Thursday, July 12, 2007

Recent RWA Board Decisions - Part 1 - Publisher Recognition Issues

As many of us know the Romance Writers of America (RWA) is holding their annual convention this week in Dallas, Texas. The recent decisions by the board are leading to some very heated discussions, particularly by electronic publishers and authors. I number within that group, but have refrained from entering into the passionate discussion thus far. I thought it might be better served from me to share my thoughts on my blog instead.

It truly is difficult to know where to begin. From the face of the recent decisions and to be as fair as possible, on its surface, it looks like there were tiny steps forward and major steps backward. But let's look a little closer at exactly what sort of impact this will have and the authors they say they are here to serve.

RWA in the past has dug its heels in on many issues and the "old guard" has remained firm, even within the rapidly changing atmosphere of technology and its continuing impact on the distribution of literature in all its forms. Some advances may possibly have been made here, but not enough, and the new decisions certainly indicate that RWA National continues to not understand the changing industry and climate of publishing.

Regarding publisher recognition, it seems to me they have responded with a knee-jerk response to certain recent activities of failed enterprises and will attempt to use this as their banner and validation for their mind-boggling decisions. Sadly, this will not stand.

As I address these amazing decisions, and try to clarify to myself exactly what they have done, and what good can come out of it, if any, I have four documents spread out on my desk. The first is the June 2007 issue of the Romance Writers Report (RWR) and the article regarding PAN Recognition, which also includes their "mission statement" regarding Publisher Recognition. The second document is my email input regarding proposed PAN eligibility changes which was quite lengthy I might add, that I sent to the committee. The third document is "A Summary of RWA Board Decisions" which I just printed out from the RWA National website. And fourth is the Policy and Procedure Manual for historical reference. I wanted to be certain I had the exact words from the "horse's mouth" so to speak before attempting to address any of this.

Keep in mind that all of this is strictly my personal opinion.

And, yes, I am a member of RWA and have been so for several years, as well as being a member of my local chapter. Some of my personal questions, of course, are: How will this affect me as a published author? Will my work be recognized by my peers within the organization? How will it affect my publishers? Does RWA's stance reflect my feelings and career choices as a published author in the romance market?

I think before I can address anything else, I have to look at "Publisher Recognition" and how RWA now seeks to define subsidy/vanity press because this has a direct bearing on all of the other decisions regarding these matters at their board meeting.

In the June, 2007 issue of RWR, the article states:

"Publisher recognition" is not and never has been a stamp of approval of a publisher's business practices. It is not a guarantee that a publisher's contract is a good deal for the author. It merely indicates that a publisher has met certain bare-minimum standards that may indicate that the opportunity exists for an author to build a career there. ... To that end, the Board of Directors is considering revamping publisher recognition standards so that there will be "RWA-eligible publishers" for individual RWA programs rather than having a single, overriding program called "publisher recognition."

I read this as meaning publishers who are not recognized by RWA may not participate in RWA activities such as conferences, etc. As in speaking or talking with potential authors about possible submissions, or putting on workshops at these events.

A quick question here: Does this mean that authors who are published with these non-recognized publishers cannot sell their books at RWA-sponsored signings? Will they be banned as well in this regard?

So what is the benchmark to which RWA has attached its wagon for publisher recognition?

Old policy per manual:

To be an "RWA-Recognized Publisher," a publisher must be a royalty-paying publishing house that (1) is not a subsidy of vanity publisher, (2) has been releasing books via national distribution for a minimum of one year, and (3) has sold a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trade paperback copies or 5,000 copies in any other format,including print on demand, of a single novel or novella or collection of novellas in book form, in bona fide arms-length transactions, and continues to sell a minimum of 1,500 hardcover or trad epaperback copies of 5,000 copies in any other format of a subsquent romance novel each year.

[[In my opinion item no. 3 is what needed to be addressed. This they did, but in a bent and skewed manner and without understanding the current markets or the position of their published authors, at all.]]

Old policy definition of subsidy/vanity publisher:

"Subsidy Publisher" or "Vanity Publisher" means any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs 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 who withhold publication or distribution costs before paying royalties (net proceeds) and publishers whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books.

The changes as noted in the recent "Summary of RWA Board Decisions."

We must first look at the new definition of subsidy/vanity publisher. "New" definition of subsidy/vanity publisher:

Commencing with RWA's 2008 National Conference, for official publisher participation, a romance publisher must verify to RWA that it: (1) is not a Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher; (2) has been releasing romance novels via national distribution for no fewer than three years, with no fewer than two full-length romance novels or novel-length romance anthologies published in each of three consecutive years; (3) provides per book advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays allauthors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500.

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 who withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding production, sales or marketing costs; publishers whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; 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.

The sections that I have bolded are what I take strong issue with from these particular policy changes. How a valid publisher chooses to pursue marketing and selling their books to the general public is not something to be addressed in policy by the RWA. A website is international, not just national; a distributor like Fictionwise is international, not just national. So what exactly are they trying to say here?

Nor should an advance be a prerequisite for any publisher. If an author proves sales generated at a career level as opposed to a hobby level [I will address this in my next blog on PAN recognition] at the $1,000 mark, that should be sufficient. To hold with this policy asks that a publisher, especially small, solid presses, to turn toward bankruptcy, much as selling through Ingrams encourages returns that can also push a small press to bankruptcy, insolvency, and loss of revenue for authors, that could have had the potential to survive without these backbreaking front-end costs.

And thus RWA has blocked from providing informed and up-to-date information for RWA members, both published and nonpublished, the very publishers who could provide knowledgeable insight and advancement in the modern publishing world.

These two statements do not mark the difference between vanity and recognized publisher status in any way, shape, or form, and should be stricken.

Regarding the RWA decision-making process, these policy changes indicate huge steps backward and absolute non-recognition of the digital age of publishing.

Shame on you, RWA, for still not understanding and embracing the electronic age of publishing and supporting your authors and their needs in career advancement.

My next blog entry will address PAN recognition for published authors.



Mitz said...


Your post was very concise - very to the point - and very true.

Mitzi Flyte

BarbaraK said...

It looks to me like Ellora's Cave, Samhain and Loose Id are now labeled as subsidy/vanity publishers based on RWA's new definitions and will be removed from their list of RWA Recognized Publishers.

The way I see it not only do the new definitions state that ALL epublishers are subsidy/vanity publishers, they also state that anyone published by these publishers no longer meets the requirements of PAN eligibility and all authors published by Ellora's Cave, Samhain and Loose Id will be kicked out of PAN too.

I don't believe that RWA has the legal authority to redefine and change the actual meaning of subsidy and vanity publishers in order to suit a biased need to denigrate epublishers and epublished authors in this fashion.