When Amie Stuart suggested WTF Wednesday as a title for a regular feature (I had just invented yesterday’s TV Tuesday), I thought it was a fun idea and figured I’d use the space to discuss weird things that just make you go “WTF?” Then I got the June issue of Romance Writer’s Report (RWR), the monthly magazine published by Romance Writers of America and distributed to its members. And at the very front of this issue, there was another letter from the president, Diane Pershing, that made me (for the umpteenth time) say “WTF?”
Now, for those of you who don’t follow RWA, there is a lot of history here, and for the sake of length, I’m not going to rehash it all. Suffice it to say that RWA has had a rocky relationship with epublishers and epublished authors for quite a long time now, and this latest foray isn’t going to improve things.
To understand the letter, you have to know that RWA made the decision this year not to allow any publisher that doesn’t pay a minimum advance (the threshhold being the $1,000 in advance/royalty required for entry into PAN, the organization’s Published Author Network) to take pitches or deliver session content at the National conference in July. These publishers are still welcome to send people to the conference (i.e., give RWA their money), but they are not permitted to actually disseminate information about what they have to offer in any meaningful or useful way. Ms. Pershing’s letter was an attempt to explain RWA’s rationale for this decision, but far from mending any fences or making a really solid case, she managed instead to push pretty much every one of my buttons on this subject.
The thing is, I think it is safe to say that I do not wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to the merits of epublishing. Just a week or two ago, I posted my article, The Perils–and Pleasures–of Epublishing, and the “perils” portion is probably four or five times longer than the “pleasures.” After that, I hardly think I can be accused of being a blind cheerleader for the epublishing industry.
Notwithstanding, the patronizing tone of Ms. Pershing’s letter irked me from the outset, but my head hit the ceiling and my jaw hit the floor when I got to this passage:
So, back to RWA and its focus on the entire membership. At present, it is to the advantage of the publisher alone to not offer advances or a guaranteed minimum per author. It is not to the advantage of most of its individual members, and it is, most assuredly, not beneficial to the RWA general membership, as a whole…
Now, perhaps I am overinterpreting, but to me, this says that any author who accepts a contract from a publisher that doesn’t pay a minimum advance is doing harm to other members of RWA. It says that because I am willing to publish something without a guaranteed minimum payment, I am making it harder for other authors to get decent payment in the future. And for the record, I think that is bubkiss. As long as I am fully aware of what I’m doing, my decision doesn’t affect anyone except me, and it may be to my advantage as a career-focused writer to do it.
Case in point, obviously, is the first manuscript I ever had published, Carnally Ever After. I’ve already explained in my First Sale column over at Dear Author last week how the sale of that short novella led to my first sale to a royalty-paying New York publisher. Granted, I haven’t earned anywhere near a PAN-eligible advance on that story, but SO WHAT? The story is under 15,000 words; I couldn’t have submitted for PAN membership with it anyway. And while none of the novellas I’ve published since at Cobblestone have earned the PAN-eligible minimum either, put all together, I never expected them to and understood exactly how much I was selling them for (a guarantee of $0 but a likely return of more than if I didn’t publish them at all!) going in. This does not make me a stupid author. And it does not hurt other RWA members.
What does hurt RWA’s members is the persistent Jekyll and Hyde attitude of the organization toward epublishers. If it’s really RWA’s mission to assure that authors get paid what it thinks is a reasonable minimum for every book, then that’s the only model of publishing it should recognize as valid. That means publishers that don’t do so would not only be cut out of formal events at the national conference, but would not be recognized by RWA as “legitimate” in any other way. That means no more First Sale announcements in RWR for authors who’ve sold to a non-advance paying epress, no pink ribbons for those authors at the conference, and no PAN eligibility based on royalties (an author could earn $100k in royalties on a book, but if there was no advance paid, it wouldn’t count).
But what we have right now is a crazy mish-mash of “come here, come here” and “get away, get away” directed toward epublishers and epubbed authors. RWA wants the membership dues of those epubbed authors, make no mistake. It doesn’t want to offend those authors by telling them outright that their publishers are not legitimate. So it wiggles around the issue and ultimately ties itself up in knots trying to defend the indefensible.
Because it is indefensible to say that those who choose to publish without a minimum advance payment are uneducated (which Ms. Pershing’s letter clearly implies) and then not provide a forum in which to provide the education those authors need to make an informed decision. RWA can’t solve the problem of fly-by-night publishers who take advantage of authors by hiding an entire segment of the publishing market from its members. The only way for authors to decide whether it is in the best interest of their careers to publish without an advance is to have a clear-eyed understanding of the business model and what it can and can’t guarantee. Then it’s the author’s decision as to whether that publishing model is best for her book and her career–and she can do that without causing harm to other members.
I could go on and on and on about how, if RWA thinks a guaranteed income sufficient to support a “career” in writing is so important, its current $1k threshhold is laughable, but this is already over 1,000 words and I’ve made my point. Please, have at it in the comments. I’m all ears–er, eyes–to your thoughts on the subject.