Disparity Within MWA: Trad-Pubbed vs Independently Pubbed

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent from blogging for a little while. It’s not that I don’t love you, I do. I’ve had to deeply focus my time and energy into to writing and research. I also attended Sleuthfest this past weekend.


On that note I have something to say that may not be popular, but I’ve got to get it off my chest in order to feel settled about it and the only way I know to do it is to put it out there. When asked on an interview if there was anything I hated about writing or the industry, I found it difficult to use such a strong word to describe anything about the process. I love it….everything; writing, researching, editing, the whole shebang. But there is one thing that bothers me most.

I don’t like how people put down the self-published without giving authors an opportunity. They ridicule without even having read the author’s work and lump all exclusively self-published authors into one pile of trash. Yes, I understand there is some crappy work out there by independent authors. There are also lots of crappy work out there by the traditionally published. I wrote a good book. I worked hard to build a team to beta read, professionally edit, design a cover, professionally narrate the audio book, publicize the work and did everything I know to create a nicely polished product to present.

I’m happy to report Naked Alliances has received glowing praise from authors and book reviewers across the nation. Some top magazines like Midwest Reviews and The Island Reporter have featured either myself as author or the book.

Yet, many writer organizations won’t represent the work as it is self-published. I’m not allowed to enter their contests or sell my books in affiliated book stores because it’s not traditionally published or doesn’t meet the “must prove they have sold 5000 copies of their books” requirement.

I haven’t joined some popular organizations because of these restrictions. Until they change their attitude toward the independently published I won’t and I’ve let them know it. Send in high membership dues, provide time and energy fully supporting and promoting their organization when they won’t do the same for me? How hypocritical of me to do that.

I’ve attended Sleuthfest two years. It’s sponsored by Mystery Writers of America. I have not joined their organization for these very reasons. Maybe if I did, and became more active, I could help change the attitude they have toward self-published. I was planning to act as an official volunteer at Sleuthfest last year. I was told that only MWA members could act in the volunteer capacity at their events. I decided to check them out first, before making a decision to join.

I read their entire web site and decided against joining until I could see how my book would be published as their rules for self-published authors are far more stringent than those for traditionally published and contests are only open to those who are published by a MWA approved publisher.

There is no hint of equality.

This year, I was told that non-members could be on panels, so I signed up for one. Then I received a letter informing me that panelists had to be published by a MWA approved publisher. I contacted the Murder on the Beach Bookstore that sells attendees books during the conference and was told, yes, they do carry books by self-published authors, provided they are on a panel.

Do you see the problem here?

Time went on and I sucked it up and decided I would go to the conference and enjoy myself. I even made a FANtastic Florida raffle basket to donate. There was more than $250.00 in merchandise in that basket for some lucky ticket holder.

I could still learn a lot and promote myself and my book, maybe even sell a few copies out of a box in my room. (Which I did.)

However, a few days before the conference, I received a personal message from the chairman of the volunteer committee. They were short on volunteers and could use my help. Maybe this was a golden opportunity to step up to the plate and demonstrate that I was a bigger person. I asked, if I volunteered, could they place my books in the books store?

Nope. Can’t do that. “But I’m on the board now and maybe things will change for next year.” (And maybe not.)

I declined to volunteer. Call me anything you please and tell me how I could have made a wonderful impression on the powers that be, but no. Independently published authors shouldn’t have to suck up or meet special criteria to qualify for perks of membership. So no, until things change, I won’t be joining your organization.

There are so many organizations out there that provide due respect. It would be hypocritical of me to join one that doesn’t. I’m happy to pay membership dues and actively participate in those that do.


22 thoughts on “Disparity Within MWA: Trad-Pubbed vs Independently Pubbed

    1. I feel like I tried to at least meet them half way. I’ll volunteer, you carry my books. I sold as many copies as I usually do during a Fussy Librarian promo, but not an ENT promo–straight out of my cardboard box, and gave away five copies on the book exchange table. I recognize that the volunteers there work super hard to make the event a success, and I could have been part of that. Honestly, this year, without the pressure of trying to impress agents and editors, I was able to relax and enjoy the forensic track of the program very much. But if I am going to pay dues, and bust my ass, I should get something special in return.

  1. Don’t apologize for being honest about your sentiments or opinions, Susan. Also, it’s not that you “hate” the lack of respect self-published authors often receive; it’s more a matter of disliking or resenting it. But I’m not trying to tell you how to feel.

    It seems groups like MWA are the handful of remaining standard-bearers for the old guards of the literary world. For decades self-published authors were viewed as losers; people who just couldn’t take a hint that their writing wasn’t good enough. Fortunately, that attitude is changing, as technology improves and writers begin to take the power of the written word back from the ivory tower crowd of publishers and editors. One down side, of course, is the quality of books coming out. Some authors don’t realize they at least really do need a professional editor to review their work and perhaps even a professional artist to produce the artwork. Another down side (at least for we introverts) is that we have to do all our own marketing.

    On the up side, writers have more autonomy over their books, and readers have more choices. If the people managing MWA don’t respect that the fact that you’re a serious writer, then it’s their loss – not yours. They’ll be forced to come around and face the emerging changes.

    1. Well said. And I appreciate the support. Resentment is a good word to describe how I’m feeling. I have no regrets about independently publishing my novel. I plan to publish the entire series exactly the same way…Ivory Tower be damned.

  2. It’s easy to feel that second-tier author status when small-press published too, particularly when it comes to getting books in bookstores. Thank goodness for indie bookstores that allow books on consignment. But with the publishing world in continuous change, hopefully this will shift down the road too. I’m not a member of MWA. Do you have to pay dues? I’m a member of ITW, but there are no dues for that. You do have to be published by a publisher on their approved list, but I think self-published authors can apply for a membership if they meet certain criteria. Not sure about that though. Sorry things turned out that way for you.

    1. There are dues for MWA. Today I received a notice from the board member whom I spoke with earlier and he tells me that he spoke with the bookstore owner and she will most likely carry books by all MWA self-pubbed members next year. Says he will touch base with me in about six months to confirm. I don’t know if I’ll join though. If you are feeling like second tier, I can assure you I am feeling third tier. It’s 2017, not 1994. Small presses, like Henery Press, are approved MWA publishers. And a self-pubbed is accepted as long as they can show proof of selling 5000 books. I’m not certain if there is a time frame in which to sell that 5000 books, but I do know it doesn’t have to be just one title, it’s books cumulative. I guess I just need to write more books, which is what I planned to do anyways. None of the bookstores around Orlando, Indies included, will sell on consignment. They will purchase one to four copies, but you have to deliver and the stores are far and few between. I placed books myself when I wrote my first book. Also, I’ve sold as many books in person to locals as I have online, maybe more, but never wrote receipts. Never really thought about it…but treating myself as a business, I should.

        1. I’ve sold so many books without giving a receipt. A receipt book would be a good place for me to start. I know how many books I’ve bought from Createspace at my cost and sold. But providing proof is another thing….lol

  3. So I’m here reflecting on your post, and am glad you wrote it. Our main Canadian association for authors recently took a vote and decided to open up its membership to independently-published authors (with some conditions, I seem to remember).

    But it’s not just these organizations. Many competitions are not open to indies. They are among the many established organizations who rely on the traditional publishing industry to be their gatekeepers and arbiters of quality.

    I’ve often wondered if there is a way to satisfy both sides — those, like Mystery Writers of America (MWA). who want to continue to present/represent high quality literature, as well as independently published authors who write high-quality books. Is there, for example, a recognized ‘seal of high quality’ for independently published books? One of your commenters mentioned the need for skilled editing. Should/could there be a set of standards for independently published books? Some people pay Kirkus to review their books (you can use the review or not, your choice, I believe) which seems to be a standard setter. But where are the standards for high quality writing and who would be trusted to be the keeper of those standards?

    1. That’s an ongoing question and one I’ve heard asked many times. Who sets the standard when there are so many varied opinions?

      When I published Red Clay and Roses ( a story about a group of characters in the deep south in the 1950-60s grappling with inequality) I paid for a Kirkus Review. They had a special section for indies, and they gave the book a nice review. As a paid review, I could use part or all of it in the editorial reviews section on my retail page. I submitted it to Awesome Indies also, and it was a paid review. Awesome Indies was trying to be a flagship gold standard for Indies. The lady who ran the company was also an editor and she had two other people read my book. She reported to me that one couldn’t finish reading it because it was so poorly done. The other wrote a very long review about how the book should have been a trilogy, and there were too many stories in the 445 page novel and there should be one novel about the doctor (abortionist), one story about his handyman’s daughter who was gang raped, and a third about the handyman’s son, his plight to cope with inequality in the deep south during the civil rights movement and his relationship with a white woman in that era. The reviewer went into great detail trashing everything about the book and its presentation, and telling me how it should be rewritten. The owner pushed very hard to get me to pay for additional editorial services, take the book down, revamp it into a trilogy….paying her company a huge sum for both “manuscript review” and editing. I declined. Then they posted the long review onto my retail page as if they had bought the book and read and reviewed it. I had to send Amazon a copy of my paid invoice to show them it was a paid review before they agreed to take it down. Now I won’t deny that there are some things about that debut novel that could have been done differently and maybe improved the flow. It was segmented. There was an introduction, part one, part two and a conclusion. The introduction and part one were done in first person, part two in third person, and then the conclusion flipped back to first person. Technically, that wasn’t the best way to tell the story, but people who read it and enjoyed it, got it…and understood why it had to be written that way in as much as I was telling a fictionalized true story (roman a clef). Still, 71% of my reader reviewers enjoyed it enough to give it five stars and wrote some well thought out reviews that I very much appreciated, and all but one of the reader reviews was helpful and pleasant.

      There are no such things as gatekeepers and there shouldn’t be. Writing is art and art is a form of expression. “The Color Purple” is atrocious on one plane, and an astonishingly beautiful piece of work on another. “Catcher in the Rye” would most likely not be a novel picked up by a publishing house today….and yet we have “Goldfinch” which I managed to read 200 pages of, but could go no further.

      I believe the market will settle itself. People willing to read indies will find some gems and some rocks. The same is true for the traditionally published. I applaud Amazon for setting the market trend to place them side-by-side on the retail platform and let the buyer decide.

      My husband reads two or three crime novels a week. He used to hesitate to spend on big name authors, and forced himself to wait until the books were marked down, but since he’s been introduced to indies he has more reading material than he thought possible.

      In general, most people are happy to have choices. It would be nice to see support organizations embrace the independently published. What a wonderful thing it would be to have Mystery Writers of America include all mystery writers of America without discrimination. There’s so much we could learn from each other.

  4. You have to hold your ground Susan, where your values stand. You have to have the sales to get an ‘in’ but you have to have an ‘in’ to get the sales. It’s a vicious circle. I feel I do more marketing than writing these days, so just how do I find the time to write more books! ~Elle

    1. This is a fledgling series, and I’ve only just begun, but already determined that the best marketing a person can do is write more books. Keep contact with your platform base, but keep writing.

  5. I’m so sorry you’re having this problem. You wrote an intelligent thoughtful post. Although I am traditionally published, I still run into problems getting my books into chain stores because–at this point–they are still POD. My publisher is on the approved list for MWA and I do plan on joining, but there is a large writer’s organization in PA that has more hoops to jump through than MWA. I don’t think I’m going to qualify for them even as a traditionally published author because I didn’t receive an advance on royalties. Crazy. Doesn’t matter that I didn’t put a penny out of my own pocket for my work and that I’m earning income off of it.

    A lot of doors have been opened in the indie and small press world. But, sadly, there are plenty that are still solidly closed.

  6. I’m really sorry to hear you’re having difficulties, Susan. That said, this is your blog and you can say whatever you’d like. Keep the faith. I love my Indy pals and their books!

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