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HWA Votes to Allow Self-Published Works to Qualify for Active Membership

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the Horror Writers Association, or HWA, on my blog. I left the organization years ago, disillusioned with how inward-looking and self-congratulatory it had become, especially when it came to the Bram Stoker Awards, which were increasingly starting to look like an award specifically for the honoring of HWA members. (Even after becoming a partially juried award, some of the results have made me wonder if this isn’t still the case.) I also left disillusioned from all the bad advice the HWA’s members were being given, despite myself and a small handful others frequently trying to counteract it.

Members were often told they didn’t need agents. There was a provincial resistance to the idea of opening our doors to writers of urban fantasy and paranormal romance, the two cousins of horror that are actually publishing robustly. Announcements of publishing deals with big, mainstream houses were few and far between, but when they occasionally happened they were all but ignored in favor of the announcement of yet another deal with the micropress du jour. Message board threads offering tips on how to actually make it in publishing were quickly subsumed by much longer threads about the latest horror movies. Any publisher, no matter how terrible or scummy or lacking in business sense, was celebrated so long as they published HWA members. No one wanted to criticize terrible publishers for their bad practices because they were worried it would affect their own chances of being published, which is itself a tortured bit of logic. I mean, why would you want to be published by a bad publisher in the first place? It became apparent to me that the HWA was not an organization for writers who were serious about their careers. It was, instead, a place where its members could stand in a circle and pat each other on the back.

I’ll admit, I’m sounding a bit harsh. I may still have a few raw feelings about the HWA, mostly because I wanted — and needed — it to be more than it was. Although, like many ex-members, my career only took off once I actually left the HWA, which I suppose speaks to the level of writing and publishing advice the HWA doles out. I also walked away from the HWA with the distinct and unshakeable feeling that its members don’t read much except books by other members.

Which brings me to this. A friend pointed me toward this announcement from yesterday:

I’m very pleased to say that the HWA Referendum that I help write with fellow members A.J. Klein and Michaelbrent Collings on including self-published work for membership qualification for both Active and Associate members has passed with a 78% to 28% margin in favor, with 2% abstaining from the vote.

Self-publishers who have generated $2000 in earnings within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Active (voting) status. Those who have earned $200 within two years of initial publication date can qualify for Associate status. More details can be found at (please note the criteria have not yet been updated).

Let me be the first to welcome the HWA to the 21st century!

As you might imagine, I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, self-publishing isn’t necessarily the terrible business decision it used to be. The problem with the old self-publishing model was twofold. First, if you went with one of the publish-on-demand companies, they charged fees so high that authors were unlikely to ever recoup it from book sales. Second,  the books received no distribution, which further hobbled their sales potential and the ability to bring a wider audience to the author. More often than not, these self-publishing companies were nothing more than a scam to separate the gullible and the starry-eyed from their money. Snake oil for the literary set.

With e-book self-publishing, both those problems are fixed. For the most part, you can now self-publish for little or no money, and distribution is no problem because all the major online retailers carry e-books. Some self-published e-book authors have even been quite successful, and at a rate that appears to be higher than the number of successful self-publishers from the print days.

On the other hand, there has been very little change in quality of self-published books. Anyone can shit out a book with incomprehensible prose and tortured plots, upload it to Amazon and B&N, and call themselves a published author. And in the current paradigm, they would not be wrong to call themselves that. This is something of a slap in the face to those of us who actually put effort into our craft, those of us who work hard and pay our dues in the trenches of rejection and the classrooms of trial-and-error to earn the title of published author.

And that’s my problem with this new rule. Essentially, it changes the threshold for becoming an Active member — which also means a voting member — to nothing more than the ability to reach the end of a project and figure out how to upload it properly. Granted, they’ve added a sales requirement, which is at least a threshold of some kind, but even that is fraught with problems. The old requirement was about ensuring members were learning how to write well enough to ostensibly launch a writing career. This new requirement eliminates the writing element altogether in favor of how well they can sell a book online. Many self-publishers are already shameless and annoying self-promoters, clogging our social media and email with entreaties to read their latest work. This will only make it worse. Also in question is the fact that there’s no way of knowing if that money is coming from actual readers or, say, the authors themselves. The potential exists for people to buy their way into Active membership.

So yeah, mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that self-published e-books are here to stay. In fact, I think we’re going to see more and more established authors turn to self-publishing e-books. It may even wind up being the publishing paradigm of the future. I don’t know. Right now, though, it’s not. Right now, for many new writers, it’s a shortcut. Learning to deal with rejection is such a huge part of being a writer, and just uploading anything you write to the Kindle store eliminates that important lesson. Because these authors aren’t learning to handle rejection properly, we’re seeing more and more of them writing angry responses to bad reviews online and generally acting like jackasses in public. Learning to handle rejection eliminates that sense of entitlement. Avoiding rejection breeds it.

Combining authors who have an unchecked sense of entitlement with authors who can essentially buy their way into Active membership, and thus vote into existence more bylaws that favor them, could very well result in a membership base that is completely uninterested in learning how to write or how to deal with agents and publishers. This will likely drive away any remaining members who want to learn how to write well enough to be traditionally published and have lasting careers. The HWA runs the risk of becoming an organization concerned almost exclusively with how to better sell your self-published e-books.

I’ve long said one of the major problems with the HWA is that it focuses way too much on the H and not nearly enough on the W. This new qualification rule won’t change that. My concern is that it will make it even worse.


76 responses to “HWA Votes to Allow Self-Published Works to Qualify for Active Membership”

  1. s.j. bagley says:

    glad to see all 108% of the membership voted.
    which is to say that there is absolutely nothing about the hwa that isn’t an embarrassment at this point and if they can’t even be bothered to proofread short announcements… well… that speaks volumes to their ‘professionalism.’

    • Nick says:

      I suspect this was not the official announcement, just something Joe put up on his message board. Typos happen to the best of us. But yeah, this new qualification rule doesn’t bode well for the HWA, I think.

    • Rocky Wood says:

      As Nick said this a typo from Joe.

      The official announcement was proof read – it was 70% AYE

  2. Gary Frank says:

    I have no issue with self-published authors being members of the HWA. But Active membership? So those writers who’ve busted their asses within the small press community and have achieved affiliate status can watch self-published “authors” buy their way to Active status. Hm. Not a great move by any means.

    I also wonder about the requirement of sales as opposed to advances. That would mean if I can’t get an advance high enough to get me to Active membership, I can then self-publish that book and sell enough to make it in. Doesn’t sound like a good long-term plan.

    • Nick says:

      It does raise the question: If the HWA lets in self-published authors, what is their metric for rising to Active level? If not sales numbers, then what? I don’t see a good answer.

      • Rocky Wood says:

        It’s $2000 worth of proven independent earnings (not sales) from one work in a two year period.

        Protocols were considered by Jo’s committee and the Board to validate claimed earnings and are in place. $2000 in advances and/or royalties is the current requirement for trad published authors

        • Nick says:

          As I’ve mentioned, what makes me uncomfortable about this — and I’m not even a member of the HWA, so this is all hypothetical to me anyway — is the use sales numbers as a qualification for Active membership in a writers organization.Sales numbers are a metric for publishers, not writers, and the HWA is a writers organization. That said, I’m not sure what qualification WOULD work for self-published authors to reach Active status.

          • Rocky Wood says:

            Nick, it’s not sales numbers. It’s net earnings after the retail cut. Same as royalties are net earnings after cuts for retailer and publisher

          • Nick says:

            But those earnings are based on sales; they’re not somehow separate from them. Does a standard based on sales earnings have a place in a writers organization? Because sales earnings are different from advances. Originally, the hurdle to Active status was that one had to write well enough to be professionally published. The author’s status did not hinge on how well the book did or didn’t do afterward. Now, for the self-published folks, it does. (And for the royalties-only set, too, apparently.)

  3. John Platt says:

    Back in the early Nineties I wrote several comic book scripts and got paid a fair amount for them — more than many people were getting for their small-press novels, and a LOT more than people were getting for “pro” rates on short stories. But the HWA’s rules for comic book scripting rates said the pay still wasn’t enough to qualify for active membership.

    I do just fine without HWA in my life.

  4. Pete Kahle says:

    As a self-published author who will certainly benefit from the new rules, I can understand why it will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of some authors who have “busted their asses” over the past decade, but the insinuation that self-published authors are simply going to be able to buy their way into the HWA seems like the whining of a petulant older sibling who rails at the injustice that her little brother is able to stay up as late as she can when she had to go to bed an hour earlier at his age.

    I’m sure that authors who had to toil away on ancient Remington typewriters with keys that stuck were envious when word processors and, soon after, personal computers came along, but they adapted. Now, with the advent of e-books and the increased popularity of self-publishing, the HWA is being proactive.

    Times change. Technology changes. Evolve or get passed by those who do.

  5. Pete Kahle says:

    A lot better than sour grapes… friend.

  6. Michael says:

    Pete, sorry…did we miss the part where you managed to actually challenge the reality that HWA active status is now just a credit card number away? Because, technically, it now is.

    And for the record, professional writers toiling away on “ancient Remington typewriters with keys that stuck” and professional writers working on word processors “and, soon after, personal computers” still managed to have something in common—they were professionals who actually had to write publishable work that was saleable before they could become active members of the HWA.

    You’re right about one thing, however: times certainly do change.

  7. Cool. One more reason for me to never rejoin HWA.

    • Micah says:

      And another reason not to support holier than thou writers who think they’re better than everyone else.

  8. James Joyce III says:

    Who cares?

    The HWA is just a club. So they letting in members now
    With different rules … Oh Lordy, members won’t
    Feel important now as others can join albeit differently.. That’s gets
    Your knickers in a twist?? How pathetic!!!

    What a snotty bunch of yuppies.

    Those members sound
    Like grandparents who can’t stand change.


    I hate clubs. Moreso entitled club members.

  9. Laird says:

    Nick, Why do you hate America?

  10. Michael says:

    Is that free verse?

  11. Glll Avila says:

    The trouble with self–pubbed e-books is that authors lack objectivity. They can’t see that their babies are really ugly. An editor would never let this classic line pass–“They stood with their backs to the family tree. The city belched in response.”

  12. Pete Kahle says:

    I apologize for coming across as snarky as I did. No intention of starting a flame war was meant. My initial response was directed toward Gary Frank’s remark, not at Nick’s original post. I took something personally that I shouldn’t have, and I regretted my second response only moments after clicking “Post”.

    I still disagree with your opinion, though, and, Michael, I don’t think anyone would be idiotic enough to drop $2K on a credit card to fake sales just to join the HWA. If someone does… does it really matter in the big picture?

    • Nick says:

      Let’s be honest here. Being an Active member of the HWA puts you closer in line to winning a Bram Stoker Award. It just does. It’s been that way for years. The voting membership tends not to read much except what is sent to them for free by other members for Stoker consideration. In the past, people have joined the org, lobbied for a Stoker, won the award, and bailed. They gamed the system, because the system is gameable. That’s why someone might buy their way in.

    • Rocky Wood says:

      In fact,it’s not as simple as people are claiming. You can t just buy $2000 worth of ebooks and become an Active member. Taking into account the margin to the retailer such as Amazon you’d need to buy just shy of $3000 worth. And as most outlets such as Amazon don’t let you buy an ebook twice you’d have to set up say 1000-3000 fake accounts, or pay that numbers of friends to buy them.

      So, you’re right Pete! IMHO ain’t gonna happen! 🙂

  13. James Moore says:

    As I have stated elsewhere, I think a great deal of the problem here is perception: HWA has struggled for a long time to be taken seriously as a writers organization (Among the existing organizations they are not really carrying a solid reputation) and the change they just made might be beneficial, but certainly isn’t going to be seen that way in my honest opinion. While I was toying with rejoining (I was secretary for two or three years and Vice President for a a couple of years) I really have no desire and that lack of desire was helped along by the most recent decision. Is that elitism? Possibly, but I don’t think so. I think the new rules are a little lax. I don’t think they reflect the sort of standards for professionalism that should be sought by a professional writers organization.

  14. The assumption seems to be that the Big 5 (formerly the Big 20) are gatekeepers who base their decisions on quality. They don’t Quality abounds. They make their decisions based on how they think they can market a work.

    I’ve read a number of excellent indie/self-published novels. =The Nirvana Plague= comes to mind (which I picked up on a whim). It’s intelligent, well written, well plotted. I enjoyed it immensely. I’d never heard of the author before, but I bet he was rejected by the Big 5. Why? They probably saw this book as a hard sell… hard to niche (if I may verbitize that noun). I recently read an unpublished novel by another unknown that was an absolute delight. I don’t see a major publisher touching it because it’s too different.

    What’s often overlooked in the KDP controversy is that traditional publishers can’t handle even a small fraction of the good stuff that’s being written out there. Now those quirky authors have a way to show their work to the world and let the readers decide.

    I’ve been lucky. I’ve had 50+ books with the Big 5, but I don’t begrudge a newbie a chance to show what he’s got.

    • Nick says:

      To be honest, quality was never a metric for entry into the HWA, either. This isn’t about quality. It’s about whether HWA is a writers org with publication credits as qualification or a publishers org with sales numbers as qualification. Can it be both, or in trying to be will it leave non-self-publishing writers out in the cold?

  15. Michael says:

    Pete, no, in the big picture it doesn’t really matter if someone drops 2K on a credit card to publish his own books, then “buy” them himself, then turn around and try to resell them in order to qualify for an active voting HWA membership, as long as we all agree that’s what active voting status in the organization can now be purchased for.

    This, of course, raises questions about writers who can afford to do that vs. those who economically can’t. But that’s certainly a bridge that the HWA can cross at its leisure.

  16. Pete Kahle says:

    I just don’t see that happening. I know I couldn’t afford that. Any author copies of my novel that I’ve ordered to give to family and friends don’t count towards sales, either.

    Maybe they should raise it to $5000. I’d still join.

  17. Joe Nassise says:


    You said “Essentially, it changes the threshold for becoming an Active member — which also means a voting member — to nothing more than the ability to reach the end of a project and figure out how to upload it properly.”

    Sorry, but that’s a load of bunk. There is a requirement to earn $2k from that uploaded book over a two year period attached to the new regulations.

    Which means that a writer has to prove themselves in the marketplace before they can become a member. The HWA has used income as a measurement of professionalism for years and this is not different. Sure there is a lot of garbage being self-published but there is a lot fo garbage coming out of New York too. Never mind the issue Paul raised that some excellent books will never see publication via New York being too different. NY screws up all the time – my own novel The Heretic is a perfect example. Pocket did a terrible launch and it bombed. Yet the German publisher did a terrific launch and it debuted on the bestseller list and sold a few hundred thousand copies – it is still selling some 8 years later. New York is not the end all be all of publishing.

    Also, the whole idea of this being a smack in the face to the writer who slaved away in the trenches is equally disingenious. Do you think earning 2K from a self-published title is easy? If so I’d suggest you are misinformed about what it takes to do so.

    There is just as much rejection in not having a book sell in the marketplace as there is in getting rejection letters in the mail. Perhaps more so, as most editors don’t make snarky comments in their rejection letters but reviews on online platforms like Amazon sure as heck do.

    So, as the guy you quoted above – never mind one of those who helped write the referendum for the HWA – I respectfully disagree.

    • Nick says:

      I address the $2000 benchmark in the very next sentence of my blog, after the one you quoted. My concerns stand. The qualification is no longer on the writing side, but on the publishing side: how many copies can you sell? That shifts the HWA toward being a publishing org, not a writing org.

      You might be misunderstanding the “slap in the face” part. That’s not about the new HWA qualifications, it’s about what it takes, and what it no longer takes, to be called a published author in the age of e-book self-publishing.

      By the way, I’m sorry Pocket screwed up with your book. Pocket’s a weird imprint. Sometimes I think all they know how to do right are the Star Trek books.

      • Joe Nassise says:

        Eh, I got over it. 🙂 Went on to write a couple dozen more so it didn’t do too much damage. In the by the way theme, I very much enjoyed yours. Hopefully they will be doing more?

        As always, I appreciate your insights, especially when we happen to disagree.

  18. I’ve got two horror books, one traditional, one recently self-published. My self-published has nearly made in one month what the other took me a year to make and will make me eligible shortly. (but I started behind paying for an editor and cover artist). I have busted my ass as much as anyone, and yeah, there’s even some art in my craft. Some self-publishers put a book out on their own not due to need, but by choice.

    We’re all a bunch of sneetches, running around looking at the stars upon thars, until eventually… well, you know how it ends.

    • Nick says:

      Congrats! From your experience, do you feel that your mindset is the same as that of the average self-publishing author?

  19. I’ve had an interest in this organization for a while. I have a self-published novel, and a traditionally published novel that’s been recently released. Problem is, I’m published through a small press that doesn’t pay advances.

    The book was professionally edited, went through a couple of revisions, has a professionally designed cover, and I hope to God it sells enough to get me two grand.

    I believe the point to the advance/royalty requirement is to demonstrate that the book has been through a gatekeeper at a bona fide publisher. But any kind of advance is getting hard to find. I was lucky to find a publisher at all.

    It the HWA wants to open things up, forget self-published writers, and take a harder look at writers published through traditional means regardless of sales or advances.

    • Rocky Wood says:

      Michael. FYI for trad pubbed works we changed the ‘advance’ rule two years ago. It’s now $2000 in advances and/or royalties

  20. […] What? I hear you say. Did he just compare Lulu to the venerable Houghton Mifflin? Yes, I did — and with its decision, so did the HWA. And that’s where lowering the bar rankles people like me. (It also rankles former HWA member Nicholas Kaufman, who has an excellent reaction piece on his blog.) […]

  21. I agree with so much of what you have written here, Nick. I just wouldn’t have been as nice as you were about it. Tom and I left the HWA years ago when we felt like it wasn’t even trying to be a professional writers organization. It was about the time they started letting any and everyone in and those people (some who were in desperate need of mental health treatment) without any credits were giving out tons of advice on the message boards. Years ago I told Tom I would join the HWA when I had enough credits to join as a pro. And that’s what I did. I’m sure there are perfectly lovely people who self-publish (in the old school way) but I seen so many annoying self-published people online who have never sold anything to anyone, never even tried to submit because they are afraid of what an editor might say to them. I’ve been selling my work for 21 years. In the first five years two editors made me so upset that I cried when I read their snail-mailed comments. A real writer takes the hits and grows from it. I predict that self-published writers will be joining the HWA in droves and those few brave professionals still left (I really do respect the pros that I know are still in there fighting) will be forced out once people who have never submitted to an editor start giving advice…and start winning the Stokers. I can only assume this was done for the money.

    • Nick says:

      I’m sure there are perfectly lovely and talented people who self-publish, too. I’ve met a few of them. But that doesn’t mean, to my mind, that the HWA should change its qualification requirements.

    • Rocky Wood says:


      It was not done for the money. It was done to face up to the reality of a changed marketplace.

      We have nearly 400 Active members. In the real world we’ll be surprised to see over 40 self pubbed authors reach Active this way.

      And to all, please recognise that some mysterious ‘HWA’ in the ether didn’t make this decision. Our current, trad pubbed Active members did by a margin of 144-57

      We look forward to having Tom as Guest of Honor and welcoming you both at the HWA hosted Bram Stoker Awards (R) Weekend and 25th Anniversary World Horror Convention next May. It’ll be a blast

  22. By the way, the comments referring to writers who do not take self-publishing (again, I mean paying a company thousands of dollars to publish your print book) seriously being referred to as older siblings, grandparents, etc… is funny. Do you know how LONG self-publishing companies have been around? Certainly longer than anyone here has been writing. And everyone is complaining about how hard it is to get published by the few big houses left. That is very true but pro sales do not just mean novels. I sell my short stories to pro magazines and pro anthologies and those were legitimate credits in the old HWA.

    • Rocky Wood says:

      Short stories sold at a rate of 5c per word and above are still a qualification for membership in the HWA

  23. Denise McGee says:

    A few points:

    Thinking anyone would be desperate enough to join HWA to not only spend hard earned cash to buy enough of their own ebooks to qualify for membership, but also create enough accounts to purchase those books is laughable. I’m sure HWA is nice and all, but it’s not worth that.

    Indie authors who publish garbage wouldn’t make enough to meet HWA guidelines. So that’s not really an issue. Readers are not the idiots some people seem to think they are. They can tell the difference between a book that no effort was put into and one that has a team behind it. Garbage doesn’t sell. Not steadily, anyway.

    Indie authors do not put less effort into their books. We sweat over the words just as much as a traditional author does. The only difference is EVERYTHING is on us. We make it (or not) by the choices me make. Why would you think we would by-pass professional editors and cover artists? This is our livelihood, too.

    Ultimately writing is a business. Professional indie authors understand this.

    • Nick says:

      “I’m sure HWA is nice and all, but it’s not worth that.”

      See my response above about why someone might want to buy their way in.

      “Garbage doesn’t sell.”

      Really? The big publishers have been selling garbage for years. In fact, one of the canards I hear frequently from the self-published is that traditional publishing is no guarantee of actual quality. If sales numbers aren’t a sign of quality for traditional publishing, what makes them a sign of quality for self-publishing?

      “Ultimately writing is a business. Professional indie authors understand this.”

      I am delighted to hear that!

      • Denise McGee says:

        I should have clarified. Garbage that has “incomprehensible prose and tortured plots” doesn’t sell. Unedited, barely readable works don’t sell. The ‘tsunami of shit’ doesn’t sell. Most bad authors give up after one book, anyway, because they don’t sell and they are unable to see that they did it to themselves.

        I belong to one of the largest indie groups on Facebook. I see it on a daily basis. Bad authors almost always follow the same pattern. They complain they can’t afford pro editors or cover artists, so they slap on a cover drawn by their kid and hire their aunt, the school teacher, to edit and then don’t understand why they have no sales. They are absolutely no ‘threat’ to anyone.

        The good authors, though, they pay attention to what’s going on in the industry. They have lists of editors and cover artists. They constantly try to better their craft. These are the authors who make a living wage. Many are former mid-listers who got tired of the publishing merry-go-round and set up shop for themselves. These are the ones you want in writer’s organizations.

        • Nick says:

          So those “sex with Bigfoot” books AREN’T selling like hotcakes? The news lied to me! 😉 Look, I’m not talking about a “threat to anyone.” I’m talking about how wiggy it makes me to use sales numbers as a qualification for Active membership in a writers organization. I’ve nothing against the decision to self-publish e-books. As I mentioned in the blog, it’s not the same as back in the POD days. But I wouldn’t want sales numbers being a qualification for traditionally published authors, so why would I want it to be one for self-published authors? Sales numbers are a metric for publishers, not writers, and this is a writers organization. That said, I’m not sure what qualification WOULD work for self-published authors to reach Active status.

  24. Michael says:

    “I belong to one of the largest indie groups on Facebook” is my new favourite millennial phrase.

  25. The “independent press” or indie” or ‘indie authors’ is an incorrect term used by self-published people to try and make themselves sound legit or even alternative. The independent press, indie, indie authors, these are all terms that have nothing to do with self-publishing. I have know a lot of editors and owners of independent presses. They pay advances and royalties and I think it is really unfair to all of them (who struggle just to break even) that self-published people have grabbed on to those words. Cemetery Dance is an independent press (just to name one, and the biggest one). and they do not charge writers. It took me over ten years to get into their magazine and into one of their anthologies. Both times I was paid at a pro level. Another independent press, Eldritch Press, which is publishing my next book is paying a good advance. I am also in an upcoming anthology of theirs and they paid pro level. And by the way, it does suck, but one can brush off some fool posting a bad review on Amazon. Try getting torn apart by a few well respected editors, then you’ll know the difference.

    • Nick says:

      I know, we saw this back in the POD days, too. Nobody wanted to use the phrase “vanity publishing” because it offended their sensibilities, despite the fact that they were essentially paying to be published. So they called themselves “self-published,” despite not doing any of the publishing work themselves. Now, because “self-published” is a stigma from the POD days, it’s “indie published,” which again is not entirely true. There’s nothing indie about being published by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, etc.

      • Rocky Wood says:

        To be clear it’s not possible to join the HWA through vanity publishing. In vanity pub you pay for the physical books, you might sell a few to friends and family. We don’t accept cash sales as ‘self pub earnings’. You must sell through a retailer like Amazon and prove what you received from them as actual earnings. No one is going to pay thousands to a vanity publisher and then sell thousands of books through Amazon or whatever to reach the required levels, IMHO

        • Nick says:

          “We don’t accept cash sales as ‘self pub earnings’. You must sell through a retailer like Amazon and prove what you received from them as actual earnings.”

          That’s good to know!

          • s.j. bagley says:

            is it good to know?
            frankly, the idea of having booksellers as gatekeepers instead of book publishers is a wee bit away from comforting to me.

      • Chuck says:

        “There’s nothing indie about being published by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, etc.”

        Keep in mind, author-publishers aren’t being published by these — they’re being distributed by these. The dispute over the term “indie” is understandable (I’ve come around to it because ultimately they’re acting as independent itty-bitty publishing companies), but it’s worth reminding that they remain as independent, unfettered entities.

        — c.

        • Nick says:

          Excellent point, though it bears pointing out that the terms of service for some of these companies use the word “publish,” and when uploading some of them even use a button that’s labeled “publish,” which can be confusing. But you are correct. Amazon, et al. are not technically publishers for these e-books. Nor are they distributors, really, because distributors are defined by selling goods wholesale to retailers. Amazon and the rest of them are probably best defined simply as e-book sellers.

          By the way, is “author-publisher” the new “indie author”? The terminology is evolving faster than I can keep up!

          • Chuck says:

            That’s fair — though I’d suggest it’s more “publish using them,” not “they publish you.” You’re still the publisher, largely in control. Meaning: independent, not owned by anybody but yourownself.

            (Oh, and “Author-publisher” is a term I came up with a while back — it’s usage is probably restricted to me and only me, but I like it as it tends to make clear it’s a dual-role job, which should include “I actually write stuff,” not, “I just publish stuff.”)

    • Denise McGee says:

      Independent = on your own. It’s just as valid for an author as it is a small press.

      There’s room in the sandbox for us all. It’s not like books are a zero sum game. Just because someone buys my book doesn’t mean they won’t buy yours also.

  26. Chantal says:

    You make some interesting points, and I agree with you about the varying qualities of self published authors. At the same time, I see a lot of shocking quality in presses, so I don’t really think it’s fair to just cast a critical eye towards the self published crowd. The fact is, publishing is changing. I think it’s a good thing that the HWA changes with it and gives serious self published authors a chance.
    I’m going to leave personal opinions about the HWA out of this, because that’s not really the point here.
    I think it’s naive and ridiculous (and let’s be honest, a little childish) to think that self published authors will spend over $2000,- just to be an active member in the HWA. Who cares if you ‘can’ do this? You can also get friends to start up a press and publish you and become a member that way. There are always loopholes and I don’t think anyone will use them. And if they do, it will be an individual and it won’t be any skin of your back. So I wouldn’t fret over that.
    What does bother me about this thread is that there is a lot of snobbery towards self published authors. Just because someone publishes their own work, does not mean they are crappy authors. And just because authors had a press pick them up… does not mean they are good. I think it’s time people get off their high horses, and be a bit more supportive of fellow authors. Let’s stop judging the way people publish, and if we feel the need to critique, let’s do so on content. That way we can actually help improve quality, rather than sit around and bicker who is doing the ‘right thing’. That’s just my two cents. Do with it as you please.

    • Nick says:

      “I see a lot of shocking quality in presses, so I don’t really think it’s fair to just cast a critical eye towards the self published crowd.”

      Quality has never been used as a qualification for achieving Active status in the HWA. Only showing that you can write well enough to be professionally published has. That’s not necessarily the same as quality. However, it is quite different from publishing yourself.

      “You can also get friends to start up a press and publish you and become a member that way.”

      I don’t know if that’s ever happened for membership purposes. It did happen at least once that I know of so that a book could be nominated for a Bram Stoker Awards, and the ploy worked. Not only was it nominated, it won the award, because it was sent free to every HWA member. I don’t know if the book was actually ever for sale to the public. If it was, I never saw it anywhere.

      “What does bother me about this thread is that there is a lot of snobbery towards self published authors.”

      I apologize for that if it was something I wrote. It wasn’t my intent. I don’t subscribe to the “us vs. them” attitude I see so prevalent in the debate about self-publishing and traditional publishing. I did back in the POD days, but not now.

  27. Chantal says:

    The way I see it there is a difference (people just mix it up) between publishing.

    Small press: still somehow related to traditional publishing.
    Independent press: No relation to any of the traditional publishing houses. They tend to give advances etc. The author doesn’t have to pay.
    Vanity press: Just a bunch of people playing publisher and either not paying authors or getting authors to pay for things such as editors / cover art/ advertising. Etc.
    Self Published: No press is involved. (these people can still be very serious. If done right they will do everything a small or independent press does, and pay for editors and proofreaders, good cover art and advertising)

  28. Robin Reed says:

    You can’t buy more than one copy of an ebook on any one site. To buy my way into HWA membership I would have to convince hundreds of people to buy it on their accounts, then reimburse them. That’s just not a workable plan.

  29. Amanda Hard says:

    I’m a brand new addition to the HWA, having just received affiliate status last week for my first horror short story sale (traditionally published.) I’ve dreamed of joining the HWA for years, ever since I attended my first WHC in Chicago.

    I don’t know how the Stokers work, but I read the comments about “buying” your way to a Stoker by publishing a book and distributing it to the voting members. Apparently this happened once and people are concerned it could happen again. – ? – But it sounds to me like that’s a problem with the Stoker award process rather than the publisher or the book itself. Was the book that won actually a good book? If it wasn’t, why did people vote for it? Pardon my ignorance; I don’t know the book in question.

    If the real concern is over the Stokers, perhaps the membership could form a committee to evaluate how the Stokers are awarded and update those requirements if needed?

    • Nick says:

      Hi, Amanda! I remember that WHC! As for the Stokers, the HWA has already taken steps to address the problem by making the award partially juried. It has helped somewhat, but not a lot. Being an HWA member is still a strong advantage toward winning the award, mainly because the membership tends not to read very widely.

  30. […] HWA just lost their damn mind (again). My friend Nick Kaufmann has some thoughts on […]

  31. Ginjer Buchanan says:

    Here’s the prob with the threshold for membership being based on sales–lots of self-pubbed material, both good and bad, is priced (by the author) at front-of-the-drugstore impulse buy level. A horror fan, who admittedly can’t find what they want coming from traditional publishing, will pay 99 cents for something by someone they don’t know if it pushes their buttons. (ghost stories, zombie novels, vampires, haunted shoes–whatever.) Enuf samplers, and you’ve reached your threshold. (particularly the lower associate member level,
    which, if you have a large enuf family would be easy to game. )

    • Nick says:

      To be fair, people were already gaming the system long before this, for entry into the org, for making Active status, and for being nominated for a Stoker. I think as long as there are systems, there will be people looking for new and exciting ways to game it. Still, at 99¢ a pop, I have a hard time picturing an e-book passing the $2,000 threshold within two years. That would be 1,010 e-books sold a year, and I suspect most self-published e-books don’t do nearly that well.

      • Pete Kahle says:

        Just a point of information…

        If an e-book is listed at $0.99 on Amazon, they only qualify for the 35% royalty rate, which means each sale would earn $0.34.

        To reach $2000 in royalties, the author would need to sell ~5880 copies.

        A book needs to be listed between $2.99-$9.99 to receive the 70% rate

  32. Nick,

    I think you may be a bit out of touch and behind the times when it comes to self-publishing. Many authors have made deliberate choices to self-publish as it offers more freedom, and often more income as well.

    Take, for instance, my recent novel Hollow World. I was offered a nice five-figure advance for a standard traditional deal print/ebook/audio. But I ran the numbers and knew I could earn more if I retained the ebook rights. So I signed a four-figure advance for a print-only deal. Signed another deal with an audio publisher, and to date two foreign translations. From JUST the ebook sales I earned more than that five-figure advance in the first month’s release. And now it’s been a little less than a quarter and I’ve earned more than 2 1/2 times that initial advance.

    I’ve done it all…small presses, self-publishing, big-five and I can tell you that there are thousands of author-publishers that treat their work with every bit of professionalism as you were speaking of. In general all authors who “make it” work their asses off for decades before they produce work that is of sufficient quality (King’s 1,000,000 words and Gladwell’s 10,000 hours ). For myself, my first published work was book #14 which was first released by a small-press, later self-published by myself, and eventually sold as part of a six-figure three book deal with a big-five publisher.

    While it’s technically true that anyone can “hit publish” the fact is poorly produced books fade into oblivion never to be heard from again. The successful self-published authors become that way because they are providing quality titles….verified by readers. Both systems have one it’s an acquisitions editor. I don’t know the person I think of as my “customer” as my readers not my editor.

    I’m primarily a fantasy author, but have been frustrated with similar outdated enrollment rules by the likes of SWFA. I remember in 2010 when I was earning $45,000 – $55,000 a month (from five titles) that I couldn’t get into the “club” even though I was selling more copies in one month than most books will sell during their entire time in-print.

    So I see this as a good sign…don’t make assumptions that just because “anyone” can self-publish doesn’t mean there aren’t “professional” self-published authors who are producing books with every bit of care as New York. Again for my most recent book, I used Marc Simonetti for my cover, Betsy Mitchell (former editor-in-chief) at Del Rey for my structural edits, and two copy editors that both freelance for multiple big-five publishers.

    • Nick says:

      Wow, it sounds like you’ve had some amazing success! Mazel tov! But I suspect there are as many starving self-published authors out there as there are starving traditionally published authors. Self-publishing is no instant route to success, any more than traditional publishing is. A lot of the rhetoric around self-punishing makes it sound like a get-rich-quick plan, and I think in addition to the excellent points you make, it’s important people realize it’s not.

  33. I suppose I could be considered one of self publishings minor success stories. After listening to a particularly corrosive rant from a well known publisher in 2011 I withdrew my debut novel from consideration with all publishing houses and agents that it was sitting with and decided to go down the self publishing route, but decided that I would attempt to stand out from the crowd by hiring professional cover artists, editors and proof readers to get the book as good as it could be. Last year, the sales from the first book and its sequel allowed me to expand the imprint that I had started and begin publishing other peoples works, which is so far working out very well indeed for both me and the other authors involved because I am applying what I learned as a successful self published author to other novels.

    I applaud the move from the HWA because it at least acknowledges the change in the publishing landscape, and, to be frank, getting those levels of sales is no easy thing. To qualify for active membership is not going to be something that every, or even many self published authors manage. Those that do, are most likely ever bit as professional, and probably earn more, than trad authors selling equivalent numbers.

    The thing is – if a self published author achieves that level of success, then what exactly does the HWA offer them? A better shot at a Stoker – maybe. But a stoker makes very little, if any, commercial difference to a book. Take a look at the Amazon sales ranks of this years winners if you think otherwise.

    For the beginner author, the HWA offers mentorships and other support, but their forums are a ghost town and most of the relevant discussion happens on their facebook page, which anyone can join. Once you hit the required level of commercial success to get active status, I struggle to see what it can really offer. I was a member for 5 years, quit last year and really don’t see any point in going back, even though I now qualify as a “real writer”.

    The fact is that the HWA are largely seen as a support structure for the Stokers – an award which really lacks any credibility these days because winning it is more to do with how many friends you have as Active members than the quality of your work. If the HWA wants to survive it needs a much bigger overhaul than allowing the successful self published authors into the fold. It needs to become meaningful again and get rid of the shallow nepotism that has plagued it in recent years.

  34. Ozark says:

    I wish we could talk about all this on GEnie.

  35. […] hearing this news ex-HWA member Nicholas Kaufman declared the sky might be […]

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