Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

RWA Redefines Publisher Definitions

New Vanity and Subsidy Publisher Definitions from RWA were announced after a board meeting on July 25th. This is the entirety of the decision found at RWA website.

* * *

At the request of members, the Board has re-visited the definitions of “Subsidy Publisher” and “Vanity Publisher.” After considering the advice of legal and industry professionals, along with suggestions by our Publisher Recognition Task Force, the board met in a telephonic board meeting on July 25th and redefined the terms “Subsidy Publisher” and “Vanity Publisher” as follows:

“Subsidy Publisher” means 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. This definition includes publishers who 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.

“Vanity Publisher” means any publisher whose authors exclusively promote and/or sell their own books and publishers whose business model and methods of publishing and distribution are primarily directed toward sales to the author, his/her relatives and/or associates.

RWA’s mission is to promote the professional interests of career-focused romance authors through networking and advocacy. Advocacy is one of the main reasons RWA exists, and since advocacy is included in RWA’s core purpose, mandated by the Bylaws, the Board cannot simply decide to stop advocating for the fair treatment of RWA’s members.

Though we know some RWA members disagree, when determining whether a publisher is a Vanity Publisher, RWA believes it is important to look at distribution of books. When a publisher does not pay an advance and does not become involved with marketing and distribution, it is, in reality, acting as nothing more than a consignment dealer for the book. Providing this kind of service requires little or nothing of the publisher, and the responsibility to market the product and drive traffic to single distribution point falls upon the author. There is nothing two-sided about this kind of arrangement, no give and take where both sides involved incur risk and both stand to gain. In this situation the author incurs all of the financial risk in attempting to market a product.

On the other hand, if a publisher doesn’t pay an advance, but is investing time, energy, and money to provide alternate means of distribution, the publisher is at least somewhat invested in the product. This investment moves this relationship away from a consignment arrangement and closer to a two sided publishing agreement where the author and publisher are crucial to one another. Some of the methods of national distribution that benefit an author are: Advertising in national trade or consumer magazines, wholesaler agreements, Amazon.com-type internet bookstore agreements, or national chain bookstore agreements to carry a publisher’s titles. Also included are exhibiting at national and/or regional tradeshows and book fairs as well as advertising to readers.

Right now, publishing is changing daily. Companies are rising and falling with alarming speed, but it is the writers who are being hurt when a company goes under or fails to live up to promises. There are, of course, many stable and viable publishing companies who have become established in the past few years, but even with those companies RWA must continue to advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of its authors, as it has always done with long established publishers. RWA welcomes the addition of strong, viable publishers because any increase in reliable, reputable avenues of publishing is good for writers in general.

There will never come a time, however, when a writer can afford to assume any contract is good. It will always be the author’s responsibility to read all the clauses, question the ones he/she doesn’t understand, find out what the industry standard is, and only then, with full knowledge, make the decision to sign or not to sign. The hard truth is that a Vanity Publisher or Subsidy Publisher is not, in general, as favorable to the writer as an advance-paying non-Vanity Publisher or non-Subsidy Publisher. RWA is not here to determine who should sign or not sign any specific contract. That decision remains solely with the author. But in its role as advocate for its members, RWA must take a stand.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

26 Comments

  1. Ciar Cullen
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 13:29:25

    Fairer description, but nonetheless, the sticking point for many small presses is that they DO distribute, advertise, etc. but do NOT offer advances. Am I reading that correctly? So they remain in the vanity pub category and are still not RWA approved and in effect, nothing changes since their last decision?

    ReplyReply

  2. Alessia Brio
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 13:47:52

    Yeah, what Ciar said … erm, asked. Is it an AND or an OR?

    ReplyReply

  3. Sarah McCarty
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 13:49:26

    Ciar- This definition is a clarification for a point in the broader definition that plays into eligibility for PAN recognition. There is no longer publisher recognition. That is gone. However, if publishers want free admission to RWA events, they will have to meet certain requirements. Any publisher that does not fall into that eligiblity criteria will, according to my understanding, be able to attend if they want to pay a registration fee. (which is a tax write off anyway) I do not have a problem with this as RWA is an org for authors and the fairness of the rules for authors is where I’m concerned. The new rules for eligibility are going to allow many more authors to qualify for PAN whether or not their publisher pays an advance and allow for a lot more flexibility as market changes come into being.
    This is good.

    ReplyReply

  4. Teddy Pig
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 14:21:36

    See, when I want definitions I usually use ones already well defined.

    an advance-paying non-Vanity Publisher or non-Subsidy Publisher

    What about ePublishers that pay smaller advances but better royalties? Are those writers not career-focused romance authors?

    ReplyReply

  5. Julie Leto
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 15:42:01

    On the other hand, if a publisher doesn't pay an advance, but is investing time, energy, and money to provide alternate means of distribution, the publisher is at least somewhat invested in the product. This investment moves this relationship away from a consignment arrangement and closer to a two sided publishing agreement where the author and publisher are crucial to one another. Some of the methods of national distribution that benefit an author are: Advertising in national trade or consumer magazines, wholesaler agreements, Amazon.com-type internet bookstore agreements, or national chain bookstore agreements to carry a publisher's titles. Also included are exhibiting at national and/or regional tradeshows and book fairs as well as advertising to readers.

    Seems to me this is very clear. If they don’t pay advances, but do participate in the risk of publication through time, energy and money, they are NOT a Vanity or Subsidy press. End of story.

    ReplyReply

  6. Angela James
    Jul 28, 2007 @ 16:00:23

    Sarah’s correct, this is only a clarification of their vanity press definition, it’s not a change in the RWA eligible policy. Maybe next year ;)

    ReplyReply

  7. KS Augustin
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 02:22:54

    Very important point, Teddy Pig. Isn’t preferring 40% royalties to 7% a solid business decision for authors?

    ReplyReply

  8. KrisEton
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 06:54:49

    Exactly, KS, going the epub route gets you a better percentage of the royalties…a LOT better. Many epubbed authors are doing very well for themselves. Several I know have been contacted by agents and even NY publishers to submit. In other words, agents & publishing houses see epubs as legitimiate and viable publishers with a very well-established market.

    What I wanted to see changed in the ‘vanity press’ definition was that vanity presses are really just self-publishing. There’s no real submission process, no true editing, and that you must pay upfront before anything happens with your book. Their definition is seriously lacking…even after going back to the drawing board.

    And why not make a brand-new category for epubs, such as Samhain, who now has a relationship with a recognized publishing house?

    There’s a lot still missing….

    ReplyReply

  9. Sarah McCarty
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 09:23:59

    “And why not make a brand-new category for epubs, such as Samhain, who now has a relationship with a recognized publishing house?”

    Because there is no need for a category for Samhain, EC or any other reputable publisher, e or otherwise. Publisher recognition was an old standard that had been created as a way to establish whether an author was a serious author. It predated the technology of today and the success of the emarket. It was a standard that created all the discord lingering today in this discussion. Publisher recog has been done away with. It no longer exists. Period. Authors can write anywhere they want (short of self pubbing) and be recognized as successful based on their own merits. It’s a much better system than the previous one and puts the publisher’s influence/standing/wishes/ preferences exactly where it belongs in regard to RWA. Completely out of the picture.

    Publisher recognition no longer exists. I don’t know how that can be stated any clearer than what was posted in RWA. Who an author writes for no longer has any effect on their status within the organization. Whereas before writing for a recognized Publisher meant life blood to authors inside the organization and gave publishers through their authors desire to be validated status within the org, the only thing any publisher now will gain by meeting the criteria set out for eligible is free admittance to the conference. A questionable cost to benefit factor for many small houses.

    Whether a publisher wants to attend a conference is up to them, but their ability to attend means absolutely nothing to their authors. Publishers have been, thank God, rendered absolutely irrelevant to the author’s position within RWA and this development is way overdue.

    ReplyReply

  10. Jane
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 10:02:33

    I think I have to go with Sarah and say why would you let RWA define yourself as an author? What is the benefit of having your publisher or even your prospective publisher be recognized by RWA? Does that translate into better sales for you?

    ReplyReply

  11. Ciar Cullen
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 10:49:33

    Sarah, thanks for the clarification. I agree it is good that RWA is looking out for writers, as they should. But to say there is no longer publisher recognition is a hair misleading, since they are drawing a line regarding which publishers can attend for free, etc. I’m not saying this isn’t a good thing, but there certainly remains a kind of distinction in their rules. It will still be seen as recognition, at least that’s my thought.

    I personally have not let RWA define anything for me, have not applied for PAN, etc., although I am eligible. I am interested in writing in other genres, and want to take some time to ensure I’m actually joining the group that will best represent my publishing future. I’m curious, what can I say?

    ReplyReply

  12. Robin
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 11:40:46

    “Subsidy Publisher� means 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.

    I know this is stupid but it keeps bothering me: what about authors who write for major NY print houses who are paying for their own arcs? Doesn’t that fit this definition?

    As to the issue of RWA publisher recognition or not, maybe this goes right back to how authors view the RWA — as an industry regulatory authority or as an organization that can pretty much set its own rules for its members.

    ReplyReply

  13. Sarah McCarty
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 12:14:43

    Ciar,

    Eligibility is not recognition. It’s about as far from the concept of recognition as you can get. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Publisher recognition used to define what you as an author within the org could do. It was a standard that was the cornerstone for everything, including your status.

    Eligibility is a matter of dollars and cents. It costs money to run a conference and money is lost every time something is given away for free. With the proliferation of Epublishers free admittance to all publsihers is expensive. In the old days it was almost a fixed expense as there wer so few. (Space=money at a conference) As a member, I do expect fical responsibility from my board and allowing anyone who says they’re a publisher to attend the conference for free means I as a paying attendee am going to foot the bill in higher conference fees because I certainly don’t get to attend for free. I’m not for that. I think the bare minimum requirements put forth by RWA for publishers to attend for free is beyond reasonable. It basically says “You’ve proven you can make it past the two year hump and have the market share to at least guarantee authors submitting to you will earn at least $1000 on books published there.”

    IOW, there is a guarantee of something for the author subitting in exchange for their subsidizing the publisher’s attendance. If a publisher can’t or won’t pay an advance and hasn’t been in business for at least three years, I don’t particularly want to pick up the tab for their attendance. Especially when they could be here today and gone tomorrow. That is no the bang for my buck I’m looking for.

    Bottom line, if I want to further my business interests by attending an RWA conference then I have to either pay or not go. This is the same for non-eligible publishers. I’m sure it would be much more cost effective for smaller publishers to pay a fee to attend those years they want to attend rather than to pay advances on all their books, and they may choose to do that. No one is saying they have to conform to any particular model to attend, but if they want something for nothing then a certain amount of conformity is required. Otherwise they can pay a fee and write it off on their taxes the end of the quarter like I do.

    ReplyReply

  14. Nora Roberts
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 07:26:57

    An arc is a bonus kind of thing. No author HAS to pay for them. It’s a choice. Not all publishers create–or ever have created–arcs for every author they publish. It’s a promo tool, not the book. If a publisher demands payment for publishing the book, different matter entirely. And if a publisher demanded that I create or pay for the creation of arcs, I’d certainly ask my agent to deal with it.

    I guess I’d equate paying for your own arcs to paying for any other promotional goodies. Writer’s choice.

    As for the rest. Everything Sarah said.

    ReplyReply

  15. Jody W.
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 10:53:08

    I would think creating your own ARCs would be the same as buying your own book to send out for promo, contests, etc. if you run out of free author copies. I don’t see how that’s a production, editing, or distribution cost. Granted, if a publisher required an author to do these things or withheld royalties/advance $ to pay for these things, you’d run into sticky territory.

    ReplyReply

  16. Robin
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:02:55

    I guess I'd equate paying for your own arcs to paying for any other promotional goodies. Writer's choice.

    I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t see the equivalency. It’s my understanding that more authors from large print houses are being made to pay for and distribute their own ARCs. And it’s true that ARCs are absolutely a promotional tool. But traditionally they’re a promotional tool produced and distributed by the publisher, at the publisher’s expense, if they are produced (and I think it might be surprising to see who is producing their own ARCs these days). Because, of course, they create that all important pre-release buzz for books and ensure that some of the bigger review venues have access to the book to review. I know I draw a much thinner line between the ARC and the final book copy than you do, but even if one sees the ARC as strictly a promotional item, IMO it’s still of the type of promotion and publicity that NY publishers traditionally pay for and execute, unlike a CafePress store an author might have or self-produced key chains she might distribute at signings. I just think that wording in the subsidy press is overly broad and in conflict with the ways even the big NY houses seem to be doing business these days. The burden for publicity in general seems to have shifted to the author in many cases. Hell, I’m half expecting editing to be declared pure publicity by the NY houses.

    ReplyReply

  17. Sarah McCarty
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:16:14

    Robin-
    Arcs. No. Arcs are not for distribution. Are not part of publication of the saleable product, etc. To put them in perspective, think of them as really thick bookmarks. *G*

    I just got 12 for Caine’s Reckoning. I wasn’t expecting any. Don’t really know what to do with them. However, if I hadn’t received any, it wouldn’t have had any impact on production or distribution of the book. If I don’t do anything with them, it won’t effect any part of the distirbution, etc.

    I do have to do something with them, though. The pressure of them sitting there looking at me is driving me nuts. *G*

    ReplyReply

  18. Nora Roberts
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:37:47

    ~It's my understanding that more authors from large print houses are being made to pay for and distribute their own ARCs.~

    How are they being made to? If it’s we won’t do it, so if you want them, it’s on you–that goes back to choice. If it’s we won’t buy your book unless you agree, in the contract, to produce and distribute arcs at your own expense, that’s a different thing. I’ve never heard of this. Ever.

    I know lots of authors produce their own arcs, at their own expense, but I’ve never heard that the publisher required them to do so.

    For me, publishers aren’t required to produce them, and neither are authors. Promotional tools are options and choices.

    Sarah, you could send one of yours to Turn The Page, my husband’s bookstore. His bookseller LOVES arcs, and handsells books she enjoys like crazy.

    ReplyReply

  19. Robin
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:40:29

    To put them in perspective, think of them as really thick bookmarks.

    LOL; and yet, authors don’t freak out when their bookmarks are sold on eBay. Great simile, though.

    I think I understand what you’re saying, Sarah; from the POV of the publisher and the author, production, editing, and distribution are strictly defined as those costs leading specifically and directly to the editing, printing, and distribution of the “on sale” book product. So if a publisher requires an author to pay for editing services, that’s subsidizing the costs of production. But if a publisher asks for an author to pay for promotion, that’s not. If publishers pay for ARCs, that’s basically a bonus to the author, as Nora Roberts suggested. Which makes publishers a lot like lawyers — drawing fine distinctions that may not seem natural to people outside the paradigm.

    ReplyReply

  20. Robin
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:54:35

    How are they being made to? If it's we won't do it, so if you want them, it's on you-that goes back to choice. If it's we won't buy your book unless you agree, in the contract, to produce and distribute arcs at your own expense, that's a different thing. I've never heard of this. Ever.

    I have no idea what the contractual provisions are. But I think the line you’re trying to draw in terms of voluntariness is a little artificial given today’s publishing/marketing realities. If you’re saying that no author HAS to have ARCs, then I agree with you. But if you’re suggesting that the fact that publishers produce ARCs for some authors and not for others is equivalent to, say, authors choosing whether or not to hold giveaways on their websites, I don’t agree. As a reader who, before I reviewed, had no access to ARCs, I was *affected* by ARCs because they meant early reviews and the buzz of anticipation around a book I might not know about and would then be encouraged to buy right out the sale gate (isn’t that when the critical sales figures are tabulated?).

    As I said, I think ARCs are a substantially different type of marketing than, say, producing keychains or dressing up in costume, because they are the kind of marketing that delivers the actual contents of the book to booksellers and reviewers. And they’re the kind of marketing that publishers clearly see as valuable (perhaps even essential?) because publishers take on the cost for some authors. ARCs are different from advances, for example, because the advance goes directly to the author, whereas ARCs are aimed directly at the market. Can an author succeed without ARCs? I don’t see why not. But in this case, I don’t think that the lack of a requirement for publishers to produce ARCs is the same thing as publishers not producing key chains, bottle openers and other author promotions. For me, as a reader, they’re not the same thing, and I’m the one buying the books (i.e. I’m part of the target of promotion).

    ReplyReply

  21. Nora Roberts
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 15:07:31

    I can’t agree that it’s harder or tougher or really all that different today–and that would mean publishers are or should be responsible for doing arcs for all their authors. I certainly didn’t get arcs for all my books. It remains a choice how a publisher–and how an author–decides to use their promotion budget–time and money. And publishers have budgets, too.

    I’m not debating whether it’s right or fair or good business or bad that higher up the chain an author gets more of that budget. But that authors are made to create arcs. They just aren’t. They may opt to.

    I do absolutely agree that an arc is different marketing than a keychain or other give-away. Absolutely correct, imo. But publishers can’t do arcs for every author on their list. It’s just not feasible in any practical sense. And not doing them, and an author deciding to do them, doesn’t bring the publisher anywhere close to the subsidy line. If that’s the correct way to interpret your initial comment.

    Promotion isn’t the book, the editing, the cover, the production, the distribution. It’s promotion. And that always has been a variable above and beyond. The fact that it’s a tight, competitive market doesn’t change that. It’s been tight and competitive before, and will be again.

    One thing I do know. As long as I’ve been in the business I’ve heard publishing professionals say that Romance writers, in particular, are savvy and aggressive with self-promotion. They know how to get the word out. It seems like self-produced arcs are the next wave. Not a thing wrong with that.

    But publishers are not obliged to produce them for all their authors, any more than they are obliged to take out ads for all their authors for a new book, or send them on tour. This is most usually the kind of thing you build up to. And it’s tough–no argument from me there.

    Maybe if we could get someone from publilcity or production (don’t actually know who does what) to give a general idea what it costs to do a couple dozen arcs for a book, and distribute them, the basic logistics of the process would be more clear.

    ReplyReply

  22. Jane
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 15:14:46

    I was told that an arc can run $25 to $50 per copy depending on whether it has a full color cover and the size. I.e., the mass market size costs more because it is offset. The cost is the limited print run, the offset nature of the printing, and the distribution.

    Some houses send all the arcs in one package. Some send by US Mail and some send via Fedex/DHL/UPS.

    I wish that publishers would allow access to e-arcs in the mode of a lending library. It would reduce the cost enormously. They could track who is reading them and after 3 weeks or 8 weeks or whatever, the ability to open the book would expire. There would be no reselling and if they used PDF or Mobipocket, the book couldn’t be “pirated”. I hate having all the arcs around that I am never going to read, that I can’t sell and so I dump them in the trash.

    ReplyReply

  23. Robin
    Jul 31, 2007 @ 01:00:30

    I do absolutely agree that an arc is different marketing than a keychain or other give-away. Absolutely correct, imo. But publishers can't do arcs for every author on their list. It's just not feasible in any practical sense. And not doing them, and an author deciding to do them, doesn't bring the publisher anywhere close to the subsidy line. If that's the correct way to interpret your initial comment.

    My initial comment was somewhere between a question and a point of confusion around how promotion is connected to the production and distribution of books. I understand what you and Sarah McCarty are saying about promotion being separate, even if it doesn’t really make sense to me. ARCs, especially, seem to overlap the boundaries between the substantive production of books and promotion/marketing.

    ReplyReply

  24. Nora Roberts
    Jul 31, 2007 @ 08:34:22

    Well, if we took the route that publishers are required to produce arcs for all their authors, let’s see how it might work. We could take the low end of Jane’s information. $25. Ten arcs (a very small amount) per book, per author goes to $250. Then you multiply that number by say 1,000–again low scaling–as the number of books per year produced by that publisher. You can’t just say produce them for Romance novels. It would have to be for all authors to be fair. So you’ve now got $250,000.

    The money has to come from somewhere. (and the time and the manpower if you’re doubling this element) It seems to me the publisher would be much less likely to take a risk on a new author or a new direction with this additional requirement. Or they’d compensate by nipping it out of the advance. Or they wouldn’t be able to earmark that $250 for an ad, or for posters for booksigning, or co-op offers. It’s already taken.

    On the other end of it, if reviewers started getting 1,000 from one publisher rather than say, 500, Newbie Jane’s arc is going to get lost in the mountain anyway.

    It may not seem fair, but Newbie Jane’s got to climb a few rungs–mostly by her own efforts–before a publisher’s going to say let’s see what we can do to push NJ up a little higher on the ladder. I think it pretty much works that way in any business.

    ReplyReply

  25. Robin
    Jul 31, 2007 @ 11:55:58

    It may not seem fair, but Newbie Jane's got to climb a few rungs-mostly by her own efforts-before a publisher's going to say let's see what we can do to push NJ up a little higher on the ladder. I think it pretty much works that way in any business.

    I’ve made no secret of the fact that it feels to me — as a reader — like Romance publishing is run on a factory farming model, and that I don’t like it — can’t accept that same logic of books are a mere consumer product. I don’t expect you to agree with me; in fact, I have no doubt that you can make all sorts of compelling arguments for why the current system is workable and good and even reasonably fair. I know there are two (or ten) sides to every story, but I must admit up front that my view is very jaded to begin with. And until a major publisher endeavors to explain the business model openly and honestly, it will likely remain that way.

    I have no problem with people working hard for their success; I know you’ve done it, I know I’ve done it, and I know the satisfaction is rich. And up to a point, I think fierce competition can be a really positive and even inspiring force. But if, as Jane says, the technology is available to supply eARCs in the way of an electronic lending library, why aren’t publishers employing those? I don’t think publishers should be required to produce ARCs for every author, but at the same time, I have this image of publishers signing authors and then sort of slinging them all against the wall of the market — like so much semi-cooked spaghetti — to see which ones stick. And absolutely, there’s a compelling logic in seeing the opportunity that each one of those authors gets as positive for both the publisher and for readers (let alone the author). I get that — the cream rises to the top and all that (even if I don’t really think it’s true all the time — sometimes, though). And I do understand the balance of promoting opportunity over and against limited available resources. I’m certainly not suggesting a socialist state of publishing.

    For me, this whole issue came down to the fact that I don’t see the distinction between production and promotion of books as natural or obvious. I understand that you see it differently. But from my POV as a reader, promotion and production really seem all of a piece in the process of publishing books. Which is why I was confused to start with about the definition of subsidy publisher. I understood they were trying to exclude pay for play businesses, but, like I said, to me it seems like some of the big houses have certain pay to play elements — they just distinguish them from what they see as core publishing services and functions. I understand it intellectually, even if it seems somewhat artificial to me.

    ReplyReply

  26. Tax write-off Question
    Sep 27, 2009 @ 04:20:36

    Tax write-off Question…

    RWA Redefines Publisher Definitions | Dear Author: Romance … is an excellent post about the Tax write-off Question….

Leave a Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: