Friday, July 22, 2005

Writing & Selling II

Carter asked in comments: Are professional organizations like RWA, HWA, SFWA, or NWU worth the money? Aside from networking and name exposure, are they actually doing anything worth while for their members?

I've been a member of RWA (three years) and SFWA (one month), but I didn't qualify to join MWA or HWA. I know a little about other writer organizations, like NINC and AG, but not enough to speak about them with authority.

Writer organizations are wonderful for writers who want to meet their favorite authors. All the big annual conferences are a gaggle of famous faces, and they will happily sign books for you, especially if you buy them there. There's also that nice local chapter meeting/luncheon for which you can dress up and go to and hang out with other writers while you eat bad chicken entrees and pass out bookmarks.

If you love having someone tell you how to write, you've hit the jackpot: writer organizations are workshop/seminar factories. You can't belong to one without getting sucked into at least four or five of those things a year. You can also go away for a week to one of those college workshop/retreats and let a famous writer, editor or hasbeen tear your work apart (this costs extra -- a lot extra -- and you usually have to apply for it like a job.)

I'm guessing a lot of you are like me, though, and think that's all bullshit. So let's stop thinking like fans and talk about the real career benefits.

RWA offers only one: the opportunity to pitch at their conferences. Agents and editors from major publishers go to many of these (mainly they go to RWA's annual national conference) and the editors will take appointments for one-on-one pitching (I can't say if the agents do or not. They didn't when I was a member.)

You don't have to join RWA to pitch an editor at a con, however. You can simply go to whatever con they're scheduled to be at and pay the non-member rate. And given RWA's current campaign to censor their membership, I'd recommend not joining. The Sisters have stepped way out of line.

SFWA did not offer editor appointments six years ago, and you had to be a published SF author to join them. I've avoided those people for six years, but maybe they've changed. Any SFWA members out there care to report on the present state of your org and the benefits they offer? Same goes for members of HWA and MWA -- tell us what benefits you enjoy.

If you consider writer organization awards valuable, you should join the respective organization and prepare to do some heavy campaigning via the organization's con circuit (particularly for SFWA awards, which are highly politic.) I don't think any award sells many books, but the trophy does look nice on your mantelpiece.

When you look at a writer's organization, remember that it is set up to make money off you. You pay to join and you pay annual dues. You pay to attend meetings and cons. You pay for ads in the org's magazine. You contribute to various fund raisers. They say it only costs $50 - $100 per year in dues, but you have to add in all the extras you pay for. To be an active member in RWA, for example, runs around $3K to $5K a year (that would cover attending 12 local chapter meetings, 2 regional cons, RT annual and RWA National, plus contest entry fees and other expenses.)

You can work your way up the ranks of your writer org and eventually be comped for con appearances, hotels, airfare, speaking fees, teaching workshops and so forth. If you want to make money off other writers, it may take a while, but watch the upper echelon, do what they do, and no doubt you'll get there.

Whatever organization that you consider joining, ask questions like: "What do I get? Can I pitch my work? Do you offer group insurance? Legal aid?" Etc. If all you get are a membership badge and a monthly or quarterly magazine marketing other writers to you, then I'd suggest taking the money and use it instead for postage to mail out more submissions.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you. I had gathered so far that SFWA was a stinky fish, given they'd tightened acceptance rules to get in, and I often wondered why anyone would join such things, because the benefits seemed dubious at best. It struck me as a "You can say you're in our club!" kinda deal.

    Thanks, but um, I'd rather go write.

    Mind you, I've had a healthy streak of skepticism when it came to any kind of organization, be it school, or professional or interest. Could say I'm a compulsive non joiner.

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  2. I'm with Nico. I remember when I first read SFWA's requirements. They left me speechless. Who is this supposed to benefit? The obvious answer had never occurred to me.

    I wonder, though, why they make it so exclusive. Surely more dues-payers are better than fewer dues-payers?

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  3. i made the foolish mistake of joining a writer's group here.

    wnwittingly, I stumbled into more of a "seniors writing of whimsical tales of their youth on the prairies, complete with the obligatory comparison of said prairies to waves on an ocean.."

    So when I read my work....baffled bug eyes from all 25 in attendance. a cricket chirped. Someone coughed. The poets excused themselves to go write lyrical pieces about their whimiscal life on the prairies.

    I slunk out, dreams of conversing with the next Spider Robinson or William gibson mowed over by the rhapsodic blitherings of whimsical prairie writers.

    That was the first and last real life group I joined.

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  4. The best thing about RWA? You don't have to be a member if you want to go to their conferences and get your pitch thing on.

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  5. I'm a member of WIW and ITW (Washington Independent Writers and International Thriller Writers respectively). The greatest benefit I've had from WIW was the last conference. I was a volunteer who did the agent pitch sessions--I spent an entire day in the room with the agents (volunteer--interesting things can happen!). Plus, our Thriller/Suspense critique group is sponsored through them, and having the group helped us improve the book dramaticaly.

    ITW is the new kid in town--only been around since last October and had their inaugruation at the BEA. ITW is currently doing a lot of promotion for Thrillers, which, though a lucrative genre, is largely unknown. They're working with DearReader.com to get a Thriller selection going, coming up with a Thriller anthology, and will be doing something related with writing Thrillers in the future. Considering until this point, there was nothing on writing my genre, I'm happy to offer all the support I can!

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  6. Thanks, PBW. That kind of follows my own thinking. I guess about the best you can hope for is to increase your name recognition among other writers of the same ilk, who might possibly then provide some word-of-mouth for your books. That doesn't seem like a very good value for the money, to me.

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  7. I belong to my local RWA chapter and it costs me a grand total of $120 a year. I don't go to the national conferences because I don't need to. My RWA chapter has monthy business meetings where they bring in absolutely fascinating speakers and I have learned more from them than I can possibly say, plus it gives me local contacts when I have off-the-wall questions. My RWA chapter also has monthly critique sessions that I feel have made me a 100-times better writer than I would have been otherwise, both by the three times I had my own worked critiqued in the last 1.5 years and all the other months that I've critiqued others work and listened to the pros critique the same piece. So, IMHO, my RWA chapter is worth its weight in gold. As for the RWA national stuff that's going on... well... I'm much less pleased. Yes, I understand that they want to maintain their non-profit status and have to have a policy for pictures on their web site. Are they going about it wrong? Definitely. And as for defining romance... yes, they're going about that wrong, too, but I'm almost to the point where I'm saying 'Please somebody do something!' I love the romance genre and write in it myself, but in the last two weeks I've bought three books off the "Romance" shelf at my local Borders that I wanted to throw across the room when I was done because they weren't romances. The worst one killed off the hero in the last chapter of the book and the epilogue was her happily married to some other guy we met off-stage in a couple scenes. Grrrr! If I'd found them on the SF/F shelf, I probably would have loved all of them, as it was I'm certainly not buying any of the authors again because I can't trust them to live up to their promise implied by being on the romance shelf. So maybe it's time that somebody put that promise into words, so editors have something to go by. But no defintion is definitely better than the definitions I've seen coming out of RWA-national. So, is RWA worth the money? I think it depends on your local chapter... mine is worth every penny.

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  8. I've been an Active member of HWA, MWA, PWA, and SFWA for many years ("active" meaning a "professional," voting member), and I can safely say that your estimated "costs" of membership in a professional writers organization are grossly exaggerated.

    My primary expense in each organization is my annual dues. I generally don't participate in the politics (though I am vice president of the MWA's Southwest chapter and have been for three years) and I rarely attend events hosted by any of the organizations.

    While each organization offers something different, the primary benefit for me--beyond being able to claim Active membership--is market information and the opportunity to network with other writers. Thanks to the Internet, however, the marketing information and the networking opportunities have become much easier and more timely than when I joined the various organizations, thus diminishing membership value.

    My bone of contention with the various organizations is that they are generally novelist-centric and I am primarily a short story writer. The needs of a novelist and the needs of a short story writer are different.

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  9. Jackie Powers said:

    Grrrr! If I'd found them on the SF/F shelf, I probably would have loved all of them, as it was I'm certainly not buying any of the authors again because I can't trust them to live up to their promise implied by being on the romance shelf.


    Yes, I am unpublished, but it seems that the publishers decide what shelf a book ends up on. Why punish the author for what a publisher did?

    IMHO, liking a book is more important than where you found the book. Maybe I just don't care about labels.

    Heather

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  10. Michael Bracken wrote: I can safely say that your estimated "costs" of membership in a professional writers organization are grossly exaggerated.

    The example I used was for active membership in RWA, not one of the organizations to which you belong. I also think we have different definitions of active membership.

    Let me break it down according to my three years of experience as a member of RWA: attending 12 chapter meetings ($15.00 - $25.00 per month for large chapters who hold hotel luncheons), attending two regional cons ($800 to $1000.00 for gas, hotel, food, con fees and promotional costs), attending RT and RWA national ($1500.00 to $2000.00, same expenses as regional cons minus gas plus airfare), entry fees for awards and contests ($150.00 - $300.00), fund raisers ($50.00 to $200.00), and promotion, giveaways, donations to chapter raffles, etc. ($500.00 to $750.00.)

    Obviously if you do none of these things you don't pay for them and your membership costs will be a lot lower.

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  11. Thank you...thank you...thank you...for being honest and telling it the way it is.

    I'm so glad that I'm not alone in my thinking as far as writing organizations are concerned.

    Here in Jacksonville, writers abound and so do those who have tried their hand at it, realized they had no talent but saw an opportunity to make money off those eager to succeed and gullable enough to believe they could; by paying to attend group signings at local art fairs, hosting public luncheons where they're dubbed Author of the Month and getting their book on the cover of the organizations magazine that is sent to the list of members, thus promoting to other authors.

    Why is that such a hard thing for people to understand; if you want to sell books, you don't promote to authors?!

    I've been preaching this to anyone who will listen and am now frowned upon by many in these organizations who don't applaud the fact that I'm doing things my own way and about to release my 5th novel, but think I'm a bitch for not being part of their group and bad-mouthing those who are taking their money for nothing.

    Live and learn...that's all we can do. But thank you again for your honesty. I'll be sure to pass your site along to the next person who questions my opinion.

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  12. Heather said:
    ...liking a book is more important than where you found the book...


    My problem is that I'm very much a 'mood' reader, meaning when I'm in the mood for a certain kind of book then that's what I want to read. For me, there are three promises the author/publisher makes to me when they put a book on the romance shelf: 1) A good romantic story, 2) A promise that's been around as long as the genre for a happily-ever-after ending and 3) In the last 5-10 years the genre has changed so the current promise is that the man doesn't force himself on the woman (physically or mentally). So, when I pick up an unknown author off the romance shelf, I expect these three things. And since I'm reading to satisfy my emotional mood (which I'm sure many people see as silly but it's the way I work) when these promises are broken I have an emotional reaction, that depending on the number of promises broken can be extreme. :-)

    As for books on the SF/F shelf, their only promise is a good story. So, to read an unknown SF/F author, I have to be in the mood to expect anything, which I rarely am, so I read unknown-to-me SF/F authors only by recommendation of people I trust.

    Which leaves a question for PBW: How much say does the author have about which shelf (SF/F, mystery, romance, etc.) their book gets put on at the bookstore? And I don't mean where the store puts it, which of course nobody has any control over, but the category that is put on the spine under the publisher's logo "Paranormal Romance", "Mystery", etc.

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  13. PBW wrote: "I also think we have different definitions of active membership. "

    I was using the term the way the organizations use the term: an "Active" member is one who has met that organization's definition of a professional writer and is thus able to vote for officers, awards, and etc., as opposed to "affiliate" or "associate" members who have not yet met that organization's membership requirements and thus are not able to vote.

    If one participates in all the events you describe--in any organization--the costs mount. Even non-members attending multiple events--workshops, conferences, etc.--are going to run up heavy expenses.

    The question one should ask oneself is: Why?

    Why would anyone spend that much money to do all the things you describe? Does it make you a better writer? Does it make you more productive? Does it enhance your career in some way?

    Or is is just to see-and-be-seen?

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  14. Jackie wrote: How much say does the author have about which shelf (SF/F, mystery, romance, etc.) their book gets put on at the bookstore?

    With major publishers, little to none, unless you have so much clout that you can participate in that kind of marketing decision. However, if you're writing in a specific genre, and you pitch it to an editor as that type genre book, and the editor buys it for a specific imprint of that genre, it's a non-issue.

    Writers who have genre issues should ask how the book will be marketed at the offer stage. Once you sign the contract, the publisher can do what they want, so if there are any questions in your mind about genre placement, definitely hash this out before you commit to a contract.

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  15. Michael wrote: If one participates in all the events you describe--in any organization--the costs mount. Even non-members attending multiple events--workshops, conferences, etc.--are going to run up heavy expenses.

    The question one should ask oneself is: Why?


    A variety of reasons. In romance, it's campaigning for awards, political position within the organization, developing relationships with the upper echelon, and following what many romance writers believe is a success formula. I was given handouts listing what was expected of me.

    Why would anyone spend that much money to do all the things you describe? Does it make you a better writer? Does it make you more productive? Does it enhance your career in some way?

    I think it's ultimately a crony-driven trap that many writers become caught up in. It interferes with your writing. None of what I did enhanced my career at all, and the politics disgusted me, so I quit.

    Or is is just to see-and-be-seen?

    There is that aspect, too, and you are judged on how active you are, how you appear, how many workshops you give, how many loops you belong to and how much money you raise for the organization's charities. I raised over $10K in three years for RWA, because I happen to be good at fund raising. I was quite popular with people who wanted to use my talents in that area. I got nothing in return but expectations that I would do more for the organization that was doing nothing for me.

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  16. "I don't think any award sells many books"

    I actually discussed this with my spouse who then pointed out that winning awards (or even nomination) make one's book more valuable to collectors (like ourselves); for compendium collections (which can mean more money to the author); and even for school book consideration. (In college I read a slew of award-winners selected by my professors.)

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