Does money make you legimate? Is it the sole barometer of success in a career? Does a lot of money make you a better writer, painter, clothing designer, singer, actor, whatever?
In the never ending attempt to marginalize that which isn’t understood by some forces within the RWA, money seems to be the factor they’ve hung their hat on most recently and I’d like to address it. (I say some forces because I do not believe everyone on the national board, or everyone within the RWA feels this way.)
Last year, the PAN eligibility rules were changed. Publisher recognition was abolished and instead, a nonsensical and pretty much incoherent policy replaced it – the 1K advance rule. So, if a publisher does not pay at least 1K in advances it’s not that they’re not recognized, it’s that they’re not allowed to have editor appointments at National, or publisher spotlights.
A slight detour for a moment – to be totally honest, I don’t believe PAN has done anything for my career. I don’t hate PAN, but I think there’s a sense from the outside that PAN is so totally awesome that once you belong a lake of liquid rainbows with boats guided by unicorns comes and sweeps you into a magical land where book deals fall from the sky like skittles in those commercials. Maybe I don’t know the secret entrance for that stuff, but that’s not been my personal experience. Perhaps I’m not career focused enough. Shrug. To be totally honest, I joined PAN because it was the only way I could get my website listed on the RWA website. I’m told there are ribbons or buttons or somesuch for badges at National. Whatever. I’m quite sure many authors get a lot from PAN (and I’m not being sarcastic).
Anyhoodle, so to get back to the subject of money – the argument, a complicated mishmash of sillyness not backed up by any actual data, is that this magical 1K advance makes a publisher legitimate. Therefore, any author not writing for a publisher who pays this magical 1K advance is not “career focused.” **edited to add: Jackie Barbosa makes the very good point in comments that an author can still be PAN eligible if she earns the 1K in royalties on one title or in combination. This does not apply to publisher eligibility, but it does affect PAN eligibility for that author so I should have mentioned it**
When pressed for an actual, you know, fact/logic based definition of career focused, we hear the same thing – it’s about money. If a publisher does not pay you 1K advance, they are “getting something for nothing”
Setting aside the absolute ridiculousness of that comment for a moment, let’s talk about money, shall we?
The Author’s Guild of America did a survey of its members on money. Money IS important, don’t get me wrong. I like money. A lot. But when all was said and done, the AG survey came up with this: The average author earns about $10,000 a year. Yes, I said $10,000. Hmm, I wonder if they got that magical 1K advance or not, since that sort of money is far, far lower than the poverty limit.
My point being, MOST authors, working for an advance paying publisher or not, are not making enough money to live on. If you’re talking about money = career focused, are you then saying that the average author isn’t career focused? Or are you saying that 10K a year is “enough” money but only if you make it through an advance paying publisher? What are you saying, RWA? Because I gotta tell you, I’m confused by all these sweeping statements made without any definitions.
Sure, sure, I’m a lawyer, we like rules and definitions. But really, since this is a rule, shouldn’t it be defined? Why isn’t it anyway? And why does my asking mean I’m only out for myself and not the general membership of the RWA (which, duh. Of COURSE my priorities are my career, that’s called CAREER FOCUSED isn’t it?)
Talking about money is difficult for a host of reasons. First, to me, money is NOT the only indicator of success or career focus. There are authors who were never recognized for their talent in life. They made next to no money but their books, today, are the cornerstone of literature classes and the inspiration for tens of thousands of up and coming authors every day.
Second, the amount of money you can make is dependent on a host of things, many of which have zip to do with your career focus as an author. Heck, a lot of which has very little to do with the book.
Third, because in my case anyway, talking about money feels like bragging. I do well. My first year out I made mid five figures and it’s gone up and up each year since to the high five figures. I make far more money per year than the “average” writer but that does not make me a better writer than someone who made less than me. It doesn’t make someone who made more than me better either. It doesn’t make me more career focused either.
Put simply, the insistence on this 1K advance as proof of career focus is innacurate at best and dangerous at worst. Most authors don’t make a huge amount of money. Some do, many make a good living, many don’t and continue to work a second job.
Career focus is not about money. There are authors who worked to sell their first book for years and years. Authors who are now huge names. In those years while they sold nothing, were they not career focused? Knowing the facts, knowing most authors will not make huge amounts of money from their writing, why then, this silly focus on that advance – especially a thousand dollars.
CAREER: an occupation or profession, esp. one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework
FOCUS: a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity
I just looked the words up in the dictionary, by the way. It’s not mysterious or anything. Anyone can do the same.
Career Focus means different things to different authors. And that’s how it should be, because each one of us has our own plans and goals. The job of the RWA should not be to judge those plans, but to help their members achieve them in an educated fashion.
Some writers like to write articles and short stories. They’re paid by the world or the page in many cases. Most of them do not make advances. Some authors enjoy writing for traditional publishers and they work for years to make that happen. Some authors like writing for epublishers for a whole host of reasons. Some authors like to mix and match those different things.
The job of the RWA shouldn’t be to inform us all what the personal and rather uninformed opinion of one person is. The job should be to equip its members to make the best, most informed choices they can in their chosen path.
Money is just one part of a whole host of things I believe are important to my career. That’s my business and my choice and I’m a member of the RWA becuase I’m a romance writer. I didn’t join a club. I joined an organization.
This is part I, I’ll be back with part II when I talk about the differences between the advance model and the monthly royalty model.
June 15th, 2009 at 2:00 pm · Link
Nicely said, and you’re right, money is far from the only valid reason to do something. And lack of money does not equal lack of career focus.
June 15th, 2009 at 2:02 pm · Link
Great post. Thanks for providing a well-thought-out argument.
June 15th, 2009 at 2:07 pm · Link
You didn’t get the rainbows and the unicorns?? Huh-neither did I.
Some great points, Lauren-looking forward to part 2.
June 15th, 2009 at 2:11 pm · Link
well said. Love the phrase…I didn’t join a club, I joined an organization.
I hadn’t given any thought to the fact that many writers are writing romantic short stories, like Woman’s World or Love Stories Magazine. I guess they aren’t considered “real romance writers” either.
June 15th, 2009 at 2:12 pm · Link
Very well stated Lauren. Can’t wait for the next part.
June 15th, 2009 at 5:25 pm · Link
No rainbows or unicorns, and I’m still waiting for the skittles.
One thing I do want to say, though, is that RWA doesn’t demand that the author receive the $1k as an advance to be PAN-eligible. It can be received in royalty payment as well, or a combination of advance and royalty.
The $1k as an advance thing really only affects the publishers’ ability to do things like have sessions at the conference or take pitches. It doesn’t prevent their authors from gaining PAN status.
Not a big deal, since I think it’s all bubkiss anyway, but felt it had to be said for the sake of clarity.
June 15th, 2009 at 5:29 pm · Link
No, Jackie, I get your point and it’s well taken. Yes, an author can be PAN eligible if she earns the equivalent (unless she writes with another person as a team, in that case, they have to earn twice that, but still)
However, I do believe not being allowed to have a spotlight or take appointments IS a big deal. I think it essentially takes publishers who were recognized and removes it without saying so and I find that underhanded.
I DO think the RWA has to have a way to label which pubs are and are not legitimate, I’d just prefer it be done above board and based on logical and clearly articulated criteria.
June 15th, 2009 at 5:43 pm · Link
Yes, the money thing!
Looking in from the outside, it seems that the whole thing is such a secretive, mysterious thing. No wonder people get fleeced by unscrupulous agents (there are some) and unscrupulous so-called publishers (there are some–both print and e) all the time!
Where is the “educational” component of RWA if they don’t provide accurate, factual, up to date information on the money side of publishing?
Sorry, got a tad carried away here.
June 15th, 2009 at 9:27 pm · Link
Love this post and agree whole heartedly with it.
Very well stated, Lauren.
June 16th, 2009 at 5:23 am · Link
RWA seems like the uncaring parent we all want approval from. I hope that some industrious e-authors put together the E-RWA and pull all the other orphaned e-authors into the fold leaving the RWA stripped of funds and warm bodies. As an author I do not require validation from an organization that doesnâ€™t even understand my readership. I need a group that cares about my publishers and my readers. I need a group that sees me as more than the bastard child. I need a group with at least as much vision as the old-guard industry they cling to that is scrambling to get into the e-pub business before they are left behind.
Soâ€¦what has the RWA done for you recently? What have you received for all those dues youâ€™ve paid?
June 16th, 2009 at 10:15 am · Link
Hear, hear! 🙂
June 16th, 2009 at 12:57 pm · Link
Excellent post, Lauren! And I totally agree with your point about how everyone has their own plans and goals, and it isn’t RWA’s job to tell its members that one path is just so much better than another.
My personal opinion is that the mysterious & magical $1k mark was set so that it wouldn’t exclude any of the main NY print pubs. $1k is the very low end for debut author advances at at least one NY pub that I’m aware of. If RWA were to raise the requirement, then – oh no! – they might run the risk of excluding a NY pub from spotlights or editor appointments at nationals. Because honestly, $1k isn’t that much money in the grand scheme of things and as you pointed out, it is way below the poverty limit. If RWA was truly concerned about their ‘career minded’ authors earning a decent wage, then one would think that RWA would raise the $1k minimum, and thereby use it as a means to pressure publishers to also raise their minimum advances.
Looking forward to post #2!
June 16th, 2009 at 7:02 pm · Link
I hope you print this out and send it in.
June 17th, 2009 at 7:42 am · Link
That is all.