Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

A Definition of RWA Terms (Author Edition)

So, I really intended to get this posted last week, but the time-space continuum proved uncooperative. However, with MWA’s decision last week to officially “de-list” Harlequin as a non-vanity/non-subsidy publisher, the question of what RWA will do in the future becomes even more urgent for authors who are published though Harlequin’s traditional imprints.

First, before you read this, if you haven’t read my post explaining the difference between “eligible publishers” and “non-vanity/non-subsidy publishers,” click here. A lot of the terms in this post won’t make sense otherwise.

Okay, so, here’s the scoop on published author recognition in RWA:

Authors can join PAN (the Published Author Network) if they have earned a minimum of $1,000 on any single novel/novella* published by a non-vanity/non-subsidy publishing within 18 months of the date of release. The author does not–as many people seem to erroneously believe–need to earn that $1,000 in the form of an advance. Royalties count just as much as advances do, although it’s obviously easier for an author who receives an advance to join PAN because she can do so simply by submitting the appropriate contract pages indicating the advance to be received, instead of having to wait until she’s racked up enough in royalties to qualify.

So, what do you get for joining PAN? As far as I can tell, the perks consist primarily of getting a link on RWA’s website to yours and having the PAN designation on your name badge at conferences, which means other attendees will squint harder at your name and try to remember if they’ve ever heard of you, which in most cases, they probably haven’t. (In other words, if you are a BIG NAME AUTHOR, they’ll know who you are whether or not you have PAN on your badge. If you’re not, having the word PAN on your name badge won’t help them.)

One misconception I hear quite often regarding PAN eligibility is that you must be eligible for PAN to enter the RITA. This is simply not true. Eligibility for the RITA is book-based, not author-based. Authors don’t even have to be members of RWA to enter the RITA, let alone members of PAN. They do need to have a book that was published during the correct contest year (for the 2010 RITA, that means it had to have been published in 2009), it must be available in print (and this sticks in a lot of exclusively epubbed authors’ craws), and it must have been published by a non-vanity/non-subsidy press.

This year, I was eligible to enter the RITA, but due to some initial hemming and hawing on my part about whether I should even bother followed by two unsuccessful attempts to get RWA’s site to process my entry, I wound up not getting a chance because the contest was full by the time I got around to a third attempt. As they say, them’s the breaks.

But in any event, an author who is not eligible for PAN because she hasn’t earned a minimum of $1,000 from her book can enter the RITA if her book is available in print. An author who can enter PAN may not be able to enter the RITA because her book is not available in print, but also because she doesn’t have a book published in the current contest year. (I will not have the opportunity to enter the RITA next year because there isn’t a prayer at this point that I’ll sell anything that will be out in print with a 2010 copyright date. I’ll still be a member of PAN, though.)

But despite the (IMO) relatively modest benefits to being a member of PAN, there are a LOT of published authors who are very irked that they aren’t eligible to join. In the end, I think the complaints boil down to this: authors want RWA to validate them.

To which I can only ask, “Why?” Why do you care so much whether RWA deems you published or not? Why do you care so much about your eligibility (or ineligibility) to enter the RITA? Honestly, neither has much impact on your career. If you need an acronym on your name badge or a contest to make you feel like a real writer, maybe it’s time to rethink your priorities.

Because I’m here to tell you, being a member of PAN hasn’t made an iota of difference in my ability to sell another book in New York, and I know a number of RITA finalists who are also out there searching for a contract. PAN and the RITAs mean way more to people who are in RWA than they do to people who are outside of it (read editors and agents). To those folks, the things that matter are the writing and sales (all hail Bookscan). Nothing else amounts to a hill of beans.

Tomorrow: So what about all those Harlequin authors?

*A “novella” is a story between 20,000 and 40,000 words. Anything under 20,000 words is a short story and, no matter how much you’ve earned from the publication of such a story, you’re not eligible for PAN based on it. You are also still eligible to enter the Golden Heart contest for unpublished authors. I’ve always found it a little ironic that, if Annie Proulx had never written anything longer than Brokeback Mountain, she’d still be treated as an unpublished author by RWA.

1 Comment

  • Evangeline December 12, 2009 at 5:24 am

    After taking a few weeks break from the Hh/RWA mess, all I can do is shrug and say “who cares?” Most of the drama surrounding the issue stems from RWA (PAN/PRO/RITA) eligibility–aka who is “really published”–which is utter nonsense. Outside of the incestuous enclave that is the RWA and the online romance community, no one gives a flying monkey if about any of the labels everyone steps over each other to acquire. All a reader wants to know is where and how they can buy your book, and all a fellow writer wants to know is how you became published–and all your family and friends care about are your happiness and your accomplishments!

    Having gained this perspective, I’m actually a little peeved by how the issue has been derailed by little things like “OMG, are Hqn authors considered ‘published’ by the RWA?!” or “can I enter the RITA if my book is published by Hqn!?” Ultimately, I realized that I would like to be published and paid for my work, but all of the titles and so-called demarcations of “legitimacy” are an illusion and a delusion. After hanging around the online romance community for a few years, the obsession with hierarchy seems more important than just writing a book and loving the process of being a writer (of anything).


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