Career Paths, There Are More Than One (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb)

I did a bad thing this week. Okay, so I did several bad things this week but the one I’m going to tell you all about is the time I cracked open my June RWR and read the President’s Letter.

Now, sigh, I don’t normally do this. In fact, for the last several years I try to avoid reading that and the letters page. This is good for my blood pressure and it keeps my general annoyance level low(er). But I did and I could blame it all on twitter and those people who mentioned it and piqued my curiosity, but I will own it. I read it and then it made me mad.

No. It made me pissed.

It made me pissed because I’m a member of the RWA and I have looked at so many letters from people in charge with so much derision and flippant nasty toward those who dont’ simply nod and agree that it makes me crazy. I don’t care if whoever holds whatever position in the organization likes me, or likes what you write, or likes what she writes. I don’t care if she doesn’t like digital publishing. These are personal things and we all have preferences. That’s what makes us human, that’s what gets me an extra seafood spring roll because my husband doesn’t like his so I get to have even more carby goodness. With shrimp.

No, what I am bothered by is the continued refusal by the part of some in positions of great power within a writer’s organization with respect to any path but the dominant one.

The RWA is a large organization. They do not always make decisions I like or support. But I’ve stayed because it’s my organization too and I believe, quite honestly, that the majority of members are NOT reflective of this intolerance from the top. It’s why you hear over and over from people that they’d quit the National organization if they could, but their chapters keep them paying dues yearly. Some of the leadership at the top could learn from what the chapters are doing. I wish they would.

I do not believe anyone within the RWA is jealous of epublishing. I don’t believe they’re jealous of erotic romance or out to get anyone or anything so very dramatic. I do believe that there are people at the very top who simply do not care and do not bother to learn, about this industry. And they do so quite belligerently given the things they say in the RWR and on the loops.

I won’t lie, I find the entire two page letter from the President in the June RWR to be beyond unprofessional. Reading, “Then we have members who say the only reason they joined was to “enter the RITA.” They need to know they can enter the RITA even if they are not members and, frankly, are free to leave at any time” to be so ridiculously nasty I wish I could be shocked. But I’m not. Because this is more of the same in that column space which is why I never read it.

We are ALL members of the RWA. To bring something up and have the president tell you to get out stuns me because it’s beyond non-responsive, it’s a slap at anyone who doesn’t feel the same. I don’t belong just to enter the RITA, but if I did, it’s my damned right to say so and it’s my damned right to bring my concerns about the unevenness with regard to the RITA to the board, including the president. So while they are free to quit, it’s the JOB of the president to actually be responsive to her members instead of giving them the equivalent of a middle finger.

Beyond that, which is, as I say, pretty much more of the same – my biggest issue is the continued, stubborn lack of education on the part of the president and some board members about digital publishing and this obsessive fetishization of the advance as an indicator of “career focus”

There is more than one path to having a writing career. Many authors mix and match between lengths (some write category and single title). Some authors write multiple sub-genres (Sylvia Day for instance writes historical, paranormal, sensual, erotic, fantasy, urban fantasy and contemporary. She’s not alone by any means.) Some authors write in more than one medium – between traditional and digital. Some authors stick to a single line and a single genre and medium. Some writers spend years before that first book sells.

The point being – this continued insistence that there is only one true way and all others are not career focused is silly, outdated and incorrect.

The point being, the RWA fails her members by taking this tack and failing to commit to educate members about how to manage different aspects of her career. They do this for a whole lot of reasons I’m sure. But frankly, I don’t care why. Even if they hate digital publishing, it’s not up to their personal preferences to run a national organization with over 10K members. Pershing and Lewis before her, are very fond of belittling points of view which are not theirs with the “this is an organization of many so your personal opinion doesn’t mean anything” stuff. But, last time I checked, an organization of many is made up of individuals. Also, it’s way more than one author bringing up this issue. The point is, this is MY organization too and it is absolutely my right and my obligation to watch my ass and make sure the career choices I make are good ones. For me. Your choices may be different but I’d expect any of us to do the same.

For many authors, the advance is a huge issue. This is how they feel they should have a career. And that is totally fine with me. It’s not my business what people’s plans are, it’s only my business what MY plan is. And I’d say the same for those in the RWA who are fetishizing this path.

Pershing says of digital publishing that most authors won’t make a lot of money. I think, to a certain extent, this is true. It’s not my experience, but there are many authors sending books to pubs who do no marketing, no editing and have their people online damaging their reader relationship. Just as I think, to a certain extent, many authors in traditional publishing aren’t making much more, if any, than that original advance. If you’re in this biz to make money, you’re in the wrong biz, LOL.

Love it or hate it, digital publishing is not going away. And as more authors get into it, the greater the chance they will make mistakes or be taken advantage of. It is absolutely imperative the RWA actually make the effort to help educate those authors thinking of making the move to digital publishing. What does a contract look like? Is it fair? What is fair? If I’m not getting an advance, what sorts of options, if any, should I sign away? Why or why not? What rights are in that contract? Should I sign them away? What are things to look for in a publisher of what I write?

The deal is, I can tell you all how much money I’ve made from epublishing, I can tell you my good experiences and my bad. But the truth is, none of that really matters because the issue is not about my success, it’s about how people should be served by an organization who takes their money and uses their sales numbers but who does not represent them adequately in some cases.

In my opinion, the issue is not whether I like it. Or whether Diane Pershing likes it. Or whether you like it. The issue is, just because one mode is predominant and has been around longer, doesn’t mean all other modes are bad or wrong. They are different. I expect the RWA to educate her authors when they ask for it. I don’t expect the president to tell members to get out if they feel differently (even if she thinks it! God knows I read some of the anti-RWA diatribe on some of the chapter loops and I wonder why the hell people join if they hate the RWA so much).

I expect representation. I expect education on emerging technologies and trends on the part of those who set the direction of an organization. I don’t expect us all to agree on every point, but I do expect some sort of actual, well you know, um, manners? Professionalism? No, CIVILITY, that’s the word – from people elected to represent not just my needs, not just your needs but the needs of ten thousand members and a recognition that there is no one true way. Some ways are more lucrative for some people, some ways are disastrous for some people. But what you may feel personally is not my concern.

Digital publishing is, in fact, career focused. It’s part of MY career focus. I’ve had 29 books and novellas published with another six more contracted to come out by the end of next year. Both traditional published and digital published. For me, and for many others, this is a career. A career I have worked my ass off for and one that other authors helped me navigate because to be totally blunt, the RWA has not helped me in that vein at all. I make more and more money as the years pass. Enough to make me smile and sort of blink in confusion when we do our taxes. This is my career, this makes me happy. Other people who are far better writers than I am make less or it takes them years to sell. But who am I or anyone else to say someone who makes less isn’t as career focused?

I don’t hate the RWA. I love the RWA. It’s why I keep paying my yearly dues. It’s why I’m hoping to partipate more within the national organization. I believe this community is vibrant and strong and full of creative people who have different opinions about all sorts of things. So I find it short sighted and myopic to be so obsessed with this advance of 1K thing. I’ve heard the argument and I’ll say, despite how vulgar it is, that I made more than that from my backlist from a digital pub I haven’t written for in years – just last month. That’s not a place I write regularly for either. The point is, you can make money in digital publishing and it sure helps that goal if you have some tools to make better choices.

I’d LOVE it if Angela James could be on a panel with NY editors and a few agents at national. I’d love it if authors could be educated on why they should or shouldn’t sign a contract with a pub who doesn’t offer an advance. On what factors an advance should guarantee an author. I’d never give options without an advance, by the way. For several reasons, but the main one being, if you want to lease my future, I want consideration – that would be money up front in my case. Other people feel differently. What possible harm does it do to tell authors WHY?

In the end, I think as time passes and more authors who straddle between mediums or know enough people who write for legitimate and successful digital publishers, move into leadership positions things will change. In the meantime, I need to stop reading that darned president’s letter!

28 comments to “Career Paths, There Are More Than One (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb)”

  1. Leslie Dicken
    June 5th, 2009 at 11:45 am · Link

    “Then we have members who say the only reason they joined was to “enter the RITA.” They need to know they can enter the RITA even if they are not members and, frankly, are free to leave at any time”

    Yeah, that really got me too. I read it several times over to make sure that was what she was really saying. 😯

    Thoughtful post, Lauren, on a touchy subject!

  2. Jaci Burton
    June 5th, 2009 at 11:51 am · Link

    This is brilliant. Well thought out and professionally stated. I couldn’t have said it better and I agree with every point you made. RWA needs to start serving all of its members, not just some. And it’s woefully behind on its own education. Time to savvy up!

  3. Joy Roach
    June 5th, 2009 at 11:58 am · Link

    Well said 🙂

  4. Bree
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:01 pm · Link

    Thank you. Every time something like this smashes its way into the blogosphere and twitterverse I have to spend a lot of time feeling very, very isolated. Maybe it’s because Donna & I have each other and so we missed all the opportunities to make friends and find crit partners & fellow authors, or because our local chapter has expressed enough down-the-nose disdain in various forums that we never dared get near them, or the fact that we joined the RWA and fell into the epub’d no-man’s land 2 months later and spent the next 10 months being told we are uneducated hobbyists.

    Either way, Diane Pershing has done more to make me feel alone and alienated in this very scary business than any other single person, and she’s the reason I let my membership lapse after one year. I don’t care what she thinks personally, but I’d hoped her professional opinions would be…well, professional. But just because she hadn’t told me to get the hell out before didn’t mean I hadn’t been hearing it since her very first letter. I guess I just took her advice, since I didn’t have anything invested in the RWA.

  5. ArkansasCyndi
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:03 pm · Link

    I’m impressed with the logic of your arguments. Well stated. Not over the top screaming, as I’ve seen many do, which of course does no good.

    I think digital will be the path I go. It would be nice if RWA spent more time educating members on this delivery method. I think we will see more and more books on digital media.

  6. Mel
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:14 pm · Link

    First, mad props for the Dr. Strangelove reference:)
    Secondly, I really have nothing to add. You said it all so well. It is not a problem for me if authors don’t like digital, but it is a viable way to be published and it is expanding our reader base. Isn’t that part of the mission statement by RWA?
    Again, I don’t see the problem here, or why so many people on the board hate digital publishing. The class I did with Angie and Shelley was well attended last year and I know Angie was there after the class answering questions.
    I wish we could change up the board, put some new blood up there, but people just don’t seem ready to vote for others who are primarily digital or have a solid reader base in digital publishing.

  7. azteclady
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:19 pm · Link

    I think this is the bottom line:

    people should be served by an organization who takes their money and uses their sales numbers but who does not represent them adequately in some cases

  8. Shayla Black
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:19 pm · Link

    I bow, Lauren. That was brilliant. I’ve been making many of these arguments for years. I don’t need RWA to be my mommy; I need them to keep me informed. And they’ve chosen over and over not to do it. I’ve been a member since 1989, and I’m too stubborn to just leave, but I continually sigh and shake my head when I read this kind of crap. When will leadership realize the times are changing?

  9. Crystal Jordan
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:30 pm · Link

    Thank you, Lauren, for expressing what I’m sure many, many others feel. That was awesome!

  10. Jackie Barbosa
    June 5th, 2009 at 12:36 pm · Link

    Thanks, Lauren. That was a great post, and you reminded why I remain a member of RWA even though I find the attitude at the top to be maddening and ostrich-headed at times.

  11. Jacs
    June 5th, 2009 at 1:00 pm · Link

    Lauren–TY for that. Very eloquent post. I completely agree with you on all points. The digital age is here to stay and RWA needs to deal with that fact accordingly.

  12. Heather Massey
    June 5th, 2009 at 8:09 pm · Link

    Well said.

  13. Collette
    June 5th, 2009 at 9:00 pm · Link

    Wow, I had no idea it was quite that bad. As always, an articulate, logical and above all, CIVIL post. Too bad that’s not catching, huh?

  14. Melissa
    June 6th, 2009 at 12:44 am · Link

    Not a member, but I’m wondering how those in power get to BE in power??
    Are they elected to represent you?
    If they’re not, WHY not?
    This is, in essence, a union of people who joined together to accomplish more, right?
    Seems to me that with the massive amount of digital publishing going on, there should be representation or support at EVERY level.

  15. laurendane
    June 6th, 2009 at 8:34 am · Link

    Melissa – yes they are elected. I don’t want to minimize what I am totally convinced must be a huge job for the president of the RWA. But I must confess, since I’ve joined it’s been the same, year after year. part of the issue, I think is that there’s usually only one candidate and that the candidate statements for all the open positions are horrible.

    These candidate statements drive me nuts because they say nothing. Of COURSE you love romance. Like that’s informational?

    I want to know what they care about that isn’t obvious. What are their feelings on the biggest challenges facing publishing and writing? How do they propose to reach out to the next generation of authors – many of whom are genre straddlers, many of whom publish in multiple formats?

    I don’t want to hear that they like puppies and rainbows and they love romance – these things don’t give me any information about what kind of leader they’ll be or why I should vote for them or not.

  16. laurendane
    June 6th, 2009 at 8:36 am · Link

    thank you, everyone for coming by and reading and commenting!

  17. laurendane
    June 6th, 2009 at 8:36 am · Link

    Bree – this makes me so sad! This is an organization that should be reaching out, not shoving people away. It makes me angry to know there are many folks like you who have been estranged from the RWA.

  18. katiebabs
    June 6th, 2009 at 9:34 am · Link

    Great post Lauren!

    Digital publishing is the wave of the future. Why not embrace it? Why would an organization such as RWA be so against it if it can help others become published? I joined RWA because I felt it was a great community to meet people and network. I really don’t feel that RWA can help me become published. In the end it all comes down to me and the step I take towards that goal.

    Can’t wait to meet you at Nationals in a few weeks :mrgreen:

  19. Renee
    June 6th, 2009 at 10:06 am · Link

    Wow this is a great post. I am not a writer/author. But what you said holds true for any organization. And times change and technologies change. To not accept that and keep updated on that is shortsided. That would be like me trying to do my job as a secretary and telling my boss that I can’t be bothered to learn a newer software because it isn’t the the way things have been done. I bet I would find myself out of a job really fast.

  20. Nancy
    June 6th, 2009 at 12:10 pm · Link

    Thanks for this post! I’ve been debating for a long time whether to join up and year after year I hear about those in power who just don’t seem to care about their members.

    I have yet to hear any positives about being a part of RWA. Yes, there’s the sense of community but I can get that from a loop or on other messageboards for free. What does RWA provide that we can’t get online or in our own city author organizations and chapters?

    Until RWA recognizes all romance authors and all their published forms then I think I’ll just stay in these other writing communities.

  21. laurendane
    June 6th, 2009 at 2:53 pm · Link

    KB – I don’t really know what it is. I think to a large extent, the rank and file don’t feel that way, but don’t know enough to really grasp on one way or another. Higher up, it seems like they’re actively not wanting to know. I do not know why, I really don’t.

    Renee – I was talking to my dude last night and he said, “they’re a club then? Not an advocacy organization” and I think that is pretty close to the truth in a lot of ways. I have enough clubs, I dont’ need to pay 85 bucks a year to be told to get out if I disagree. pffft.

    Nancy – I do think the RWA is a good organization on many levels. It’s sort of top heavy with power, but the real learning, the real cammaderie and support, etc, comes from the ground up. Local and specialty chapters are a lot more open and eager to learn and embrace all kinds of members. I wouldn’t stay and fight if I didn’t think it was worth it.

  22. VG
    June 7th, 2009 at 8:40 am · Link

    I think a lot of writers, published or not, feel trapped by RWA more often than not, and that could be why animosity towards it is on the rise.


    The organization offers you a key into a club that can boost your career ten times faster than if a person was on their own. Then, once your career begins, RWA offers recognition, marketing experiences, networking, etc.

    From tadpole to frog, RWA offers it all, and no other organization does that for romance writers specifically. Not to the same degree as RWA.

    So when you take issue with the views of the big wigs at RWA…where else can you go? No where. You’re trapped and maybe even terrified to get black balled by the immaturity apparent in responses to members concerns if you openly disagree.

    Agents and editors take you more serious when you belong to RWA, so you can’t just “go”. You get in the door to some agents and editors by networking exclusively which means you have to get out there to hob-knob with the best in the industry.

    Conferences are the perfect place to do that. But there is a decision to make. You could go to several small conferences and spend a lot of time and money on traveling, or you make the plunge and go to the one big one, RWA Woooo!, which is less time and travel but so expensive it seems more like an exclusive club for the rich and successful than a venue for helping struggling writers.

    I knew all of this when I joined but I really wanted the benefits of my local chapter, so like Lauren Dane mentioned, I throw my dues down every year. My local chapter has made it all worth it, my career has started because of the wonderful women who have guided me away from newb ideals into the world of publishing. But I have to say, I dream of getting into top RWA seats to shake things up a bit because the main RWA membership does nothing for me except kick me when I’m down with their opinions.

    The future comes, and the print-book-snobbery of the RWA headmasters must come to an end.

    But that’s not all…

    Although I would love to say degenerating attitude of RWA heads is just a snobbery against ebooks and epubs, I have to admit that lately, I would rather converse with my local DMV/Secretary of State office clerk than bring up a problem with an RWA official.

    I’ve written emails to ask questions three times and only once did I get a response that treated me as a person and not a moron.

    It is demeaning and humiliating to pay dues every year to an organization that basically pees all over my cheerios, and while I’m a strong enough person to take it without too many mental health issues, I have to admit if I could get the same benefits elsewhere, then elsewhere I would “go”.

    Thanks for this post Lauren, and thanks for reading my short novella here. Sheesh.

    **disclaimer on all typos due to circumstances well within my control but outside of my ambition.

  23. Sasha
    June 7th, 2009 at 2:32 pm · Link

    Great posty, Lauren. I wish I could read it and think, “Hey things might finally start to happen within the RWA,” but the sad fact is, it’s been this way for many years past, and I believe it will stay that way for many years to come.

    It’s not often I give up on things, but I admit I gave up on RWA being a non-judgmental and fair organization long ago.

  24. Cindy Spencer Pape
    June 7th, 2009 at 7:54 pm · Link

    This was beautifully articulated. Thank you!

  25. Theresa Meyers
    June 11th, 2009 at 7:16 am · Link


    A very interesting post and a very valid position. Having been in RWA since 1993, I’d say that they have fallen behind in making their membership educated on the changes in the industry.

    I get the 1k advance thing. They are trying, despite it’s lack of success, to keep writers from giving it away for free and bringing the standards of advances down across the board for all of us. It’s happened before.

    But learning about the royalites as a different form of compensation and how they work in digital would be of help to all of us.

    I’d love to see you give a class online about what you’ve learned in the digital publishing, what to watch for, what to ask for, etc.

    Thanks for the thoughtful twitter & post.

  26. Kelly Jamieson
    June 15th, 2009 at 8:12 am · Link

    Thank you Lauren for posting that. My exact feeling when I read that President’s Letter. What really concerns me is the stubbornness – the complete unwillingness to take a step back and rethink things.

  27. Alessia Brio
    June 17th, 2009 at 6:37 am · Link

    Well said, Lauren.

  28. Lise Horton
    June 17th, 2009 at 1:50 pm · Link

    RIGHT ON, Lauren! You’ve said it all beautifully. What I could add is the fact that what digital publishing offers authors is the opportunity to write outside the tried-and-true traditional publishing box. Blending genres, trying new things, being a bit forward thinking. And the issue with traditional publishers is that no matter if, say, Avon, receives 100 excellent historical Regency romances in one month, they can only publish the few that their structure permits. Four? Five? SO, 96 excellent Regencies are not getting published and no one is getting anything, royalties OR advances.

    As many currently successful novelists indicate (yourself included) a successful digital career can lead to success with traditional NY publishers. And beyond. We cannot all begin our careers in print in NYC. Not feasible.

    And a last note – Dianne Pershing’s argument seems to indicate that everyone should make the same money. Well, I’ll be blunt. Regardless of the quality of the book in question, some authors are going to make more than others because they are more experienced with marketing and self-promotion. Or they have more money to do this with. Or more time to travel. Or more connections. When one e-pubbed author has no sales, it is not, automatically the publisher’s fault. Though Ms. Pershing appears to look at the entire e-publishing/digital industry as some sort of Dementor-run operation out to suck the joy from our lives. Thank you for your plain-spoken argument against the current regime, and for your optimism that the future holds change.