Faxes and Loathing in San Antonio: Jenny Goes To A Board Meeting

Well, it was lovely in San Antonio. The wind rippled the river, and the fax machine whirred merrily away in the background, and inside the conference room, sixteen directors, one liaison, two administrators, and one parliamentarian debated the ethical and legal ramifications of at least a dozen topics and came out after three days almost unscathed. But then, we drank at night. Here are some of the things I’ve voted Most Likely To Get Blown Out Of Proportion and my personal take on them, not to be confused with an informed opinion.

Revising the Mission Statement:

At first glance, a mission statement would seem to be the stuff that comes before the stuff that matters, but in this case, Monica Caltabiano’s Long Range Planning Committee has done an outstanding job of clarifying RWA’s goals and purpose. Most of the proposed amendment is just clarification, but the revision does cut one line about getting members published because that’s always confused people, some of whom have joined because they think RWA is guaranteeing they’ll get into print if they shell out their dues. Uh, no. If that’s what we were about, we’d just give everybody the address of a subsidy publisher and go home. No, RWA is about promoting excellence in romance fiction through education, networking, and advocacy which the new mission statement expands on beautifully. Of course, those three things will make it more likely that members will get published, but it’s not our goal. It can’t be since we have no control over who gets published and who doesn’t. The membership will be voting on this amendment at the General Meeting in July.

Electing the Board:

We have a problem with the way we elect our board members because it leads to misunderstanding. The members of a region think that the representative they elect represents them, a logical mistake, so logical that the reps often think so, too, and go off to their first board meeting charged with protecting their people. Then they get to the board and find that their people is everybody. By definition, the director of an organization must represent everyone in the organization, not just the region she was elected from. This leads, as you can imagine, to cries of turncoat and worse, like heartless, borg, and lemming. (The need for directors to represent everybody pretty much knocked out the voting positions for published and unpublished liaisons, too, since by definition they can’t represent just one faction of the organization and vote as directors.) When you couple this problem with a second one–because of growth in some areas of the country we are going to be forced to reapportion the regions–the solution seemed obvious: get rid of the regions and go to at-large directors; that is, directors elected by everybody. There really is no reason for regions in RWA, at least not until the organization starts building roads and military bases for reps to lobby for.

Like most obvious solutions, this hit a snag immediately. Logically useful or not, people like the regions, and forcing at-large directors on region-loving members was going to create one big unhappy family. Plus there were concerns about diversity, such as, what happens if we get sixteen board members from California (besides a lot of nice tans)? So the board argued the issue at one informal night session (and I do mean argued) and came up with a compromise plan that, unlike most compromises, is better that the original two choices.

The proposal is that the members will be elected at large (that is, by everyone) because they are, after all, representing everyone. But in the interests of diversity, they’ll still be elected from regions, thereby insuring that there will be somebody for members to talk to no matter where they live. This should also clear up misconceptions like the one held by the member who told her rep that her job was to call everyone in the region every time something important happened. The region any director represents is the whole magilla, world wide. There will be no individual calls.

There will still be protests, of course. One person posted online, “Why should I vote for somebody in California?” Answer: Because she’s representing you. Someone else protested that the at-large voting was a plot to keep unpubs off the board. This one I have never understood, since our unpublished members outnumber the published three to one and could put anybody they wanted on the board. The argument, I believe, is based on the idea that people will vote for more familiar names, i.e. published, but the counterargument is, if that’s who they want on the board, why not? Personally, I think the candidates’ vision statements are going to become even more crucial than they already are. An educated electorate is a good thing. This amendment is also up for a vote at the General Meeting in July.

Another plan, this one to reduce the size of the board, went down in flames so it won’t be voted on. Although the board is slowly but surely transferring most of the clerical jobs over to the office, there are still huge committees (like conference, contest, and PAN, for example) that take an incredible amount of planning beforehand and years of therapy afterward. With the board at the present size, the committee chair can have another rep as assistant who will automatically become committee chair the next year, in essence apprenticing herself so the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year. Another argument in favor of the larger board was diversity; many board members felt that a smaller board might get too homogenized and not debate the issues fully. (Let me tell you, I spent three days with these women and they debated everything fully.)

Most of the rest of the bylaw amendments are housecleaning amendments, making sure no bylaw contradicts another, clarifying language, and generally spiffing up the place in general. Angie Butterworth chaired this committee and now knows more about by-law minutiae than anyone else in the world. A close look at the revisions shows that these babies were fine-tooth combed to make the world safe for subsequent board members and RWA in general, and we should all be very, very grateful to Angie who is now resting comfortably because she knows she’ll never have to do it again. These revisions will also be voted on at the General Meeting in July.

At my request, the board also made some policy clarifications in PAN membership requirements, which means if you don’t like the changes, I’m the mutant borg lemming not the board. There were two areas that needed clarified: PAN requirements regarding royalties and requirements for e-pubs.

Royalties and PAN membership:

Those of you who have seen a PAN application may have noticed an amusing anomaly: it’s harder to be a provisional member than it is to be a regular member. That is, you have to have a royalty paying contract to get provisional status, but you only need a copyright page to get regular status. It seemed clear to me that the original intent was that regular PAN membership should be granted on royalty paying contracts only, and that the original writers of this section just assumed everyone would be provisional first. So the policy has been changed so that members have to show the royalty page in their contracts for both provisional and regular membership.

But what if you have a flat fee contract? Have no fear, there’s still associate membership which carries all the rights and privileges of regular PAN membership except eligibility for PAN Liaison and voting rights for PL. Everything else is identical. Anyone wishing to flame me or leave nasty messages on my machine because she’s been denied the right to vote for Liaison should get a life. One note: if your book was first published under a flat fee contract but was later sold in a foreign market on a royalty contract, send the royalty page in and we’ll change you over to regular membership. So you can vote for my replacement.

E-Publishing Requirements

This is the issue that most makes me want to smack people over the knuckles with a ruler.

First, e-publishing is legitimate, it’s here to stay, and someday it’s going to be huge. Remember when everybody made fun of Amazon.com because who would buy books on the Internet? There’s a little bit of Luddite in all of us, but this one it would pay us all to accept, and it would be particularly nice if some of us would stop treating e-authors as if they’d slept with the publisher to get their contracts so it doesn’t really count.

Second, I would most appreciate it if some of the e-authors would quit arguing that the requirements for PAN membership are too stringent because the industry is too young to have met them yet. Look, you guys wanted to be pioneers, you can’t complain about the adverse conditions and the hostile natives. You start on the ground floor, people are going to look down on you. They are short-sighted, of course, and no doubt irritating, but that’s life on the frontier.

And now I will put my ruler away and explain PAN membership for e-pubs. It’s a lot like PAN membership for print pubs.

An e-publisher must meet the same requirements that a print publisher must meet: in business for at least a year, royalty-paying, non-subsidy, and having proof of sales of a minimum of 5000 copies of one romance title. Two e-pubs, Hard Shell Word Factory and New Concepts, meet all of the requirements but the last. As soon as either hits the 5000 copy mark, any RWA member who sends in a royalty page from her contract with the qualifying publisher gets in as a regular member, no questions asked because there are no questions to be asked: she’s fulfilled the same requirement as any print author.

Because no e-pub has met the requirement yet, the board in its infinite mercy approved a line to be added to the associate membership definition that any e-author from a press that met all the requirements except the 5000 copy mark, would be admitted as an associate member with sales of 500 or more copies of one of her books. At least one e-pub has already met this requirement, and I’ll be checking royalty statements from now until the next PL comes in this fall to admit any qualifying e-author.

The board accomplished a lot more than the things I’ve discussed here, in fact, they earned my eternal respect for the sincerity with which they argued their points in order to come up with the best solution for the membership at large. I’d like to have another board as good as this one next year, so I’m asking for volunteers. Six regional directorships are up for election as is the presidency and the vice-presidency, not to mention PAN Liaison, and we have a lot of very smart, very dedicated members who would really enjoy giving up hours of their writing time to work for members who fax them outraged letters and call them names online–no, no, forget that. But they might really enjoy making a difference, helping move RWA into the 21st century through education, networking, advocacy, and the same dedication this year’s board has shown. If that’s you, please run. We need you.

Written by Jennifer Crusie, this essay was originally published in Romance Writer’s Report. Vol. 18 Number 7, July. 1998: 41-42.