Monday, November 3

Hornet's Nest . . .

   . . . or why I let my RWA membership lapse 3 years ago 

No. A title like that doesn't bode well. I am very well aware that this is likely to come off as some sort of sour grape rant--and maybe to an extent it is a little bit about sour grapes. But next month, I'll be giving a talk about writing romance to the Detroit Working Writers and I'm very excited. And a little nervous. And one of the things I expect to come up (or that I suspect I'll end up talking about) is professional organizations. That's got me thinking about my lapsed RWA membership and whether or not I should come back on board. 

Ever since college, I've been told that one should always join a professional organization because they offer
  • Networking opportunities
  • Learning opportunities 
  • Legal assistance
  • Keeping you up to date with industry trends
  • Support 
In addition, many offer scholarships, health insurance options, and host conferences. 

So, like many starry-eyed young romance authors, I went out and joined the Romance Writers of America shortly after my first novel was published. That cost me $95, plus a $25 processing fee.

So, $120 so far. In addition, I joined the online LGBT chapter of the RWA, the Rainbow Romance Writers (or RRW) for another $25. Not mandatory, of course, but I'd just been hearing about all of the (genuinely) awesome work they'd been doing to make sure the RWA treated authors of LGBT romance equally (something that has been a major issue in the past.)

So now we're up to $145. Every year.

But wait. I joined the RWA primarily for networking, not online classes or their newsletter filled with how-to articles.  I've been reading Writers' Digest since the early 1980's. I'm not an expert on writing, but there are only so many ways to write the same old article on dialogue or making your protagonists likable. So I plunked down another $35 to join my local chapter (who are, by the way, totally awesome!) because while I belong to a critique group (also awesome), I wanted contact with other romance writers. 

We are now up to $180. Per year. 

And here comes the kick in the pants. 

Please remember that I paid all this out after my first novel came out. With a publisher. I have nothing against self-publishing and would have gone that route if I'd had to. But I didn't! I had a publisher like my book enough to buy it. I had an advance check and everything! Yes. Exclamation marks!! I was floating on air for months. (Okay, I still float around on Cloud Nine when I think about it.) It is a great feeling to sell your first book and to your favorite publisher no less? As far as I was concerned, I'd made it BIG.

Unfortunately, the RWA didn't see it that way. 

There are two major tiers in the RWA, the Published Authors Network (PAN) and the "almost published authors" club (PRO, but for the life of me, I can't find anywhere on their website that reminds me what PRO stands for.) 

Here's what the RWA site has to say about PRO (underlines mine):

PRO was created to serve RWA members who are pursuing publication, but are still waiting for "the call" from a publisher. PRO promotes the interests of RWA members who have submitted at least one completed manuscript, but have not yet been published, and, to enhance communication between those members and publishing professionals.

PRO focuses on the business side of writing rather than craft and offers many benefits to its members. To be eligible to join PRO, RWA members must either provide proof that they have completed a romance manuscript and that they have submitted the manuscript to a publisher or literary agent.

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Obviously, I should be in PAN, the Published Author's Network. I had a contract. I had a book in my hands. 

But then I read the criteria for membership to PAN on the RWA website. (And again, underlines are mine)

General PAN Membership: Any RWA General or Honorary member in good standing who has earned at least: (1) $1,000 in the form of an advance on a single Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** (“Option One”); or (2) $1,000 in the form of royalties or a combination of advance plus royalties on a single published Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** (“Option Two”); or (3) $5,000 in the form of earnings for a Self-Published novel or novella (“Option Three”) that meets the definition of Romance Fiction shall be eligible for membership in PAN.
Provisional PAN Membership: Any RWA General or Honorary member who has contracted for the publication of an Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** for an advance of at least $1,000 shall be eligible for an 18 month provisional membership in PAN.

Ut-oh. I only earned a $500 advance on my first novel. It took me six months to earn that back. In the next six months, I think I earned another couple of hundred dollars. It was werewolves and Victorian London. A niche within a niche, within a niche. But I didn't care, I had a book! I could hold it in my hands. I had freaking amazing cover art! I was PROUD. (I still am proud.) 

But according to the RWA, I wasn't a Published Author, I was an "almost" published author. (The president of my local chapter thought that was hogwash, and listed me as a PAN member in their directory, regardless of what the RWA had to say about my income level.)

(My third novel, by the way, hasn't fared any better; only my second novel would have gotten me into PAN. Why? Because BDSM sells. HIV, not so much. Now ask me which one I think is the more important book to my career. Of course I love Jason and Henry, but it's a different kind of love than what I have for Pasha and Daniel.)

I understand that there has to be a bar somewhere, but surely if I had a contract I qualified as a Published Author.......alas, no.

And here's the other kicker: the author of those Cum for Bigfoot novels? Yeah. If she's to be believed--and I see no reason not to--she could have made it into PAN as a self-published author while me and a bunch of other people sat around in the sidekick's lounge even though we had contracts with established publishers. (**And just for the record, I don't begrudge the author of those Cum for Bigfoot books a single red cent. She put her kid through college writing that smut and more power to her for doing it. It might not be my cup of tea, but obviously it's somebody's. Lots of somebodies'.

Besides being interested in networking (and being able to call myself a real-live published author), in that very early stage of my career, I was very interested in writing contests. 

But, nearly all of the contests advertised in the monthly RWA newsletters were 
  • for unpublished authors
  • or authors who had gone five years w/o a contract
  • and/or for unpublished manuscripts
  • open to non-RWA members
Um. So. What were published (even though I couldn't join PAN) authors supposed to do? (Answer: find other sources for writing contests/book awards.) 

So yeah, when the time came to renew, I decided to spend $180 on other stuff. Like entering those contests I could enter without being a member and going to conferences that cost less than the RWA's (hugely expensive) yearly conference, but at which I had a lot of fun. (Not saying the RWA shindig isn't fun; it looks like a blast! But at that point my career, it wasn't something I could afford. It's still not something I can afford. It also isn't the only romance conference in town.) 

Sour grapes? Yeah, maybe. 
Or maybe it's a matter of watching how I spend my royalty checks and wanting to get the most out of a professional organization. Depending on what you're looking for, RWA might be perfect for you. So in the interest of fairness, here's what they offer (directly from their website):

  • Advocacy: RWA advocates for the best publishing practices for its members, including fair contracts from both publishers and agents.
  • Romance Writers Report: The RWR is a trade publication that mails monthly and covers all aspects of the romance writer's career. Free with your membership.
  • eNotes: A bimonthly e-newsletter that delivers current industry news right to your e-mail inbox. Free with your membership.
  • Local and Online Chapters: RWA has approximately 145 local, online, and special-interest chapters that members of the national association are eligible to join.
  • Leadership Opportunities: RWA General members are entitled to run for a variety of leadership positions, including committees and the RWA Boards of Directors.
  • myRWA: myRWA is a private online community where RWA members can connect with each other, network, and enhance their RWA membership experience, as well as access content specifically for RWA members. 
  • Contests and Conferences: Members are eligible to enter the prestigious RITA and Golden Heart contests at the discounted member rate. Also, members have the opportunity to participate in the many RWA chapter contests and conferences for published and unpublished works. Members also receive a discounted rate for the Annual Conference held each summer.
  • RWA University: RWA's online education hub for members.

(But please remember that even the big, prestigious RITA is open to non-RWA members, you just pay a slightly higher fee to enter--and the RWA isn't the only game in town if you're interested in writing awards.)

The RWA is like anything else: you get out of it what you put into it, assuming it has what you're looking for, in the first place. I'm not nearly as interested in writing contests any more (and have discovered a host of LGBT book awards that I would rather win, anyway. I mean, sure, what romance author doesn't want a shiny RITA trophy on their mantle? But it's not as high of a priority...and I can still enter and even go to the summer RWA conference, I just have to pay a little more.) What I'm interested in these days is:

  • Networking
  • Keeping up with the industry (yeah, I know good freaking luck!)
  • Advocacy
  • Legal support (if I ever need it)
  • Teaching opportunities 
  • Media support or "help, how do I use all these platforms to promote myself!?"
When I Googled the question "Should I join the RWA?" some interesting things came up, including some information about the Author's Guild and why some folks were going there, instead. 

Here's what they offer:

Members of the Authors Guild receive free reviews of U.S. book contracts from experienced legal staff, low-cost website services including website-building, e-mail, and domain name registration, access to our free Back in Print service, our quarterly print Bulletin, and invitations to panels and programs throughout the year.
And the cost?

$90 a year. 
(And the website hosting? It's $6 a month. After the kerfluffle some of my fellow m/m authors have had lately, I'm really looking to get off Blogger, at least for my main page.)

And guess what? 

I don't receive a "substantial advance" so I won't qualify for a voting membership any time soon, but I could still come in as an "associate member" as a "book author." 

Which is exactly what I am. 

What do you think? Are professional organizations worth it? Or can we do just fine without them?

1 comment:

West Thornhill said...

I didn't join the RWA until this year and my first book was published in 2012. Since then I've had that book repub'd with Dreamspinner, have four books with another publisher, and seven self-pub'd books (five with co-authors). And with all of that I'm still not eligible for PAN. So, yeah, I get it.
I'm probably not going to renew my RWA membership for several reasons. The two online chapters I joined really didn't help too much in any way. I joined the YA group because I thought I could network and get the word out about The Ravens Crossing (the YA I stories I write with two friends). The one time I attempted to promo TRC (on their group promo day) all I got were crickets. The other group I joined because they offered some interesting classes. Well the one class I took turned me off really quick. If you're going to offer a class (in a fantasy/paranormal/sci-fi group) on worldbuilding, the person teaching it should know more than just what they write. And being yelled at in an email because I asked a question she didn't know how to answer, turned me off from even wanting to more about her or her books. But then I took a free class through the RWA University, and it was awesome. Not what I write, but still lots of useful info.
I think I'll have to check out the Author's Guild because in a lot ways the RWA reminds me of high school.