Saturday, June 20, 2009

RWA's Redheaded Stepchild: Epublishing

The picture above I “borrowed” from Teddy Pig is a perfect visual about the WTF situation regarding RWA and their stance on epublishing

The majority of those that visit my blog here or follow me on Twitter know I am very involved in the Romance Genre community. I am a big supporter of everything the romance community promotes and eventually I would like to break into the world of publishing via romance. As an aspiring author, the majority of the stories I am working on has a romance slant to it.

Some feel that writing is a very solitary experience, but there are a great amount of support systems out there such as writing groups and a network of individuals who want to help you succeed. The Romance Writers of America was started in 1981 to serve as a nonprofit trade association for romance writers.

The mission of RWA is simple:
To advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA works to support the efforts of its members to earn a living, to make a full-time career out of writing romance—or a part-time one that generously supplements his/her main income.

There are more than 10,000 romance writers and related industry professionals who are members. Some of these 10,000 members are not all published authors, but working towards their goal of becoming one. Last year I went to the annual RWA National conference where I was able to network and meet so many who love writing and the romance genre. This year I joined, mainly to have better access of events and information. Another reason was I would get a discount on this year’s conference and hotel room price. As you can see, I joined for various reasons.

I thought an organization, which was founded by a group to help both aspiring and accomplished authors, would welcome other avenues for a writer like myself to get published. The past few years RWA has come under fire because of their stance on the world of epublishing. For so long the only way for a writer to get published was with a mainstream print publishing house such as Penguin, Random House and Simon and Schuster among others. These are the NYC publishing houses that are the most desired by those, including yours truly.

But times are changing. There are other ways to accomplish your goals of getting published and making a living off your writing. This is where epublishing comes into play. But some still have a bias against epublishing as a whole and seem to only want to embrace tradition forms of publishing.

The president of RWA, Diane Pershing thinks that digital publishing is not the way to go and should not be embraced by RWA. Many authors who are members of RWA, as well as those who are not, have expressed displeasure about this.

Kensington author Jackie Barbosa has a perfect overview about this situation:

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.

Many other have responded such as Deidre Knight who is the founder of the Knight Agency and author of both mainstream print and ebooks. Earlier this week on ESPAN (Electronic and Small Press Authors’ Network) Deidre responds to Diane Pershing’s stance on epublishing and calls for change:

RWA’s current stance on e-books is that a publisher must offer at least a $1,000 advance in order to qualify for legitimacy. Never mind that many digital authors far exceed that amount in royalties, or sell more than 5,000 copies of print editions of their e-published titles. The problem with RWA’s simplistic criteria is that it ignores one crucial fact. Our industry is changing radically, with traditional publishers seeking innovative models for overhauling their distribution and content.

In part I believe Deidre is vocal about this matter because her very popular and amazingly written Butterfly Tattoo was sold to epublisher Samhain and not a more traditional mainstream press. (I have to get this out there, but I can’t help but wonder, if Deidre did not sell Butterfly Tattoo to an epub, would she be so vocal?) But regardless, her post brings up some good thoughts and questions that she wants answers to.

Diane Pershing responded to Deidre yesterday and her post on ESPAN was a bit of an, “open-mouth-insert foot” rebuttal.

Some highlights from the post you may find interesting and that made me shake my head:

Out of 400 workshop proposals this year, only two focused on digital publishing; one was deemed by the Workshop Committee to not be of the caliber needed, the other was by Deidre’s publisher, Samhain, which is not on the list of RWA Eligible Publishers (From RWA’s Policy and Procedure Manual, section 1.17. “Eligible Publisher” means a romance publisher that has verified to RWA in a form acceptable to RWA, that it: …..(3) provides advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays all authors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500).

KB: Who is this Workshop Committee who deemed that Samhain wasn’t the caliber needed? Samhain is one of the most successful epublisher out there! And I can’t wrap my head around why this $1,000 advance for a book is so important? Can someone explain this to me?

E-published authors are only one segment of RWA’s 10,000-member population. What of the huge majority that constitutes the rest of the membership? I stand by my original assertion that by governing in the interest of all its members and not the few, RWA is doing its fiduciary duty. …Each year members threaten to leave because they are displeased with something. Some do; most don’t. No organization can make everyone happy, but RWA goes on, no matter what.

KB: Oh well, you don’t like it, leave then. We have enough members to give us dues. So what if a few members leave? Take it of leave it! What if 90% of those 10,000 members left? Would RWA go on no matter what then?

The publishing industry is in a constant struggle to survive, authors’ numbers dip and rise and dip again; they are dropped, they are signed, and nothing is ever certain. This is why RWA must be a strong and loyal advocate for them. RWA believes it is crucial to stand firm in our conviction that an author has a right to guaranteed payment for her work.

KB: In between the lines written here, Pershing is saying that traditional ways of publishing, such as big named NY publishers are the way to go. Epublishing is the redheaded stepchild and in RWA’s eyes, it always will be.

I have taken some small excerpts from both Deidre and Diane’s stance on the epublishing issue. Everyone has their opinion and rightly so, but I can’t understand why an organization like RWA, who is supposed to be an advocate for writers, are so against other means for one to get published. As an author would you rather have a steady income with an epub or lucky enough to make ends me with a mainstream powerhouse NY publisher? Yay, you have the coveting NY Times bestseller label, but you barely have enough in an advance or sales to put food on the table. I am all for dreaming big and wishing for a six or seven figure book deal, but the world of epublishing allows you so much more. You can actually make a living publishing with an epublisher.

I am not sure now where I stand with RWA. They cannot make or break an author, nor do they have the power to go to a publisher and help an one join their roster of authors. What RWA has accomplished are ways for so many to come together and share ideas and make long lasting relationships. I will give them that at least.

RWA has been around for 28 years and it would be a shame if they vanished because they didn’t evolve and change with sign of the times. This is so very telling because for decades critics were telling the US car companies they better evolve or they will become like the dinosaurs, extinct. Those companies didn’t care or listen and look at them now.

This is the way I see it.



SarahT said...

I don't think it's RWA's role to make seemingly arbitrary decisions on who is published and who is not based on the presence or absence of a $1000 advance. RWA should be there to educate ALL of its members on ALL of their options on the path to publication.

Epublished authors should be treated equally to their traditionally published counterparts. People who write erotic romance have as much right to be in the organization as those who write mainstream or inspirational romance. RWA should HELP its members, not discriminate against them.

Having said all that, I do agree with RWA that an advance is desirable. I understand that the traditional model of advances in print publication is collapsing but I firmly believe authors should not be expected to bear all of the financial risk.

Also, epub scandals (e.g.: Triskelion) and rumours of financial woes (e.g.: EC) DO make one nervous. Obviously, this is not the fault of the epubbed authors, but RWA does not seem to see it this way. In a hamfisted effort to "protect" its members from potentially dubious epubs, RWA has succeeded in alienating a large segment of its memberships.

Bridget Locke said...

Huh...I gotta say though I've thought of joining places like RWA, I've never done so. It's not because I don't like them, but I have a hard time thinking of forking over that much money for something that may/may not work for me.

As for their view on e-publishing, I think they're being ridiculous. Yes, I love "real" books with the smell and feel of paper in my hands, but as so many people have said e-books are the busy person's book. One you can download to your e-reader or computer and take with you. To say that e-pubs aren't worth allowing into your club comes across as pretty elitist if not downright condescending. But that's just my thought on the matter. :P

PS. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! I hope you have a phenomenal day. :)

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

SarahT: I am all for RWA educated their members and yes some epubs are bit shady. But the blatant disregard for the epublishing world in general really surprises me.

Bridget: I love both print and ebooks equally but if someone wants to exclusively publish with epubs, they are not welcome to the same rights that mainstream print authors have? Wrong.

heidenkind said...

To me it sounds like RWA is advocating more for publishers than authors with their policies. E-books are a great way to get published, especially if you don't write what would be considered mass marketable romance. If they were really for writers, they would support ePubs more. Yeah, some of them are sketchy, but that would make a great lecture at RWA conference: How to recognize legitimate ePubs. Instead, they seem to be pulling ranks with publishers, who appear to be in full defense mode.

orannia said...

Has a reason been given for why a limit of $1000 was chosen? It does seem rather arbitary and doesn't take into account the sales figures...

There is a saying in this neck of the woods...'you snooze, you lose'. Just like the music industry adjusted to the eMusic, so must the publishing industry adapt to eBooks. Honestly, IMO it would be *thinking of the right word* 'stupid' to ignore electronic publishing.

Tracy said...

I think that RWA is basically sticking their heads in the sand on this one. Epublishing is not going away and they need to face up to that quickly. So much for career focused romance writers. Apparently they feel that if you're an epubbed author you're not making it your career. Nothing like sticking people in a peg-hole.

Heather Massey said...

Even if RWA is trying to act in the best interest of its members, I still detect an undercurrent of fear/aversion to either the change that comes with digital publishing or the content released by epublishers.

I think Pershing's response inadvertently revealed quite a bit of both. What shocked me was not even so much what she said but how she delivered the message.

However, from reading the comments at ESPAN it seems she doesn't speak for all members, and thank goodness the local chapters have so much freedom and vision.

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