RWA National Convention 2013–State of Change

This year’s RWA National Convention was different. There was a buzz of energy in the air that was palpable. High energy, positive energy. To me, the national convention is always intense. Actually, intense is an understatement for what it feels like to be one of over 2000 people (98% female) in one place. But the intensity this year was exciting and anticipatory.

What made this year’s conference more intense, more positive and more exciting?

I believe it was the effect of indie publishing on each and every person in attendance. I participated in the first wave of electronic publishing in the mid-90s. Certainly exciting and trail-blazing, but very definitely frustrating. I received a PAN ribbon for publishing  my first novel with an electronic publisher, then I had it taken away because RWA decided that electronic publishers were not recognized. I had to earn my PAN ribbon again, when I published with a small press, prior to selling my first book to Harlequin Intrigue in 2001. So during that period, my conferences were intense. I got blank looks when I told people I was published electronically. I got sympathy and bewilderment when I explained that yes, I had a PAN ribbon last year but I was un-PANned. And a lot of authors and editors told me, “well, you know, being published electronically is not really published.”

Things were so different, this year. Indie authors were the ones with the big smiles on their faces. They were congratulated by fellow authors, and editors and agents appeared to be trolling the crowds looking for the most successful indies to court.

This year at RWA was different, too, because during the convention, RWA announced that in 2014, independently published books would be eligible for the Rita. Yet another milestone. Is this a good idea? I think so. There are some excellent books being self-published. Hopefully, the judging process for the Rita will separate the wheat from the chaff. Think how exciting it would be if an independently published author won a Rita.

I have been in RWA since 1993, and have, as I’ve discussed above, been through a lot of the growing pains of the publishing industry and the romance genre. I’ve been published by electronic, small press, medium press and major NY publishing house, and I have independently published. I am entranced, watching the legitimization of independent (self-) publishing.

Are traditionally published authors frustrated by their treatment by major houses? In many cases yes. Absolutely. Are they leaving the houses for indie publishing? Yes. Although a large percentage are continuing with their traditional publishing contracts while also writing independent–a safer, lower-risk alternative.

Are the major publishers worried? In my opinion, if they’re not, they should be. The publishing industry is in a state of change. Arguably, publishing is perpetually in such a state, but this particular change is going to be painful for traditional houses who persist in ignoring the impact and importance of electronic sales.

When I looked around as I walked through crowded halls at the RWA National Convention, everybody was talking. There were frustrated, frowning conversations and there were grinning, animated discussions. But in most cases it looked to me as if it were the editors and agents who were frowning.

The authors had big smiles on their faces.



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