An Off-Cycle Post RE: An Exchange with Romance Writers of America Regarding Shifts in Publishing

Being a wheel that simply cannot keep itself from squeaking, I decided to ask RWA to clarify its stance on “published.”

RWA has very justifiable qualifications in place before they will consider an author legitimately published. These guidelines are intended to protect authors from mills and vanity presses whose main source of income is the author’s own pocket. They prey on the hopes and dreams of new writers and are despicable in my view. No author published through this route is adequately vetted, can recoup their investment, nor will their book sell in any numbers.

That said, new avenues in independent publishing (e-publishing on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords with no-minimum-purchase, print-on-demand options for paperback copies) have opened up which are NOT the same sort of thing at all. So I went to the RWA site, copied out their criteria, added my own observations, and sent it off. Here is that email:

From: Kristin Tualla
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2010 7:08 PM
Subject: Question about Vanity Presses & PAN

My question specifically targets CreateSpace, Kindle, Smashwords & Nook. Here is what the RWA website says about qualifying for Pan (Published Authors Network) with my questions/comments in CAPS:

Eligible Novel: A work of Romance Fiction of at least 40,000 words (as determined by computer word count) that is offered for sale in a readable or audio format to the general public by a publisher, for which the author receives payment as stipulated in a written contract from a publisher WOULDN’T THIS BE THE ROYALTY AGREEMENT?

and for which the author does not participate in the costs of production in any manner including but not limited to publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing, preparation, and/or distribution. NONE OF THE PUBLISHERS I LISTED CHARGES THE AUTHOR ANY FEES TO PUBLISH THEIR MANUSCRIPTS. ZERO. ZIP. NADA.

A novel does not qualify if the publisher withholds or seeks 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. NONE OF THE PUBLISHERS LISTED CHARGE ANY FEES, NOR DO THEY WITHHOLD PAYMENT. IN FACT, THEY PAY FASTER THAN TRADITIONAL PUBLISHERS DO, AND SALES NUMBERS ARE IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE TO THE AUTHOR AT ANY TIME.


So, can authors qualify for PAN using these publishers if they make $1000.00 in royalties a 12-month period? It seems to me that they should be able to, based on the criteria listed. Thank you for your time!

Their prompt and encouraging reply:

From: Carol Ritter
Sent: Friday, June 04, 2010 9:26 AM
Subject: Re: Question about Vanity Presses & PAN

Hi Kris,
Your email sent to RWA’s info@ email address was forwarded to me. Staff does not create policy, we merely follow the policies approved by RWA’s Board of Directors.  I will forward your email to RWA’s BoD today so that they may discuss your questions regarding Eligible Novel, Vanity Presses and PAN membership. Their next scheduled meeting is on July 26, 2010.
(Kris says: this meeting will be held at RWA’s Annual National Conference.)

Carol Ritter
Professional Relations Manager
Romance Writers of America

And my reply to her, sent today:

Thank you, Carol!

There are – admittedly – some horrible presses that feed on the uneducated and charge authors $500-$4500 to “publish” them. These predatory Vanity Presses must remain excluded in the category created for them by RWA.

But with the rise of Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords (with CreateSpace or Lulu as the printer of POD paper copies) where the author is not charged any fees, publishing has shifted yet again. If an author uploads a manuscript – and makes $1000 or more in a year with royalties – it would seem that they should be considered legitimately published by RWA’s standards. After all, the public considers them published, and has spoken with their wallet.

I await the decision with an active blog’s worth of readers behind me. We are all curious as to what the ruling will be!


So, readers, I will give you the response as soon as I received it. If you don’t already subscribe to this blog, please do so  – you don’t want to miss it!

25 Responses to “An Off-Cycle Post RE: An Exchange with Romance Writers of America Regarding Shifts in Publishing”

  1. 1 Vicki Bendau 06/05/2010 at 3:05 PM

    And, considering that even big name publishers expect the author to do ALMOST ALL of their own marketing so therefore authors MUST be market savvy even before their books are presented to the public, the room between self-published (NOT vanity-published) and traditional published continues to shrink.

    Editorial? Even big-name published authors still vet their mss through professional editors before they go through the house; something certainly any serious author will invest in before publishing in a non-traditional (NON vanity) manner.

    So, as far as that $1,000.00 royalties in a calendar year it only counts toward RWA PAN if it has a big name house on the spine, or sits on a big name bookstore shelf?

    Just asking. I could be wrong.
    Let’s hear it for squeaky wheels!

  2. 5 Karen 06/05/2010 at 3:12 PM

    Hi Kris,
    Thank you for the informative blog and this great new entry. I belong to a small group of “newbie” writers. We all took an online writing class together and then formed a Facebook Group in order to stay in touch and post work for critiques.
    One of my colleagues has a manuscript prepared. I am assuming she has had it properly edited. She relates that when she tried to publish with Create Space, they requested $12.86 per book. She would have to price her book above that to see any profit.
    I am looking for information on her behalf. I thought I read on your various blogs that legitimate self-publishing has no fees to the author.
    Your help with understanding new way to publish is appreciated.

    • 6 kristualla 06/05/2010 at 9:04 PM

      The price of books on Create Space is based on:
      1. Number of pages
      2. Black & white or color
      3. Whether it’s “Pro” ($39 & highly worth it)

      My manuscript is 103,000 words, 340 pages at 10.5 Times New Roman font size, 5.25×8.00 trim size. It costs me $5.05 per copy. I’ll be selling it for $12.95 retail on Amazon. The e-book will be $2.99.

      I don’t know what your friend has done with hers, but you can email me at to talk more and figure it out.

      • 7 Frankie Robertson 06/08/2010 at 4:13 PM

        What discount does Amazon require? I read somewhere (possibly here, but my sieve-like brain doesn’t recall) that they will be decreasing it June 30 to better compete. Any info on this?

      • 8 kristualla 06/08/2010 at 9:06 PM

        Amazon is INCREASING their royalties to meet others’ levels. 70% of the sale price goes to the author/publisher.

  3. 9 marymccall 06/05/2010 at 4:36 PM

    Hi Kris:
    The answer I got to the question you are asking now is yes. The unfortunate thing everyone fails to talk about is that $1000 is not a living or even close to starting one. Everything an author makes off a book is most likely put into crossing the red off her/his financial books created by promotions.
    Glad you’re addressing this issue.

    • 10 kristualla 06/05/2010 at 9:10 PM

      New authors have GOT to realize one key factor: The average fiction author makes $5,000-6,000 per year once they are established. This is NOT a well-paying gig to begin with, and might never evolve to that point.


      Those of us willing to do the work, walk the path, stay true to our calling, etc. etc. can turn a tidy profit. Especially when new publishing paths pay several times the standard paperback royalty of 10% (minus the agent’s 15%).

      I’ll take 70% 0f 2.99 ($2.10) over 10% of 7.99 (80 cents/68 cents) any day.

  4. 11 Cate Rowan 06/05/2010 at 5:27 PM

    Thank you for asking, Kris. I never even thought to ask, figuring I knew what the answer would be. Ha, never assume! The publishing world has indeed changed. I look forward to the response.

  5. 12 Paisley Kirkpatrick 06/05/2010 at 6:28 PM

    You are a class act, Kris. All of this is confusing as I am learning the business. Thank you for being a leader to those of us who are just learning the ins and outs of the business.

  6. 14 Jody 06/05/2010 at 7:25 PM

    Kris, the only question I have and am confused, is that clearly CreateSpace as a POD is a vanity press ( been burned on some very poorly written books)so then what is the relationship with Smashwords? How does one get differentiat between the two? I have looked to having my daughter’s college thesis done useing CreateSpace so that she can get affordable copies for her college and for some of her professors so CreateSpace works great for that and also for the established authors who have regained their copyrights on backlist books and want to reprint them for their fans.

    Just wondering how the relationship with CreateSpace and Smashwords works so that the author isn’t paying for the set up and delivery of the POD?


    • 15 kristualla 06/05/2010 at 9:27 PM

      Smashwords is a E-PUBLISHER where authors can upload their manuscripts for sale. They sell ALL formats, including Kindle, Nook, Sony, Apple iPad and others. Authors can already upload straight to Kindle themselves, and Nook starts that service this summer. There is no fee to publish this way, and authors pocket 70% of the sale price.

      Create Space is a print-on-demand PAPER press. Again, there is no fee to upload your manuscript. Once the details are decided upon (trim size, B&W or color, #of pages, etc.) the print price is set. You can see my set-up & costs in the above reply to Karen’s post.

      While these companies can be called Vanity Presses, they are VERY different in how they operate. Standard Vanity Presses charge anywhere from $500 – $5000 to print your book – money you will never earn back – and they don’t offer the same distribution channels. FLEE from them!!! They make their money FROM the author – not FOR the author!

      The companies I am referring to are more correctly called “Independent Publishers.” They don’t make a cent unless my book sells. They are conduits that circumvent the traditional publishing houses and their skittish sales departments.

      As for quality – well, the truth is there is no guarantee no matter who publishes the book. I can’t tell you how many paperbacks I have thrown across a room because they were AWFUL. Independent publishers will bring NEW authors, and revive ESTABLISHED authors, for the benefit of readers. We just have to choose our books by word of mouth – as we always have.

      The cream will rise to the top. If a book sells well, it’s probably a safe bet.

      I hope this helps! 🙂

      • 16 Frankie Robertson 06/08/2010 at 4:08 PM

        You can buy cover design, formatting, and editing services from Create Space, though you don’t have to. I wonder if the fact that they offer these services for a fee will disqualify them as a Vanity press in RWA’s eyes, much as Harlequin’s vanity arm caused them so much grief?

    • 17 kristualla 06/05/2010 at 11:43 PM

      Jody – It occurs to me that I missed half of your question about payment for set-up & delivery. Create Space books ARE available to brick & mortar stores, but are not stocked, generally speaking. The price of the book – when ordered – includes the cost of printing. Shipping is added.

      This is an entirely different business model. Traditionally published new authors get 4″ of shelf space for 8 weeks – if their book is bought by the chain.

      Publishing independently means promoting differently, selling differently. Thinking differently! 🙂

  7. 18 Nancy Lennea 06/06/2010 at 5:22 AM

    Thanks for getting this out. Though I finally broke the drought, and have three ebooks coming out this year with real publishers, it is nice to know I can upload my own book sometime. My dad did our family history and spent a fortune then gave them all away. He was so proud, so there you go. I have thought of writing short stories and now see that I can upload them myself. Someday.

    • 19 kristualla 06/06/2010 at 4:32 PM

      Someday the term “real publishers” will mean an entirely different thing! For now, I’m walking both paths: pursuing Traditional Publishing with 2 manuscripts and going Independent with 3.

      Thanks for weighing in! 🙂

  8. 20 Pauline Baird Jones 06/07/2010 at 12:47 PM

    Well, I’ve had issues with RWA policy for some time. LOL! As it stands, it does more to protect the traditional BUSINESS model than authors IMHO. When you see major authors releasing titles into digital, bypassing their own publishers…well, the world is changing. RWA isn’t only author org protecting an outdated business model.

    I saw a post on that kindle forum where a reader said that he never used to notice which company published what, but now he notices. Now he knows which publishers release to kindle promptly and don’t overcharge. What we’re seeing is a shift from author branding to publisher branding–and not in a good way for the publishers who are actively anti-digital.

    I’d like to see some of the author orgs take on publishers who are hurting author brands with poor digital decisions. Then I could start to believe that these policies really are about protecting authors.

    • 21 kristualla 06/07/2010 at 6:35 PM

      In RWA’s defense (yes – they have a legitimate one) the world of publishing is changing SO fast that the world THIS summer is not the same as the world LAST summer.

      And that’s no exaggeration! Do you know about the slap fight with Harlequin? Stupid publisher opened a VANITY press where they were charging authors $600-$1600 to publish their books!

      HIGHWAY ROBBERY!!! PREYING ON THE UNEDUCATED AND FOOLISH!!! They deserved to be dealt with, and they were. They caved and moved that still-in-existence endeavor to another website. BAD Harlequin! Shame on them!

      That said, RWA needs to be willing/able to flex as the industry changes: quickly. We’ll see if they are.

  9. 22 Pauline Baird Jones 06/08/2010 at 11:30 AM

    What I would like to see from all the writer’s orgs, is a recognition that we are all adults here. It’s great when we can join forces for advocacy, but don’t treat me like a child because of the choices I make in managing my own career.

    As for Harlequin, yeah, they should move the self publishing arm off site, but they had a perfect right to open and business and run it the way they want. I haven’t looked at the deal, but those numbers don’t look out of line for what I’ve seen with other, reputable self publishing companies. If you’re going to invest in your work, if you’re going to self publish, why not work with a company that knows the business inside and out? Harlequin has had a very well developed, well managed business from the get go.

    While its not always been terribly author friendly, it has been profitable.

    The bottom line of all of this discussion is choices. No one makes anyone do business with any company. Authors choose who they submit to. they choose to accept or reject contracts. Many authors are happy with companies I wouldn’t *choose* to do business with. If they are happy, who am I to slam that choice or say it isn’t “real?”

    Yes, people ought to be informed, but sometimes they don’t want to be informed. Sometimes they know what they want and they do it. And they’ve been doing it for years and years, long before epublishing came along. Nothing any of the big orgs has done has changed that.

    I’ve seen authors thrilled with their first book and seen someone else come along and tell them they were stupid and naive to go with that company and they’ve been crushed. How does that help?

    If someone is happy with their choice, let them be happy. If they are in it, its too late to change it. If they come in later and want to know what could be better, THEN is the time to tell them.

    For me, what orgs should do is inform and educate. And if they have collective bargaining power, then do that. But quit “protecting” me out of contests and out of sight. Without fail, every time a big writers org has instituted “new protections,” as a small press author, I’ve lost benefits (without a commensurate cut in dues, either).

    If an author has a book for sale, they are published in my opinion. Trying to parse publication just looks silly. IMHO. It’s all so SNEECHES. (Dr. Suess) And don’t get me started on requirements from these orgs that say publishers have to make BAD business decisions (like mandatory print runs) to be “real” publishers.

    Until the major writers orgs support MY business model, I’ll pass on supporting them with my dues. (grin) The funny part is, I AM with trad publisher, in trad contract, just small press. I have yet to self publish anything, but when I meet someone who is willing to invest in THEMSELVES, I say you go girls and guys! 🙂

  10. 24 Pauline Baird Jones 06/09/2010 at 5:59 AM

    You’re very kind, Kris. I know I get a little passionate. LOL!

    Will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  1. 1 Sad Day @ RWA: I received an answer… « KrisTualla's Author & Writing Blog Trackback on 08/12/2010 at 5:24 PM

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