Posted in: RWA Loves E-publishers Like A Fat Kid Loves Lettuce, RWA needs to get their PR sorted
Warning, this is a particularly long rant, the likes of which I rarely like to indulge in these days, so I suggest you grab yourself some coffee and chocolates before you commence reading.
I read your post the other day on E-span, (in response to Deidre Knight’s post that she wrote a few weeks ago) trying to defend RWA’s stance on e-publishing, and I must say, I was swearing rather loudly by the time I finished reading your column. I had to immediately take some maximum strength headache tablets, due to the brick-sized foot that seemed to be stamping on my head.
Diane, I get it, I really do, the RWA is a dinosaur that’s hard to move, mired in tradition such as it is. The majority of your members are print-published, so to a certain extent, I do indeed understand your reluctance to embrace anything that on the surface seems to veer away from those very traditions that are an essential part of your history and success.
However Diane, dinosaurs eventually became extinct, and there’s nothing to say that RWA in its current format, will continue to be successful. Myopia has downed many great organisations in the past, and RWA doesn’t have the divine right to be the exception to the rule.
Your stance with regards to digital publishing has turned this into a Them vs Us debate. Print vs E-published, as if the two aren’t able to co-exist happily together, without the constant attempts to undermine and bully the new kid on the block.
You wrote in your column:
“There is, however, a history of RWA attempting to present digital publishing information at conference:”
And yet you were only able to name two such endeavours Diane?
The first being that last year you tried to bring a highly qualified speaker, “Michael Smith, Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) to speak at the PRO Retreat.”
My first thought when I read this was firstly, who is Michael Smith? And my next thought was, is he involved in the romance community? The next thought after that was, what the hell is a PRO retreat, and how can I join?
Anyway, I wanted to learn about who this Michael Smith was, so I Googled him.
Apparently he’s a prominent speaker on digital publishing, having done illustrious gigs such as The London Book Fair,
“Michael Smith is Executive Director of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). Michael aims to help advance the interests of publishers, technologists, and readers by evangelizing the adoption of IDPF standards for electronic reading applications and products. Michael has over 20 years of book publishing and print production expertise. Prior to joining the IDPF, Michael was employed by Toronto based romance publisher Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. where he managed eBook and book production servicing North America, UK and Australian markets.”
I was impressed to see the bit about him having managed HQN’s e-book production, but other than that, I must admit, his brief bi-og left me a little cold. I’m only a romance reader Diane, but even I would have been far more interested in somebody who was intrinsically involved with the industry, rather than someone who seemed to be more like a cog in the wheel – essential perhaps, but not that interesting to the average cyclist, who’s far more interested in how far/fast the bike will go, rather than what the cog in the wheel is made from.
Diane, in my opinion, you guys made two mistakes here – firstly, you didn’t consider your audience when you hired this guy to talk about digital publishing. (I promise you, more romance authors would have found Angela James’ workshop more compelling and relevant to them) Secondly, you restricted the invitation to PRO members, leaving out PAN members. (I found out what PRO’s are, and apparently they are RWA members who have submitted manuscripts, but haven’t been accepted for publication yet.)
If I was an author, published or not, my main attraction to any kind of digital publishing speaker would be whether or not that speaker could sufficiently detail the pros and cons of e-publishing. In other words, can they tell me what’s in it for me, who are the most desirable e-publishers, who should I avoid, what are the financials like, does e-publishing mean that I’m less of an author somehow, what does the future hold as far as digital is concerned?
Are these some of the topics that Mr Smith covered? I can’t find a transcript anywhere, so if anybody attended that workshop, don’t be shy, let me know.
The other part of the “history of RWA attempting to present digital publishing information at conference:” that you mentioned was:
“This year, RWA has asked a literary attorney to hold a session on “What Authors Should Know About Their Digital Rights.”
Apparently, the response was very low from the members.
Perhaps I am being a tad cynical, but I wonder how well these seemingly token gestures were marketed to your members? How much effort was put into trying to get as many people there as possible?
Anyway, apparently, the two examples above seem to be the extent of RWA’s history on providing digital publication information to authors, so let’s move on shall we Diane?
Let’s talk about the short-sightedness of making ineligible, any e-publisher who doesn’t provide a minimum of $1000 advance on all books.
This for me, is where the RWA officially jumped the shark in terms of being an author-led organisation.
I don’t know if you understand the full implication of such a rule Diane, but by insisting that e-publishers at least offer this money on all books, you are telling e-publishers that they have to change their entire business model to that of the traditional print model, before they can dine with you.
How can one organisation miss THE point so much?
Essentially, you are punishing authors who have selected this particular medium to get their books out there. Authors who may not have had a chance to see their work published due to the ever-decreasing strained budgets that traditional print organisations are operating under presently.
One has to wonder if this was really a way of protecting authors, or a case of, if your books don’t fit with us, you can’t sit at our table?
I also wonder if you realise how how anti-e-publishing the tone and tenor of your column was Diane?
Deidre Knight wrote: (re your statement in the Romance Writer’s Report that RWA must consider the needs of all its members)
I would also like to note that in Diane Pershing’s recent RWR letter she stated that RWA must consider the needs of all its members. I find that logic flawed because by insisting that e-published authors aren’t legitimate, haven’t achieved a recognizable benchmark—and that their publishers aren’t legitimate either—RWA is by default only representing the needs of a portion of the membership. No wonder valuable, talented members are leaving the organization or discussing doing so
This was your ham-fisted, and uber defensive response to Deidre’s comments:
This is upside-down logic. E-published authors are only one segment of RWA’s 10,000-member population. What of the huge majority that constitutes the rest of the membership? I stand by my original assertion that by governing in the interest of all its members and not the few, RWA is doing its fiduciary duty. As for members leaving and/or threatening to leave, I have been in RWA for 19 years and on the board for five. Each year members threaten to leave because they are displeased with something. Some do; most don’t. No organization can make everyone happy, but RWA goes on, no matter what.
Basically your response here, to paraphrase is this, ‘Stay or go, there’ll be others who’ll replace you, and you can’t please everybody all of the time, so why try?’
Diane, you don’t seem to get it, this isn’t about pleasing everybody, this is about not going out of your way to alienate a small portion of your membership. This is about arming your members so that they can go out there and make informed decisions about their career paths.
Yes, e-published authors consider writing to be their careers too. Shocker eh?
By acknowledging that the e-publishing model is different to that of the print model, I fail to understand how that would be going against the interest of the majority? Please somebody explain to me, because I just don’t understand what the issues would be.
This further response to Deidre’s comments was also very telling:
Deidre is also speaking as an agent, a successful agent who has taken on some digitally-published authors and negotiated nice contracts with print publishers for them, precisely because of the following and name recognition they achieved through digital publishing. I went to the Knight Agency Web site where recent sales and great deals for their clients are rightly trumpeted. These deals were with a number of publishers, but I didn’t see one primarily digital publisher on that list. Does she represent any authors who are remaining in the digital format and not moving over to print?
The above paragraph confirms what I originally suspected. To you Diane, this indeed is an e-publishing vs print publishing debate. This particular question hammered home the point in no uncertain terms:
“Does she represent any authors who are remaining in the digital format and not moving over to print?”
How obtuse are you that you don’t realise that the two methods of publishing can, and have gone together hand in hand? Why have you made this about favouring one model over the other? Don’t you realise that this is just another method of getting books to readers, and not the beginning of an apocalypse that will singularly wipe out all good, “Career-focused” authors everywhere?
You also wrote:
There are hundreds of publishers whose business model is to make money by signing many authors and selling small quantities of each book. This model does not produce significant income for any author. There are other publishers who do a much better job with regard to acquiring and editing the books, but publish almost exclusively in electronic format. For every author who does well under the “no advance/higher royalty rate” business plan, there are many more who earn very little money because of the limited distribution channels and lack of impulse buys.
You acknowledge that there are unscrupulous e-publishers out there who are shafting their authors, and so to combat this, you punish the authors themselves for having been unfortunate enough, or desperate enough to sign contracts with such fly-by-nighters?
You see no gain in highlighting the few e-pubs out there who have gotten it right? You see no gain in providing assistance/education to those RWA members who may fall prey to such unscrupulous publishers? Instead you choose to ignore their plight, whilst still being happy to take their membership money?
Is this really representing all ten thousand members Diane?
Deidre Knight wrote:
For instance, HarperStudio has created an initiative whereby authors will forego advances and traditional royalties in favor of a fifty-fifty profit share. No advance, no returns, and a larger share of royalties… perhaps RWA will soon feel the need to denounce Harper Collins.
And you gaily responded with the single most ill-formed analogy that I’ve heard in quite a while:
Nope, not denouncing Harper Collins at all, but consider the authors they will be asking to join this initiative—established print authors with reputation and readership. A no-advance model, even a 50-50 model will always benefit those at the top. Brad Pitt can work for no upfront money and accept a nice piece of the net profits of his next film, but what about the actor in the same film with three lines? He’s still considered a pro, has his SAG card. Is he to work for no money? How will he live? After all the percentages have been counted, he has a really good chance of getting nothing at all.
Diane, Brad Pitt was not a mega-star when he first started acting. You do realise that don’t you? He along with most other famous actors probably took jobs that didn’t pay so good,in the hopes of one day becoming like the mega-stars of their early days, who were the ones raking in the big bucks at that time.
“What does RWA do with all of the authors not at the top of the ladder, who are not published by the top two or three digital publishers? For authors who have slaved away for years on their books and then sold them to digital publishers and who get nearly no recognition, sales or financial return, who else will speak for them if RWA does not?”
Somebody made a really good point about the film academy not banning independent film makers from entering the Oscars because they didn’t have the same budgets as the big film companies.
Whether you be an author or an actor, you work your way up the ladder. You put in the best performances that you can, and write the best books that you can, in the hopes of advancing your career.
Nora Roberts’ career spans many years, and she has had incredible success, but that success was built from the bottom up. She too was once a new author eager to find a home for her books.
When she got her first break, I pretty much guarantee that she didn’t have the negotiating power that she now has, i.e everybody has to start somewhere.
How many stories do you read about jobbing actors who went on to mega-stardom?
George Clooney became wildly popular due to a drama series that he was in. He didn’t make the same amount of money then, that he now commands. Most successful people don’t start out that way Diane. This is a fact that you don’t seem to consider in your commentary.
You say that you don’t want to advocate a system where an author isn’t minimally compensated for relinquishing rights, but who’s asking you to do that?
Who’s asking you to advocate e-publishers with a history of shafting their authors?
Surely it’s better to lay out the facts to your members, i.e educate them, then let them make their own decisions with regards to what routes to market they should take?
Surely it’s better to take the handful of successful e-publishers out there, and let your members know that there are reputable digital publishers out there?
The following comment made my teeth hurt Diane:
“Even so, most career-focused authors have books in various stages of completion and publication, so there is a steady flow of money to them. And whenever the money does get there, there will be money, in the thousands of dollars. It is guaranteed. Can the same be said for the digital model?
Although I’ve hinted at this already, you do realise that you’re implying here that print-pubbed authors are career-focused, whereas writers who are digitally published are fly-by-nighters who have no long term goals and aspirations?
Also, your comments seem to suggest that traditional publishing is a guaranteed haven where money will flow to a writer in sufficient amounts to keep them fed, watered and clothed.
I don’t know what the stats are, but I’m pretty sure there are probably more writers out there who have full/part time jobs, than those who rely solely on income from their writing. If anybody has any stats proving otherwise, I’ll be happy to retract my statement.
In all of your commentary, whether you mean to or not, there is a distinctly snobbish and elitist undertone, and it really made me want to stab myself in the eye.
Here’s where I don the pair of glasses of president of RWA, which offers a different point of view. RWA issues a challenge to Ellora’s Cave and Samhain: Pay your authors a minimum $1000 advance against royalties. If they’re already doing so well, you will lose nothing. You will be showing good faith in the authors you sign that you believe in them and their potential. And Romance Writers of America will be thrilled to accept Samhain’s digital workshop proposal for next year and offer comped workshop space and editor appointments for both publishers—and any others who accept this challenge—at next year’s conference in Nashville.
But Diane, the e-publishing model is deliberately different to that of traditional print. Like I noted earlier, you are telling these publishers that before they can join your tea-party, they have to sip their tea the same way that you do?
Whatever happened to embracing innovation and individuality? Whatever happened to fair and balanced? What about those members who have found success within e-publishing? So much so that they have been sought after by prominent publishing houses? How are you representing them Diane?
This comment made me chuckle quite a lot, and not in a good way:
Actually, RWA is quite happily ensconced in the 21st century. Everyone on the board of directors studies the market, reads online and print journals.
I wonder what you mean by studying the market? I know you can’t possibly mean the digital market, because quite frankly, you seem to be a tad ignorant on some of the current debates regarding digital publishing that’s out there right now.
With respect Diane, there’s a lot of dialogue about e-publishing going on that you don’t appear to be aware of, because if you were, you’d have taken one look at your column on E-span and torn it the hell up.
It’s not my place to try to fill the gaps in your knowledge, but I suggest you make your way over to Dear Author, and Jane Litte, who appears to know more about digital publishing than either yourself, or your board.
Also, you seem to suggest that reading online and print journals, means that the board are fully in touch with the digital revolution? Really?
And yet, apparently you’ve only tried to organise two workshops on digital publishing? How can this be?
In your mind, you do believe that you’re trying to represent as many RWA members as possible, I believe that you really believe that, but here’s the rub, e-published authors aren’t the HIV victims of the early eighties that other authors have to stay away from. They really aren’t.
E-published authors are writers too *Gasp* – yeah I said it. Sue me.
I tend to agree with Jane at Dear Author who had this to say about the RWA:
“Here is what I think about this whole hub-bub. Why care what RWA thinks? Why advocate for RWA to change? Why not simply withdraw from the organization. It does nothing but to offer a contests, conventions, and help polishing your first three chapters. I don’t know of one editor who cares whether the submission comes from an RWA member. I don’t know of any reader who cares whether the book is from an RWA member.
In what measurable way does RWA help an author a) sell books or b) become published? There are plenty of ways to meet editors and agents. They go to Lori Foster’s events or Lora Leigh’s events. They might be at ComicCon. They might be at RT. You can even go to the RWA convention without being a member.”
I’ve always considered the RWA to be this jurassic beast that seems to find it hard to deal with the changing face of publishing, and the divergent readers of the genre it purports to represent.
Diane, you had this to say, earlier in your piece:
“10,000 members, all with different, subjective points of view. RWA represents them all.”
No Diane, you don’t. You really don’t. You represent the members who fit within your outdated guidelines of how books should be presented.
I suggest that you change that line to ‘10,000 members all with subjective points of view. RWA represents those who do like we do.’