It's just as well, as the topic was something I wanted to think over carefully, before I just sat down and dashed off a post. It's something that really bugs me, and I wanted a few days' space to let my irritation cool off a bit.
Over the weekend, I received my copy of the Romance Writers Report - which is Romance Writers of America's trade mag (basically I pay $100 a year for this magazine, as it's really all I get from RWA, but that's another post right there.) And in it, there one of the articles was basically about how, just because the Board might make a decision that you (singular) might not like, it doesn't mean that they aren't listening to you (the membership as a whole) but that they chose the good of the organization over the good of an individual.
To a certain point, I agree. Yes, an organization needs to act in the best interest of the membership as a whole and not kowtow to the needs of a small minority (which is kind of redundant, isn't it? If it was a big minority, it would be a majority, right? But I digress.)
But what got me, was that the article then veered off into the new (well, relatively new) PAN eligibility criteria. And that's when smoke sort of began puffing out of my ears.
A quick recap - prior to July, 2007, RWA's PAN eligibility criteria was based on what publisher an author signed with. They had a list of "RWA-Approved Publishers." If you signed a contract with one of those publishers, you were eligible for PAN.
Fast forward to July, 2007, when quite a few epublishers made the list (Loose-Id, Ellora's Cave, Triskelion, and my publisher - Samhain Publishing to name a few), the rules were then changed. No longer would it be based on publisher, but on money earned by the individual writers.
Now, I'll grant you, the Triskelion collapse and ensuing mess helped perpetuate the need for change, but I am still convinced that RWA does not see its epublished authors as being equals to their print published authors. And since July, 2007, they have done almost nothing to show the opposite is true.
Here is their mission statement:
Romance Writers of America is dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.
That sounds wonderful, and they should be dedicated to this.
It seems to me that they have redefined what the words "professional" and "career-focused" mean.
Before 2007, if you signed with one of the publishers on the List - you were apparently profession and career-focused. After 2007, though, that was not enough. Now, in order for RWA (a group dedicated to advancing the careers of romance writers, mind you) to consider you a "professional" and "career-focused", you must earn a minimum of $1,000 through an advance on the sale of one book, or a combination of advance/royalties on a single title.
Now, it's a standard that epublishers generally don't offer advances - Samhain is one of the exceptions to the rule. But on the other hand, the royalties earned are higher than that of print publishers - 30-40% for epubs vs 8% for print. And epublished books can and do earn over a thousand dollars in royalties.
I firmly believe that there should be standards and they should be high - especially with the glut of epublishers springing up all over the place. Any fool can throw up a website and call themselves an epress. So there do need to be guidelines and standards and I will never suggest otherwise.
Certain epublishers had already reached the RWA's standards. And then RWA changed them. And to rationalize their change, they basically came out and said that anyone who does not meet the PAN criteria is not seriously persuing a career in writing romance fiction.
Well, okay, I can see their point - and the RWA cheerleaders I've come across who basically tell me that RWA just lurves their epublished authors as much as they lurve their print publishers and that I'm just not seeing that because... well... because....
And that's it. They can't tell me why I'm wrong, just that I am wrong.
If I am wrong, then why the mess with the RITA awards this year?
A quick recap - used to be, if you were published through an RWA-approved publisher, you were eligible for the RITA (which is the romance fiction industry's Oscar Award.) If you were published by a publisher NOT on their list, or uncontracted, you could enter the Golden Heart (the unpublished romance writer's Oscar, if you will.)
Not this year.
Oh, RWA never made a formal announcement (at least, I don't think they did - I never saw it and no one else could ever show me where the announcement was made, either) regarding the changes in their RITA rules. But the change was there. In two words -
In order to be eligible for the RITA, an author's book had to be
1) published by a Non-Vanity/Non-Subsidy publisher (and yes, RWA does have a list.)
2) Be in print format
3) be mass-produced
And there it was - no definition was offered for what constituted "mass-produced" and even today, as far as I know, there is no definition. But, it meant that books published by companies such as Samhain, were no longer RITA-eligible because, even though there was no definition of mass-produced, RWA decided that Samhain (among other publishers) did not meet the definition (you know, the one that didn't - and still doesn't - exist.)
And the kicker - because Samhain is on their list of Non-Vanity/Non-Subsidy publishers, a Samhain author (among other publishers) was not eligible for the Golden Heart either. Want to know why?
Because that author is published.
So, let's get back to the RWR article - which basically says that if an author does not earn at least $1000 in advance and/or royalties (on a single title, mind you), she (or he) is obviously not a professional writer. Or pursuing a career.
Now, on one hand, I can understand this. Yes, writers should make money. But to basically say that unless you make that grand on a single title, you are no more than a hobbyist is insulting.
Look at this way -
Author A sells a manuscript to Avon. She gets an advance of $5,000 and a print run of 10,000 books. She is eligible for PAN and the RITA. And never sells another book - whether by choice or not.
Author B writes in a genre that isn't quite so mainstream (think erotic romance 15 years ago), NY houses aren't brave enough to take the chance, so she sells to Samhain. And goes on to release two books a year, but no single title necessarily reaches the $1000 mark. But she's producing book after book after book. Advancing her career if you will.
Which is the professional and which isn't? Which author is pursuing a career in writing romance fiction?
Ahh... and there's the rub. RWA never addresses that. And I frankly find it insulting to those who have chosen epublishing that their own advocacy group does not consider them professional.
I'm tired of the whole mess, to be honest. It's ridiculous and so far, even RWA can't figure out what their words mean, which doesn't fill me with a whole lot of confidence, to be honest. When a group of writers can't define their own words, it kind of makes me wonder if I really want them advocating for me.
And as far as I know, they still haven't decided what they mean by "mass-produced." It would be funny, really, if it weren't so pathetic.