Archive for 'writing organizations'

Saturday, April 18th, 2009 by Jason Pinter

Ok, there’s no way in hell I’m going to get anywhere close to the feedback as Lynn’s phenomenal and eye-opening post from yesterday got, but it’s something I wanted to touch on. Politics. No, this ain’t about McCain vs. Obama, Bush vs. Kerry, or Paula vs. Simon Anyone out there who’s ever held a job, ever been a part of a club or society, or done any sort of organizational effort has had to deal with politics. The kind of day-to-day fighting and arguments that have 100% to do with personality and 0% to do with the actual organization.

This weekend, I’m at the Murder 203 conference in Connecticut. I went to school in CT, so it meant a lot to me to meet readers from the area. Last night was my first night here, and I met a few author friends in the bar for a drink (no, we do not live in bars. At least not most of us). One of my friends started talking about another conference he was booked for over the summer. He said the conference was struggling mightily, in large part due to two writers organizations that were supposed to be co-sponsoring the event, but were butting heads over which organization received more prominent billing. Because of the infighting, many authors had dropped out, and the conference wasn’t getting the attendance it was hoping for. Fewer authors drew fewer fans, ad everybody was suffering. So this got me thinking…

I’ve been a member of three writers organizations. Two of which I’ve joined, one of which I’ve co-founded. In each of these groups, I’ve either been witness to, victim to, part of, or heard some of the nastiest, back-stabbing unprofessional behavior imaginable. People spreading rumors, talking behind theirs ‘friends’ backs, all in the name of either jealously, immaturity, or any one of a dozen other things that don’t seem to belong. Put a bunch of people in charge of something, and it becomes high school all over again. And you know what’s forgotten?

Ladies and gentlemen, the WRITING. And you know who cares not one iota about any of this?Who doesn’t give a hoot about politics or sponsorship? Readers. Readers don’t care who gets higher billing. Readers don’t care which organization gets credit. Readers don’t care which imprint sponsors which event. All they care about is the book and the author. Which is why all of this political maneuvering and posturing always bugs the hell out of me. Who the heck are we trying to impress? It seems to much negativity is put into things these days, and if only a fraction of that energy was put into positive outlets imagine the good we could do. Take, for instance, the massive “Amazonfail” movement over Easter. This was wholly worthy effort, but I couldn’t help but think that if half the effort went into promoting independent bookstores that was put into bashing Amazon, that whole sector would have gotten a lot more business. 

I try to stay out of writing and publishing politics, but I’d be lying if I said I’d achieved that goal completely. Trust me, though, I’d much rather sit at the bar with my friends and talk about great stories from past conference than talk about which authors said what behind whose back, and what organization is having a hissy fit over such and such. I’ll let you guess which one gets most of our breath, though. To be fair, my positive experiences in organizations far outweigh the negatives. But the negatives are so pretty and unfruitful that it angers me that they’re present at all.

Lynn’s post got me thinking, in how she hasn’t been to a conference in years and tries not to get involved in issues like this. Negativity gets people talking. It’s more fun to talk smack about someone when they leave the room than it is to sing their praises. But when it comes to writing and publishing, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. We should be spending out energy and resources bringing readers into the fold, not alienating them by forcing authors to drop out over pettiness. We should be talking up independent bookstores and the service they provide us, and not only as a tangent to bashing another retailer. It takes effort to be positive. It’s a whole lot harder to build than it is to destroy. But let me ask you this: which one is more beneficial in the long run?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 by Joe Nassise
Writing Organizations – The Horror Writers Association

hwalogoIt’s Writing Organizations week here at Genreality and I’ve been asked to talk about the Horror Writers Association.  I can’t imagine why they want me to talk about that one. <grin>

I joined the HWA back in 2001, when I was just starting out in my writing career.  I’d been aware of it for awhile and when it looked like I was actually going to pursue a career I writing horror and dark fantasy it made sense to join the one organization that was devoted to helping professionals in that area.

It’s current mission statement reads:

The Horror Writers Association exists to promote and protect the careers of professional horror writers and those seeking to enter their ranks, while at the same time using its best endeavors to raise the profile of the horror genre in the publishing industry and among readers in general.

At the time I joined, the org had lost a lot of its direction.  Originally founded by Robert McCammon and Joe Lansdale, it had started out as a group devoted to helping horror writers through networking and genre awareness.  You have to remember that this was back in the days before the internet was a worldwide phenomenon and when horror as a genre was booming.  It was the first time horror writers had banded together to help one another survive the harsh realities of writing for a living.  By the time I joined, the purely professional status of its membership had expanded to include anyone with an interest in writing horror, regardless of whether you’d ever actually professionally published anything or not.

In my view, when you dilute the message, you dilute the effectiveness of that message.

Membership in the org was split into three categories – Active voting members with professional publications to their credit, Affiliate non-voting members who were still trying to break through that publishing barrier, and Associates made up of those working in the field who were not writers, namely editors, publishers and the like.  I joined as an Active member thanks to the advance I received from the small press publisher that first published RIVERWATCH and I’ve been a member ever since.

I’m a firm believer in trying to fix things from the inside out, so rather than sit on the sidelines and bitch about the problems I thought the organization had, I threw my hat into the ring to run for president later that year.  Much to my everlasting surprise, I was actually elected!

I served for four years as head of the organization, stepping down in 2005, and much of what we accomplished was due to the hard work and energy that my co-officers and Board of Trustees brought to the mat with them each and every day.  Together we worked to bring the organization back to its original goal, that of helping professional writers succeed in a difficult and challenging environment, while at the same time promoting the horror genre as a whole.  Personally, I think we did okay.  We restored the publication requirements to get in the door, for Actives and Affiliates alike.  We brought some of the prestige back to the Bram Stoker Awards and tied them to a weekend long professional event to help our members keep moving the ball forward with their own careers.  We increase the standard pay rates we thought were acceptable for writing short fiction in today’s market and watched as many of the venues publishing short fiction raised their pay rates to meet the new standard in response.

I stepped down a few years ago and the administrations of Gary Braunbeck and now Deborah LeBlanc have continued that trend.  I even ran for Trustee recently so that I could continue to have a hand in making the HWA the kind of bloodlitewriting organization that writers can be proud of joining.  Under Deb’s leadership we’ve become active at major publishing events such as Book Expo America and Pocket Books just published a new HWA anthology, BLOOD LITE, the first in many years.  Major Horror Writers such as Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong and more have all returned to the fold.

If you write horror and dark or urban fantasy, there are a number of benefits to being a member.  Networking with writers and editors in the field comes in at the top of the list.  An annual presence at major events such as Book Expo America is right up there as well.  Information and discussion on the organization’s private message board.  The hardship fund.  The monthly newsletter.  Participation in the Bram Stoker Award voting process and award celebration.  Agent listings.  Reviewer listings.  A contract reference section.  I could go on.  While some of these benefits are more targeted to newcomers than veterans, there is no doubt that the current administration is working hard to balance that and I for one am looking forward to seeing what 2009 brings to us.

So there’s a quick look at the HWA and what it’s all about.  I’m happy to answer any questions anyone has about the org or its history, so feel free to use the comment section.

Monday, April 6th, 2009 by Alison Kent
Romance Writers of America

Romance Writers of AmericaWe’re talking this week about writing organizations, and it falls to me to start us off with a look at the Romance Writers of America. Even though I’m GenReality’s resident romance author, I’m not sure I’m the best choice to discuss RWA’s pros and cons. I joined in 1991, and I attribute my first sale in 1993 to what I learned from my involvement, but those were pre-Internet days. Today, admitting that virtual reality will never replace the real thing, I can get every bit of the same information free online. Though I still pay my yearly dues, I’m no longer an active member who teaches, volunteers, serves, etc. I belong to one special interest chapter, but doubt I’ll re-up. It’s just not my thing. To be honest, the only reason I continue to renew at the national level is so I can get a break on the conference (Friends! Editors! Agents! Harlequin’s Amazing Party! Free Food!) and RITA entry fees. But it wasn’t always so.

Before I share my experiences with RWA let me say two things. First, I’m pretty sure the adage of what you get out being in direct proportion to what you put in applies here. Second, I’m definitely sure what an author gets out of any organization is related to where she is in her career, and to her goals, i.e., do you want changes within the organization badly enough, or do you feel strongly enough about an issue you’d like the organization to address, that you’ll spend time you could be writing volunteering instead? Will you reap from those volunteer hours benefits equal to or comparable to those you would reap from writing? For me, the answer is no, but others feel differently. Just remember. No author’s career hinges on membership in a writing organization.

From RWA’s Mission Statement:

The mission of Romance Writers of America is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA works to support the efforts of its members to earn a living, to make a full-time career out of writing romance—or a part-time one that generously supplements his/her main income.

In other words, the group is not intended for hobbyists. It’s about pursuing writing as a career. That I can get behind. I can also get behind RWA’s strong support of literacy. I LOVE participating in the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing at national conference. All those authors and readers in one room. Exhiliarating! Exhausting! Exciting! So, let’s look at a few ways RWA strikes to meet its mission statement.

Education – I don’t know if RWA really bills itself as an educational organization, but I learned everything I need to know about writing fiction from workshops, articles, conferences, contest feedback, networking, critiques . . . none of which I would have received on the outside. I wouldn’t even have known where to go to find the information I needed on craft if not for RWA. Granted, this was prior to the days of Google, but I still believe RWA can give anyone a master class in writing fiction. For an aspiring author, there’s no better place to get a handle on everything from plotting to the publishing industry.

And I don’t just mean romance fiction. Yes, every genre has elements specific to the makeup of its books, but as far as fiction basics, I’m fully confident that I could write a mystery or a thriller or an urban fantasy because of learning the nuts and bolts of telling a story as a member of RWA. The education I received from the org’s resources was worth every dollar of my dues, every term I volunteered on the board of my local chapter, and every hour I put in organizing conferences and contests.

Networking – Again from RWA’s Mission Statement:

Romance Writers of America hosts an annual conference that provides the perfect opportunity for authors to increase their knowledge of the business and network with industry professionals and fellow writers. The conference offers more than 100 workshops with topics ranging from beginning writing skills to the business side of writing. Romance fiction editors and literary agents search for new talent in scheduled one-on-one interviews, give workshops, and network with attendees.

Local and regional conferences and workshops also bring in editors and agents, allowing authors face time at dinners and over drinks and during quick pitch sessions. When I last agent hunted, however, I didn’t turn to RWA but to Websites like Publishers Marketplace and AgentQuery for a compendium of relevant information. It’s very possible RWA has this same information on individual agents’ activity; I honestly don’t know. I did know where to find what I wanted, and I didn’t need RWA to provide it.

For authors just starting out, the contests sponsored by local chapters can be invaluable, as can be the connections that result in long-lasting critique partnerships. Over the years, I’ve belonged to two awesome critique groups. I met the members of one through my local RWA chapter. The members of the second, I know only virtually, or did until meeting one in person at the RWA conference in Atlanta a couple of years ago.

Monthly meetings are a staple of most local chapters, and these meetings, these chapters, are the single reason most authors I’ve talked to give for belonging to the national organization. Imagine monthly get-togethers to talk industry, craft, to get the latest on which editors and houses are looking for what sort of manuscripts. Much of the same information, however, is available online for those with no local chapter available, or those who can’t afford to pay both national and local dues annually.

Advocacy – And more from RWA’s Website:

As one of the largest writers associations, Romance Writers of America leverages its influence and credibility to advocate for improving business conditions in the romance publishing industry. Also, RWA promotes the romance genre through outreach programs for librarians and booksellers. The outreach doesn’t stop with librarians and booksellers, however; Romance Writers of America also sponsors an academic grant annually to develop and support academic research devoted to genre romance novels, writers, and readers.

Though there is some sort of qualification (and, honestly, I can’t keep up) to join, RWA’s Published Authors Network (PAN) is a Community of Practice program which was established to address the needs of published authors. Additionally, there is the PRO Community of Practice program. I can’t speak to what the PRO Program offers because I sold before it was formed. Both of these groups have been set in place to support their members at the appropriate stages of their careers. I’m sure some authors find value in their PAN membership. I find more value in my online connections. Your mileage may vary.

Communication – In a world where even members of Congress use Twitter to relay information happening in real time, I don’t see how any big organization can provide breaking industry news with any sort of immediacy. By the time the Romance Writers Report comes out each month, or the eNotes is delivered bi-monthly, the information has often been blogged to death already. Yes, there are RWA loops, but for some of us, it’s hard to wade through the congratulatory and promotional posts to find anything worthwhile – which is why I no longer belong to any of the members’ Yahoo Groups. On Twitter, I get links to vital industry news stories daily. I don’t expect an organization of 10K members to be able to provide the same service. But I’m always amazed when someone not active online points me to something I’d seen three weeks before.

Friendships – The most valuable commodity I’ve taken away from RWA is the friendships I’ve made with authors from all over the country. As I said up above, I know many authors who say they stay with the organization because of the camaraderie of their local chapters, that chance each month to get together and commune with those of like mind. As much virtual information that’s available, online interaction rarely measures up to those face to face conversations. That’s one reason I love national conference so much, the sitting and chatting and never knowing who’s going to join your table at the hotel Starbucks, or belly up to the bar.

My personal opinion is that the membership of RWA is too large and too diverse for the needs of every member to be met, especially when there are so many conflicting opinions these days on what constitutes a romance novel. As an aspiring and newly published author, I found the organization invaluable. The more I published, the less relevant to my needs I felt the organization’s offerings (which is why I am also a member of Novelists Inc.). As always, YMMV.

For another look at what writing organizations can, should, and do offer, I’ve got a copy of THE WRITER and POETS & WRITERS to give away (courtesy of Lynn). Lynn says, “Bob Bittner, the former prez of ASJA, has an article specifically about what you can get out of writer orgs in The Writer.” Just comment here by Thursday, April 9, 2009, 8:00 p.m. CDT to be included in the drawing.

Are you a member of RWA? If so, tell me what I’ve forgotten. Seriously, I’m so out of the RWA loop (literally and figuratively) that there could be tons of benefits I know nothing about.