Today was the first day of the RWA convention. I had a great time. I attended three workshops and the luncheon. The workshops were: How to Write the Unputdownable Book by Joan Johnston; Writing Romantic Suspense by Karen Rose and How to Write Humor by Karen Hawkins. All were excellent. Lisa Klepas was the keynote speaker at the luncheon.
At 2:15 PM, the Annual General Meeting (AGM) began. There were a large number of speakers who addressed three contentious policy issues that are under consideration:
1) The definition of a subsidy or vanity publisher has been rewritten to include the following: publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site.
2) Eligibility requirements for membership in PAN--the Published Author Network--of RWA have been changed to include earnings criteria. I am going to reprint the entire change below because it is tied to #1 above:
The Board also voted to change PAN eligibility requirements to offer two methods by which RWA members may now become members of PAN.
Option One: Any RWA General or Honorary member who has earned at least $1,000 in the form of an advance from a single romance novel or novella published by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher may join PAN either as a full member (once the title is published) or as a provisional member for an eighteen-month period while awaiting publication of the title. In order to qualify for PAN under Option One, the member must submit a copy of the signature page of the contract to the Office along with either of the following: (1) a copy of the contract page showing an advance of at least $1,000; or (2) a letter from the acquiring editor stating that the author has earned at least $1,000 in the form of an advance.
Option Two: Any RWA General or Honorary member who has earned at least $1,000 in the form of royalties or a combination of advance plus royalties on a single published romance novel or novella published by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher may join PAN as a full member following the publication of the title. In order to qualify for PAN under Option Two, the member must submit a copy of the novel's or novella's copyright page to the Office along with either of the following: (1) royalty statement(s) from the publisher showing earnings of at least $1,000; or (2) a letter from the acquiring editor stating that the author has earned at least $1,000 in the form of royalties or an advance plus royalties. Documentation must reflect earnings on a single novel or novella. In the case of a multiple-book contract, or in the event royalty statement(s) show earnings on multiple books, the earnings on the qualifying novel or novella must be shown separately. Any percentage of earnings deducted by an agent shall still be considered earnings to the author; however, the pre-deduction figure must be reflected in the documentation.
You see the sticking point, don't you? By definition, any e-publisher is considered a Subsidy or Vanity Publisher so the e-pubbed writer is ineligible for PAN.
The Board was clearly nonplussed by this interpretation of the proposed changes. The Board president said that, because Ellora's Cave (she never mentioned another e-publisher) also sells books on Amazon and in bookstores, the Subsidy or Vanity Publisher definition would not apply. However, that is NOT what the definition says. The definition doesn't say "publishers with multiple distribution channels"; it says "publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site." That would include all electronic publishers.
More to the point, the definition of subsidy or vanity publisher has NOTHING TO DO WITH DISTRIBUTION. It refers to the way the money flows. In traditional publishing, the money flows from the publisher TO the writer. In subsidy or vanity publishing, the money flows FROM the writer to the "publisher."
When I stood up to make this point, I was told that the Board hired a small press attorney to develop the definition. I said, "With respect, ma'am, the Board needs to hire a new attorney." Although the comment garnered laughter and applause, I was dead serious.
I think the RWA Board members assume a heavy mantle of responsibility and work long and often thankless hours. However, at the same time, I think this definition of a subsidy or vanity publisher is so far off base that they cannot let it stand. It will subject them to charges of bias against electronic publishing at the very time when RWA should be embracing e-publishing.
3) The third item of contention was this:
After extensive discussion, the Board decided not to add an erotic romance category to the contests due in part to the inherently indefinable nature of erotic romance. Romance entries with highly sensual and sexual content may be entered in any category. General contest instructions to judges for all categories now state that highly sensual and sexual content may be present in their judging panel.
I think that this was the Board taking advantage of a failure of the erotic romance writers to present a united front. The Board just passed the political hot potato to another board in another year.
I am a founder of Passionate Ink, the erotic romance chapter of RWA. We have a very specific definition of erotic romance. I suspect it will take a campaign by erotic romance writers USING ONE DEFINITION to change this stance on the part of RWA. My experience thus far of RWA suggests this will not happen in this fiscal year.