When I joined RWA I was a mildly successful multi-published author of gay romance. I made pan with my first paycheck, but that was long before I understood what RWA was, so I didn’t bother joining for a while.
At that point I’d signed with an agent who loved my m/m books but did not think we could sell one to the Big 6. She had no books to flog to the big six because I was happy writing m/m and didn’t send her anything. (Although when I finally did send her a book, it got snapped up by a big six publisher within about a month because they’d been waiting for it, they said… Trial balloon, they said… Testing the market… they said.)
The market had apparently changed…
I think Lex Valentine talked me into RWA. Or someone. No one there read what we wrote when we joined. Pan met in this tiny room and the people who were already there were mostly Harlequin authors. Several stopped coming a year or two in, and I got the idea it was because they couldn’t be bothered with us noobs. So, yeah. Probably what was said online is true. There were a few people who left after complaining that pan had turned into something different than what they liked. They felt their group had been “invaded” by self-published authors. Maybe they just moved but I haven’t seen one or two of the more vocal ones for a long time.
They seemed nice. But they believed independent presses were all vanity publishers. They couldn’t wrap their mind around the fact that we were writing niche books and making tons more money per book than they were with ebooks–not real books but “ebooks”. Of course it didn’t last.
The things they pointed out about our publishers, low overhead, fly-by-night operations, publishers who know nothing about the business opening and closing right and left–even piracy were driving this little publishing bubble.
Technology, was driving this.
It must have seemed terribly unfair. They were in a closed system, like Tupperware, where you paid your dues and you worked hard, and great writers shared how they wrote their books and maybe one day it would happen to you. But there was this feeling you had to earn your way up through the ranks, right? And there was this other feeling “it happens” from outside of the group, you were picked, that I think is sketchy.
It doesn’t happen automatically. WE made it happen outside of RWA, so WTF?
And to them we weren’t even real writers, and those weren’t even books, because you had to read them on a computer. And like the talkies, those would never last.
Plus, to go with my Tupperware analogy, you can buy food keepers that aren’t Tupperware, but nothing is as good, right? It’s got that Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and we all know, WE KNOW, because we all have lids and bowls that don’t go together anymore that belonged to our grandmothers–they really do last for fucking ever. Unless you left them on the burner, they’re pristine. They’ve withstood the test of time…
But some of us like glass with a silicone lid, now, thank you.
Traditional publishing had been around forever. And only the very best of traditional stories could get in. Those old bodice rippers were written very well. And we’ve even stopped that super-problematic “love at first rape thing.”
Tupperware. Excellent product. No doubt about it.
But some of us don’t want to have to attend parties to buy shit for our kitchen. And some of us have a nostalgic longing for the square glass container our grandmother used with its homemade nylon elastacized lid because she couldn’t afford Tupperware.
But Tupperware’s the best, and as soon as we got married, I had my first Tupperware party because that’s what you do.
That’s a brand bias, folks. And you didn’t get it from a toilet seat, you got it from TUPPERWARE. They told you it was the best. And you bought it, and it turned out they were right. Tupperware makes the best plastic food saver. But have you tried those new rectangular glass containers with silicone lids? Just like Oma’s but perfectly sealed. Freezer to microwave to oven. Non-porous. Scrub it with steel wool, and nothing bad happens until you drop it, but I don’t even mind that. I like glass. Just saying…
Like Amway, Tupperware, Princess House, and whatever–RWA felt like multi-level marketing because at one point, it was multi-level marketing.
But the “each one teach one” model of romance has been exploded. This brings new problems. Not everyone wants to read the same book over and over, yet, we must never walk away from or denigrate those who do. There are marvelous stories everywhere, and we should make sure as many of them can get read as possible. You know what this mean? Huzzah, we can all find an audience.
And hey, if you don’t want to teach the noobs, no harm no foul. If RWA isn’t giving you what you need? Move on! OMG, there’s so much out there to learn, be and do; no one has to argue about it, Just move on. I’m pretty sure when I’m in the very well-made shoes of the artists complaining about RWA’s inclusion of noobs and other people they see as dead weight, I hope I’ll be busy enjoying my success too.
And, I hope I’ll give back. I think I will.
Romance as a genre has been exploded. And you’re not putting that genie back in the bottle, folks. Consumer cash dollars are out there waiting for stories that would never have flown in my early RWA days. And that’s good for EVERYONE.
If you could make Genie go back in her bottle, it’d be like saying, NOPE. We don’t want a pain reliever that works, or my old flat rock is fine for making pancakes even though I hate waiting for the sun to shine on it, or medical marijuana may ameliorate the agony of epilepsy and many other medical conditions, but we can do no testing on it because Jeff Sessions watched Reefer Madness on a rainy day in sixth grade and…
Okay back to writing. Most writers are writers and writers normally welcome other writers. And in RWA I’d say it fell well beyond the usual 80/20 rule–maybe 98% of the people I met were extremely welcoming because they saw me as a writer.
That’s the most important part of what I want to say here! In my own words. On my own page, and not in a forum where I’m arguing with my virtual siblings.
MOST OF RWA was extremely welcoming. I felt particularly welcomed by inspirational writer Charlotte Lobb, who turned out to be the kindest, funniest, most welcoming, loveliest person I have ever known, may she rest in peace. She welcomed all of us with an open heart, even if we wrote works she considered terribly racy.
And that’s the reason RWA exists.
We (and by this I mean the upstarts who changed things) are where are now, a lot of us, because back then we were simply technologically savvy. We leveraged that power, the ability to use a home computer– which, even back in the late 2000’s was not the chicken in every pot that it is now–to educate ourselves about publishing outside of what RWA offered us.
WE found opportunities: to join other like-minded writers in the search for craft, and commerce and excellence and avenues at which we could sell our work outside of traditional publishing.
And as WE flung ourselves into RWA, we shared this knowledge, y’all. I’ve walked people through upgrading websites, navigating the web, writing electronic queries, formatting, marketing. These were what I shared with the MS. and MR. Whomevers of RWA who weren’t tech savvy. They were enriched by MY presence there, even though I am not a NYT bestselling author — YET.
I happened to be interested in the Gay Romance genre. I could have just as easily been interested in het romance or werewolf stories, or science fiction fantasy. I found a niche that fed my spirit. And I found both writers and readers in that niche and I learned from my peers. (Many thanks to the many people I don’t have space to name here. Simply look at my Facebook friends list. I have learned from every one of you.)
Those highly intelligent, articulate, and motivated men and women who were already in RWA, who were welcoming, saw us not as upstarts or as radical outliers. They saw us as people they could learn from. They saw us as having taken the NEXT evolutionary step in publishing and they came to us and they picked our brains and they won big, because they learned they could go around the gatekeepers too.
Harlequin authors were already in the process of suing for their backlist, so they could put them out and make more money. I know many writers who got their books back from HQN and started self-pubbing those books. They learned they could change the world too, even if they remained in traditional publishing, they started to see they had options.
They said, I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” They said, exactly as we were saying by joining them, “I want to do more, earn more, have more power…”
Together, we did.
It is only ever those who believe that what others are doing will somehow cost them, who balk at progress. There’s a good reason to fear electric lighting, if you’re a candlemaker. But you’re not. Those with a perceived monopoly fear progress in something that will take away their business.
At RWA we all write love stories. There is no logical comparison to be made here.
It is only ever those who believe intrinsically that there is never enough stuff to go around, that someone has to lose every time someone else wins, who don’t view the next big thing as a “possible” qualified positive. Positive, and in all likelihood–if I take the time and trouble to learn something new–possibly life changing and good for me as well.
To this I would add that KU is the opposite of a zero sum game. While it looks like these people make huge bounties, that is a reward system, and there’s a finite reward, and when someone gets more, someone gets less, the very definition of a zero sum game.
The $120,000 bounty someone makes by having the most normalized pages read or whatever there, at KU, is most definitely a reward, like a jackpot in gambling, for lever pressing the right number of times. It isn’t random. But it isn’t sales. It doesn’t adequately reflect a book’s quality, except as related to other books at that same price point for the reader: FREE. (or more precisely, whatever it costs a reader to pay for the service, divided by the cost of all the books they read per month.)
And while I’d love to have it, the money folks get in KU bounties does not affect my sales. There is a different system at work there. It’s like VEGAS. Amazon’s model is the model of FEEDING CATFISH in order to see what catfish will eat if they stop.
We must not eat our own for the possibility of the JACKPOT.
Also irrational, is to kill the winner. They did nothing wrong, unless they did something venal and selfish or illegal or they hurt someone in order to win.
This is the most important part:
The game will end, and we’ll all still be here, either licking our chops or thin and weak from hunger but we are all still writers who only want to sell our stories and if I see you as venal because you stepped on me to get where you wanted to go, do you think I’m not going to remember that?
What’s important to YOU?
To me, success, money, power will always take a backseat to the value of people. What I get out of this business–out of writing–is being available, being known, making my heart utterly transparent, to other people. Why else would I write what’s in it down and share it?
Publishing, like life, “is not a zero sum game.” Many have said this, but I have to give Heidi Cullinan first credit I think, for use in this context. I believe winners win despite external circumstances.
Losers have a losing mindset. They see inevitable changes, and they worry their efficacy is fading and inevitably, their first instinct is to DESTROY those things and people and ideas that come along to change the status quo. They never learn. They assume they have to fight to keep the status quo, EVERY TIME. They assume the status quo is safe, and the future uncertain.
Why can’t we learn? This isn’t just playing out on the backdrop of RWA.
RWA is a microcosm of a much larger world. Yes. The next generation will be more nimble. They’ll know more, They’ll do better. If you want to keep yourself relevant, you’ve got to keep moving, keep learning, do more, be more.
Not crush what’s next. That’s for idiots. Progress is an oncoming tank, and you only stand in front of those if you’re willing to die. Publishing’s not the tank I’m standing in front of because I’m standing in front of a much bigger one somewhere else.
I would caution that attempting to suppress the march of progress is often where we find the bottlenecks in evolution. The wars. The pain. The plagues. The mass extinctions.
Those people who welcomed my crowd to RWA did not say, “You must stay away because we’ve got it good here, and you’re RUINING EVERYTHING FOR ALL OF US.”
They did not say, we don’t want more money, more exposure, more free time, more cash for writing the stories of our hearts.
They said, “NO, I no longer wish to work in a system where my value is calculated by the sales of my last book and not by my last ninety books.”
This is human evolution… READ IT AND WEEP, oh ye stuck folks, ye purveyors of telegraphs! As soon as the telephone comes along we’ll all be “Blessing your hearts,” behind your backs.
Wake Up NOW. While you’re still on the party line. #MyRWA