Last June, delegates at annual general meeting of the Writers Union of Canada voted unanimously to open membership to self-published authors, subject to a two-thirds majority vote in a union-wide referendum. The referendum passed with a 79% majority, according to a TWUC press release.
This is huge. For the first time (that I’m aware of) a major writer’s union is acknowledging and making room for self-published authors to join their traditionally-published colleagues. TWUC’s decision reflects both the growing importance of self-publishing in the book world and the competence and professionalism of (some) self-published authors. It marks a change in both public and professional attitudes toward self-publishing.
For an author to qualify for membership in TWUC, his/her book must meet two criteria. It must “demonstrate commercial intent”, and it must be peer reviewed before the author submits it for consideration. TWUC is still hashing out the details of these criteria and how to implement them, but it’s clear from comments made by Eric Enno Tamm, who chairs the Task Force on Membership Criteria, that the intent is not to create a two-tier system but to ensure that self-published authors meet the same or equivalent criteria as their traditionally-published counterparts. (Click here and scroll down to comments for Mr. Tamm’s statement.)
What will these criteria mean in practice? “Commercial intent” means that the author must show that they plan to make money on their books. Peer review may be harder to satisfy; traditionally-published authors are, of course, “reviewed” by agents and editors before the book is released, but self-published works aren’t necessarily seen (or screened) by professional eyes before the book is published (which is one reason why some of them are so badly written, copy-edited, and/or proofread.) TWUC will now begin developing a step-by-step procedure for assessing self-published books. A constitutional change is also required before the organization can actually begin admitting self-published authors.
There are now a number of self-published authors out there whose writing and production values are every bit as polished and professional as their traditionally-published peers. It’s high time for writers’ guilds to begin recognizing them as professional authors. I applaud The Writers Union of Canada for being among the first to do so.