Thursday, July 12, 2007

New RWA Standards for Publisher Recognition

Romance Writers of America is holding their National conference this week. Preceding the festivities is the annual board meeting. They've recently changed their policy regarding publisher recognition and it seems to be causing waves all around. Huge waves. Especially for electronic pubs (herein referred to as e-pubs) and small presses.

Did you know that e-pubs and small presses are actually vanity presses? Yep - that is, according to RWA's new standards they are. Doesn't matter if you receive royalties, sell to an audience beyond family and close friends, and don't pay a cent to have your work published. You have a vanity-press published book as far as they are concerned. Therefore, in RWA's eyes, you are "riff-raff" and must be kept out of their exclusive club.

RWA touts on their website here that they are "the national association for published and aspiring romance writers. Through education, networking, and advocacy, RWA supports the professional interests of its over 9,500 members. RWA's more than 140 local and special-interest chapters provide opportunities for members to come together to discuss the industry, build connections and find support."

I've been a member for seven years. In that time, I've published two books. But not according to RWA. They will not list a first or second sale to any member who publishes with a publisher that RWA considers a vanity or subsidy press.

Seems fair, right? I suppose it is. After all, every organization has standards and though I might not like them, they are well within their rights to set them. They claim to have their authors best interests in mind. If so, then why did they change their standards for recognition to make it almost impossible for any e-pub to ever attain them?

RWA recognition is a big thing in the world of romance writers. True, it is more prestige (in my opinion) than anything else, but it does seem to carry quite a bit of weight as well. Their original standards were no author payment towards printing or distribution of their work. Okay. Sure. That made sense. The publisher had to have been in business more than a year. Again, makes sense to weed out fly by night operations. They had to sell x amount of paperback, trade paperback and/or hardcover books (that is x amount of one book, not total,) Again, most vanity-published books rarely reach triple digits, never mind 1,500 paperbacks. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare.

That meant most epubs would not attain this most exalted status as recognized publisher. We might not like it, but it gave us a goal to try to shoot for, and I would be willing to bet RWA never considered that epubs might actually reach those standards.

Then came Ellora's Cave. An epublisher of erotic romance, EC was the first e-pub to achieve RWA recognition. A major feat and reason for their authors to celebrate. For the rest of us, I think it became a reason to hope - it was possible. After that, Triskelion, Samhain, and Loose-Id all reached recognized status as well - within a relatively short time of one another. It was more than a possibility. It could be done and it was being done by epublishers.

Until this week at RWA's National Conference. They determined that their recognition criteria needed to be reworked. The epubs were coming and they are, apparently, persona non grata. They needed to find a way to keep out the "riffraff" of the publishing world.

Here is a snippet of their new policy: 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 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.

Now, I am aware of no epubs who do not sell from their website. How would that be possible? EC sells books from their site, Samhain does, Loose-Id does, my publisher does. But there are also outlets such as Fictionwise who are major online retailers of ebooks. So while the website would be primary for the most part (simply because chances are fairly good that's where you find new publishers and new authors of these publishers), it is not the only outlet and Fictionwise is not affiliated with any one publishing house as far as I know. So now, according to RWA, in their infinite wisdom, Ellora's Cave is a vanity press. Do their authors know this?

What does it mean for EC, Samhain, and Loose-ID? Will they lose their recognition once these changes go into effect on July 15, 2007.

So in one fell swoop - every epublisher has fallen to the status of vanity publisher. What???

To clarify - there is nothing wrong with a vanity press. They fill a need or a niche and are fine. However, a book printed by a vanity press is not considered a writing credit. It will not gain membership into certain writing communities. It will most likely not land you an agent or give you a boost to a publisher. Again, it does happen, as in the instance of Eragon, but those are few and far between.

To equate epublishing with vanity publishing is a slap in the face and a grave insult to the men and women who, for whatever reason, chose to go the epublishing route. Often, it is a matter of exploring themes and subjects that NY houses deem too controversial, or claim have no market for distribution. This is how EC came into being. The founder wrote erotic romance, only to find there was no market for them at the time (amazing, isn't it? Especially considering the fact that now just about (if not all) every major NY romance publisher has an erotic imprint.) Then erotic romance took off. Now, it's considered as close to mainstream as possible.

It isn't necessarily easier to break in via epublishing. They have editorial standards, and a review process that authors must undergo, just like with a NY house. Not everything sent in is accepted. They reject a fair amount as well.

Yes, there are scam epubs, just as there are scam (for lack of a better word) traditional publishers. PA is a perfect example of this. A scam under the guise of a royalty-paying publisher that is, in reality, a vanity press. But to lump every epub into this category is insulting and flat-out wrong.

The word I've heard is that this was an intentional move on RWA's part - to keep epubs from achieving recognition. Snobbery in the guise of "protecting their authors best interests." Protecting those interests from what, exactly? It reminds me of a club that changes its rules to make it so only those they deem worthy may apply. But they will gladly accept my yearly dues every year. I cannot join their PAN, nor will they announce the sale of any of my books, but I can join PRO (which is a joke, as far as I'm concerned), and I can get their monthly magazine - for the price of $95 a year. Good enough to pay dues, not good enough (in their eyes) to celebrate my achievements.

My first inclination was to cancel my membership - which I'm sure was a lot of epub members' first reaction. However, this is where RWA has me and they know it. In order to retain my membership in my local chapter, I must keep my National membership current. I love NJRW. It is the greatest group of writers I've ever met. I leave meetings filled with the inspiration to write and I've learned more there than I have from almost any issue of RWR. I don't want to give up that membership, so I have to suck it up and let RWA think of me as a vanity-press published second class citizen.

I hear that RWA hadn't counted on the amount of backlash it has since received, nor did they imagine it would explode into what it has. It should be interesting to see if and how they backpedal their way out of it. They seriously underestimated the response. It should be interesting to see and I will keep updating as those updates come in.

Update - First Casualty as a result of these changes:
Samhain has lost their RWA recognized status. You can read it here.
This sucks for their authors - I'm sorry to hear that the rug has been pulled out from under them.
More updates as they come in, which I'm sure they will.


BarbaraK said...

Right now RWA sounds to me like the Dr. Seuss book about the Star-bellied Sneetches

Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches
Had bellies with stars.
The Plain-Belly Sneetches
Had none upon thars.

The snooty Star-Belly Sneetches decided that they were better than the Plain-Belly sort and would purposely exclude them from "frankfurter roasts or picnics or parties or marshmallow toasts."

Wise to this stargregation, Sylvester McMonkey McBean entered the scene and "put together a very particular machine" that put stars upon the bellies of the Plain-Belly Sneetches for three dollars each.

Clever McBean didn't end there, for he realized the original Star-Belly Sneetches became distinctly aware... with all sneetches now resembled alike, their upturned noses and sense of betterment could now take a hike!

What did McBean offer? A new opportunity to separate the masses. For ten dollars each, his new Star-Off Machine would remove the stars upon the upper-crust Sneetches.

So in and out of the machinery all the Sneetches would go, to add stars, to remove stars, to forefront the show. Meanwhile, McBean's money pile continues to grow, and when the Sneetches would realize their folly, nobody would know.

This went on for some time: the Star-Bellied Sneetches would get their belly stars removed, while the Plain-Belly Sneetches would get stars added.

As for myself, instead of giving my hard-earned money †o RWA, I'm resigning and I'll be asking for a refund for 2007 membership fees. As a side issue, EPIC is working now on creating local chapters for EPIC members.

Barbara K.

Kim said...

You're absolutely right! I'm sorely tempted to do the same, but my hands are tied because of my local chapter's stance on retaining national membership.

However, I am looking into EPIC as well.

Thanks for the comment! :)

~~Olivia said...

I agree, Kim. This whole business smacks of the "haves" and the "have nots".

What I want to know is why would RWA alienate so many of their members? Don't they know how many NY pubbed authors are going to stand up for their e-pubbed friends?

One gal in my chapter just got her royalty check from an e-pub and it met the new RWA dollar amounts. So... is she "pubbed" or not?

I hate the whole dollar amount concept. I don't care who I get a contract with, I am NEVER going to send a copy to RWA just so I can say I'm pubbed.