In which Courtney solves RWA’s problems…

…and yet oddly, nobody feels like thanking her. 😉 (Edited to add: this is supposed to signal that I’m being tongue-in-cheek, and my goal is not to say “This is the answer!” but to start a dialogue; but obviously some things don’t come across in clear text.)

RWA has announced that it will be holding a special board meeting to decide how to deal with Harlequin’s announcement that it will include a vanity press going forward. I’ve been thinking about this, up and down, right and left, on and off ever since the announcement was made, and I’ve come to a handful of conclusions, which I now share with you (and which I will eventually pass on to RWA’s Board just as soon as everybody’s done shooting holes in it).

Since this is long and boring, it is after the jump, so that those of you who don’t care about RWA and vanity publishing can breathe a sigh of relief and go on your merry ways.

Before I get into this, I have to tell you a few of my working assumptions walking into this.

1. RWA’s interests as an organization.

a. RWA has an interest in providing education to its authors. A publisher on RWA’s “Eligible Publisher” list belongs there if it provides a viable avenue for an author to have a serious career writing romance.

b. RWA has an interest in making sure that publishers who are compensated for coming to RWA conferences are there to help make money for authors (furthering RWA’s purposes), rather than off them (frustrating them).

c. On the flip side of that coin, RWA has an interest in facilitating interactions between all publishers that provide a reasonably-sized stepping stone in a career, and the career-minded romance writers who make up the membership of RWA.

Note what’s left off, and this may be controversial (at least until I explain what I mean): RWA, I do not think, has a legitimate interest in “punishing” Harlequin for its choice to run a vanity press (however outraged members of RWA might be). Nor does it have a legitimate interest in pressuring Harlequin to divest itself of the business. My point is not that no member of RWA has an interest in how Harlequin runs its business. We do; individually, if we want to “punish” Harlequin or pressure it to divest itself of its vanity press wing, we are free to do that.

What we are not free to do, as a group of authors, is to enter into a combination to tell Harlequin they may not make contracts at all with competitors. And the reason why we cannot do that is that it would be illegal under antitrust law. (Some people will point out that the DellArte folks aren’t really our “competitors”–but they do produce substitute goods, however imperfect that substitute might be–and they do it at substantially lower cost to Harlequin).

RWA should hesitate to take collective action that looks like our goal is designed to raise the price of our services, because we could easily run afoul of antitrust law. Protecting other authors? Fine. Making sure that conference comps are used wisely? Also fine. Collectively pressuring an organization to raise the price of the books that we produce? That’s a per se violation of antitrust law, and it’s punishable by criminal penalities, along side civil treble damages.

When I say I don’t think RWA has a legitimate interest in those things, I am not trying to say that the interest is not important to individual writers; I am trying to say that the interest must not be carried out through a collective organization of writers without risking massive legal penalties.

So, here’s the question I heard from a million (well, four) different people over the last handful of weeks: “Why are we punishing all the Harlequin lines for what is a breach by one part of Harlequin Enterprises?”

There’s an easy answer to that question: None of the Harlequin lines have applied for eligibility as a publisher. “Harlequin Enterprises” applied as a whole; “Harlequin Presents” did not. Therefore, Harlequin Enterprises as a whole is banned by any vanity/subsidy activity in any of its branches. I also note that even though Carina Press does not use the name “Harlequin” it still identifies itself as a division of Harlequin Enterprises, and so as a subset of Harlequin Enterprises, Carina’s existence should exclude the whole of Harlequin Enterprises, under the current bylaws and Harlequin’s current application.

Note that I place no moral consequences to this statement; this is just a neutral application of the bylaws, not yet a statement of what I think should happen.

Second Question: Could, say, Harlequin Presents be allowed to apply for publisher eligibility as an entity in its own right?

To answer this, we have to ask what constitutes a “publisher” under the RWA bylaws and its policies and procedures. And, interestingly enough, the bylaws are silent on the question. But, as a matter of course, it appears that RWA appears to give considerable deference to the entity applying for publisher status. Thus, for instance, both “HarperCollins” and “Avon Books” appear on RWA’s Eligible Publisher list, even though Avon is not, to the best of my knowledge, an actual separate corporate entity. Likewise, NAL and Berkley are both listed, even though they’re both under the mighty wings of Penguin. And so on.

RWA could try to define what constitutes a “publisher” in the bylaws, but that gets tricky. If they share editorial, do you consider them a separate publisher? What about cases where an editor may edit for several different imprints within a line (there are tons of those)? What about cases where editorial is separate, but marketing and art departments are merged? What happens if there is a reorganization? Does it really behoove RWA to enquire deeply into the business structure of publishers? What if a publisher outsources aspects of editorial elsewhere; do you ding them if they send copy-editing out to a freelance service that also freelances for Authonomy? Defining what constitutes a “publisher” sounds like a giant freaking mess. Currently, RWA appears to deal with that by letting publishers define who exactly they are when they apply for eligibility.

So here’s a simple solution: Carry on with the status quo and let the publisher define what constitutes a publisher. Under the bylaws, I see nothing that says that Harlequin Presents, Harlequin American, Harlequin Historicals, and so forth can’t apply as separate publishers in their own right.

Problem solved. Right?

Well…. no. Because while this alleviates the conflict with RWA’s first interest (it limits the “RWA Eligible” publisher list to include only those that could viably advance an author’s career, thus not giving RWA imprimatur to an imprint that doesn’t meet its criteria), it doesn’t do anything for the second interest, which is that it gives comped space at RWA’s conference to a publisher who has stated that it will include advertisements for DellArte press in rejections, and so anyone who pitches to an editor from, say Harlequin Presents at RWA Nationals may end up getting what is essentially an RWA-comped referral to vanity publishing. No good.

Quick fix: Amend the policies and procedures to say that no RWA Eligible publisher can refer rejections to a vanity or subsidy publisher (this is obvious); and amend the policies and procedures to say that a publisher must produce at least N books a year (where N is an amount that may be hypothetically set at 24).

This would allow publishers to manipulate what constitutes a “publisher,” to spin off parts of themselves. I don’t think this is a bad thing—publishing is changing, and I think it’s okay for traditional publishers to experiment. In fact, to the extent that I want to have a career in 20 years, I think it’s vital that traditional publishers experiment. RWA doesn’t have to grant recognition to all those experiments immediately, but at least it won’t be punishing publishers for the experimentation. Not all of the experiments will be good, but we shouldn’t be so hidebound that we disallow the whole for the part. (Let’s be clear: I dislike vanity publishing and am not a fan of DellArte; but I am a huge fan of Carina, and am pleased that Harlequin is trying to make digital publishing work for them. I also think both experiments disqualify the whole of Harlequin Enterprises, under the current bylaws. Right now I am stating what I see to be the Law of the Bylaws, not Courtney’s Moral View of the Universe, Seen through the Lens of Harlequin).

So, what would Courtney’s little plan mean, specifically?

First, it means that some divisions of Harlequin may actually be able to come to Nationals, so long as they certify that they won’t be sending rejections to slush.

Disclosure: people most likely to benefit includes me; since the single-title arms of Harlequin accept only agented solutions, it might be a simple matter for them to certify that they aren’t going to refer rejections to vanity publishing. But it might help other divisions, too—for instance, I don’t know if the London office will also refer to DellArte.

Second, it means that RWA can allow Harlequin to tailor its response to minimize the damage done to both Harlequin and Harlequin authors.

Third, while it doesn’t provide RWA with a tool to collectively pressure Harlequin into changing its business practices, it does provide Harlequin authors with a very specific request to bring to editors, thus making individual pressure more effective. My guess is that you might find that some lines will begin compliance before others; this allows Harlequin to come up with a piecemeal solution to the public outrage.

Fourth… no, first, wait and listen to the silence right now, because this is the part where what I’m thinking goes kaboom, this provides a way for solid e-publishers to become RWA Eligible, with only minor alterations to their practices.

What? You don’t see it? It becomes trivial at this point. Say you’re Samhain Publishing. You create two lines: Samhain Regular and Samhain Gold. Books accepted into the Samhain Gold category are guaranteed an advance on royalties of $1,000.

“But Courtney,” you say, “that is not a minor alteration. The e-publishing model doesn’t include an advance.”

Well, why not? Let’s face it—if an e-publisher isn’t publishing 24 sure-thing-you’ll earn more than $1,000 in royalty-books in a year, it doesn’t deserve the resources we’d devote to it at Conference. I have no problem restricting RWA conference resources (which members provide through conference fees and membership dues) to publishers that guarantee a certain level of income for writers.

One of the reasons I believe e-publishers should be included in RWA eligibility is that I really do believe that the best of them provide substantial career opportunities for their authors. (I mention Samhain as one of them because I think Samhain is one of the best e-publishers—they get most of my e-publishing dollars. Thanks, Samhain!). This change allows Samhain to continue to take risks on new stories, but to get credit for the guarantee they can make.

“But Courtney,” you say, “you’re still missing the point. Advances would require leveraging, and e-publishing is a lean, mean business that doesn’t leverage.” Ha! Nowhere in the bylaws does it say an advance needs to be paid on signing. Tons of print published authors have portions of their advance due on publication; some of them even have portions paid after publication.

So create something like Samhain Gold, which guarantees an advance of at least $1000, to be paid when earned, or one year after publication, whichever comes first. I’m guessing that this is going to make not one iota of difference in the way Samhain pays the authors that it promotes to Samhain Gold; Samhain then gets to send editors to conference (comped) (provided that they take pitches only for the Samhain Gold line), and we have a very simple test for allowing e-publishers: If you believe you can guarantee decent royalties for a good number of authors (although not for all of them), you’re in.

If you can’t provide that, work at building an audience and come back later.

All righty. Courtney has now solved all of RWA’s problems; now it’s time for her to go solve her own. You tell me how crazy I am.

83 thoughts on “In which Courtney solves RWA’s problems…

  1. Also, again a curiosity, just how seriously is anti-trust law enforced these days? A casual perusal of the news makes me think not very. Or at least, if you’re wealthy and powerful enough, it doesn’t apply to you. But I digress.

    You’ve posed some very thought-provoking solutions here. I’m not sure what I think of them yet, but I hope people will give your ideas serious consideration.

  2. It depends on which portion of antitrust law you’re talking about. In the sense of making sure that various and sundry mergers do or don’t go forth, or breaking up too-large corporations? Barely, if that. You’re right; the DoJ and the FTC rarely get involved.

    But the provisions in Section One of the Sherman Act that prevent cartels/combinations/conspiracies are actually enforced quite regularly. Bare price-fixing among competitors is per se illegal; it’s per se illegal under the statute, it’s policed quite heavily. Moreover, there is a private right of action to enforce it, and treble damages, so there is a huge incentive for people to bring suit. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

  3. I like your thinking for the basis of a dialogue. The other main difference in a union is that there would be standard terms of trade or some sort of minimum guidelines enforceable on contracts for certain kinds of work, like the WGA has for screenwriters. So, a 50K novel with a print run of X would be a minimum payout of Y and standard to all authors.

  4. I like your ideas a lot, but I do wonder whether Harlequin will be able to adhere to the “we won’t refer rejected authors to X lines to DellArte” part of the equation, as I have a strong suspicion that including that language in their standard rejection letters is part of their contractual agreement with Author Solutions. And though it’s true that submissions to certain lines at Harlequin must be agented, the bulk of Harlequin’s traditional imprint lines are category, and no agent is required to submit to them.

  5. You seem to be confused about what an advance is. Based on what you’ve written with regard to ebook publishers, you seem to be under the misapprehension it’s some kind of payment for the rights to publish a book. The reason it’s called an “advance” is because that’s what it is–prepayment of anticipated royalties earned once the book is published. And until it’s earned back via said royalties, the author receives nothing more.

    The crux of the ebook-publisher eligibility issue is that instead of an advance that must be repaid by the author by having royalties earned deducted until the advance amount is reached, ebook publisher just start paying royalties from day one. In other words, the only difference between the two models is when and how the money is paid.

    That’s why, for many people, the whole business of denying non-advance-paying publishers eligibility is absurd and discriminatory.

  6. Hm…
    There are some great points made here. I agree that it’s not RWA’s mandate to try to force Harlequin to do business differently, and you know I’d love to see e-publishers eligible for eligibility (Yes, yay Samhain!) But I’m trying to think this suggestion through in practice.

    So an editor who represents “Harlequin Presents” or “Samhain Gold” can be comped at conference, but only if they commit to take pitches/submissions solely for that one line. And furthermore, their rejections can’t refer an author to any of the other lines? I’m just thinking that would be hard to put into practice. One of the benefits I’ve often heard associated with pitching to Harlequin is that the editors will refer submissions to one of their colleagues, if the story sounds good but doesn’t quite fit their line. With your plan, they couldn’t do that, right? So then they would have to send a different editor to hear pitches for each line? And somehow, after conference, when those submissions trickle to all those different editors for months after the fact, they will somehow have to make sure they never send any single author who pitched at conference one of their standard form letters? I’m not sure how they could guarantee such a thing.

    Or, let’s say “Samhain Gold” takes pitches. An author submits. So if I’m understanding you right, Samhain cannot say, “Sorry, we can’t fit this into our Gold line, but we’d love to take a chance on it in Regular.” Again, it just seems hard to see how that works in practice.

    I don’t know. Clearly, I haven’t thought about it as much as you have. But to me, it boils down to the use of RWA resources, be it conference fees or dues or website server space. In my understanding, there’s nothing more anathema to RWA’s stated mission than to financially underwrite advertisements for a vanity press. For that reason, so long as rejection letters for the standard Harlequin lines include an advertisement for DellArte, I don’t see how RWA can continue to devote them organizational resources by linking Harlequin from the website or comping editors at conference.

  7. Elizabeth,

    I don’t think I’m confused about what an advance is at all. An advance is NOT a prepayment of anticipated royalties. It’s a minimum level of guaranteed royalties. There are PLENTY of authors out there who are not paid all of their advance in advance of publication. There are plenty of authors out there who will never earn out their advance, and so it’s not an anticipated royalty, either. And for authors who publish in hard cover first, many won’t get their entire advance on publication–they’ll have a portion reserved for trade.

    An advance used to be paid entirely in advance. It isn’t anymore, not in print publishing. There is absolutely nothing that says, anywhere, an advance needs to be paid in advance. An advance is just a minimum guaranteed rate of royalties.

    An advance payment delayed until it is either (a) earned or (b) a specific amount of time passes is absolutely equivalent to royalties paid from day one, provided that the advance is sized properly.

    Maybe there’s an e-publisher out there that thinks they can’t find a handful of authors and say, “Well, of course Maya Banks/Lauren Dane/insert successful author here is going to make at least $1000 in her first six months.” If an e-publisher has no such successful authors… well, yes, I do think that RWA should discriminate against them. But that’s not absurd; it’s a simple recognition that an e-publisher that doesn’t make authors successful isn’t a sufficient stepping stone on the way to a career in writing to justify spending member resources on them.

  8. And furthermore, their rejections can’t refer an author to any of the other lines?

    Nope. I didn’t say that. I said rejections can’t refer to a vanity/subsidy publishing line. Samhain Regular wouldn’t be a vanity/subsidy line.

    In Courtney’s world, you can be RWA Eligible if you refer your rejections to NV/NS arms of your house, but not if you refer to V/S.

  9. I kept thinking, “Well, yeah, but…” and then I’d read further and think, “Oh. Hmmm…”

    I agree that there may be problems with the execution of something like this from the publishers end, like Tessa mentioned, but I’d suggest that’s their problem.

    If RWA comes up with a solution, a plan of action, that addresses all the current concerns related to epubs and vanity-presses-fitting-under-advance-paying model umbrellas, and is protective of authors’ rights and careers (don’t know of ‘protect’ is the right legal term) then I say they’ve done their duty, and a difficult one it will be. It becomes the publishers problem to try and make it work, should they wish to.

    And if, over time, new or unforeseen problems crop up, well, then, we revisit the issue again.

    (One thought: re: Tessa’s concern about HQ continuing to include referrals/advertisements to DellArte in rejection letters . . . I was thinking Courtney addressed this, insofar as an RWA plan would basically include a clause disallowing this practice for eligible publishers. So, HQ would have to remove it to regain eligible status. Or maybe I misunderstood…)

    I don’t know what I think about all these ideas, Courtney, so you’ve done what you set out to do: make me think more.

  10. Right. Sorry, I typed out my response to Tessa quickly because I had to run off & do something else, and I’m afraid that sounded rather curt. That’s not the way I intended it.

    I basically agree that referrals to vanity publishing in rejections are a dealbreaker. This is true no matter who owns the vanity publisher. (This, however, isn’t reflected in RWA’s bylaws at all).

    As to whether an organization must act as a whole–it gets tricky, because then you have to be able to define what’s a “whole” and what isn’t. Part of what is shading my thinking is this: If we’re going to be consistent, the fact that Authonomy sends people referrals to CreateSpace means that we’d have to ditch all of HarperCollins; and yet I think it makes sense to treat Authonomy as a separate entity from Avon.

  11. You can be RWA Eligible if you refer to NV/NS, but not if you refer to V/S.

    Okay, well that would help. But now I’m not seeing why this is any different from RWA saying, “Take the DellArte line out of your rejections, and you’re eligible again.” Aside from the idea that we can simultaneously work on the e-pub thing.

    But I’m not sure it IS a good idea to work on them simultaneously. They’re different issues. Will it really help the e-pubs’ cause to conflate “fix this vanity problem” with “fix the epublishing disparity”? I think it’s already unfortunate that the two have been mentioned in one breath as often as they have, by virtue of the one-week buffer between Carina’s rollout and (what was once) Horizons. I can see it backfiring, and big. I fear we’d run the risk of letting the divisiveness that has characterized the e-publishing debate spill over into RWA’s reponse to this vanity thing, which has so far been marked by an astonishing level of membership accord (so far as I’ve seen, anyhow).

    I can just imagine something like this going down at the Board meeting. “Okay, now we are going to vote on this motion to redefine “publisher” so that some Harlequin lines can come back, and also include some e-publishers.” And…let’s say it’s voted down. Who knows why? Maybe because the “nay”s didn’t want Harlequin to be eligible. Maybe because they didn’t want epubs eligible. Possibly both. But then, two months later, someone says, “Hey, let’s look at standards for epub eligibility!” and they get shut down with, “No, we voted that down two months ago.” I’m not sure I’d want to tie Samhain’s chances for eligibility to Harlequin’s right now – I guess that’s what I’m saying.

    I would rather see RWA deal with the vanity press as a separate and fundamentally different issue. There’s no reason that RWA can’t still look at establishing eligibility standards for e-publishers, separately. Isn’t there already a task force looking into it?

  12. Oh, and Kris, I posted over you, but yes, what you said is basically what I meant. I don’t think you should be able to get RWA eligibility for any entity that includes a referral to vanity publishing as part of a rejection. That’s a dealbreaker.

  13. But now I’m not seeing why this is any different from RWA saying, “Take the DellArte line out of your rejections, and you’re eligible again.

    But RWA can’t say that. Under current RWA standards, even if there’s no line about rejections, even if there’s no mention of Harlequin on the DellArte website, DellArte, by virtue of being a silent part of Harlequin, excludes the whole of Harlequin Enterprises.

    Add something to the bylaws about referral to vanity/subsidy publishing, and suddenly, if you don’t allow publishers to submit portions of themselves for RWA Eligibility, you’ve excluded Avon by virtue of Authonomy’s links to CreateSpace.

    The e-publishing thing is just that: a side-effect. You can’t get rid of it, if you allow publisher divisions. It’s there. But it’s also the only reasonable easy-to-implement standard that I’ve been able to think of that allows good e-publishers in, while excluding those that don’t yet generate the money for authors.

    If you can kill two birds with one stone, why not?

  14. If you can kill two birds with one stone, why not?

    Because then both birds are dead. And we like birds! 🙂

    Okay, I get what you are saying about parsing the bylaws.

    But I would still argue that it’s best to leave the e-pub angle out of it for the moment, because it confuses the issue.

    At the heart of this, you want to suggest that RWA allow individual editorial divisions of a publishing company to apply separately as eligible publishers. Okay, cool. Like you say, we have NAL and Berkeley on there separately. And each must certify: we do not refer to a vanity press, we publish x books a year, we give an advance of $1000 or more, and whatever else.

    Okay, excellent. Suggest that. And then that leaves the back door open for other pubs, including perhaps some e-presses – IF they decide they want to try to classify themselves that way. But I wouldn’t make “we can sneak in the epubs!” part of the original argument. Both because it muddies the waters and because who knows if those epubs would even see enough benefit to creating a whole separate division of themselves, just to get RWA eligibility?

    That’s why I still think that there ought to be a discussion of eligibility rules for e-pubs–rules that actually work WITH the no-advance model, not just around it.

  15. Yes, I’m not trying to say that this is the only discussion on the e-publication model that should go forward. I don’t think that the question of e-publishing would even come up in this discussion, simply because no e-publisher out there, as it currently operates, would meet the terms for eligibility. I think several could with only minor changes to contract language.

    I see this as more of an unintentional bonus than a solution to the e-publishing issues.

  16. Completely tangentially – I have thought about possible fixes for the whole mess, too. My own favorite possibility (not vetted in any way) was to do away with the “eligible” list completely.

    The only function the “Eligible” list is supposed to have is determining conference comps. So let’s eliminate that list. Just have a non-subsidy, non-vanity list. PAN membership, RITA eligibility, RWA office holding, etc. – all those rules that now refer back to the “Eligible Publishers” list should just refer back to the NS/NV list.

    And then when it comes time to determine conference resources: accept applications from the NS/NV pubs who want them, and then prioritize those applications according to the publishers’ current representation in PAN. For example, if 15% of current PAN members have a qualifying book with X Publisher, they are favored above the publisher only 1% are with. I know it’s not perfect, because some pubs that pay a lot of money just don’t have as many authors, but if the idea is to give members access to the companies that can get them PAN-level published..well, then – why not use the PAN stats as a guide? It might actually encourage more e-pubbed authors to come back to RWA and apply for PAN.

    But I know there are probably a million problems with that haven’t occurred to me. And we’d still need your language defining “publisher” so we don’t end up throwing out every major media company.

  17. Ooh, I like that solution. I like that a lot.

    There are also some tangential effects in terms of Rita applications, and, also, I think the RWA presidency–but I’m totally fine if the RWA presidency requirement gets shifted to “five books that make you PAN-eligible.”

  18. Yes, it would mean they couldn’t keep up this two-tiered RITA entry system they have going right now. No big loss, IMO. And it would mean they’d have to tweak the “who can be president” rule. It doesn’t matter me whether the RWA president has published 5 books with Harlequin or 3 books with Harlequin and 2 with Ellora’s Cave, or 5 books with Samhain… I suppose it might matter to some members – but hey, they can then vote accordingly.

  19. I agree that it’s Harlequin’s problem, not RWA’s, if they can’t promise not to refer rejected authors to DellArte. And I do like your idea regarding publisher elibility in the sense that it gives both Harlequin and many epublishers some “wiggle room” in which to manuever in this very complex, changing environment.

    But the problem is bigger than publisher eligibility. It’s also about author eligibility for PAN and the RITAs. In addition to giving publishers the ability to designate, by line, which of their imprints are “eligible”, RWA would also have to let them designate which imprints should fall under the non-vanity/non-subsidy small press designation.

    It’s not as if there’s EITHER eligible OR vanity/subsidy–there’s that third category of publishers like Samhain and Ellora’s Cave and Red Sage that don’t qualify as eligible, but whose authors are still eligible for PAN and whose books are still eligible for the RITA (provided they’re in print form). I think it’s hard not to be a little sick to your stomach to imagine authors in Harlequin’s category lines not being eligible for PAN or the RITA, but I also think it’s hard to stomach the notion Harlequin gets to have it both ways, in some sense, on the whole referral to a vanity publisher issue. It’s tricky, and I don’t envy the RWA Board having to sort it out in an equitable way.

    With that in mind, I like Tessa’s idea with regard to eligible status quite a bit. The problem with it, as I see it, is a logistical one. Many authors have PAN eligible books with multiple publishers, but we generally only submit ONE book to join PAN. To have records that would accurately reflect the percentage of PAN members with a book at each publisher, authors would have to let RWA know about every single PAN-eligible book they ever published. That’s a lot of work to expect AUTHORS to do in order to ensure their publishers get a fair shake when it comes to conference resources.

  20. I am totally fine with removing the discrimination from the RITA tiers, and also fine with anyone being president who has sufficient publishing experience, no matter where they got it. As far as I can tell, the RITA was open for applications up until a few days before the deadline, so it wasn’t the huge rush of e-published authors that they feared.

    Yes, it meant that people that procrastinated didn’t get a slot… but that’s okay.

    Gee, this was easy… If only we ran RWA. 😉

  21. Tessa said: “You want to suggest that RWA allow individual editorial divisions of a publishing company to apply separately as eligible publishers. [SNIP] And each must certify: we do not refer to a vanity press, we publish x books a year, we give an advance of $1000 or more, and whatever else.”

    I like the way that sounds.

  22. Gee, this was easy… If only we ran RWA. 😉
    Heaven forfend!

    But when you write up your letter to the board, please do share it. I’ll tweak/piggyback/gather inspiration and write my own regional rep.

  23. BTW, it’s still a mystery to me how HarperCollins continues to qualify for eligible status with the existence of the non-advance-paying Studio imprint. I agree 100% with your analysis that Harlequin no longer qualifies for eligibility under the current rules simply on the basis of the existence of Carina Press. It would seem to me that HarperCollins should have had its ticket pulled back in 2008.

  24. Jackie said:
    Many authors have PAN eligible books with multiple publishers, but we generally only submit ONE book to join PAN. To have records that would accurately reflect the percentage of PAN members with a book at each publisher, authors would have to let RWA know about every single PAN-eligible book they ever published. That’s a lot of work to expect AUTHORS to do in order to ensure their publishers get a fair shake when it comes to conference resources.

    Yes, this is true. It would require more stats to be kept. An alternative would be to establish a baseline threshold. “In order to be eligible for conference resources, X authors must have qualified for PAN with this publisher in the past Y years.” Less cumbersome in terms of stats, but probably less fair.

  25. Now that I’m thinking about this more, I do see one problem with the strict % model. Say there’s a publisher out there that uses a model of “publish only a few but push them heavily.” Should they be penalized for that? That seems somehow unfair–that someone can publish several hundred authors at $1,000 each, but another publisher can carefully choose 5 or 6 authors, put a really huge push behind them all, and launch a small number of careers that really do allow people to write full time.

    This doesn’t allow for any expression of magnitude, and in fact, it punishes houses that do that.

  26. Jackie,

    You know, I don’t know that it’s been firmly disclosed whether Studio is a true no-advance model? I’ve heard it billed as a “low or no-advance model”–but “low” for the authors Studio is picking up will be like $1 million instead of $10 million. So I don’t know that we can conclude anything from Studio.

    That being said, I know there are authors with traditional houses who have profit-sharing instead of advances. Of course, these are all big name authors, but hey.

  27. This doesn’t allow for any expression of magnitude, and in fact, it punishes houses that do that.

    Yes, that would be the downside. Totally agree.

    And the problem with having a threshold that only uses recent qualifying books is that it skews toward publishers who are currently picking up debuts. But then, from the perspective of the aspiring author, is that a bad thing or a good thing? I don’t know, honestly. My brain’s starting to hurt. 🙂

  28. Yes, Courtney, that problem with the % model also occurred to me.

    Another option that occurred to me would be to allocate conference resources based on median/mean author earnout for the publishing house. That would naturally cause publishers which provided a better “career” to their authors to rise to the top of the pile. The problem with it is, how would you decide how many authors over which to figure your average and median. Houses that have been in business for decades obviously have many authors whose books are still selling in a small quantities, but who are no longer “active”. But the trickle of payouts to those authors would clearly drag down the publishers’ overall average and median.

    Anyway you do this, it’s not as easy as it seems like it ought to be.

  29. Ah, okay, makes sense re: Studio. I was under the impression that there was, at least, no GUARANTEE that books published with Studio would earn a $1k minimum advance, although in practice, it may be the case that they simply have never paid an advance below that.

  30. At some point, when you need to start compiling statistics from a house, I object–I mean, RWA is not the IRS; I don’t want them to think they have a right to see my earnings on top of that. It’s already bad enough that I have to send them my contract for PAN eligibility, when it’s none of their beeswax.

    Any solution that’s too invasive is not going to work–publishing houses don’t want to disclose #s on their own, and authors shouldn’t have to.

  31. But then, from the perspective of the aspiring author, is that a bad thing or a good thing? It rather depends on the aspiring author, doesn’t it? 🙂

    In any event, it’s universally bad for authors trying to make a full-time career for themselves, and that seems not in keeping with the goals of RWA.

  32. Yeah, I’ve always had heartburn over having to disclose to RWA how much I’m getting paid to join PAN.

    But any method we seem to be able to come up with for determining whether or not a publisher represents a true “career path” for a writerinvolves RWA having the compile statistics in some fashion–either through the publisher or through authors.

    And although I’ve never liked the proof of earnings clause of PAN membership, if that element were eliminated and all authors who had contracted with non-vanity/non-subsidy presses could join, it would be very dangerous to then turn around and use PAN statistics to determine the allocation of conference resources.

    RWA needs some way of determining which publishers offer authors the best possible chance of making a decent-paying career of writing, because it doesn’t want to allocate space to FlyByNight Press simply because they published 1,000 titles last year (with none earning more than a few hundred dollars). Without SOME information about earnings–whether it’s minimum advances or something else–I think it’s pretty much impossible to do this.

  33. In any event, it’s universally bad for authors trying to make a full-time career for themselves, and that seems not in keeping with the goals of RWA.

    Well….I’m not sure “full-time career” is anywhere in the RWA goals, it’s something about “making a substantial contribution to income” or something. I mean really, if we’re out to get everyone a full-time salary, what are we fooling around with this $1K number for? 😉

    The $1K threshold really doesn’t allow for expressions of magnitude, either. It just doesn’t punish them for it.

    And I agree, RWA can’t start keeping earn-out stats and such. I don’t want to be turning in those kind of numbers. I was annoyed that I had to send in my contract for PAN when – hello! – my book was in hand, and my publisher is on that list of ones who pay advances over $1K. But I still had to send in the contract. Why, exactly…?

  34. “Full-time career” was bad word choice. How about “reasonable pocket money”? If you’re getting $1000 on a book, you’re not even breaking even on your writer expenses–RWA membership, chapter membership, printer, toner, promotion. God forbid you go to conference.

    Honestly, if RWA had perfect information (which we don’t, and which RWA shouldn’t), and you were trying to allocate conference membership, I would say that you’d base it off the # of members that had contracts worth more than $10,000.

    In my mind, that’s the point where you might actually end up keeping something at the end of the year, if you’re writing two books a year.

    Of course, the set-dollar-limit ignores another important thing about e-publishing: the increasing market viability of shorter-length fiction. If you can write 10 10,000 word novellas a year, and earn $1,000 on each of them, you’re doing better than the author who gets one contract for a 100,000 word book which she gets $3,000 for.

  35. Well, I wouldn’t be suggesting INDIVIDUAL earn-out statistics for authors in my “average/median” payment model. I’m suggesting publishers submit their average and median numbers without attaching any personal information.

    Now, that might be objectionable to you because it’s forcing the publisher compile statistics and RWA to keep them, but they don’t HAVE TO do it if they don’t want the conference resources RWA provides. I wouldn’t keep them out of non-vanity/non-subsidy status on that basis, just out of eligility for spotlights/pitches/etc.

    As I said, there’s still a problem with that because I think the statistics could be skewed by the total number of authors a publisher has published over its lifetime. But I’d be really surprised it publishers didn’t know exactly how many authors they have and exactly how much they paid them every year. I mean, it’s not REALLY information they don’t have pretty easy access to.

  36. Courtney wrote:
    If you can write 10 10,000 word novellas a year, and earn $1,000 on each of them, you’re doing better than the author who gets one contract for a 100,000 word book which she gets $3,000 for.

    Here, you’re really singing my song.

    Of course, the irony is that if you wrote ten 10,000 words short stories in a year, you wouldn’t be eligible for PAN no matter how much you earned on them. To make you eligible for PAN, the contracted work has to be 20k or longer.

  37. If I were a publisher I would say “hell no” to that one. That information’s valuable, and I think that requiring that level of reporting from publishers would lead to nobody being eligible.

    Either that, or they will all simply lie. I mean, they lie about print runs. What’s to stop someone from saying, “Actually, yes, everyone earns a median of $200,000 from Fly-By-Night-R-Us-Press. Now where’s my conference ticket?”

  38. P.S. Can you tell I am supposed to be writing and am procrastinating instead?

    LOL. I think that’s all of us, Jackie. And we call ourselves “career-focused.” Heh.

  39. Whatever values were submitted, they’d have to be certified somehow by a third party, I suppose. I understand that it would be unpleasant/uncomfortable and potentially even damaging for a publisher to put that information out but…on the other hand, for the ones that are public companies, the RAW numbers are pretty much public knowledge, aren’t they? Maybe the number of authors isn’t known, but…I’m not sure it’s just that big a trade secret, to be honest. Or, if it is, that there’s any significant reason it needs to be, especially since I think there’d have to be agreement on the part of RWA that the actual values are confidential.

  40. I’d like to take this moment to thank Courtney, Tessa, and Jackie for doing all the heavy lifting for me. I still don’t understand it all, but I’m pretty sure that referring to a vanity line in a rejection letter is bad. Pretty sure!

  41. There are PLENTY of authors out there who are not paid all of their advance in advance of publication.

    There are? I’m unaware of a single one . . . unless you’re referring to the nasty bug-a-boo of joint accounting here? Advances are frequently split into multiple payments (for example, my new contract is 3 payments: contract/partial/manuscript), but in every scenario I’m currently aware of the final part of the advance is due, at the very latest, “upon publication”.

  42. Kalen, you won’t see many in romance because romance is primarily a mass-market endeavor. Talk to people who publish in hard-cover first followed by paperback, and you’ll find people who have portions of the advance held until first paperback publication.

  43. Great, thought provoking post…

    Now I have thoughts, and am provoked. 🙂 I love most of your suggestions, Courtney – especially the idea of adding “we will not refer rejections to subsidy/vanity printing” as part of publisher eligibility. Seems like a no-brainer.

    Agreed that the e-pub eligibility needs to be sorted out, soonest!, but also I’m with Jackie and Tessa in that (even though language may benefit e-press in the future) it’s best to take these issues one at a time. The water is already muddy enough~

    Thanks for tackling this, you attorney you!

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