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Who Is an Author?

The big discussion at Dorothly L this week is about the author rule for conventions, particularly Bouchercon, which had lax rules. Left Coast Crime in Denver this year apparently had a stricter rule, and as a result, some authors were offended and did not attend.

Boiled down, The Rule (as it is known) is that if an author participates financially in the production or editing of his/her own work, then that person is excluded as an author. It seems that the purpose of the rule is to keep self-published authors from wearing a badge that says “author” and from participating on panels. Exceptions are made for authors who have been short-listed for awards or won awards.

Which brings up the first interesting point. If self-published authors are sometimes nominated for (and occasionally win) awards, then clearly there are great books that are sometimes rejected by major publishers. Because most self-published books aren’t even allowed to compete for awards, we don’t really know how many great self-published books are out there. Supporters of the rule would say, “But we’re trying to keep the crap out.” And everyone knows there is a LOT of self-published crap. But what about traditionally published substandard novels? How do you keep them out? Shouldn’t novels be judged by their content, instead of their publisher?

One idea is to have two or three participants read each author’s latest work and decide if it is worthy, regardless of publication method. I started to write “but that’s not realistic” then thought “why not?” You could require every author who wants to attend the conference to read one or two selections from other authors and to provide an anonymous evaluation (or a simple yes/no)—and also to submit their own work to the process. What could be fairer? (This was the basis for Project Greenlight in the film industry.)

The second gray area is the concept of “financially participating in the production and editing” of the novel. Don’t most authors pay to have their work evaluated and/or edited before they even send it to an agent or publisher? (I certainly do!) And what about marketing? I think it’s safe to say that all publishers want their authors to participate financially in the marketing of their novels. Why is it okay for authors to spend thousands of dollars on travel, bookmarks, and mailing free copies to book clubs, but if they spend their own money to hire a graphic designer to produce a better cover than what their publisher has in mind, then suddenly they are not a real author?

I commend Bouchercon for keeping participation open, and I understand the concerns of those who think the rule is necessary. I also think there is room for a better way to determine who is labeled an author at conventions and who is not. What you do think?

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