Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Because this is a blog for readers, I hesitate to get into a discussion about RWA, which is an organization of writers. But there’s a hot topic going around that will ultimately effect both readers and writers, and I’m dying for a place to discuss it without the animosity I see elsewhere.
As I understand it, and I’m quite willing to be corrected, RWA has set minimum standards for RWA acceptable publishers, standards that exclude most e-publishers. This means authors published only by e-pubs cannot enter their books in the Rita contests, but because they’re published, they cannot enter the contest for unpublished authors either. The Ritas are a controversy I’m not interested in, but the fact that e-published authors are enraged not to be recognized as published authors by RWA straddles the line between past and future. As a student of history, this has to fascinate me.
Historically, it’s human nature to protect the status quo, to guard against any weakening of a solid foundation, and to resist changes perceived to be a breach of these barriers. I can certainly identify with the fears of all published authors that the business as we know it might ultimately crumple and leave us unable to pay the bills and feed our families.
E-publishers generally do not pay advances and do not guarantee sales or distributions, which effectively means a book sold to one of these publishers is perceived as a hobby by the IRS and RWA. The IRS defines a business by the owner’s intention to make a profit. Not just earn money, but make a profit. Based on the few dollars I make on my reissues in e-book form, I couldn’t even afford the computer to format them. If I were only e-pubbed, I would have to call my writing career a non-profit-making hobby.
To that extent, I understand where the RWA board comes from. As published authors and conscientious executives, they are responsible for drawing the line between the business of writing and an expensive hobby—even if we look at no other argument, like the potential to destroy our livelihoods. The organization is set up to help writers learn the business, and for now, that is essentially print publishing. Contracts, industry professionals, marketing, every aspect of the two publishing formats are different. RWA has no incentive to accept e-publishers as things currently stand.
You will notice all the punches I pulled in that last paragraph: “to that extent,” “for now,” “currently stand…” And so forth. That’s because I realize we have reached the dividing line that we’re now straddling. I want to tackle the other side of the line next. I don’t know the e-publishing business as well as I do print, so I welcome any input from those more knowledgeable than I am. Without information from more experienced people, I can only express the e-pub side of the picture based mostly on third-party experience and conjecture.
So if you have any interest in the RWA controversy or the World After Print Crumbles, drop a line and as HLN says, let us know what you think. My ultimate goal is to promote enough discussion to reach an understanding so we can learn from each other, instead of fighting over the inevitable.