Playing Favorites

Today, Sarah Weinman wrote about the MWA’s decision that Charles Ardai’s book SONG OF INNOCENCE is ineligible for Edgar consideration because it’s a self-published title. Charles is the editor and publisher of Hard Case Crime, which also published his novel.  She asked me about it before she wrote her piece because I am the Edgar Chair this year and, therefore, the one who had to deliver the bad news to Charles. Here’s is how I explained the situation to her:

The decision on SONGS OF INNOCENCE was not a reflection of our "new
active membership status rules." The rule about self-published books
being ineligible for Edgar consideration has been in effect for several
years and is clearly stated on our website. (LITTLE GIRL LOST, for
example, was originally published by Five Star before the Hard Case
Crime paperback reprint or it would not have been eligible). Our
guidelines state:

"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publisher; those published by companies or imprints that do not publish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."

Charles Ardai obviously has a considerable financial interest in
Hard Case Crime. Not only is he the founder and te publisher, he is
also the primary editor. He has said so in countless published
interviews. In fact, he states it outright on the copyright page of SONGS OF INNOCENCE. The page states that the book
was published in collaboration with Winterfall, LLC, which is his
company. It also definitively states that "Hard Case Crime books are
selected and edited by Charles Ardai," who is also the author of the
book. On the Hard Case Crime webpage, it states:"Hard Case Crime was
created by Charles Ardai and Max Phillips; the line is published as a
collaboration between Winterfall LLC and Dorchester Publishing."

No one is saying or implying that Hard Case Crime is a vanity press.
It is a respected and legitimate publisher that I, and all the members
of Edgar Ad-Hoc Committee, admire. However, as unfair as it may seem to
Charles, his book unquestionably meets our definition of a
self-published title under the rules we adopted in 2006….which is why
the committee unanimously voted that it is ineligible for Edgar
consideration. If the book had been published by another publisher,
like St. Martins or Penguin for example, it would have been eligible.

This decision is no reflection whatsoever on the quality of the
book, which many of us on the committee have read and enjoyed. In fact,
the point of our guidelines is to assure that decisions about Edgar
eligibility are made regardless of a work’s perceived quality (or lack
thereof) or the popularity (or lack thereof) of the author.

If we allow Charles’ book to be considered for an Edgar, then we
would have to accept *all* self-published titles for consideration,
otherwise we would guilty of blatant favoritism. Charles has my respect
and my sympathy but the MWA is not prepared at this time to accept
self-published titles simply to allow SONGS OF INNOCENCE to be
considered for an Edgar.

Sarah basically argues that this is wrong because his book is well-reviewed, he’s an award-winning author, and Hard Case Crime is a highly respected publisher. She believes, and so does Charles, that we should either make exceptions for critically-acclaimed works, and those written by highly respected authors, or simply allow all self-published titles to be eligible.

I disagree. Speaking only for myself, and not the MWA, I think those suggestions would turn the Edgars into a popularity contest. In their view, and one folks like Jim Hansen share, is that whoever gets the best reviews, or is the genre darling of the moment, deserves special attention…others don’t.

The only reason Sarah is peeved about this situation is because Charles is a remarkably talented, award-winning writer and a highly respected publisher. If we were talking about someone else — a writer with a book from PublishAmerica or even Jim Hansen — this wouldn’t be an issue for her.

Personally, I think the MWA rule is a good one. I don’t think we should allow self-published books to be eligible for Edgar consideration. The fact that the self-published rule applies equally to Charles Ardai as it does to someone less well-known and well-reviewed speaks to the inherent fairness and objectivity of the rule. We have created a level playing field.  All self-published authors are treated the same, whether they are poorly reviewed or former Edgar-winners, complete unknowns or highly respected.

If his book was published by St. Martin’s or Random House, instead of under his own imprint, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But he chose not to do that. For whatever reason, he chose to publish it through his own company. My guess — and it’s purely that — would be so he could exercise more control over how his novel was packaged and marketed. And, I assume, out of pride in his work and in his imprint. To say that his book is not self-published because he didn’t go to iUniverse or lulu, or doesn’t own Dorchester, is disingenuous.

Should the MWA consider every mystery or crime novel that’s published in the U.S., regardless of how it was published?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t allow every single movie released in the U.S. to be eligible and considered for Oscars…nor should they. The MWA doesn’t consider every single mystery novel published for Edgars, either. Nor do I believe they should.

I’m sure there are lots of Oscar-quality movies that are being over-looked because they don’t meet the Academy’s criteria, which I’m sure some people think are draconian and unfair. Like the Academy, the MWA has criteria. Not including self-published work is one of them. It’s inevitable that some good books, like Charles Ardai’s, will not be considered. I don’t blame him for  being hurt and angry, but that said, I don’t think this indicates any a flaw in our rules.

6 thoughts on “Playing Favorites”

  1. Well, as an MWA member, etc., I have absolutely no problem with that decision. I’m mildly puzzled by so much of the ruckus about the MWA guidelines anyway. You’re either a professional organization or you’re not. I belong to the Association of Genetic Technologists (though no longer one, I am an employee who is paid to edit their technical journal) and they have guidelines about who can join. If you’re just interested in the field and want to join as an amateur (I can’t think of many reasons why you would, but I’m just saying…) they have a category for that. It doesn’t allow you the same privileges as full members.
    I’m also a member of ITW which sets a bar for entry, and the Association of Health Care Journalists, which has guidelines as well.
    I was a member of Sisters in Crime for a while, but I often felt like a second-class citizen there and it was very obvious to me that although they do some very good things and are very aggressive in how they do them, they are not a professional organization, they are essentially a club. And a club, by this definition, is open to anybody who can pay the entrance fee.
    Those guidelines have been around for a while, they’re reasonable and, well, THEY’RE THERE. They exist for a reason and a good one.

  2. It takes guts to stick up for a rule when some of the outcomes are perverse. I think this was the right thing to do – although I also read and enjoyed this book – and I hope Mr. Aleas isn’t too bent out of shape. It’s unfortunate but correct.

  3. I’m going to disagree with all of you.
    I work as a database administrator, and one of the tests I make people do when they bring me a design they want approved is an absurdity test. If you take the far edge of the data that they propose, what does the result look like?
    I think you have one of those cases here. The Edgars, presumably (sorry, I’m not a member of anything), are about recognizing quality fiction. The fact that what you and Sarah Weinman agree is a high-quality book has been eliminated from consideration by these rules points, to me, to a flaw in the rules, not in the book. If I were talking to a software developer, I’d say, look, this leads to this absurd conclusion, so therefore your underlying assumptions are wrong.
    I can see why writer’s organizations want to keep the vanity-published out. Most of them are bad. Really bad. But surely, if you are talking about something like an Edgar (which I admit I know nothing about, but it sounds impressive), those works will fall on their own merits, and you don’t have to keep them out. They aren’t going to win anything anyway.
    I’m not really expecting to change anyone’s mind here, but rules that lead to the disqualification of a good book are bad rules. The unfortunate Mr. Ardai is the baby who has been thrown out with the bathwater.

  4. “She believes, and so does Charles, that we should either make exceptions for critically-acclaimed works, and those written by highly respected authors, or simply allow all self-published titles to be eligible. *** I think those suggestions would turn the Edgars into a popularity contest. In their view, and one folks like Jim Hansen share, is that whoever gets the best reviews, or is the genre darling of the moment, deserves special attention…others don’t.”
    Lee, I’m not sure you understood my prior posts, which did not advocate special attention or treatment. Nor were my posts critical of the MWA rules excluding “self-published” authors. It’s a free county, the MWA can do what it wants.
    Instead, my posts were critical of the ATTITUDE that the rules were necessary to keep up high standards, maintain professionalism and the like–because self-published authors were not worthy.
    That is where I disagree. Many self-published authors greatly exceed MWA authors when you look at the non-publisher criteria such as book reviews, numbers of copies sold, money earned, etc. It is the “better than you” ATTITUDE of the MWA that is offensive.
    Technology is changing, publishing and distribution are getting easier every day, and there will be more and more people like me who will achieve success without going through NY. Each time that happens, old fashioned groups like the MWA who cling to publisher-based criteria become more and more dinosaur-like.

  5. A Footnote to the Ardai Issue

    Lately, Hard Case Crime editor and publisher Charles Ardai has gone to great pains to claim he’s not really an editor and publisher…and that his book SONGS OF INNOCENCE, which was published under his imprint, isn’t self-published and therefore should

  6. MWA’S Definition of “Self-Published”

    The Mystery Writers of America has revised the language of their definition of self-publication for membership application, publisher approval, and Edgar eligibility. The changes were made for greater clarity and specificity. “Self-published” or “coope…


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