Was Jane Austen a professional author? Not according to Mystery Writers of America!

Last Wednesday I saw the wonderful Jane Austen exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York City. See it if you get the chance; it will be up through March 14th. I was especially fascinated with the description of the publication of Sense and Sensibility:
"It was published on commission by Thomas Egerton in 1811, an arragement in which Austen paid all the publication expenses but retained the copyright and increased her potential profit."
That sounds exactly like my own publication arrangement with Virtualbookworm, yet I'm not considered a legitimate author by Mystery Writers of America - or by some folks on Crimespace, for that matter. So would Austen have been eligible for Active Status membership in MWA? At this stage of her career, definitely not.

MWA has just sent out an official memo saying that as of December 2nd, Harlequin is no longer on their list of approved publishers because they are "in violation of our rules regarding between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services." In other words, Harlequin has ventured into some new 21st century publishing arrangements, and that's strictly verboten.

Read more on my new blog post about the crappiest trip to NYC I've ever taken. Go to:
Julie Lomoe's Musings Mysterioso.

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Thanks for this, Doug. It's easy to think the current environment's demands on writers is unique; it's not. Writing (music, acting, dance) has, had, and will always have more people who want to do it than there are places for them. This means many will fail, most will struggle, and even those who "make it" won't do nearly as well as the public thinks they do. We have no right to complain; no one makes us do this.
No one makes us do this, but we have every right to complain.

It's true that the "professional" writer is mostly a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century invention. I know a few writers--a handful, really--who only write for a living, but even then they're married to people with "real" jobs, health insurance, retirement, etc. I guess it's true that there are too many writers and not enough readers in the current market, but I also think it's true that publishers don't make the same kinds of investments in writers' careers as they did even a generation ago: the business model more and more is "throw it against the wall and see what sticks." Publishers used to hire editors who were real "book people," who knew and understood both writing and the market. Now I'm not sure who they're hiring, but mostly they seem not to know much of anything (my own fine editor excepted, of course).
In Canada we have a literary award called the Matt Cohen Award given to a writer who, "Leads the Writerly Life," and everyone knows it's the award for the writer who makes a living writing literary fiction. I don't think it gets given out every year.

But a lot of books get published every year and it's certainly been my experience that publishers take into account much more than simply short-term "market considerations," or I never would have been picked up.

Glenn Beck isn't alone on the bestseller lists, there are some very good books from some very good authors on most bestseller lists every week. In most cases it has taken those authors quite a few books to get there and they needed publisher support to get there.
Different age, different business. The patron was still a big deal then. We may wind up that way again, who knows. Publishers are making decisions based entirely on market considerations and not the quality of the books. How else could Glenn Beck get on the best seller lists?
Wasn't MWA's decision not retroactive? That was my understanding.

That's how I read it here: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2009/12/harlequin-horizons-debacle-rev...


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