Change is Not the Enemy

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photo by Sean MacEntee

Therese here. The focus of today’s post is change, which we’ve seen a lot of lately. Hello Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster’s self-pub division, a possible merger between Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, an interesting new genre called New Adult Fiction, and this…

Sometimes change hits a little closer to home, as happened to a group I know well recently. Once upon a time, about three years ago, I founded a women’s fiction chapter. Why? Because there is no national organization dedicated to women’s fiction, and I thought maybe I’d found a place the chapter could live, under the umbrella of a large and well-known organization, and beside writers and readers who might appreciate the genre. That’s how the story starts. This past weekend, things for the chapter took a turn. At first glance it seemed the turn was for the worse, but now… Maybe not.

I’m so pleased today’s guest, Laura Drake, is here to tell you a little about that, and how our view of change is sometimes the key ingredient in how we process our new world. And thrive in it.

Change is Not the Enemy

The publishing world is in the midst of a paradigm-shift storm. Whether we’re in a Cat 1 or 5 is somewhat dependent on your location in relation to it. Objectivity is sometimes easier to come by with some distance.  I hope to give you some of that by citing a small example.

WU Mama Therese Walsh had a vision in 2009: to create a Chapter under the RWA umbrella  that would:

…advance the professional interests of career-focused women’s fiction writers who write stories with strong romantic elements through networking and advocacy . . .” and “. . . to support women’s fiction writers whose work is romance-friendly.”

Meaning, more Bridges of Madison County or Steel Magnolias than Sophie’s Choice.

The group was accepted by RWA, with bylaws agreed upon by both the chapter and RWA, in 2008. Therese led the group–which has grown into a safe haven for a knowledgeable, supportive, group of writers–for over two years. I was elected President for 2012.

It’s been a tumultuous year.

First, at the RWA National Conference in Anaheim, we learned the RITA and Golden Heart contests—contests honoring  works by published and unpublished writers respectively—would drop the “Mainstream with Romantic Elements” category, which is the only category appropriate for most of our members. I was assured by a National Board member that this would not affect the chapters themselves or our right to exist under the RWA umbrella.

That has changed. As of now, all chapters will be required to adopt National’s exact bylaw wording:

To advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy . . .”

Not women’s fiction writers. Romance writers, first and foremost. Which many of us are not.

After careful deliberation, and correspondence with the National organization, my Board has decided to disband the Chapter.

I dreaded sending the email to chapter members this morning, not to mention informing Therese that her Baby had been hit by a truck, on my watch.  Much to my delight, both Therese and the membership have been very supportive, and the group has decided to stay together under some other umbrella, yet to be determined. We may even come out of it stronger, since we may pick up women’s fiction writers who were previously barred from our group under RWA, because their work contained no romantic elements. In fact, our group is re-energized, committed, and may become more than any of us imagined before this happened.

My takeaways from this experience are broader than the admittedly limited scope of this teapot tempest, and relate not only to writing, but life in general:

    • Change happens. Accepting it is less stressful than the alternative, and takes lots less energy. Not to mention, antacids.
    • Mistakes are okay as you work to find the best course of action. As my husband, Alpha Dog, says, “Do something, even if it’s wrong.”
    • New opportunities emerge. When old structures fail, new ones can be built that are stronger than before.
    • Rewards can be reaped with perseverance and a positive attitude. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Look where he ended up.

Change is not the enemy – fear is.  Don’t let it win.

I know, I’ve been called a Pollyanna before. But a guy I look up to said, a long time ago, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”

Peace out.

Readers, what do you think about all of the change we’ve seen in publishing recently?

You can learn more about Laura Drake and her debut novel, The Sweet Spot (May, 2013), on her website and blog. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Write on!

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Comments

  1. says

    I used to belong to a regional writing organization, American Independent Authors (formerly Washington Independent Authors). I’d been a member for maybe 10 years and had run their pitch sessions for quite a few years. About two years ago, they ran into some money problems and filed Chapter 11 — right as a conference was about to happen. That, as it turned out, was the last conference they would have. They decided to dissolve the organization earlier this year.

    I do think it’s a sign of the times, as unfortunate as it is — ePublishing is forcing change, and it’s caught everybody off guard. There’s a lot of places/people out there who are still trying to do things the old way — and the old way is being shoved out. One of the changes I haven’t liked is that the writing organizations have mostly run for the cover. It used be that even an unpublished writer (or without specific credits in the genre) could join a writing organization and benefit from things like knowledge. But rules have tightened so much that it cuts out all but a very specific group. I have tons of writing credits and yet do not qualify for any writing organization except for the Military Writers Society of American — and that one, because I’m a vet. This is a change I don’t like because with all the changes going on, the organizations are the ones who help promote the genres and provide guidance where no one else will, except they’re only doing it for the ones who don’t need it.

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    • says

      Interesting observations, Linda.

      It reminded me of the evolution of a business model as well (forgive me, can’t overcome a career as a CFO.)

      Think of Banking. A bank starts small, usually in a community. People love the friendly service, the small business perks. It grows. At some point, it reaches a tipping point, and can’t keep up the level of personal service.

      It continues to grow, and say becomes one of the biggest banks in the country (no names here, but I’m sure you’re all thinking of one.) Service? Sorry, no time. Free? Um. No.

      So people leave — for the new community startup bank on the corner.

      Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  2. says

    Laura: I love your takeaways and your approach to change. I hope the WF chapter will come out stronger and better than ever on the other side of this.

    One thing I’ve learned about change is that there’s always an upside, even if you have to look really hard for it. Good luck and keep dreaming!

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    • says

      Exactly, Gwen! The challenging part is separating yourself from the fear, which keeps you from seeing the upside!

      Drama is the siren, calling from the rocks, isn’t it?

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  3. says

    Laura, thanks for sharing this story and I hope this group will thrive on its own. Though I am a male, I value women’s fiction. Many of my favorite writers write women’s fiction. Having a group to network and share with is vital. Women’s fiction is an important and under-valued genre. As for your question about change, we writers need to focus on honing our skills, learning the craft and writing the best books we can. Thanks again.

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  4. says

    Thanks for sharing. This situation has been fraught with angst and uncertainty, especially since the summer. I’m happy to see such a hopeful post about the future of the WF group and you’re right–change isn’t always easy but sometimes it’s a very good thing. Fingers crossed, right?

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  5. says

    This month concludes my first year as a member of RWA. I jumped in and joined my local chapter and the online Women’s Fiction and Chick Lit chapters. There have been so many changes in the publishing industry. But, I’ll admit, I was quite distressed to hear about the changes within RWA. I wondered where that left anyone who didn’t identify themselves as a romance writer.

    I think the assessment that breaking away from RWA and creating a separate Women’s Fiction organization will likely open the doors to many women who, like me, held off joining the group the first couple of years because I didn’t consider myself a romance writer and wasn’t ready to join RWA.

    I can say that my year as a member of RWA and the individual chapters has been the most productive for me as a writer. But I look forward to seeing how things will progress for both the Women’s Fiction and Chick Lit chapters of RWA.

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  6. says

    Laura,

    No you’re not the only one….in fact to be fiction writer’s we all have to be at least a little bit ‘dreamers’.

    Your positive outlook is what makes you the amazing person that so many of us look up to. If you start an independent Women’s Fiction group, let me know, I’d be interested!!

    So many new phases in your life right now, what an amazing time for you. Best wishes in all of them.

    Tari

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  7. Neroli Lacey says

    therese – laura thanks a lot for the update re Womens Fiction/ RWA.

    I’d very much like to join your new womens ficition group and become an active member – wherever you end up.

    (I’m a former member of womens fiction/ RWA)

    can you put me on a mailing list re new developments please?
    Or is there some better way for me to ensure i keep in touch with you?

    with grateful thanks –

    Neroli Lacey (Minneapolis)

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  8. says

    As a member of the Women fiction group I’m looking forward to the new growth and inspiration that we’ll carry into the next phase.

    Some stories call for romance, some don’t.

    I don’t think writing should be bound by genre lines, even more so now since they are rapidly disappearing.

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  9. says

    Wonderful post. I’m a mystery writer (and a woman) and I’d love to learn more about the Womens Fiction group. Is there any info posted somewhere about what qualifications are needed and how to join.

    Thanks

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  10. says

    Cheryl and other mystery writers, consider Sisters in Crime, with its fabulous national network, local chapters, and the Guppies, a largely-online chapter for newer writers, both pubbed and aspiring.

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  11. says

    When we heard about the contest changes at conference, I had a sneaky suspicion this would happen. I think a lot of people did. So this didn’t come as a huge shock. RWA is the loser here though, not the Women’s Fiction members. Eventually a lot of them will choose not to reup their dues for RWA and that will hurt. I’m glad so many WF members are taking a positive outlook on this turn of events. Thanks for letting everyone know Laura.

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  12. says

    Laura, thanks for posting. I’m very interested in your WF group – as I have a couple of WF pieces as well! It has been an interesting year to say the least – also for Passionate Ink. My 2nd term as President of PI is coming to a close so think of me if you need anyone in your structure.
    Cristal

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  13. says

    It can’t be said enough that change is not the enemy. It’s something that we have to observe and possibly accept on average.

    Congratulations on creating another bookmark in the Herstory Books. Fiction Rocks and So Do Women!

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  14. says

    Laura,

    I’m a member of the WF chapter. And although I write the kinds of stories that fall within RWA’s definition of romance, I think this is a fabulous opportunity.

    Rather than trying to make the chapter small so it fits into some predetermined RWA box, it’s a great time to spread our arms wide and encompass all the myriad stories that fall under the umbrella of Women’s Fiction. Exciting!

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  15. says

    Laura

    Thanks for filling us in and keeping it upbeat. As an RWA member for the past two years, I’ve been impressed with the resources and support the organization provides its members. It’s unparalleled. I’ve also joined my local chapter and made many new friends. But still I always felt a little bit marginalized because my writing, WF with Romantic Elements, never fit the definitions perfectly. I was therefore thrilled to find the WF chapter and join. I’ve been disappointed with the recent changes, but I have to say the best part is having found my tribe. The WF chapter, however short lived, allowed us to find each other. And you’re right, there may be many more who never felt comfortable enough with the definitions to join the RWA to begin with. I know I held off for a long time. The mini conference in Anaheim was a wonderful, validating experience and wherever this group is going next, count me in!

    MA

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  16. says

    I joined the RWA strictly because what I wrote seemed to fit the definition offered by their WF chapter, which is still one of the best definitions I’ve seen of the often-misunderstood term “women’s fiction.”

    http://www.rwa-wf.com/about/

    If the larger organization is no longer acknowledging that literary niche, then it’s time for a new home.

    But that’s okay. I’ve moved before.

    Best of luck finding/building that home, and please make sure you send me the new address!

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  17. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.
    — Isaac Asimov

    Great outlook! And congrats on this new chapter for your chapter.

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  18. says

    I’m really excited for the new direction, but sorry for all the stress and hardship you and Therese may have gone through during this process. I completely agree that this shift in the RWA’s categorizing is disturbing, and I’m so glad that although the group has disbanded, its members are staying together to better represent women’s fiction writers.

    With all the changes going on, I was most caught off guard by Random House’s Loveswept e-book imprint being used as a title meant to represent both romance and women’s fiction writers. I feel that only one genre under that umbrella is being correctly represented. Unfortunately women’s fiction isn’t often classified as its own genre, so it’s refreshing to see a group as dedicated as you all are!

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  19. says

    As the author of a debut work of women’s fiction due out January 2014, I am very much at the point where connecting with others in my genre would be beneficial. I have been very active in regional and state-wide writers’ organizations, yet never quite found others of my kind. Never joined RWA because my character had something more elemental on her mind than romance. I’ve been trying to connect with as many WF writers as I can find on Twitter but it’s interesting to see how many of the big names in WF don’t even have Twitter accounts! Needless to say I’m most enthused about this new venture and will watch for more news of how I can get involved.

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  20. says

    I think it is rather short-sighted of the parent organization in this case (of which I am a member, though with a long history of disagreement with their policies and positions) to, when the industry is becoming far more democratic, when genres are blending far more than they ever have due to the availability of digital publishers willing to think outside the box, and the potential of self-publishing where authors need not conform to a very rigid and in many cases restrictive “box”, to perpetuate a rigid and inflexible “philosophy” as to what constitutes a “romance”. I think that the WOmen’s Fiction chapter disbanding may, ultimately, prove to be a wonderfully freeing opportunity for the members. And a great example of an organization of people who went their own route to avoid the restrictions as to what was considered “published”, and that same rigid box of what is, or is not a given genre, is Liberty States Fiction Writers. Vital, vibrant and wonderfully inclusive. Certainly worth studying in order to see how to be successful out from under the umbrella organization of RWA.

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  21. says

    Laura,

    It was certainly shocking to hear about the WF group “not meeting” the RWA requirements. It sounds like the chapter is moving on for the best, and please keep me informed of what’s happening.

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  22. says

    Laura, thanks for the update. I’d love to get involved with your group where ever you find yourselves. I belong to the Women’s Fiction loop under the American Christian Fiction Writers banner and would love to branch out since my current WIP keeps insisting it’s ABA instead of CBA. ; )

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  23. says

    I agree with Natalia’s comment. My bookshelf is lined with wonderful novels by talented authors, all with a strong female protagonists, usually with a historical setting. I wouldn’t classify them as romance, so I was equally concerned when I saw the “loveswept” imprint name by Random House. Loveswept? Would you put “The Help” under that category? “The Baker’s Daughter”? “State of Wonder”? I applaud Therese and sincerely wish the best for her women’s fiction chapter. Please keep us posted!

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  24. says

    I think Lise has good points. Times and definitions are changing and RWA is defining its brand in the face of those changes. They already regard self-publishing authors as dilettantes, and now they’re saying that women’s fiction with romantic elements doesn’t fit their brand, either. At least everyone should know where they stand.

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  25. says

    Thanks everyone, so much for the support! We’re working feverishly (12 hours today) to get a platform set up.

    More as we know it!

    Going in search of alcohol — Night!

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  26. says

    At one time, I belonged to RWA and to a local chapter. I was writing primarily women’s fiction at the time. I withdrew my membership because I tired of feeling like the unwanted cousin who showed up for Sunday dinner. And, yes, paid my dues all the same. Although I write both women’s fiction and contemporary romance, I had no desire to renew a relationship with RWA. I would, however, love to be part of a women’s fiction writers community that is not RWA affiliated and in which I don’t feel I have to clothe my women’s fiction in some pretty dress the hero will appreciate. Even if my WF story has a romance element to it.

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  27. says

    Great post, Laura, and thank you, Therese, for the amazing support.

    Like so many other people have posted already, I joined RWA for the WF chapter and I can’t say enough about the amazingly talented and supportive people I’ve met there. It’s exciting to be part of the change and I truly think we’ll come out of this stronger.

    Cheers!

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  28. says

    It seems to me that the RWA is making decisions that don’t benefit its members or the organization itself. This CAN’T be about the IRS. Why would the IRS care whether RWA defines romance narrowly or broadly? If RWA’s charter is too narrow to define the needs of its author-members, isn’t it easier to correct the charter than to exclude its members? It’s been a while since high school but I’m pretty clear on the word for novel in French being “roman” meaning romance.

    The funny thing is, I don’t know ANYONE in RWA who actually believes these decisions are making the organization stronger. Maybe I just don’t know the right people but this still seems so misguided.

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  29. says

    Laura, Therese, et al., I’m joining the chorus of chicks who want to join your new group. I was formerly a member of the chick lit chapter at RWA in the brief amount of time that chick lit was popular (though there is still a niche thanks to sites like chicklitisnotdead.com and many other CL-focused sites), but most of my titles fit better in women’s fiction – and definitely mainstream with strong romantic elements.

    I’d imagine most of my fellow Girlfriends Book Club authors (I think there are 40 of us) would be interested in joining. We are all published, mostly in wom fic and some in multiple genres.

    And Laura I love the title of your book! Will go check out your site now.
    xo

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  30. says

    Change is not bad in and of itself. I think its sad that as publishing is changing rather than broaden its umbrella in a way that clearly jives with its original purpose, RWA has decided to narrow its scope. Who knows? Perhaps that’s the right move for it. But there will now be writers who either have to choose or join both RWA and whatever the new organization is when there’s clearly so much room for synergy between the two groups.

    Still, I’m excited about the change. I think it opens up doors for women’s fiction writers that may have been closed or only slightly cracked by trying to fit under the RWA umbrella. It will be interesting to watch this new organization bud and grow.

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  31. says

    So much change! I’ve been on the fence about joining RWA specifically for the WF chapter. It seems most of my local RWA chapter authors write hardcore romance, but I still wanted to network and learn, even if my work only has “elements of romance.” I decided to wait until January to join RWA. Thanks for making this decision before I spent my hard earned money on all of the memberships. While I’m disappointed I won’t be heading to Atlanta next summer, I am excited imagining what new group you all are creating. You will have no problem finding women’s fiction writers eager for a community to support their WF craft. Thanks for you positive attitude and dedication.

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  32. says

    I love the lessons you’ve gathered from these changes, especially Alpha Dog’s “Do Something” mantra. The Edison quote is a long-time favorite of mine.

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