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