I’m so borrowing your format. What a copycat tool I am!
I think you and I are in agreement that Diane Pershing’s response to Deirdre Knight’s ESPAN letter was a jaw-dropping exercise. I had hoped for a dialogue on digital publishing and the opportunity to see both sides discussing the issue, but wow, did that opportunity get missed. By about ten nautical miles.
However, I disagree with you about RWA. I really hate those falling-on-my-sword pathos-ridden entries that talk about RWA as if it were the most gloriously wonderful group in the world. I like RWA. I give them a LOT of my time. I respect the organization and what it does, and the ways in which it has helped many, many writers become authors. I’m going to try to keep from singing the schmaltzy “Oh, they are so wonnnderful” song, but I do want to defend it. So let me be clear:
My opinion comes from not really belonging there.
I joined RWA a crapload of years ago. It might have been in 1997, but someone from the national office will probably correct me. Back then, I wanted to write romance. I kept trying, too. And holy crap did I suck at it. Writing fiction is so very much harder for me than writing prose, and when I found online journals, and blogging, that was a better outlet for my writing. But I reupped my membership every year. And every year, before I do, I try to write romantic fiction. It occurred to me later that this was a good exercise for me as a reviewer because boy, howdy, damn hell, is that some hard work right there.
Time for that fun disclosure stuff. I started programming the HTML formatting for the eNotes, the bimonthly e-newsletter for the organization, in August 2002. I’m now the editor and have been for about two years. So that’s …holy crap, seven years of volunteering.
Even with that effort, I don’t entirely fit. I do not submit anything I’ve written to editors or agents because, well, I wrote the book I wanted to write. (Didja see the Bosoms?! They’re heaving!) And even though the book is about the romance genre, and features many of the authors signing at the 2009 Literacy Signing, our book, because it is nonfiction, is not eligible for our participation in the Literacy Signing this year (which is why we’re holding a Bitches, Beer and Bosoms signing during happy hour on Thursday of RWA, donating all proceeds to literacy). Based on that alone, you know that I disagree heartily with RWA regularly.
What I want to address are these points of your entry:
Why care what RWA thinks? Why advocate for RWA to change? Why not simply withdraw from the organization. It does nothing but to offer a contents, conventions, and help polishing your first three chapters. I don’t know of one editor who cares whether the submission comes from an RWA member. I don’t know of any reader who cares whether the book is from an RWA member.
In what measurable way does RWA help an author a) sell books or b) become published? There are plenty of ways to meet editors and agents.
I don’t have stats that equate RWA National Conference or Chapter conference attendance with increased sales, and I know that RWA members don’t receive any extra consideration just because they are members. Yes, there are chapters that are stronger than others, and oh, HELL, yes the benefit of membership is often in the chapters and the local or online connections. Yes, there are some bugfuck crazy people. I for one get a hell of an ab workoug when someone forwards me a particularly hilarious bit of bullshit from the PAN loop. Oh, dear God, the BBQ, it is rich with the OMGWTF and a side order of Plotz. Yes, there are moments when I wonder why on earth it’s time once again to figure out who is an author and who isn’t, who is acceptable and who is not, and why it matters so much, why there have to be so many lines of achievement and delineation.
I have no idea why digital publishing is such a tangled issue. Surely there must be a way to educate authors to evaluate a publisher so that legitimate businesses are obvious, and shady, deceitful crazy ones are equally obvious. The present policies and procedures eliminate so many authors and publishers who ought to be considered, just as I know that real business discussions are and have been hampered by ignorant people who advocate for their publisher’s daughter’s Photoshop projects as a good option for all the cover art.
Even with the great and glorious moments of headdeskery over the past few years, there is no other group of writers like RWA, and I’m proud of that. There is no organization I know of wherein multi-bazillion-dollar authors regularly come back to teach, workshop, and aid aspiring authors, particularly not in a genre-specific venue like RWA. There is no bar like the bar at RWA, and no support like the genuine connection between authors who work to help one another to achieve publication. The value of RWA is much like the value of our communities online: the smaller connections between individuals are priceless, even if the larger community is troublesome and fractious sometimes. Both are necessary.
The value of RWA is in those connections – between members, between loop subscribers, between critique partners and between those who’ve done it before decoding the confusing as hell process for those just starting out. It’s in the programs and educational seminars offered by the chapters each month, and in the national assembly of the members – who, thanks to the internet, are more connected than ever. The policies don’t make RWA valuable – and this particular set of policies undermine its value, I think – but the people within RWA do increase its worth. Those connections are immeasurably valuable.
Sitting on my mountain of support for RWA as a national and local organization, I absolutely agree with you: it’s time to change, and more specifically, to include and educate. If that means some writers change their allegiance to another organization, I can understand that entirely. But it’s a long way down my mountain and I’m invested in RWA personally a little too much to stop for now. Seeing such an important issue handled with division and exclusion makes me sad, and angry. Even if there are fears about some of the digital publishers that exist now, digital publishing needs to be included. And members of RWA need to be openly and frankly educated about the business model therein, how it is different, how it works, and how the risk plays out for authors and publishers. Not everything about digital publishing is bad, any more than every part of New York print publishing is good.
I wish I could run for the board, because this year I absolutely would, as Region I Director or Random Pain in the Ass At Large. I think the time has come for digital publishing and their business within the romance genre to be included in RWA. I may not be the best person to represent that opinion, and the book I’ve published does not make me eligible for board candidacy any more than it qualifies me for the Literacy signing. But RWA is too valuable to be without strong digital publishing education and advocacy within it.
If I could, I would. So if someone out there is pissed off, I urge you to run. There’s two ways to make a change: storm the castle or sneak up the stairs. If you’re already in, run up the stairs. I’m right behind you, even if this isn’t exactly the right tower for me.
However, J, I’m pleased to have the discussion with you and everyone else. There has to be a solution somewhere. I bet we can find it.
Yours in Bitchin’,