The latest bitchfest concerning Romance Writers of America and their lack of support for their electronically published members is making my head hurt. Literally. (OK, that might be at least partly due to my cold.)
Every year in the five years I’ve been a member, someone at RWA does or says something to piss someone else off and complete uproar ensues. Members are irate and threaten to leave the organization. Others plan a veritable revolution. Yet every time the fuss dies down within a few weeks and nothing fundamental changes. It’s all highly entertaining in a trainwreck sort of way.
The issues at stake are a variation on a theme:
- RWA disapproves of erotic romance, particularly those which contain homosexuality, BDSM, ménage à trois, etc.
- RWA sees electronically published authors as inferior, wording their guidelines for PAN (Published Author Network) eligibility in such a way as to ensure the exclusion of many epublished members. One particular bone of contention is the requirement of a minimum advance of $1000 upon selling a book to a publisher. As electronic publishers do not pay advances, this immediately excludes their authors from being considered published under the terms laid down by RWA.
- RWA has too many members with diverse needs and should therefore exclude all unpublished writers from the organization.
Here’s my take on those issues:
Given the amount of time and effort RWA has gone to in order to exclude authors of erotic romance and epublished authors – they are often synonymous – from entering various contests, participating in the annual conference literary signing, etc., it’s hard not to accuse them of discriminating against those members. It’s not the place of a professional writers’ organization to dictate its members politics or sexuality. Epublished authors should be treated equally to their print published counterparts. People who write erotic romance have as much right to be in the organization as those who write mainstream or inspirational romance. RWA should HELP its members, not discriminate against them.
I don’t think it’s RWA’s role to make seemingly arbitrary decisions on who is published and who is not based on the presence or absence of a $1000 advance. RWA should be there to educate ALL of its members on ALL of their options on the path to publication. Under the current terms, an author who released one print book ten years ago but nothing since is considered published, but one who has released several ebooks in the last couple of years is deemed unpublished. It’s all rather ridiculous.
Having said all that, I do agree with RWA that an advance is preferable. I understand that the traditional model of advances in print publication is collapsing, but I firmly believe authors should not be expected to bear all of the financial risk. Also, epub scandals (e.g.: Triskelion) and rumours of financial woes (e.g.: Ellora’s Cave) DO make one nervous. Obviously, this is not the fault of the epubbed authors, but RWA does not seem to see it this way. In a hamfisted effort to “protect” its members from potentially dubious epublishers, RWA has succeeded in alienating a large segment of its membership. It would be far better if they kept a list of dodgy publishers so that members could inform themselves before signing a contract. They already have something similar for agents, so why not extend this to include publishers?
As for excluding unpublished members: according to RWA’s website, it was founded in 1981
…to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA works to support the efforts of its members to earn a living, to make a full-time career out of writing romance—or a part-time one that generously supplements his/her main income.
There are currently over 10,000 members of RWA. Of those 10,000 members, 1,885 are published in book-length romance fiction. Even if epublished authors were added to that figure, unpublished members would still outnumber published ones. Many – if not more – unpublished members volunteer their time to help RWA national or their local chapter. I’ve edited the newsletter for my chapter for the past four years. If all of us who are not yet published were to be excluded, it would (a) completely undermine RWA’s stated purpose and (b) strip RWA of thousands of membership dues and volunteers to help make the organization the powerhouse that it is. In short, RWA would not have the clout that it does were it not for its large membership.
So what can be done? Volunteer your time and run for positions on the RWA board. Both RWA National’s board of directors and the leadership of local chapters are elected positions. If I recall correctly, the last national election ballot featured several positions with candidates who ran uncontested, so of course they got voted it. Basically, if members want things done differently, they need to stop bitching and take action. It really is that simple.
For other viewpoints: