Romance Writers of America and the Changing World of Publishing

Many of you are no doubt asking yourselves, how can I capitalize on the opportunities presented by new technology and the evolving publishing industry? Is self-publishing the right choice? What about traditional or small-press publishing?

While authors are facing new choices, so is RWA. It has not been until recently that a significant number of romance authors (and RWA members) were able to self-publish with a proven career benefit and monetary gain. With this publishing model now providing a potential revenue stream for romance authors, in addition to traditional and small-press publishing, what should the organization do to address it?

RWA’s mission is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA fully supports the efforts of authors who are career focused—whether they choose to assign rights to a publisher or self-publish. Being career-focused simply means that the author’s purpose in publishing her works is to produce income.

RWA’s Board of Directors, made up of 19 volunteers, several of whom are self-publishing works in addition to being traditionally published, are spending a significant amount of time examining membership structure, communities of practice, programs, and services to determine how self-published books and the needs of self-published authors can be addressed by RWA. Existing programs cannot and should not be shoved aside, because many members indicate their primary goal is to be published by a large, traditional publisher.[1]

Business models change quickly and often, and no matter how hard we try, RWA cannot adapt overnight. The sheer logistics of certain programs may mean there are areas in which RWA cannot expand enough to include self-published books or authors. Alternatively, the board is not opposed to offering programs specifically designed for self-publishing and self-published authors such as workshops and a forum dedicated to the topic of self-publishing.

From the current vantage point, self-publishing seems to embody very bright hopes in an otherwise gloomy publishing environment, but we should not forget that traditional publishing is still the dominant player and continues to provide the largest number of romance authors with viable careers. Will self-publishing be a smart and successful career move for everyone? No. Will traditional or small-press publishing disappear? No. What RWA can and will continue to do is provide information, education, and forums for discussion and networking on the publishing avenues that have proven successful income generators for authors.

At the end of the day, RWA has the interests of 10,000 members to consider. Strategic changes shouldn’t and can’t happen quickly and often require bylaws changes, but your leaders are working as quickly as possible. If RWA were a privately owned business, the direction of the company could change any time the owner(s) agreed to make a change. But RWA is a nonprofit corporation that is essentially “owned” by all of its members. It is also a tax-exempt organization and must follow the laws and restrictions imposed by the State of Texas and the Internal Revenue Service. One way you can help shape the future of the organization is by answering the surveys we send out, voting for the Board, approving Bylaws, volunteering, and sharing your suggestions for programs and services with RWA. Remember, while each of us has chosen to embark on this sometimes exhilarating, sometimes exhausting ride the publishing industry has become, at least we have the comfort of knowing we are in this together. 

The 2012 RWA Annual Conference will feature craft, research, career, writer’s life and publishing workshops taught by excellent and knowledgeable instructors and targeted to authors of varying career levels and subgenres. Not only will the conference feature spotlights delivered by more than 15 publishers of romance fiction, but there will also be several workshops that specifically address self-publishing. These include: Be Your Own Lead Title; Branding for Self-Published Authors; E-Publishing Plus New York Print: Strategies for Getting the Best of Both Worlds; The Legal Aspects of Self-Publishing; Marketing 101 for Self-Publishers--10 Tools and Techniques to Maximize Sales; and Self-Publishing: the Down and Dirty Details. So, whether you are looking to break into New York or learn about self-publishing, RWA is providing programs that will help you receive the craft, business and career tools you need.

[1] In a recent survey of PRO members, 70% responded that their primary goal is to be published by a large, traditional publisher.

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