27 June 2009

Why it's important for RWA to change their tune...

I know I am often outspoken against RWA, and I’m sure some things I’m going to say today are going to come off the same way, but I hope people will seriously consider what I’m going to say, regardless.

At the moment, RWA is still mired in the idea that the NY business model for publishing is the only one they want to acknowledge and accept. Why is this dangerous?

Reading this post from Publisher’s Weekly, you can see their breakdown of how non-traditional production methods (read as not offset printing done by the NY conglomerates for so many years) have overtaken traditional in the numbers game. That’s right. Everyone, from NY to indie press, are utilizing POD printing processes and e-publishing to reduce costs, reach new markets/readers, and to keep the backlist alive. That means, to properly serve as an information and education source for aspiring and established authors, RWA must educate themselves on these changes and properly prepare authors to deal with the issues in vetting publishers, contracts, and beyond.

Two major NY conglomerates have vowed to expand their e-book programs to include releasing their entire backlists in e-book by the end of 2010. These concerns are no longer the sole concern of indie-published authors and self-published authors.

Even if they were, the fact is that the lines between indie and NY are blurring. Authors who start on one side of the fence or the other are crossing over to work in both or to switch to indie publishing from NY.

Chances are, authors are going to experience both fields or choose to publish with indie publishing exclusively. These authors are strong, career-oriented professionals. Some indie authors make as much money as the NY midlist authors...or more. Even in NY-only, concerns about POD and e-publishing are at the forefront of new contracts.

By longevity and choice, RWA has established itself as the “go to” organization for many romance writers. But, are they really serving the needs of members, if they ignore the changing markets and hold doggedly to the antiquated NY business model, a model that NY itself is tweaking to fit the new millennium? I would say they are not.

Without guidance, chances are that these unprepared authors are going to have a rocky road ahead. They’ll accept terms that are below industry standard for their respective new formats. That, in itself, will cause havoc, as the publishers demand to hold to that substandard line. The authors will give away rights that will prove detrimental in the long run, because their knowledge of the NY business model for mass market doesn’t take into account the differences they will face with POD and e-publishing.

None of this serves the authors, the backbone of the industry. It lines the pockets of publishers and partners savvy (and sometimes unscrupulous) enough to take advantage of the lack of knowledge. RWA prides itself on educating and protecting authors. The single best way to do so is to teach them about the changing industry.

Not to mention, RWA’s lines for recognizing publishers and/or proclaiming authors as “published” are based on the old NY conglomerate business model. This denies published authors with indie presses or with non-traditional contracts the ability to access the higher levels of RWA membership and the ability to enter books in the RITA.

Like it or not, by longevity alone, RWA has made RITA a recognized award name in the industry. Unlike Newberry and Hugo, most book awards don’t directly affect book sales, but they do build an author’s resume and open doors. By denying non-traditional formats and non-mass produced books the chance to compete, non-conglomerate authors are unjustly hobbled.

Now, why doesn’t RWA’s vision work for indie press?

Unlike the NY conglomerates, indie press doesn’t usually have investors. That frees them from the shackles of considering return for the investors above other concerns. It allows them to forge new markets that NY adopts once they have been culled and proven to have an audience. Investors often force a situation resulting in diminishing returns. That is not indie press and should not be.

If the indie didn’t take on investors, the only way to get the first few years’ worth of $1000 advances banked would be to put themselves in debt. In this recession (bordering on depression), putting a publisher in debt unnecessarily (and yes, I rank kowtowing to RWA’s demands as unnecessary) may be the death knell for it.

Why should indie publishers give a $1000 advance? They shouldn’t have to. Their business model isn’t predicated on it. While NY gives the advance against royalties, the author won’t see any more money for a year or more after the final advance payment, in many cases. By comparison, indie authors willingly forego that advance against royalties, in trade for higher percentages of sales and more frequent royalty payments. If you’re making $1000 or more in the year after release, paid in monthly or quarterly pay-outs of sales, why would you need the advance? You don’t.

So, what should RWA be doing?

The fact is the indie model isn’t broken. It works very well for them. So, change the "recognition" wording to make it work for RWA. Why should the publishers change? The market has changed, and RWA hasn’t changed with it. If anyone around here should be changing, it should be RWA, not the working indie business model.

What wording would I personally suggest? RWA likes that $1000 line. That’s fine. If they insist on a dollar amount line, then it should be $1000 as an advance OR in royalties within 12 months of release of title OR a combination of the two.

I personally don’t think the dollar amount line is particularly useful, but that’s because it only works for certain lengths and so forth. An author releasing an e-published short story of 10K may not see $1000 in a year, but that’s realistic.

Another of RWA’s shortfalls is that it only deals with the novel market. There is no “body of works” allotment like EPIC has for membership. Authors who only write short stories and/or novellas are SOL with RWA. That’s a shame, because there are some darned good novella and short story writers out there.

Then again, I personally don’t see the “recognition of publishers” as a good thing. I’d rather see individual authors show the $1000 earnings line every 5 years (or whatever time limit they choose) to be “recognized” as authors than recognizing publishers.

I’ll agree that they have the right to set a no self/subsidy/vanity published line for recognition, but recognition, in any way, sets an unrealistic feeling of comfort and safety with a publisher. To truly serve authors, they should be taught to vett every publisher (even those they are already with, periodically) and contract before signing.

Nothing RWA (or any other organization) looks at to recognize a publisher is foolproof. They can all change quickly. They are all somewhat subjective. If they want to test something, beyond the self/subsidy/vanity issue, they could expand it to include what percentage of a publisher’s books are self-published works of the owners. That is a very real and sometimes damaging line indie authors deal with. Other than that, authors should be taught what to ask, who to ask, where to look, and what constitutes higher or lower risks to themselves and their works.

If RWA wants to re-invent the wheel and create a new hipiers or Predators and Editors, that’s their choice, but they should keep in mind that P&E was successfully sued over it. I’m not saying to shy from having a wall of shame or a list of complaints, but be well aware that those complaints are often offered with malicious intent to libel a publisher, who has the right to sue.

RWA’s mindset worked for a different time, a different place in the industry’s lifetime. It no longer does. Is it fixable? Yes. I fully believe it is. Every organization goes through growing pains. Unfortunately for RWA, they have been fighting their growing pains on this issue for more than 13 years of the 15-17 the more established indie e-publishers have been in existence. Perhaps it’s time to take the red tape down a notch and let change happen...before RWA becomes the fabled dinosaur still walking.

1 comment:

mary.anne.gruen@gmail.com said...

I'm sorry to hear this is still going on.