Alexandra's Adventures in Books

The real world is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.


Primarily reads Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Mysteries. From Children's to Adult.

The meanness is a feature, not a bug -- an autobiographical essay

Christmas Eve in the central Arizona desert and it's pouring rain.  I was in a morose mood when I went to bed last night and I'm not in any better a mood this morning.


I wrote last night on Twitter that someday I may write the whole thing out and post it just for 24 hours, so anyone who really wanted to read it, anyone who cared about the issues, could read it and then it would be gone.  Maybe this is it.


There will lots of "I" and "me" in this, because it's about me and my personal experiences.


But whether the meanness is mine or someone else's, I'll leave for you to figure out.


I joined Romance Writers of America ("RWA") in early 1984.  I had just sold my first published historical romance novel, Legacy of Honor, to Leisure Books, so I was never eligible to enter the Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers.  Since in those days the brass ring was publication, not contest wins, I didn't feel slighted.


In those days before email and blogs and all the other instant communication venues we have today, I had a group of snail mail pen-pals, all writing romance novels.  That spring we decided we'd all go to the RWA national conference in Detroit.  The two from Illinois -- I'll call them Em and Dee -- flew in.  Ellie from Kentucky drove up to Indiana and collected me, then drove the rest of the way to Detroit.


Em had entered her manuscript in the Golden Heart contest.  She had also submitted it to several publishers, with no takers.  She belonged to a local RWA chapter with several established romance writers, and they offered her critiques and advice and what amounted to free editorial services.  They also told her she needed an agent.  When her book was announced as a GH finalist, she began an earnest search for an agent. 


In the meantime, however, Em's book received a contract offer from a publisher.  By the rules of the Golden Heart contest, she was required to disqualify herself, since the contest was only open to unpublished, uncontracted writers.  


Em didn't disqualify herself.  Whether on the advice of her fellow RWA chapter members or an agent or the acquiring editor who offered her the contract, Em decided to keep it secret.  Only a very few of us knew about it; I was one and was sworn to secrecy.  Since she hadn't signed the contract, there was no way to prove her book was contracted.  Eventually, she acquired an agent who reiterated the suggestion that Em not disclose the book's status.  Even being a finalist would help sales, and should Em actually win the award, that would help negotiating the contract terms.


As you've probably guessed, Em won the GH at the conference.  None of the very few of us who knew about the publication offer had told anyone within RWA about it, but a year or so later I brought it up, without mentioning any details of book title, author's name, etc., to one of the national board members I met through the Indianapolis RWA chapter.  Her response was basically, "Don't say anything.  It would make RWA look bad."


Although this same group of penpals started to make plans for the 1985 RWA conference in Atlanta, when both Em and I would have published copies of our books to brag about, a lot of things changed.  For one thing, I was in the process of getting ready to move to Arizona that summer, and had neither the funds nor the time to make the trip.  But there had been other issues.  Em had a new baby and was having some marital difficulties.  Ellie had almost given up writing entirely.  And Dee was on a crusade about contest judging.


At the time, Dee was unpublished. In fact, she had not even completed a novel. She had not worked in the publishing industry, nor did she have any other credentials to demonstrate her ability to pick out a "winning," i.e. publishable, contest entry.  Yes, she was an avid reader, but so were most RWA members.


Also at the time, 1984-1985, the vast majority of RWA members were unpublished.  Many had never completed a full-length romance novel. Some had never written anything at all and were basically avid fans who saw RWA as an opportunity to chum around with some of their favorite authors and live out their own fantasies of being a writer.  Does that sound harsh?  Sorry, but it's true.  I knew a lot of these fans -- would we call them "stans" today? -- personally.  They were honest and sincere and enthusiastic, but they often didn't know anything about the skills needed to write a publishable romance novel.


In the fall of 1984, after that summer's conference, I joined the Indianapolis chapter of RWA.  I tried to start one in the Fort Wayne / South Bend area, but there wasn't sufficient interest, so once every three months, I made the three-hour-each-way drive to Jonathan's Restaurant & Pub on the north side of Indy to meet with the chapter there.



(The "souvenir" matches are in my desk drawer.  Yes, I keep a lot of shit.)


When I showed up at the fall 1984 meeting, I was greeted with the question, "Did you write the letter?"  But I had no idea what letter they were talking about.  As it turned out, the bi-monthly Romance Writers' Report had just come out and been delivered to most of the Indianapolis members on Friday; I wouldn't get my copy until Monday.  But a letter to the editor of the RWR had been printed, and everyone said it read just like me. just like the way I talk.


Most of the women there had only met me once or twice, and I had never given any kind of program or anything to them.  My first book had not yet been published.  Yet they recognized my style from the letter.  And yes, I had written it.  I had asked specifically that my name not be used, because I knew certain people would recognize themselves.


My very long letter -- it took up more than an entire printed page of the  RWR -- elicited a response form the contest chair, in which she stated that all judges were supposed to be published authors or publishing professionals, but due to the number of entries and the need for volunteers, some unpublished writers might be used.  "Even though they may not be published yet," she wrote, "they are widely read in the genre and able to judge if a manuscript works or not.  However, this arises only occasionally."


I suspected that was not quite true.  I personally knew unpublished writers who were judging.  But the contest chair had assured potential entrants that their manuscripts would be fairly and competently judged.  Over the next several issues of the RWR, the subject was debated, comments made, complaints aired.


I let the matter go, since there was nothing I could do about it anyway.  Yes, unpublished writers certainly could be qualified judges.  They could say what they liked and didn't like.  And not all published writers were qualified to help the unpublished make the leap.  My understanding, from talking with and corresponding with romance writers who were trying to achieve publication, was that the goal of winning a major contest was one thing, but getting professional feedback and assistance was another. 


One comment, however, caught my attention, and it has stayed with me all these many years.


"Let's not fall into the trap of dividing RWA members into published and nonpublished categories.  Let's give each other the respect and support we'd like to have.  The line between making it and just missing is too fine.  We all have talents to lend to RWA, published and unpublished."  (Judith E. French, Letter to the Editor, RWR, January/February 1985.)


The problem was that RWA very much did divide the membership into published and unpublished.  The vast majority of the membership was unpublished; they contributed more dues money and more conference money and more contest money to the organization and the chapters.  The unpublished members also contributed a lot of the volunteer labor to run the contests and conferences and chapters.  Most were appreciative of the expertise shared with them by the published authors and other professionals, and most of the published authors were appreciative of the contributions from the unpublished.


But . . . .


I was first published in book-length romance fiction in 1985.  I judged the 1985 contest, which I think is the one where I got a certain author's first published book and couldn't believe how terrible it was.  In the late summer of 1985, we moved to Arizona.  I judged the 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990 contests.  For 1987, 1989, and 1990 I wrote detailed critiques for all the Golden Heart entries I judged, and I still have those critiques in my computer files.  Most of the entries, sadly, were not very good.  Some were terrible. What alarmed me was that the chances were very good these writers were also judging other manuscripts.


The Golden Heart contest had grown over the years.  There simply weren't enough published judges to go around.  Membership in RWA had also grown, but the unpublished writers made up more and more of the majority.  It was simply a matter of numbers: more and more of the contest judges were unpublished.


For various reasons, the published authors felt a need to claim their professional status within RWA.  In 1989, at the National Conference in Boston, an organizational meeting was held to consider the establishment of some organ within RWA that would address the professional concerns of the published members.  I attended that meeting.


Let me reiterate:  I attended the first organizational meeting of what would come to be known as the Published Authors' Network within RWA.


 Despite Judith French's comments in early 1985, by 1989 the published writers were angry.  We were the ones whose brains were picked.  We were asked to give the chapter talks on how to publish, how to write love scenes, how to query an agent.  We gave and gave and gave.  But we were also the ones who took the criticism for not giving enough.  It was an unpopular opinion, and those of us who were there at the beginning of PAN came in for a lot of criticism.


We were, remember, a distinct minority.  There were no requirements for membership in RWA; anyone could join.  (One of my hotel roommates for that conference was going to be a 16-year-old girl!)  Yet until 1989, there was nothing to distinguish those who had "made it" from those who hadn't written a word.  I had only published two books then, but I was hit with the "how dare you!" response from my local Arizona chapter.


There were a lot of unpublished writers who resented our (?) success.


But that was 1989.  I already had my doubts about RWA, based on two personal experiences.


The first was the publication in the RWR in March 1988 of an article by romance writer Ginna Gray.  Titled "Great Beginnings, Fabulous Endings . . . and no Sagging Middles," the two-page article gave tips on how to start one's novel.  The problem was that it bore an eerie resemblance to an article I had read in 1982, an article that I so admired and believed in that I had kept it and the magazine it was published in very handy.  I still have both of them, and I documented the situation with a blog post in 2012.


I alerted RWA to the similarities in 1988; nothing was done.  The response I received was that there was nothing in the RWA bylaws to deal with copyright infringement or plagiarism, and that only Mr. Lowenkopf, as the holder of any copyright to the article, could make a claim of infringement.  Supposedly Ms. Gray had been informed of the matter and agreed not to repeat it.


The second was my own experience entering what was then the Golden Medallion contest for published books.  My historical romance Firefly had been published in 1988 and was therefore eligible for the 1989 contest.  Not expecting to win, I still entered to get the feedback and so I would have my own, direct, personal experience of entering the contest. I would be able to say I had done it.


As a published author, I could never enter the Golden Heart contest.


When the unpublished members complained that PAN was a special benefit for published authors who paid the same dues, I at least could counter with the unfairness of the Golden Heart contest.  An unpublished member could enter her book year after year after year, get feedback and suggestions for improvement, and even get editors to read it, but the published authors were denied that benefit even though they paid the same dues.  We could never enter Golden Heart.


I knew that I was unlikely to have any judges who were published in historical romance, since they would most likely also be entering and could not judge in their own category.  Firefly didn't make it out of the preliminary round, which was okay, but I was disappointed that one judge who signed her name also commented that she didn't understand the point of the story.  She was a multi-published author of short contemporary romance, so I just kind of shrugged and set the whole thing aside. 


But what I had started to see in the RWA contest was a pattern.  Certain authors always won.  Was this becoming merely a popularity contest?  Did lesser-known authors even stand a chance?


So, I had my experience, but I decided I would never again enter the contest.  Why give my money to RWA when I knew I would never have a chance to win?


But there was more to come from that 1989 Boston conference.  PAN had its beginning, but there were other personal experiences that set me on edge.


One of the big draws of the national conferences was the opportunity for writers -- published or unpublished -- to chat with editors and agents.  I had made appointments to speak with two editors, but not with any agents.  A chance conversation with one of the RWA volunteers in charge of the editor-agent appointment schedule managed to get me in to see a new, up and coming agent.  I wasn't seriously looking for an agent, but I figured what the heck.  It couldn't hurt.


We chatted for the requisite ten or fifteen minutes, and I was definitely not impressed.  But I was utterly appalled when she started talking about another writer by name and told me how terrible a client she had been.  She gave me details of the author's contracts and how hard she had been to work with and how her editors refused to work with her again.


Immediately after the interview, I went to the coordinator and told her what had happened.  She, too, was astounded, and she told me to write it all up and send it to the RWA board.  Whether there was a "professional relations committee" at that time, I don't recall.  But as soon as I got home from Boston, that's exactly what I did.


The response?  Something along the lines of,  "We can't do anything because the agent might sue RWA.  And besides, many of our members are so eager to get an agent that they won't care.  We can't deny them the opportunity for professional representation."


Nothing happened.


Of course nothing happened.


Then came 1990 and the RWA national conference in San Francisco. 


The big news out of the conference of course, was the news that best-selling Zebra author Sylvie Sommerfield had apparently infringed the copyright of Jan Westcott's The Hepburn, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorites.  As I wrote in my personal journal:


Lots of strange news, however. Sunday afternoon, in a taxi on the way to the airport, this Pat Potter – who writes for Harlequin Historicals – told me and Connie Flynn – of the Scottsdale RWA – that prominent author Sylvie Sommerfeld [sic] had been caught plagiarizing.  According to Pat, Sylvie's latest book was an almost exact duplicate of some old book called "The Hepburn, or something  like that."  At which point I gasped and said, "My God, The Hepburn, by Jan Westcott!  I have it at home!" Again, according to Potter, Sylvie claimed one of her secretaries had written the book and submitted it without Sylvie's knowledge.  So as soon as I got off the plane, we headed for a newsstand, where I purchased two copies of FIRES OF SURRENDER.


I personally contacted Romantic Times magazine the following day, photocopies of both books went in the mail, and the whole saga began.  There was a variety of excuses offered, that Sommerfield had hired a ghost writer, that her secretary had given Sommerfield rough ideas that Sommerfield then fleshed out, and on and on.  None of it mattered in the end, of course.  The infringement was obvious.  RWA finally put infringement into their bylaws.


But there was another thing that happened at the San Francisco conference.


I had recently sold my third book to Zebra, and had an agent working on negotiations.  The agent had asked me if I was going to be in San Francisco and I told her yes, I was.  I was extremely disappointed when she made no effort to contact me.  I was even more disappointed when she sat near me in the hotel lobby and made no effort to contact me.


After the conference, I communicated with her about the delay in getting my contract from Zebra.  That was late July or early August.  Over the next several months, she failed to return my calls, and the contract didn't arrive.  Neither, of course, did my advance money.  I ended up firing her.


Firing her, however, didn't end my problems.  She was still on the contract as agent of record, and monies due to me had to go through her first.


The book was contracted in 1990, published in 1991.  I received some royalties in 1993, but when my check arrived from the agent in early 1994 for subsequent royalties, the check bounced.


The check bounced.


I called RWA to let them know, but over the next several weeks, their response was pretty much the same as when I had complained about the unprofessional behavior of the agent in Boston: They weren't going to do anything because the agent might sue them.  They had no procedure in place for protecting writers -- published or unpublished -- from unscrupulous agents.


(An acquaintance of mine here in the Phoenix area had decided one day that she would become an agent. She had no experience, no contacts, but she was able to do that and wangle a free RWA conference out of it.  RWA didn't care.)


RWA was protecting RWA, not its members.  I had an agent who didn't know having a separate escrow account for clients' funds was a good idea.  She admitted to me on the phone that she didn't know what a cashier's check was.  She sent me one without a signature. No, I'm not kidding  A cashier's check without a signature.


But I'm jumping ahead of my story.  Let's slip back to 1991 and the RWA conference in New Orleans.


Remember that article by Ginna Gray in the 1988 RWR?  The one I wrote to the board about its similarities to the Lowenkopf article from 1982.  Well, Ms. Gray gave a workshop at the New Orleans conference that contained similar borrowings, shall we say.  I bought the tape of the workshop.  I transcribed it.  I wrote again to RWA about it.  I found out Ms Gray had also given a similar workshop in 1987.


Once again, RWA did nothing.  I have the correspondence.  According to the information I was given, Ms. Gray claimed that she "borrowed" from a handout she'd been given at another workshop.  So even if she didn't know that handout had been lifted, she felt free to lift it herself!


But RWA had been given the evidence in 1988.  The New Orleans workshop was 1991.  I have my copies of the correspondence.


I was eventually told politely to back off.  Nothing was going to be done.


I would later be told, though I have no evidence to back this up, that Ms. Gray was one of the original founding members of RWA, present at the first meeting in a bank conference room in Houston, Texas, in 1980.  She was the only unpublished writer at the meeting, and would not have been eligible for membership if the nascent organization had limited membership only to published professionals.  In order to include Ms Gray, the group decided to allow unpublished writers to join and to have full membership benefits -- attending conferences, voting for officers, holding office.  No other genre writing group -- Mystery Writers of America, Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America, etc. -- allowed the unpublished to join at the same level as the published.  Only RWA.


Ginna Gray won the Golden Heart contest in 1983, so she wasn't even contracted in 1981 or 1982 or 1983.


Again, I have the documentation.


By 1994, when I was getting rubber checks from my former agent, I had formed a second local Phoenix RWA chapter, Valley of the Sun.  I served two years as president.  I started the group's contest -- for the unpublished, of course -- called the Hot Prospects.  The grand prizes -- one for historical and one for contemporary romance -- were the conference fee for the RWA national conference.  This was a big deal, as most chapter contests had very modest prizes beyond "I won!"  Furthermore, as the only published author in the chapter, I volunteered to read, judge, and critique every single entry.  Every entry would be guaranteed at least one published author as judge, even if I had to do all of them myself.  And for the first year, 1993, I did read and judge every single entry.  I still have all the critiques on my computer.


The chapter was worried about the expense of providing two registration fees, but we quickly had enough entries to cover it and to make money for the chapter besides.  The contest was a huge success.  Everyone was looking forward to 1994's Second Annual Hot Prospects.


Again, I volunteered to judge all the entries, but this year we had a couple more published members, so I had help.  I would need it. 


The contest coordinator, who at one time claimed to have been a professor of computer science at Harvard, kept track of the manuscripts and judges on a sheet of paper and got them screwed up.  She forgot which judges had which entries.  Three ended up lost.  Three more ended up in the hands of a judge who never returned them.  But the worst was yet to come.


The contest had proven so popular that the chapter members wanted to enter, even if they couldn't "win."  They wanted the critiques.  (They wanted my critiques??)  So we established a new rule: Members could enter, their manuscripts would be judged anonymously like any others, but they couldn't win or be counted in the final tally.  Only the contest coordinator would know which manuscripts belonged to members, so the judges could judge impartially.  We judges were told only two members elected to enter, but we were not told who they were.


I was pretty sure I had received at least one of the two entries from our members, and maybe both of them, but I didn't know which ones they were.  I read and judged all the entries I received as fairly as I could.  Some were pretty good, others fell far short.  I tallied up the scores and reported them to the coordinator.


All hell broke loose.


Now, remember, this is a local RWA chapter and should have nothing to do with the national organization, right?  Wrong.


It turned out the contest coordinator had lied.  Just flat out lied.  There weren't two entries from our members, there were three.  And I had got all of them.  Two did reasonably well, and the authors were content.  The third happened to be the personal close friend of the coordinator and she had not done well at all.  All three of her judges scored her book very low, and I had scored it the lowest of all the entries I had judged.


I was accused of cheating, of lying, of deliberately scoring this manuscript unfairly low . . . to spite the coordinator!  Why would I do that?  I had no idea her friend had entered the contest.  I had no idea her friend had even written anything!  (Yes, the friend was a member of the chapter, but there were no requirements in RWA then that a member provide any evidence that they were actually writing anything.


There were all kinds of other accusations thrown around, but the kicker came when the coordinator accused me to my face and in front of the membership of having failed the chapter.  When I asked her how I could possibly have done that, she said it was because I hadn't got any of the unpublished members published.  Yes, friends, she considered it my personal responsibility to get at least one of the unpublished writers in our chapter over the threshold into published territory.


In fact, however, the future would prove her wrong, though I just got another knife in the back for it.


Another of our chapter members who had not entered the contest was working on her entry for Golden Heart.  She asked if I would look over her opening chapters and give my assessment.  I did so, and though I thought it was pretty good, I offered a few suggestions for improvement.  She took almost all of them, to my surprise, and ended up winning the award.  She also got a book contract out of the deal.  What did I get?  Thanks?  Are you kidding?


She refused to speak to me.  She sabotaged a joint book signing.  She told people I had refused to help her when she asked.


At that point, I lost it.  I was finished with the local chapter.  I have the documentation.  I have the tape recording of the board meeting at which the then president told me that yes, I was right and I had told the truth, but she was going to stick up for the liars because I was the strong one and could take it.


What does that have to do with RWA's sleazy behavior?  Well, I'm glad you asked.


In 1994, we didn't have Twitter or GoodReads, but we did have GEnie Romex, an online discussion board frequented by published and unpublished members of RWA.  And maybe some non-members as well.


A group of us began talking about the problems of going to a conference and having to be "on" all the time for the unpublished.  It was impossible ever to say no to them -- sometimes they would slide manuscripts under the bathroom stall doors and no, I'm not kidding -- and we were wondering if somehow it would be possible to have a conference just for the published writers.  Where we wouldn't have to give the workshops for the unpublished but could get workshops specifically aimed at the published.


But the RWA rules didn't allow for that.  PAN, which by then had been in operation for four or five years but had been steadily diminished in both power and effectiveness, couldn't have its own conference.


As a side note, the one thing PAN had been able to do was get a designation on published authors' national conference nametags that identified us as published.  The first year it was a little black asterisk placed at random on the badge, looking ever so much like a dead spider.  I never forgot that.  I may even have it around here still.  Remember, I keep all this shit.


Anyway, there we all were on GEnie Romex and one night something happened.




 Thus was born the Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter.


Yes, folks, it was MY idea.  I started it.  I did the paperwork, I did everything to get PASIC started.  I'm pretty sure there's nothing anywhere that gives me any credit for it, of course.


Our first organizational meeting was informally held at the Romantic Times conference in Fort Worth in 1995.  I drove there and drove back, lost an opportunity to meet with my daughter because I was doing favors for people who never so much as said thank you.


PASIC had its first Power Conference in New York in 1996.  My work with the chapter had caught the attention of some people, including my editor at Pocket Books.  She didn't like my activism and I'm sure it led to her rude treatment of me.


We had our second Power Conference in Los Angeles.


Though no one from RWA corporate paid much attention to the 1996 conference, they were very eager to participate in 1997 and demanded that we include the PAN liaison, who at the time was Betina Krahn.


I had met Betina in Hawaii at the 1995 RWA national conference.  She was there with her husband and sons; her husband had terminal cancer.  I was also there with my husband.


In 1997, Betina was welcomed to the PASIC conference in Los Angeles.  We couldn't have kept her out if we had wanted to, but she was welcomed nonetheless.  By then she was widowed, and I remember her making jokes about trying to get back into "dating" at her age.


As the president of PASIC, I had scored a beautiful suite at the Century Plaza Hotel.  I felt horribly guilty about it, but I also felt I had earned it as some compensation for all the work I had done for RWA over the years.  I invited my husband to join me.


On Saturday evening of the conference, a whole group of us trooped across the street to the mall where we bought picnic fixings at the grocery store.  (Ralph's, maybe?)  We came back to our suite and fixed sandwiches and had chips and dip and assorted munchies and maybe some wine.  Betina joined us, sat on the floor around the big square coffee table in the suite's sitting room and chatted and laughed.


The next morning, she accused me of not allowing her an opportunity to address the PASIC membership in a plenary session.  But she didn't even have the guts to accuse me to my face: She told other people, who then brought the news to me.  Not only did my "friends" not pull the knives out, they twisted them in further.


I was stunned.  So was my husband.  "Wasn't she the one who was picnicking with us last night?" he asked.  Yes, she was.


And she had never once asked me to address a session of the chapter at the conference.  Never.  Once.  Never asked, but now was accusing me of refusing!


And none of my other PASIC members stood up for me.  I was a nobody, and Betina Krahn was a Big Name Bestselling Author.  She was the PAN Liaison, and I was nobody.


We had another Power Conference in 1998 in New York, and I went as out-going president, but I knew I was done with RWA.  There was no reason for what Betina had done, but I knew nothing was going to change.  PASIC still has Power Conferences for the published, and I think it still has a Book of Your Heart contest -- another thing I started, to give the published authors something roughly equivalent to Golden Heart -- but I knew I would never be considered part of it.  I bucked the system too hard and wouldn't toe the party line.


I left RWA after that, left romance writing, too.  My career was over.  That summer of 1998 I decided to go back to college -- I was almost 50 years old -- and never expected to write fiction again.


But I kept all that stuff.  The matches from Jonathan's, the letters to Jasmine Cresswell about Ginna Gray, the contest critiques, and of course the journal entries.


RWA will protect RWA.  RWA will protect the unpublished before it protects the published, because there are more of them.  RWA will protect the Nice White Ladies before it protects the writers of color, the LGBTQIA+ writers, the disabled writers.  RWA will protect the publishers before it protects the writers. 


One of our speakers at the 1997 LA conference was Paul Grescoe, a Canadian writer who had just published a history of Harlequin, Merchants of Venus.  Paul was a delightful guest, and I was stunned to discover that one of my PANdora's Box rants had been excerpted in the book.  That was about the only acknowledgement I got for any of my contributions.


There was more, of course, much more.  Being begged to run for the RWA board on the promise that I would have no opposition and my expertise was sorely needed on the board, but then to have not one but TWO other candidates run at the last minute, both of whom had more backing than I.  Being asked to help a board member who was either unwilling or unable to fulfill her duties but refused to resign and allow someone else to take her place to represent the writers in her region.  And on and on and on.


Why did I do it?  For the same reason so many others did.  There was nothing in it for me personally, but I honestly believed in the organization and believed that romance writers and readers deserved respect.  That the writers especially deserved professional treatment.  Not contracts that allowed our publishers to pay us 0.25% royalties -- yes, that's one quarter of one percent -- or even less on "special sales."  That writers deserved professional representation by their agents. 


The RWA that I believed in would never have allowed the crap that happened with Dorchester/Leisure in 2012 (or whenever it was that they finally went out of business).  Or Ellora's Cave.  Or Dreamspinner Press.  Or the Kindle Unlimited scams or the fiverr fake reviews. 


But RWA did none of that, because RWA was always there to protect RWA, Inc. and the fat bank account it had acquired.  Even as a non-profit, RWA had a duty to protect itself, and it has always taken that duty very, very seriously.


I left in 1998 and much has changed in Romancelandia since then.  Not just the rise in digital publishing but the diversification of romance as a genre and the opening up of so many avenues for communication via social media.  It's very different from those old GEnie Romex days, or the AOL email exchange from 1997 that I found in my archives today -- the exchange discussing the first discovery that Janet Dailey had plagiarized her friend Nora Roberts.


RWA didn't keep up with the industry, didn't keep up with the writers, didn't keep up with the readers.  I'm sorry, but I have no sympathy for them.  Let them protect their own.








Any Myst Franchise Fans? Check this out....

For the 25th Anniversary of Myst Cyan is offering a Kickstarter that has already met the goal, and will provide fans with some really cool items - including a "working" linking book for Myst.  A must have for fans of this series. Check it out here:


But hurry, less than three days to get in on this!

GoodReads isn't Facebook! Or Twitter!

On the heels of a user asking GoodReads to add Twitter style @ing to "pull in" people into discussions (ugh!), now we have another who wants GR to add Facebook style tagging.


My head is going to explode.

Stupid Things (Some) Authors Say

As seen in a discussion regarding if authors should read reviews for their books, and if those reviews are "feedback" for the author:


"...why an author should even have a place on which readers can post reviews, if the author isn't supposed to look at them..."


I don't know if this author knows something I don't - that there are authors who have set up places for readers to post reviews, or if she is under the impression that GoodReads and Amazon (which is what we're discussing) are sites authors have set up for readers to post reviews.


Either way, I'm shaking my head.


Isn't it so nice of those authors to provide areas for us little readers to share our opinions of their books?  For author "feedback" no doubt. ;)

Further Reader Advisory

If you see a book with one of these award badges, and I'm pretty sure I have:



I advise to not take it as any indication of quality in any way, shape or form. I wouldn't give this award any merit at all.


For additional information about Reader's Favorite, see my post here:

Another Bad Review "Club"

After seeing an author recommend "Reader's Favorite" to other authors as an inexpensive alternative to Kirkus for editorial reviews it set off warning bells for me when she also mentioned she'd gotten some reviews posted to Amazon from it.


So, of course I decided to check it out.  Here's how it works for authors:


Authors can request a free review, or pay a fee for an "expedited" review.  The author's book is submitted for member readers to chose to read - I'll get to how it works on the reader's side further on.


The free service doesn't guarantee the author will get a review, the paid service does guarantee a review.


The review will be provided to the author and they can post the review in the "editorial review" section of Amazon if they want. If the review is at least 4 stars Reader's Favorite will also post the review to their site, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest.


I haven't (yet) verified if they're posting to Barnes & Noble as a consumer, but if not so far this is no problem.


However if you keep reading in the author area you see at least one glaring red flag.  They facilitate author review swapping:



Which we know, and authors should know, violates TOS for sites like Amazon and GoodReads, and I presume Barnes & Noble, and probably everywhere else that allows consumer reviews.


I also strongly feel that any author considering doing business with a company like this should not simply look at the author information, but also the reader information, and ensure the service is in complete compliance of various TOS as well as FTC regulations, prior to doing business with them.  The authors I warned about this were distressingly unconcerned about anything other than the fact that they didn't feel they personally were violating any TOS by requesting reviews by this outfit.  Nevermind the rest of how this site functions, and how those reviews are posted that do violate various TOS.


Which takes us to the Reader's side.  What do readers get and what are they expected to do?


There are some stipulations I find bothersome, but don't violate TOS, so I won't detail those here.


Firstly, they are required to provide a review for a book they choose to accept within 3 weeks.  But then it goes on to say if they need more time that's not a problem, and if they decide not to review a book they can just remove the book from their list.  So, that's a bit confusing.  I'll point out that requiring a review in exchange for a free book violates Amazon and GoodReads TOS.


However, if these reviews were simply being used as editorial reviews, this still wouldn't be a problem.  So, hang in here with me.  Moving on...


RF tells readers, "We will post your review on Google Books, Barnes & Noble, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+ and Pinterest, as well as on our website. The author can post the review in the Editorial Reviews section of their Amazon page. You can post your review anywhere you like except Amazon, Google Books and Barnes & Noble because your review will already be posted there."


This is problematic. They cannot post the review anywhere they like, because their reviews will violate GoodReads TOS, and probably TOS of other retailers. They cannot post their reviews as consumer reviews. They can only post them as professional reviews where professional reviews are allowed, such as their own blog or their Facebook, etc.


Additionally I know for a fact that these reviewers do still post their reviews as consumer reviews on Amazon, at least sometimes.  Here's why:


"Although this is primarily a volunteer position, we also pay a small amount for each review and a little more for priority reviews. But this money is not enough to be considered payment for your services and should instead be thought of as a gift that can add up to a tidy sum over a couple of months. In addition, every month one lucky reviewer will win $100 in a raffle-style giveaway."


Not only are authors paying Reader's Favorite, but the reviewers are being paid per review.  They're also being entered into a cash drawing.  THIS means their reviews cannot be posted as consumer reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, and if/when they are they are violating TOS.



And, a chance to win free books.  Also means posting these reviews as a consumer review would violate TOS:





And, it gets worse.  Reader's Favorite only publishing a review if it's a least 4 stars is one thing, since presumably they're doing it as editorial/professional reviews. On the reader side I saw no stipulation that they could not post a less than 4 star review wherever they choose to post the review.  Although from information provided on the author's side, which you'll see below, it strongly suggests that member readers will be advised not to post a less-than-4-star review publicly, possibly in verbiage not visible until/unless one is a member.


However, Reader's Favorite does allow authors to "review the review", and "provide feedback" so the reviewer can "improve".  Which is problematic, when these reviewers are not specifically and firmly advised they cannot post their reviews as consumer reviews.


The information about this provided to authors is even more problematic:


"If a book receives less than 4 stars no official review is given. Instead, the reviewer will write constructive criticism to let the author know what problems they had with the book and offer any suggestions they may have to improve it. This will be about the size of a regular review and will be sent to the author privately; it will not be posted publicly. We are here to help authors, not hurt them.

Although we as a company do not interfere with what rating a reviewer gives a book, as the rating must be what the reviewer feels is appropriate, we do monitor the average ratings of our reviewers to ensure they are being fair and honest about their ratings to maintain the integrity of our reviews."


"Because it is critical that reviewers provide quality reviews, we invite you to Review your Reviewer. When your review is complete, you will be able to login to your Author's Area and rate your reviewer on a 5-star scale and provide a short review, just as they did for you. Your feedback is presented to the reviewer to help them improve their skills, the same way book reviews help authors improve theirs. The information is also passed to the Readers' Favorite staff to help us ensure the quality of our reviewers and reviews."


A lot of red flags there, this careful language suggests that reviewers will be monitored and rewarded/penalized if the "quality" of their reviews is not considered "fair", by the company, which I don't think it's unreasonable to consider it likely to mean keeping their overall rating/review average high, to keep authors happy.


And even more problems - an author I was talking to about this quoted information from their site that I have been unable to locate, it's possible it's visible only to those that have accounts in a member's area.  This is what she posted and said was from their site:


"Goodreads also has restrictions regarding reviews posted by professional review companies, so we ask our reviewers to use their personal Goodreads account to post your review. If you do not see our review on your Goodreads page then the reviewer does not have a Goodreads account. However, you can post the review yourself. You can either post an excerpt of your review in your book's description or you can post our complete review like any other reader's review. Be sure to keep the first line showing the review is from us, then it makes no difference who actually posts it."


Those of you familiar with GR will see how this is problematic.  Sure, if an author quotes a professional review in their own review space with the designation "Review From Author", GoodReads might let that fly, although it definitely still is a violation of TOS and should only be posted in areas where promotional information is allowed, not a review.


The statement also doesn't specify this definitely would not be acceptable for non-authors.  GoodReads doesn't allow people to post professional reviews as long as they do so from their personal accounts, or as long as they credit where the review is from.  GoodReads doesn't allow commercial/professional reviews to be posted as reader reviews, at all.



Unfortunately this service is attractive to indie authors who think editorial reviews are important, and the cost of Kirkus is prohibitive, or the review they received from Kirkus was not suitable for promotional purposes. The authors I spoke to who used this service hadn't even bothered to look at the reader side of things, although did admit to being pleased they'd received reviews posted to Amazon as consumer reviews.


In my opinion this service is very close to the scam the coupon clubs had been running, convincing the unwary they were in compliance with Amazon TOS when they were very much not.  And I wanted to warn other readers about this particular service, what it's doing, why it's a problem. I also think it's a safe bet there are many others like it out there.



Stupid Beyond Help

So, an author posted this somewhere in the bowels of GoodReads yesterday:


"I feel the same. Amazon is extremely controlling about who can post a review. A very good friend of mine bought a paperback copy and has tried posting her review multiple times, but Amazon keeps booting it off. For some reason they think she's not a verified purchaser so they won't allow the review to post. And good luck on trying to contact them. You'd have better luck trying to get a sunburn on Antarctica than to get anyone to understand what you're trying to ask them."

So, I took a deep breath and responded:
'Amazon doesn't require people to be verified purchasers in order to post reviews. So that is not the reason her review is not being allowed to be posted.

They do not allow friends and family of an author to post reviews, for reasons I think are pretty obvious. That would be why her review is not being allowed to be posted.

I do not consider this prohibition by Amazon "extremely controlling" in the least. I consider it reasonable, understandable, and I'm quite thankful for it.'
I also posted this:
Her response today? You're all gonna love this:
"Amazon has no idea she's my friend, and yes, they do only post verified purchases. They don't care if it's your friend, grandmother, aunt or a perfect stranger as long as their system verifies the purchase was made with a credit card bearing the same name."


And in another conversation a different author stated this:


"For perspective, I am aware of many many indy authors who solicit almost all their reviews from relatives and Facebook friends. That's far more misleading than an RF reviewer posting one review. All this appears to be somewhat the nature of self-publishing for better or worse."


Believe me, there are still many authors out there thinking like this.  Thankfully they're mostly very small potatoes, but they're all chatting each other up about how this sort of thing is perfectly fine, and there are more out there than you may see.  Of course thankfully they're still a minority, or at least only a minority is dumb enough to say things like this in public.


Middle Grade Fantasy Freebie!

The Book of Kindly Deaths - Eldritch Black

The Book of Kindly Deaths is currently free for the Kindle version. If you like MG Fantasy I highly suggest you grab this one.


The blurb: Eliza Winter's whole world is turned upside down when she discovers a hidden room in her missing grandfather's sprawling Gothic house. Inside the room, below a stained glass window where moonlight shines no matter the hour, waits The Book of Kindly Deaths.

Desperate for clues for grandfather’s whereabouts, Eliza opens the book of ominous, enchanted tales and soon discovers that nothing is what it seems, and that sometimes fairy tales are true...

When a sinister man claiming to be a book collector arrives at the house, Eliza realizes there's far more at stake than she could have ever imagined.

Now Eliza must battle her darkest fears to save her family from the book's guardian, the terrifying ghoul Grim Shivers. Soon she is forced to travel into the heart of the Grimwytch, a haunted world of terrifying monsters where it's forever midnight.


My review:


2 Cups original imagination from an obvious talent

1 Cup Grimm’s Fairy Tales

½ Cup Incorrigible children like those from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

1 pinch each disgusting, gross and weird

Fold in one plucky heroine, one missing grandfather, and one very mysteriously creepy book

Season with atmospheric description and deliciously creepy writing

Mix together and sprinkle lightly with gruesome details.

"On a desk in the room with the stained glass windows sat a book.
It was a thick volume with a worn and cracked black cover showing a gold symbol, a rectangle within two circles that sparkled and flickered as if teased by ghostly fingers. Voices whispered from inside the book, growing in volume, a few human, a few not."

Poor Eliza has a dreary mother, one of those practical sorts who doesn't allow things like imagination and curiosity. I already know I don't like her much. But perhaps she does have reasons for this sad flaw.

Twelve year old Eliza has come with her parents to clean out her grandfather's house and catalog things of value. As her grandfather is missing this seems a bit odd and perhaps slightly premature.

As Eliza reads some of the stories in The Book of Kindly Deaths there are clues these might not be simply stories. Including a strange memory she has of the last visit to her grandparent’s home six years before when she was only six.

"The phantom of a forgotten memory crossed her mind. A ghost of an event that had occurred the last time she was at this house. Although the recollection was fleeting, she still felt an icy sting of dread."

After Eliza, and we the readers, are treated to some tales from The Book of Kindly Deaths, where we learn a bit about the denizens of a place full of nightmarish creatures called Grimwytch, Eliza comes to be in immediate danger and finds herself in Grimwytch. There she finds both villains and allies, and learns what happened to her grandfather.

This book has that dark fairytale vibe, and stories within the story. The writing is descriptive and deliciously creepy.

There are a few mildly gruesome bits, but nothing I’d hesitate a middle grade reader reading, as long as they enjoy dark and creepy stories. Young people who delight in spooky tales will eat this one up.

I also think people older than Middle Grade will enjoy this one. I’m an adult and I sure did. I very much hope there are more stories of Eliza to come.

Are Notifications Dead Again?


Clean Up on Aisle Five!

Remember that author pal of Ms. Vidal's, who joined in to attempt to get the attention of a reviewer's employer and making accusations against him?


If you don't, you can read about it here: Another Author Joins in the Fun.


Well, I am pleased to report that particular author as of today is no longer a GoodReads Author.


Good Riddance. 


It had been noticed a few days ago that the offending comment of hers posted to Ms. Vidal's blog and FB page had been removed.  Presumably she'd gotten an inkling it had gotten her into some hot water.  Just as Vidal had deleted her blog post targeting reviewers right before she also lost her GR Author status.


A third author has joined in the fun, harassing Ms. M. on one of her reviews.  After careful research it's been determined this author has been rating/reviewing the same books from two different GoodReads accounts.  Most are his own books, but a couple are books written by his pals.  He also has posted ratings of some of his books under more than one format.


This all has been reported to GoodReads.  Hopefully they'll get that mess cleaned up soon as well.

Reading progress update: I've read 70%.

End Game: Fallen Empire, Book 8 - Lindsay Buroker

"Alisa looked wistfully in the direction Leonidas had gone, wishing Jelena would approach him at some point. She felt certain that he would volunteer an arm as sturdy as a metal bar for gymnastics purposes."



(I'd credit the artist but I've been unable to track this pic to the original source.  It's fan art for the Mass Effect game, but I thought it fit well here.)


I am enjoying this final installment of the series, but reading is bittersweet because it brings me closer to the end and it'll be OVER!  I can see this series becoming one of my comfort re-reads, characters that start to feel like friends.


There's action here, but this one also brings us closer to some real heart, with the relationship between Alisa, Leonidas, and Jelena.

Reading progress update: I've read 1%.

Cleon Moon: Fallen Empire, Book 5 - Lindsay Buroker

Why, yes I am eating these up like candy :)

Reading Progress 77%

Relic of Sorrows: Fallen Empire, Book 4 - Lindsay Buroker

I noticed one reader call these books "Sci Fi Crack" and I can't really disagree.  They're a lot of fun, strong on character and action, and the plot is pretty good.  Sure they get into tons of messes, and some due to decisions we might roll our eyes at a bit, but it's fun so who cares?


One thing I like is that the "bad guys" are usually not just purely bad, but have understandable motivations, are often not really bad people, there's just a lot of conflict arsing out of conflicting loyalties and an unstable political situation.


I also like the fact that although there is a bit of romance simmering, it's slow burn and not the main plot, or even a major part of the plot.  Just one of the many personal dynamics among a varied cast of characters.


Overall, these books aren't deep literature, nor hard core sciencey sci-fi, but great entertainment, with characters to root for.  My cup of tea.

Honor's Flight

Honor's Flight: Fallen Empire, Book 2 - Lindsay Buroker

Kindle version ends at 85%. However, since what is included after that is the short story

Starfall Station (Fallen Empire #2.5), which is a direct continuation of their story, I think that's perfectly fine in this case.

Reading Progress 28%

Honor's Flight: Fallen Empire, Book 2 - Lindsay Buroker

“It’s possible he has an inordinately high opinion of himself,” Alejandro said.

“I just assumed he had an inordinately low opinion of Beck.”
“That is also possible.”
“Usually,” Leonidas said, “people talk about me behind my back, and I’m forced to use my enhanced auditory faculty to hear what disreputable things they’re saying about me.”
“We didn’t want you to strain yourself,” Alisa said.

They crack me up.

Atlic by Sophie Davis

Atlic - Sophie  Davis

Thankfully the angsty romantic uncertainty with the MC, Stassi, that was annoying me cleared up around the 20% mark, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit. Not quite as much as the first one, but still liked it and went on to read book three.


One thing I really like about Stassi is that she has a lot of empathy. Even when she was doubtful of wanting a relationship with the LI (though clearly attracted to him, and vice versa), she was able to put herself in his shoes, and snapped herself out of being unfairly cold to him, treated him as a friend, and had understanding for his situation.


And again, this story contains a romantic angle, but it's not a huge focus, which I also appreciated.


This book covers an interesting heist that takes place in their current day, the future. No time travel then, but a lot of fun and imaginative high tech to play with. Overall a satisfying read. Although, dang it, it ends in a bit of a cliff hanger. Main present plot is resolved, but then there's a bit more that occurs that is of the "To Be Continued" type.