I got a puzzling email the other day from the regional representative of the SCBWI. The SCBWI is the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. It's an international organization that basically supports children's writers and illustrators, offering workshops, national and regional conferences, and, at the local level, a group of authors who can lean on one another for all sorts of things, like critiques to a sympathetic ear when the writing world gets tough.
So it really suprised me to read the following policy change: "No books should be a part of our website or sold at our conferences if they are self-published, subsidy published, or published by print on demand internet companies."
I kinda thought we were there to support each other, not pass judgment. Doesn't enough of that go on through the market.
I thought long and hard about whether to post on this, but since it's begun to gnaw at my brain while I'm out running - usual brainstorming time for me - I'm posting. I keep coming back to a phrase used by the U.S. Supreme Court when they review a law that looks like it's on a collision course with itself: slippery slope.
Here are the reasons this looks like a slippery slope to me:
First, HarperCollins - a big publishing house - just created a new imprint that is POD and lower royalties in exchange for higher author profit sharing. What do we do about those authors? Or smaller publishing houses that adopt similar measures to survive the economic downturn we now find ourselves in?
Second, we're in an economic downturn, and this policy seems like it's going to be hard on a lot of small businesses. But small businesses are the backbone of the American entrepreneurial spirit. And after watching my dad work with them as a CPA for over thirty years, and run his own small business, I get the impression they struggle enough as it is. They don't need me making it any harder.
Third, books face an uphill battle these days against all other forms of entertainment. It seems like they could use all the support they can get, regardless of how they come into being. The market will undoubtedly decide if they are worth the paper they're printed on, regardless of who printed them.
Finally, and most worrisome to me, there is a long list of authors who have gone on to greatness - or who are great - who have self-published: Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), and far more recently, Steven King and Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon. They probably don't care whether an independent group decides to snub them or not, but does that mean that the SCBWI has effectively determined that it cannot talk about certain Mark Twain books anymore? Or the first printing of Eragon?
All of these points make me feel really uncomfortable about this SCBWI policy change. As a member, as a writer, I feel like I need to say something. I don't want to snub any other writer or their work. Each writer's journey is different. I don't know enough to tell them how that journey should look, or what's best for them.
What I know is this. I write. I cheer for other writers. I cheer for books. I don't care how they're printed. As for their quality, I put my faith in the market. Readers are a pretty savvy lot.