Friday, June 10, 2011

MWA(BNSP) - Mystery Writers of America (But Not for the Self-Published)

When I was offered a contract for my first novel back in 2002, one of the first things I did was join the Mystery Writers of America.

As a lifelong mystery fan, I was thrilled to be part of an organization that counted many of my heroes (living and dead) among its members. I wanted to mingle with my fellow crime writers. I wanted to attend the banquets. I wanted to sit at the MWA table at Bouchercon and sign alongside major bestsellers. I wanted to go to the Edgar Awards. I wanted to be included in their many high-profile anthologies.

In short, I wanted to be validated.

The need for validation is often rooted in insecurity--something writers have truckloads of. Insecurity is a wicked thing, and can foster an "us vs. them" mentality. More on that in a moment.

During my first year as a member, I attended a banquet, and had to pay through the nose for it. Sitting at the MWA table at a conference was a job, not an honor. While Whiskey Sour was nominated for just about every mystery award out there, the Edgar wasn't among them. I tried to submit to several MWA anthologies, only to discover the slots had already been filled before I had a chance. As for mingling with my peers, I did that just fine at conferences without needing the MWA.

The only time the MWA got in touch with me was when they needed something--I lost count of the times I was called upon to volunteer for some task or another--or when they wanted me to pay my dues. The dues notices (both email and in person) became so frequent, not only for me but for many of my peers, that it is now a long-running joke in the mystery community. (A friend of mine was even approached during his signing slot at Bouchercon to pay dues, in front of several fans.)

The MWA, an organization that was supposed to exist to help writers, seemed to exist only to sustain itself.

After a few years of getting nothing back (and yes, I aired my many grievances often to board members) I simply stopped renewing. While MWA no doubt does some good things (they rightly fought the Harlequin Horizon vanity imprint, and do various workshops and community events), I felt like I was giving more than I was getting. I was helping MWA, but they weren't helping me.

The annoyance at MWA wasn't only felt by me. The International Thriller Writers came into being at around the same time I quit MWA, and while I would never go on the record to say it was created because MWA was ignoring a large percentage of its members, I can say that ITW quickly figured out how to do things correctly.

While the MWA didn't seem to care I existed (except when they wanted something from me), the ITW actually helped my career. Their first few conferences were terrific. I was involved in two anthologies. I made connections that have served me well over the years. And best of all, the ITW does not have dues. They run such a smart organization, it actually earns money.

Both the MWA and ITW have membership requirements, and these are based around signing contracts with traditional publishers. I understood why this was necessary years ago. By allowing publishers to vet members, the organization would be populated by professionals.

The fact remains that most self-pubbed work isn't very good, and would never have been traditionally published.

But the times have changed. Now it is possible for authors to circumvent the legacy gatekeepers by choice (rather than because they had no choice.) Self-pubbed authors can sell a lot of books and make some real money. Full time salary money.

In my mind, that equates with being a professional.

The ITW maintains a progressive approach to accepting members. They review applications on a case-by-case basis. So even if you don't have a legacy publishing contract, you aren't automatically dismissed. This is because they understand that an organization for writers isn't an "us vs. them" venture. Exclusion doesn't make an organization better. It makes an organization self-important.

So when MWA recently changed its submission guidelines and issued a press release, I was intrigued. Had they finally gotten the hint? Were they looking at this untapped resource of self-published writers and realizing the potential to make their organization relevant again?

Alas, no.

From their release:

Self-published books, whether they are published in print or as e-books, still do not qualify for MWA active membership.

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.

Now, I'm all for protecting members from less-than-reputable publishers, and I'm all for maintaining high professional standards.

But according to these rules, someone like John Locke, who has sold close to 1 million ebooks, isn't eligible for MWA membership.

How many MWA members have sold 1 million books?

I've sold close to 300,000 self-pubbed ebooks. But apparently that doesn't equate with "professional standards" according to the MWA.

Professional standards apparently mean "You're only worthy if you're vetted by the industry."

This shouldn't bug me. I gave up on the MWA years ago. It's no skin off my nose whom they include among their ranks. In fact, I might someday start an organization for writers who only earn $500k or more annually, and the overwhelming majority of MWA members wouldn't make that cut.

So if it shouldn't bug me, why does it?

Because I see this same casual dismissal of the future of our industry from the Big 6. They don't see the threat self-pubbing has become, and they're going to go extinct because of their denial.

Seeing a similar attitude coming from writers--folks who should know better because they've worked hard and struggled and gotten screwed over and over again--makes me shake my head in absolute amazement.

There are a lot of self-pubbed authors earning more money than a lot of MWA members. Certainly the MWA could use this new blood to teach longstanding members how to thrive in this brave, new world. And they NEED this information. MWA members have backlists and trunk novels and are getting repeatedly shafted by the Big 6.

How much could John Locke teach them about ebooks and marketing? How about 200 John Lockes, attending banquets, speaking at conventions?

But in their quest to maintain "professional standards" the MWA have shown themselves to care more about the validation of being a traditionally published author than what they should really care about: actually helping writers. (Which is ironic, because their noble stance against Harlequin Horizon helped newbie writers who wouldn't be allowed to join MWA.)

This is from the MWA's mission statement: "Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field[...] MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre."

Perhaps they need to add: "Unless you self-publish."

"Us vs. them" has a longstanding history in organizations. It's ingrained in the human genome. Sports. Fraternities and sororities. Secret clubs. Unions. Belonging to something exclusive makes you feel special. In worst cases, it makes you feel superior.

Newsflash: no writer is superior to any other writer. Some may have more talent. Some have had more luck. But if you toil away at your computer, day after day, month after month, and finally reach that magic "the end", you're a writer.

If you want to have a group of writers, you include everyone. If you want to have a group of professional writers, you can look up Merriam Webster's definition for "professional":

a : participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs
b : having a particular profession as a permanent career
c : engaged in by persons receiving financial return

According to the dictionary, I believe there are a lot of self-pubbed writers who qualify as professionals.

MWA also mentions in its mission statement that they accept: "aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre." Which means newbies and fans. That's fine, but these people can only get an associate membership. Which means they pay, but aren't allowed to do many of the things that regular members do.

Can you say taxation without representation?

Again, I can understand why these rules were formed. The MWA rightfully wanted to be an organization of pros.

But it seems to me that the new pros are the ones succeeding in this emerging, self-pubbing ebook world. When legacy published authors begin turning down Big 6 contracts, it says something loud and clear about the direction the industry is headed.

In the past, you needed to be validated by gatekeepers (i.e. get fucking lucky) in order to make money.

Now you can bypass the gatekeepers and reach readers directly, making a greater percentage of money than any time in the history of fiction writing.

I busted my ass trying to get published. But I don't feel that I deserve success. I have no sense of entitlement. Hard work is mandatory in any career. It doesn't guarantee anything.

I realize I was lucky to land some legacy deals, and I'm even luckier that self-pubbing has become so lucrative.

That doesn't make me worthy. It makes me fortunate.

If each and every member of the MWA realized that their careers and their legacy deals were the result of good fortune, I doubt they'd exclude self-pubbed authors from joining.

Now, I don't advocate letting anyone at all join. There should be standards. An organization for writers should be filled with writers, not posers.

So what would my membership requirements be if I were running the MWA?

I'd have just one. Prove that you've sold 5000 books. Once you do that, you're in.

I'd say that selling 5000 shows a dedication and commitment to this business that qualifies as "professional", without any arbitrary gatekeeping dinosaurs intruding. Let the readers be the gatekeepers. They ultimately are anyway.

Popularity is truly the only equalizer when it comes to publishing. If you manage to sell 5000 books, you're doing something right. The current MWA guidelines are elitist--they only accept those who are chosen by a few dozen gatekeepers in the establishment.

The majority of writers I know got offers from a single house, rather than competing offers from multiple houses. Eliminate that one house, and they would still be unpublished. That's luck. If the publishing gatekeepers really knew quality, a truly worthy book would get bids from every major house. That never happens. In fact, many houses pass on books that go on to make millions and win awards.

The gatekeeping system has long been broken, and it's a very poor determiner of quality. The fact that I'm on track to sell more of my rejected novels than I have of my legacy pubbed novels is more proof they have no idea what people want.

But the readers know what they want. They have the ability to choose what they want to read. And if 5000 people choose to buy a book, that carries a lot more weight than some self-important editor (who may or may not be having a good day) being the sole decider on whether to buy or pass.

We all work hard. We all write one word at a time. Some of us succeed. Most of us fail.

But all of us are writers. We can all learn from each other, and help each other.

And we don't need any organization that says getting a $500 advance means you're a pro, and making $500k a year self-pubbing means you're not.

Legacy publishers are quickly becoming obsolete. If the MWA doesn't change, they'll be close behind.

Before posting this blog entry, I gave the MWA a chance to respond. According to my contact, "they very much appreciate the offer to respond, but politely decline."

That's a shame. But I'm allowing anonymous comments, so hopefully some members will engage in debate. I have many friends who are members, and this blog post isn't meant to hurt them. It's meant to help.

Ignoring the future has never been a smart move.

279 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 279 of 279
Robert W. Walker said...

fantasydreamer12 said...
I think indie authors should start their own groups. Because big dog organizations like SFWA I think are going to stay elitist. Don't get me wrong, I really respect SFWA, I love their Writer's Beware blog, but I'm disappointed bestselling self pubbed writers like Amanda Hocking can't join, or even you Joe. These organizations need to evolve or die off.

I began a discussion on dtp.amazon.com /community under voie of the author/publisher entitled "What Mioves Kindle Bks. off the Shelf" and the thing has gone to 63,100 views and 1470 replies and 100 pgs. - and all witout rancor or superiority or exclusion (ahhh except for on bitch) and man this was put up at beginning of March. It just point up the fact how many people are in search of how to sell ebooks, but it has also turned into a support group with lots and plenty validation and comraderie. There have been several spinoffs from it and actually we had to take it to a second Thread, and an eConsotrium of ebook writers is near completion, created by one of the members of "What Mioves" (imoves). When I began the thread, thought it might go to 30 or so views. It has become an Amazon recommended Kindle 101 class!

So who the fukc needs MWA, HWA, RWA, or any WA? Scre em all.

Rob Walker
Children of Salem, Bayou Wulf

J.M.Cornwell said...

Robert Bruce, by that definition, would you say that Harper Lee is not a professional writer? She only published one book, but it is still selling and has made millions.

Anonymous said...

I dont normally post anonymously but i need to for this as the discussion reflects my experience in membership of a similar 'professional' writers' body.

I was actually involved in setting it up. It's a small regional body that, from the outset, excluded 'non-pro' writers. I argued against it vehemently from the start because I believed that an organisation like that needs a constant supply of new blood to keep it alive, but I lost the vote and our little group stayed professional.

It is now dying a slow painful death because two thirds of the pro membership aren't interested in attending meetings. Wannabes and emerging talent are constantly contacting us to apply for membership but being rebuffed. They show an interest whereas the pros don't.

The irony is, the gatekeepers we were so desperate to impress with our 'professional' status in the hope that they would fund us... They've just gone bust. Which means our precious professional status now amounts to a handful of people who write within a particular micro-genre bitching and bemoaning their lack of opportunities every month, ignored by an industry that is in crisis and sinking fast. What they can't see is that when the ship is going down, no one cares about their demand to have their own lifeboat for their sort of people.

Signed: a frustrated pro.

Ellen Fisher said...

Thanks for the input, Anon. But again, it comes back down to the question: What is a pro? If I sell 60,000 self-pubbed books, am I professional? I certainly think so, but some organizations don't.

I don't object to an organization that insists on some reasonable level of sales to let me in. But I do object to one that classes all the indie sales I've made as somehow inadequate.

Anonymous said...

@Ellen

And you are absolutely right. In the case of indie-pubbing writers who are making a living selling their books, to call them unprofessional is nonsense. And to reserve pro status for writers who are 'published' but who need a day job to survive because their legacy published books don't pay their rent is, in fact, the definition of 'vanity publishing'.

J.M.Cornwell said...

I've no doubt that the current climate against self-published authors is due mostly because publishers and organizations still see self-publishing as vanity press. Given the quality (the substandard quality) of vanity published books, that view will remain unchanged for a while. As more traditionally published and well known authors, like Joe and Barry Eysler, and self-published authors like Amanda Hocking gain recognition, that may well change. It may have to change in order to represent the profession -- and self-published authors are for the most part professionals -- in all its continuing and changing diversity. These are the early days and the industry moves slowly, much like a brontosaurus, but what else would you expect since the brain is so small and the bulk of the flesh so heavy and ponderous?

Ann Voss Peterson said...

What are you arguing here, Jude?

That sales aren't necessarily a good measurement of quality.

-----------

Jude, I would never make the argument that sales were a good measure of quality. We were talking about the criteria for joining a professional organization.

And I would never say Dan Brown's prose is of high quality. I said he did a lot of things well, stringing words together not being one of them. But you can focus on how poor his prose is and dismiss him as a bad writer, or you can figure out what he does so well that huge numbers of people had to buy his book, study it and use it to improve your own storytelling. Your choice.

Be smug or grow.

Hey, that seems to be the choice facing writers' organizations. :)

J.M.Cornwell said...

Dan Brown's work sells because he in essence tells a compelling story. In spite of his literary faults, and they are numerous, at heart, the story is fascinating, even with the info dumps and poor characterizations and see-through plots, he touches something inside, the part that wants the story and doesn't care how it gets there. Just give it to me. Stephanie Meyer has the same problems with grammar, punctuation, boring info dumps and even more boring characters, but she taps into that teenage angst, first time love and suddenly being popular when you never were before. Too many of those types of girls and women out there identify with the situation, even with the sparkly vampire stuff.

Unfortunately, publishers want more of the same, hence the boom in the paranormal and vampire markets. Publishers are like 2-year-old children who just discovered something that works. Do it again. Do it again. Ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Selena Kitt said...

And to reserve pro status for writers who are 'published' but who need a day job to survive because their legacy published books don't pay their rent is, in fact, the definition of 'vanity publishing'.

Wow. Legacy publishing = today's vanity press.

That's a pretty mind-boggling paradigm shift.

(Aside: my word verification? Mutscest

I'm trying to wrap my head around what the definition of that word might be... maybe I don't wanna know...)

Jude Hardin said...

Be smug or grow.

I don't recall being smug. I was just joking around with Barry about Dan Brown because he posted those links.

I would never say that I'm a better writer than Dan Brown.

Although he probably would.

There now. THAT was being smug. ;)

Jude Hardin said...

Mutscest: Fornication among first cousins with dubious pedigrees.

Eloheim and Veronica said...

My 75 year old neighbor just said, "I ordered some books for my Kindle. I didn't want one of them, but it was on sale for $1.99 so I bought it!"

I replied, "You are our favorite sort of customer."

She is THRILLED that she can order Kindle books so easily, even books she didn't plan on buying when she logged on. ;)

I mentioned before that she used to use a Sony reader. That thing was an absolute pain in the ass. It took both of us 30 minutes to figure out how to get one book purchased and downloaded. Every time!

Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1-4

Archangel said...

The aversive attitude about those who are publishing independently, is part and parcel of the old agents also. It's not just B6, awards groups, trade unions. I like Richard Curtis, an old guy among agents whose written useful books in the prior decades before ebks, but am shaking head over this post of his to his blog last week. At bottom it says he wrote this in 1990. He ran it last week as still relevant. This is an excerpt that stridently shows the patristic quality of how some see pathetic writers who cannot get on without a strong father/mother to guide them. As I was reading this, I thought, how have I never realized this over all these years; that the author is infantilized over and over. I see it now. Bell once rung, and all.
dr.cpe

Richard Curtis, agent, writes: "At first glance, most people would say that literary agents operate far from this ethereal realm of ideas. After all, we make our livings appraising the value of the commodities known as books, and helping the producers of those commodities turn them into hard cash. But look again. Unlike rug dealers, car salesmen, or bond brokers, the merchandise we traffic in is intellectual. Our stock in trade is ideas, ideas that have been smelted and fashioned by authors into the precious metal called literature. A manuscript may be no more than a pound or two of paper, but when an agent pitches that book to an editor, it isn’t the value of the paper he’s describing. It’s the value of the idea.

As I talk with an author about ideas, I ask myself some very pragmatic questions. How do those ideas fit in with the author’s career goals and financial circumstances? He may have a magnificent vision that takes my breath away, but where is he going to find the forty thousand dollars he needs to write that book under the tranquil conditions he requires, particularly since he is currently getting five thousand dollars a book!
Another thing I look and listen for is energy. An author may well have dozens of ideas for books, but he does not hold them all equally dear. When writers relate their ideas to me, do their eyes kindle with fire and their voices resonate with passion? Do they gesture frenetically with their hands or seem to lapse into a sort of trance? Do they speak in a singsong tone, as if it’s all the same to them which book they write and which one they abandon?

The agent who encourages an author to develop the wrong idea, or who doesn’t help him realize an idea fully, or who doesn’t take into account that idea’s appropriateness for its intended market, or doesn’t consider an idea in the context of an author’s talent and skill, or doesn’t calculate the time and money that the author will require to fulfill his idea—that agent may inflict serious harm on his client’s career.

It’s a very big responsibility, and my fellow agents and I worry about it a lot...."

Ellen Fisher said...

"Mutscest"

One more t, and it would accurately describe my dogs-- they're brothers, and the more dominant one likes to hump the other. TMI? Yeah, I thought so:-).

"Jude, I would never make the argument that sales were a good measure of quality. We were talking about the criteria for joining a professional organization."

Exactly. Paying my mortgage with my writing every month absolutely does not indicate my writing has any quality whatsoever. But it does, IMHO, make me a professional, by the ordinary, everyday meaning of the term.

JAMES BRUNO said...

Per Joe, "The ITW maintains a progressive approach to accepting members. They review applications on a case-by-case basis."
ITW specifies the following: "If your publisher is not recognized by ITW, but you feel it meets all ITW criteria for a commercial publisher, either you or your publisher may apply to ITW for publisher recognition."

ITW's vague statement doesn't sound terribly inclusive to me and leaves the impression self-pubbed authors aren't welcome, thus continuing the professional apartheid. They also have "active" and "associate" memberships with the latter having to pay dues. More apartheid.

I've sold more self-pubbed books than many ITW members have sold through legacy publishers. I, frankly, have been doing well without being a member.

Joe Konrath said...

ITW's vague statement doesn't sound terribly inclusive to me and leaves the impression self-pubbed authors aren't welcome

Have you tried joining ITW? How many ebooks have you sold?

Anonymous said...

I don't see what all the fuss is about.

If you snub commercial publishing, you snub it all. You snub the awards, you snub the professional organization, you snub it all.

Having a hissy fit because they're changed their rules to let some small publishers in doesn't make sense. It's like being upset because the private club down the street is allowing in people from the next street who you don't want to be friends with anyway.

Why is this even worthy of a blog post, other than to rant yet again about how 'orrible publishing is and we've been hearing that for years.

You dance with whom brought ya.

Go self-pub, can't complain when you don't get to play in every pond 'cause you wanna.

JAMES BRUNO said...

Reply to Joe's questions:

Q: "Have you tried joining ITW? How many ebooks have you sold?"

A: re ITW - Not recently. I looked into it a couple of years ago and saw they didn't accept self-pubbed authors.

I currently have two novels out. Both have been on three Kindle genre bestseller lists since early this year. My third novel will be launched in two weeks; I'm hoping for another grand slam. I fired my big-name agent in order to self-publish. Thanks for asking.

Laura E. Bradford said...

I like the idea of a group solely for indie authors. I participate in a collaborative writing/publishing blog, and it's been a great experience so far. The members each have their own backgrounds and share help with each other--one is a pro editor, another is a marketing guru, I've put a book out there and can report back from the trenches, etc. We all maximize our efforts instead of stumbling through it alone.

heavycat said...

"It is time to start SPAM (Self-Published Authors of Mystery) whose sole purpose is to hound members with constant emails asking for dues."

Wins the thread.

wannabuy said...

@Eloheim and Veronica:"I mentioned before that she used to use a Sony reader. That thing was an absolute pain in the ass. It took both of us 30 minutes to figure out how to get one book purchased and downloaded. Every time!"

Really? That might explain why every Sony reader fan I know is an IT professional. (chuckles).

I believe in making it 'stupid easy' to buy ebooks. (Why I, over a year ago, asked authors to put a html link to their ebooks.)

Ok, I'm chuckling over SPAM. Best part of this thread...

Neil

wannabuy said...

Joe:

OT: I'm loving Timecaster! I'm very happy to hear the 2nd novel will be self published. Dare I hope that 'Peanuts' is again a sidekick? (Chuckles...)

Now if my daughters would only sleep so that I could read!

Neil

Stephen Leather said...

I'm with Groucho Marks on this one - I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member.... Seriously, I've sold three million paperbacks and close to 300,000 eBooks and I wouldn't dream of joining any writer's organization. For me writing is a solitary sport... bit like running the marathon. I don't really care what's going on around me, it's my own performance that matters....

Melissa F. Miller said...

I am too lazy to look up Sisters in Crime's membership policy, but I think it is tiered (associate v. full) and I haven't bothered to check whether self-pubbed authors qualify for full membership.

I mention them, however, because they are making a real effort to educate their membership about digital publishing. (Granted, there is a bit of "so, it turns out this interent thing is NOT a fad...who knew?!?" to their worldview, but they seemed to be trying).

More relevant to me, they do a decent job of sharing sales and advance data.

I am probably not going to renew because belonging to the two bar associations I am required to belong to in order to practice law pretty much fills my quota of self-congratulatory junk mail and requests for donations of time and money.

But, you should check out SinC as an alternative if you are in need of the feeling of belonging somewhere. I believe dues are cheaper that MWA and misters can be sisters.

Chuck Hustmyre said...

I quit the MWA last month. I have two books from Dorchester coming out next month and a movie from LIONSGATE, but none of my work is eligible for EDGAR consideration. The screenplay category is gone, and Dorchester is on the shitlist.

No reason to send my dues in.

Chuck Hustmyre

DCS said...

As Groucho said, I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member.

Stitch said...

In the end, I think it all depends on the purpose of the organization.

If the purpose is a title, or a label, for writers fulfilling a certain set of criteria, then by all means do whatever you want. But call it the "Professional Mystery Writers of America", then, and only admit the people who fulfill the criteria.

But if the purpose is to help "mystery writers" develop their craft, improve sales, connect, whatever. Then anyone who writes mystery fiction should be able to join, regardless of level, sales, finished and/or published stories. If you write, then you're a writer. Bad writers are writers too, and they might even improve if allowed to join.

Anonymous said...

Great article Joe!!

I'm writing and making money ... I can't find a job anywhere in Georgia. Like that I have some means to try to make a living.

Love writing and later for the legacy publishers!!

SBJones said...

This blog post made me laugh. I haven't even published my book yet and I have seen this elitist attitude in my general research.

I can understand the reason to filter or else you would become so swamped that the org would grind to a halt.

One can only hope that they realize that 'we don't need you' and 'they need us' to continue.

Evolve or die.

J.M.Cornwell said...

In checking references on an article about paying people to review books (when have reviewers not been paid for reviewing books?), I found that Kirkus Reviews offers free reviews, for two copies of the book, if the book has not been published and is sent 2-3 months prior to publication, and charges $425-$575 if the book is indie published (read self-published). Looks to me like they're getting paid to review books, but only if they are self-pubbed.

I am a reviewer, and have been for over 8 years, for Authorlink and I definitely get paid for reviewing books, otherwise I wouldn't do it. I don't have the time to review books for free, although I do on occasion review a book for free, no matter who publishes it. I do, however, find the line between what is acceptable for authors traditionally published and indie published to be quite interesting. Hasn't it always been?

Melissa said...

So what is RWA's attitude toward indie writers? Are they accepted into the organization or not? I don't intend to self-publish, but I would take issue if my organization refused to admit writers who do self-publish, and I would definitely make my opinion known (and yes, I got the recent survey too and found the whole thing a bit odd).

Ironically, the RWA PTB wanted to give me associate status, because I'm a published freelance journalist/writer; I also ghostwrite (published) novels in unrelated genres. However, I've never made a dime as a romance writer. This made -0- sense. So as long as I have some sort of gatekeeper, I'm ... "published?"

Gina Penn said...

It's a real shame that an organization that claims to help writers is actually hurting more than they're helping. We're extremely fortunate to have you as our fearless leader-I agree with about 98% of what you write here in your blog. 5000 copies is a good number to prove you're a professional but sometimes even really poorly written books sell that many. I've sold a quantum leap less than that of my short story collection but consider myself to be a professional. All my reviews have been good and everyone that's purchased a copy has enjoyed it but I suppose there's got to be some problem somewhere. Regardless, I shall soldier on.

Anonymous said...

Their LinkedIn page is a total embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

MWA "graciously" declined to comment?

Isn't it up to the giver of the invitation to determine if the declination was "gracious?" Doesn't describing one's own response as "gracious" evidence a certain degree of arrogance?

Mystery Dawg said...

I propose the following: The eBook Publishing Society (EPS)Dues: the price you seel you book for. Representing all ebook authors and publishers......

Gary Ponzo said...

I love when you get pissed off, Joe. The blog is better that way.
Also, I can't believe what you said about Cormac McCarthy--I've always felt that way about his work, just not brave enough to say it out loud.

James said...

I have had similar issues with many different professional organizations, including the American Library Association. They seem to simply exist to perpetuate themselves, without providing a lot of value to their individual members. The same could be said of the American Anthropological Association and many others that I have joined - and quit - in the past.

I left the Horror Writers Association years ago, for many of the same reasons. Though their dues weren't that high, and they were good about letting members know about publishing opportunities, they just couldn't seem to provide much else of value. To the best of my knowledge, they are still dragging their feet on the ebook issue.

Since their awards program never interested me, and the most knowledgeable members rarely participated in the discussion boards, I just couldn't justify continuing to spend the money to belong to them.

Anonymous said...

As always a thought-provoking read. When somebody starts up that 'sold more than 5k' titles club I'll be straight in line to join (only sold around 2k so far, but I've only published one novel about 10 weeks ago, and I've got another 10 books arriving over the next 12 months - yes, I'll be self-pubbing the whole lot!).

Drew Cross.

LM Preston said...

I feel your frustration on this. There are tons of organizations that support this notion. However, I look at it this way. Create our own to support the large and growing number of other writers. Also, belonging to an organization doesn't pay my bills. My validation comes from so many other sources that it doesn't matter to me personally anymore. Look at the number of people who comment and visit your blog - you already have your own organization of writers.

Jon Olson said...

Surely you don't need validation any more, Joe. You are your own industry. Let them come begging to you.

Jon Olson
The Petoskey Stone
The Ride Home

Guy Anthony De Marco said...

I'm a (non-active) member of the HWA, and I've been happy with my membership for the last couple of years. The officers have really worked to improve things, and I feel I've received value for my dues.

I believe membership in the *WAs will change to allow self-pub authors sooner rather than later. I appreciate this debate, and I think it's helpful to have this discussion.

I also think there's room for a new writing association, targeted towards the self-pubbed. I'm sure there's a few folks working on an organization as I write this.

Anonymous said...

"Professional organizations in ALL creative fields have criteria for professional membership and eligibility for their awards. To point to MWA as being exclusionary because they do so, too, is ridiculous..."

Um. Mr. Goldberg?

I keep reading Joe's suggestions about using 5000 sales as a criteria. Seems he's saying it's not that the MWA is being exclusionary but that the WHO and the HOW of the exclusions is unfair and short-sighted. I'm a bit sad you decided to say the above when it's clear what he's upset about here.

But really, you keep mentioning all the MWA does for it's 3000-ish members. So, if there's one question I could get you to answer today (and you so won't, and it's just too bad) it's how many members have you lost in say the last five years and how many writers have decided not to join due to their concerns regarding the MWA and how it will benefit them. I suspect it's enough.

If you scroll through this thread, you'll see several writers mention they lapsed or refuse to join. If the MWA's goal is to help writers, aren't you failing on some critically important level then if these writers, particularly those who feel these exclusions are unfair, have decided your organization is not doing its job and not worth their time and money?

Dakota Banks said...

@L.J. Sellers: Any active ITW member can have an article mentioning a new release in The Big Thrill (ITW's webzine), regardless of whether the book was traditionally, independently, or self-published, including ebooks. The only restriction is that all books in the Big Thrill must be original, not reprints of previously published books. This is an example of how ITW is seeking to benefit all of its members by showcasing their latest releases.

Anonymous said...

Love this line, "Can you say taxation without representation?"

Your blog writing absolutely rocks. I havne't had a chance yet to read one of your books, but if it's anything like your blog writing, then no WONDER you've sold over 300,000 books.

Keep up the great work on behalf of writers.

Yuwanda Black, Proud Self-publisher
InkwellEditorial.com

Cyn Bagley said...

The need for validation is often rooted in insecurity.

Amen. I remember when I tried to get into a few organizations because I wanted to have the fellowship while I was writing. I wasn't even self-published then. And most of these organizations were not willing to support really new writers. So I decided then after I was really offended that when I made a million, I would NOT join any of them. ;-)
So okay, I haven't made it yet, but I am self-published now.

CPCastles said...

I'm reseaching for someone dear to me who is trying to publish, so this may be a stupid question (fair warning). Why isn't there a self publishing association? As a reader, I would LOVE this. It's about impossible to figure out which self published authors are worth a read on Amazon. I've done a bit of reading on wattpad of self published authors, and it makes my eyes bleed. I would think there could be great benefit to an association of self published authors and authors who are not published through the traditional "big 6". There are things that authors could do to help each other via association. It seems to me that most of us have local contacts via which book signings could be set up. True, lesser known authors would benefit more than more popular authors in the beginning, but it seems a necessary evil for pulling the genre (is there a better word for this?) forward. I could foresee an association like this pulling the industry into the present. I'd be happy to pitch in, but I hate to reinvent the wheel.

norm cowie said...

When I moved to YA, I joined SCBWI and found they offered more services to their members .. but there is some exclusivity reserved for something called "PAL" (published and listed).

Fortunately, I had three books traditionally published, so I was able to qualify. But my indie-published book WereWoof is as good as any of my other books.

By the way, after having been out of MWA for a few years, I just received a 'we missed you...' letter from them asking me back.

Norm

http://www.normcowie.com

MJRose said...

I am not speaking for the ITW board here but I am a past ITW board member who has been involved in our publishing program and would like to clarify some points that have been raised.

ITW does not make all its money on books published traditionally.

In fact, we were actually self publishing before either Joe or Lee☺

In 2008, ITW did a unique publishing deal with Audible – breaking ground with The Chopin Manuscript – an original audio book which went on to win the Audio Book of the Year award for 2008.

ITW self published the ebook of Chopin in July of that year.

We are listed as the publisher on the Amazon web site and have been all along. And we till make money on that book – the audio as well as the ebook version.

We also did a second original audio book, The Copper Bracelet, again with Audible. Both Chopin and Copper are unique publishing programs very important to ITW as creative endeavors and sources of income.

Also MIRA is only one of the traditional publishers ITW works with. We've also worked with Dutton for the YA anthology, ST. Martins for the debut anthology as well as Vanguard who went on to publish Chopin/Cooper in the print versions.

Lastly, as a self published ebook author (I did it back in 1998 when it was very unfashionable) it was critical to me as well as other ITW board members that we not exclude self pubbed authors out of hand. Any one can absolutely apply.

Anonymous said...

re MWA:

1. How much were the dues?

2. How many paid staff did they have?

3. How many members might not be staff, but had expense account privileges for activities?

James said...

@Guy Anthony de Marco:

>I'm a (non-active) member of
>the HWA, and I've been happy
>with my membership for the
>last couple of years. The
>officers have really worked
>to improve things, and I feel
>I've received value for my
>dues.

What have they done to improve things?

Anonymous said...

I am not anon - I'm M.J. Rose but blogger keeps deleting my response so...

I'm speaking for the ITW board here but I am a past ITW board member who has been involved in our publishing program and would like to clarify some points that have been raised.

ITW does not make all its money on books published traditionally.

In fact, we were actually self publishing before either Joe or Lee☺

In 2008, ITW did a unique publishing deal with Audible – breaking ground with The Chopin Manuscript – an original audio book which went on to win the Audio Book of the Year award for 2008.

ITW self published the ebook of Chopin in July of that year.

We are listed as the publisher on the Amazon web site and have been all along. And we till make money on that book – the audio as well as the ebook version.

We also did a second original audio book, The Copper Bracelet, again with Audible. Both Chopin and Copper are unique publishing programs very important to ITW as creative endeavors and sources of income.

Also MIRA is only one of the traditional publishers ITW works with. We've also worked with Dutton for the YA anthology, ST. Martins for the debut anthology as well as Vanguard who went on to publish Chopin/Cooper in the print versions.

Lastly, as a self published ebook author (I did it back in 1998 when it was very unfashionable) it was critical to me as well as other ITW board members that we not exclude self pubbed authors out of hand. Any one can absolutely apply.

Guy Anthony De Marco said...

James --

They've restarted the mentor program, and I believe all of the affiliates who requested it have been paired up with a mentor. They've started publishing again (Blood Lite III will be out soon, and everyone had an opportunity to get a story in there.) I used to avoid the forums, but now I check in almost daily. The huge cloud of negativity has dissipated from there. I can advertise new works -- even self-pubbed -- for free in the newsletter. The Stoker award rules have changed this year, and now includes the input from a juried panel. The officers are much better at communicating with everyone, and even post on the forum and participate in discussions and debates. I also don't feel like a second-class citizen when I interact with other members.

Like I said, I personally feel I'm getting a good value for my dues. Your mileage may vary :)

Amy said...

The value I took from MWA membership was meeting some great people. The local group here in Chicago does great workshops too.

Sadly, I was forced to let my membership lapse when my full membership was denied over kind of a silly thing. I had applied after signing a conference to write a reference book on Teen Mysteries. It was denied as my publisher - the American Library Association - was not deemed big enough or because they did not sell through bookstores. Even though this was a book on teen mysteries which would likely introduce lots of folks to other members' books, it wasn't good enough.

The head of the membership committee wrote my editor at ALA an email that I was embarrassed by. I assured her I would not remain a member. I have since found other organizations like RWA that celebrate librarians, see the value of libraries, and are above all welcoming.

author Scott Nicholson said...

I didn't meet my goals until i started doing the exact opposite of what "pro" orgs set as guidelines. I've volunteered or served as an officer in three (HWA, MWA, ITW). It's good to have standards, but clearly these current standards are based on ego validation and not on professionalism.

While professionalism itself is an attitude, not a number or a specific market, if you want to establish a professional standard, clearly the only definable standard that matters should be money.

As an HWA officer, I presented the idea of establishing a minimum income level as a the bar, not the specific markets. That was ignored, even though lots of self-pubbers were doing way better than the average "pro" member. All the while, HWA was actively funneling writers toward Leisure Books, which by their definition was professional. We all see how that worked out. I will never slam the orgs, because I know how hard volunteers have to work to hold them together, but they are absolutely unnecessary and may in fact detract from your writing career.

How would I start an org? First, DON'T GIVE YOURSELF AWARDS, because that immediately becomes the biggest focus and ultimately the main reason for the org, and you end up with a membership driven by awards. Second, do like ITW and make it entirely self-supporting through book sales or voluntary contributions. Third, don't have a message board, because you'll spend all your time policing the message board.

Other than that, join if it makes you happy, but it won't make you a better writer, nor will it prove you are a writer. Good post, Joe. The ego part of writing is the one thing that saps some of the joy for me.

Scott

Jude Hardin said...

if you want to establish a professional standard, clearly the only definable standard that matters should be money.

I haven't made a dime yet, but I have a hardcover published by a legit small press and a top literary agent anxious to sell my next book. So I shouldn't be allowed to join one of the pro organizations if I want to? That doesn't sound quite right either.

Selling lots of books is largely a matter of luck. Luck shouldn't be the definable standard for anything.

Anonymous said...

Wow, it's exactly the same with The Writer's Union of Canada! I just got back from the annual AGM, where I was told by the gatekeepers and big house reps to just stick with the old system (and keep paying my dues). They're happily elite about ebooks 'not counting',all the while moaning that no one is making any money in traditional publishing ... I just kept my mouth shut for fear of a lynching over what i really thought. I haven't sold my five thousand books yet in any format, but I believe I'm more likely to hit that number with ebooks than with the old system. Let the dinosaurs die out, I say. The market should, and will, decide who the future 'professionals' truly are.

Robert Browne said...

I'm not a joiner, but I joined several of the writers organizations because that's what all my friends were doing and I felt a bit of peer pressure. People saying, "when are you gonna join? When are you gonna join?"

So I joined. And what I found, for me personally, was that I didn't really get anything for my money. So I let my memberships lapse.

The one exception to this was ITW. I have a few gripes about them, like any of us do, but for the most part they have been nothing but wonderful to me. They went out of their way to sponsor and promote me and my KILLER YEAR brethren and several of their bigger name members wrote introductions for the Killer Year anthology.

Their membership has welcomed me as one of their own from the very beginning. As a newly sold author going to the first ThrillerFest in Arizona, I was treated as if I were an old pro. That first Thrillerfest was and probably always will be the best conference experience I've ever had, and I made many lifelong friends there.

And while, like many of you, I always said getting awards was unimportant, I was honored and thrilled when I found out I had been nominated for a Thriller Award this year (even though I wasn't even aware I was up for one.)

That said, the other organizations I belonged to didn't really do much but send me junk mail.

But here's the thing: that's just me. There are a lot of writers out there who value the MWA and RWA and HWA and Sisters in Crime and Whatever the Hell Else is Out there. A lot of writers are happy to pay a small fee to be part of a club that they feel they earned their way into.

And I don't think the membership rules have anything at all to do with elitism. That's a label you slap on them now that things are rapidly changing in the industry. But until -- what? -- five or six months ago, self-pubbed ebooks were still looked upon with disdain by some of the very writers who are singing their praises today.

And that's the thing. This "ebooks are king" sentiment is such a new phenomenon that it has taken most of us by surprise. (Except Joe, of course, who we now all realize was a visionary. But he was the lone voice in the wilderness for a long time.)

So, I think that maybe we should consider giving the MWA and others a little time. Cut them some slack until they've had a chance to find their way through this uncharted territory and learn to adjust to the new reality.

We're all trying to adjust. And such transitions are never easy.

Joe Flood said...

Totally agree. They are the type of clueless, old organization that has no future. By refusing to adapt to the times, they become irrelevant.

I wrote a mystery set in DC, Murder in Ocean Hall. I looked to join MWA because I wanted to learn more about the field. The name of the organization isn't Traditionally Published Murder Writers of America.

But me and my money weren't welcome. What kind of membership organization doesn't want more members?

James said...

>How would I start an org?
>First, DON'T GIVE YOURSELF
>AWARDS

Hallelujah to that. When I was in the HWA, it always used to bug me that they seemed to spend half (or more) of their energy on the damned Stokers. It was like one big circle jerk. Most people have never even heard of it.

Anonymous said...

MJ Rose said: "In fact, we (ITW) were actually self publishing before either Joe or Lee."

So it's OK for ITW to self publish, but not their members??? Some folks would say that's hypocritical.

J.M.Cornwell said...

James, I think every aspiring horror writer knows what the Stokers are and would love to have one given to them, but the awards, most awards in fact, tend to be more about popularity and profits than about the best writing. Judging writing is subjective, once you get past the grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Not everyone likes the same things, nor should they, but awards make it seem like they do -- or they should because the writing has some perceived social significance.

However, I wouldn't mind getting a Pulitzer for one of my novels, especially since this time around the novel is self-published. See? I'm just as shallow as everyone else wanting a little validation for my work.

J.M.Cornwell said...

Anon, I believe Ms. Rose said that they do admit self-published authors on a case by case basis. After all, as Ms. Rose said, she began as a self-published author when it wasn't cool.

Shawna said...

"I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member." - Groucho Marx

Anonymous said...

It's a mystery.

Cyndy said...

Agree... which is why I dropped my membership to two writers orgs. All I did was pay dues w/o a return on investment. Not true with Novelists, Inc. (NINC) or my local writers group. Both are well worth the investment of my time and $.

James said...

>I think every aspiring
>horror writer knows what
>the Stokers are and would
>love to have one given to
>them,

I was referring more to readers (horror or not).

>but the awards, most awards
>in fact, tend to be more
>about popularity and
>profits than about the
>best writing.

Absolutely. That's why I rarely consult award lists when making purchases for my library. Most readers don't pay a lot of attention to them, and (subsequently) they don't do much to insure circulation of the books in the library.

Tony said...

I don't see what all the fuss is about.

If you snub commercial publishing, you snub it all. You snub the awards, you snub the professional organization, you snub it all.

Having a hissy fit because they're changed their rules to let some small publishers in doesn't make sense. It's like being upset because the private club down the street is allowing in people from the next street who you don't want to be friends with anyway.

Why is this even worthy of a blog post, other than to rant yet again about how 'orrible publishing is and we've been hearing that for years.

You dance with whom brought ya.

Go self-pub, can't complain when you don't get to play in every pond 'cause you wanna.



Spot on, anon.

Joe Konrath said...

Other than Lee, not a single MWA member posted to show support for their organization. Even anonymously.

But I dug this anon comment:

it's how many members have you lost in say the last five years and how many writers have decided not to join due to their concerns regarding the MWA and how it will benefit them. I suspect it's enough.

It's a simple case of numbers. Fewer newbies are being legacy published, which means fewer new MWA members. Plus, the older members are getting older and won't be around forever.

J.M.Cornwell said...

I have no doubt that since agents are now actively trawling for self-published authors with a considerable presence and numbers of sales and boutique publishers and self-published authors are creating co-op publishing companies, that it won't be long before traditional publishers either try to gobble up more Amanda Hockings, who crave the validation and services, or find some other way to get their feet in the doors of up and coming authors. I read in Alan Rinzler's blog that publishers are admitting they don't know what sells (no surprise there) and that 80-90% of all traditionally published books fail (i.e., never earn out the advance). Sad numbers for a group of people who proclaim themselves the gatekeepers. Professional organizations will either follow the ITW's business model and publish their own anthologies to make money or fold, although they might try to soldier on with their remaining members. It's a volatile and chaotic time. Should be interesting to watch.

Kyle said...

The need for validation is often rooted in insecurity.


This is so true. But then again, so is trashing an industry that wouldn't have you.

Jude Hardin said...

Just got a note from Oceanview that Thrillers: 100 Must Reads has been nominated for an Anthony award. Congrats to Joe and all the other authors involved in the project.

Joe Konrath said...

But then again, so is trashing an industry that wouldn't have you.

Trashing an industry is.

Warning authors is not.

I assume this wasn't aimed at me, since I have both legacy contracts and am eligible for MWA active status, so it isn't a question of being wanted.

But you'd have to be pretty dense to want to be a part of any group hell bent on extinction.

Stitch said...

Jude said:

"I haven't made a dime yet, but I have a hardcover published by a legit small press and a top literary agent anxious to sell my next book. So I shouldn't be allowed to join one of the pro organizations if I want to? That doesn't sound quite right either."


Jude, I have to ask: How do you define a professional?

Are you really a "professional" writer just because you've had a book published?

Or are you a professional writer when you earn your living as a writer?

Jude also said:

"Selling lots of books is largely a matter of luck. Luck shouldn't be the definable standard for anything."


By your own definition of luck, then, getting published by a "legit" publisher is largely a matter of luck as well.

It's funny how people tend to get "luckier" the more they practice something, right? (The harder Konrath work, the "luckier" he gets.)

I've said before that I don't believe in luck. It's all about probability. Do the right things to increase the odds, and you will be successful. "Luck" is just probability taken personal.

David Gaughran said...

Well, it looks like two more writers managed to shake themselves free of the "tsunami of crap".

Mark Edwards & Louise Voss have just been signed by HarperCollins (UK) on a six-figure four book deal. That's British pounds too.

I know Mark a little through Kindle Boards. He has been trying to crack the publishing game for a long time. He had a couple of agents, but could never get a deal.

They self-published for the first time in February 2011. In June they sold over 40,000 books in the UK alone.

In July they get approached by a big publisher.

Wonder how all those readers found them in that mountain of crap, eh?

DVshooter said...

This post from Joe bought up a memory of mine...I was a big fan of Science Fiction Age back in the 90's before it went under due to poor readership. It was a great monthly that carried a variety of stories plus news on Sci-Fi movies, tv games etc. Towards the end however I noticed a trend towards these LONG shorts and even Novellas that filled most of the magazine, squeezed out more of the short fiction (which was usually the best and most entertaining) and seemed to come exclusively from published, big name SF authors.

For those of you that don't know, within the spectrum of Science Fiction there is a subtle division: SF, as a sub-genre, is usually reserved for describing "hard" science fiction or stories based on more realistic futuristic theory than fantasy elements, which is more referred to as Sci-Fi. Rockets and ray-guns as Asimov use to say. The authors of these types of stories were often credited as NASA types, Physics professors at big name Universities, SETI researchers etc. Some of their stories were great. Many others (in my opinion) were endless diatribes on futuristic theories (yawn) with little to no real (or interesting) story. BUT...they came from name authors so, I guess they had to publish them.

Cleaning out a storage shed recently I found stacks of my old magazines, went through them and realized that almost the entire last year of them, 12 issues, I subscribed too...I had never even read. I recall thumbing through them, seeing the ENTIRE mag was from one of those "real" SF authors and stacked it away. I have nothign against any writer in this genre or anyone who chooses to read it, hey, you're porbably smarter than me, but when SF Age apparently drew an exlusive line in the sand limiting themselves to "real" authors their mag became boring as hell to the majority of us and they sealed their fate.

Sounds like this MWA group is well on track to follow suit.

Author Guy said...

I said much the same thing about the SFWA years ago,
http://authorguy.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/sfwa/
only my concern was there membership standards denying people who were published but not by one of their small list of recognized venues. To my way of thinking, if you write SF you're an SF writer and should be just as eligible.

EelKat said...

I recall having similar complaints against The Horror Writer's Association. They too have guidelines that say you aren't good enough to join them if you are self published. :(

Joan Hall Hovey said...

Validated is a good word, Joe - and it's how I felt being accepted as a member of International Thriller Writers. I've never self-published, mainly because much of the technical stuff (formatting, etc) is beyond me and would take up time better spent writing. My first two suspense novels were published by Zebra,NY, and when they rejected the third one, I opted to go with a small Canadian publisher, which I'm hoping will be recognized by ITW. I too, have stopped renewing my membership with MWA, since I felt I was getting little for my money. I'm reasonably content in my niche. :)

Anonymous said...

The International Thrillers Writers is no different to the MWA.
Pro published legacy authors get to join for free, everyone else pays $95.
It's the 'everyone else' who finances the pro ITW authors.
Self-published ebook authors are still excluded, doesn't matter how many ebooks they've sold.
Unless said author pays the $95 bucks of course.
Nice deal they've got going there.
Why should I, as a self-published ebook author join the ITW, how does it benefit my writing career?
It doesn't, it only benefits the ITW authors.
Same old, same old.
Regards: Jaq

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