Sunday, May 1, 2016

My Last Malice Domestic?

I am in the middle of a two-year term as president of the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Because the chapter has 40+ members in attendance, I figured I would go this year to help represent the chapter. There is a big Sisters in Crime breakfast on Saturday and a Chapter Presidents meeting immediately following. The Guppy Chapter has a practice of wearing our boas to the breakfast to show our stuff (and to take a picture afterwards).

This year, we Guppies have many authors represented among the Agatha nominees. [I am writing this well before the winners are announced, but they will be known by the time this post appears. Update: the winners are Margaret Maron (Best Contemporary), Art Taylor (Best First), Laurie R. King (Best Historical), Martin Edwards (Best Nonfiction), Amanda Flower (Best Children's/YA), and Barb Goffman (Best Short Story).] The prequel to my Seamus McCree series, Ant Farm, was published within the year and meets the definition of a traditional mystery (no undue violence or sex). Put it all together, and I signed up early.

The first two books in my series were published by a small independent publisher. Ant Farm was published by Kindle Press after winning a Kindle Scout nomination. However, I am planning on publishing the remainder of the series through my micro-press, Wolf's Echo Press. Going forward, the Malice Board has issued a policy concerning which authors will be allowed to participate on panels. 

Here’s what they say on their website (colored text added):

Malice Domestic Adopts Policy for Program Participation

In order to provide the best possible experience to the fans for whom the convention was created, the Malice Domestic Board of Directors has adopted a policy defining author eligibility for program participation:

Malice Domestic does not guarantee a program slot to any participant.

Malice Domestic will only offer author assignments to traditionally published authors or those who have been nominated for established mystery awards.

Traditionally published authors include those who—

1.  Did not pay any costs associated with the publication of their books.

2.  Are published by a company that—
            a.   publishes at least three authors other than the publisher, members of the publisher’s family, or staff of the publishing company. (Authors publishing under multiple pseudonyms count as a single author.)
            b.  does not guarantee publication of all submissions and provides editorial support to its authors.

Established mystery awards include the:  Agatha, Anthony, Arthur Ellis, Barry, Dilys, Edgar, Hammett, Lefty, Macavity, Shamus, and the Dagger awards presented by the British Crime Writers Association. 

If you have any questions about the Program for Malice Domestic or need assistance, please contac (sic)

It is clear to me that the Malice Board does not think self-published authors can provide an excellent experience for fans for whom the conference was created. Not that I couldn’t easily get around their prohibitions. I could have my publishing company, Wolf’s Echo Press, publish several other authors’ books, and pay all the expenses of publishing mine, which would meet the qualifications. In fact, Indy authors could band together and effect the same result as long as each offered editing services and rejected someone now and then. I have short stories that are traditionally published, and could slide in on the back of that work. But the intent is clear: Malice does not want Indy authors on panels – oh, unless they happen to be award winners, then they are okay.

The Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime has many traditionally published authors, many self-published, and many who, like me, are hybrid—falling into both camps, sometimes concurrently. Some have moved from self-published to traditionally published. Some have moved in the other direction. We also represent many pre-published authors. Our purpose is to help all our members develop their writing careers. We do not differentiate between the various publishing models available.

Malice does, and I don’t believe their rules recognize current publishing realities. I am sure they will not ban from panels authors who are published by traditional publishing houses but who pay editors to enhance their work before they submit it to traditional publishers (which a reasonable interpretation would mean they, too, have paid for some of the costs of publication). Nor will they ban those who personally pay for promotion of their books – traditionally something publishers, not authors, paid for that has largely become archaic as traditional publishers push more of the publishing burden onto authors.

This year at Malice, I was invited on the panel “Call the Cops: Police Procedurals.” Those of you who have read my Seamus McCree series or any of my short stories will rightly wonder why I was chosen for this panel. My body of work could be more accurately described as “alternatives to police procedures.” I ended up changing from panelist to moderator because one of the panelists didn’t have time to do the moderating. Being moderator better suits me since I do read police procedurals even if I don’t write them. And I took the time from my writing schedule to read all of my five panelists’ books so I could provide a better experience for the audience and promote the five authors. [If I do say so myself, I think our panel was very good, and I take credit for my work as a moderator.]

I suspect part of Malice’s problem is that almost 200 of their participants are authors, and they might well prefer this to be a conference in which fans are the drivers. Having fewer authors and more fans could be their goal. Or perhaps they don't want to have panels with as many authors, preferring to highlight fewer authors.

Given their published policies, I do believe I will help them attain that goal by spending my time supporting writing organizations that don’t discriminate against good writing, however it might be published. Whether the loss of a class of authors, many of whom like myself take their moderating and panel responsibilities seriously, makes the experience better for fans—that is something others will have to evaluate. But it is clear that given their author policies and panel assignment practices, Malice and my current writing are not a good fit.

Perhaps their policies will change; perhaps what I write will change. We never know what the future will bring, but for now, I expect I have attended my last Malice.

~ Jim


Warren Bull said...

I am a hybrid author too. My self-published books got picked up by a small traditional publisher. I know some authors who chose self-publishing for some, but not all of their books for various reasons. Some self-published books are excellent. That said, I believe the odds of finding a well-written book among randomly chosen works is much lower among books from authors who are only self-published than from authors whose work is from hybrid or traditional publishers. I don't know if Malice or any other convention would be overwhelmed by writers wanting a place at the table if they were open to everyone who has published a book.I do think they should carefully review their requirements.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Very interesting. I couldn't justify the expense of attending Malice without a book to pitch. I'll keep it in mind.

Jim Jackson said...

Warren, you are of course correct that using only traditionally published books allows a conference to rely on others to vet the quality of the book.

In these days of the internet of everything, wouldn't it be interesting to give all audience members the ability to provide immediate feedback about how interesting and effective each panelist and moderator is?

Jim Jackson said...

Margaret -- that would naturally be a fallout from Malice's policy -- but if they are hoping to attract a larger proportion of readers/fans relative to authors/readers, your reaction would be a positive from their perspective. Of course, I don't know what their objectives are; you and I are simply responding to it from an economic perspective.

judyalter said...

Seems counter to current trends to me, when more and more authors are moving toward indie publishing. I too am hybrid, having been published by large and small houses over a long career, but I'm an indie now and enjoying having my own pace, deadlines, etc. The traditional process is slow, and I want to get my books out there in a more timely fashion.

Jane Gorman said...

Thanks for sharing this, Jim. Well said.

Kait said...

I agree with Judy. This seems counter to the current trends, and with the current cuts in cozy series from large scale publishing houses, I suspect that a number of those authors will be going hybrid or full indy.

M. Johnston said...

This isn't Facebook, but I'll still give you a "like" on your post. Marilyn (aka cj petterson)

Steve Liskow said...

My first novel was traditionally published and I was unhappy with almost everything associated with that experience. I have self-published my other novels, and one of them was a finalist for a Shamus Award. I have other awards and nominations associated with the "real" establishment, but this bias toward self-pubbed is becoming more prevalent even as the traditional publishing establishment does more and more to drive new writers in that direction.

The mystery establishment used to support upcoming talent and encourage new writers. I'm seeing less and less of that. Too bad.

Nancy Raven Smith said...

Very sad to hear!

KM Rockwood said...

I think this has been the policy at Malice (and a number of other organized writer's events and venues) for years.

When I was first published, I looked into joining Mystery Writers of America and Penn Writers, my state's writing organization, and discovered that they have similar policies. In fact, they were stricter, and since my original publisher was not recognized by them, I was not considered a qualified author. Now that Wildside Press, and established small press, has picked them up, my books (the exact same books, although with a different cover) now make me eligible for a different status.

So far, I haven't joined either, and I'm not sure whether I will.

The industry is changing. These old policies seem to be left over from the "vanity press" days, without taking into consideration either the availability of e-books or the proliferation of opportunities for authors to bypass the (extremely limiting) big NY press share of the market.

I think eventually most organizations will catch up with the changes. Perhaps if a number of us made our views known to those hardworking people who donate so much time and effort to Malice Domestic, they might consider updating the policy.

Jim Jackson said...

I suspect many of the ongoing Cozy series dropped by Berkeley Prime Crime will be picked up by other small publishers. That said, evidence of the potential bubble in cozies was evident at the Malice New Authors breakfast this morning. Of the 21 "first-timer" books, 2 were linked short stories (including the Agatha winner by Art Taylor). At least 17 of the other 19 were cozies. In previous years, my sense is that there was a much wider inclusion of traditional (but not cozy mysteries) and some with a bit of whoo-whoo or historical.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I'm sure you did an excellent job moderating, Jim. I, for one, was very happy to see you and Jan at the conference. I don't know how I will fare at the next Malice, since I will be changing mystery publishers as a result of my "house" deciding to halt mystery publication. I will still be writing the same quality of books, and I hope the publisher I selected meets with Malice's approval. If not, I think it would indeed be hard to justify the expense of this conference without a panel placement.

The Malice panel I was on, the woo woo panel, was very well attended. Quite possibly it may have been the best attended one I've ever been on. A big name author was on the panel, which I'm certain was the reason for the crowd, and I was having a big case of fan girlness myself over being seated next to Charlaine Harris. I'm delighted to have had this experience and hope there are more such panels in my future.

I don't like to see discrimination, and I know many, many talented indie authors. I understand your point about Malice, but I doubt they are willing to rework their stated policies. It might be worthwhile to engage them in a dialog about the changing marketplace. However, I have noticed this trend in the past in my day jobs: as soon as a person makes an observation, he or she immediately gets tasked with working on the issue. You are the president of the largest SinC chapter in the US. Maybe enough Guppies will get riled and make a ruckus.

Sandy Cody said...

Well said. An interesting, balanced look at Malice's policy - and interesting follow-up comments.

I'm also a hybrid author. I attended Malice last year and moderated a panel which was well attended and, I believe, offered an entertaining look at a particular element of the mystery world (dysfunctional families). This year, I chose not to attend, but to spend the time and money on smaller conferences which are supportive of indie and hybrid authors. Perhaps one of the results of Malice's policy will be increased interest in other conferences. Hopefully, we'll all find a place where we can grow as writers and continue to encourage new talent.

Thanks for sharing your insight.

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I didn't have time to get to a computer yesterday because of my panel and book signing afterwards before hitting the road. I have to say you did a great job of moderator. The only one of your panelists whose books I'd read were Frankie Bailey's, but I enjoyed listening to all of their comments to your questions, and all the laughter and joking. As a moderator this year, I also read every one of my panelists' first books as well as Googled them to learn more about them.

I totally agree with you, Jim, about the bias against self publishing, although I actually was on a panel last year, but I assume not because I am indie published, but because I've been in five published anthologies for short stories. Since I was running around with my 2 minute spiel for my book at Malice-go-round, I wasn't aware of the preponderance of cozy writers. I know that's sort of what I am, but I think mine have more of an edge to them with social issues. Even at an event put on each year with my local Sinc chapter, it's only those who are traditionally published who get on the panels. Does all this make me want to go hybrid if I could? No. I love having control over my books, and writing what I want with no deadlines and not worrying about being dropped by a publisher.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, missed this yesterday while out of town without a computer. What you say is important. I can understand the need to limit or sort writers for quality of their writing and publication values, but this stated policy does not deal realistically with the changed and changing publishing world. In fact, many long-time trad-pubbed writers are having to look at hybrid or completely indie publishing after this last round of massive cuts of writers, series, and editors in the trad pub world. The policy needs more nuance and recognition of the new realities of the mystery world.

Vinnie/ said...

After looking at all the photos from Malice, I was thinking, "Geez, some day I have to go." But now I know you and Jan aren't going, well phooey.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Malice's policy is an affront to mystery authors who have proven themselves to be good and qualified writers. Like many who have already commented, I am a hybrid author. This, I think, reflects the present trend of publishing. Malice seems to be going backwards.

Martha Crites said...

Thanks for bringing up this important topic. I split the costs with my publisher and am very proud of the quality of my book. I'm not eligible though even though this book is a Malice Grant winner. I do think we are on the cusp of change and agree with Maggie T that change would require a lot of work on our parts.
For instance, wouldn't it be great to see an all indie panel with books that had been vetted for quality? I'd go to that!
I think another problem may be the advertising and books that trad publishers give to the convention. A loyalty issue?
Anyway, I'll join if anyone wants to get together a communication to Malice.
Martha Crites