Evidence of this snowball effect comes from the minutes of the 2007 Bouchercon, the oldest and largest annual convention of mystery fans, mystery authors, mystery publishers, mystery book dealers, mystery book stores and mystery publishing agents. According to the minutes from this fall's Boucercon held in Anchorage, Alaska, a member of the standing committee pointed out that "the top writers were no longer attending Bouchercons and this was primarily due to the proliferation of self-published authors."
The minutes go on to say that the time has come for the committee to "develop quality control, criteria to determine who is a legitimate author and who is not." They then say, "This would be the only way to regain lost fans and authors. There must be an accepted list of publishers, not necessarily the same list MWA uses but one that ensures that self-published and vanity press authors would not be placed on panels and these criteria should be made public." The committee went on to appoint a subcommittee to develop criteria to present at the 2008 Bouchercon.
Maybe they won't decide to use the MWA list, but it's a pretty safe bet that they'll use some similar criteria to determine "who is a legitimate author and who is not." In other words, they will assign legitimate author status based on the author's publisher rather than on the author's writing.
That's how the snowball grows. But what hope do we have of stopping the proliferation of the approved-publisher list? Aren't those of us who aren't on the list just a tiny minority railing against the establishment? Aren't the majority of mystery authors' books published by publishers who are on the MWA list?
Get ready for a big surprise. In fact only about one-third of mysteries and thrillers listed in the Amazon 2006 database, which is the most comprehensive publicly available source of data, have publishers who are on the MWA list. How do I know this? A mystery-writer colleague, Linda-Tuck Jenkins (who also writes as Mary Clay) is an unhappy MWA member who has been vigorously protesting the approved publisher list. She took the time to search the entire Amazon mystery and thriller list, doing a company by company search for all 93 companies on the MWA Publisher list as well as the major print-on-demand firms that the old guard complain about.Here's what she found:
- 8,383 mysteries & thrillers were published in 2006. Only 2,575— or 31% of the total—were published by one of the 93 companies on the MWA list.
- Another 18% were published by one of the four large print-on-demand publishers most often criticized by the old guard—iUniverse, Publish America, Lulu, and Authorhouse. While the old guard complain that these subsidy publishers have flooded the market with inferior work these statistics show it’s hardly a flood.
- The remaining 51% of the books were published by small or self-publishers who do not qualify (or did not apply) for the MWA List. Their sins could be as simple as not paying authors an advance, yet paying larger royalties; not being in business for at least two years; having family members work in the business; or using print-on-demand technology to produce their books.
Wow! So we non-list-published authors are the majority! Clearly we don't have to sit meekly back while the old guard declares us to be non-legitimate authors based on who published our books. I think it's time for everyone to slow down, take another look at the criteria, and develop some author standards that don't exclude two-thirds of the mystery books published in a year.