How Do Writers Organizations Determine if you are a “Professional” Author?
Was doing a little research about how various writing organization define a professional author. I was a bit surprised, given the reality of the changes of the past couple of years, to learn how four major genre organizations do it and who they say CAN’T be members.
Romance Writers of America: To be a member of their Published Author Network there are a bunch of paragraphs laying out money thresholds, etc. yada, yada, bisque, but when it comes to a novel or novella being eligible, the bottom line is “The work must not be self-published.”
So, they don’t care if you’ve got Amanda Hocking type numbers, nope, you aint cutting it. Not until you sign that deal with St. Martins for 2 million. Now you’re an author. By the way, their threshold for being published the approved way for money is $1,000 from the right kind of publishers, ie not yourself. That’s before an agent takes a cut. So, earning $850, as long as it’s the approved way, means you’re a professional author. Let me check. Hmm, so far today, I’ve earned well over $1,000. That’s in a day. But that would not pass the test.
Mystery Writers of America: “Self-published books, whether they are published in print or as e-books, still do not qualify for MWA active membership.”
Well poke me with a stick. No dodging that one. I note the ‘still’ part. A bit of reality creeping in?
Won’t pass this test either.
International Thriller Writers: “Active membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house. This includes authors of fiction and nonfiction. By “commercial publishing house” we mean a bona fide publisher who pays an advance against royalties, edits books, creates covers, has a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receives no financial payments from their authors. ITW maintains a list of recognized commercial publishers.”
So the fact I have my original title Chasing the Ghost in the top 10 selling men’s adventure bestseller list on Amazon for several months now is irrelevant because it wasn’t published by someone on the ITW publisher list. And I can’t be because I don’t pay myself an advance. (PS, I submit to you the advance is going to see some radical changes in the next several years, with publishers offering higher royalties against no advances, so both publisher and writer share in the experience and gamble, but that’s another blog).
By the way, the definition bona fide is: ‘genuine, real’. Poke me with a stick, wait that hurts. I do believe I am real.
I also question the ‘regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold’. You mean Borders? I think a lot of books are ‘ordinarily’ being sold on Amazon and other e-book distributors.
So Chasing won’t pass the test.
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America: Also has a list. And a threshold for what the publishers on the list have to pay you. There it’s $2,000. So that would take me a little over a day to earn. Might have to stay up to 3 am. But still not qualify me since I’m not on the list.
This despite the fact Atlantis is the #3 bestselling science fiction title on UK Amazon behind two books called something like Games of Thrones and has been in the top 15 in science fiction on US Amazon for several months now. And Area 51 is the #235 overall ebook on Nook right now, outselling the recent NY Times bestselling ‘nonfiction’ book of the same title. But those are the wrong lists. Those are based on sales.
So, nope, not passing there either.
Okay, before you go off on me, I get it. Times are changing and there must be standards. Or else we’ll have every Tom, Dick and Francine calling themselves ‘authors’. Well, actually that bridge has been crossed.
Yes, we need standards. The National Speakers Organization has an interesting way of determining if you’re eligible for membership as a professional speaker: send in copies of the checks you received for speaking engagements. Have enough of those checks and you’re in. Radical concept there. No requirement to having to speak before the ‘right’ crowds. Just get paid. I think they assume that means if enough groups have paid you to speak, you must be an okay speaker. Speakers to listeners. Radical. Would be like writers to readers.
I understand all these organizations are working to adapt to the new environment of publishing. Like publishers, they’re just behind the power curve. It’s hard to turn a large ship. But the thing we have to keep in mind is that these are WRITER organizations, not publishers, not agents, not bookstores. Why are we basing our credentials on things determined by those organizations, rather than readers? And readers vote for authors with sales.
I’ve been a professional writer for over 20 years, earning my living at the keyboard. I’ve been, and am, a member of several of these organizations. But based on my work of the last year, I would not be allowed membership in these groups, even though my writing career is going far better than it ever has before. Even though, as a writer, I have more opportunities than ever before.
I just find that a tad odd.
I think these organizations do a great job. When I teach, I always tell writers to join their local RWA chapter regardless of what they write. ITW runs a kick-ass conference, Thrillerfest. MWA—well, I’ve never written a mystery so maybe they sacrifice goats at their meetings, but I imagine they’re a solid group too for their members. SFWA, well, I’ve been told I’m not a science fiction writer by some people, and haven’t been a member for a while, so not sure where things stand there.
We live in interesting times. I predict, with my non-science-fiction crystal ball, things will be much different in three years with all these requirements.
Oh yes. If you’re going to RWA Nationals or Thrillerfest, check out the recently released Writers Conference Guide: Getting the Most Out of Your Time & Money. Jen Talty and I wrote it and published it, it won’t be recognized quite yet by any of those groups,it’s distributed by some non-regular distribution channels such as Amazon, Nook, LSI, Smashwords, and at our web site in various formats including pdf, which might be best because then you can print it out. For $2.99 you can figure out how to get the most out of your time and money at those conferences. And we’re making enough off it to pass the thresholds listed above.
Posted on June 8, 2011, in Promotion and the Writer and tagged Bob Mayer, Book Writing, E-book, ePublishing, Future, Self-Publishing, Technology and Publishing, The Future of Publishing, Writer Resources. Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.