia said...

Yes, well, I TOTALLY agree with you there, Seeley. Yes, the vast majority are unpublished, and are likely to stay that way. I don't really get how they can call themselves a pro group either, when anyone can join, and most of their benefits seem aimed at those people. It's long been one of my beefs with the RWA; there's tons of info and help for unpubbed members but very little of anything is offered to those who are actually published, save editor/agent appts. at the convention.

And that's partly what my point is, too; being scared by or feeling under the control of the RWA is the height of silliness. No other pro writer's group is so useless.

Demon Hunter said...

Wow. I had no idea about this. I have heard things about them in the past, but I didn't keep up with it since I don't write romance. That's terrible. No wonder you didn't want to continue your membership, December. :-/

Charles Gramlich said...

I know some folks who are in RWA, but for the most part they're in it because of the local chapter, which is quite good. I'll have to see what their experiences have been.

December/Stacia said...

Oh, yeah, Tyhitia, this has been going on for a few years now, with them making ever-more-ridiculous and byzantine rules to keep erotic romance from being recognized as a valid subgenre.

Yea, Charles, I know several people have great local chapters they're very happy with. And apparently if you do join a local chapter you will get more out of the group. But I never bothered; not only would it be hard for me to find them time, but the thought of being in a big room full of women makes me feel icky.

BernardL said...

As you've pointed out, if membership plummets, they'll change... or cease to exist. In the end, writing is something we do alone. RWA will not get you a contract or an agent; but your writing will. Yours did. :)

laughingwolf said...

you and seeley nailed it, from what i can see... brava! :D

writtenwyrdd said...

I can see why you're pissed. The thing that gets me is that they call themselves professional org when they don't have any criteria for membership, like actually being published, even in a small way.