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RWA Eliminates Eligible Publisher Designation & Moves to Invite Status for...

According to an RWA Hot Sheet, RWA has changed the way that it will recognize publishers and authors.

Taking into account emerging trends in publishing that may offer opportunities to writers, the task force recommended that RWA adopt methods used by other trade shows and conventions and to shift its method of evaluating publishers as a whole to evaluating publishers by divisions, imprints, or lines.

Under this revised method, RWA will extend invitations to a wide pool of publishers. Invitees may only represent their non-subsidy/non-vanity publishing programs (imprints, divisions, or lines) at RWA's conference. Space for spotlights, workshops, and booksignings will be allocated to lines, imprints, or divisions that best meet the requirements for "Qualifying Markets." This new process of evaluation will likely increase opportunities for small presses and e-presses that previously have been excluded.


The Board amended the definition of subsidy/vanity to read: "Subsidy" or "Vanity" publishing means the production of books in which the author participates in the costs of production or distribution in any manner, including assessment of fees or other costs for editing and/or distribution. This definition includes publishing programs that withhold or seek full or partial payment or reimbursement of publication or distribution costs before paying royalties, including payment of paper, printing, binding, production, sales or marketing costs; publishing programs whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books; and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and associates.


Based upon the recommendation of the task force, RWA will no longer designate publishers as "RWA Eligible." Instead, RWA will have a conference allocation system to identify "Qualifying Markets," which must be a non-vanity/non-subsidy publisher or a non-vanity/non-subsidy division, imprint or line of a publisher.

Since RWA will no longer have a classification for Eligible Publisher, the Board approved definitions for "Eligible Novel" and "Eligible Novella" based on the non-subsidy/non-vanity production of these works. This change will allow members to qualify for PAN, participate in Romance Sells and trade shows, report first sales in the RWR, and receive a "First Sale" ribbon at conference as long as the terms of the definition are met. Because policy prohibits the changing of contest rules while the contests are in progress, the Board will address the eligibility requirements for the RITA contest during the July Board meeting and will continue to work diligently to address the issue to reach a fair and equitable solution that will benefit our members without compromising RWA's mission to support the professional interests of career-focused romance writers. Policy provisions regarding entry into PRO will be addressed at the March Board meeting.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 13:53:09

    Oh, for fuck’s sake. In other words, RWA is bending over for Harlequin, and can no longer be bothered to even attempt to give its members useful advice re publishers.

  2. Ridley
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 13:53:51

    Seems a lot like Courtney Milan’s idea.

    Sounds sensible to me. I’d like to see some of my favorite Samhain authors up for a Rita.

  3. tricia
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:17:09

    Dude. I didn’t even *get* my Hot Sheet yet.

  4. Jane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:17:09

    @Ridley: It does sound a lot like Courtney’s solution.

  5. jmc
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:21:48

    JFC, why can’t RWA just admit that they are making this change in order to keep HQN present at the National Conference (and many of their authors eligible for RITAs)? This change reaks of desperation. It’s pitiable that rather than legitimately re-evaluate their definitions of vanity presses, subsidized presses, epublishers, and small publishers that don’t give advances of $1,000 or more, they are wibbling and weaseling around.

    I have little respect for RWA to begin with, and this diminishes it more.

  6. Elyssa Papa
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:30:54

    Not surprised by this decision at all. I’m glad that HQN authors, who are members of RWA, are going to be recognized by RWA.

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  8. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:54:44

    I’m going to have to give this a good long think. Off the cuff, I’m not best pleased . . .

  9. Liz
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:02:46

    That irks me. I may be interpreting it incorrectly, but it sounds like RWA’s new official stance is “any deal is a good deal” which isn’t always the case. Vanity publishing isn’t the only way to screw an author out of her money and rights, and a “first sale” ribbon is sure to be little consolation if you sell your rights in perpetuity to a fly-by-night operation that offers no advance and closes up shop before year’s end. I’m not trying to be cynical or anything, but this chorus of “I’m OK, You’re OK” makes me wonder if RWA really has lost touch with the fact that it’s a writers’ organization, not a publisher’s marketing tool.

  10. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:07:00

    Still not sure where that leaves people like me who pay all costs and reap all profits (i.e., NOT royalties), without using a service.

    On one hand, I do pay for everything. On the other hand, no one withholds payment from me, so I’m kinda stuck in the middle there.

  11. Ridley
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:11:17


    I think that all depends on how they define “Qualifying Markets.”

  12. Denise
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:28:07

    Interesting wording in that they use “publishing program” instead of “publisher.” Some third party distributors like Fictionwise withhold payment to the publisher until they make a minimum amount off a title. With RWA’s use of “publishing program,” does that make publishers who have this kind of deal with TPDs subsidy/vanity publishers?

  13. Jody W.
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:33:02

    @Denise: Do all publishers not have the same deal with Fictionwise et al? Does FW withhold the $ paid to publishers until the fee is paid (is it $15 per book)? So is it the publisher withholding from the author or the TPD? Hm.

  14. Scarlet
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:53:21

    Holy backtracking, Batman!

  15. Denise
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:17:29

    @Jody W.: I wish I could answer that for you, Jody, but I only publish with one press and know their setup with FW, so I can’t say what is in place between FW and other publishers. But I’d be very interested in finding out.

    As for who is withholding the money, that’s the clicker for me because RWA doesn’t say “publisher”; it says “publishing program” which seems to not only net in the publisher but the TPD as well.

  16. Courtney Milan
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:27:00

    Most of the heavy lifting here is going to be done by the words “qualifying market.” Until we see the criteria for that, I think it’s too early to start griping about bending over and/or not giving in enough.

    I like that:
    * it decouples the authors’ benefits from the publishing house, so long as a minimum standard is reached
    * it decouples lines from lines, allowing publishers to innovate and experiment (even if we don’t like the innovation or the experimentation)
    * it has the potential to allow publishing houses in the doors at conference, which have been excluded up until now.

    This could be a very good thing.

  17. Courtney Milan
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:31:54


    I’m sure that once we see actual language in the Policy & Procedure Manual, it will be more clear, but I read “publishing program” in the hot sheet in line with the earlier statement that they will be giving invitations to lines and imprints, not publishers. Thus, “publishing program” probably means “a line or an imprint or some other division.”

    How the publisher gets paid by its accounts is probably not going to be at issue.

  18. Courtney Milan
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:35:43

    And one last thing–I want to disclaim any credit, express or implied. This solution is much, much more nuanced then the one I expressed, and (confession time) I was going to write up what I thought & send it to the Board, but things have been so crazy–and the comments gave me so much to think about, which I never did resolve–I never did send the e-mail.

    Any likeness between the two is coincidental.

  19. Arwen
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:47:18

    I just looked up three other writer groups terms and two out of three of them use “Qualifying Market”. Those are the Science Fiction Writers of American and NINC. Mystery Writers of America uses approved. Only one of those three specifically mentions electronic publishing. As an e-published author with a publisher with a proven track record (EC), I think this RWA announcement is an interesting one.

    I’ll withhold any other comments for when RWA releases their definition of “qualifying market” because, as Courtney Milan points out, that will be what does the “heavy lifting.” Great analogy, Courtney.

    This is, in my opinion, clearly a win for the big guns of Harlequin. And subsequently, an answer to an ongoing demand for equality with RWA from those of us who are e-published.

  20. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:58:17

    @Courtney Milan:

    I do approve of decoupling author benefits from publishing houses, yes (to some degree). I’m very, truly happy for the HQ authors who will (presumably) be eligible for the RITA again. And I agree that the “Qualifying Market” designation *could* turn out to be worthwhile.

    The problem is, given that it’s RWA I doubt it will be, and I am totally disgusted by their continuing backtracking and refusal to give their members any worth for their money aside from an increasingly lame magazine and an increasingly laissez-faire attitude towards educating their members about publishing, or giving them any sort of useful tools toward planning and growing their careers.

    They’ve backed down here, thus proving to publishers that they are not in any way a force to be reckoned with, and that they will change their bylaws in accordance with publisher demands. What happens next time they want to step into a contract dispute, such as the HQ pen name thing however long ago? The publisher in question will say, “Oh, right. You caved before, so go screw yourself. Bye now!”

    Maybe I’m paranoid. But oh well.

  21. library addict
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 17:24:21

    Even if this decision was hastily reached to address the Harlequin issue with the vanity press, isn't the fact it will allow many e-only authors to be eligible to join PAN and allow e-publishers to be present at the conference something people have been wanting for years? I thought that's what RWA change was about.

    I know many authors have legitimate issues with RWA, but this seems a case of RWA not being able to please people no matter what they do.

    What am I missing?

  22. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 17:44:53

    What am I missing?

    What you’re missing is that no mention has been made of the fact that the business model for HQ’s new vanity division (I think it's DellArte now) calls for all their other divisions to refer their rejected submissions to said vanity press. Unless this has been changed, then really all RWA's new policy is, is one big kowtow to HQ.

    Some good may come out of it for small press and ePubbed authors (and I really hope it does, cause that thought is the only thing keeping me from totally losing it right now), but that will only serve as a silver lining to the ugly black cloud of RWA caving in to HQ's vanity press shenanigans.

  23. Tessa Dare
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 18:34:58

    I don’t get the “backtracking” complaint. Where does the hotsheet say “Harlequin gets to come to conference”?

    As I read it, this says, RWA has a new way of allocating conference resources. Imprints will be able to apply separately, but they must meet certain criteria.

    What criteria, it does not say. The only things we are told specifically are that they must be nonsubsidy/nonvanity publishers (Harlequin is not even on RWA’s nonsub/nonvan list at the moment) and they cannot solicit RWA members to a subsidy/vanity press.

    I think it’s premature to conclude this hotsheet means Harlequin gets a free pass. It simply announces a new system of allocating conference comps — one that preserves the Board’s ability to deny a publisher conference space without penalizing that publisher’s individual authors. As Courtney pointed out, it disentangles that “eligibility” knot. Now they can make these conference decisions without having to worry about how it affects RITA entries and PAN membership.

    I’m not saying they won’t backpedal. Obviously, the possibility is there. But it’s also possible they will use their new criteria to deny Harlequin imprints conference space. We simply don’t know yet.

  24. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 18:43:40

    @Tessa Dare:

    The only things we are told specifically are that they must be nonsubsidy/nonvanity publishers (Harlequin is not even on RWA's nonsub/nonvan list at the moment) and they cannot solicit RWA members to a subsidy/vanity press.

    Read it again.

    It doesn’t say “nonsubsidy/nonvanity publishers.” It says “Invitees may only represent their non-subsidy/non-vanity publishing programs (imprints, divisions, or lines) at RWA's conference.”

    If this isn’t to let HQ (and/or Thomas Nelson) back in, why make that change? Why specify imprints, divisions, or lines?

  25. Jody W.
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 19:03:16

    @Anion: Perhaps to invite H/S imprints that do comply with the new RWA criteria — like if HQN doesn’t refer R’s to the slush — but decline the ones that do refer R’s to the slush? I think there was also some question of other imprints & divisions at other houses (Wasn’t Random House or somebody connected to a potentially problematic vanity-pub arm?) Just a thought. I’m clearly not speaking for the Board and I don’t know how they’re going to allot conference space if H/S lines solicit for Del Arf.

  26. Tessa Dare
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 19:17:40


    Whatever motives you ascribe to the Board, there’s simply nothing in today’s statement to suggest Harlequin’s conference comps are a done deal. The end result may be the opposite. Time will tell.

    That said, the inclusion of separate imprints is nothing new. Berkley and NAL, for example, are both part of Penguin but were on the list as separate “publishers”. Same for Random House’s Bantam and Ballantine, up until they recently merged.

  27. DS
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 19:35:51

    @Tessa Dare: I’m feeling old. I can remember when they all were separate publishers.

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  29. Anion
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 21:11:12

    @Tessa Dare: Hey, nobody hopes I’m wrong more than me. Seriously.

    Unfortunately, I’ve learned that when you expect the worst of people and organizations you’re rarely disappointed.

  30. candynicks
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 07:47:34

    Fictionwise charge a $15 formatting fee which they take from the royalty earnings rather than have the publisher pay up front. The first $15 earned are used to pay that fee and after that the title starts earning royalty at 50% of the list price less any discounts.

  31. candynicks
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 07:53:10

    @Denise: Hi Denise, To my knowledge Fictionwise only charge the $15 dollar fee. I deal with our publisher Fictionwise royalties and we’ve never had any amounts witheld, or miminum to earn before payout.

  32. Tweets that mention RWA Eliminates Eligible Publisher Designation & Moves to Invite Status for Publishers and Vendors | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary --
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 08:39:57

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  33. XandraG
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 09:56:33

    I didn’t see anything in the hot sheet about the comps and such. If they are indeed opening up non-sub/non-van publishers, will that see a lot more epubs comped. I can see that getting sticky as anyone with a merchant-cart and a website might appear, palm out.

    RWA is in the unenviable position of needing to keep its annual conference relevant and value-added to its members. Hard to do if the editors and agents that attract so many don’t come.

  34. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 09:57:06

    Exactly what I thought they would do, and the only logical choice, really. Things change. It’s the nature of life–and publishing.

  35. Anon76
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 10:06:46

    My first thoughts on reading this snippet were very mixed. I was annoyed at RWA for caving somewhat in the DellArte Press debate, while at the same time overjoyed to see the changes that would allow epublished authors their due.

    Then I thought on it further…this is a total win for HQ. Not only has the issue of their pay-to-play division been dealt with, but the Carina Press authors now have validity that was never extended to e-authors in the past. So HQ effected a bad change and a good change in one fell swoop.

    And no one is hurt except for the individuals receiving R’s and being redirected to HQ’s “Disqualified Market”. Okay, I’ll give it to the rose-colored-glasses people in saying it is not yet proven there will be hurt, but, the affiliate company’s track record pretty much speaks for itself.

  36. gwen hayes
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 11:37:55

    I was pleased when I read the information. I think the task force worked really hard to find a solution to please as many people as they can. The “bad guys” here are vanity publishers–and it seems that RWA is trying to keep the bad guys away and finally allowing for the idea that epublishing is not one of those bad guys.

  37. Emmy
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 12:20:11

    Huh. I was wondering how they would find a way to allow HQN books back in without looking like asses. Not sure they succeeded on the second point, but way to pander to the HQN masses.

  38. maria schneider
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 12:55:06

    @Kalen Hughes:

    Yeah, I think you pretty much summed it up. It will probably work out somehow in the end, but it kind smells bad at the moment.

  39. Christine Rimmer
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 13:48:07

    Well, since the “masses” they’re “pandering” to amount to a good half, anyway, of the published romance author community, I think they had to change to keep their membership and not become irrelevant.

    The RWA board stood by their rules and when the rules didn’t work, they had to change them. And all the hoopla in the process did some serious educating of previously ignorant unpubs. Yes, the ideal would have been for Harlequin to change. But well, reality bites and we move on.

  40. Jessa Slade
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 13:48:31

    Yes, there will be missteps and awkwardness, but I appreciate that RWA is willing to change with the times. I WANT an organization that adapts as needed. Flexible doesn’t always mean “bends over backward.”

  41. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 16:04:30

    We got a clarification! No lines/divisions that refer their rejections to a vanity press will be invited to conference. Now I can just be happy for the small presses and epublishers and their authors. Yea!!!

  42. Termagant 2
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 17:59:17

    When RWA first delisted HQ over the DellArte kerfuffle, some of us saw a cave-in coming. What they do at conference, or do not, is all one to me, since I’m not a member and would not attend Nationals even if I were.

    What honks me off is the stance that, “oh, now that HQ has an e-press, we’ll let you e-publishers in to play.”

    Some of us got tired of fighting this battle over and over for the past 10 years, just to get criteria’ed to death. It’s a wind that will blow a few some good in the e-publishing world, I think.

  43. gwen hayes
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 18:06:02

    I wonder what RWA could possibly to do to please us all.

  44. Melissa Blue
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 21:24:09


    Nothing. Unfortunately for them.

  45. Liz Fielding
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 02:05:53

    Thanks for the update, Kalen. Glad to see eBooks are now getting a fair crack — and fwiw, Samhain are being judged in Ritas this year.

  46. Anon76
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 09:00:14

    @Kalen Hughes:

    Thanks for that update. That changes my opinion of the RWA move substantially. Good for them!

  47. Cher Gorman
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 16:22:24

    I understand that as along as HQ includes information about DellArte Press in their rejection letters, HQ will not be invited to conference. If they didn’t include the DellArte information wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose of their joint venture with Author Solutions??


  48. Mary Winter
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 22:33:07

    The problem is that RWA still can’t properly identify and label “subsidy/vanity” presses. I know of at least one smaller press who tried to get listed as non-subsidy/non-vanity, who was then summarily told that RWA demeed it to be vanity, when that was completely false. When information to the contrary, including information about other listed publisher’s practices that should have disqualified them had the ruling been legitimate, no reply was made. When additional information was given, no reply was made.

    Which means RWA still cannot unilaterally enforce its own rules about what is subsidy/vanity, and when faced with solid, professional information that it maybe incorrect, simply chooses to ignore the matter.

    While I honestly hope that RWA will start including small and electronic presses in its conference, I suspect it will either have a token few, or ignore them all together. A leopard cannot change its spots.

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