For some time now, legendary western writer Richard S. Wheeler has been charting the demise of the western and, sadly, the preventable decline of the Western Writers of American (which should stand as a cautionary tale of what could happen to the Mystery Writers of America if we aren’t careful). On Ed Gorman’s blog, he notes that prominent agent Nat Sobel has resigned from the WMA as both its agent and as a member.
… it is
not hard to fathom why a successful New York agent would abandon the western
writers. For decades, WWA conventions were marketplaces in which New York
publishers, editors and agents gathered with solidly professional authors to do
business. That is how I got launched, and how many other western novelists got
At the last convention, only one editor showed up, and he came
because one of his authors had won a Spur Award. When I first joined WWA in the
early eighties, there would be ten to twenty editors and publishers on hand, all
of them ready to do business, plus various agents, and often a few publishing
executives as well. Part of the reason they have vanished is that western lines
have shut down due to shifts of fashion. But there is more: A few years ago WWA
amateurized itself, at first covertly in defiance of its own membership bylaws
and then as a result of a bylaws amendment that permitted self-published authors
to join. That brought a flood of new members, so WWA is fat financially, but it also
meant that it was no longer a guild with clout in the publishing world or that
western literature was significant. Thus, Library Journal, diligent about
listing literary awards in other fields, no longer bothered to list Spur Awards.
What it also meant is the end of the western marketplace at WWA conventions.
Where once editors came to conventions to look for talent and good stories, now
they don’t come at all. It is pointless for them to show up.
I am a strong believer in limiting MWA membership to published mystery authors — and what’s happened to the WMA is a good example of the reasons why. Allowing self-published writers to become members diminishes the professional stature and legitimacy of the organization, not just among its members, but to the industry as a whole. This is going to make me very unpopular, but I also I believe associate memberships should be limited to people in the industry ( booksellers, editors, critics, publishers, etc).