First, let me say I am speaking here only for myself an not on behalf of the MWA, the MWA Board or the Membership Committee. I am not claiming to represent the views of anyone here but myself.
There’s lots of hysteria being whipped up by a handful of aggrieved pseudo-publishers and self-published authors who are furious about the new MWA standards for active membership and approved publishers list.
They are, quite frankly, spreading falsehoods and stoking fear for self-serving reasons.
The pseudo-publishers don’t want to treat writers fairly and be more forthright about the kind of business they are actually running BUT they still want to be acknowledged by the MWA.
The self-published authors — and those who weren’t paid and whose manuscripts are only available via POD — want to be considered professional, published authors even though they aren’t.
Let’s tackle the outrageous falsehoods one by one…
1) Active members are being thrown out of the MWA. NO CURRENT ACTIVE MEMBERS ARE LOSING THEIR MEMBERSHIP STATUS as a result of the new rules. This is the most poisonous of the lies. It is being spread to stoke fear among authors who gained active status with books published by companies that are, for various reasons, no longer on the MWA’s Approved Publisher’s list. The lie is being spread by certain "publishers" who don’t want to change their business practices to treat writers fairly or who don’t want to honestly state the true nature of their publishing business.
Anyone who was granted active status membership under the old guidelines will remain an active status member as long as they pay their annual dues. And even if someone lets their membership lapse and then rejoins months or even years later, they will have the same status they had before (unless they are an affiliate member seeking Active Status).
2) The MWA is trying to "eliminate small publishers." That’s ridiculous. There are many wonderful small publishers on the MWA’s list. By tightening our standards, the MWA is simply protecting writers from being screwed and maintaining the professional integrity of the organization and its members.
We are weeding out "publishers" who are actually self-publishing companies, or are thinly disguised vanity presses (meaning they were founded by an author to primarily print his own work and those of his family, co-workers, etc.), or are "back end" subsidy publishers (meaning they pay a miniscule, token advance and then withhold royalties against a litany of non-standard charges), or are publishing primarily in POD (and therefore are not available in bookstores), or are engaging in deceptive, unfair, and unprofessional business practices that harm writers.
There are writers who will gladly sign horrible contracts or go with pseudo-publishers just to see their manuscripts printed in book form. But just because those authors are content to be screwed or be willingly misled doesn’t mean that the MWA should grant those companies the legitimacy and implied endorsement that comes with being on our Approved Publisher’s list.
That is NOT to say that all the companies who have been denied approval are dishonest. Far from it. But many do not pay advances, or have minimal prints runs, or only publish in POD, or publish only a couple of authors besides those who run the company, or haven’t been in business long enough to establish any kind of reputation.
Active Status members are professional writers…and professional writers are PAID for their work. Publishers who don’t pay writers for their work don’t meet our standards of professionalism.
Professional publishers publish books and distribute them to bookstores for sale. That is their business. If they aren’t publishing a minimal number of authors and a decent number of books, they aren’t running a business…they are enjoying a hobby.
Publishers who are also authors, and who publish fewer than five other writers, are essentially operating a self-publishing operation, not a publishing company.
Two years of business creates a history by which we can judge whether the publisher is actually a publisher (meaning more than a vanity operation), if they are financially sound (actually paying authors advances and royalties), and if they are reputable business people.
3) The MWA is an "old boys" club and an elitist organization. That’s actually partly true. We aren’t an "old boys" club but we are, to some degree, elitist. All organizations have guidelines for membership and, therefore, practice some degree of exclusion.
Our active members are professional writers. We, therefore, have to create and maintain standards of what we define as “professional” and what defines “publication.” Among those standards are that professional writers are paid for their work, that their novels are published, and that their books are distributed to bookstores.
In a world where anyone with a credit card and the web address of POD service can call themselves a “published author” or a “publisher,” it’s even more imperative that the MWA maintain strict guidelines of what constitutes professional publication. The MWA will cease to be a respected organization if we don’t have high standards and if we don’t maintain them in the face of a changing marketplace. Our membership criteria isn’t even as extreme as the SFWA’s.
Anyone who is excluded from gaining Active Status membership (or being on the Approved Publishers list) will feel the title grants an elite status and that they are being excluded from enjoying the benefits that come with it. So, to that degree, yes, the MWA is an elitist organization.
4) The MWA is eliminating publishing opportunities for writers and their chances to expose their work to the public. We are not, in any way, limiting publishing opportunities or exposure for authors. All we are doing is establishing criteria for books that we will consider for Edgars and for publishers we will consider for our “approved publisher” list. You can publish your book with any company you want…but you may not qualify to enter the Edgars or become an Active Member of our organization. That’s your choice.
5) These new rules actually hurt writers. That’s the biggest lie of all…and the one the pseud0-publishers really want you to believe. These new rules protect aspiring writers and current members alike from being taken advantage of by vanity presses, less-than-reputable publishers or companies whose practices don’t meet accepted professional standards in our industry. The new rules assure that only publishers who pay writers for their work, publish their books, and distribute them to bookstores receive the implied endorsement that MWA approval brings.
As result of the MWA’s new rules, I hope authors will be more careful about the publishers that they do business with…and that more publishers will hold themselves to higher ethical and professional standards in the way they treat their authors and conduct their business.