New Criteria for MWA Membership

Last month, the board of the Mystery Writers of America adopted the recommendations of the membership committee (of which I am a member) to revise the criteria for active status membership for professional authors. The changes/additions to the current criteria  are:

1) An author of books must have received a minimum advance of $1,000, royalties of $1,000, or a combination of advances and royalties in at least that amount.

2) The initial print run for the author’s work of fiction or non-fiction must be at least 500 copies.

3)  That an author of short stories must have received a cumulative amount of $200, with only payments of $25 or more counting toward the total. Scholarly articles or chapters of non-fiction books will be treated like short stories, for purposes of Active Category qualification.

4)  That a playwright or an author of screenplays or teleplays must have received a minimum payment commensurate with the standards and practices of the Writers’ Guild (film/TV) or Dramatists Guild (stage plays), and that the work must have been produced.

UPDATE (7-14-07): The Romance Writers of America  have just  adopted new membership criteria that are very similar to the MWA’s.

UPDATE: You can find more details about the criteria for active MWA membership here.

43 thoughts on “New Criteria for MWA Membership”

  1. Luckily, I quality (finally).
    I don’t doubt some writers will be ticked off about this. But what I’m wondering is:
    Do you think some publishers will respond by offering advances or larger print runs?

  2. I am not speaking for the MWA here, only for myself. But I believe the changes we recently adopted were necessary to maintain the high professional standards of the MWA and its members within the publishing industry and to the public at large.
    Active MWA members are professional mystery/crime writers…and I believe that, to be considered a professional writer, an author should be able to meet these minimum standards.
    The MWA’s criteria for publishers are designed to acknowledge those companies who are, in fact, actual publishers and who are established, reputable, professional, and treat authors well…and to exclude those that are not (like vanity presses, etc).

  3. Western Writers of America went the opposite direction, opening its doors to vanity-published and self-published authors a few years ago. Now only a handful of the 600 members earn a significant income from writing, and WWA is well on its way to becoming an Old West hobbyist society rather than a professional authors guild. WWA apparently lowered the membership standards to draw in enough new members to make itself eligible for European reproduction rights funds distributed to U.S. writing groups by the Authors Coalition.

  4. The MWA exclusions of smaller publishers is nothing more than a prejudice based on a desire by the organization’s members (or the board members on behalf of their members) to feel superior to other writers. It is nothing more than a shameful form of prejudice by authors against authors. Of course, the MWA is in good company. Take the ITW, for instance. The prejudice is even held by a small number of review organizations such as Mystery Scene Magazine, which will only review books published by MWA approved publishers.
    I challenge any MWA or ITW author who writes detective thrillers to the following. We will both submit one of our current books (upcoming or within the last year) to an impartial reviewer for ranking on a scale of 1 to 5. If either author scores more than 1 point higher than the other, the “loser” will pay the winner $100.00.
    So, does anyone want to put their money where their mouth is? It should be a slam dunk, since you are the “professionals” and everyone else is not.
    This challenge is limited to the first person who accepts on this blog.

  5. We aren’t excluding small publishers at all…there are many of them on our list. We are excluding vanity presses, Jim, of which yours is one.

  6. I’ll post the same query that I did the last time this came up:
    Jim, given that you have such contempt for MWA, why do you want to join? Why do you care what they do?
    I’m not a member either, because I also do not meet the membership criteria.

  7. Jack wrote: “Since vanity presses pay nothing, and in fact charge the author to publish, how did raising the advance bar from $100 to $1,000 exclude them?”
    Several vanity presses — and less than reputable publishers — employ a number of tricks to create the illusion that they pay advances and/or royalties and that they are genuine publishers. By raising the bar to $1000 in advances or royalties, we undercut those efforts at trickery.

  8. Active category membership is open to professional writers in the mystery/crime/suspense genre. A number of factors determine eligibility for this category. You may qualify for Active category membership if:
    1. You are a citizen or legal resident of the United States, and your work is published or produced in the United States.
    2. You have been paid for your work. If you are a writer of books, you have been paid at least $1,000 in advances, royalties, or a combination of advances and royalties. If you write short stories, your cumulative earnings are at least $200, with only payments of at least $25 counting toward the total. Scholarly articles or chapters of nonfiction books will be treated like short stories for purposes of Active Category qualification.
    1. Payment must be in monies, not in barter for advertising or copies.
    2. Payment must be actual—not, for example, a donation of your writing deemed worth a given amount.
    3. Payment must have been made and not merely promised. The promise of royalties will not qualify toward Active Category membership.
    4. A contract alone is not payment. Proof of payment is required.
    3. The initial print run for a book-length work of fiction or nonfiction must be at least 500 copies.
    4. If you are a playwright or an author of screenplays or teleplays, you must have received a minimum payment commensurate with the standards and practices of the Writers’ Guild (film/TV) or Dramatists Guild (stage plays), and your work must have been produced.
    5. Your publisher must have been in business for at least two years, except for new imprints by an established publisher.
    6. Your 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 you or any other authors self-publishing services, literary representation, paid editorial services, or paid promotional services.
    7. Your publisher, if also an author, must publish at least five other authors per year, none of whom may be an employee of the company, a business partner, or a relative of the publisher.
    8. Your work is professionally published or produced and is not self-published or cooperatively published.
    Among (but not all of) the situations defined as “self-published or cooperatively published” are works by those who have paid all or part of the cost of publication or distribution of the work; works printed and bound by a company that does not place the work in physical (aka brick-and-mortar) bookstores; those works for which the authors were required by the publisher to pay any monies whatsoever before or during publication; those published by “cooperative” publishing or others which require authors to pay for marketing; those published by privately held publishing companies with whom the writer has a familial or personal relationship beyond simply author and publisher; those published by companies or imprints that do not publish other authors; those published by publishing companies in which the writer has a financial interest.
    A reputable, professional publisher works with agents or other authors’ representatives; the publisher is listed in the Literary Marketplace or belongs to professional publishing associations; the publisher pays for editing, copyediting, design, cover art, production, advertising, marketing, distribution, and all other aspects of publication. They do not require authors to pay for any of the above.
    9. Your publisher must not be engaged in the practice of wrongfully withholding or delaying the payment of royalties to authors.
    10. The work submitted for qualification is not simply an article of journalism, a review, interview, or a compilation of another’s work without commentary.
    Reviews, interviews, reports, forensic science or legal studies, newspaper or magazine articles about crimes, articles about mystery-related events and the like do not qualify an individual for Active Category membership. However, non-fiction and scholarly works about the genre itself, whether presented as articles or as a chapter of a text; a book-length critical works; biographies; true crime novels; and books that are more than a compilation of another’s work qualify as creative writing and the writer or editor may be eligible for Active Category membership.
    11. Your publisher is on the MWA list of approved publishers. Most major publishers and their imprints, as well as established independent and small presses, are on this list.
    12. If your book or short story is available only in an electronic format (e-book, Acrobat Reader, web page, etc.), but can meet certain criteria, you may qualify. A hard copy of such works and proof of its online/electronic availability must be provided, even if not currently available. A work must be available for a minimum of thirty days to be considered published. All rules of eligibility, including those regarding self-publishing and payment, apply to works published in electronic format.
    13. Your work is available to the public, or intended to be available to the public.
    14. Your application is approved by the Board of Mystery Writers of America.
    The requirements and standards for Active Category membership are under constant review by the MWA Board. Please ask for help from our headquarters if you have questions about the appropriate category for your membership.

  9. Leaving aside questions of “prejudice”, I think we can all agree that a professional organization has the right to set its criteria for membership. The MWA represents the interests of professional writers. It’s their prerogative to determine what “professional” means.
    My earlier comment was to point out that, although I am a writer and have had a few small sales, I am NOT a professional and don’t expect to be treated as such. That doesn’t (necessarily!) mean I’m not a good writer. It does mean I don’t make a significant portion of my income from writing.

  10. “Jim, given that you have such contempt for MWA, why do you want to join? Why do you care what they do?”
    David: First, I do not want to join the MWA. I have never applied and never will. Second, I don’t care what they do. They can sell ice cream, scuba dive, or rub elbows with each other at conferences. I could care less. It’s their right to do whatever they want. It’s their right to associate, or not associate, with whoever they want. More power to ’em.
    What I do care about, though, is when they proclaim to the world at large that they have come up with a grand plan to figure out who is a “professional” writer and that anyone who has chosen to “self publish” is AUTOMATICALLY not a professional; and is automatically not on the same par as them.
    Prejudice occurs when someone uses one fact to automatically reach a conclusion as to a separate fact. In this case, the prejudice is this: The writer is self-published, therefore the writer is automatically not a professional, or equal to us, or worthy of rubbing shoulders with us. We do not even have to look at his/her books. The conclusion is automatic. Anyone self-published is a second-rate citizen; the kind we do not talk to.
    This prejudice is incredibly widespread. Hardly a week passes without another NY-published author deciding it’s their turn to take the next blog potshot at the people who haven’t gone done the exact same route as they have.
    I challenge that prejudice. I challenge that automatic assumption. And I have a real lack of respect for anyone who embraces that prejudice, including MWA, ITW, Mystery Scene Magazine and the numerous authors who take potshots from their blogs. It’s time for them to take a long, hard second look at they way the treat others and talk about others.
    My point is that the true barometer of whether a writer is any good or is a professional lies within the four-corners of the person’s book. That’s where the rubber meets the road. The book is the final say and the final statement on who the author is and whether he/she has any talent.
    So, if anyone wants to compare book to book, instead of publisher to publisher, then let me know. It should be an easy $100 for you.

  11. Excuse me, Jim, but have you read any of the other comments? The MWA represents professional writers. Professional writers make money from their writing. How *much* money is required to qualify is at their discretion.
    You seem to think that being considered an “amateur” is somehow insulting, but that’s not true at all. Every author starts as an amateur. Every professional author is a good writer before they become a professional.
    If you carry boxes from one side of your garage to the other, would you try to join the Teamsters union? But you carry those boxes as well as any professional could. Why shouldn’t you be able to join?
    Why am I even debating this? You seem determined to get your nose out of joint and, well, it’s a free country. More power to you.

  12. MWA and other guilds are similar to unions in some respects. The trade labor unions have definite criteria that separates apprentices from journeymen, and these are sometimes reflected in state licensing. From the early renaissance, guilds have offered employers pools of trained artisans. Genre writing guilds such as MWA have traditionally made a marketplace for their members by keeping less qualified writers out; at the same time, guilds protect members against unscrupulous employers. The various genre guilds usually draw a variety of agents, editors and publishers who are eager to meet, and maybe do business with, established authors. That is one of the underlying purposes of guilds, and one reason there are membership barriers. When Western Writers of America opened its gates to most anyone, the editors and publishers pretty much vanished from the WWA conventions. What editor wants to be besieged by people without writing credentials? The guild principle actually extends into a variety of professions, including medicine and law, and at least theoretically is a guarantor of quality, however imperfect the mechanism.

  13. Jim said: “I challenge any MWA or ITW author who writes detective thrillers to the following. We will both submit one of our current books (upcoming or within the last year) to an impartial reviewer for ranking on a scale of 1 to 5. If either author scores more than 1 point higher than the other, the “loser” will pay the winner $100.00.”
    I must tell you, I think that’s how the NY Times should do their bookr reviews. On a scale of one to five and whomever loses by more than one point should have to pay the other author $100. Why, I think Lori Prokop should look into that for her next great Book Millionaire show.
    Whenever someone offers up a bet to prove their mettle in these regards I’m reminded of something a wise man once said: It’s called the publishing business, not the publishing gallery, for a reason.

  14. Lee
    There’s a grammar mistake in #10 — a book-length critical works;
    Also I wish MWA had been more specific in their language. Many publishers are publicly traded companies at this point. I could have a financial interest (#8) in Pearson which owns Berkeley etal by owning their stock. While I realize what was meant, that is not what was written.
    In a similar vein, most authors are required to submit a marketing plan which includes the author spending some amount of money on tours, conventions, postcards, and other materials. All of this falls under the aegis of marketing. Sitting at home is not an option. Technically, they are being asked to pay for marketing. I would have deleted the word “marketing” from the criteria. It’s an area in flux at the moment.

  15. So, let me get this straight. As long as a writer gets at least a $1000 advance and his/her publisher prints 500 copies in one lump, they never actually have to SELL a book to qualify for membership?

  16. As a preface to my message, I am NOT an author who started a vanity press to print my books as you insulted Zumaya Press.
    Mundania Press LLC was just approved in January 2007, after much going back and forth with questions and concerns on your part. We were quite pleased, as were our MWA authors, when approval was granted.
    Six months later, without notice to the approved publishers or MWA authors, the rules were changed. Mundania Press, along with every other MWA-approved small publisher, are no longer eligible. Our authors found out by accident while viewing MWA’s webpage of approved publishers.
    Item 3 of the new guidelines states, “The initial print run for a book-length work of fiction or nonfiction must be at least 500 copies.” With this new rule, MWA has eliminated virtually all small publishers who utilize state-of-the-art print-on-demand technology.
    There are several very good reasons why MWA needs to reconsider its ban on print-on-demand technology. The requirement for print runs has an extremely negative impact on the environment. It is very wasteful to cut down all the trees needed to print 500 copies of every book, warehouse them, and possibly have stacks of copies go unsold. This is the whole reason print-on-demand is growing in popularity–to eliminate this waste.
    Print-on-demand technology allows all publishers to keep lower inventories and have books printed as ordered with no waste. Instead of wasting money on unsold books sitting in a warehouse, it can be invested in bringing new authors’ books to the marketplace. It is difficult to understand a policy that wastes resources, shuns new technology, and seeks to shut out virtually all small publishers and many talented new authors.
    Item 12 states that if a publisher releases books in eBook format only, they would qualify for MWA approval. Because many publishers offer books in both electronic and print formats for the benefit of authors and consumers, they are penalized by MWA’s demand for a large print-run. Even the large New York publishers are moving much of their backlist to print-on-demand. It is obviously an accepted technology for publishing books.
    While MWA may be grandfathering those authors whose publishers are no longer approved, the guideline changes make these authors’ memberships practically worthless. Because they are no longer permitted to participate in panels at conferences to promote both themselves and their books, these authors are being harmed–both financially and professionally. In addition, these authors are now excluded from eligibility for prestigious awards such as the Edgar.
    I greatly respect the MWA; however, it now appears that MWA is an organization that 1) promotes a very unfriendly policy towards the environment by demanding books be printed before being ordered, 2) demonstrates an archaic attitude toward new and better publishing technologies, and 3) harbors an elitist prejudice toward all small publishers–who give more breaks to new authors and publish more books annually than all the large, MWA-approved New York publishing houses combined.
    There seems to be a consensus among professional organizations of small publishers that this MWA policy change is harmful to both publishers and authors. In fact, I have heard from many authors who question whether they should even bother to renew their MWA memberships.
    While it is certainly the MWA’s prerogative to set its own rules, I think we can all agree that these rules should truly benefit MWA members. I respectfully request that MWA reconsider the rule requiring a 500-book minimum print run per book.

  17. I usually ignore postings by individuals who haven’t the courage to sign their names to slurs, but in this case I’ll make an exception.
    I am not the author who formed any vanity press. Zumaya Publications was an established publisher in British Columbia when I was hired as an editor in 2002. I became a partner in 2003 and moved operations to Austin TX in 2006.
    Zumaya Publications LLC and its imprints are recognized by the Library of Congress and included in its cataloging in publication program. Subsidy and vanity publishers are not eligible for this program.

  18. She doth protesteth too much. Take a look at The Zumaya Website Lee, Elizabeth is not only the editor and owner of Zumaya but she is also one of their authors

  19. This “saving the trees” argument is a smokescreen…and a laughable one at that.
    The real issue here is that the plethora of POD presses aren’t being recognized by most professional writers organizations or booksellers as legitimate publishers…and resent being expected to treat their authors, and to conduct their business, according to the basic ethical and professional standards of our industry.
    The fact is that just about anybody with a credit card can become a POD “publisher.” And that is exactly what we are seeing out there today. Daniel is right, the POD outfits ARE putting more authors into print than all the traditional publishing houses combined. Tens of thousands of writers are having their manuscripts printed in POD form and declaring themselves publishers or authors….which, in my view, is exactly why the MWA and organizations like it have to adopt clear standards for what they consider to be professional publication and authorship.
    Dan is right on another point. Many people who are published strictly in POD are upset that they aren’t being accorded the respect and professional status that they seek, and mistakenly believe they deserve, from their POD publications. Is that a reason for the MWA to lower their standards and open their doors to anyone with an ISBN # who wants to be a member? I don’t think so.
    The MWA has nothing against small publishers…there are many of them among their long list of approved publishers. What the MWA doesn’t acknowledge are publishers, big or small, that don’t meet their minimum criteria for professionalism.
    The MWA isn’t responsible for how conferences choose panelists or stock their book rooms. But the fact that so many other writers organizations are following our lead and our criteria only underscores for me the necessity and sensibility of the criteria the MWA has adopted.

  20. “What the MWA doesn’t acknowledge are publishers, big or small, that don’t meet their minimum criteria for professionalism.”
    BOOKLIST will have a very favorable review of Deadly Laws (Pub. Date 10/15/07) in its 9/15/07 issue, saying that the book combines “an intriguing premise and solid suspense.” Yet I would not qualify for MWA membership. Ironic, isn’t it?

  21. Jim,
    Congratulations on the review. I am happy for you. But I don’t see the “irony.” The MWA’s membership criteria isn’t based on reviews or blurbs, nor should it be. If Michael Connolly’s next novel gets trashed by Booklist, should we revoke his membership?
    As a self-published author, you don’t qualify for MWA membership nor does your book qualify for Edgar consideration, regardless of how well or poorly reviewed your work is.
    However, if you are looking to join an organization of mystery writers and fans, I heartily recommend Sisters-In-Crime.

  22. It would seem to me that if a publisher produces a book that can not only get reviews by Library Journal, Booklist and other reputable organizations, but also get good reviews of those books, that would ipso facto mean that the publisher has a high degree of “professionalism” irrespective of who owns the stock.
    I have no interest in joining the MWA or any other such organizations. However, I feel it is inappropriate for those types of groups to treat others like me with disrespect.

  23. Jim,
    You are free as a self-published author to become an associate member of Western Writers of America. But you would be joining an organization that can no longer serve your needs or those of any writer. It can no longer make a market for its members and is no longer a force in the publishing industry. It is no longer a place to meet New York editors, publishers or agents. Membership offers no prestige. Its Spur Awards no longer confer much honor and are usually not considered news in trade journals. But all sorts of self-published authors gladly pay the seventy-five dollar dues, just to enter a venerable genre literature society whose aura and history still glow brightly.

  24. Richard,
    I have been a member of WWA for many years but, with great sadness, I have decided not to renew my membership. It has become an western fan club and, even in that much-diminished role, it is ineffective and joyless (even The Roundup, once an interesting and unique publication that was worth the yearly dues on its own, has become an irrelevant bore). I would hate to see MWA suffer the same fate.

  25. Some perspective: To be on the Science Fiction Writers of America’s approved publishers list, they require that publishers pay authors a $2000 advance and have an initial print run of 1000 copies.

  26. Jim, the reason people treat you with disrespect is because you challenge them to “review competitions” to prove your comparative worth. If you don’t care about these organizations, just write your fucking books and stop complaining.

  27. Lee,
    When Kathleen and Michael Gear won a Spur Award a few years ago, their publishers bannered the good news across the mass market cover of their victorious prehistory novel–and sales plummeted. Subsequent novels in the series make no mention of the award and have sold at accustomed levels.

  28. “If you don’t care about these organizations, just write your ****ing books and stop complaining.”
    It’s true that I don’t care about these organizations. But I do care about the inherent distain that these types of organizations, as well as many authors, have against others who didn’t choose the traditional route to success. My point is that there is more than one route to success.
    I am astounded at how much hostility there is against authors like me who have chosen to bypass NY and can still achieve success. I don’t know if the anger is based in jealousy or what but it is definitely there.

  29. The hostility people sometimes show towards you here and on other blogs you frequent has nothing to do with your books or your publishing model. It has to do with your personality, your opinions, and how you express yourself.

  30. Jim,
    You’re right. My brother is jealous of you. Me, too. Just yesterday, Tod was saying how much he wishes he could pay to published rather than having someone pay him to write.

  31. “You’re right. My brother is jealous of you. Me, too. Just yesterday, Tod was saying how much he wishes he could pay to published rather than having someone pay him to write.” That’s not exactly true. Yesterday he was busy writing a great piece titled “Maybe Ernest Borgnine Would Like To F**k Mandy Moore?”
    “Remember how when you were a kid and your Mom told you that the other kids teased you because they were jealous? She lied.” Aren’t you the same person who, a year ago, when I sent you a very respectful email asking if you’d review or blurb a book, you instead posted the email on your blog and made fun of it behind my back, instead of answering me? That’s right, you are. I’m glad to see that you’re keeping up the same maturity level.
    “The hostility people sometimes show towards you here and on other blogs you frequent has nothing to do with your books or your publishing model. It has to do with your personality, your opinions, and how you express yourself.” Sign your name if you’re going to slur someone, you cyberspace coward.

  32. Jim wrote to David: “I sent you a very respectful email asking if you’d review or blurb a book, you instead posted the email on your blog and made fun of it behind my back, instead of answering me?”
    Um, Jim, if his answer to you was on his blog, it was hardly “behind your back.” It was, in fact, right in front of your face…and the faces of thousands of other people.
    Jim wrote about Tod: “Yesterday he was busy writing a great piece titled “Maybe Ernest Borgnine Would Like To F**k Mandy Moore?””
    You are confusing his blog posts, which he does for free and for his own amusement, with the books that he writes and that he gets paid for (you might also be confusing his blog posts for the newspaper columns, magazine articles, web columns, and movie studio options — more writing that he also gets paid for). In his entire career, Tod has never spent a dime to be published and, instead, has embarked on the insane strategy of having people pay to publish him. But now, based on your example, he has seen the error of his ways and is wracked with raging jealousy.

  33. Why be a memeber of an organization that doesn’t want you?
    Legitimacy isn’t a membership card, or peer respect, or worldwide acceptance. It’s within. The only thing that matters is your opinion of yourself.
    That, and a minimum $1000 advance with 500 books in print.
    But seriously, if I was asked my about my criteria for being a professional writer, it would be someone who makes their living soley by writing.
    Of course, that eliminates 98% of my peers. So maybe I should start a new club, for pro writers who don’t have second jobs or live off their spouses.
    At our annual meeting, the eight of us will toast champagne and practice looking smug. Then we’ll give each other awards. Then, Scrabble.
    You can join for $6000 a year. I take cash. And I don’t check references.

  34. You have a very selective and self-serving memory, Jim.
    If anyone would care to read the post he’s referring to, they can do so here:
    You will see that: I did not make fun of him; I did not reveal his name; nor did I reveal the title of his book. (I also question how respectful his email was when he didn’t even bother to learn my name. He addressed it to “Dear Mystery Ink.”)
    Rather, I tried to offer some constructive advice, which I think would server authors soliciting book reviews quite well. But some people think there are shortcuts to everything.

  35. “Rather, I tried to offer some constructive advice, which I think would server authors soliciting book reviews quite well.”
    Here’s the parting shot you took at me from your blog: “Not surprisingly, the author’s publisher has only one client, him.” Who is that supposed to be “constructive advice” to?


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