Sunday, January 25, 2009

RWA Commentary--Gregory

While I am temporarily reopening the RWA issue.... The following is a forum post by Xandra Gregory, a LSB author (reprinted with permission).

RWA's biggest problems stem from the dual need it has to both encourage its members in their careers (providing markets, growing readership and increasing visibility for the genre, etc.) and act as a guardian/advocate against the career paths that take undue advantage of authors. For starters, there's just no real good way to do that except on a case-by-case basis. RWA's best intentions are setting up an environment where the organization "norms" include a career path that enables a writer to earn decent money, see his or her books in places where they can be bought by customers, and retain reasonable rights to his or her intellectual property.

What this does is sets up a tacit approval of the "proper" way a career should progress. What this fails to do is take into account new markets, emerging markets, or "breakout" situations where an author can expand the reach of romance, grow her audience, or explore new methods of getting stories in front of people and getting money for said stories.

It's not inherently bad to say, "authors should be paid at least X for their time and effort, and should be able to keep Y from their publishers without penalty." But it all goes pear-shaped because firstly, RWA doesn't have the kind of muscle needed to enforce the norms they set in place--the thing where RWA advocated with Harlequin over the ownership of pen names wasn't something that happened overnight. It took *years* and it depended on a lot of agents and authors and editors, too, having good will towards working together. And RWA couldn't do much if the results were different. Harlequin would have done what Harlequin was going to do for business, period.

But by the same token, RWA is dropping the ball on things like electronic rights. Instead of making their members fully aware that electronic publishers offer somewhere in the range of 35-50% royalties on a title, while traditional/NY/mainly-print publishers are offering the same royalties on electronic editions as their mass-market paperbacks (somewhere around 8-10%), the RWA is busy nitpicking over how many pennies make a "srs bzns" writer, and why a book is only a real book if it's sold by bookstore Z. RWA should be warning its authors to negotiate e-rights separately, and to pay attention to "worldwide" rights and their presence or absence (see "Hachette Book Group" and "no more ebook titles" en la Google).

Upthread, someone mentioned that members should push for an erotic romance RITA category. I've been a member of Passionate Ink (the erotica/erotic romance) chapter since its inception, and our board members have been pushing for an erotic RITA category from the word "go." And every year, we've been stonewalled. There are good and bad points on both sides, as other posters have pointed out (if romances aren't just about "the sex" then the sexual content and heat level shouldn't matter, versus how can an erotically-focused novel be accurately compared to one that is not when the points of the two books are different). Efforts were shifted into providing RITA judges with an option to either opt-in or opt-out of judging explicit content, that also met with a dead-end. So on PI's part, it's not for lack of trying.

I'm a member of RWA for at least another year, because I think the organization can change, and it's still a really good value for the unpublished writer, or the writer just starting out. There's a lot out on the internet about writing, but there's a lot of crap out there, too. RWA is one of the places that can weed out the crap about writing (even if it engages in its own crap-manufacture in other ways). My own local chapter brings in editors and agents periodically, so my membership gets me access to them on a more intimate level than the slush pile. My chapter also embraces e-published and non-traditional published authors, erotica/erotic romance writers, and even mystery writers if they're open to romantic subplots. National membership buys me access to my local events and Passionate Ink, and it's still within the realm of "can afford even if I'm not crazy about some of the stuff going on." It may edge its way out of there in the future, but it's still there for now.

(see also: Why RWA Needs to Revisit PAN Eligibility Rules)


Jeanne St. James said...

I hope RWA can change. I sure hope so. I've been a member since the early 90s and I'd hate to give up on it.

Athena Grayson said...

If the RWA refuses to change, it will lose relevance. It will become less useful, and have less to offer, to its members. I, too, hope RWA moves towards understanding more and different viable streams of publishing than the existing most common practices.