Another message from the Novelists, Inc. Board:
If somebody wants to do something, say build something, that’s his right. You can’t stop him. What you can do, however, is use existing laws and local ordinances to make sure he’s using approved building materials, the structure doesn’t encroach on anyone else’s property, etc.
Professional writers’ organizations can't even do that -- we have no “ordinances'” we can turn to, no “enforcement arm.”
Ninc is cognizant of the fact that it can't stop publishers from “building” vanity publishing programs within their corporations. Ninc can, however, advocate for voluntary standards of professional, ethical performance. In addition, we can work to educate those who might be tempted to turn out their pockets in the mistaken idea that enough of their hard-earned money tossed at a vanity publishing house is an effective route to commercial publication. From that point on, hey, let the Buyer Beware.
Each organization also decides what is best for that particular organization. Ninc's position is, simply, what Ninc believes best for Ninc.
Ninc is very fortunate in having long ago established itself as taking its time, thinking things through, and relying on the advice and experience of the greatest collection of brains in the industry. Past officers, longtime members, longtime career writers, offered their expertise, suggestions...all of which consistently came down to four things: state the obvious, consider the whole picture, have reasonable expectations, and most important of all, protect the members.
To that end, Ninc recently issued a statement that, in part, advocates the following:
…that any and all publishing houses that now operate or are in the planning stages of creating vanity publishing arms do so ethically and responsibly, while adhering to accepted standards of full disclosure. This includes not using the same or a similar name for the vanity division of their royalty-paying publishing house.
…that these houses either cease and desist or do not institute the practice of steering hopeful writers who are rejected by the royalty-paying divisions of their companies into the open arms of their vanity publishing offshoot.
(The entire statement, "Ninc Responds to Disturbing Publishing Development," is posted elsewhere on the Ninc Blog, and will shortly be made a permanent part of the public pages of www.ninc.com)
Having thus done what it could reasonably do to educate unpublished writers, Ninc went about protecting its own members, and potential members. The Board was determined to avoid penalizing members and/or prospective members for the actions of their publishing houses. Ninc refuses to hold up its current and prospective members to these companies and say: "Stop -- or we'll shoot them!"
Ninc’s Bylaws state: To be considered for membership, an applicant must have published two works of book-length fiction, one within the last five years.
Our organization’s Policies and Procedure Manual further defines what constitutes a qualifying work. Because publishing houses are changing the way they operate some of their divisions, Ninc will consider the particular program within the umbrella organization, rather than apply its qualifications to the entirety of the publishing house … that might be operating one way this week, another way next week, and even selling soap through another division the next. This adjustment and refinement of its qualifications for membership, Ninc feels, keeps the focus on the program with which the writer publishes, not the entirety of the publishing house.
To be a qualifying market:
1. The publishing program must pay an advance against royalties for the books it publishes.
2. The publishing program must pay a minimum advance of at least $1,000 for every book it publishes.
3. The publishing program must have a print run and distribution of 1,000 or more copies of every title it publishes.
4. The publishing program must have published books for a period of at least one year, and must have published books by at least ten different writers.
5. The publishing program cannot ask any of its authors to pay a fee for, nor to have any fees deducted from their royalties or earnings for, nor to have any financial investment, in the publishing of their books. Publishers that work with packagers can be qualifying markets as long as they meet all the standards herein, and as long as any packaging fees are paid by the publisher, not by the authors.
At the committee's discretion, applicants may be asked to provide contracts and financial documents regarding the novels they submit if they wish to continue the application process.
Ninc will, again, as swiftly as possible, make the appropriate changes on the Ninc website, under the menu heading: “Join Ninc.” The changes, however, are already instituted and the Membership Chair is aware of those changes.
Is everything all perfect now? No. The publishing landscape has shifted, and will undoubtedly shift again. So we do what we can do, advocate for what we see as reasonable expectations of professional performance, and get back to the business of maintaining and hopefully growing our careers. Together.