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.

A Definition of RWA Terms (Publisher Edition)

In all the brouhaha surrounding the “delisting” by RWA of Harlequin Enterprises and Thomas Nelson as “eligible publishers” for associating themselves too closely with vanity presses, I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied about around the Internet, on blogs and on Twitter, about what, exactly, this means. In the interest of clearing up any confusion there may be about what publisher eligibility means and where the lines are, I’ll try to explain the difference between publisher eligibility and author eligibility for published status and/or the RITAs–they’re different things in the RWA universe–as well as why what RWA did in the case of HQE and Nelson affects both the publishers AND their authors.

In the interest of length, I’m going to tackle publisher terminology today, and talk about the author-related stuff tomorrow (unless a salient WTF Wednesday topic rears its head between now and then, lol).

A word of caution: I am only explaining definitions of terms and how they apply. I am not in any way claiming support for these definitions as currently written nor their outcomes.

1. “Eligible Publisher”

In the RWA world, the term “eligible publisher” means one that pays a minimum $1,000 advance for all the books it contracts from writers. Publishing houses that meet the eligibility criteria receive certain “perks” from RWA, including the opportunity to send staff to the national conference without paying the fee, conference space for book signings, the ability to hold a publisher Spotlight session, and the option to have editors take pitches from writers attending the conference.

There is nothing in the RWA guidelines for eligible publishers, however, that exclude authors who are published by houses NOT on the eligible list from being considered “published” under the guidelines of the PAN (Publisher Author Network) program nor does your book have to be published by an eligible publisher to be entered in the RITA contest. Despite this fact, I have seen the two equated time and time again this past week. It is just not true, and although writers who are not published by eligible houses may feel slighted for a variety of reasons, the complaint that only those with contracts with eligible publishers are treated as “real” authors doesn’t hold up to scrutiny because eligibility applies to what the PUBLISHING house gets from RWA, not what authors get.

2. Non-vanity/Non-subsidy Small Presses

In addition to the publishing houses that meet its criteria for eligibility, there are many, many publishing houses that RWA recognizes as non-vanity/non-subsidy presses. A sizable proportion of these are primarily digital publishing houses along with a few primarily print small presses. The key difference between these publishers and eligible publishers is that they either pay some advances that fail to clear the $1,000 threshhold or do not pay advances at all. In any case, however, these publisher DO pay authors for their work, either in the form of advances+royalties or royalties only. This distinguishes them from vanity/subsidy presses and authors who publish with such houses are neither automatically eligible nor automatically ineligible for either PAN membership or entry in the RITA.

What small presses can’t get from RWA is conference space or the opportunity to take pitches, and that’s simply because RWA feels the risk/return for authors from publishing with such houses isn’t sufficiently favorable to justify RWA lending its support to these houses acquiring works from its authors. Whether or not that’s an accurate assessment of the current state of digital and small press publishing is definitely open to debate, but given past debacles like Triskelion and vocal complaints that RWA didn’t do enough to warn its authors away from fly-by-night presses combined with the difficulty of discerning which presses ARE fly-by-night and which aren’t without using some concrete criteria (and the willingness of a publisher to stake a certain amount of money upfront to the author does represent a certain degree of stability), I think RWA’s position on this is, if not right, at least not ridiculous.

Note that there are probably many small presses that qualify as non-vanity/non-subsidy under RWA’s rules that are not on RWA’s list. That’s because RWA requests that publishers apply for inclusion on the list by submitting their boilerplate contract for review. RWA does this to ensure that the publisher doesn’t charge authors for any part of the production/distribution of their books. A few years ago, a number of epublishers actually changed their boilerplates to prevent themselves from being labeled as vanity/subsidy presses and therefore ensure their companies could appear on RWA’s small press list.

The difference between “eligible” and “small press” publishers, then, boils down to what perks the publishers can get from RWA, not the perks/recognition authors get from RWA. I truly feel this is an important distinction to make, and it can’t be made too often. The fact that your publisher is not eligible for conference freebies does not make you an invalid/illegitimate author. The fact that your publisher doesn’t appear on the RWA list of small presses doesn’t mean it’s not a legitimate press, either–it only means it hasn’t bothered to submit the requisite information to RWA to be included (or perhaps doesn’t publish romance, in which case, why should it bother?).

I’m not saying that everything about this system of recognition is good or sensible. I am saying that authors taking/not taking validation from whether or not their publisher is “eligible” by RWA’s criteria is, to me, a little silly.

Now, as to HQE and Thomas Nelson:

These publishers were originally considered “eligible” because they paid the minimum $1k advance on every book they published. By choosing to begin referring rejected authors to Harlequin Horizons and Westbow respectively in their form letters, it became impossible to say that either publisher was offering a $1k advance on every book they published. If they had been referring these authors to presses that simply paid <$1k (such as Harlequin's new epublishing division, Carina Press), it's possible that they would have lost their "eligible" designation but would have still been considered small presses, with their authors still eligible for PAN status and their books still eligible for the RITA. However, they crossed the eligibility line farther than that by suggesting "pay-for-publication" models, which are never under any circumstances considered acceptable by RWA, and thus, neither publisher is on either the Eligible list or the Non-Vanity/Non-Subsidy Small Press. It's worth noting that at this point, RWA makes no distinction between vanity/subsidy publishing and true self-publishing (where the author acts a bit like a general contractor and subcontracts tasks like cover art, editing, etc. to third parties, but retains the right to all profits from the sale of the work). I don't think the two models are in any way equivalent, and I'd like to see the self-publishing model gain more credibility in the industry, if only because self-published free or very low cost stories are a great marketing tool for authors. I don't think publishing/RWA should frown on that to the degree they currently do. That said, vanity/subsidy publishing is almost always a bad deal for the author. It's hard to think of any justification for a publisher to steer rejected authors toward a publishing model that is so rarely in the author's best interests (and they'd never steer an author to true self-publishing, because they wouldn't make any money from it). Okay, I'm off to write my soon-to-be-self-published New Year's freebie. Please feel free to tell me in the interim all the ways I'm wrong :).

Musing on Monday: To Enter or Not to Enter

The RITAs, that is.

Now that they are open for entry, I have to decide (and fairly quickly) whether or not to enter any (or all) of the novellas in Behind the Red Door.

It wouldn’t be such a difficult decision if I could enter the anthology as a unit. But because the book consists of three novellas, I must enter each novella separately in the Romance Novella category. At $40 a pop, the entry fee alone adds up pretty quickly, to say nothing of the expense of shipping 15 copies of the book.

The decision would be easier if I thought one of the novellas was far and away better than the others, but…I don’t. I like them all for different reasons. More, I’m pretty sure if I chose one just one to enter, it would be wrong one.

And then there’s the fact that even if I entered all three, the likelihood of any of them reaching the final round is very, very small. Aside from any other factor, erotic romances don’t tend to fare well in the RITAs, Pam Rosenthal’s Edge of Impropriety notwithstanding.

There are all the reasons NOT to enter. But, there are reasons to enter. First and foremost is that, while the chance of finaling might be small, it’s only zero if I don’t enter. And reaching the finals would be amazing and awesome. Not that I remotely expect it, enter or not. There are way too many other great authors entering wonderful novellas this year (particularly Courtney Milan and her lovely novella, This Wicked Gift, which comes out at the end of this month). That said, it’s hard to make the deliberate choice not to play.

So, what would you do? Enter them all? Close your eyes, pick one, and enter that one? Or enter none at all?

Decisions, decisions. (I’m a Gemini. I’m bad at them!)

Edited to add: I decided it was worth asking the National office whether novellas in single author anthologies were treated the same as novellas in multiple author anthologies. Some contests I’ve found do treat them as a novel, so I thought it was worth asking. Alas, it is as I thought…to enter all three, I must enter all three individually and send in 15 copies of the book.