I'm staying at the Hyatt Hotel in Dallas, attending the 2007 RWA Convention. Even though I live in the area, I'm rooming with Marie Tuhart, one of my critique partners. We've been having a ball.
Tomorrow at 2:00 PM is the RWA Annual General Meeting. I was not planning on attending since I was under the impression that there was nothing big going on. I've fallen in love with the Hyatt's gym and have been hitting it twice a day. My plan was to spend some time with the treadmill during the AGM.
When I came back from working out today, Marie greeted me with a copy of the notes from the RWA Board meeting this past weekend. She pointed to a couple of proposed changes to the RWA by-laws that almost knocked me off my feet.
RWA has clearly been alarmed by one of their RWA recognized publishers shutting its doors (see my post about Triskelion here). The notes from the Board meeting indicated that RWA never intended to confer a "stamp of approval" on the publishers it listed. I suspect they are concerned about liability. I would be, too.
To that end, they are changing their language to "Eligible Publisher so that it deals solely with RWA's allocation of its programs and resources, primarily at our national Conference."
The first of the proposed changes Marie pointed to talked about how a publisher can qualify for "official publisher participation":
Commencing with RWA's 2008 National Conference, for official publisher participation, a romance publisher must verify to RWA that it: (1) is not a Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher; (2) has been releasing romance novels via national distribution for no fewer than three years, with no fewer than two full-length romance novels or novel-length romance anthologies published in each of three consecutive years; (3) provides per book advances of at least $1,000 for all books; and (4) pays all authors participating in an anthology an advance of at least $500."
The Board justifies inserting this language by saying that $1,000 is not very much money. However, with this action, they are effectively blocking most, if not all, e-publishers since the majority of them do not pay advances.
However, the change that seriously concerns me is this:
The Board updated the definition of Subsidy Publisher or Vanity Publisher to: any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the cost of production or distribution in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution.
This definition includes publishers who withhold or seek full or partial payment of reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishers whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site; publishers whose list is comprised of 50% or more of its books written by authors who are principals in the publishing company; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates.
Please explain to me HOW selling books through a publisher-generated website makes a publisher a vanity press? This does not even make sense.
I'm disturbed for several reasons:
1) RWA's Board seems to be taking a regressive approach to electronic publishing. Both the "advance" language and the "publisher-generated Web site" language seem directed at e-publishers. This is EXACTLY the wrong approach to be taking in a era that is increasingly digital. I want my professional organization to be on the cutting edge, not dragging its heels.
2) I am concerned by what appears to be the discriminatory nature of this action. I am hoping that the Board will have an explanation that makes sense.
I'll provide further reports as I have them.