I’ve been flipping this idea around like a pancake for awhile now: Should I join a writing organization, or is it just a waste of money/time/emotional energy?
Almost any book on writing fiction and the facets thereof will tell you that joining a writing group is one of the best things you can do for yourself. They claim it’s a wonderful place to dialogue with others that have experience with publishing/agents/etc., and that all your questions can and will be answered. A number of these groups also offer space in their forums for people to exchange their work and have it critiqued by peers. This, supposedly, is the crux of everything for an inexperienced (ie. as of yet unpublished) writer.
So, I looked into a few of them, and most of them sounded pretty good, and like they had decent resources for someone like me. However, I was off-put by one thing in particular that all these organizations share in common: a rather large membership fee.
Yes, I understand that someone has to keep the group organized, and run the website, and get conferences and speakers in place across the country/continent, and so on, but seriously… writers aren’t exactly the wealthiest people on the planet, and typically it seems that you need to join more than one organization to get the full benefit for your writing (ie. a national organization, and then another one perhaps more targeted to your genre or focus). So whose bright idea was it to charge $100 to join???
I don’t know about anyone else, but $100 seems pretty steep to me. The dire financial situation of writers is why things like the Canadian Writers’ Foundation exist, and let’s face it – making any money from writing is rare for most people, let alone enough to make a living off of. For some people, $100 could make the difference between eating for the week or going hungry. Fortunately, I’m not in that situation – I have a husband who brings in the money, while I make a paltry contribution with my freelance writing contracts. Still, like any newlywed couple, we need to be careful with spending… so here’s a quick rundown of the few groups I’ve looked into and what they’re charging for a year’s membership.
Membership Levels: Professional & Associate.
Key Benefits: Networking with writers across Canada; “new writers can develop their skills while established authors can find direction for their careers”; mentorships; “support for Canada’s most prestigious Literary Awards” (yay?); discounts on the annual CanWrite! conference, workshops, contests & The Canadian Writer’s Guide.
Swag: A quarterly members-only newsletter.
And that’s not all…: Grievance resources; a members-only “Virual Branch” mailing list; branch meetings (assuming there is a CAA branch for you within reasonable driving distance).
Cost for membership: $157.50 – no cost difference between professional and associate memberships.
Membership Levels: Professional, Associate, Affiliate
Key Benefits: Online members-only forum; “connection with like-minded people who share your Christian worldview and your passion to use your writing to honour God, and who provide professional, emotional, spiritual, and prayer support”; support for developing local writers’ groups; discount tickets to the Annual Writing Awards Gala; discount on Write!Canada conference, regional conferences, and contests (some with critiques); marketing advice; networking through volunteer positions with TWG.
Swag: Members-only bi-weekly e-newsletter.
And that’s not all…: Professional members get their names posted on the website under a ‘Hire Us’ section, along with cooperative exhibit & promo opportunities, blog posting withing TWG, promotion within TWG’s annual ‘Readers Guide’; grievance resources.
Cost for membership: $99.75 (Professional), $61.95 (Associate & Affiliate)
Membership Levels: General, Associate, Affiliate
Key Benefits: Advocacy; writers’ resources (incl. discussion listservs); leadership opportunities within RWA; member-rate contests & discount on National RWA Conference; discounts on certain industry-related products and services; voluntary insurance program.
Swag: Monthly members-only journal; bi-monthly e-newsletter.
And that’s not all…: Members have the opportunity to join special-interest or local chapters of RWA… however, there are almost always extra fees associated with joining these. For example, the ‘Chick Lit Writers of the World’ chapter charges $25 to join, while the Toronto Romance Writers chapter charges an extra $50!!!
Cost for membership: $75 + $25 one-time processing fee + $10 “foreign postage rate” for Canadians (to mail out the journal). No cost difference between membership levels.
I looked into the CAA because I’m Canadian, TWG because I’m Christian, and RWA because I have an almost-complete manuscript that I’m fairly certain would be considered ‘chick lit’… but there’s honestly no way I could afford to join all 3 of these groups. I think the RWA is the worst of them all, since the local chapters even charge to join, though the membership fee for CAA is pretty exorbitant as well. I’m seriously considering TWG, because the focus is on “writers who are Christian” and not “Christian writing”, which I appreciate. Plus, the membership fee is 1/3 of the other two (as an associate, since I’m considered “unpublished”). And their annual conference is held in Guelph, Ontario – that’s well within driving distance, as opposed to the other groups that have their annual meetings in Alberta (CAA) and anywhere from San Francisco to Orlando (RWA).
I’m still not fully convinced that joining any of these groups would be as beneficial as I’m told they are… but I guess you can never be certain until you try. After all, if almost all the writing books I read tell me to join, there must be some truth in it.
Unless, of course, the authors are the ones on staff… in which case, they’re just counting on suckers like me to pay their salary.