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!