Jaden E. (Beth) Terrell, author of Racing the Devil, and I are both mystery writers. My books (Mark Rollins’ New Career, Mark Rollins and the Rainmaker, as well as Mark Rollins and the Puppeteer) like hers are available on Amazon.com as well as through other outlets. But, we each chose a different path for publishing our books. Beth published taking the traditional road for an author—the agent/publisher model. I’m one of the mavericks not yet fully accepted by the community of “professional authors.” I self-publish my books. The route Beth took qualifies her to be a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the MWA. I don’t quality—even if Beth and I sell the same number of books, or even if I should be lucky enough to outsell Beth.
The MWA’s membership qualification requirements illustrate how the establishment is still trying to protect itself from the changes (creative destruction) in the publishing world. In fairness, the MWA would explain that their requirements are designed to assure quality. They could, however, come up with a reasonable alternative quality test. The MWA could, for example, limit membership to those who have published using their approved publisher list or, alternatively, have sold a certain number of books. Instead, they specifically exclude authors who have self-published by requiring that “The work is neither self-published nor cooperatively published.”
Under the MWA current membership standards, New York Times Best-Selling Author John Locke also isn’t eligible for membership. Why? Because Locke never had an agent or publisher. He says he never sent a manuscript or query letter to anyone. “I always intended to self-publish my work, without representation, and figured my time would be better spent writing books than query letters.”
John Locke, who has sold more than a million books, doesn’t qualify; yet, the MWA rolls include many authors whose only membership qualification is that they were paid $1,000 by an approved publisher. Things are changing fast. Self-published authors who are successful will eventually be accepted into the establishment club. Dragged kicking and screaming, organizations like MWA will eventually have to welcome successful self-published authors, or they will lose creditability; and, given the trends, they will face a declining pool of prospective members.