Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Small Press Education

In the Romance Writers Report (the magazine published for members of RWA), it is traditional for each issue to begin with a letter from the president, at current Diane Pershing. As an RWA member for the past 9 years, I try to read my RWR cover to cover, or at least give each article a couple of paragraphs to snag my interest.

With the rise of small presses and electronic publishing--and the struggles of mainstream publishers as their audience is increasingly drawn to less literate sources of entertainment--RWA has been in a state of flux for years. Hell, it's probably been in a state of flux since its inception. That's just the nature of the beast. The publishing world is changing, and it's difficult enough for authors to keep up with everything they need to know with contracts, rights, genres, technology, etc, much less a group of nearly 10,000 of them.

But we try. We try to educate ourselves, stay abreast of trends and traditions. Professional publications like the RWR help. The internet helps. Conversing with peers and other industry professionals helps. Every little bit helps. RWA's mission is to advance "the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy," and in the June RWR, Ms. Pershing admits that "while strides have been made in how RWA delivers information to its members, it still needs work."

Why is Ms. Pershing concerned? Because she has found ample evidence that "too many RWA members are not informed enough about the business of writing."

Oh noes! That is, indeed, a huge concern. Information is key, and accurate information can make or break a career. So what is this ample evidence? How is RWA failing us, its dues paying members? Well, let me quote the source to avoid any discoloration that paraphrasing might lend it. I will, however, bold the particular area I want to discuss afterwards.

"Yes, we have articles in the RWR, information on the Web site, online classes offered by chapters, seminars at conferences, PRO loops, and PAN loops..., but it's not enough. If it were, a member would not sign a contract first and inquire about that publisher afterwards; a member would not sign with an agency that charges a "reading" fee; a member would fully understand the ramifications of signing with an agent whose contract stipulates that the agent has a perpetual claim on all earnings that derive from the book. A member would not sign a contract for a book she's spent 10 years on for no upfront money and very little chance of earning any, just so she can say she is "published" (June 2009 RWR, Page 2).

So, according to Ms. Pershing -- who can read the minds of small press authors and know why they did what they did -- signing a contract with a company like Ellora's Cave, Samhain Publishing or any number of thriving small romance publishers is akin to signing with an agent who charges a reading fee. It's that stupid, that misguided. The fact that RWA members still sign with small publishers means RWA has failed to educate us.

If only RWA had taught me that when the 7 publishers in New York who handle my subgenre reject my novel, it means the book sucks and should be stuffed under my bed, to hide its papery little head in shame for its failure to fit in with the popular crowd. But RWA didn't teach me that, so in my sublime "ignorance" I contracted several pieces of fiction with Red Sage and Samhain. Now I have money, awards and experience to show for my efforts instead of a bunch of shameful scrap paper.

If only RWA had taught me...if only I had learned! I could be NOWHERE right now instead of somewhere, on my way somewhere even better.

If only RWA had taught authors like Linnea Sinclair, Anya Bast, Lora Leigh, Megan Hart, Cheyenne McCray, MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight, Cynthia Eden, Larissa Ione, and so many, many others never to "settle" for those borderline criminal small publishers, especially ones that don't offer a proper ($1000 whole dollars!!) advance, then I guess the only thing on the shelves right now would still be Regency Historicals, Chick Lit and Romantic Suspense...all of which I love, but I love a lot of the aforementioned authors, too.

If only RWA had educated them properly. If only they had known! They could be NOWHERE right now, too, instead of on bestseller lists.

But I am sorry to tell you this, anyone who continues to cling to the misconception that the only legitimate or serious path to a writing career is to hold out for the NY contract...like the only legitimate or serious path to an acting career is to hold out for Broadway or a Hollywood blockbuster. The cat's out of the bag. The story's out of the mold. The knowledge has already been leaked. There are as many workable avenues to a satisfactory writing career as there are writers.

There are also stupid, bonehead mistakes writers make, too, which could have been prevented with a little research. So I do admire Ms. Pershing's hope that RWA can share information with its membership about certain pitfalls. But a small press, even one that doesn't currently pay an advance, isn't automatically one of them.

Perhaps a better course of action might be to educate members *about* small publishers instead of *away* from them.

Also see: http://www.writersatplay.com/wordpress/?p=1174

http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net/2009/05/rwa-rejects-digital-publishing-workshop.html

http://www.jackiebarbosa.com/2009/06/03/wtf-wednesday-rwa-vs-epublishers-take-one-millionty/

***

Jody W.
http://www.jodywallace.com/ * http://www.meankitty.com/

22 comments:

  1. This. Is. Awesome. Picture me standing, cheering and whistling.

    My favorite part: If only RWA had taught me that when the 7 publishers in New York who handle my subgenre reject my novel, it means the book sucks and should be stuffed under my bed, to hide its papery little head in shame for its failure to fit in with the popular crowd. But RWA didn't teach me that, so in my sublime "ignorance" I contracted several pieces of fiction with Red Sage and Samhain. Now I have money, awards and experience to show for my efforts instead of a bunch of shameful scrap paper.

    If only RWA had taught me...if only I had learned! I could be NOWHERE right now instead of somewhere, on my way somewhere even better.

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  2. BRAVO!!!!!!!!!

    Couldn't have said it better myself!

    Thank you.

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  3. Excellent post! As an e-book author with a very small press, it irks me that I'm looked down upon by the organization I support with my hard earned cash.

    Honestly, if it weren't my fabulous local chapter, I'd stop paying to be treated this way.

    Thanks for the great post.

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  4. This is perfection.

    Blessings,
    Julia (Joanna) K. Moore

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  5. After sixteen years, I left RWA this year and this is why.

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  6. Gina I wasn't a member that long, but I let my membership lapse also.

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  7. I agree 110%. But you already knew that!

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  8. Nicely done, Jody.

    It floors me that houses like Samhain and Ellora's Cave are not listed as "Eligible Publishers". But what qualifications will satisfy the organization, its members, and the legitimate, established small houses that seem to be doing fine and have a great reputation without offering an advance?

    RWA should be making policies (and writing columns *ahem*) that support and protect its membership, not tick off half of them. They need to revamp eligibility requirements. Yes, AGAIN : ) This time with a clear and honest look at ALL publication paths. Take your own advice, Ms. Pershing, and get a complete education.

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  9. What a fabulous post, Jody. You go girl. I have two books with Ellora's Cave and I pitched one of them to Raelene at National in 2007 - BEFORE RWA changed the rules ...AGAIN. Now my publisher is not granted space on site for spotlights. Their editors are not included in the pitching sessions. Oh, my publisher can pay to attend the conference if they want but why should they when other publishers are comped in to the site and given promotional opportunities for their company and their authors? Okay- I'm stopping now before I write a big long rant. So again I say - truly excellent post, Jody. Thanks for writing it!

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  10. Thanks, everyone, for dropping by to comment! My issue isn't even with RWA's various schizophrenic eligibility requirements (that would be a different post) so much as the auto-assumption that small press = bad and small press authors aren't career-minded. They are, according to this particular opinion piece, lacking in education and merely want to be able to say they are published. Even though the letter acknowledges small press works out for a *very few* authors, it still manages to imply that going with a small press is worse than leaving your books under the bed.

    The hypocrisy inherent in a person telling you they do indeed read your letters to the board but they simply don't agree--but also telling you they know everything they need to know about the small press business model--is kind of astounding. So when they don't agree with us, it's because we're wrong and uneducated, but when we hear them, listen to them, consider their words, and disagree--we're still wrong.

    We're also unprofessional hobbyists, in case you missed that part.

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  11. Wonderful post, Jody. I wholeheartedly agree with you.
    I've had a wonderful experience with both Samhain Publishing and The Wild Rose Press, and I'm looking forward to more.

    Meanwhile, a good friend signed one of those "real" contracts. After going through hell with an editor who destroyed her beautiful story, they cancelled her book. Now I have a novel and novella out and she has a little money from that oh-so-important advance and a broken heart.

    Just saying.

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  12. WTGOOOOO Jody.

    An awesome post. RWA will eventually go the way of the dinosaurs if they don't learn to accept that small press/ePub is a legit part of the publishing world. From what I understand, Technology was the rage at BEA...I don't get the stuck in the sand POV from the organization.

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  13. Jody, while your post wasn't aimed at RWA's publisher eligibility requirements, I think it is a big part of the general attitude toward these publishers. The lack of a true understanding of the workings of, and author satisfaction with, small presses and epubs could be the reason those publishers are given the proverbial thumbs down/non-eligibility status. A newbie member of RWA will study the Eligible Publishers page and may assume that ANY house not there isn't a good house.

    It's the perpetuation of ignorance that needs to be addressed.

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  14. Well said. ~Please~ mail this in hard copy to RWR letters to the editor.

    I like Debra's comment too. On the one hand, RWA does a great job with its workshops, articles and overall writing related information. What other organization teaches you to write? On the other hand, it has a snobby, cliquish outlook under the guise that "we're trying to champion for better pay for authors" and the thinly, or not so thinly, veiled intimation you're only worthy if you publish with the New York Giants.

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  15. ALL of those If onlys definitely belong in the RWR. SEND THEM IN!

    (More cheering and whistling.)

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  16. Gee, if I had waited for the great wonderful and fantastic NY contract, I would never have been on a bestseller list with my latest release, which is also PAN eligible.
    Most excellent, excellent blog. It's a keeper!!!
    Maybe we should all send in a copy to RWA. Who knows? Miracles do happen. Maybe the message will be heard.

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  17. Just fyi, Jody, I linked your blog to the pathetic one I wrote Friday morning.

    As one of the ignorant, unwashed, e-pubished authors, who is a PAN member and would have been approved, even after the PAN requirements changed, I say You Go Girl!

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  18. Well said, Jody, and my thoughts exactly after reading that message from the president.

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  19. You are pure awesome! Thanks for the great post :)

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  20. Brava!

    I'm NY published but found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the Prez's letter.

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  21. "Perhaps a better course of action might be to educate members *about* small publishers instead of *away* from them."

    To me, this line is the most important one in a very good column. Well done, well said and keep up the good work.

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