Monday, July 16, 2007

All Is Vanity

Sportsmen at Jacques Cartier Falls,
Cornelius Krieghoff,
oil on canvas, 1861,
The Thomson Collection.

The organization known as the Romance Writers of America (RWA), at its Convention just ended, has defined and designated, de facto and default, electronic publishing, as well as many small presses, as a form of vanity publishing.

Like, you know, Publish America.

And the largest professional asssociation for romance writers has, with one fell swat, therefore described and demeaned any writers who have been published in the aforesaid electronic venue as vanity writers.

Like, you know, those people who pay to have their work published.

Even though writers for legitimate e-pubs and small presses don't pay for publishing.

A most comprehensive and provocative insult.

Seems to me, if the RWA wished to restrict and protect their approval process solely to print publishing, they might have managed to do so without attacking - by this highly suspect definition - the professionalism of e-pubbed writers.
Fie, fie, and tsk.


Anonymous said...

Makes one wonder, what's in it for them.

Bernita said...

Steve, it has been suggested that since many e-pubs deal in erotica in a major way, that there's a profound bias against such pollution of the genre.
Others wonder if the recent mess with Triskelion caused this clumsy reaction.

writtenwyrdd said...

They deny mega-sellers like Ellora's Cave professional status? Lame. Guess I don't want to belong to that stodgy old club, anyhow.

LadyBronco said...

Makes me glad I'm not a member.

And I won't be joining any time soon.

Bernita said...

Their restrictions, particularly in relation to anthologies, might well interdict a number of big print publishers as well, Written.

Though I've considered it off and on, I won't be either, Lady B.

James Goodman said...

oh, bad form... I wonder how much of an outcry it would take for them to announce a retraction. Or at least, have the decency to qualify their insults with enough specific examples (like they could find them)to prove their point.

Jaye Wells said...

Just to clarify, this is the wording of the section of the decfinition you're referring to:

"... publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site..."

The debate was quite heated at the convention. As I understand, the use of the word "primary" caused quite a stir. It leaves the board just enough wiggle room to use their discretion. But, as I understand it, Ellora's Cave would not fall under this definition.

Bernita said...

Caused a fair amount of outrage, James.

Thank you, Jaye. As many have pointed out - the web-site of many, if not all e-pubs, is their "primary" means of distribution, and that primary does not mean multiple.

Robyn said...

It was also the requirement of paying a 1K advance. Most epubs don't pay advances, but a much bigger royalty.

I think it had more to do with avoiding another Triskelion mess than a slam against erotica. Whatever it was, I've never joined because I always had other things to do with that money. Usually can't go to the convention, either, so what's the point?

Bernita said...

And if e-pubs are not elegible for professional status, Robyn, then by inference their writers are not professional either. Just vanity hobbyists of the casual sort.

Dave said...

All professional organizations do this in one way or another. In my previous life as Chem E, I had to be a member of several professional groups if I wanted to get ahead. I won't bore you with the names and initials.

What bothers me about RWA is that the qualifications are that (a) you write well, (b) you get paid for your work, (c) you write well, (d) repeat a and c because it all begins and ends with good writing. Any requirement beyond those is just a little too much ego.

Bernita said...

Dave, as long as agents and editors continue to consider e-pubs as legitimate credits, RWA's definitions will be moot.

Gabriele C. said...
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Gabriele C. said...

Lol, when I joined the world of blogs in spring 2005, one of the first things I came across was a big RWA kerfuffle and they've kept entertaining me ever since. Not that I care since I don't write Romance and never will, the genre is too restrictive for me. But the quarrels are fun in a trainwreck sort of way.

At least, RWA will let everyone join - look at the SFWA, they only allow you in when you have published a book (and not an e-book) and are a very uppity gang overall, and those who aren't, leave.

I don't think I'll join any society. I'm not a social being to begin with. ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

Great pic again. AS for the RWA stance, chances are it's only going to hurt them. Any group that essentially comes out "against" new technology is probably signing their death warrant.

raine said...

Ah, well, I could get into a long-winded rant about all this, but I believe the intentions were pretty obvious--even though rumor has it that they may seek to "clarify" their definition very shortly, thanks to a major outcry at the convention (way to go, ladies!).
These ladies are professional writers, and they can't manage the wording of their own by-laws? Come now.

And it isn't even just the insult from the organization itself. I've heard from e-book authors who said that, for the most part, everyone enjoyed the conference--but that there were instances of print-pubbed authors deliberately snubbing the e-pubbed ones, and even complaining that so many of the 'pink ribbons' (first sale) authors weren't legitimate... merely e-pubbed.

Whatever their reasoning, they've certainly alienated a lot of authors--TALENTED authors--and I'd say they're probably going to lose a lot of members. And deservedly so.

Bernita said...

A number of writers are questioning the benefits of "belonging," Gabriele.

Thank you, Charles.I can't see how it will do them any good.

As usual, Raine, you have summed the situation up beautifully.
It looks like schism is on its way to becoming a chasm.

Frank Baron said...

As neither a Romance writer nor reader, I feel eminently qualified to offer an opinion. ;)

On the agreeing-with-you side: seems to me they're painting with too broad a brush.

On t'other hand, while I'm sure there are some e-pubs with exacting standards, the simple fact that it's comparatively inexpensive to set up shop as an e-publisher means that some will lower the quality bar for entrants.

The whole publishing world is rife with cliques and snobbery. It wasn't so long ago that writers for pulps weren't "real" writers. Now, many are considered to be some of the most hallowed names in fiction.

But there will always be those who look down at genre writers.

Maybe Romance writers, tired of being sneered at by squinty-eyed writers of Westerns, decided to find their own poor cousin they could kick around.

Demon Hunter said...

I think that it's terrible of them. E-publishing is in no way the same as vanity publishing. I wonder if the RWA even bothered to conduct research? They are afraid of new blood making it in this industry. I'm not a big fan of technology either, and I prefer to read books on paper rather than computer, but if e-books are making money and garnering attention to new authors, I'm all for it! ;*)

Bernita said...

As a writer, Frank, you are perfectly qualified to offer an opinion.
E-published and un-published writers are both permitted to join RWA - just send money.

Bernita said...

I think it was the "vanity" label that really stuck in everyone's craw,my Demon.

sex scenes at starbucks said...
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sex scenes at starbucks said...

Well, obviously as an e-publisher and editor, I think this is nonsense. When do folks have time to read short stories, for example? A perfect time is at their desk over lunch on the internet. And we editors at Electric Spec are proud to have launched the careers of many fine writers, as are many e-publishers. The internet has provided a wonderful venue for pre-published authors to make the leap.

It does not behoove a professional organization to disclaim a variety of their members based on venue. Every professional organization has a duty to inform and educate their members and their industry (otherwise, what would be the point?) Publishing is an old cow that needs to be tipped, but I guess it won't be RWA who'll sneak out into the pasture at midnight.

Incidently, SFWA does not require a published novel for membership but only a short story in a professional paying market. As for their snootiness, I can't attest.

Bernita said...

And I don't think the application of print customs - such as advances - to e-publishing is particularly efficacious, either, SS.

Amy Lavender Harris said...

I don't read or write romance fiction, and had never heard of RWA before today's post (meaning that, like Frank, I feel eminently qualified to offer an opinion), but this sounds to me like a grab for market share. Many 'traditional' publishers have lost considerable share to the upstarts and to electronic publishing in general (although not nearly as much as they have lost to behemoth monopoly publishers and booksellers). Rather than take on these big targets, they'll go after the easy targets: the writers themselves.

In Toronto's small world of local literary fiction, small presses produce many of the most lauded works. Advances, when paid, are very small, and print runs are often in the 500-1000 copy range (or less). In return, authors often retain copyright, which they bank for later in their careers. The high quality of (much) small press publishing speaks for itself. Certainly writers seek bigger publishers, but small press publishing is a highly respected first step, at least in the field of literary fiction. It's a happy alternative to the all-or-nothing game of large press publishing. (Furthermore, self-published chapbooks are also treated with accord if they suggest artistic merit and the author is honest about their published form).

Most writers would love to receive huge advances from blockbuster publishers followed by rave reviews , important prizes, and lots of money. But it doesn't mean that smaller successes -- including getting published by a small print or electronic press -- are any less genuine.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Amy.
Some posters on various boards and blogs have also raised that point - that this move could be construed as a deliberate and defensive marginalization of e-publishing.
E-publishing is as legitimate as any other form.

Jon M said...

Don't pretend to know much about this but seems to me that some folks just like to create elites and then spend much time trying to hold back tides...all very Canute-like!

Maybe I'm wrong!

Bernita said...

I can't say I really know much about it either, Jon, but I've wondered the same thing.

Scott from Oregon said...

The idea of a group of "Romance" afficianados attempting to dictate tiers of validity actually cracks me up.

I still contend that all publishing is up for an upside-downing as the E-world puts out far too much cheap and free product to compete with.

The winds, they are a changin'...

Anonymous said...

Amy repeated my take on the situation. They are losing money to the competition. They set the 5000 books sold limit for publisher recognition a while ago and when more than one epub actually hit the marker (which was I believe 5x the marker for print, someone correct me if I'm wrong please) they realized the extent of the damage to their bottom line.

As to the Trisk thing...they hired a lawyer, had many meetings to draught and approve the wording...all of which would have been started well before Trisk made it obvious they were in trouble.

Bernita said...

Certainly not much love lost, Scott!

Another good point, Seeley - the necessary time line indicates this has been in the works for a while, even though the "vanity" definition sounds rather ad hoc.