On writing

Defining the ‘published’ writer

The definition of ‘published’ is changing

Romance Writers of Australia (RWA) is, in my opinion, probably the most ‘professional’ of Australian writing groups. By professional here I mean profession-oriented, in a way that encourages and allows their authors to publish books and even make money from their writing.

Part of this has to be due to the genre. Romance novels account for around 50% of mass market books sold, so for authors it’s the biggest market around. Part of it seems to be that many romance writers are more practical, more business-oriented, than other writers. More career-focussed.

I’m a member of RWA. I joined on the recommendation of another writer I met at a speculative fiction workshop. She recommended them as, “Extremely professional, worth joining, and you can learn a lot.”

She was right, even for us, whose stories have romantic elements rather than being true romance.

Like other career-oriented writing organisations—Romance Writers of America (RWA), Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)*—RWA (and from now on when I say RWA I mean Romance Writers Australia) gives published writers extras. This includes access to special forum groups, a published author newsletter, special craft and career workshops and opportunities for promotion and to present paid workshops.

That’s not to say that RWA’s unpublished authors miss out. They get access to the monthly newsletter, to competitions that help them improve their writing, access to critique partners, e-groups and so on. Many of the competitions, particularly, are only available to unpublished authors.

At present, RWA defines “published” as …

the signing of a contract for any fictional narrative work of 40,000 words or more, excluding any self-published or vanity/subsidy published works.

Right now RWA is pondering the definition of ‘published’, because a lot of their members are self-publishing. Some of those who self-publish are selling quite a few books, but are still ineligible to be considered published members.

My gut feel, from the forums and the blogs online, is that a high proportion of RWA members self-publish nowadays.

Yesterday, RWA asked us say which definition of published we could work with. It came down to:

  • You classify yourself
  • RWA classifies you automatically as published when you make something available commercially. It doesn’t matter what, it doesn’t matter how
  • All members revert to equal standing
  • You can’t see any of these working, or you believe ‘published’ should be restricted to works of a specific type/length.

I thought about my answer all day and couldn’t make up my mind.

Then I asked myself how I would feel if it was SFWA asking this question.

I’m not a member of SFWA, but I want to be eligible one day. One of the things I like about the association is the stringent eligibility requirements for authors. Paid sales to qualifying professional markets. For me it would be an affirmation that I was on the right track as a writer.

Need I say that self-publishing does not (yet, anyway) rate as a qualifying professional market.

Indie is the tip of the self-publishing iceberg

The term that seems to be gaining acceptance for a successful self-published author is ‘indie’ author. Proportionally, RWA seems to have a higher proportion of indie authors than other genres.

For every successful indie author there are many other unsuccessful self-published authors. Some of these stories are pretty good but just badly marketed. Others are truly bad. Poorly edited, full of typos and/or grammatical errors, and/or with a story that falls apart half-way through.

Believe me, I’ve bought a lot of self-published books.

I also know that it’s hard to judge when your own story is complete. When we sent Linesman to our agent 12 months ago, we thought it was pretty good. It’s gone through a couple of major rewrites since then, and has improved considerably with each revision.

We thought it was ready. It took other people to tell us it wasn’t.

I chose option D

In the end I voted for the last option in the RWA poll.

I am happy with the idea of published and unpublished authors. They’re at different stages of their career, they have different needs.

I also believe that successful indie authors should be recognised as published. I’m just not convinced that the open-slather or self-assessment approaches are the way to do it.



*Okay, so one of the preconditions for SFWA is that you are a published writer, but the principle’s the same thing.

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