E-publishing and romance
There’s a lot of conversation going on right now, on various loops and blogs, about the RWA’s new rules for the RITA contest, which require entries to be “mass-produced” and effectively exclude most e-books or books published using POD (print-on-demand) technology.
I don’t really want to get into contest rules nitty-gritty–I know those kind of things are by definition arbitrary, and it’s impossible to make everyone happy. I don’t envy the (hard-working, volunteer!) rule-makers one bit. I’ve heard the RWA leadership has already committed to looking into the issue further, and that’s good. What I do want to blog about is something more general.
As the RWA’s current policies are arranged, an author who publishes a work of fiction (over 20K words) with an e-press (even if that press is on the RWA’s list of Non-Subsidy, Non-Vanity Publishers) is no longer considered unpublished for the purposes of entering the Golden Heart. However, neither is she considered “published” and PAN-eligible unless she can prove earnings of greater than $1000 for that book. And unless her book meets the (vague, undisclosed) definition of “mass-produced in print”, she cannot enter it in the RITA. Basically, an author who chooses to e-publish must do so with the knowledge that she’s forfeiting certain valuable RWA benefits without gaining any new ones. To me, that adds up to an RWA organizational bias against e-publishing. I’m not saying this was the intention, but it’s the de facto effect. And this general bias bothers me, more than any individual fairness concern.
My pollyanna self just wishes RWA, as one big happy organization, would adopt a basic position that e-publishing is good for romance. I’m not talking about any particular e-publishers, nor any specific e-books…just the simple existence of e-publishing as a new, groundbreaking means of distribution, whether it’s used by large or small publishers. I believe it is a good thing, for all of us, for several reasons. Here are a few off the top of my head:
1) New markets. E-books can be purchased anywhere, by anyone with an Internet connection. They bring romance to new readers around the world, thereby increasing and enhancing the audience for our genre as a whole. Good thing.
2) Niche markets. By definition, mass-market publishers just can’t (or won’t) take chances on books targeted to a small, if loyal readership. Small presses and e-publishing give them a home, which gives us authors more outlets for our work and greater creative freedom. Good thing.
3) Innovation. As a corollary to both 1&2, e-publishers can push the boundaries of the genre in ways traditional publishers can’t or won’t. But when these experiments are commercially successful, the NY pubs take note and think twice. E-publishing can be a kind of laboratory for cutting-edge romance, expanding our print markets. Good thing.
4) More royalties. E-publishers typically pay larger royalty percentages (because they don’t pay large advances), but that’s not all I mean here. With e-publishing, a book can stay available for public purchase long after it goes out of print–which means an author can keep making money from it, instead of just watching copies exchange hands at used-book stores and getting no further royalties. Good thing.
5) Oprah. Come on, if Oprah is talking about e-books, you know the masses will follow. Why wouldn’t we want a piece of that?
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want printed books to go away, not at all. And I doubt they will. But e-books are only going to increase in market share. And I think it’s wonderful that we as writers have this new way to reach readers, grow our audience, stay fresh, push the boundaries, and make more money. Whether an individual author chooses to pursue e-publishing or not, the existence of e-publishing is a benefit to the genre as a whole.
At least, I think so. Sometime in the coming week or so, I’ll blog about why I think e-publishing is of benefit to me, as an individual author.