I’ve been around the writing block.
In 1994, after about five years of reading mostly romance (because the all-you-can-eat buffet of 80s horror bookshelves disappeared fast, but romance has maintained the buffet for years and years), I tried to write a romance novel. It didn’t go well, but I persisted. I found people online (back then, it was BBS and early forums, mostly), and they recommended I join RWA. So I did. And wow, what a fantastic place for writers of any genre. Their mission is, according to their website, “advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.” Their tagline is “The Voice of Romance Writers.” And they mean it.
They offer a monthly journal with information for authors of any romance sub-genre, from beginner to multi-published. They have a huge network of chapters–both online special interest groups and IRL local chapters–where authors can network and learn about both the craft and the business of being a romance writer. Their national annual conference is ginormous. I want to say they cap registration at around 2,000, and I do mean cap it. Especially when it’s held in New York, it’s a hotbed of networking, industry information, craft work, meetings between editors and agents, meetings between industry pros and authors, pitch sessions (including the notorious slip-the-ms-under-the-bathroom-stall kind of pitch, unfortunately), and awards for both unpublished manuscripts and published novellas and novels. The unpublished manuscripts are the cream of the crop, and it’s typical for finalists and winners alike to get extra attention, and often a sale, due to the contest. The published novels and novellas are also the cream of the crop, and the awards ceremony has been likened to the Oscars of the romance genre–complete with red carpet entry.
But one of the biggest things RWA does is to advocate for romance authors. See, the entire organization is run by romance authors, and only romance authors can be members (published or not, doesn’t matter, but romance WRITING has to be your gig). If you’re an editor, too, well… Different bag of potatoes. You can still be a full member, unless you’re an acquiring editor. And then you’re relegated to an associate membership that has none of the major perks of membership. You can’t vote. You can’t run for office. You can’t be on the email loops and forums where writers go to network with each other and pass information and advice.
And that’s as it should be. Why? Well, when there’s an issue with a publisher (like this one or this one or this one), RWA has the weight and the right priorities to go after publishing companies and agencies that are fucking up writers’ chi.
I’ve been writing romance, mostly off but still lots of on, since ’94, and I’ve got a release coming this year in that genre. But I’ve also been writing horror, and since joining HWA last year, I’ve seen stark differences in the ways each of these writing organizations is run. I hate to diss on HWA, but I think maybe it’s time they take a look at how RWA does it.
Now, before I go on, I do feel the need to say that not all is roses and chocolate at RWA. They do have their issues, and they do struggle to remain relevant in a marketplace that’s turning more and more to self-publishing and hybrids. Hell, they just recently apologized for the fucked up shit they were pulling a decade ago–basically, old dinosaurs flailing their tiny arms around because teh gayz–and like any field of dinosaurs, it takes a while to adjust to changes in the industry (see also: the unreasonable initial responses both to e-publishing and to self-publishing).
All this to say, there’s something really important buried in RWA that HWA could find useful: a focus on authors alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that horror as a whole is celebrated by HWA. Everything from poetry to flash fiction to movies and video games is given time and space, and I think that’s fantastic. But I also think that can still be done while closing down a safe space for horror writers. After all, it’s the Horror Writers Association, not the Horror Lovers Association, right?
What if membership were closed down, and acquiring editors couldn’t hold elected office or man committees? What if they were welcomed into the fold but separated from the writing membership? What if the focus of HWA became advocating for the professional interests of professional horror writers–those writers who are pursuing horror writing, whether that’s flash fiction or screenplays or video games?
Welp, maybe badly behaved long-time members within the non-writing industry (read: acquiring editors, agents, etc.) might not last long in the organization or in the industry. Maybe the writers of the organization–and some outside–might be protected from predatory practices. Why do they stick around now? Because fear.
When you’re a newblet writer, like me despite my laps around the block, or are still buzzing the lower end of the midlist, you feel the pressure of flying under the radar. If you rub an industry heavyweight the wrong way, and that heavyweight carries weight inside of your writing organization as well as outside of it, you could be squashed. Buh-bye career, right? Or that’s the fear, at least, and valid or not, it’s a real concern that stifles reporting and passively encourages bad behavior.
Obviously, there’s been a small brouhaha within HWA this past week, and reading all the posts, this issue has really struck me as important. Whether the allegations being made now are true or not doesn’t matter. The fact is, some of the allegations are old. Really old. Like, abysmally old. And the people who are speaking up often claim fear of reporting sooner, especially around the more egregious allegations, because if there had been retaliation for lodging formal complaints, it could potentially kill a career before it even got started. It seems like the only reason some are speaking up now is because of safety in the number of people voicing their concerns and complaints. Hell, some of the problems were reported back when they happened, but I have to wonder whether the reports were glossed over or ignored because of the same issue with industry clout even among more seasoned members of the industry.
Some have made a comment that’s some variation on “how has this person gotten away with this stuff for so long?” Well, either everyone is lying and backdating their sob stories by a decade to make it harder to disprove. Or the answer is fear. The answer is that HWA, for whatever reason, gives space to industry professionals that should–for the sake of the writers they ought to be advocating for–be reserved for other writers. Maybe this is because there aren’t enough willing volunteers. Maybe it’s a relic of an older incarnation of the organization, and it’s hard to find people as qualified for these positions as the relic folk. Maybe it’s a matter of the rather incestuous nature of horror–tons of authors also edit, whether that’s anthologies or periodicals, meaning a pure writer with no acquisition ability is hard to come by. Their status as pure author could change with a single idea, a call for submissions, and a contract from a publisher.
Whatever the case, and whatever actually happened around the current brouhaha, it might behoove HWA to consider the effects of allowing industry professionals a lot of sway inside of the organization. Maybe without that conflict of interest, fear won’t keep writers from speaking out when their professional efforts are being undermined or threatened. Maybe HWA would be a force to be reckoned with, like RWA is for its authors.