Dear SFWA: Ebook Authors Need You

Dear Esteemed SFWA Members,

Recently, I submitted my novel to an ebook publisher. My reasons for submitting there were many, and I did not come to this decision easily. In this turbulent time for new authors, I decided that I would submit my novel to the ebook publisher first, before submitting to print publishers who accept unagented submissions. My main reason is that I have already established a modest readership among ebook enthusiasts, and I’m hoping my novel appeals to those readers.

Before submitting, I went to your SFWA Membership Requirements page, which is my first stop when submitting stories to short story markets. And I looked to see if you have started listing any ebook publishers yet.

You have not.

For years–probably for as long as you have been running a website–I have been checking with your qualifying markets page for good places to submit my short stories. I am a submission snob. I don’t submit to many markets that aren’t listed on your pages. There are a few semipro magazines I will submit to–but not many.

But why do you not list any ebook publishers? You don’t even acknowledge that they exist. Even your disapproved publishers are listed, such as PublishAmerica. Yet no Carina Press, no Samhain, no Ellora’s Cave, no Loose Id or any of the other epublishers where many writers make very good money–some as much as five figures–publishing books with great content, great covers and great editing, and which all publish a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

Ebook authors who write science fiction and fantasy need you to step up to the plate. For years, romance has dominated ebooks, but that’s changing. Those publishers have set the mark very high. Not only are the covers and editing thoroughly professional, but the books are widely available at ebook stores everywhere, and you see their ads everywhere. There’s no question that they’re trying to put out a professional product.

But because most professional writing organizations don’t acknowledge that they exist, the publishers are setting all the rules. There is some competition among them for royalty rates, but I know of nothing that demarks what a “professional” publisher should be paying vs. a “semipro”, like we have for short story markets. For short stories, 5 cents a word is the minimum. It is a goal for both writers and publishers alike. What should the minimum royalty rate be for ebooks? Some pay 40 percent off net. Others pay 15 percent off cover. Which is better for the author? Often, we don’t know. We have to go it alone, unless we can manage to find an agent. I sold a novella–I didn’t even look for an agent. I may look if my novel gets an offer, but I have not made that decision yet.

Please consider coming up with some membership guidelines for epublished authors. Please consider coming up with membership levels that will include them. And please consider vetting the ebook publishers and include a section about them in your Membership Requirements page, as a service to all writers, whether they are members, or hope to be one day.

Respectfully,

Tia Nevitt

8 thoughts on “Dear SFWA: Ebook Authors Need You

  1. Well put! The main problem is that ebook publishers–all of them, as far as I know–don’t pay advances. Certainly none of them pay advances of $2,000 or more, which I believe is the cutoff for SFWA to consider a publisher for inclusion into the List. So SFWA won’t even look at epublishers because they don’t meet SFWA’s basic requirements for a professional publisher (SFWA does not care about professional covers or editing; that’s a given if you’re already getting a four-figure-plus advance).

    It would be nice if SFWA had a secondary list for epublishers, maybe something more like the magazine list where a sale to an approved epublisher counted as one point out of three needed for membership. Considering how few markets SFWA approves, adding epublishers who meet certain guidelines would be extremely helpful for prospective members. And it would drag SFWA kicking and screaming into the 21st century, finally.

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  2. I would be thrilled with the associate membership expanded. Mostly I would love them to be of service to writers of ebooks as they are to short form and long form writers. We need them.

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  3. Dear Tia,

    We have members who have joined solely with an ebook publication from qualifying markets such as Time/Warner. The markets we have listed are the ones which prospective members have asked us to qualify. If you would like us to examine the qualifications of your publisher, there’s a form that you can fill out.

    http://www.sfwa.org/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/#qualify

    Electronic publication is simply a technology. The words of authors who choose an electronic publication are no less valuable than those who are printed on paper. Telling epublishers that they don’t have to pay as much undervalues the work that authors are doing.

    While our new bylaws will allow us to look accepting cumulative sales, such as royalties, any qualifying criteria must treat authors fairly and be quantifiable.

    But lowering the minimum payment to which we hold publishers to will not serve authors.

    Yours,
    Mary Robinette Kowal

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    • Thank you for writing. I’m delighted that ebook authors have made it into your membership rolls.

      I am certainly not asking SFWA to lower the minimum acceptable payment. However, I am confused as to what that might be. My own book is a novella, which might compare to a sale to a magazine publisher, but that is like comparing apples to bananas. I would hope that I would have to meet a minimum sales threshold of something more lofty than fifty dollars. However, my little novella has not even come close to making two thousand dollars in royalties that is expected for a novel advance.

      If you have ebook standards, then what I’d really like is for you to publish them on your website. Most ebook publishers do not pay advances, but pay a higher royalty rate, instead. Therefore, ebook authors are very interested in royalty rates. They vary widely. Some pay by net, some pay by cover price. The definition of net can vary. Net profit, or net proceeds? The difference can equal a great deal of money.

      By coming up with what SFWA thinks is an acceptable royalty calculation method and threshold, you would help authors decide to whom they should submit, and you would help publishers know the standards for which they could aim in attracting talent.

      Mystery Writers of America has recently come up with some ebook publishing standards here: http://www.mysterywriters.org/node/10784. It would be a great service if SFWA can come up with similar guidelines.

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  4. Here via Google! Have you read this?

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/06/mwabnsp-mystery-writers-of-america-but.html

    I stumbled upon your post for entirely different reasons, and if you have access to search result URIs that will be obvious. However, I can’t help but feel like there’s a component to this discussion that’s missing: what’s going to happen when the majority of authors decide that they can do better without the middlemen? Will the SFWA be a mark of professionalism, or will it be the stamp of approval that represents some arbitrary, faux-academic judgement of literary merit?

    Forward-looking organizations will be those who *also* allow a threshold of sales to qualify authors for membership. There are many e-publishers that are not self-publishers by any means, but they don’t pay their authors advances at all — because the advance system is tied to a royalty system that is not profitable for most mid-list authors. There’s no more reason for a bestselling self-published pulp novel to preclude someone from membership than there is for a bad-selling critically acclaimed NY-6 novel to cause an author to be left out in the cold.

    I stopped paying attention to writers awards and clubs when I realized they were all circle-jerks of validation for insecure people. The readers are who matter to me in my nonfiction work, and they are who will matter when I publish my fiction as well. I’ve written in a different field, so I have less experience than you do, but I do know that I don’t want to spend one more minute worrying about what other writers think of my writing. I wasted several years trying to write short stories and poetry when I didn’t want to write short stories and poetry, all because industry experts said that was what it took to break in.

    There’s an saying I took away from my alma mater: you can’t eat prestige. That said, if validation from peers is what you want, go for it. But I would examine exactly what each organization you aspire to join has actually done to benefits its members’ careers — and telling them, whether explicitly or implicitly, that financial stability and popular success through a different path doesn’t count seems like a counter-productive idea to me.

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    • I’m not looking for validation–I’m looking for help. I’m a member of RWA, but it’s not the best fit for me. I write science fiction and fantasy with some romance, but my romances are just as apt to end tragically as happily. SF and F readers don’t get annoyed at that, but romance readers do. So I don’t even do things like submit my work to RWA’s contests.

      What I would like is for the writing organizations to go through the ebook publishers out there, and qualify the best for membership, just as they do for short fiction publications. Since they have been ignoring ebook publishers, the publishers have been coming up with all the standards without the input or influence of a major writing organization–at least until MWA stepped up to the plate.

      If SFWA could acknowledge the epublishers with the best terms and the highest royalties, it would provide positive pressure upon the rest of the industry, and would be a great service for ebook authors.

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