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RWA Launches PR Blitz

from The SFWA Bulletin #162, Summer 2004

RWA's "Have We Got a Story for You" Campaign

    From a position as purveyors of "bodice-rippers" and other trash, the romance industry has made a remarkable comeback. Not just in numbers – although now more than half of all mass market paperback sales and one-third of total popular fiction sales in all book formats are romance titles – but in respectability.

    Little of that change has been serendipitous. Well ahead of the makeover craze on television, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) put enormous amounts of time into refurbishment of their public image over the past decade, aided by a publicity budget that may well exceed SFWA's total expenditures.

    If no fee is paid within a six-month grace period after the 50 year date (December 31, 2004 for earlier works), copyright ends and the work falls into the public domain. In short, every work copyrighted between 1923 and 1954 would have to be submitted to the Copyright Office in the first six months of 2005 or lose its copyright status. Getting many older works into the public domain appears to be the underlying intent of the bill.

    Their latest campaign is: "Romance Fiction: Have We Got a Story for You." This multicomponent media campaign is the result of three years of work by PAN Liaison Lynn Kerstan and an Image Committee chaired by Candice Hern. Information here is taken from articles by the two of them and RWA President Patricia Potter in the June and July 2004 issues of the Romance Writers Report.

    One question always raised when an image campaign is suggested is, who is being targeted? For the RWA, the answer appears to be everybody: readers; non-readers; booksellers; librarians; publishers. Each group has a particular campaign segment directed at it.

    Before the public launch, the program was presented to publishers at RWA's annual New York Publisher's Summit, where they discussed joint programs to feature the campaign logo. Ads on the campaign will be placed in Publishers Weekly and other publications.

    The formal rollout occurred at BookExpo America (BEA) 2004, where their booth featured a ten foot high by twenty foot wide display panel. Half a dozen RWA bigwigs were available for questions and comments. Publishers provided books to give away, while the RWA created its own set of handouts for librarians and booksellers along with materials bearing the campaign logo and URL. In addition, RWA had its regular variety of promotional material available, such as its press kits, market research study, and sample copies of Romance Sells, its periodical of author ads.

    The URL mentioned is for a website on the campaign, www.StoryforU.com. It's completely separate from RWA's home page (in fact, you have to search even to find a link) and concentrates just on the campaign, with pages on the various facets: statistics, awards; literacy advancement; Romance Sells; and of course romance writers themselves.

    The piece with the greatest community outreach is a project that will promote the campaign using slides that will be shown at movie theaters around the country, in the pre-movie seating period. The beautifully designed slides have the logo and URL on them, and are subsidized by authors who can pay to get their bookcovers on the slides. Samples can be seen at www.StoryforU.com/theater.htm.

    Authors are also encouraged to use the campaign logo on any and all materials of their own promotional devices, as long as used exactly "as is."

    The Story campaign is an adjunct to, not a replacement of, RWA's group slogan and logo: the "Voice of Romance."

    One perhaps telling distinction between the culture of RWA and that of SFWA is that the question "How can you measure the success of the campaign?" was not broached until after it was announced. Lynn Kerstan finally gave this as an answer:

      I don't think we can measure the results. But we're going to do this anyway. We believe it will be effective. We're convinced that over time, we can help transform the perceptions of romance fiction, expand the market, and draw new readers to books they will greatly enjoy.

Update on Tasini

    Kay Murray, assistant director and general counsel of the Authors Guild, wrote about an important reinterpretation of the Tasini case in the Spring 2004 Authors Guild Bulletin Legal Watch column. Tasini v. New York Times was the case that supposedly determined that newspapers and periodicals could not assume digital rights in older contracts that did not specifically include them. That case was argued over electronic databases of articles and photographs.

    Todd McFarlane (who is not having a good legal year - further details no doubt in an upcoming issue's Legal Watch) placed a resurrected CIA assassin as the title character in his comic book Spawn. The hero had been killed by a violent Mafioso by the name of Anthony "Tony Twist" Twistelli. This caught the attention of retired St. Louis Blues hockey player Anthony "Tony" Twist. He and his attorneys also made note of the line of hockey paraphernalia that avowed fan McFarland marketed bearing the Spawn logo.

    However, the 1976 Copyright Act allowed the inclusion of the work of freelancers in compilation editions provided that the complete contents of the publication were reproduced in the same order and style as the original. National Geographic claimed that it had done exactly that in creating The Complete National Geographic: 108 Years of National Geographic Magazine in CD-ROM in 1997. A group of freelance photographers challenged the compilation by pointing to the retrieval software as well as new advertising on the CD-ROM by Kodak. The magazine had also licensed others to reproduce the archives in various formats.

    In dismissing the suits, U.S. District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York sided with the magazine and against an earlier Florida federal appellate court decision, writing that the digital version offered "the exact same visual experience as if reading from the print version" of National Geographic.

    Both the Kodak ads (removed from later editions of the CD-ROM) and the software were ruled to be "revisions" of the original, specifically allowable under the 1976 Copyright Act. The digital format used did not matter because "media neutrality is a fundamental principle of the Copyright Act."

    The decision also approved of the licensing to the third-party multimedia producers, a result Murray called "controversial." She wrote:

      Although exclusive licenses may be transferred, non-exclusive licenses are nontransferable. Relying on the 1997 district court opinion in Tasini that was later overturned, this court agreed with that court's reasoning, and blessed the third-party licenses.

Awards Announced

    Several awards given to writers in the field of f&sf were listed in the March-April and May-June issues of the SCBWI Bulletin.

    Ursula K. LeGuin was the recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award honoring her lifetime contribution to young adult readers.

    The 2003 Aesop Prize - given by the American Folklore Society Children's Section - went to Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys (Silver Whistle/Harcourt), collected and told by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Raul Colon.

    The 2004 Astrid Lundgren Memorial Award, administered by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, was presented to Brazilian author Lygia Bojunga Nunes, who is noted for being part of the South American tradition of magical realism and fantasy-filled storytelling. The Award has a value of more than $650,000.

    Congratulations to them all.

Too Good Not to Be Shared

    For any writer who has ever fantasized about rejecting rejection slips, the following is an excerpt from James Alexander Thom's entry in a series of horror stories writers have suffered through the years, as collected in the Spring 2004 Authors Guild Bulletin:

    Gibson Publishing, a greeting card affiliate, had published a little hardcover book of my essays on living well. Its editor departed from Gibson, leaving my original manuscript on a shelf in her office. Soon I got the manuscript in the mail, with this letter from her successor:

      I have looked at your manuscript, which was in Mrs. _____'s office when I arrived. I regret to inform you that Gibson does not publish material of this kind.

      Sincerely yours…

    Imagine the satisfaction I enjoyed in replying:

      Your rejection slip is two years too late. Gibson has already published the book. I do thank you for returning my old manuscript, though I must say it's in pretty shabby condition.

      Sincerely yours,

      J. THOM

Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

American Society of Journalists and Authors, ASJA Monthly, 1501 Broadway, Suite 302, New York, NY 10036, www.asja.org

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 16000 Stuebner Airline Dr., Suite 140, Spring, TX 77379, www.rwanational.org

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org

Copyright 2004 by Steve Carper

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