MWA Opens Active Membership to Ebook and POD Authors

The MWA membership committee, of which I am chair, has crafted a major overhaul of the criteria for Active Membership to embrace the new technologies that are changing our industry. These new guidelines, approved unanimously today by the MWA Board, opens the door to scores of authors whose books are published solely as ebooks or via print-on-demand, but they still exclude self-published works. An  email blast with all the changes went out to all MWA members moments ago. Here's the intro…

The publishing business is experiencing massive changes and if MWA is to remain relevant, we have to change, too.  That’s why we’ve revised our Approved Publisher criteria to make books published solely in e-book format or using print-on-demand eligible under certain conditions for MWA membership (and, perhaps later, for Edgar eligibility as well).  Self-published books, whether they are published in print or as e-books, still do not qualify for MWA active membership. [Note: The italics added by me for clarity in this post, they are not italicized in the actual guidelines]

In crafting the criteria below, we had to strike a balance between including books published using those new technologies while also  maintaining our high professional standards and our commitment to protecting our members (and writers in general) from the less-than-reputable publishers who seek to take advantage of them.

We hope you’ll agree that we accomplished our goal. 

There are a lot of tweaks to our existing rules, but here's the ground-breaking portion…the new section on Approved Publisher criteria for ebook publishers. If your ebook publisher meets these criteria, then your book qualifies you for Active Membership in MWA.

E-Book Publisher Guidelines:

Publishers interested in being on MWA's Approved E-Book Publishers List must fill out the affidavit and submit a sample contract. If all of the following criteria are met, contact the national office to begin the vetting process (the affidavit will be supplied if these requirements are met). The publisher must also meet all of the following criteria (the term "book" refers to all e-formats, "Publishing" refers to print, web, and other e-formats):

1. During the preceding year, the publisher must have paid a minimum of $500 in advances and/or royalties to at least five authors with no financial or ownership interest in the company.
a) The publisher must have paid a minimum royalty of least 25% of net revenue to authors.
b) The royalties must have been paid at least quarterly, with a detailed statement, breaking out books sold through affiliate sites, through the publisher's own site, as well as print books if applicable.
c) Payment must be in monies, not in barter for advertising or copies or any other considerations.
d) Payment must be actual – not, for example, a donation of writing deemed worth a given amount.
e) Payment must have been made and not merely promised.
f) A contract alone is not payment. Proof of payment may be requested by the committee.

2. The publisher must have been in business for at least two years since publication of the first e-book by a person with no financial or ownership interest in the company.

3. The publisher, within the past five years, may not have charged a fee to consider, read, submit, or comment on manuscripts; nor may the publisher, or any of the executives or editors under its employ, have offered authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services. If the publisher is affiliated with an entity that provides self-publishing, for-pay editorial services, or for-pay promotional services, the entities must be wholly separate and isolated from the publishing entity. They must not share employees, manuscripts, or authors or interact in any way. For example, the publishing entity must not refer authors to any of the for-pay entities nor give preferential treatment to manuscripts submitted that were edited, published, or promoted by the for-pay entity. To avoid misleading authors, mentions and/or advertisements for the for-pay entities shall not be included with information on manuscript submission to the publishing company. Advertising on the publisher's website for any for-pay editorial, self-publishing or promotional services, whether affiliated with the publisher or not, must include a disclaimer that it is advertising and that use of those services offered by an affiliate of the publisher will not affect consideration of manuscripts submitted for publication.

4. The publisher must publish at least five authors per year, other than those with a financial or ownership interest in the company, such as an owner, business partner, employee, or close relative of such person. Those persons should be listed on the application.

5. The publisher is not a "self-publishing" or "subsidy publishing" firm in which the author has paid all or part of the cost of publication, marketing, distribution of the work, or any other fees pursuant to an agreement between the author and publisher, cooperative publisher or book packager. Among (but not all of) the situations defined as "self-published or cooperatively published" are:

a. Those works for which the author has paid all or part of the cost of publication, marketing, distribution of the work, or any other fees pursuant to an agreement between the author and publisher, cooperative publisher, website owner or book packager;

b. e-books published by a privately-held publisher or in collaboration with a book packager wherein the author has a familial relationship with the publisher, editor, or any managerial employee, officer, director or owner of the publisher or book packager;

c. Those works published by companies, websites or imprints that do not publish other authors;

d. Those works published by a publisher or website or in collaboration with a book packager in which the author has a direct or indirect financial interest;

e. Those works published in an anthology in which the author is also an editor, except an anthology for which the author is a guest editor;

f. Those works published in an anthology or magazine wherein the author has a familial relationship with the editor or publisher

6. The publisher pays for editing, copyediting, design, cover art, production, advertising, marketing, distribution, web design, graphics, and all other aspects of publication. They do not require authors to pay for any of the above.

7. Books must be available through major online retailers, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iBookstore, and not just through the publisher's website.

8. The publisher must not be engaged in the practice of wrongfully withholding or delaying the payment of acceptance fees to authors.

As the industry changes, you can expect the MWA's criteria regarding Approved Publishers will evolve as well.

In the meantime, now that the Board has passed these new rules, the issue moves to the Edgar committee (which I also serve on) to determine how these new criteria will impact Edgar Award eligibility, award categories, etc. for the 2013 Awards (for books published in 2012).


12 thoughts on “MWA Opens Active Membership to Ebook and POD Authors”

  1. This is a joke. First, almost none of the successful Kindle authors go though an ebook publisher; they publish directly. Second, I don’t know of a single e-book publisher who would meet these criteria. Even if there is a publisher who meets these criteria, why would the authors who elect to self-publish through that route be any more “real” that the others who publish directly (which, ironically, takes even greater skills)?
    For at least a year or two, the MWA has slipped further and further into irrelevancy. This latest “move” is still publisher based. What MWA needs to do is recognize authors for their merits and the quality of their works. The publisher-based gatekeeping system serves no one, unless the organization is simply dedicated to retaining a historical snobbery. If it truly wants an organization of authors, it should focus on “authors” and not old gatekeeping systems that no longer have any meaning.

  2. AT,
    You have got to be kidding. You honestly think the MWA would be better if membership were based on how much authors earn and how “good” someone thinks their books are?
    I don’t see MWA… or any professional writers organizations… changing their criteria to adopt rules that require a committee to make a value judgement on the artistic merits/quality of a book before accepting an author as a member.
    You rail against “gatekeepers”…what about the people under your scenario who would have to decide whether an author’s book is “good enough” to qualify for membership?
    You rail against snobbery…and yet you propose an organization that determines membership based on how much money an author makes!
    My God, can you imagine the outcry if MWA adopted your approach? We’d be the epitome of an “elitist,” snobbish organization!
    We don’t base active membership on whether or not an author get great reviews, sells lots of books, makes lots of money, or is well-liked. We base it on whether their *publisher* meets our objective, minimum standards of professionalism.
    What pisses you off is that the MWA has not opened its doors to self-published authors, regardless of how much or how little they make (or how good or how bad their reviews are).
    We have, however, opened our doors to authors published only in e-book or print-on-demand formats by a publishers who meets our minimum standards (but who hopefully exceeds them!)

  3. It’s very simple, here’s how you do it. If the author self-publishs on Kindle, then s/he must meet one of the following: (1) sell ____ books in a one month period or a total or _____ books in a six month period; or (2) receive Kindle payments of at least $____ in a one month period or at least $______ in a six month period.
    The sad fact is, though, at this point in time, self-publishers and Kindle success stories probably have no interest in organizations like MWA which have missed the boat in so many ways. I doubt that MWA will see many new membership applications no matter what membership criteria the organization adopts. The new organizations for indies are blogs, Kindle boards and the like. That’s where they’re going to be spending their time. The information available in those places is not available at MWA, which is another shortcoming of the organization.

  4. AT,
    You are still suggesting membership based on sales and income, which strikes me as “gatekeeping” of the most “elitist” and “snobby” sort.
    Perhaps you don’t get what MWA is. We aren’t, nor are we trying to be, an organization for the self-published.
    And, FWIW, MWA is thriving…our membership is at about 3100 members, one of our highest levels ever. We didn’t make this move out of desperation, or to beat the bushes for new members, but to acknowledge the new technologies that are changing the way books are published and distributed. We are aware that, in the very near future, ebooks will become the reigning mass market format, not paperbacks (in fact, that time may already be here!).

  5. “Perhaps you don’t get what MWA is. We aren’t, nor are we trying to be, an organization for the self-published.”
    You’re right, I don’t get it. What would be the harm if someone who self-published were allowed membership? Why can’t they come to the conventions if they want, talk to other authors, get and give insights, and the like? What’s the upside of excluding them?

  6. Good. I think it is time for me to join MWA. AT’s perception of what acquiring editors do is a bit sketchy. Those “gatekeepers” not only evaluate and select stories based on their merit and marketability, but also determine whether the works fit the line, or the publisher’s purposes. (For instance, if it’s a literary novel, it might not fit into a popular fiction line.) There are inventory considerations. Oftentimes publishers are overstocked with manuscripts and need to work through the inventory on their shelves so the “gatekeepers” don’t buy. The “gatekeepers” must also keep from purchasing stories that compete with those in-house. Sometimes the “gatekeepers” are prevented from buying because of budget considerations, which occasionally happen at the end of a fiscal year. If that’s snobbery, then I hope someone will explain to me how it is.

  7. Well.
    At the risk of putting my foot in my mouth, it seems that the MWA guidelines focus a whole lot on the publisher of a book rather than being concerned with which book is the best mystery novel of the year. It’s harder to get your book qualified for the award than it is, in fact, to walk away with the Edgar. 🙂
    But we have entered into an unfolding era where the publisher is passé. Writers are turning down half-million dollar contracts with publishers! So I would find it more encouraging if the MWA did away with all requirements related to publishers. Let all mystery novels published within the year compete against each other on the basis of quality and merit alone, I say! 🙂
    Okay, what about judging all these mystery novels?
    Let’s do what Major League Baseball does—let the fans decide. Let the fans nominate their choice for best mystery novel of the year, and let the top 15 vote-getting novels become finalists. Then let the fans vote for their favorite, and this novel wins the Edgar. The more participation by the readers, the more focussed they are on the genre, the more mystery books they’ll buy, read and talk about.
    As they said in the ’60’s, Power to the people! Power to the persons who buy the books!

  8. Yeah. Let the fans decide. That’s a great idea. Did you look at the preliminary voting for the all-star game? It’s 99% Yankees. And what about other contests judged by fans? They end up as either popularity contests or with a winner that is a bland mush.
    One of the best things about awards like the Edgar is it brings attention to writers who are high quality, but may not be known by the majority of readers. And the publisher guidelines are in place not just for the integrety of the organizartion, but the protection of writers. How can you look at those guidelines and feel like their anything but encouraging of talent.
    In the early days of webzines, stories published online were disregarded because the quality of most things out there was so bad it gave a bad name to everything. It wasn’t until editors stepped up to raise the quality of submissions and therefore raise the profile of high-quality online outlets, that online stories began to receive the respect they deserve.

  9. AT,
    You don’t have to be an MWA member to attend ANY mystery conferences or conventions, so I’m not sure what your beef is on that score.
    And ANYONE can join MWA, just not everyone can be an active status member.

  10. I like you, Bryon, you’re feisty and you’re the only one who makes more typos than I do! 🙂
    So your argument is that the fans can’t select quality, only an elite body can do that, and if a writer chooses to publish himself or herself on Amazon bypassing print publishers then that’s not good enough to earn consideration by the elite body. Okay, the first argument is elitist and the second can be accused of snobbery, but I’m an open-minded guy, so let’s incorporate your objections into the fan-voting model.
    As it stands, the MWA selects five finalists for the voters for Best Mystery Novel of the Year (I think it’s five). Fine. Let the fans select fifteen finalists and let the MWA execs select their five and let’s put them together for a vote. The combined model meets your objections about the fans without factoring the fans out of the equation.
    But I tell you, in my gut, I don’t believe as you do in elites. I put my faith in democratic systems and in power to the people. As well, I no longer believe that the best books come only from print publishers or that being connected with a print publisher is a sign of good writing. Good writers are turning away from print publishers, so why doesn’t the MWA go all the way and do so too?
    You know, I love the Yankees. But if they are leading in the preliminary all-star polls, you can be sure that in the final balloting, the best players from all the teams will rise to the top, and if somebody does get left out, the managers, those elite judges, will add them in. I’m willing to meet you half way. 🙂

  11. MWA? Who’s that? Another old-guard remnant of the heyday when publishers were Kings of the hill. They’re pro-publisher, so, they’re essentially irrelevent. More and more so. For many decades, their slection process has determined what folks get to read. Agents follow it so they’ll get paid by the publishers. The publisher dictated what the world sees in print.
    There’s a changing of the guard. We are now bringing our works directly to the people, who are finding new and unusual writings through eBooks. And yes, bad work as well. Same as the publishers gave us. There will always be crappy work, and the public will always choose in the end. Now, the public gets to choose from everything, and we;ve been surprised by some of their preferences, because the public IS NOT and never have had the same preferences as agents and publishing houses. The time has come when the controlling snobs of the publishing world are reaping their bountiful rewards. I’m not angry about it at all. I’m just observant, and I’m talking about what I see. And I admit, I’m pleased with the direction the literary world has taken. As so often has happened in the past, you can sit and criticize the new and hang on desperately to the old, or you can have the wisdom and foresight to grab on to the new, as the Bellamy Borthers so eloquently worded it. Rail against it if you wish; the changes are not only coming, they’re here.

  12. Well… there’s a part of me that thinks I shouldn’t bother even saying anything here. And at the risk of having someone misconstrue my point, I’ll have to tread carefully.
    The idea that the Edgars are somehow gatekeepers for quality is misguided. How many ‘scandals’ have there been over the “token” female nominees for Edgars? What about the Charles Ardai/Richard Alias exclusion? That’s an example of a book that wasn’t considered because of technicalities – it had nothing whatsoever to do with quality, or the book being edited by a NY publisher.
    And frankly, if any organization is convinced that NY editors are the gatekeepers to quality, then they shouldn’t have anything to fear from opening the competition to self published titles, because surely the self published works won’t be able to compete.
    Or is the reason we still draw that fine line because if we don’t, we might shatter the myth, and have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, traditional publishing gets it wrong?
    Ask every editor who rejected Harry Potter. Ask Simon Kernick about his hundreds of rejection letters.
    And then guarantee me that I’ll never pick up a book that’s been traditionally published that’s pure and total crap. Oh, wait…
    And to suggest that fans can’t be objective is ridiculous. Not everything will descend into a popularity contest, though I venture to say some “industry” awards do already. I say that as someone who judged one (though not the Edgards). It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the title rankings I submitted when I judged weren’t even considered. I won’t start in on all the things I found suspicious about it – it’s not worth it. But people and their ideas about what’s official… Hell, short stories that don’t win Spinetingler Awards still take more votes than all the Derringer nominees get combined. And our main objective is to get people reading. We can track traffic and know that people are at least looking at the stories. What a reader gains in exposure is well worth it. Working at a high school these last few months, spending my lunches with avid readers, reviewers and writers, I can tell you none of them (even the ones who read crime) know what the Edgars are. If I have any suggestion to the MWA for improvement, it’s to raise the profile. There’s too much preaching to the choir, both with organizations and the online community. I think the Daggers in the UK did this with financial sponsorship – they made themselves newsworthy. Our awards have been written about in newspapers on three continents.
    So much of this business can come down to popularity, it’s hard to take any criticism of popularity contest seriously, but who your agent is, your editor is, who you’re friends with… It all matters when it comes to getting someone to blurb your book, endorse your book, want to be on a panel with you, and every convention organizer knows there are some authors who refuse to be on panels unless they can be with certain people. I’m not saying everyone’s a sell-out – I’m just saying it’s insulting to the intelligence to actually suggest that there isn’t a big component of this business that’s built on connections and profile.
    I actually like this move by the MWA. I think the doors are opening in the right direction. I think it’s a very, very difficult thing to address the self publishing issues that arise from the ease of epublishing. As someone who has not been self published, I have a keen appreciation for the value of an editor. And I have been hesitant to even reprint through epublishing because I am concerned with ensuring the quality of my material. I know there’s a lot of garbage out there that isn’t properly edited, and that’s the real, critical issue. The problem is, people take things like memberships and try to twist them to mean something, like a validation stamp. That’s something the MWA has to consider as it moves forward.
    Spinetingler staff will be speaking an an MWA function this fall, and epublishing is on the menu. I think it will be interesting. I think the MWA is responding cautiously, but (for the most part) reasonably, based on their pre-existing membership rules, and although I’m not a member and don’t know that’s of particular interest to me any time in the near future, I think this is a well-measured move on their part.


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