Tsaba vs. RWA: Round II - Electric What the Hell Are You Talking About?

The Tsaba/RWA saga continues, as the Publishers Weekly daily newsletter (special note to PW: OMFG FIX YOUR SERVER it is the slowest damn thing) features a new article by Claire Kirch titled TSABA vs. RWA: Round 2.

Following the March 13 PW report that Tsaba house was considering legal action in response to RWA’s policy as to what is a vanity or subsidy publisher, Tsaba’s contract and the RWA contest rules and policies continue to attract attention. Tsaba’s contract, which they downloaded from the Poynter.com website, lists specific incidences under which an author may be charged a fee. RWA has said it considers Tsaba to be a vanity publisher because of that section in the contract which “contains clauses concerning author chargebacks.”

Tsaba busted out the D word and the L word, alleging that RWA discriminates against small presses by barring their authors from competing in the RITA competition, and, as per the original article, “is considering taking legal action against the Romance Writers of America for refusing to consider one of the small California press’s authors.”

RWA’s policy manual defines a subsidy publisher as “any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs of production in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution.”

Pam Schwagerl, the “Tsaba Housse” (sic) Publisher (Note to PW: your server is slow and your article has typos), says that, “They are simply using [their policy] as a tactic to keep a small press from submitting contest entries. It also looks to me like they are trying to control the outcome of who wins by who they allow in the contest.”

Minneapolis attorney David Koehser weighs in (no explanation as to why, nor any mention whether he’s representing anyone involved) and says that Tsaba’s clauses are “fairly common:”

They’re in most of my contracts. The author has to submit a manuscript suitable to the publisher, and is obligated to provide supplementary material. This is not considered to be a subsidy arrangement. This does not convert [a press] into a subsidy publisher.

Discussions following our original entry about the story speak to the contrary.

Following the publication of the original PW article, RWA published a response on their website in the members-only section which clarified the circumstances of Schwagerl’s claims, stating that the author in question had sought to enter a chapter contest, the rules of which are not determined by RWA National but by the individual chapters themselves. Schwagerl confirmed that the author, Molly Noble Bull, “had been informed she could not enter the contests until Tsaba House proved to RWA’s national leadership’s satisfaction that they were not a subsidy publisher.”

Schwagerl maintains that RWA is not addressing the issue of labeling Tsaba House as a subsidy press, while according to the lastest article from PW, Allison Kelley, RWA Executive Director, has said that if Tsaba house would amend their “their boilerplate contract, RWA would ‘be happy’ to reconsider their decision.”

Schwagerl, who has already sent a letter to RWA threatening to seek an injunction forcing the organization to allow Bull’s novel to be entered in the RITA contest (although this year’s deadline has passed, and finalists will be announced March 26), is now consulting an attorney, before making her next step.

When asked if she would consider amending her boilerplate contract in accordance with RWA’s standards, Schwagerl refused. “I feel strongly that they should have no say in what is in my contracts with my authors or to re-define for the industry what a subsidy press is or isn’t,” Schwagerl said.

Ok. The last two paragraphs just dumbfound me.

Translated into 13-year-old-girl speak, she says, “You are so going to read my books despite the rules that a few hundred other authors and their publishers already obeyed, and I’m going to MAKE YOU. And I won’t change what my contract says because my best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with a girl who downloaded my contract for me from 31 Flavors last night.”

At what point do this reach minor star status in this cluster galaxy of wtf? I mean, like it or not, RWA can define vanity and subsidy however the crapping damn they want to. It’s their right. And they don’t have to open their contest to anyone and everyone. Again, that’s their right. They are a writer’s organization, and their policies are at the behest and on behalf of the membership, as are their contests. And the RWA chapters who run their own contests can do whatever THEY want, and if they want to accept works published by authors who do not appear on the RWA non-van/non-sub list, they can do that if they want to.

But the whole “you don’t like small presses and you’re meeeeean” crap just irritates me, particularly because there are more than a few small presses on the RWA list, including Genesis Press, Loveland Press, and others. But what burns my toast a bit is the idea that no matter what RWA does, someone’s going to stamp feet and say “UNFAIR!”  Which is it? Should RWA welcome any and all publishers, despite the mounting number of small ePubs who folded after exhibiting the business sense of a drunken barnacle, or should RWA be as cautious as possible because of all those small houses who exhibited said level of business acumen prior to folding and taking their author’s manuscripts with them?

Personally, having seen the fallout as a bystander, I’m for the latter. Yes, it sucks, and yes, some majestically awesome ePubs and small presses are left out, and yes ePubbing and small publication houses are entirely a legitimate enterprise and rock my athletic socks, but I personally think the reasons RWA drew those lines in the sand (and to my understanding they can move them if they wish, hence the sand, which I assume is literal, because that would be awesome) is because members needed protection from contracts that were fishy like drunken barnacles and for every legitimate and savvy small press out there, there were five more giving the entire enterprise a bad name. Thus the tossing of words like “discrimination” and “injunction” around with wanton abandon and insisting her author be permitted to participate in a contest that is about to announce its finalist slate, completely undermines Schwagerl’s argument, furthers the reputation that small presses fight against, and only strengthens RWA’s position.

 

 

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Barb Ferrer says:

    “It also looks to me like they are trying to control the outcome of who wins by who they allow in the contest.”

    *reads, blinks, reads again*

    *falls over laughing*

  2. 2
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Actually, now that I’ve quick laughing hysterically, this one other bit stands out for me:

    Schwagerl, who has already sent a letter to RWA threatening to seek an injunction forcing the organization to allow Bull’s novel to be entered in the RITA contest (although this year’s deadline has passed, and finalists will be announced March 26), is now consulting an attorney, before making her next step.

    Unless Bull’s novel has a copyright date of 2008 (and if it’s Sanctuary, then it was published in September ‘07), she’s going to be SOL for next year’s RITA so why bother seeking an injunction?  One would think Ms. Schwagerl would acquaint herself with the rules with respect to the RITA before she goes throwing words like “injunction” around.

  3. 3
    Jody W. says:

    Unless, of course, the PW article has facts wrong AGAIN and the injunction threat letter addressed the contests the author originally wanted to enter. Nowhere in the PW articles or RWA quotes does it say anything about the author already having finaled in the not-RITA contests and getting the ignominous boot thereafter, information that turned up in the prior thread. Hm.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    But if that’s the case, the injunction wouldn’t have any effect addressed to RWA national. In my understanding, RWA national has no say over what chapter contests do, and such an action wouldn’t accomplish much.

  5. 5
    Julie Leto says:

    My chapter has a contest.  It’s for unpublished writers.  Does that mean I should sue because I can’t enter?

    Give me a frickin’ break.

    This publisher and this author need to get over themselves.

  6. 6
    Bernita says:

    Why do I have this image of a crazed stalker woman climbing on a balcony, screaming and banging on the window.

  7. 7
    Jane says:

    The Poytner contract is also used by New Concepts Publishing and does not include the word “exclusive” when referencing rights.  I suppose I should download the darn thing.  It’s a whole 9.95.

    Maybe Tsaba House should have hired a lawyer to look at the contract instead of looking into hiring a lawyer to press for an injunction.  I mean, why spend thousands of dollars (probably in the 5 figures if you are getting anyone any good) to pursue an injunction that is not likely to succeed.

  8. 8
    Eirin says:

    “I feel strongly that they should have no say in what is in my contracts with my authors or to re-define for the industry what a subsidy press is or isn’t,” Schwagerl said.

    Which part of Organisation for Writers does she not understand?
    Publishers’ Interest Organisation is spelled quite differently.

  9. 9
    Kismet says:

    I held back from commenting during the first discussion, but this as SB Sarah said “really burns my toast”.

    Very mature and christian-like reaction Tsaba House. Good job living up to your mission statement. Now why don’t you go sulk like a teenager. “But RWA….they are sooo mean”.

    There are RULES for all competition,and they are there for a reason. I cannot compete in certain levels of my chosen sport, because I teach a few lessons and make a grand total of 50 bucks a week. But, guess what, that makes me a pro. The competition org wont let me compete in an Amateur competition… OH NO, They are so mean.

    Plan45: Yes, my plan is to eventually stop teaching and get my Ammy status back. Is this thing supposed to be like a magic 8 ball or something?

  10. 10
    Lorelie says:

    I mean, like it or not, RWA can define vanity and subsidy however the crapping damn they want to. It’s their right. And they don’t have to open their contest to anyone and everyone. Again, that’s their right.

    I’m from California.  I love California.  I might move back there someday if I ever get rich and can talk my husband into it.

    But unfortunately the belief that everyone should get to play in the sandbox, no matter what sandbox or who owns it or what rules were initially set up, seems to be the prevailing ideology.  “That’s not fair!” is a battle cry often heard.

  11. 11
    Liv says:

    Anyone else get a kick out of the irony of the woman who is strongly opposed to the RWA telling her what to put into her contracts having no compunction about seeking an injunction to force the RWA to accept her/her author’s submission? Saying, in essence, you can’t tell me how to do my contracts, but I can tell you how to run your contests.

    And, really, she’s right.  She in no way has to word her contracts in a way that is acceptable to the RWA.  She just can’t enter submissions into their contests in that case.

  12. 12
    Teddypig says:

    David W. Koehser
    Member of…
    Midwest Independent Publishers Association

    Seems the roster includes…

    Brown Recluse Books

    Would you like to know more?

  13. 13
    Qadesh says:

    *smile*

    TP, you have to ask?

    And just a side question, does PW have a beef with RWA?  Why is it they can’t get someone to write a properly investigated article?  Just curious.

  14. 14
    Gail Dayton says:

    “They are simply using [their policy] as a tactic to keep a small press from submitting contest entries.

    So why did I read at least 4 small press books amongst the 11 RITA contest entries I read? (Can I say that much about them?)

    Other authors from other small presses can enter because those other small presses have different contracts. That doesn’t make them not small presses.

  15. 15
    michelle says:

    How can you scream and cry and force your way into making people honor you? Seriously? This is like asking someone on a date, and then when they say they have a girlfriend already, sorry, fire-bombing their house. And then asking them out again. “Oh, i know we got here in a bad, ugly way. But wouldn’t you just like to forget all that and make me a lovely golden statue?”

  16. 16
    Barb Ferrer says:

    Dang, Gail, you totally reminded me, I had a small press book too, in my RITA entries.  And Teddy, “Brown Recluse Books?”  For real?  I mean, I know you posted it as a link, but I’m a’skeered to look.

  17. 17
    Teddypig says:

    The linky goes to a rather interesting discussion on Absolute Write.

    GASP! Imagine that?

  18. 18
    Julie Leto says:

    I, too, had a small press book among my entries.  And I had a book that was probably NOT a small press book, but came from a relatively new print publisher.

  19. 19
    DianeH says:

    I really like that RWA watches out for writers, by alerting writers to companies that want your writing *and* your money (all or part). 

    Seriously, I want to be paid for my writing. If I’m going to pay money to get my writing published, I’d better damn-well own the company.

    And I say that having co-owned a small press (back in the day) that paid other writers for *their* writing.  And when we lost money, we lost our OWN money.  And boy did we lose money….

      But the writers?  Nope, they did not give us their writing AND assume the financial expenses, risks, and burdens therein.  Them = writers.  Us = publishers.

    So, I see RWA’s list as an alert system.  It doesn’t say NO YOU MAY NEVER PUBLISH WITH THESE PUBLISHERS. It just says that as a writers’ advocate group, we advocate for writers making a living (try not to snort as the fantasy lives on) from their writing.

    It’s hard to make a living from your writing if you also have to pay to have it published.

    Imagine working for IBM and having to pay part of the costs of the IBM business.  YOU PAID = $50,000/yr   YOU PAY THEM = $49,387/yr for the honor and to defray costs.  (Don’t you just love my specific amount.  I’m inspired.)

    Imagine anyone saying yes to this?

    Imagine them living with you because they can not afford rent?

    Imagine them charging you to read your writing because they are bored while living with you…?

    And suddenly, you think it is a good idea to pay this guest.  “Eureka!” you think.  “I shall writer and pay to have others read it.  I am brilliant.”

    Somewhere, an angel slaps her forehead.

    Cough, cough, sputter.

  20. 20

    This woman is a lunatic, and if I were an author who’d signed a contract with her company I would be frantically trying to find a way to sever that relationship. This isn’t a freaking high school dance committee; it’s a professional organization for writers and they have a right to set whatever type of criteria they want. You don’t like it? Go form your own group and start your own contest there.

    Oooh stuff like this makes me mad.

  21. 21
    Lauren Dane says:

    There’s a difference between unfair standards and you know, actual standards. There are times when I believe the RWA is unnecessarily narrowminded when it comes to certain things. Not in this case, however.

    Contracts with fees for authors are not good for authors no matter the size of the publisher. As a professional organization, it’s the RWA’s responsibility to protect authors with standards like the one defining vanity publishers.

    This isn’t about all small publishers at all. It’s about fair contracts and frankly I wish the RWA addressed that issue far more often. If this author wants to enter the RITA, there are plenty of small presses who are RITA eligible.

  22. 22
    veinglory says:

    When I first heard PW was doing an article on RWA definitions I hoped it might be a thoughtful analysis looking at a range of publishers and a range of industry definitions.

    It isn’t.  If anything this whole tea-cup tempest just justifies RWA taking a conservative and defensive stance because [rampant over generalisation]small presses are clearly batshit crazy [/rampant over generalisation]

  23. 23
    Nora Roberts says:

    ~“They are simply using [their policy] as a tactic to keep a small press from submitting contest entries. It also looks to me like they are trying to control the outcome of who wins by who they allow in the contest.” ~

    Comes off as bollocks to me. Arrogant and whiny bollocks.

    Read. The. Rules. Sister.

  24. 24
    Teddypig says:

    When I first heard PW was doing an article on RWA definitions I hoped it might be a thoughtful analysis

    This!

    So far this is making RWA decisions look relatively sane. This would be impressive in an awe inspiringly evil move if they actually paid for this article.

  25. 25
    Nora Roberts says:

    When did PW get so sloppy? Bad fact-checking yesterday, and all these typos.

    I’m a big fan of PW, and this surprises me.

  26. 26
    Adler says:

    Yeah, TP, that struck me too.  Anybody else think that Tsaba might be operating under the “any publicity is good publicity” theory of marketing?  I mention that in part because their arguments aren’t making a heck of a lot of sense, and it’s too depressing to think that they might be serious; and also because any small press, whether legit or not, must naturally be looking to expand its customer base.  Pissing off the RWA might be a decent way to do that. 

    But I’m just a cynic . . .

  27. 27
    EJ McKenna says:

    This is a really interesting topic, and everyone’s pretty much summed up my reaction/astonishment.

    I’m going to the bank for a loan today*. Maybe I’ll throw a wobbling great tantrum and see how it goes. I’ll report back on the results! :-)

    Love Ebs

    *this is of course complete bollocks.

  28. 28
    Bernita says:

    Adler, I think it likely this is as much for publicity as anything.

  29. 29
    annanickle says:

    Ãœbber off topic…

    Apparently I am having a brain fart; the clue that this is indeed the case comes from my inability to get my DA BWAHA picks posted and in the listings. I must be missing a step somewhere (smartness betrays the bitch).

    Would one of you good Bitches help supply an, er, blow-by-blow “how to”?

  30. 30
    annanickle says:

    Aaaand the brain fart continues…

    please, imagine my request ended with the words “thanks all in advance!”

    it’s got to be the brain suck that is finals week…its just gotta….

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