13 July 2007

Why indie/e authors do NOT need RWA SFWA MWA

So, there I was...taking a break, everything looking good, when I came across the following in e-mail...

RWA's new guidelines

To say that I was STUNNED by the wording, by the dismissive attitude toward indie/e publishers and authors, would be like calling one of my Night Warrior's sacred weapons a butter knife. Now, the uproar has been so intensive that RWA has now announced it will remove and/or rethink some of the offending sections. I may decide I don't dislike them as much as I did this morning, depending on what those changes are, in the end.

In the meantime, a large portion of this open rebuttal to the moves by RWA and MWA in the last two days remains intact. I stand by it. This is my opinion of why indie/e authors do NOT need these professional organizations.

Many of you are aware of the recent changes posted by RWA, most notably to me (even beyond the new requirement for advances for all publishers) the classification of all indie/e publishers as subsidy/vanity as per the primary mode of selling books being from a publisher site. I don't know what rock RWA is hiding its head under, but having a publisher site to sell from, even if you do (and most do) employ other distribution channels, is a laughable and lamentable way to try and define vanity/subsidy presses. Yet again, RWA proves they are completely out of touch with the changing face of publishing today.

Likewise, MWA has revamped their recognition policies to state that all recognized publishers must do a minimum print run of 500 books on all releases, banning print on demand technology completely, even if the publisher routinely sells more than that amount in trade paperback or POD hard bound editions. This has, according to my sources, knocked out a large portion of their recognized list.

For all those affected by RWA's blatant attempts, yet again, at causing a rift between NY-published authors and reputable indie/e...and for those affected by MWA's short-sighted response, may I offer the following thoughts?

"A book is a book, regardless of form." This nugget of wisdom was coined by Karen Woods of EPIC some time ago, and it's true. All the mind games and politics in the world are not going to change the fact that books are books, whether presented on paper or by using a screen, whether printed 10,000 copies at a time or a single copy at a time. Given the chance to buy a book that sounds interesting to him/her, a reader will purchase it, whether it's a POD trade paperback or one printed offset. READERS do not care what RWA does or says.

I would add to Karen's words of wisdom. "Reputable is reputable, no matter how large." There are NY-publishers that have bad reputations with authors but are recognized and indie/es that have few or no author complaints but are now branded "subsidy" by RWA, therefore unable to be recognized. The recognition list does not ensure ethical behavior on the part of a publisher.

To that end, the EPIC publisher's coalition is currently working on a code of ethics (in addition to the EPIC model contract already posted on the site) that publishers will (electively) choose to sign, agreeing to certain standards of behavior, much like agents have the AAR.

It is time to re-evaluate why we care what RWA thinks. EPIC was originally organized as a chapter of RWA but quickly decided that wasn't going to be a viable association. Even at that time, RWA was dismissive of indie/e publishers.

Striking out on their own was, in my humble opinion, the best thing that could have happened to EPIC. Over the years, the corporation has grown more inclusive, taking on every genre of fiction and non-fiction.

EPIC's commitment is focused on only two things: indie publishing and e-publishing of any type, large or small, even those that self-publish. Members are not only published authors but also editors, publishers and other industry professionals.

Unlike RWA, EPIC does not cater to unpublished authors. That doesn't mean published authors at EPIC are denied the same sort of support and information unpublished received with groups like RWA. Being published does not mean that the author ceases to need this sort of support system, one of the reasons EPIC has taken the road it has. While the EPICon is opened to everyone -- published, unpublished or just has an interest in e-publishing and/or writing -- the EPIC lists are only for industry professionals and those authors who have at least signed a contract for publication, print or e.

EPIC is committed to indie publishing and e. Remember that, because it's become increasingly clear that RWA and some of the other "professional organizations" have no wish to embrace the future. For that reason, it is high time we started asking ourselves why we care what RWA thinks? Or MWA or SFWA, for that matter?

Because they're professional organizations? They are, but they are professional organizations with a very limited scope. I don't just mean in terms of genre but also in terms of which authors and publishers they consider worthy of their attention and respect. It's time to change that mindset. Indie/e is no one's follower. We are innovation, breakout technology and breakout books, the industry leader in adopting new and profitable genres. Indie/e does not need professional organizations that are not willing to acknowledge our strengths. They are, simply put, a liability and nothing more.

Because its nice to have the respect of our peers? I don't need RWA to have that. First of all, many of my peers are in indie/e. Why would I put money in the coffers of a monolith like RWA? I don't need their approval. I certainly don't need their permission.

Neither do I find that the lion's share of NY authors I've met share RWA's bias against indie/e. Sherrilyn Kenyon, who I might note was originally e-published in indie/e and still releases her books in e-book formats, is a wonderful woman and delightfully free of such prejudice. So is Piers Anthony, who started in NY but currently writes for both NY and indie/e. Piers is a staunch supporter of indie/e and does more to protect authors from unscrupulous publishers than I've ever seen RWA do. Even those who, to my knowledge, have never been an indie/e author, like Christine Feehan and Robin D. Owens, are known to be open and friendly to everyone, regardless of their professional affiliations.

So, why do we need to worry about what RWA thinks? Because we want validation that we're really published? If you're written and contracted a book, you're published. "A book is a book, regardless of form."

Because we want to enter the RITA? Why? No, really...think about that. What is so special about RITA? It isn't inclusive of a lot of the genres authors want included. RITA is a private endeavor that doesn't allow everyone, even those with print books sold by the publisher, to enter. It is a closed-group award, because only authors of recognized publishers are allowed to play. Readers don't care... And it's expensive. So, what makes the RITA so special?

EPPIE, by comparison, has 23 categories (5 romance (plus YA, GLBT and Inspirational, where romance may be entered if of the type), 4 erotic romance, erotica and Single Title/Mainstream, where heavy crosses and dark romance may be entered). You enter your books in e-book format, so no messing with the fuss and expense of sending paper books. And, the entries do not have to be novel-length. Stories as short at 10K may enter EPPIE. You pay only $20 for members and $30 for non-members to enter. And, it's inclusive in that you're competing with everyone with e-books who wishes to enter. We have first time indie/e authors finaling and winning next to NY books and even NYT Bestselling authors.

In addition, Dream Realm runs a second professionally-judged award for e-books only, those of SF/F/H and cross-genres (YA, romance and erotica) thereof. Entry is only $15 plus an e-book copy to enter. And some of the more reasonable RWA chapter contests, like PRISM from FFP chapter, allow e-books to play alongside NY books, for a cost of $25 for members and $30 non-members...but you have to make print copies of the book to enter. Still, I personally consider PRISM one of the premiere judged awards in existence and very friendly to e-book authors.

So, why would an indie/e author care about entering the RITA? It's just another award, and readers largely dismiss awards, so it's for industry recognition and not reader appeal. The industry that prizes the RITA so highly is not indie/e; it's NY, so what is your focus? Where should it lie?

Why should we care about what RWA says? What does RWA give back to the indie/e members but continuous scorn and headaches (at the National level, not in the individual chapters)? If RWA's aim is, as it seems it is, to try and change indie/e to be what they want it to be...to make it a mini-clone of NY, they are going to fail. They may get some publishers to play that game; there are always a few that will, but they certainly aren't going to get all of us to play it.

And, we shouldn't play it, because RWA is not focused on us. We don't even blip on their radar, except as the red-headed step-child that they'd like to send off to our room. Too bad. Indie/e is here and we're strong...and we're growing every year.

Just remember that RWA needs members. We don't need RWA. We don't need SFWA. We don't need MWA. EPIC is there, with open arms and open minds. If you would like to experience a professional organization that is focused on your needs, as an indie/e author or industry professional, even if you also work in NY or aspire to NY, EPIC may be the place for you.

The door is always open.

Brenna Lyons

President of EPIC


Poison Ivy said...

Have to agree with your comments. See my May 10 blog at http://www.myromancestory.com/myBlog/archive/2007_05_01_myromancestory_archive.php which I called "Red-Headed Stepchild to the RWA." We're both getting the same vibe from RWA.

RWA members need RWA to help sort through which publishers are legit and which are not instead of just claiming that the whole epublishing category in itself is bogus. Granting recognition to an epub only based on print sales is goofy. It's like telling TV that it has to print books. I do think that there's an element of the techno-dinosaur involved here.

That said, the problem is that RWA is like an ocean liner: it can only move very slowly and it's not built to make sharp turns. So the day-to-day ups and downs of a growing part of the publishing industry are too rapid and too confusing for RWA. It can't formulate an effective and quick response to the sudden twists and turns involving companies like Triskelion that are failing. Unfortunately for RWA members, instead of fine tuning a response to these volatile publishing situations--which would do the membership a real service--the RWA prefers to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and reject the epub category itself.

Deb said...

Brenna, if only the foolishness were limited to the RWA National organization. I've seen it in my local chapter, too. "We can't order your books through our preferred distributor, therefore we can't arrange a signing for you." Stuff such as that. I offered to do all the work myself, and only then was my signing treated as though it might conceivably be legit...

And as far as RWA membership, I'm proud now that I dropped out last spring. These latest shenanigans disgust me.

And what does Triskelion's closure have to do with anything? Truly? Any pub can fold, be unethical, get bought out by some non-book-savvy conglomerate. And absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. I haven't heard specifically what brought Trisk down (did it have something to do with their inability to answer mail?), but that doesn't mean similar problems can't afflict large, NY, "recognized" advance-paying Parnassus publishers. Ever heard of an NY house going belly-up? Sure you have.

One of the posters on another blog called this "high school" foolishness on the part of the RWA. She also suggested that this was a blatant effort to dissociate RWA with erotica.

Bah. Nothing could be further from the evidence. RWA LOVES erotic literature. I submit this is instead a blatant effort to dissociate itself with everything that is too far from Harlequin.

I was warned some years ago that the RWA is Harlequin's incestuous daughter. I dismissed the advice. My bad.