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 AmericaSelf-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.

About Bob Mayer

Bob Mayer is a NY Times Bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former Green Beret (including commanding an A-Team) and the feeder of two Yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus. He's had over 60 books published including the #1 series Area 51, Atlantis and The Green Berets. Born in the Bronx, having traveled the world (usually not tourist spots), he now lives peacefully with his wife, and said labs, at Write on the River, TN.

Posted on June 8, 2011, in Promotion and the Writer and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. “How do writers’ organizations determine if you are a “professional” author?”


  2. Haha! Nice one, Bob.
    Was just talking to a friend of mine, (His name’s Jeff Posey, perhaps you’ve heard of him…no? Pity.)
    We were talking about how for the past forever, everyone always says, “publishing is changing, it’s getting smaller/more speicialized/more utilitarian/more homophobic/more whatever”

    And yet, publishing didn’t drastically change for the past, what 100 years?

    Oh, but it’s changing now. Seriously changing. Drastic changing. OMG changing. WTF? Changing.
    It will be fun too.

  3. You sound a bit like me when I blogged on the same topic. I don’t know why the standard of a science fiction author isn’t his science and his fiction, and these professionals haven’t yet offered me any reasons that make sense.

  4. Eh, I dropped out of RWA a long time ago. Back then, I wasn’t a real author by their standards because I wrote for small presses. Now I’m not a real author because I’m self-published. There’s always someone telling me I’m not good enough to join them, but it doesn’t bother me much– I can’t be bothered to mess around with an organization that doesn’t think I’m a real author. The only way to change it is from the inside, but I just don’t care enough:-).

    Fortunately, there are other organizations, and if we self-pubbed authors really want to join something, I am sure we can find an organization that will treat us as “real” writers.

  5. I completely agree. Although I haven’t self-published my books yet, I plan to do so by the end of the year. So, I’ve been researching this. It’s a bummer, but not enough to make me not want to self-pub the way the industry is now. I even sent an email with suggestions similar to yours about using sales as a threshold instead of “publisher” to my local workshop president recently. I know several indie authors who are making a lot more money than those who were published traditionally. Hopefully the professional writing organizations will get it right soon.

  6. Bob,
    Thanks for saving me some time. I won’t be looking to any of these organizations for assistance (or assisting them, for that matter). What’s the old quote about not wanting to belong to any club that would have me as a member because their standards are too low? :)

    What is it with the publishing world, anyway? Do all these folks feel the rumble on the tracks and the bright light approaching and chalk it up to small earthquakes and big fireflies?

  7. Great Post Bob! I could not agree more about the reader vote idea. Maybe it is time to form an Indie Writers Society, cross-genre, you just have to earn ‘x’ (your reader bought my book, vote) and you are in. Maybe when the number of members in this new group passes a giants shadow over the others they will take notice.

    By the way, you are a science fiction writer, among many many other things, no matter what SFWA says. The saddest part of the SFWA thing is that they are supposed to be seeing the FUTURE. But hey, I guess the aliens haven’t sent them the message yet…

  8. Okay, I’m not saying these aren’t good organizations. I think they are. I think they help writers a lot. I’m just saying the definitions are out-dated.

  9. Thanks for this post, Bob. You’re right, this is getting kinda silly.

    I love RWA–I’ve been a member for more than a decade–and yet I’d like it to keep up with the times. So when I earned my first $1000 from self-publishing my debut novel, Kismet’s Kiss, I sent the RWA Board a letter to let them know. I wanted them to hear from members who were reaching the “professional” boundary by self-publishing their debut novels. In my case, it took just a little over five months.

    It’s now three months after that first $1000, and within a couple of weeks I’ll have earned $5000 through a combination of two books, both fantasy romances. The second novel, The Source of Magic, earned nearly $2000 in six weeks from a thousand sales. Going directly to the readers has already let me earn significantly more than I would have if I’d published through almost any of RWA’s “approved” publishers. I am sooooo not alone in this. See for some absolutely smokin’ numbers.

    If any of you reading Bob’s post have reached your genre organization’s financial goal line through self-publishing (whether you’ve published with a trad press before or not), WRITE THE BOARD. Go on–let them know what’s possible. Ellen’s right: sometimes the only way to change things is from the inside. :-)

  10. Of course, they could do things like ‘blood wings’ for Airborne school– where they pin the wings. On you. Directly.

    • It’s wonderful that I recognized this term without the explanation. I got to watch my dad get blood wings from a German jump master. Was a cool day.

      As for the definitions, I do find them a bit, odd.

  11. Great post, Bob. Lots of writers I know are bypassing the traditional route. Seems to be causing a slight rift between those who still believe the old sschool way and those who see what’s coming, esp. after the discussion between Eisler and Konrath. So you go, Bob. Yay for you!

  12. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    These are all good organizations and well meaning. RWA is one of the few that gives the non-published author full membership with lots of benefits. Their standards and definitions need updating. Things have changed and more changes are coming. It’s an exciting time to be an author, regardless of publishing path.

  13. As a general member of my local GDRWA, I understand some of these concerns, but I caution those of you who look down your noses at them and other organizations alike. Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help from the RWA. For example I would have never heard of Bob Mayor. (very true) Our group meets once a month, and the workshops they have are awesome. Cannot express enough how much they’ve helped me.
    Yesterday, Bob commented, you have to be in it for the long haul. I read Bob’ s blog yesterday, then I hit print. I am looking at it now, and I’ve read it twice today. Those of you who haven’t read it, I urge you to please do so. Then re-read this post today, and I think you will come to a better understanding why these organizations exist.
    I wish everyone of you all the success in the world,

  14. MWA just updated their criteria, too.
    Haven’t been a member of RWA for years.
    Ninc, I believe (although I’m no longer a member – yes, there is a trend here), has the same criteria – no self-published books. However, I could be wrong.
    I wish these groups were less fixated on how to get in and more interested in how to keep authors writing, as in fighting digital theft.
    If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

  15. I, for one, hope that RWA can adapt to the changing publishing environment. Last Saturday before the start of the formal meeting, four of us who’ve taken the indie-published route talked about how we wouldn’t leave RWA. Education has always been RWA’s strength. The workshops on research and craft are too valuable to give up, even if the Board refuses to acknowledge our sales.

    To me, the real test as a writer is whether people enjoy my work and feel it’s worth paying for. I honestly don’t give a sh** whether I’m eligible for a RITA.

  16. Hmm. While I completely understand the sentiment, is it really fair to imply that these organizations are against change? The standards you mention were written because in the very near past, and in the present. there are “publishers” who scam writers. The Writers organizations have, for years, wanted authors to understand that authors get paid by their publishers and not the other way around. The income threshold for an author to receive from a publisher was a pretty good way to come close to that and, in the case of RWA, as I recall, it was an attempt to permit PAN (Published Author network) membership for authors published with ePublishers who did not pay advances. And that did work. There are now members of PAN who, two years ago, would not have been PAN or RITA eligible.

    Now, if I’m recalling correctly, there was a recent communication from RWA (within the last two months?) to the effect that they are aware of the rapid changes in the industry and that the board is considering how best to adjust. I can’t say anything about the other organizations because I am not a member of them. I have no idea what the outcome will be, of course, but I hope it comes with due consideration for what the eventual decision means for its members, published, unpublished or self-published.

    Yes, I’m a member of RWA and I am a member of PAN. I write for two of the Big 6 and have been RITA nominated. But I’ve also self-published my backlist and can do the math required to make me take a long, hard look at what traditional publishers might offer me versus what I can make if I self-publish instead. But I still want RWA to take some time to assess what’s going on and canvass the opinions, needs and desires of its membership. That isn’t going to happen overnight.

    It’s ironic in the context of this issue– and I think it’s what you were getting at — (and also wonderful beyond words!) that self-publishing might actually make it possible for me to quit the day job and write full time. I certainly hope RWA adjusts to that reality. Because that’s what I want to do. Write.

  17. Joanna Aislinn

    IDK, maybe I err thinking these terms could be somewhat interchangeable? Didn’t these organizations get the memo?


    1.a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of a literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist.

    writ•er –noun
    1.a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

    Excellent post, Bob. Got my day off to a great start. At this point, I’m certainly unrecognizable to RWA (and its state ‘li’l sister’ chapter) myself. I like your way much better.

    Joanna Aislinn
    Dream. Believe. Strive. Achieve!
    The Wild Rose Press

  18. I think these organizations can do so much for a writer. It’s frustrating that successful self-publishing doesn’t meet their membership requirements. I understand that a person could self-publish anything s/he wanted. But it’s entirely something else to make money on it. If readers are buying it, it should count.

  19. Joyce M. Coomer

    Bob, thanks for giving me a laugh for the day. Not laughing at your article but at the wondrous limitations the writers’ organizations put on who is and who isn’t a writer!! You’re so right — readers determine who is a writer by buying their books!!!

  20. I just found NINC requirements: pretty much the same and my latest works wouldn’t qualify. So the question is– what organization is going to modernize first? Sort of like which publishers are really going to drastically change their business model first?

    NINC: What is a Qualifying Market?
    The publishing program must pay an advance against royalties for the books it publishes.
    The publishing program must pay a minimum advance of at least $1,000 for every book it publishes.
    The publishing program must have a print run and distribution of 1,000 or more copies of every title it publishes.
    The publishing program must have published books for a period of at least one year, and must have published books by at least ten different writers.
    The publishing program cannot ask any of its authors to pay a fee for, nor to have any fees deducted from their royalties or earnings for, nor to have any financial investment, in the publishing of their books. Publishers that work with packagers can be qualifying markets as long as they meet all the standards herein, and as long as any packaging fees are paid by the publisher, not by the authors.

  21. The sad thing is that I truly believe that these organizations are trying to protect writers with these guidelines. Yes, one way they do that is by drawing a line separating us from them, but I honestly believe they mean well.

    They’re still stuck back in the day (a couple of years ago, I believe :-) when self-publishing was a way that unscrupulous folks took advantage of would be writers. Now it’s a way that savvy authors take advantage of a whole host of new opportunities. As you said the organizations are just way behind on the curve and probably not sure about how to catch up. I love RWA and would like to see it enter the 21st century sometime soon so I’ll follow the advice above and work to change it from within.

    In the meantime, please put down that stick – we like you too much to let you keep poking yourself, even for the sake of our enlightenment.

  22. What a ridiculous situation. If thousands of readers are regularly paying for your work, to me that suggests you’re a good writer. No one is arguing that those organisations don’t benefit writers, but their guidelines on what defines a “professional author” do seem discriminatory against self-published authors. And that doesn’t seem to me to be in the authors’ best interests, nor those of the industry as a whole. Those organisations are losing out by discriminating against a ever-increasing number of authors on the basis that certain people, i.e. publishers, haven’t given their seal of approval, rather than looking at whether a certain number of readers think it’s good enough to read.

    I think Gene had an excellent suggestion – we should start an independent authors association. I’d join. Unfortunately, since none of us are considered “professionals” we would probably be ignored. Sad.

  23. Bob
    Awesome post, thank you so much, I feel so much better, actually. I asked MWA yesterday where I fit as a member in their organization, given my credits and background, and they basically stuck me down there with the fans. Really? Ugh. I was invited to Guppies at Sisters in Crime and feel a little more welcomed there, so if I join anyone, it will be them.

    Thank goodness I write because I love to immerse in the craft and tell stories; anyone who dares go into this field because of all the “glamour” and “celebrity” will be put quickly to shame by these organizations (as well as the constant rejections and the reality check that comes when they find out that writing the next Great American Novel is perhaps the hardest thing they will ever do, and they will not be able to pay their bills doing it).

    Posts like yours keep the likes of me going. Many many gratitudes for speaking truth, Bob.


  24. Funny, I wrote something very similar eight months ago. Link if anyone wants to take a peek:
    The thing is, in those eight months pretty much nothing has changed in the state of these organizations. The world around them has changed, but they have not budged.

    I predicted when I wrote that article that there would come a time when they would either have to change, or change would happen without them. The services offered by writers’ orgs are valuable enough that I think indie writers will band together to create their own professional orgs, if the “old guard” organizations continue to refuse to allow admission, or continue to create “second class citizen” status for indies like the RWA.

    I think we’re closing on that point, honestly. I’ve already spoken with quite a number of SF&F writers about some sort of indie “SFWA alternative”, and the feeling is that, yeah, that time is coming soon.

    If the major writing orgs don’t step up and adapt to the times, they may find themselves faced with decreasing relevance in the years ahead, as new orgs rise up to fill the growing need they are leaving unfulfilled.

  25. @kevin – Let me know if/when you SF folks do go indie – SFWA only accepts pubbed authors and I think that misses out on pre-pubbed folks with a lot to offer

  26. Bob, think about the benefits these organizations derive from the publishers. Not the benefits the writers derive, but the benefits to the organizations themselves. RWA, for example, gets sponsorships from publishers for its national conference. How are they going to get a similar benefit from self-publishing authors? I’m not saying they can’t get a similar benefit, but until they figure out methods and standards, they have little incentive from an organizational standpoint to change anything to benefit self-pubs.

    • Maybe they should change their names to “Published Writers Associations” then… I see what you’re saying, but if they say they’re a Writers Association, that should included all writers. Besides, if they get that much support from publishers, surely they can afford to help out self-published writers too. Even lawyers work pro-bono on occasion.

  27. Interesting feedback. I don’t think these organizations are against change. I think some members are. Any time one is on the inside, we always want to make joining hard. After all, we already did it. I remember when we were revamping the Special Forces Qualification Course, it was easy to say: “Let’s make it really hard.” After all, we’d already been through it. Like old grads from West Point, which I guess I am one, lamenting the good old days and how easy the cadets have it now.
    I note that Freethy is the #1 NY Times bestseller in ebooks this Sunday. With a self-published title.

  28. Very interesting post. I joined The Professional Writers Association of Canada when I got out here, submitting some of my published plays to show I qualified. I’ve since heard that they don’t accept fiction writers. I had noticed that the majority of folks at the chapter meetings were magazine writers, technical writers or medical writers, but I figured that was just the local demographic. So, I don’t quite fit there, but they’re happy to take my membership money. In return I get….er…nice social events…er…and….er….er…..

  29. So, Bob, when are you starting the kick-ass club for professional self pubbers? Mmmm, I’m thinkin’ there should be a minimum amount per day that “pros” ought to be making before they can join: $1K per day (like you) – that qualifies. Brown nosin’ today; why not? Maybe you’ll let me in that club one of these days.

  30. Why set the bar there, Mary? ;) That’s still a very exclusive club.

    What I’d think is something like: anyone with a publication to any professional venue (short fiction paying over X cents per word, any novel accepted by any trad publisher, any novel or short story self published and available on any major retail market) is taken in at “Associate” level. That’s comparable to SFWA’s Associate requirement: one short story sale to a professional market.

    SFWA requires a $2000 advance on one novel sale, or three short sales totaling at least $250. So – pick a number somewhere between $250 and $2000, and make it the amount of verified income on your books you must make to be considered “professional” for purposes of that organization (i.e. get full, active membership). Regardless of source – so trad pub writers would need that big an advance, and self pub writers would need to verify that much income from their self published sales.

    Or something like that, anyway. ;)

    • @Kevin I totally agree with the need for orgs to be more flexible on their definitions. I have an agent and a traditional online publisher interested in a series of short stories, but since they don’t meet RWA’s requirement of 20K words I can’t be considered a “PRO” member. This in spite of the fact that the combined word total for the series AND the advances will fall well within their 20K words and $1000 advance or royalties requirements.

  31. You said it Bob – reality is creeping in. In the last three years we have seen more of an about face in attitudes to self-publishing than just about anyone in ‘traditional publishing’ expected to see. Who knows what will happen in the next three years. I think the success of people like yourself, Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, and many others shows that ‘turning professional’ the indie way is possible. Like you I have been traditionally published, and hope to continue to be – mainly because I really value the input of my brilliant editor Jane Holland. But for me, Kindle Direct Publishing opens up the door to SO many more readers – and that can’t be bad for my ‘published’ books either, can it?

  32. It’s very interesting… No one in the comments is suggesting that someone start a Self-Published Writers Association, which would be a great idea. Most of these organizations are designed to protect writers from publishers and agents. I would imagine that the needs of a Self Publisher writer are very different and these organizations would be poorly suited to provide advice and support to the Self Published Writer.

  33. I don’t know, YMCK. Seems to me like an awful lot of successful indies seem to be doing both paths. Seems like one org which admits writers with both trad pub or self pub credits might be a stronger association, to me. The best situation would probably be for the existing orgs to start accepting indie publishers as equal members. Barring that? I think they’ll be replaced, eventually, by groups which do allow both.

    • Hey there Kevin,

      I think you’re missing my point a little. Let me rephrase…

      As an indie author why would you want to join the RWA, ITWA, SFWA etc? What benefits or expert advice can they provide? These are organization that help you with publishing contract, which publishers to avoid, they have workshops on how to get an agent, create a great query letter, or dealing with having your primary income be lump sum advances. How many of those things does a Self Pubbed writer care about?

      Sure they have awards, which is nice I suppose.

      But here is the question, what do they have that self published writer might need? Do they have a list of good freelance editors? Workshops on ebook formatting? Reading Amazon/B&N sales data? Pricing information? Writing blurbs? No, they don’t, and more importantly does anyone currently in these organizations know more about these subjects than Scott Nicholson or HP Mallory? Would you really want, the current RWA president, Dorien Kelly’s advice on how to Self Pub? Or Douglas Preston, or John Scalzi, or whoever… (I am not trying to say that they are not incredibly knowledgeable about traditional publishing. They are!)

      I am sure they will eventually allow Self Pubbed writers, but I doubt they will be any help to a Self Pubbed writer for a very long time. I would much rather corral Bob, JA Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, Amanda Hocking, Kris Rauch, and some cover designers, freelance editors, technical folk to talk about formats,or an amazon rep to talk about pricing/sales data, into a room and make them talk/argue/discuss. Far, FAR more valuable.

  34. Frankly, I understand why the definitions are as they stand. They currently have certain thresholds that enable them to define success, but how do you do that with a self-publisher? I’ve read of some who sold hundreds of copies—but they’d bought the copies themselves.

    So, how to define success?

    If you define it by an amount of money, what about those trade publishing deals that make very little? And what about the pricing differences? Someone selling at $0.99 would have to sell a lot more copies than someone selling at $4.99 to qualify for membership.

    If you define it by a number of copies, what about free titles?

    If you define it by a dollar amount + copies, what about those trade published folks with small advances and print runs? Or who are getting underreported? (I doubt all publishers are doing this, but I’m sure some are.)

    And then, how do you verify that the reported dollar amounts and number of copies sold are correct?

    So I get why the limitations exist. I’m sure the definitions will change—my guess, RWA will be first—but it’ll take some time for them to figure things out.

  35. Bob, I’m still trying to figure this one out. I completely understand how hard it is to make everyone happy (read – impossible.) but I also understand the need to try. The problem with so many of these huge (yes, I believe RWA has 10,000 members) organizations is that they are so slow to change. For people who are used to now, now, now, that can be disappointing.

    But as an ebook author and advocate for many years, I’ve always found it sad how RWA in particular has looked down on ebook authors. And now so many of its members are jumping on board the money train, as it were.

    The saddest part of all is that I’ve sold 60,000 books in 2011 and they still will not consider me a published author based on that. I sold barely enough at my previous publisher to be considered a published author by RWA’s standard. Ironic? Yes. Even more ironic, I’ve probably made more money so far this year than many of their “published” authors will in all of 2011.

    Perhaps it’s time to come up with a new definition or a proviso.

  36. Misti has some excellent points.

    I do not count freebie copies in my numbers. And I can assure everyone that I did not buy 60,000 copies of my own books. LOL I would of course be happy for forward RWA a copy of the checks Amazon and Nook send me.

  37. Traditionally published authors can buy their own books or have others buy them for them. Ever hear of Battlefield Earth? I’ve been assimilating all this information and here’s the reality: these organizations will have to change to survive. So will publishers. So will writers. Those who change the fastest, have the best chance of success. Frankly, if you think about it, even the indie movement is showing signs of dying, when you consider that some of the top names have taken book deals, whether it’s with NY or signing with Amazon’s new imprints. What does signing with an Amazon imprint mean? Is Barry Eisler the rogue indie author turning down a half-million or isn’t he actually a traditional author who switched publishers because he got a better deal in the contract and the same amount of money? I think it’s great to do so, but let’s also be aware that these changes are happening very fast, as much for indies as for traditional authors.

    • Very true. Some days I do feel like a chicken with my head cut off. And to top it off, things are happening so quickly that I feel like things I read a year ago (along with half the How To books on my shelf) are obsolete. I took your Warrior Writers class a few years ago and there was nothing in there about a self publishing gold rush. Why? B/c it wasn’t happening yet. And though it was an excellent course, times have changed. Now I must take everything I’ve read and learned and figure out how it concerns the indie side of my career.

      In many ways, today’s successful indie authors are writing the “how to be a successful indie author” manuals as we go along. And still, there’s so much miss information out there. People writing how to books and yet they haven’t shown me the numbers to back up their claims. I find it very hard to figure out what direction I should be going these days other than write another book, the best darn book I possibly can.

  38. Hi, Bob. Great post. I’ve followed your articulate comments on a list to which we both belong so I’m familiar with this discussion. I don’t believe any of these writing organizations are against change. I think they’re just unsure about how to change in light of their stated goals and objectives. Part of that is also they’re need to meet the legal requirement that granted them their non-profit status. Part of it is also some of the big name authors who seem personally threatened by us poor little indie authors — even though they’re making more money than I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime. Perhaps they see themselves as defenders of the faith? As Selena, I think, also pointed out, the bigger the group; the more difficult it is to change.

    I’m a long-time RWA member and a PAN member within RWA. I actually can’t remember a time when there wasn’t some kind of in-fighting going on about one group or another feeling slighted by RWA’s policies. Too often RWA has tried to be everything to everybody, and it never works. I think the best-case scenario is for them to have some kind of indie author network akin to PAN (professional author network), but that’s something they’ll decide.

    I tried to join Mystery Writers of America long ago when I thought my career would be built on mystery/suspense novels. I’d won a prestigious contest with a mystery novel (that never sold), but MWA would not let me in even as an associate member, and this was way before ebooks. MWA always saw itself as protecting the integrity of the book and author world I suppose.

    If I weren’t already published in print, I too wouldn’t be eligible to join these groups, but the truly funny thing is this. I’ve sold 20,000 ebooks in 2 months. If my ebooks continue selling at the current rate, then I will net more this year than I made in all the years I was getting print contracts. Of course, I was a lowly genre mid-list author. Now, is the prestige of being published by a big NY house worth more than the ability to earn a decent living doing what I love?

    Not to me it isn’t.

  39. @Selena: Sounds like an excellent strategy to me. Should work regardless of what happens in the publishing industry.

  40. Joan– I think this is a golden time for former midlist authors with backlist they own the rights to. Publishers have not really grasped how making a writer involved in the process of promoting and selling can be motivating. In a way, the advance system almost negates it when most advances never earn out. I think that’s going to be one big change coming– publishers will sign authors to contracts where they are a team– where as the book earns more, the publisher and author earn more. Actually, I need to blog on this subject. The entire concept of the advance is part of the old model of publishing and certainly served a purpose, but are the reasons for it still valid?

    • “Publishers have not really grasped how making a writer involved in the process of promoting and selling can be motivating. ”

      My publisher has spent years trying to get her authors involved in that process, to almost no avail. It annoys me no end that authors who didn’t do a thing to promote the books she spent time and money creating self-publish and suddenly become dynamoes. Even worse, they spend their own money to make a book to self-publish when she’s got thousands sitting in a warehouse.

  41. @YMCK, who said: “As an indie author why would you want to join the RWA, ITWA, SFWA etc? What benefits or expert advice can they provide? These are organization that help you with publishing contract, which publishers to avoid, they have workshops on how to get an agent, create a great query letter, or dealing with having your primary income be lump sum advances. How many of those things does a Self Pubbed writer care about?”

    Great questions. Here’s one back to you: do you think that you will never, ever have a book published by a traditional publisher? Some folks might not – might never do. But some might. Some folks might mix it up. In fact, I think an awful lot of folks are going to mix it up, over the decades ahead. So the self pub author might not be trad pubbing right now, but is it really useless to her long term career to learn the ins and outs of that part of the business? I’d say no.

    What percentage of trad pub writers do you think will be self publishing their backlist, within five years? Largish, I would guess. Not all, maybe not most, but quite a lot. So they will have something to learn from self published writers, too.

    Lastly, if you have two groups, one representing 5000 trad pub writers, and the other representing 5000 indie writers (say, 2500 of each are in both groups), then you have a situation where both groups can only leverage 5000 voices to confront any issue. But if you have one group which has both types of writer, you combine all of those voices on any issue which might threaten either writing path. In unions, more people = good.

    Then, also, you’re looking at some groups which have strong histories of working with newer writers on craft, not just on business. That’s part of why there’s a genre breakdown, so the old veterans of the craft can pass on genre specific knowledge to newer writers. There’s potential value in that as well.

    Probably other reasons, too. ;) I mean, there’s no reason why you can’t do an indie-only trade group. That might even be the best way, if the hostility level among trade pub writers continues to swell like some of us have seen. Just suggesting folks look at all the possibilities as we go. I think that a group founded on the principle of placing equal value and legitimacy on both publishing paths could work well in the long run, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

    • Hey there again,

      First, thanks for continuing the conversation.

      You seem to be a assuming that people aren’t a member of the RWA and the MWA, or that you couldn’t be a member of the RWA, SFWA AND some sort of Self Pub organization. Also, the RWA membership has different concerns and would want to speak collectively on very different issues than a group of indie or Self Pubed writers. As an example just imagine a RWA meeting where you discuss whether to audit Carina or Smashwords, or some other issue that split the Trads and the Indies. Think things are hostile now… :)

      I just think there is a really good reason why there is a RWA and a SFWA. Their membership has different wants and need. Indie writers would also have different wants and needs. Indie writers would be better served by an organization focused on them.

      And now to your questions….

      You Asked: “Here’s one back to you: do you think that you will never, ever have a book published by a traditional publisher?” Personally…. Well, I highly doubt I’ll ever have a book published by a traditional publisher, but then my goals are very different than most writers.

      You Asked, (and answered): “What percentage of trad pub writers do you think will be self publishing their backlist, within five years? Largish, I would guess.” I completely agree. You Sir, are completely correct…..

      However I think that in about three years publishing will be a very…. interesting. The initial glut of self pubbers will wane. At the same time, many publishing contracts will be renewed and those writers will have had a taste of self publishing. Publishers, being large risk-adverse corporations, will be more conservative and look for only “sure wins”. There will have been several authors talking about books, trapped in bankruptcy court, that will never see the light of day. Agents will be pretending to be publishers… and trying to get clients to publish through them, rather than a traditional publisher. Some authors will find that they cannot self publish, at least, not using their name. There will be many writers looking around wondering, what on earth happened.

      I think an organization focused on Indie/Self Pub/Entrepreneurial writers would be best in that sort of world. But hey what do I know… Just a dude on the inter-tubes.

  42. I’ve been a member of RWA for a number of years and they are slow to change. But what’s happening is many of their successful members are starting to leave traditional publishing or bridging both worlds so I believe they will change. I am a pro by their standards, which means I’m publishing by a recognized market, but haven’t yet made PAN status (a level above pro) because I haven’t made a $1000 advance, my first two romances were e-published).

    I do qualify for SFWA because I have sold enough short fiction to qualify, but I don’t join because I see no value there for me right now.

    I have had these discussions with a number of traditionally minded writers and the impression I get is indie publishing is not “real” publishing so the chasm between the two camps is pretty deep.

    To me publishing is publishing. I work both sides of the current systems available to me. Why wouldn’t I?

    Good post, Bob. Thanks.

  43. Jenni Holbrook-Talty

    I think there is a lot to be gained from being a member of these organizations. I am a member of ITW and RWA. I let my Mystery Writer’s membership lapse because I did not personally get anything out of it, but I do get a lot out of RWA and ITW. Namely…Neworking. I met Bob at a conference, years and years later we started WDWPUB.

    I wouldn’t give up my membership to these, unless they did something so backwards. However, there is a level of frustration. The changes in the way an author can publish a book has changed so drastically in just a few short years, but many of have been predicting this change for for the last 10. I remember having a discussion about some of these changes five years ago at a conference. My point was that authors had to change they way they think and do business. Author view points had to change. The way they looked at royalties, advances, etc. No one liked what I had to say. Everyone was and many still are holding onto an old way of doing things that just doesn’t work anymore. Once Authors like Bob started doing things differently, and being successful, things started changes, but the organizations are slow to change, partly due to the fact that they try to cover all membership needs.

    Another reason to be a member of these organizations is to bring out change. Bob pointed out a lot of really solid points, being a member of these organizations, we can help facilitate the changes necessary that will pull these organizations into the 21st century. The more the author stands up and speaks toward what they need for their career, the more the organizations will begin to adapt because their existence is based on membership and how members value what they are getting with their time and money.

  44. This makes my head hurt, but in a good way. It’s kind of like the difference between walking around inside a house and walking around on a boat. In a house, you can take for granted that the floor will be still. Boat decks keep moving, so walking requires a different stance, wider and looser, more alert.

    For me, the reader, all this new publishing stuff is like standing under a well-stuffed and freshly breached pinata.

  45. Shocked! But Amanda Hocking IS a legit author. Anyone who could sell that much books should be considered as one.

  46. Thanks for bringing up this important topic, Bob. I’m moved to share my MWA experience.

    Nearly two years ago, I got my first book deal with a small traditional publisher. Not long afterward, I went to Bouchercon, where I met someone from the MWA. I told her I had just gotten a deal and she urged me to join. I knew about their second class memberships and I felt somehow that’s where I would be slotted. She asked me a few questions and sure enough, my publisher didn’t have a high enough initial print run for them to consider me as a real member.

    Me: “But I want to be a real member, not a second class member.”

    Her: “You will be a real member. You’ll be able to do about 95% of all the things our active members can do. You just won’t be able to go to the Edgars, vote for the Edgars, be eligible for an Edgar, sit on the board, or have a presence on our website.”

    Me: “Wow! That’s only 5% of what members get in the MWA? What bountiful pleasures await me in the other 95%?”

    Her: “Well, you get the newsletter and you can attend the meetings.”

    Right. Attend the meetings. No doubt being forced to stand in the back of the room while the real members sit up front endlessly railing against small publishers (and now self-publishers).

    That was the end of my association with the MWA.

    They can have it.

  47. I considered all these guilds as a joke. Why should anyone join to these guilds (Other than to feel yourself sooo important.). First of all many independent writers are better than the ones who is actually in these guilds. Second, your writers are going to decide you’re a professional writer not some self-appointed humming snobs. The so called awards of these guilds is also a joke as usually not the best is getting the award, but the one who knows more people inside the award. Up from this moment you can’t any of these guilds seriously.

  48. Oh, you don’t know the half of it.

    Around 2006, Zumaya applied for and was granted accepted publisher status by MWA. Three years later, they elected president an author whose diatribes against self-publishing, subsidy presses and publishers who used on-demand printing made him one of the most read in the blogosphere. One of my authors sent him copies of his Zumaya titles. His response? Dump that vanity press and get a REAL publisher.

    What a coincidence, then, that shortly after his election MWA changed its publisher criteria and advised us we were no longer acceptable. We didn’t do a minimum 500-copy print run, so even though we had authors who could claim the $1,000 minimum in sales or advance they weren’t eligible for membership.

    In other words, an author who earned $1000 in actual sales wasn’t an author, but someone who got a $1000 advance and had 500 copies of their book in somebody’s warehouse did.

    But it gets better. Since then, the individual who likely encouraged adoption of that ludicrous standard is now an evangelist for ebook self-publishing. Hypocrisy much?

    SFWA pulled a similar end run about nine years ago. And I know why, because I discussed the issue with any number of SFWA members. Know what it boiled down to? They hated it that there was a way to get published without spending years looking for an agent and pounding on doors and getting rejection after rejection. Their response was to keep the upstarts in their place by essentially limiting the accepted channels for publication to the existing traditional publishers.

    Note that back then their minimum advance was $5K, because that’s what the big houses were paying. Then the big houses did some adjusting and started paying $2K instead. The minimum required advance declined posthaste.

    SFWA was also the organization, you may recall, that took it upon itself to send cease and desist orders to “pirate websites” demanding all work posted there written by SFWA members be removed. Only, they forgot to ask the members first, with the result that a number of them who had given permission for their books to be there were, shall we say, a tad put out?

    Membership in the established writer’s groups isn’t about recognition. It’s about putting up barricades so they can feel special.

  49. So… these organizations are only for direct-to-paper authors?

  50. Hmm…I care about making a living with my words, don’t care if an writer’s organization thinks I’m a writer or not.

  51. Seems to me these Writers Organizations have not listed sufficient reasons why authors can not join if they are self published.

    I am so happy you wrote this blog post, a lot writers rather self publish but are still really good authors. Just keep writing, getting those words edited and market yourself. Maybe one day we’ll be accepted.

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