This past Wednesday, December 2nd, both literally and figuratively, I suffered through my crappiest visit ever to New York City. I’d been looking forward to a day in Manhattan, culminating in the gala holiday party held by the Mystery Writers of America at the National Arts Club. I caught Amtrak’s 8:05 Empire Express from the Rensselaer station, but as I exited Penn Station, I experienced an acute attack of what might politely be called gastrointestinal distress.
I barely made it to the women’s restroom on Macy’s second floor – having lived in Manhattan for 18 years, I still knew my way around, even managed to find the secret old-fashioned escalator with the wide wooden treads – and found blessed relief in the nick of time. Next, I found a Duane-Reade drugstore, popped some Immodium, and headed for the Morgan Library to see the exhibit of William Blake watercolors and engravings. Happily, I also stumbled upon an exhibition titled “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy.”
I’m shamefully ill-acquainted with Austen’s work, but the exhibit was fascinating. I was especially intrigued by the display featuring the first edition of Sense and Sensibility, written between 1795 and 1797. The description read in part:
It was published on commission by Thomas Egerton in 1811, an arrangement in which Austen paid all the publication expenses but retained the copyright and increased her potential profit.
Wow! That sounds exactly like my arrangement with my publisher, Virtualbookworm. So Jane Austen started out as a self-published author. Would she have been eligible for active membership in Mystery Writers of America? Absolutely not.
Today I received an e-mail from MWA, which begins as follows:
Dear MWA Member:
The Board of Mystery Writers of America voted unanimously on Wednesday to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately. We did not take this action lightly. We did it because Harlequin remains in violation of our rules regarding the relationship between a traditional publisher and its various for-pay services.
What does this mean for current and future MWA members?
Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration.
When they address me as “Dear MWA Member,” they don’t mean I’m a full-fledged Active Status member. Rather, I’m an Affiliate Member, meaning I’m not a legitimate author, and I don’t get any of the major perks, but they’re willing to take my money. In fact, reading the criteria on their website, I may not even qualify for this level of membership. They mention agents, attorneys, editors and other professionals, but nowhere do they mention authors who are self-published, pre-published, or published with a press that doesn’t meet their lofty criteria. In their eyes, apparently we don’t exist.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I was too sick to attend that fancy MWA party. I’m a firm believer in gut reactions and synchronicity. Normally, though I go through a fair number of Tums, my own gut is pretty sturdy, so I didn’t know what was happening to me. The Morgan Library is equipped with a beautiful new ladies’ room with lovely tiling and a large handicapped stall with which I became intimately acquainted over the course of several hours. During my fourth stay in that stall, fearing I might be coming down with the flu, I realized I was never going to make it to the Kandinsky show at the Guggenheim, much less the MWA party, so I trudged back to Penn Station and caught the 4:40 train back home.
The party would have been great; I had a wonderful time last year. But in addition to the lavish hors d’oeuvres, there was an open bar, and I might have said things I’d regret in the cold light of morning. Instead I spent the evening in bed – no food, no booze. I was fine in the morning, so fortunately, it wasn’t the flu – just something I couldn’t stomach.