We’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.