On the eve of the Western Writers of America’s annual convention, legendary western novelist Richard Wheeler laments the state of the western genre…and the wisdom of the WWA’s decision to "drop its professional requirements for membership."
This merely formalized the practice of admitting most
anyone, regardless of the strict bylaws, which had been going on for
several years. So the organization switched from being a classic guild
looking after professional members to being an open-membership group.
Recently it was noted that Library Journal, which scrupulously
publishes the winners of various awards given by author societies, had
not included Spur Awards in its listings for some while. Apparently it
deemed the WWA awards to be beneath notice, which is a good indication
of the fate of the western novel. Maybe the LJ has a point: many of the
Spur judges no longer have true professional credentials, so the Spur
Awards are increasingly fan-given or wannabe-given awards rather than a
selection made by professional peers.
WWA is booming, actually, now that anyone can join. It has around 600
members, publishes a flossy magazine, sets up booths at trade shows,
and is prosperous. And there is no lack of books written by members,
even if these are often print-on-demand titles from vanity presses, or
more commonly, works published by spare-bedroom presses, some of which
do not even have ISBN numbers or bar codes, and thus are not
distributed by larger booksellers.
I am wondering where it will all lead.
That’s a good question…and one the Mystery Writers of America might ponder before they ever consider loosening their membership requirements.