My friend and critique partner Marie Tuhart just directed me to the RWA website where they have posted a new definition of "Subsidy" and "Vanity Publisher." Here it is exactly as shown:
New RWA Publisher Definition Issued on July 25, 2007
At the request of members, the Board has re-visited the definitions of "Subsidy Publisher" and "Vanity Publisher." After considering the advice of legal and industry professionals, along with suggestions by our Publisher Recognition Task Force, the board met in a telephonic board meeting on July 25th and redefined the terms "Subsidy Publisher" and "Vanity Publisher" as follows:
"Subsidy Publisher" means any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs of production 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 or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs.
"Vanity Publisher" means any publisher whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing and distribution are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and/or associates.
RWA’s mission is to promote the professional interests of career-focused romance authors through networking and advocacy. Advocacy is one of the main reasons RWA exists, and since advocacy is included in RWA's core purpose, mandated by the Bylaws, the Board cannot simply decide to stop advocating for the fair treatment of RWA's members.
Though we know some RWA members disagree, when determining whether a publisher is a Vanity Publisher, RWA believes it is important to look at distribution of books. When a publisher does not pay an advance and does not become involved with marketing and distribution, it is, in reality, acting as nothing more than a consignment dealer for the book. Providing this kind of service requires little or nothing of the publisher, and the responsibility to market the product and drive traffic to single distribution point falls upon the author. There is nothing two-sided about this kind of arrangement, no give and take where both sides involved incur risk and both stand to gain. In this situation the author incurs all of the financial risk in attempting to market a product.
On the other hand, if a publisher doesn't pay an advance, but is investing time, energy, and money to provide alternate means of distribution, the publisher is at least somewhat invested in the product. This investment moves this relationship away from a consignment arrangement and closer to a two sided publishing agreement where the author and publisher are crucial to one another. Some of the methods of national distribution that benefit an author are: Advertising in national trade or consumer magazines, wholesaler agreements, Amazon.com-type internet bookstore agreements, or national chain bookstore agreements to carry a publisher's titles. Also included are exhibiting at national and/or regional tradeshows and book fairs as well as advertising to readers.
Right now, publishing is changing daily. Companies are rising and falling with alarming speed, but it is the writers who are being hurt when a company goes under or fails to live up to promises. There are, of course, many stable and viable publishing companies who have become established in the past few years, but even with those companies RWA must continue to advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of its authors, as it has always done with long established publishers. RWA welcomes the addition of strong, viable publishers because any increase in reliable, reputable avenues of publishing is good for writers in general.
There will never come a time, however, when a writer can afford to assume any contract is good. It will always be the author's responsibility to read all the clauses, question the ones he/she doesn't understand, find out what the industry standard is, and only then, with full knowledge, make the decision to sign or not to sign. The hard truth is that a Vanity Publisher or Subsidy Publisher is not, in general, as favorable to the writer as an advance-paying non-Vanity Publisher or non-Subsidy Publisher. RWA is not here to determine who should sign or not sign any specific contract. That decision remains solely with the author. But in its role as advocate for its members, RWA must take a stand.
For anyone who missed the hoopla, please go here to my post of July 12 for details.
I think this is a much more reasonable definition than the one distributed to the membership during the RWA National meeting in Dallas. Gone is any mention of "publishers whose primary means of offering books for sale is through a publisher-generated Web site."
With respect to the line that reads: "Though we know some RWA members disagree, when determining whether a publisher is a Vanity Publisher, RWA believes it is important to look at distribution of books," frankly, I think this is a face-saving device, and I don't begrudge it to the RWA Board at all. In fact, I admire them for taking action so quickly after the Annual General Meeting (AGM).