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.
72 thoughts on “Hysteria and Paranoia over new MWA Standards”
As an outsider, and close to finishing my MBA, I’m curious about the business implications of these rule changes. It’s perfectly reasonable to hold the professional membership qualifications to a high standard, which would obviously give more gravitas to the Edgar award, and encourage marginal members to strive for self-improvement. But you mentioned that the SFWA has even higher standards and I’m wondering why the MWA doesn’t follow suit, and really tighten up. Are there some significant business-method differences between legitimate science fiction publishers and mystery publishers? And/or, are there even more problematic “publishers” and “authors” connected with the SFWA that would obviously require more stringency to protect the core business of the professional organization?
I have a question for you Lee. (From the beginning, I’ll ask you to bear in mind two things. One, I’m completely out of the loop on all this gossip. I guess now, reading your post, I recall seeing a few rants that perhaps make more sense, but at the time I didn’t have the background. Two, I’m not a member. Yes, I have a deal with an approved publisher but the MWA hasn’t gotten back to me with the membership information I asked for, and I haven’t dealt with it. I only point this out to make it clear I have no idea of the history of the changes.)
Earlier this year there was some controversy over S&S’s move to use POD technology and how it affected their contracts. I understood from the PW reports that there was a fair bit of external pressure from writing organizations for changes to the contract. I’m just wondering if the increasing shift toward utilizing POD technology by major publishers is presenting the MWA with any complications in terms of applying the rules?
Also, there are more and more of these “contests” cropping up, with a prize that includes a publishing contract (in the case of Media Predict, the contract with with Simon & Schuster). Are these contests (for lack of a better word, because they really aren’t the same as the St. Martins competition for unpublished PI novels or the Debut Dagger) something the MWA has had to address in terms of approving membership? I know Media Predict isn’t the only one that’s started up this year.
I guess what I’m wondering is if the method of obtaining the deal or the more specific nature of the contract is something organizations will have to look at more carefully in the future.
Western Writers of America, an authors guild virtually as old as MWA, accepts vanity and self-published work as the basis for associate memberhip, and the people protesting MWA’s membership policies could find a happy home there. WWA has around 600 members, of which only a handful have significant professional credentials.
Well put. The criteria set by MWA is a minimum standard that every publisher should aspire to. Prospective authors should be very wary of those that refuse to do so.
The S&S situation would have kept an author’s work “in print” indefinitely so that rights never reverted back to them. It screwed writers, which is why every major writers organization protested the move and S&S was forced the rescind it.
I don’t know anything at all about the contests you mention so I can’t really comment on that question.
Sounds like some writers have the cart before the horse. They’d rather be a member of the MWA than actually sell any books.
I’m a member of MWA and happily so, but really folks, it’s not like the stakes are that high. MWA’s not a union. They don’t have much clout, if any. What exactly do you think you’re being excluded from?
Ah, Graham, it’s more like the chicken and the egg, from what I understand with some. There are small publishers that are very well known who are not recognized – Echelon Press, Capital Crimes Press (which publish Troy Cook and Robert Fate, amongst others). There are also conventions which are limited to MWA members as panelists. I can’t remember which one it was offhand, but I was asked if I was going, looked at it and saw the requirement. This raised questions for me – where did I fit as a Canadian? If that meant I could only be an associate member was I eligible? I e-mailed the MWA and asked some questions about this and didn’t hear back… but for authors who are with legitimate smaller publishers who aren’t recognized, it isn’t just that they aren’t full MWA members – it could mean missing out on these other legitimate promotional events such as the conventions that work off the MWA approved publisher list.
I’m not taking sides – I’m just pointing out that in efforts to get the weeds out, it can be argued a few plants have been pulled as well. No doubt some of the affected authors are left feeling this is a way of stacking the deck against them, the big thwarting efforts of the small. And I maintain, that’s not my opinion.
Lee, you might want to check this http://inforquestioning.blogspot.com/2007/05/media-predict-thoughts.html out. It’s entirely possible the ‘terms of service’ I linked to have subsequently been changed (which would be a good thing), but entering “contests” such as this where they require perpetual rights to the work entered raises an issue in my mind of whether or not this is something organizations will have to look at in the future. Without seeing the contract (and considering the growth of agencies that charge for representation) this may be the next big issue to tackle.
I am reminded of Groucho Marx’s famous observation that he wouldn’t want to belong to any country club that let him in.
Sandra: “There are also conventions which are limited to MWA members as panelists. I can’t remember which one it was offhand, but I was asked if I was going, looked at it and saw the requirement. This raised questions for me – where did I fit as a Canadian?”
If you’re referring to Left Coast Crime, the bylaws state: “Non-American writers without U.S. publishers who meet the requirements for active membership in their national mystery writer associations also qualify.” If you have questions about a specific conference, your best bet is to email the organizers and ask. They should be glad to help you.
I am forming a new writer’s organization called the Thriller Writers Association. Any person who meets the following criteria can join:
1. Publisher – Any (Including self-published).
a. Sales of 5,000 or greater;
b. Favorably reviewed by at least 3 of the following: Booklist; Library Journal, Kirkus, PW, NYTBR.
c. In 200 library systems or more.
d. Must have generated $20,000 or more in royalties or net profits.
e. Must be readily available for purchase by the public.
3. Prejudices, elitism and old-boy-club mentality – Not allowed.
If you don’t meet these demanding criteria, try the less demanding criteria of MWA or ITW.
Ah, but Jim… your own group wouldn’t even let you in!
You’re being even more elitist than the MWA, Jim. You’re restricting membership to people who have made $20,000 and been well reviewed by a narrow list of publications. You’re not a writer if you have sold 3000 copies, made $10,000, are in 100 libraries, and got a bad review from one of those magazines? Shame on you.
“Ah, but Jim… your own group wouldn’t even let you in!” Actually, It would.
Moe: We knew we’d get a lot of flak from writers who like to slip into organizations based on who their publishers are. Their historic philosophy has been, “I’m not self-published, therefore I’m a real writer.”
Our philosophy at TWA is quite a bit different. We dont look at the publisher and make assumptions one way or the other. We look at the BOOKS themselves.
Weird concept, huh?
It’s important to remember that Left Coast Crime does not require that writers eligible for panel assignments be active MWA members, just that they be eligible to be. We also make exceptions for non-MWA publishers (like Capital Crime) who offer standard contracts but don’t meet the 2-year rule. The goal is to eliminate writers who participate financially in their own publication from being given panel or signing slots at the convention. They are welcome to attend as fans. Further, any excluded publisher who is willing to make the necessary contractual changes to meet LCC standards will be granted provisional eligibility. Be warned that the Bouchercon Standing Committee has appointed a subcommittee to address this issue and it’s fairly certain that something similar will be adopted there.
Unless Jim is actually Jim Patterson and not Jim Hansen, there’s no way in hell he has $20,000 in net profits. I’m also skeptical about the 3 positive reviews. (I also wouldn’t include Booklist, although the others are acceptable.) And exclude copies he and his family bought and I doubt he makes 5000 either.
Open up the books, Jim!
“We dont look at the publisher and make assumptions one way or the other. We look at the BOOKS themselves.”
For a group like MWA, there are simply too many books published to scrutinize individually and assess their relative merit. (And what objective criteria could you use, anyway? Not sales, but actual quality?)
Basing such decisions on who published the book is a blunt instrument, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective.
After spending the past 5 years as a professional book reviewer, I can affirm that such a criteria works pretty well. Not perfect, by any means, but preferable to the alternatives that I’ve seen.
Having looked at many self-published and vanity press books over the years, and comparing them to those that are traditionally published, there are obvious differences in quality between the two groups. And it would be foolish to expect anything different. So while one could read 1000 self-published novels in hopes of finding one that is adequate, that hardly sounds like a sensible approach. Looking at the group as a whole, the quality simply isn’t there.
(I’m not a member of MWA either. But I do have a stack of self-published novels 2 feet high, all received in the last month.)
What is bizarre is that *I* get sent POD books to review…even though I am *not* a book critic and my negative opinion of vanity presses is hardly a secret.
Lee, what do you do with them? I feel bad about throwing them away, but nobody wants ’em.
“Unless Jim is actually Jim Patterson and not Jim Hansen, there’s no way in hell he has $20,000 in net profits. I’m also skeptical about the 3 positive reviews. (I also wouldn’t include Booklist, although the others are acceptable.) And exclude copies he and his family bought and I doubt he makes 5000 either.
Open up the books, Jim!”
Two Booklist reviews, one Library Journal review, and one ForeWord Magazine review are reprinted on my website, http://www.jimhansenbooks.blogspot.com, along with about 30 others. Links to library systems are also there. People don’t like to believe the numbers, and what self-published authors can do, because they don’t like to see people succeed in the non-traditional ways.
Instad of suggesting that I’m a liar, maybe you should see that there’s a whole new world that lots of people have no idea even exists because they’re caught up in the traditional (and outmoded) mind-set.
Organizations that base membership on “publishers” instead of actual talent are dinosaurs and on their way out. In ten years, eveyone will wonder how they could have even existed.
There’s a lot to be said for tightening the standards. But I have to say that when a writer can get nominated for the Anthony AND the Macavity and still not be eligible to be in the MWA, then there’s something a tad off.
MWA membership isn’t based on awards or popularity contests…thank God. Talk about elitist and unfair! Just imagine how loud the uproar would be if we based our membership on critical acclaim or popularity…
I see a different point in your observation, though. The fact that an author and his book *can* win awards regardless of MWA membership pretty much undercuts the argument that our more stringent standards are limiting opportunities and recognition for self-published and POD authors.
You don’t need to meet the qualifications to be an MWA member to win an Anthony, a Macavity, or a Pulitzer Prize…you only do if you want to win an Edgar.
I throw them out.
You write: “Organizations that base membership on “publishers” instead of actual talent are dinosaurs and on their way out. In ten years, eveyone will wonder how they could have even existed.”
If that’s true, why do you care what the MWA, ITW, Author’s Guild or any other professional authors organization does? Despite your self-proclaimed success and acclaim, you still seem to hunger for an organization to validate you as a professional, published author.
If it’s all so meaningless, why do you haunt the blogs of professional, published authors like me, Tess Gerritson and Jan Burke arguing that you deserve a seat at our table?
Jim, your criteria was:
“Favorably reviewed by at least 3 of the following: Booklist; Library Journal, Kirkus, PW, NYTBR.”
By your own admission, you only have 2 of those: Booklist and LJ. (And Booklist hardly counts. ForeWord counts not at all.)
So you don’t qualify for your own group.
MWA is doing what it has to do to preserve the mystery field, as well as itself. What happened to Western Writers of America is instructive. It was founded in the same period as MWA, and was a true authors guild until the mid-nineties. It offered a marketplace to its members. Many of the deals for my 60-plus novels were done at its conventions. Editors, agents, publicists, and publishers themselves were always on hand.
In the early nineties, WWA began requiring its visiting editors to make themselves available for one-on-one interviews with authors– which resulted in a sharp decline in the number of editors on hand. Then, in the late nineties, the doors were quietly opened to self and vanity-published authors. This was accelerated in this century when the open-door policy was legitimized in the bylaws.
The result? WWA is unmoored from commercial publishing, and only a handful of its 600 members have significant professional credits or income. The disconnect between the guild and publishers hastened the decline of western fiction. It flourishes, but not as a writers guild. It is a western lore society. A similar fate awaits MWA if it opens its doors.
I donate books I don’t want to a local assisted living facility that has a library. Nice tax write-off.
I am a POD author. Other than my own book I have only paid for one POD book in my life. My point: if POD/vanity authors feels so strongly then why other than their own title don’t they purchase more POD/vanity titles?
POD/vanity authors can’t expect support if they don’t even support it themselves.
I have bought five POD books — one by singer/songwriter Lee Hazlewood, one by novelist Billy Bittinger (author of THE GOOD TIME GOSPEL BOYS…she died and her kids put out one of her unpublished manuscripts), one by Lawrence Block (an out-of-print title published through the Authors Guild’s “Back-in-Print.com” program), one on the history of the “ABC Movie of the Week” series, and one by the producer of CAGNEY AND LACEY on the history of the TV show.
I have tried giving away the unwanted review copies of POD books that I have been sent….but neither my local library or nor the Motion Picture and TV Country Home want them. So they go straight into the trash.
I am curious — why doesn’t a Booklist review get any respect?
No, I was not referring to Left Coast Crime. I don’t remember which one it was – an Eastern-based one, one of the smaller ones. (I realize it’s not standard but I consider B’Con, Harrogate and LCC as the biggies, personally.) I moderated a panel at LCC Seattle myself.
This is interesting: “Non-American writers without U.S. publishers who meet the requirements for active membership in their national mystery writer associations also qualify.” In Canada the door is wide open with the CWC. There is no list of approved publishers, no minimum advance payment required, nada. You’re either an author, or not, and non-Canadians can be members. I wonder if some of the conventions will see authors start trying to sneak in the back door?
Yeah, I’ve tried giving away those books, too, and there is little interest. I think main problem is that they don’t LOOK like real books, so people assume they’re junk.
Be careful about those write-offs, though — since reviewers get the books for free, they have a basis of $0 and generally the write-off is limited to the lower of basis or fair market value.
Booklist, published by the American Library Association with thoughtful reviews by qualified people, is a perfectly acceptable and esteemed review service, and is heavily used by librarians when purchasing library copies. It is now a more esteemed review than Kirkus.
I think Tom is exaggerating to imply that Booklist doesn’t matter. It may be fourth in terms of prestige among the trade publications, but that’s hardly the same thing as saying it’s irrelevant. I’m sure their reviews do hold sway among librarians, which is an important market for mystery novels.
When it comes to the trades, what really matters is a starred review from the big two: PW or Kirkus (and, to a lesser extent, LJ). Barring that, they don’t seem to have nearly as much effect, regardless of what they say.
(Note: I don’t say that any of this SHOULD be that way. But this is what I’ve observed and been told.)
“The fact that an author and his book *can* win awards regardless of MWA membership pretty much undercuts the argument that our more stringent standards are limiting opportunities and recognition for self-published and POD authors.”
But doesn’t it also undercut the argument that MWA’s more stringent standards are needed to ensure quality, if even some award-nominated work doesn’t qualify? Doesn’t that fact sever the automatic if/then relationship between “recognized publisher” and “professional work”?
Further, as to this word “professional”: if someone basically founds their own company to publish their work, works at it full time, and takes the profits of the business like any small business person, doesn’t that mean he’s a “professional” writer? Isn’t that distinguishable from the true vanity press?
And just to be clear, I’m an MWA member, intend to remain so, and wish I’d joined sooner. I’m published by one of their approved publishers, so I have no real axe to grind. I’m addressing the logic of the argument here.
“why doesn’t a Booklist review get any respect?”
I’m curious about this as well. As far as I know, the ALA’s a legitimate group.
Isn’t Capital Crime Press a vanity press?
Follow this link to see the papers for “Cedar Lane Books.”
See who owns it?
Follow this link to see that Cedar Lane Books does business as Capital Crime Press:
It’s now reasonably common knowledge that Troy Cook owns Capital Crime Press (the publisher of his books), a bothersome little fact that he apparently didn’t disclose. That has seriously undercut both his credibility and that of the publisher.
Does being a finalist for an Anthony and Macavity Award change that perception? I suppose it depends on how much stock you put in those awards.
David, do you put no “stock” in the Anthony and the Macavity?
And you really haven’t addressed my question, which I will repeat: if someone basically founds their own company to publish their work, works at it full time, and takes the profits of the business like any small business person, doesn’t that mean he’s a “professional” writer? Isn’t that distinguishable from the true vanity press?
Tom, you said “And Booklist hardly counts. ForeWord counts not at all.”
Booklist gets approximately 24,000 submissions per year and reviews about 5,000. ForeWord reviews approximately 8% of its submissions. Both are in magazine form, heavily subscribed by libraries and contain heavy advertising by every big publisher.
They’re nothing, huh? Well, if you say so. I’d suggest that you send their reviews of your books back to them with a note, “No thanks.”
“David, do you put no “stock” in the Anthony and the Macavity?”
I don’t. The Anthony is a blatant popularity contest among the fans who attend the Bouchercon convention. Nobody takes it seriously. The Macavity is from Mystery Readers International (who???) and means nothing. The only awards that matter in the mystery field and are respected by publishers and booksellers are the Edgar and the Shamus.
Booklist is respected. Foreword is not. A rave from them means as much as a blowjob from Harriet Klausner.
“David, do you put no “stock” in the Anthony and the Macavity?”
I think awards serve a purpose, but I’m not sure how much stock I put in any of them. Winning an award is nice recognition for authors — a much welcome pat on the back — but do they mean anything more than that? The Best Novel Edgar is reportedly good for sales, but as for everything else? What exactly do they symbolize? (And I say this as someone who sponsors one award and has been involved in others.) I like awards, but I don’t take them too seriously.
“The Anthony is a blatant popularity contest among the fans who attend the Bouchercon convention. Nobody takes it seriously.”
The people nominated do. So so their publishers. At least that was the impression I got from speaking to them.
I doubt that Laura Lippman didn’t take her Anthony Award for a truly fine book “seriously”.
BTW, skybird, who are you, again?
David: “I like awards, but I don’t take them too seriously.”
But doesn’t an award nomination count for anything when you’re deciding who’s a “professional” writer?
“It’s now reasonably common knowledge that Troy Cook owns Capital Crime Press (the publisher of his books), a bothersome little fact that he apparently didn’t disclose. That has seriously undercut both his credibility and that of the publisher.”
Apparently not the readers, since the “popularity contest” Anthony voters nominated him.
Apparently not Publisher’s Weekly, since they noted that “small, independent presses provide a needed outlet for new voices, like film-writer-turned-mystery-author Troy Cook (Capital Crime Press).”
Apparently not the people who gave good reviews to Cook’s works, such as Booklist, Sarah Weinman, Library Journal, etc.
And if you say, “well, they didn’t know he owned the press,” how does that make any difference in their assessment of the books themselves?
I understand the revulsion for vanity publishers who rip people off, but how does Troy Cook get lumped into that group, since he owns the company that publishes his books? Books which, again, apparently enough people like to make him an Anthony and Macavity nominee.
Is he ripping himself off?
So if you don’t win an award, you aren’t a professional writer?
So the MWA should let in anybody a fan convention gives an award to? What criteria should the MWA use to decide which awards are worthy enough to merit granting the winner immediate active status membership? The MWA would have to create criteria for that and that would surely piss off whatever awards — and award-winners — are left out.
Maybe the MWA should just let in everyone!
Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you and Jim Hansen create a new organization called “The Professional Organization of Dedicated Writers” (P.O.D Writers for short) and limit membership to self-published authors, strictly print-on-demand authors, anyone who has won any kind of award for their writing from anyone, anyone who has been praised for their writing by any website or publication (or simply anyone who has been blown by Harriet Klausner) and see who joins up.
Lori Prokop can be your president because she is self-published and she has won awards so she’s got to be a professional writer…
I’m sure it will be a very respected group that authors will clamor to join.
“So if you don’t win an award, you aren’t a professional writer?”
That’s not what I said. Skybird, that sort of dishonest reframing, the fact that you haven’t answered my questions, and the fact that you choose toss out your little barbs behind the protection of a pseudonym, makes it impossible to take you seriously.
Now, is there anyone who’d like to engage in a discussion?
What I’m saying here is that, while I share the distaste for vanity presses who take your money behind the false promise of making you a bestseller, I don’t see how that applies to Troy Cook, who apparently put in the money and sweat equity to found his own publishing company. So, again, who’s he ripping off?
And since his books have received some degree of acclaim from respected sources, perhaps lumping him in with the vanity presses and scam artists casts too broad a net and the rules should be amended.
Cook’s situation is unique, but may not remain so.
Anyone actually care to address this? Anyone? Anyone?
Skybird: Are you Mark York in disguise?
I wonder where you get your opinion of ForeWord Magazine? When they started out I was one of their earlier reviewers. I’ve also reviewed for The Armchair Detective, Mystery Scene Magazine, and The Oakland Press.
You’re confusing ForeWord Magazine’s reviews with their paid-review outlet, which are two different things. In my the same way that Kirkus and their paid-review outlets are two different things.
ForeWord Magazine is a legitimate review outlet for independent publishers as well as the self-published. And like most review outlets, the pay is minimal (it was $25 per review when I wrote for them) and not all books sent to them get reviewed. They’re as independent as any other review source (a statement that could create a huge flurry of debate; how often are reviews really objective, anyway? How often are books reviewed by friends of authors, etc.). But that’s not the point. The point is ForeWord Magazine is a legitimate review source.
I’m not Mark York, thank god. He’s a know-nothing wanna-be who embarrasses himself every time he posts here.
I am a successful, published author and a long-time member of MWA and Sisters In Crime. I hide behind Skybird because I am a coward who doesn’t want her name dragged into this debate and to be assaulted by the POD mob. I can say what I want as harshly as I want to without angering my agent, who thinks all writers should keep their opinions to themselves.
I think the POD mob are a cancer to organizations like MWA and have made convention panels miserable for panelists and fans alike. I applaud what the MWA has done and I think it’s great that LCC is using their guidelines to weed-out the fakes and I hope every other mystery convention follows their lead.
Hey, Jim, I can’t help noticing that you’re dodging Lee’s questions:
“Why do you care what the MWA, ITW, Author’s Guild or any other professional authors organization does? Despite your self-proclaimed success and acclaim, you still seem to hunger for an organization to validate you as a professional, published author.
If it’s all so meaningless, why do you haunt the blogs of professional, published authors like me, Tess Gerritson and Jan Burke arguing that you deserve a seat at our table?”
If a guy builds his own house and it’s nice, does that make him a professional contractor or real estate developer?
If a guy defends himself in court and wins, does that make him a lawyer?
I am not in the writing bueinss, but I think it’s obvious even to someone like m in the general public that publishing yourself does not make you a professional author.
I find this discussion interesting because it leaves out an important person: the reader. I am not a writer but I am a big reader (I love your Adrian Monk books, Lee, keep it up!!!). I have seen the self-published books and the authors aren’t fooling anyone, certainly not the reading public. They don’t look like real books and they don’t feel like real books. When you open them up and read the first page, the writing is beyond horrible. No publisher would ever publish them so why should the Mystery Writers of America let the authors in as professionals? It doesn’t make sense to me. Thank you.
>>>I donate books I don’t want to a local assisted living facility that has a library.<<< Poor elderly bastards, forced to read POD... I'm on Dusty's side here. There's no way to intrinsically show a book's worth. If a book is self-pubbed, then gets picked up by a major publisher, it suddenly didn't become "better" or "worthier." It simply got lucky. Like every other traditionally published book. Yes, a lot of POD books suck. They're poorly written, poorly edited, the writer never learned craft through rejection, and no professional hands guided the book to make it better. NY publishing has a system of gatekeepers that keep out a lot of crap. But some crap still sneaks into NY publishing. And some gems do get overlooked. I have no problem with the MWA having criteria for membership. They're free to do whatever they want to do in order to maintain any standards they deem important. I do have a problem with the sense of entitlement that some authors have, feeling they deserve to be published, and how this makes them somehow better than those who self-publish. We were all unpublished once. Some of us stick it out, and get lucky, and land a big deal. Some don't get lucky. Or they don't want to wait. So they do it themselves. I've found the majority of these folks have hurt themselves, and their careers, because they simply weren't good enough yet, and now they've given themselves even more hurdles to overcome. But I've never considered myself better than any of them, or more deserving of success. No one deserves success. We all try our best, then cross our fingers. Having a traditionally published book and a big advance doesn't make you a better writer, or a harder worker, than someone who doesn't have a comparable deal. Ultimately, success isn't determined by reviews or awards or who your publisher is or how good your book is. It's determined by how many books you sell.
Skybird, I love you.
I don’t know all the details regarding the Troy Cook situation but, as I understand it, he received Active Status membership under false pretenses. He didn’t disclose he was self-published.
We don’t recognize self-published authors as being professional authors, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful they are or how much time they devote to their work.
You suggest that this is flawed because Troy Cook has won awards. I don’t see the logic there. It implies that the
MWA should give self-published authors who win certain awards Active Status membership.
Skybird raised a valid point. Which awards would qualify? The MWA would have to craft criteria for determining which awards would be acceptable and which would not. I can only imagine the controversy that would spark among the organizations, awards and award-winners who were excluded from the list.
It would also raise some valid charges of elitism: Only award-winning, self-published authors are good enough for membership? What about other self-published writers? Just because they don’t win awards they aren’t good enough?
Or perhaps we should go with Jim Hansen’s approach and allow in only those self-published authors who have sold X number of copies and received unambigiously positive reviews from three key publications. We would still be setting criteria that will exclude people. Isn’t that elitist, too? How what if someone sold just ten copies less than our figure? Who is to say a Library Journal review has more merit than a Crimespree rave?
I believe if we grant one self-published author Active Status membership — whether it’s based on awards or good reviews, number of books they’ve sold or how they part their hair — then we have to open the door to every self-published author. I believe if we did that, it would be the death knell of the Mystery Writers of America as a respected organization of professional writers.
Harlan Coben, in his ballot statement for President of MWA, says “Joining the Mystery Writers of America was one of my early proud achievements […] my hope is that membership in this organization continues to be a hard earned honor and achievement.”
It won’t be anymore if we open our doors to the self-published.
You were probably being facetious, but you raise a valid point. If Jim Hansen and other self-published writers really feel so strongly that they are being denied the recognition and respect they deserve for their work, they should form their own organization, just like the International Thriller Writers and the International Association of Media Tie In writers did.
If you truly believe you are right, why don’t you form that organization you referred to here…with the qualifications you outlined…and see what happens?
And, like Skybird, I also noticed that you ignored my question. But I don’t blame you, the answer is obvious.
If you really want to experience a sense of entitlement, visit the blog of any PublishAmerica, Authorhouse, POD or vanity press writer or publisher!
You says that success is measured by how many books you sell. I don’t agree. Financial success can be measured by the number of books sold, but that’s as far as it goes — it isn’t even an accurate measure of popularity. There have been books that sold well, out of publicity, curiosity, or reader loyalty to the author, that were roundly criticized by everyone who read them.
Saying that a book is a success simply because it sells a lot of copies is like saying McDonald’s is great food because they out-sell every other restaurant on earth.
There are plenty of books that sold well that were artistic and critical failures. And there are many books that have sold poorly that were artistic and critical successes, that won respected awards, and that influenced other writers.
They are many measures of success. Sales is just one of them. But you and I have had this argument before…
“If a guy builds his own house and it’s nice, does that make him a professional contractor or real estate developer?”
Advocate, your analogy is faulty. The person in your analogy is building something for his own use. If he built it to sell, and it sold for a profit, yes he would be at least a part time contractor or real estate developer.
“We don’t recognize self-published authors as being professional authors, regardless of how successful or unsuccessful they are or how much time they devote to their work.”
If “professional” has its common meaning of “one who does something for profit,” then why not?
“You suggest that this is flawed because Troy Cook has won awards. I don’t see the logic there. It implies that the
MWA should give self-published authors who win certain awards Active Status membership.”
I suggest that it’s flawed because the basic disdain for self-published authors seems based in the premise that “All self-published work is shit.” I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why Cook decided to conceal his self-published status.
I do wonder how much of the anger directed at Cook is coming from people for whom “all self published work is shit” is an article of faith, who were then embarrassed when they found the work they had praised or, god forbid, enjoyed, was self-published (in one sense of that word) and that it apparently wasn’t shit.
I also question, again, whether someone who doesn’t pay someone else to publish his book, but rather does it themselves, for profit, is a true “vanity” author.
If the CEO of Holtzbrinck Publishing wrote a memoir, and St. Martin’s published it, would that be a “vanity” book? If Stephen King bought Simon and Schuster, would all his works become “vanity press”?
Finally, despite “skybird”‘s strawman argument, I’m not suggesting that if you don’t win an award, you’re not a professional writer. I am saying that it’s some evidence the book isn’t total crap.
“I am a successful, published author and a long-time member of MWA and Sisters In Crime.”
Really? I would have guessed right-wing radio show host. Your whole “If you dare question us, you must be one of them” rant was right out of the O’Reilly/Limbaugh playbook.
Just to remind you: I too am a published author, MWA member, and a Shamus nominee (although never a winner). I’m not going to start a POD organization any time soon.
But I’m not afraid to question the elders of the tribe, and do it under my own name.
“Hey, Jim, I can’t help noticing that you’re dodging Lee’s questions.”
ACtually, I just spent two heated days in a high-stakes trial. Now I’m going to get a beer or two or three and I’ll provide an answer later, along with some other comments.
>>>But you and I have had this argument before…<<< Indeed we have. Whether or not McDonalds is great food is subjective. It can't be proven. But objectively, McDonalds makes a lot of money, and feeds more people than any other restaurant. You can postulate on what this means, but the fact remains that someone is buying a lot of hamburgers, even if no one admits to it being their favorite. What proves the worth of a book? I posit that it's the number of people who support book X during time period Y. The only way to measure this in the publishing world is books sold. Opinions chance. Popularity ebbs and flows. Time forgets some, and discovers others. Teachers embrace a few. People forget who won which award. But sales are sales, and numbers are numbers, and at any given time these indicate what people are supporting. I think it's great that Futurama is coming back for a new season. I loved that show. It never found its audience while it aired, but in reruns and on DVD it's popularity grew. Futurama was not successful during its intitial run. But it has become successful. Not because the show got better--the show has stayed the same. But because more have people discovered it. If people hadn't discovered it, it wouldn't have been renewed years after being cancelled. I love the show. That's opinion. The show has made enough money to go back into production. That's fact. It isn't any greater now than it was before, but it has proven to be more successful than it was before. I agree that many self-published authors have a huge sense of entitlement. They're wrong, just like the tradtionally published authors with senses of entitlement. No book is better than any other book. No writer is better than any other writer. But, at the end of the day, or the fiscal year, or the decade, or the millenium, the one thing that no one can argue with is numbers. Because of that, I think numbers are an accurate, unbiased way to define a book's success. A book that sells 1000 copies isn't as successful as a book that sells 10,000 copies, no matter who published either. There is no other way to determine "better."
You wrote: “If the CEO of Holtzbrinck Publishing wrote a memoir, and St. Martin’s published it, would that be a “vanity” book? If Stephen King bought Simon and Schuster, would all his works become “vanity press”?”
In your scenario, no one would say that S&S was a vanity press, but any books that King wrote and published through the company after he bought it would be ineligible for an Edgar. However, any books he wrote and published for a company he *didn’t* have a financial stake in *would* be eligible.
I am assuming St. Martin’s is a division of Holtzbrinch. If so, then the same would go for the CEO of Holtzbrinck — his biography would, in essense, be self-published and he would *not* be eligible for MWA membership based on that work. But if Bantam/Doubleday (which I assume he doesn’t own) published the book, he would be eligible.
So the self-published rule applies to ALL self-published authors, big and small, famous and unknown…whether it’s Stephen King or Troy Cook.
McDonalds sells more hamburgers than any restaurant chain on earth…but I think we can both agree they are lousy hamburgers. In & Out Burger and The Habit are no where near as financially successful as McDonalds…but they make delicious burgers that are a hell of a lot better than McDonalds. I would argue that In & Out and The Habit are better than McDonalds. Do they make more money? No. But they provide a better dining experience. I can extend that same analogy to some authors and their books.
I find it tremendously funny when JA Konrath talks about books being good or bad. I drank the Kool Aid after reading his blog. I’m sorry but Konrath cannot write his way out of a toilet. His success is a testament to the great public demand for cliches on every page.
If the CEO of St. Martin’s wrote a memoir published by St. Martin’s or any other imprint of the Macmillan Group (formerly von Holtzbrinck), it would not be a typical vanity publication. First, such literary memoirs are normally taken to another publishing house rather than published internally. However, should it be published internally or by another company in the Macmillan Group, it would be subject to the same rigorous editorial review and fact-checking that applies to other titles. A hallmark of vanity publishing is that it is not subject to the sort of rigorous editorial review that still is standard among traditional publishers (in spite of rumors to the contrary).
Richard wrote: “However, should it be published internally or by another company in the Macmillan Group, it would be subject to the same rigorous editorial review and fact-checking that applies to other titles.”
I don’t think that’s true. I think if the CEO of the company writes a book, he will be subject to as much editorial review as he wants to be. It’s his company. He has control over the editorial review, marketing, etc. for his title.
>>>I find it tremendously funny when JA Konrath talks about books being good or bad.<<< And I find it tremendously funny that I sell more books than you do, make a lot more money, get more fan mail, and have a bigger dick.
>>>I would argue that In & Out and The Habit are better than McDonalds.<<< I would agree. But I'd rather have stock in McDonalds, because they're a more successful company. "Better" is subjective and unprovable. Numbers are not.
I see Lee is one of those. Personally, I’d rather eath at McDonalds then In N Out any day of the week.
Of course, I have yet to read a self-published book I loved.
If I get enough support to form the Thriller & Mystery Authors Association (TMAA), I will do it. The philosophy of the organization is to promote quality membership based on the author’s books as opposed to the author’s publisher.
If anyone is interested in helping with the formation and organization of such a group, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All criteria for membership will be decided by the organizers, with the excption that the author’s publisher is immaterial.
I also envision awards to be given out each year for various categories (to be established).
So, if someone out there is interested in forming such a group, send me an email.
Hi, Lee – I think we met in FLA a few years back when I did a whirl-wind tour – we had lunch with Ms. Wood I think.
Anyway, I was alerted to this interesting thread, and I would guess that my input here would be of interest in as much as I made the transition from POD to Random House with my book PIPSQUEAK in 2003. I guess people would assume that I am pro-POD, but I’m afraid not. Did I benefit from the initial acceptance of POD as more or less legitimately published book? Darn tootn’ I did – that’s how it was nominated and won the Lefty, which led to my contract. However, I never claimed the book was traditionally published, and it was always clear that iUniverse was a POD publisher (just ask Enid, to whom I sheepishly provided my POD books at LCC and B’con.) At that time, I don’t think anybody expected the flood of POD books to follow, and there was no stigma attached to POD as there is now. Like many authors who ‘make it’ (not sure what that means now if you’re not Nelson deMille or some such – different topic) I had some luck, and timing, and worked hard to get the book noticed and reviewed. THAT SAID I have myself been plied with scores of POD authors looking for advice and for me to read their books. The books are almost all stinky, and my advice is always that the writer needs to engage an editor to get the book in shape, that the editorial process is not peripheral to being a novelist by an essential part of making good reading. I had a freelance editor help me with PIPSQUEAK which is probably why it did well – and continues to sell well (5th printing, I think?) So IMHO what separates the trad-pub good books from the POD-V bad/ugly books is usually predicated on whether the book has been professionally edited. Doesn’t mean it will be great, or even an ‘award winner’ but it will in all likelihood be decent reading. Hi, Joe – liked your comments, felt they were dead on about how many books you sell – IMHO that certainly is how the publishers distinguish good from bad. As David suggested (hey, David!) awards hardly matter to publishers at all, neither do reviews – nothing makes your book a good book unless it SELLS. If it doesn’t sell, it basically sucks. End of story.
I know this may sound hypocritical, but IMHO POD and Vanity Authors on panels is really bad for the business, and for the fans. Yes, early on I was on panels as a POD author, and it might have helped my career get started. At that time, I really only contributed to the panels by throwing in a few laughs and talking about my own books. But I acknowledge I had no business being on a panel, really. POD authors are really not qualified to dispense advice about writing professionally, which means writing to get published, which is what the many aspiring writers among the fans seem most interested in. Do any of the fans aspire to be POD? – don’t think so. I was sorta dismayed at the Seattle LCC by how many panels were almost solely comprised of POD-V authors. I was on a panel where I was more or less ‘the anchor’ author, if you can believe it, and as a MM paperback author of four titles at that time I barely considered myself able to give sound advice on writing and publishing. One of the panelists WAS NOT EVEN PUBLISHED IN ANY FORM. I mean, LCC can do what it wants, no never minds to me except as a trad-pub author I don’t get much out of conventions/panels like that, and am less inclined to want to go to LCC when I fear I’ll sit on a panel with non-authors. I go to the conventions to try to increase my fan base, to sell more books, and panels help when I can try to win over the fans attending on behalf of one of the other authors on the panel. I would think the other authors on the panel are also hoping to get some of my fans to read their books. But POD authors by and large don’t have fans for me to win over, and the turn out for the panels is weak. Hope that tract didn’t offend anybody, but that’s my take on it, based on my experience.
With all the talk about relative quality of books, the new MWA criteria are based almost entirely on financial success. This is not a criticism; being a “professional” literally means making a living (or a large portion of one) from what you do.
But let’s face it: the crappiest book would qualify as long as it landed at the right publisher.
Having said that, these criteria might not be perfect – but how would you define better ones?
Joe, I can’t argue with you because your using number of books sold as a measurement of success is valid is that’s what you choose to do–and if that’s your goal and what drives you then that’s fine. But it’s not an absolute measurement, and to claim so is kind of along the lines of arguing that whoever dies with the most money wins, as oppsoed to contributed most to society, or led a more fullfilling life, etc. There are obviously other measurements writers could choose–such as size of advance, number of movies adaptations made, publisher they end up with, or maybe more esoteric measures–such as critical acclaim, readers regard for their books, how the book is viewed for posterity, etc. Everyone is driven by different things. But please, don’t confuse what drives you as with what drives everyone else.
About what the MWA is doing–I think every crime/mystery writer should be thankful that they’re trying to set a minimal standard. This benefits all of us–authors trying to choose between different publishers and bookstores in understanding what publishers they might want to deal with. This was needed, and I’m grateful they did this.
“And I find it tremendously funny that I sell more books than you do, make a lot more money, get more fan mail, and have a bigger dick.”
In addition you have the stones to use your actual name when talking trash.
There was time when good-hearted publishers would use some small part of their revenues (earned from their bestselling authors) to subsidize “literary” projects that would almost never see large print runs. POD is very attractive to contemporary publishing houses because of the potential elimination of the warehouse system as well as the pulping machine. We are in the midst of major systemic changes in the publishing business–why do you think they’ve been hiring so many MBAs in recent years?
There will always be a large gulf between the “genre” world and the “literary” world due to variances in authors beliefs about the definition of quality, and the ensuing cognitive dissonance associated with external socioeconomic status versus the need for external recognition and praise from one’s peers.
In other words, some people will always derive more satisfaction from quantitative success than from qualitative success.
In other words, money trumps literary success and vice-versa depending on individual value systems.
In other words, much of this debate sounds like a battle between a robber baron and a philanthropist, (which are not mutually exclusive roles, BTW.)
Seems pretty clear to me.
Why do pro orgs exist? Well, to have an influence on the marketplace.
Why does a self-published writer need a pro org, then? In case they sign a bad contract…with themselves? In case their publisher, uh, I mean they withhold royalties from themselves?
Ditto awards: what does provenance have to do with awards? Good writers can make bad business decisions (going with too small a press, self-pubbing) all the time. Doesn’t mean the book isn’t good, but why does the author of a GOOD self-published book need the same marketplace protections again?
Self-pubbers should join organizations for small publishers, as the main economic issues they face are publisher issues not writer issues.
We saw the same thing in HWA a few years ago. People were joining HWA when anyone was allowed in for the simple reason that they could use it as a credential amongst people who didn’t know that the only thing membership represented was having $50 in the bank. Cons of all sorts are made less fun, less useful, and less helpful by braces of self-published authors with all the business accumen of a desperate used car salesman and all the writing ability of a chimp.
Finally, Foreword is a joke and there isn’t anyone in the know who doesn’t know that, period. Selling reviews doesn’t just affect the review-for-hire section, it puts the whole operation into doubt.
And yes, that includes Kirkus too. If Kirkus isn’t quite worthless yet, it is only because it was worth more than Foreword to begin with.