Elizabeth: To RWA or not to RWA

agents, editors, agent, editor, pitch, pitching, manuscriptThe annual email reminding me to renew my RWA membership arrived sometime in March and I promptly forgot all about it.  RWA is persistent, however, so a reminder arrived in the beginning of April, and then the next week, and again the next week.  The last reminder listed all the benefits I’d be losing out on if I neglected to renew.

And yet . . . my membership remains un-renewed.

I joined RWA a number of years ago, around the time of the McDaniel writing program.  I was thrilled to have finally found what felt like “my team.”  I’d previously completed a graduate writing program that scoffed at all genre-fiction, especially romance fiction, so I was happy to find an organization that supported, embraced and celebrated romance writers.

The early years were filled with conferences, workshops, and connecting with other writers.  Over time however, that initial excitement seems to have faded.  While I still enjoy the conferences as a great way to spend time with other writers and connect with people I don’t frequently get a chance to see, I’ve found fewer workshops that catch my interest or fit with where I currently am with my writing.

The monthly magazines from RWA are piling up – largely unread – and I’ve cut way back on the RWA online forums that I follow.   Looking at the RWA organization, especially in light of the recent discussions about the Golden Hart, the RITAs, and diversity, I’m starting to really question the value of remaining a member.

In the recent discussion threads on the RWA PRO loop, there has been a lot back and forth about what the role of National RWA versus the role of the RWA chapters.  The consensus seems to be that the local chapters are where new and/or unpublished writers really get the most value and that the local chapter contests are the best source for feedback.  While you have to be a national RWA member to join a chapter, non-members can attend chapter meetings (for a slightly higher fee – generally $10) and participate in chapter contests (also for a slightly higher fee – generally $10).  With the money I would save by not renewing my RWA membership, I could participate in 9 to 10 chapter meetings/contests.  While the money isn’t really the issue, it is a consideration.

The biggest reason for my current indecisiveness is concern over the direction and vision of RWA itself.  The writing industry has changed tremendously during the time I’ve been an RWA member.  Back at the beginning, at that first RWA conference I attended in New York, there were no self-published writers in the RITA contest, editor/agent appointments were serious business, and the talk was all about publishing contracts.  Fast forward to last year’s conference and it was a completely different environment and experience.  The options that have been floated from the RWA’s brainstorming sessions around the replacement for the unpublished Golden Heart contest (pitch contest anyone?) make it feel like they are clinging to the past, rather than helping members navigate the current realities of publishing.  I hope I’m wrong about that, but it has given me pause.

So, what do you think?  Do you see continued value in the RWA organization or are their other writing organizations that you would suggest?

12 thoughts on “Elizabeth: To RWA or not to RWA

  1. Long comment coming (short version: everything you said).

    I think RWA is going through a very difficult time. As you say, the industry has changed hugely over the last few years and I see the organization struggling to adapt. The old model was very much a partnership with traditional publishing, but the advent of indie publishing, which has been enthusiastically adopted by many romance writers, seems to have taken away much of the value for editors and agents, and probably an important source of income for RWA.

    When I attended my first conference or two, it was thrilling to rub shoulders with the famous names of the genre. Now most of them seem to be gone, and their editors and agents with them. I think in addition to tackling its present well-publicized problems, RWA needs to find some new poster children. If it doesn’t represent excellence in the genre, and especially if it doesn’t offer a solid promise to unpublished writers, it will continue to lose support at grass roots level. The way the orgainization is going, I’m honestly not sure it will be around in five years or so.

    I just renewed my membership, because I’m thrilled to be a GH finalist (sad that our class will be the last), and that requires me to be a member in good standing. The GH final made me eligible to join The Golden Network, which is a chapter of RWA that seems to be positive, active and laying plans to fill some of the vacuum at national level. I may continue to renew just for membership of TGN, but if I could have one without the other, I’d definitely consider it. I’m currently intending to attend next year’s conference because it’s in San Francisco and that suits my plans, but after that I’m really not sure.

    There are good alternative resources for published and multi-published authors (I would LOVE eventually to be eligible to join NINC, though first I’d have to publish at least two books and meet their earnings requirement). There are excellent writing groups for indie authors, published and unpublished–Mark Dawson’s SPF group and Marie Force’s Indie Author Support Group, to name a couple. I also joined Sisters in Crime last year (because it earned me a discount on the Writers’ Police Academy conference). I haven’t renewed, because it’s really not my genre, but I was impressed with their organization–they’re friendly, supportive and professional. They might be a good fit for your Detective Cassie stories, Elizabeth. I’ll be very interested to see if anyone else has recommendations.

    • Great feedback, Jilly. I can see I have some researching to do.

      Great that you are now a part of the Golden Network. I’ve heard very good things about them.

  2. I think just as with citizenship in our public sector, as a member of a profession it’s a point of honor to step forward to do my part in the community to make the change I want to see. Partly it’s to help myself, but also to help the people who come after me. Obviously you may have legitimate reasons at this time why you can’t help make the org better – a family emergency, burn out, too many other obligations, poverty, etc. But by leaving instead of even doing things like throwing your support and votes toward members who are doing the extra, hard work to make positive change, you’re abjuring responsibility for the community. How can RWA be better if members don’t help it to be better?

  3. I’m president of my local chapter this year, after serving as treasurer last year and secretary the year before. I share this so you’ll know where I’m coming from.

    That said, I too have concerns about RWA’s long-term survival. I used to work for a company that sold multi-part business forms. With the advent of desktop publishing and the internet, they saw their business shrink from a billion dollars plus each year to some tiny fraction of that. They were smart people who knew they needed to do something different, they just couldn’t figure out what that something was.

    RWA seems to be in a similar spot–the business they knew and served is shrinking away and they know they need to change, but can’t figure out how. What’s different, I think, is that there’s a a genuine need in the new business model for some of the services RWA provides–craft classes, business classes, brainstorming help, promotion of the romance genre, and fellowship with other writers, to name a few.

    The other thing I want to say, as someone who has spent a number of hours reading RWA bylaws and participating in the RWA Chapter Leadership forum, is that the approach you’re proposing (attend local meetings without being a member) is illegal (not sure that’s the right word) under RWA’s bylaws. Non-members are limited to attending no more than two meetings before being required to join. If your chapter is ignoring this regulation, they’re operating outside the bylaws.

  4. I get what you’re saying, Elizabeth, but I still get a lot out of RWA – when I have the time. I’m unable to attend the national conference again this year, which is heartbreaking because I got so much creative energy from it. Because I can’t go, I was thinking about trying to tap into some of the online resources they offer to help boost my creative energy. And I know Jeanne and Justine have gotten a lot out of their local chapters.

  5. While there are still some writers who are jonesing for that trad contract, I’m not one of them. Unless RWA seriously amps up their education, workshops, and focus on how to be a successful independent business owner of a writing business (because face it, as a self-published writer, that’s exactly what we are), I see little value in renewing my membership. EXCEPT for The Beau Monde, which is, for all intents and purposes, my “local chapter.” I’d be sunk without them and their wealth of knowledge regarding all things Georgian/Regency.

    As just a small peek into how things have changed, when I was at California Dreamin’ a few weeks ago, put on by Orange County RWA, one of the first workshops of the whole weekend was a conversation between Tessa Dare, traditionally published with Avon, and her editor (forget her name) about the relationship between an editor and writer. They had the conversation happening in the largest ballroom at the hotel. And there were THREE attendees…me and two other ladies. And part of the reason I went was just to meet Tessa. I was also interested in the relationship between editor and writer, but not because I expect to be traditionally published. Rather, it’s because I’ve hired and editor and I want to make sure it’s a worthwhile endeavor for both of us.

    Some things that I think RWA could do at conference INSTEAD of the traditional agent/editor pitch sessions:
    1. Cover comments — workshops about what’s hot in covers in the market right now, with perhaps the ability to sign up for a critique session with a professional cover designer on how to improve book covers. This is valuable not only for new authors but those who are self-pubbing their backlist.
    2. Same for FB/social media pages
    3. Same for author website
    4. Marketing brainstorm sessions — ways to draw readers in
    5. Tools self-published writers can use to
    –format their book
    –write their book
    –market their book
    –advertise their book
    –distribute their book

    As for groups that I belong to now that I really like, most of them are on FB…The Cover Clinic (new group where you can get feedback on your book cover from professional designers), Marie Force’s group that Jilly mentioned, 20Booksto50K, and for me, a few genre-specific groups related to the Regency era. I’m also working my way through Mark Dawson’s SPF material and I have the few books that David Gaughran has published about superfans, Amazon ads, etc.

    I will stay with RWA because of the Beau Monde, but for where I am in my career, without offering workshops and special-interest groups related to self-pubbing, it loses value to me.

    • I think another worthwhile topic would be hiring people to do the things you can’t or don’t want to do–developmental edits, copy edits, proofreading, covers, formatting, publicity. Unless you’ve been a manager and done a lot of hiring, you may not know how to do this. And even if you have, you may not know the correct questions/criteria for hiring for these specific tasks.

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