There are very few windmills that I feel strongly enough to tilt at…stupid people is one. Bullies are another. People pretending they understand policy and government, and being condescending towards others’ views — although that tends to combine both of the first two. But I have a pretty strong respect for the importance of human rights, freedom of association, etc. when they are used as swords to advance legitimate causes or shields to prevent oppression. Where the heck is this idea going? Membership in a society that basically holds itself out as representing an industry but then turning around and barring people from the industry who don’t meet their standards.
If you look back to some lovely research published in the 1980s and 90s by the Harvard Business Review, everybody thinks their job qualifies as a profession. Janitors think they’re a “profession”. Taxi drivers another. And when people of like mind and employment get together, and talk about their profession, they frequently start saying things like “Hey, that person isn’t any good, we should really have standards and block these yahoos. They’re not ‘professional’ like we are. Our ‘profession’ is slipping.”
This makes sense in some quarters where professional certification can and should be required. Doctors. Pharmacists. Optometry. Law. You want to know that the person treating you has met the requirements for their profession. But what about an author? Should they have associations with standards that bar some writers from joining?
JA Konraths’ Blog, A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, talked about this last year, and I pegged the article for future reference. It targets the membership requirements of the Mystery Writers of America and notes that they don’t allow membership if you were “self-published”:
The MWA, an organization that was supposed to exist to help writers, seemed to exist only to sustain itself. After a few years of getting nothing back (and yes, I aired my many grievances often to board members) I simply stopped renewing.
While MWA no doubt does some good things (they rightly fought the Harlequin Horizon vanity imprint, and do various workshops and community events), I felt like I was giving more than I was getting. I was helping MWA, but they weren’t helping me.
But the times have changed. Now it is possible for authors to circumvent the legacy gatekeepers by choice (rather than because they had no choice.) Self-pubbed authors can sell a lot of books and make some real money. Full time salary money. In my mind, that equates with being a professional.
So when MWA recently changed its submission guidelines and issued a press release, I was intrigued. Had they finally gotten the hint? Were they looking at this untapped resource of self-published writers and realizing the potential to make their organization relevant again?
There are a lot of self-pubbed authors earning more money than a lot of MWA members. Certainly the MWA could use this new blood to teach longstanding members how to thrive in this brave, new world. And they NEED this information. MWA members have backlists and trunk novels and are getting repeatedly shafted by the Big 6.
How much could John Locke teach them about ebooks and marketing? How about 200 John Lockes, attending banquets, speaking at conventions?
So what would my membership requirements be if I were running the MWA?
I’d have just one. Prove that you’ve sold 5000 books. Once you do that, you’re in.
You can read the full post via A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: MWA(BNSP) – Mystery Writers of America (But Not for the Self-Published).
A year after that post was written, why am I referring to it? Because the MWA in their infinite wisdom handed out their lovely awards recently. And guess what? Self-pubbed books didn’t qualify. Which only makes sense in that weird world of elitist gatekeepers — after all, how embarrassing would it be for a writer to win and yet not even be eligible for membership?
I’m glad people like Konrath tilt at such windmills too as this one wouldn’t rank high enough for me to do it myself. But if we look at the list of big sellers for 2012 for Amazon, I am willing to bet that Chris Culver’s The Abbey is probably better than most of the ones that were traditionally published. And yet wouldn’t have been eligible. I’ll do a review sometime (bit behind on those) but the story is awesome as a debut.
I am grateful that my local writers’ group doesn’t have such stringent “traditional publishing” only requirements — but then again, it is a group for writers who help other writers, regardless of where they are on the spectrum. It isn’t about validating someone’s ego when young whippersnappers are outselling them 3:1.