RWA and the print vs e publisher question (sorta)

21 Jun

Like many readers who spend time around romance blogs (readers’ or authors’) I have been an interested observer of the continuing train wreck that is RWA’s stance on e publishers.

Leaving aside the often condescending (if not outright distasteful) attitude that seem to drip off some of RWA’s board members’ communications with the general membership *coughDianePershingcough* here is some of the stuff I don’t get. If I understand correctly, the raison d’être for RWA is to educate its members, giving them the information they need to make intelligent choices about everything from choosing an agent to reading a contract, in order to have fulfilling careers as writers of romance novels.

Nowhere did I find (but then I don’t know the secret handshake, so it may be in the “members only” part of the site) the place where it says,

“and the board gets to decide a) what exactly constitutes romance, and b) what constitutes a career”

(Neither did I see where it says that advocacy means treating members like children who need to be protected)

Ignoring the whole “I stay because of my local chapter” and the “that’s it, I’m done“-to say nothing of the “that’s why I left/never joined”-side of the issue, here is where I see the most disconnect: advances vs royalties.

Some authors advocate that advances are the way to go, because in their experience that’s where the money lies.  Apparently their digital sales bring little to no money, comparatively speaking. Then we have the authors who advocate for recognition of reputable/successful e publishers (Deirdre Knight, Jaci Burton, Lauren Dane, Shiloh Walker, and many others-too many to list all) because they have been making money off their electronically published works for years.

How to reconcile this?

Well, I don’t know, but I’m wondering-are Ms Brennan’s minuscule digital sales off her print contract? Because it seems, from what I’ve read elsewhere, that those contracts lean heavily in the publisher’s favor, with royalties in the single digits. Whereas, authors who have more digital publishing savvy (either because they started with e pubs before going to print, or because they have done heavy research before signing their contracts, or both in different degrees) have probably made a point to ask for higher royalties from their print publishers if and when their work is sold digitally.

My point (yes, I do have one) being that if RWA is indeed advocating for its members, then it should provide all of them with as much information as possible so each of them can make their own choices, and that should definitely include factual information regarding not only how the successful e publishers work but how to negotiate the best possible terms for their digital rights.

Here is where the other question arises: how can we know which e publishers are successful and reputable?

Gee, what a good question!

One way of finding out would be for RWA to poll all its paying members, asking them to share the experiences they have had with their e publishers-because (and this may be a surprise shhhh!) I think a good number of them are published by several e publishers. Things like, what’s your royalty percentage? How often do you receive royalty statements/checks? What are your contracts like? What is the editing process like?  Are the editors available, open and professional? What’s the promotion side of the publisher like? Which options are in the standard contract? How flexible is the contract negotiation process?

You know, the kind of questions I would expect RWA asks regarding print publishers, large and small, to make sure that when they recommend them to their members, the possibility of a scam is low.

Another important aspect of the RWA’s educational efforts ought to be the business side of writing. Talking just last night about all this with someone who eventually wants to be published, I was surprised at how little he knows about the financial aspect of writing-the whole advance (paid in three or more installments by print publishers), reserve against returns, agent’s cut, bi-annual royalty statements/checks, etc. Seeing the same questions asked again and again whenever a published author posts about her experiences makes me wonder whether RWA is offering workshops geared toward the business side of writing-and if not, why? Wouldn’t that be a good issue to tackle as an advocate?

Further, there seems to be the idea that it’s either print or e. Some print only (or perhaps I should say mainly?) authors seem to think that e publishing will never be the biggest slice in the industry’s pie, therefore why educate RWA’s members on the topic? Why recognize e publishers under their own successful business model?

Other authors seem convinced that eventually print will disappear and that e publishing will be the only game in town in a number of years.

Frankly, I don’t see either of these attitudes as correct. What I see is that electronic publishing will continue growing, with more traditional publishers moving part of their business model towards what successful e publishers have been doing for a decade or more, until digital rights are a large part of what authors should be looking into protecting-all authors, regardless of which publisher they sign with.

Please note that I have no dog in this fight-I’m a reader with no ambition to write, let alone get published. Also, what little I know I’ve learned by reading blogs and discussions therein. I do not have access to RWA’s member only forms or loops, nor to those of any e publisher. Therefore, I may well be talking out of my…erm, a warm dark place (thank you, Xandra G)

Somehow, though, I don’t think so-but feel free to edumacate me in the comments.

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This comment by kirsten saell at TeddyPig’s blog, nutshells what I think is most worrisome (bolding mine):

I almost feel the greatest danger to authors right now is not epublishers, but NY’s handling of digital rights, and many agents’ ignorance of what should be industry standards.

Things like geographic restrictions on ebooks is ludicrous, but you see them. Never from an epublisher, though.

And the long tail of epublishing can be wonderful, but there are rocking chairs all over the place.

I can’t say I’m an expert at stuff like this, but if reversion of rights depends on a book being out of print, and digital allows for books to remain “in print” indefinitely, how happy are NY authors earning 10% on those older titles going to be in ten years? I can safely say I’ll be more than happy earning my cool 40%, but I honestly don’t think a thousand bucks up front can make up for the 75% print authors are losing on the long tail.

So I think RWA needs to not only educate authors on epublishing, but on digital rights in general, and the many and varied ways traditional publishers are screwing the whole thing up.

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Link round up (and I dearly encourage you guys to read the posts and the comment threads, long-ass as they are, because there is a wealth of information from people who actually know whereof they speak):

Deirdre Knight on ESPAN: call for change

Diane Pershing’s response to Ms Knight (check out comments by Shayla Black, JC Wilder and others where actual numbers are used)

Jackie Barbosa, It’s a hard knock life for us

Lauren Dane, career paths, Money, money, money, Money: How things work, How things work: digital, reaction

Shiloh Walker, survey for “writers and other industry people” (please note that this survey is not an official RWA one but exclusively the initiative of Ms Walker), mini update, and “about epubs and RWA, where I stand”

The newly created RWAChange yahoo group (for RWA members not curious readers like me :pfft: )

Dear Author, “RWA and the lack of vision”

TeddyPig, “RWA President Diane Pershing: Fuck ePubs And Your Business Model Thingy!

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