Mystery Writers Of America: Real Writers Don't Self-Publish
from the 300,000-sold-and-still-not-a-'real-writer' dept
J.A. Konrath — whose success as a self-published e-book author has been featured on Techdirt before — recently kicked out a post concerning the Mystery Writers of America’s submission policy as proof that the more things change, the more the "old guard" increases its efforts to pretend that things are still the same.
Konrath doesn’t speak too highly of the MWA, which seemed to be a rather lackluster writers’ association, even back in its heyday:
The only time the MWA got in touch with me was when they needed something–I lost count of the times I was called upon to volunteer for some task or another–or when they wanted me to pay my dues. The dues notices (both email and in person) became so frequent, not only for me but for many of my peers, that it is now a long-running joke in the mystery community. (A friend of mine was even approached during his signing slot at Bouchercon to pay dues, in front of several fans.)
The MWA, an organization that was supposed to exist to help writers, seemed to exist only to sustain itself.
After a few years of this, Konrath dropped his MWA membership and joined up with the International Thriller Writers group, which shockingly ("shockingly" added for the benefit of legacy artist representation groups) doesn’t need membership dues to survive. Konrath states that the ITW runs such a smart organization they actually turn a profit.
Depsite his negative experience with MWA, he was intrigued enough by its recent press release announcing changes to its submission policy to take a look. Unfortunately, nothing had changed and the MWA is still running in full "legacy mode:"
Self-published books, whether they are published in print or as e-books, still do not qualify for MWA active membership.
At this point, another leftover from a legacy industry looks the future straight in the eye and says, "Not interested." And as far as Konrath’s concerned, the MWA couldn’t be more wrong:
[A]ccording to these rules, someone like John Locke, who has sold close to 1 million ebooks, isn’t eligible for MWA membership.
How many MWA members have sold 1 million books?
I’ve sold close to 300,000 self-pubbed ebooks. But apparently that doesn’t equate with "professional standards" according to the MWA.
Professional standards apparently mean "You’re only worthy if you’re vetted by the industry."
This shouldn’t bug me. I gave up on the MWA years ago… So if it shouldn’t bug me, why does it?
Because I see this same casual dismissal of the future of our industry from the Big 6. They don’t see the threat self-pubbing has become, and they’re going to go extinct because of their denial.
Seeing a similar attitude coming from writers–folks who should know better because they’ve worked hard and struggled and gotten screwed over and over again–makes me shake my head in absolute amazement.
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?
If the publishing world, as it exists now, has no interest in the talents and insights of thousands of hard-working writers, it’s their loss. This kind of elitist attitude is commonplace with the gatekeepers of industries whose reactions to the destruction wreaked by a digitally-leveled playing field has been a whole lot of "too little" and nearly universally "too late."
The current MWA guidelines are elitist–they only accept those who are chosen by a few dozen gatekeepers in the establishment.
The majority of writers I know got offers from a single house, rather than competing offers from multiple houses. Eliminate that one house, and they would still be unpublished. That’s luck. If the publishing gatekeepers really knew quality, a truly worthy book would get bids from every major house. That never happens. In fact, many houses pass on books that go on to make millions and win awards.
The gatekeeping system has long been broken, and it’s a very poor determiner of quality. The fact that I’m on track to sell more of my rejected novels than I have of my legacy pubbed novels is more proof they have no idea what people want.
It’s not hard to find details of massively successful authors who also had trouble getting published initially. The self-proclaimed arbiters of what is or isn’t "real writing" can’t even agree on what’s worth publishing and yet they still feel they can set the rules and choose which formats are "worthy" of support. That’s sad and ugly and more than a little pompous.
But there is good news: the MWA is still reaching out in its own way to aspiring (i.e., "non-traditionally-published") writers:
MWA also mentions in its mission statement that they accept: "aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre." Which means newbies and fans. That’s fine, but these people can only get an associate membership. Which means they pay, but aren’t allowed to do many of the things that regular members do.
Can you say taxation without representation?
So, there you have it: if you’re self-published, MWA is more than happy to take your money, but is completely unwilling to treat you as a qualified writer. That is, unless you decide to take their chosen route to being a writer, the one that runs directly through one of several publishing houses that are already nearing irrelevance or hanging on the ropes. How pathetic.