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Small Christian Press Battles RWA Policies

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March 14 – March 20, 2008 Edition

Small Christian

Press Battles

RWA Policies

Tsaba House, a California-based Christian book publisher may take legal action against the Romance Writers of America for refusing to admit one of its authors as a nominee for a Rita Award. RWA declined entry of Holly Noble Bull’s inspirational novel Sanctuary for its inspirational romance award because it considers Tsaba House a subsidiary or vanity press.

Publishers of books entered in the competition must be "RWA approved." The nomination was rejected because Tsaba charges authors for certain services such as typesetting, and the addition of frontmatter or backmatter.

RWA’s policy guidelines define a subsidiary publisher as "any publisher that publishes books in which the author participates in the costs of production in any manner, including publisher assessment of a fee or other costs for editing and/or distribution.” Such publishers are barred from RWA contests.

Pam Schwagerl, Tsaba House publisher charges that the policy keeps small presses from submitting contest entries, and skews the outcome of the competition. David Koehser, lawyer for Tsaba, contends that contractual clauses such as charging the author for supplementary material is a common practice among publishers and doesn’t mean that a publisher is a subsidy press.

Apparently, there was some confusion as to which awards Bull had applied for.

The RWA posted a rebuttal last week on its members-only website saying Bull had, in fact, contacted RWA because she wanted to enter the Yellow Rose and Gayle Wilson contests, sponsored by RWA chapters rather than the national organization. Each chapter determines rules for local contests, independent of the national organization. The website message said that “At no time did the author mention the RITA (national) award when communicating with the RWA office.”

The RWA Texas headquarters sent a letter to Tsaba House explaining that it considers Tsaba House a subsidy press, and thus will not list Tsaba House authors in RWA’s “First Sales” program or for consideration for the RITA Award."

Author Bull had told Schwagerl that she’d tried to submit her novel, Sanctuary, for “some RWA awards” and had been informed she could not enter the contests until Tsaba House proved to RWA’s national leadership’s that they were not a subsidy publisher.“I didn’t know that [Bull] hadn’t actually submitted to RITA,” Schwagerl explained, “It was RWA that brought up RITA in their letter to me.”

The reference in RWA’s letter to the First Sales and RITA Award programs is “standard wording we use when we notify publishers that they do not meet RWA standards,” Allison Kelley, RWA’s executive director, said. She added that that if Tsaba House amended their boilerplate contract, RWA would “be happy” to reconsider their decision.

“I really feel that this is an affront to independent publishers to try and once again group us in the category of subsidy presses and try to take away the advances the small publishers have made in the industry,” Schwegerl has been quoted in the media.

Tasaba has published 16 titles to date and they are carried by Barnes & Noble and Christian bookstores. The books have also been reviewed in major trade publications, such as Library Journal, Booklist, Church Libraries, and Christian Retailing.