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.