Sunday, June 21, 2009

Romance authors seek change in their national organization

Whether reader or author, we invest time in books, either by reading or writing them. Or both.

As readers, we have our preferences of how we like to acquire and read our books. There are those of us who will clutch our print books to our chests until we die. Others who dabble in the occassional download of an ebook and read on our laptops. And those who have totally taken the digital reading world by storm and live and breath by their Sony Readers or Kindles.

Thank goodness we have choices, right? A book is a book is a book.

When an author writes her book, she doesn't think much about how the reader may read her book, whether she'll read it online, on her Kindle, or in paperback from, or hardback even. That never really enters into the equation. Because when an author pens her story, whether the book is print or digitally published, she'll do all of the same things:

  • concieve the idea
  • brainstorm with herself and maybe others
  • write a synopsis, perhaps
  • write the first draft of the novel. And the second. The third.
  • maybe have others read and comment
  • then revise, and maybe some more
  • edit, polish, finetune
  • send it off to her agent and/or editor.
  • wait
  • get rejected or accepted
  • if rejected, send it out again
  • if accepted, likely more edits and revisions
  • wait some more
  • and then after a while, the book comes out

All that hard work, all that waiting, revising, polishing...happens the same way, whether an author publishes with a large established publisher or a small independent press or digital publisher.

An author, as well, has choices in how she chooses to publish that book, and the reasons are hers and hers alone. Everyday, an author chooses whether to submit her work to a large print house, a small independent publisher, an electronic publisher, or yes, even to self-publish. All are viable options and she may have dozens of reasons why she chose that publishing option, or the other.

It's up to her, right? Thank goodness the author has choice. Because a book is a book is a book.

If you are an author in the romance publishing world, it's just not that simple.

How do you know whether this or that option is best for you and your book? Is there a place to go to gain information and education about all publishing options? To understand how all these different publishing venues work? To sift through the contract legalese and know what is a good contract and what is not so good? There used to be such a place. Now that the publishing industry is changing, however, not anymore.

Romance Writers of America is an organization that had (note past tense) a focus of educating it's fledgling and established membership of authors about how to publish the romance novel. I remember years ago hearing chapter members say things like, "RWA is the only organization that actually teaches its competetion (the membership)". Unfortunately, the organization has not kept up with the times and literally refuses to recognize the new digital world as a viable publishing option.

The RWA membership is now speaking out. Most of the issues revolve around the inequality of membership, recognition of all authors as published, no matter what publishing venue chosen, the ability to enter writing contests as a published author if the author is digitally published, and the lack of education provided to the membership about digital publishing.

What bothers many digitally published authors is a statement earlier this year by the RWA president which implies that digitally published authors are not career-minded or -focused authors. A large number of serious career-minded and digitally published authors loudly object.

Literary agent Deirdre Knight says it quite well in an article she posted to ESPAN, an RWA special interest chapter for electronic and small press authors, titled The Digital Age and RWA: A Call for Change. She sums up her article by saying:

...to say that traditional publishing is the only legitimate model ignores the fact that even these companies are struggling —from having to drop authors and editors due to economic downturn, to contemplating new distribution models, to grappling with understanding the fast-changing world of digital publishing. If RWA’s very model of “legitimacy” wrestles to understand and adapt to these new times, then certainly RWA should follow that lead.

ESPAN offered RWA's president Diane Pershing equal time on their site. You can read her response to the issue and Deirdre's article here.

RWA's membership of nearly 10,000 is a force to be reckoned with. Since Ms Knight's article appeared on ESPAN, both print and digital authors have banded together in an effort to influence change in the organization. RWA Change is in its beginning stages. Within 24 hours, nearly 300 RWA members joined a yahoo group to discuss the issue. Before the day's end, a logo was designed (see above, and still a work in progress), and networking accounts were set up on Facebook, Twitter (#RWAChange) and MySpace. A website domain has been aquired. And there is more to come.

But let's get back to that author above. It's important not to lose sight of the hard work of authors, and the need to be informed and educated about all forms of publishing, as well as respecting an author's choice to publish in one venue or another. RWA Change is all about just that.

After all, a book is a book is a book. Right?

For more info: Stay tuned. As the movement toward change in RWA grows and develops, I will share new information as it becomes available.

Note: This article is cross-posted from Maddie's Romance Novel column on Examiner.com
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