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.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: books, mystery writers, publishing, self-publishing

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 16 Jun 2011 @ 3:10pm

    Gatekeeper blunders

    In fact, many houses pass on books that go on to make millions and win awards.

    From Wikipedia
    "Decca Records rejected the Beatles, saying that "guitar groups are on the way out" and "the Beatles have no future in show business"

    So who are these gatekeepers anyway?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      :Lobo Santo (profile), 16 Jun 2011 @ 3:14pm

      Re: Gatekeeper blunders

      They're people who keeps gates! Some people keep cats, other people collect salt & pepper shakers... there's a guy with the largest hubcap collection somewhere out there.

      Hell, if I had enough property to need gates on my fences, I might become a gatekeeper too.

      (Or even hire a gate-keeper--like zoo-keeper but sees to the care and feeding of my gates...)


      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2011 @ 8:27am



      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fogbugzd (profile), 16 Jun 2011 @ 3:21pm

    Let's reverse the situation. Suppose the traditional way to be an author was to self publish. Then upstart businesses come along to help writers. The new-fangled publishers provide services like editors who have the power to rewrite your book or tell you how it has to be rewritten to be marketable. They handle promotion, printing, contact with fans, and a hundred little things that they think are needed to be successful.

    In that case how would the traditional gatekeepers feel? Undoubtedly they would call relying on publishers cheating because the author was no longer solely responsible for their own success. Traditionalists would denounce "writing by committee" and refuse to admit anyone who relied on such crutches.

    Gatekeepers almost always have the problem of assuming that the old way is divinely appointed and the only true and correct way to success. What it comes down to is the gatekeepers were good at using the old system and they are not sure they could survive under anything else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 17 Jun 2011 @ 6:59am

      There is no spoon

      The self publishers have no traditional gatekeepers who would complain.

      Please clarify. Who are the "gatekeepers" for these self publishing authors in your hypothetical? What gates to they keep that are an obstacle to the new upstart publisher services?

      Boy: Do not complain about self publishing gatekeepers, for that is impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.

      Neo: the truth?

      Boy: There are no self publishing gatekeepers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ima Fish (profile), 16 Jun 2011 @ 3:28pm

    This is not surprising at all. These groups exist to protect copyright middlemen. When artists self-publish, the middlemen are no longer needed. The real purpose of copyright and the copyright industry today is to solely benefit and protect these middlemen, who do nothing more than collect government granted monopoly rents between the artist and his or her fans.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Carolyn Jewel, 17 Jun 2011 @ 11:36am

      Re: Copyright middlemen?

      While I have my issues with some of the writer's organizations, I have to take issue with the claim that they exist to protect "copyright middlemen" (by which I assume you mean traditional publishers.)

      That's simply not true. Both MWA and RWA, for example, de-listed Harlequin (Torstar) from their lists of acceptable publishers when Harlequin first implemented its digital publishing arm -- which was quickly revamped to address those concerns and was re-incarnated as Carina Press, which is now recognized by RWA. More recently, both organizations have taken steps to warn authors about certain potentially harmful actions by and the precarious financial situation of Dorchester Publishing, which until recently, was one of the largest independently-owned publishers around.

      There is no question, however, that these organizations need to reassess their current definitions and standards. I can't speak to MWA as I'm not a member, but I am a member of RWA and I can tell you that the issue is before the board now and will be discussed at the National conference at the end of this June.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jun 2011 @ 6:03pm

    I think of Tom Clancy, rejected by all the publishing houses, then the small Annapolis, Naval Institute Press publishes Clancy' The Hunt For Red October and then all they want is to publish him.

    Clancy should have then shopped his books around and gone for the best offer for each one.

    What gets me is that ebooks still cost so much more than even the paperback.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 16 Jun 2011 @ 8:29pm

      Re: What gets me is that ebooks still cost so much more than even the paperback.

      That’s all because of rising paper costs, you see. Not only does the cost of putting things on paper go up, the cost of not putting things on paper also goes up as well. Otherwise you’d get some kind of market imbalance which would upset the apple cart, rock the boat, make waves, and other such metaphorical phenomena that we want to avoid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 17 Jun 2011 @ 7:02am


      Another explanation for the high cost of eBooks is that the eFibers that make up the ePaper are still hard to come by. If people would recycle their eBooks once read, so that the existing eFibers could be recovered, this would help drive costs of eBooks down.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jay (profile), 16 Jun 2011 @ 9:45pm

    Ya know...

    It's interesting but Konrath's posts are making me think of quite a few new avenues to pursue in writing on the side. I'll have to sit down and do that when I'm not applying physics equations to slopes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      E. Zachary Knight (profile), 17 Jun 2011 @ 7:58am

      Re: Ya know...

      I agree completely. I had been thinking of writing and trying to get something published for a few years now. I have a rough draft of a novel and have written a few short stories.

      I took a look at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and what it took to become a member. They are exactly the same way as this group. You have to be paid by some gatekeepers. So I am looking elsewhere.

      What is really funny is that if you write a novel and get paid $2000 by a qualified publishing house, you can be a member. Yet, if you write a novel, publish it yourself on the Kindle and make $200000, you can't be a member because you didn't go through their gatekeepers.


      I recently learned of Konrath and he is doubling my drive to become a successful self published author.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Aldous Irving, 28 Jun 2011 @ 1:20pm


    Some people just don't want to change and would rather do it the old way even if there is a new easy way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kit Quiton, 10 Jul 2011 @ 6:09pm


    I don't think that ONLY those who goes to traditional publishing are the REAL ones...that is unfair to say...however, it is true that most self-publishers are mediocre..that is the reason why they self-publish because no publisher will take their work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dorothy (Dotty) McMillan, 17 Oct 2012 @ 12:43pm

    Quit knocking traditional publishing houses

    I just had to jump in here and put some reality into the discussion. Self publishing is fine, if you don't mind the cost, time and effort. Getting a good publishing house to take your book is difficult. The difference is that although some self published books are excellent, and make good money for the author, some are dreadful, horrible, and not worth the paper they re printed on. Publishing houses ferret out those kinds of books and publish the best ones they have been offered. I've known a number of people who have said "I've written THE best novel ever, and no publisher will take it." One of them asked me to critique her book, which I did as a favor. It was so bad, that I asked another writer to take a look. She said it was awful. I tried to be helpful with the author, give her some tips that might make it saleable, but she still she believed it was perfect as is, and went to self publishing. Sold about 100, and that was it. What a publishing house does is choose what they take based on years of experience. Then then do everything for the author. With my five published novels and two no-fiction books, I've never had more than a word or two changed by the editor. No one editor will rewrite another author's books. They just polish things up. They copy read to make sure any typos I'd are fixed. They did all the distribution in the U.S. and worldwide. They did all the publicity. and of course they do all the printing without charging the author. Plus much more. No charge at all for what all they do. The just get their portion of the money from the sales. They also gave me money upfront so I could complete a novel that they bought it based on the first three chapters or so.
    I think it's fine to self-publish your own book. And if it actually IS a good book, and you are willing to spend a huge amount of time, effort, expense, distributing it, and publicizing it, then you may make some good money. And more power to you. Just don't lambaste regular publishers. After all, without them, we would never have known the pleasure and value of reading books.

    Dorothy (Dotty) McMillan author of Blackbird, Creative Ways with Polymer Clay, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dayne, 25 Jul 2013 @ 11:46am

    Let self-published authors join

    I think it's ridiculous that these associations such as MWA or SFWA don't recognize self-published authors as being in the same class as published authors. I don't have a problem with publishing companies at all - in fact I will be shopping my manuscript around to agents even after I self-publish because I want to sell the print rights (I will retain the digital rights for my ebook).

    I guess my problem is with these groups that don't acknowledge that a good self-published author can be just as good as any best-selling author. Yes, there are bad self-published works, so perhaps there needs to be some form of validation, such as you have to have more than X amount of sales, whether self-published or published traditionally. Having a minimum amount of sales, regardless of who the publisher is, helps these groups keep their prestigious reputation while still allowing serious self-published authors feel the prestige and gain the benefits of joining the group.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)


Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.