PW: “Small House Protests Vanity Label by RWA”

From Publisher’s Weekly: Tsaba House Press is considering legal action against the RWA after one of its authors was barred from entering the RITA because Tsaba House is not an RWA -approved publisher.

Tsaba House Press, a Christian publisher of fiction and nonfiction titles, is considering taking legal action against the Romance Writers of America for refusing to consider one of the small California press’s authors for a Rita Award, which honors inspirational romances. According to Pam Schwagerl, Tsaba House publisher, Molly Noble Bull was barred from submitting her latest release, Sanctuary, for a Rita Award, because Tsaba House is not an “RWA approved” publisher. RWA subsequently told Schwagerl that the organization considers Tsaba House to be a subsidy or vanity press, because its boilerplate contract contains such clauses as charging authors if manuscripts have to be retyped or if the press considers it necessary to add frontmatter and backmatter to the manuscript that the author didn’t provide.

Schwagerl was quoted in the article “‘I really feel that this is an affront to independent publishers to try and once again group us in the category of subsidy presses and try to take away the advances the small publishers have made in the industry,’ said Schwegerl. She founded Tsaba House in 2002 and uses a boilerplate contract she bought from self-publishing guru Dan Poynter’s Web site.”

According to the article, RWA president Allison Kelly responded that “if, in its boilerplate contract, a press can charge an author for anything, the organization considers that company to be a subsidy or vanity press, and will not consider its titles for RWA’s award program…. RWA ‘didn’t do anything but apply [our] standards. We limit what we do to non-subsidy, non-vanity’ publishers.”

The feedback to the article on the PW site is full of exclamation points, to say the least. Marion Gropen’s comment stated in part, “The RWA seems to be trying to thin out the field, so that they can handle the number of submissions. That makes sense. It looks like they are assuming that most submissions from vanity or subsidy presses will have very little chance of winning, and can safely be excluded. That makes sense. But what does NOT make sense is their failure to recognize standard language in boilerplate, and their failure to reverse themselves when the error was brought to their attention.”

So let me ask – because I actually don’t know –  is it standard in a contract that fees are charged when a publisher faces retyping a manuscript or adding content? The RWA took a lot of heat for defining non-vanity/non-subsidy publishers, and in the wake of Triskelion’s folding – along with the folding of several other e-pubs, from Venus to Aphrodite’s Apples – it’s not difficult to see why those lines were drawn to begin with (especially after authors faced a long wait through legal and financial filings to find out if they could get their manuscripts back).

Graceful curtsey to Em for the link.


Allison Kelley, RWA Executive Director, contacted me to set the record straight about a few pieces of misinformation in the PW article.

The article regarding Tsaba House and Romance Writers of America contained a factual error. The Tsaba House author referenced in the article was not trying to enter RWA’s RITA contest. She was interested in entering a contest sponsored by an RWA chapter. The rules governing RWA chapter contests are independently determined by each chapter. At no time did the author mention the RITA award when communicating with the RWA office. According to RWA records, the office was not contacted by the author or publisher until February 2008, several months after the RITA entry deadline, which was November 30, 2007.

Well, now that’s a whole other kettle of different! Holy misinformation, there, Batmonkey. What’s up with that?



News, The Link-O-Lator

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    My publisher (Orbit, formerly Warner) can charge me if, for example, I change too much at the page-proofs stage (since resetting the text is expensive).  That’s not “retyping” the manuscript per se, but since I don’t know the exactly contract language Tsaba uses, I can’t say for sure if that’s what it refers to.  I don’t have anything in my contracts about front and back matter.

    Not a romance publisher, of course, but at least it’s a data point.  I’ve never heard of those things being boilerplate, though.

  2. 2
    Jessica Andersen says:

    Ditto the above, for two different RWA-approved romance publishers.  I’ve never heard of it actually being enforced, but it’s in the contract that I’m liable for the $$ if the cost of my page proof changes exceed X% of the typesetting cost.

    Also, I’m pretty sure the ‘approved’ label has now been changed, such that(I think, but could be wrong) an author who has received a certain $$ for a given book is considered ‘published,’ regardless of the publisher.  I’m not sure how that relates to RITA eligibility, though, and I’m not sure whether the ‘published’ label applies to a book for which the author has fronted money (i.e. vanity/subsidy-type presses).  I’m sure someone who knows better than I can correct me and fill in the deets.

  3. 3
    Carrie V. says:

    When any publisher says anything about “charging the author $”, it sends up a red flag. (see Yog’s Law.) 

    While it is standard to charge authors for excessive changes to already typeset manuscripts (this is to discourage us from doing things like deciding at the last minute that the hit man named George really should have been an exotic dancer named Fifi), I haven’t heard of the author having to pay for front and back matter, or retyping.

  4. 4
    phadem says:

    May I ask a dumb question?

    What does “boilerplate” mean in regards to this situation?

    Security word: money33. Thank goodness I’ve got a bit more than that.

  5. 5
    Charlene says:

    Do publishers call typesetting “typing” now? Because I’m not sure why any manuscript would require “retyping”, unless Tsaba House is a computer-free zone.

    And exactly what frontmatter and backmatter are we talking about? Cover blurbs? Indexes?

  6. 6
    Teddypig says:


    It means you bought some canned forms you don’t really understand from this “self-publishing guru”‘s website (Sorta like Amway) who is selling fly-by-night get-rich-quick schemes and now you are dealing with the fallout of a really questionable business decision.

    Quote from the guru…

    “It’s virtually impossible to land a publisher unless you can bring an audience with you. They’re publishing only books that’ll sell based on name recognition, which is why they’re publishing great literature like Madonna’s children’s books and the book supposedly written by Paris Hilton’s dog.”

  7. 7
    Nora Roberts says:

    I have never been charged by my publisher for anything. There’s nothing in my contracts, ever, that allows them to except as stated by others here. If the writer makes over a certain number of changes to an already typeset ms.

  8. 8
    Castiron says:

    Speaking with my knowledge as an employee of a university press (but not as an Official Spokesbeing of said press), I agree with Marie; I believe the only author charges that are in our boilerplate (i.e. the standard contract you get unless you/your agent request otherwise—that clear it up, phadem?) are for author’s alterations at page proofs.  (The contract states that the author is also responsible for all permissions fees, but that money isn’t paid to us; it’s paid to the rightsholder, and if the author isn’t using material that would require permission, then of course it doesn’t apply.)

    We do occasionally add clauses about certain aspects of the manuscript depending on the author’s getting a subsidy—for example, if the author wants a color section that the editor doesn’t think is necessary for the book.  That’s something specific to dirt-poor scholarly publishing, though, and wouldn’t be something you’d expect in fiction publishing.

  9. 9
    AgTigress says:

    I know nothing about fiction manuscripts, but I do know a fair amount about non-fiction contracts and practice over the last 30 years or so from the author’s point of view.  As several people have said, if the author wants to introduce substantial changes at page-proof stage, it has long been normal (both in letterpress days and today, with computer setting) that she will have to pay for them, because major alterations are costly.  This applies to journal articles, too. 
    Copyright and reproduction fees for illustrations vary according to contract;  in some cases, the author has to research her own pics, get the copyright permissions and pay the reproduction fees.  In others, not.
    Front- and endmatter:  these days, even for academic works, most publishers expect the author to do her own index.  If the author wants it done by a professional indexer, then she would have to pay. The author writes the title page and half-title, contents page and any introductions, forewords,  and the like as part of her manuscript, but the editor (employed directly or indirectly by the publisher) usually writes the copyright page at the front and obtains the book’s ISBN number.

  10. 10
    Jane O says:

    I once worked as an editor for an educational publisher who did charge authors for typing when, for example, they turned in a handwritten manuscript. I have no idea how common that is, nor do I have any idea how common it is for an author to be so unprofessional as to submit a handwritten manuscript.

  11. 11

    I don’t know anything about standard/boilerplate contracts, but I do know that my epublisher had to remove a clause from their contracts that allowed them to charge an author for the “reasonable costs of editing” if that author pulled the rights for his/her book less than six months after its release. Honestly, I didn’t find this clause offensive because it seemed to me that they were only charging in the event of what could only be considered breach of contract, but RWA insisted that so long as that clause remained in their contracts, they would be considered a vanity/subsidy publisher. (And if I misrepresented this history in any way, I’m sure someone from CP will come along and smack me upside the head.)

    That said, one of the major “problems” with RWA’s standard vis-a-vis the divide between published and unpublished authors is that there are two different sets of rules. There are author who can enter the RITA because their books are in print (authors whose books are available only in ebook can NOT enter) who are not recognized by RWA as published for PAN (Published Author Network) membership (because they have not met the $1,000 earnings threshold). By the same token, there are plenty of authors who can’t enter the RITA because they are only in ebook who are eligible for PAN membership because they’ve met the earnings threshold.

    It’s a complicated and, in my opinion, inconsistent set of rules

  12. 12
    Nora Roberts says:

    It may seem unfair, or inconsistent, or a double standard, but as someone who judges the RITA nearly every year, I’m not going to sit at my computer and read a book, most especially as a volunteer. I’m just not.

    This may be part of the problem—I don’t know—because I have no doubt I’m far from the only one who would refuse to judge if required to download and read on my comp.

    The logistics of requiring only on e-book writers to print out, bind, send in the printed book seem onerous.

  13. 13

    Nora wrote:
    It may seem unfair, or inconsistent, or a double standard, but as someone who judges the RITA nearly every year, I’m not going to sit at my computer and read a book, most especially as a volunteer. I’m just not.

    I understand that a lot of people don’t like to read books on the computer screen (or on a Kindle or other portable device), but…I strongly believe that’s less and less of an issue simply because we’re all growing more and more accustomed to doing more and more of our reading on the computer. By the time my kids grow up (oldest 10, youngest 6), I expect the vast majority of people’s reading will be done on some sort of screen, rather than on paper.

    That doesn’t mean I think print books are going to disappear—I much prefer reading a paperback to an ebook, although I have to admit I prefer an ebook to a hardback!—but that I think that more and more written material will be delivered by electronic rather than print medium as time goes on. And I will also state unequivocally that I *infinitely* prefer to judge and critique unpublished manuscripts in electronic, rather than printed, form.

    I do understand the problem with regard to RITA jusdges, however, if epublished authors were permitted to have their ebooks print and bound in some fashion, rather than requiring that the book have been issued by the PUBLISHER in print format, the issue of fairness would be significantly diminished. It would obviously increase an author’s costs for entering the RITA, since it would be done at his/her cost, but at least an author would have the OPTION.

  14. 14

    I’m published by Mira, and there is a clause in my contract that I can be charged if I change too much in the proofs stage.  That’s pretty standard.

    HOWEVER… if one of the rules of this contest was that you had to be published by an RWA recognized publisher, then waaah.  It might not be fair, but RWA is a private organization.  No one is forced to belong to it.  If she doesn’t like the policies, she needs to either form her own chapter and make her own contest, or just let her membership lapse and move on.

  15. 15
    Kalen Hughes says:

    The logistics of requiring only on e-book writers to print out, bind, send in the printed book seem onerous.

    The rule used to be that an ebook was eligible for the RITA if it was A) published by an RWA approved publisher and B) said publisher had print copies (ARCs, basically) produced for the contest. Let’s just say that not very many ePubs were willing to do this . . .

    I just heard that one of my local chaptermates had her publisher-produced ARCs and RITA fee returned. She was told that only ebooks which are also available for sale in print form are eligible now.

    I do think there’s something wrong with taking people’s $, telling them they’re “PAN” and then refusing to allow them access to one of the major PAN programs (the RITA). The best solution I can think of is to have a new category just for eBooks (though I know that won’t please everyone either).

    I also wish they’d create subsets of PAN: PAN PRINT and ePAN. The needs of these two groups of published authors simply do not align, at least not from what I’ve seen and heard.

  16. 16
    Kaz Augustin says:

    What about the front and back matter? I thought it was standard, esp. for, say, fantasy authors. For example, what if the publisher wants to include a map of your world and you lag and lag and don’t produce one within the timeframe given. Then, according to this, the publisher can charge you for getting that map done by someone else.

    I don’t think this is a vanity-press clause.

  17. 17
    Kalen Hughes says:

    It looks more like a non-fiction clause to me (in non-fiction the author is usually responsible for creating indexes, etc.). I think the publisher is using a “boilerplate” contract that they don’t understand and that doesn’t suit their business model. Perhaps rather than waste their money suing RWA (who, as a private organization has every right to run their contest any damn way they please), they might spend it consulting someone like Elaine English (who could help them construct a contract that would work for them).

  18. 18
    Tina says:

    Never been charged by a publisher for anything.  Never had a contract that asked me to cover illustrator, cover arts or editing expenses. 

    *Have been yelled at a few times by editors when I go back and make more changes other than what I’ve been asked to revise…but never charged a cent. 

    The only time I ever hand over money to a publisher is when I need books to sell for a convention – then I get a deep discount off the cover price.

  19. 19
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~I understand that a lot of people don’t like to read books on the computer screen~

    I’m not saying I don’t like to. I’m saying I won’t. Absolutely will not.

    Whether or not, some time in the future this will be the only choice—or the preferred—is possible, debatable and yet to be seen.

    But this is now. I want to read a book in bed, in my cozy chair, in the tub. I don’t want to read one where I work all day.

    It’s just a personal preference—and there are a lot of us who have it. Just as there are lots of people who love reading on screen.

    I’m delighted there are e-books, delighted people have a choice. Mine is paper.

  20. 20
    AgTigress says:

    Jane O:  a handwritten manuscript?  Surely you jest!  I would be very surprised to hear that any serious writer had actually submitted a complete book to a publisher in handwritten form since the 1930s.  People certainly used to write their books and theses in longhand, of course, but they would get them typed before submitting them.  Professional typists made a living from that very process;  if the author could not type the text himself, he would have to pay to get it typed – but it would need to be in typewritten form before the publisher would do anything with it.

  21. 21

    My publisher paid for the map in Doppelganger and Warrior and Witch.  I provided them with a scan of the one I’d made for my own use, but they took that to an artist to be turned into something pretty.  I’ve never heard of a fantasy author being charged for maps, glossaries, or anything of that sort.  You make it yourself or the publisher does, but either way you don’t pay for it.

  22. 22
    Emma says:

    This notion that RWA is a “private organization” and can do what it pleases is wrong. RWA is a non-profit, and as such, is required to apply its rules in a consistent fashion and make its benefits uniformly available.

    Are they doing that? When one house is labeled “vanity” for a clause which many other houses also use, is this fair? Is it consistent?

    Not really.

  23. 23
    Livia says:

    I’ve seen contracts from all the big three e-pubs and they all have ‘charge the author’ clauses. If you pull the book after edits, if you change too much after proofing, as well as buyout fees should the book draw the interest of a large press. I think that’s kind of standard. Moreover, doesn’t NY do the same thing? If they give you an advance, but you never deliver, can’t they take the advance back? If it’s money in your pocket, that you then have to pay back, how is that not considered a charge?

  24. 24

    I do think there’s something wrong with taking people’s $, telling them they’re “PAN” and then refusing to allow them access to one of the major PAN programs (the RITA).

    I have to agree. It’s also a little confusing when an author ISN’T PAN, but can participate. The disconnect between the contest programs and the networks bothers me more than anything else.

    I can’t say I’m entirely in agreement with the notion of separating epublished from print authors when it comes to PAN membership, though. Maybe because I have a knee-jerk response to the notion of “separate but equal.” But I do see how the needs of the two groups diverge in places. Perhaps subsets of the overarching PAN group, which authors could CHOOSE to join? That would also accommodate those authors who straddle both media.

  25. 25

    I’ve seen contracts from all the big three e-pubs and they all have ‘charge the author’ clauses. If you pull the book after edits, if you change too much after proofing, as well as buyout fees should the book draw the interest of a large press. I think that’s kind of standard. Moreover, doesn’t NY do the same thing? If they give you an advance, but you never deliver, can’t they take the advance back? If it’s money in your pocket, that you then have to pay back, how is that not considered a charge?

    There’s a difference between charges to the author, and outright breach of contract on the author’s part.  If I never give them my manuscript, I’m failing to uphold my end of what we signed, and am legally liable for the money they gave me.  Agreeing to charges as part of the publication process is not the same thing.

  26. 26
    Jane O says:

    AgTigress- I kid you not. Well, it was a revised edition, so it was only about 20% of the text, but it was all handwritten with arrows all over the place to show what went where. Then there was one new manuscript that was typed but so badly that the first comment from the evaluator I sent it to was:“I can’t believe anyone had the nerve to turn in a manuscript that looks like this.”
    thus69? close, but not quite

  27. 27
    Jim C. Hines says:

    Hard to say without seeing the actual contract.  But like Carrie said up above, the general rule is that money flows from publisher to author, not the other way around.  I’ve got three in print with a major fantasy house, and three more under contract.  They day they send me a bill is the day I look for a new publisher.

  28. 28

    I’ve seen contracts from all the big three e-pubs and they all have ‘charge the author’ clauses. If you pull the book after edits, if you change too much after proofing, as well as buyout fees should the book draw the interest of a large press. I think that’s kind of standard.

    As I understand it, all of the epublishers who want RWA status as non-subsidy/non-vanity have removed those clauses from their contracts. So, it may have been standard in the past, but as of the change in the rules last year, I believe all the major players in the epub market have removed those clauses.

  29. 29

    The fees that make for a vanity or subsidy press, as defined by RWA, are the fees where the author PAYS to have his or her book published. If the author pulls their book from publication, then they are not paying to have their book published. Ditto with being “bought out” by a big pub. (Not that I necessarily agree with either of those fees.)

    I don’t understand why it’s such a big deal that PAN and Rita guidelines are different. There are many people who are members of PAN who are not eligible for the RITA—because they didn’t have books out that year. Now, I do wish that the RITA guidelines allowed for e-published-only books to be entered. If judges can “opt out” (or is it in?) of categories, they can opt out (or in) for e-books as well.

    As far as separating out PAN between epubbed and print pub, I think it’s a slippery slope? The needs of a freshly published category writer with a one book deal and no agent (or a writer who had one category in print ten years ago, but has been out of contract ever since) are VERY different from the needs of a multipublished, agented writer of single titles for three different publishers. And an epublished author can be more similar to either of these print authors than they are to one another.

    I agree with the poster who said take what you need from RWA and leave the rest. I am a member of RWA and three chapters, and a board member of one of my chapters. If they changed the rules tomorrow and said that I wasn’t considered “published” by them because of (insert arbitrary guidelines here—say, because *I don’t write romances for my two RWA recognized publishers, Random House and Harper Collins*) I would STILL be a member of RWA, because the support from my local chapters is fabulous, and I enjoy the meetings and the loops.

  30. 30
    Livia says:

    Then I guess it’s about what’s considered a charge. I’m pretty sure EC and Samhain both charge for frontmatter and backmatter, as well as extra materials like maps and the like. Furthermore, the pre and post items are to be determined by publisher – with no mention in the contract of allowing the author to provide them – but paid at the author’s cost.

    I know there was a bruhaha over the whole vanity press thing, but to be honest, as an outsider looking in it all seemed to me that RWA was trying to keep the small, but reputable, e-published writers from getting into their oh-so-precious club. Which is funny, because like the previous poster said RWA is supposedly non-profit, so I kind of wondered about the legality of that, but again, I’m just an outsider.

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