For some authors, joining a professional organization can be a career-defining moment. Maybe it’s the first step in discovering a new approach to writing a book. Maybe it’s attending a networking event and meeting an agent or editor who changes the entire trajectory of your publishing path. Or maybe it’s something as simple as connecting with colleagues and new friends who support your writing when you feel like giving up. Whatever the reason, organizations offer a lot of potential services to their members.
But while membership definitely has privileges, it also comes with costs. Some organizations require annual fees or have membership requirements that you might not meet. Sometimes the extra service you’d like (such as having a contract evaluated or getting a mentor) carries an additional fee, beyond your annual dues. And some authors worry that joining an organization will take valuable time away from their writing.
So what’s the deal with professional organizations, and how do you decide if they’re the right thing for you?
“What can a writing organization do for me?”
Most writers’ organizations are nonprofit. That means that while they do make money from memberships and donations, most of that money is siphoned back into the organization—providing staff, support, newsletters, administration, and attractive services and opportunities that make authors want to join them in the first place. Most organizations offer a selection of these services, but depending on the size and resources available, they might not offer all of them.
Conferences and events
These often feature panels and seminars, workshops, and keynote speakers and provide you with networking opportunities to not only meet new colleagues and fellow authors but also connect with agents, editors, and other publishing professionals who can help you along in your career.
Working with a successful author who’s much further along in their career can help you navigate the early stages of your own journey. Support, advice, encouragement, and sometimes even a friendly nudge in the “write” direction can be a game-changer.
Information and resources
Professional organizations offer a wealth of information you might need, such as authors’ legal rights, tax advice, and “how-to” guides for getting published. They’re also great resources for industry news, advice, newsletters, and podcasts. Some even provide access or referrals to other professional services you might need (such editors, agents, designers, publicists, lawyers, and more).
Grants and awards
Aiming to encourage and support their members, many organizations offer awards programs, some of which come with cash prizes or a great deal of prestige and recognition (such as the SFWA’s Nebula Awards).
The world of publishing changes every day, and with it, the challenges for authors. From copyright to contracts, many organizations fight for authors’ rights to not only be adequately compensated financially for their work but to protect both the author and the works from discrimination, harassment, unethical behavior, and even persecution.
A sense of community
While conferences and events offer a chance to meet other writing and publishing professionals, organizations can also foster a sense of community for authors, especially those who work from home and are often isolated from their peers. Whether through online forums and social media or local chapters meetings and small events, authors can find their own community for sharing their joys and challenges, reading each other’s work, providing feedback, and supporting the work of other members.
Access to special offers
Along with helping you find professional resources like copy editors or book cover designers, organizations can offer their members discounts or special services that you might otherwise have limited access to. These might include discounts on writing software, special offers for conferences, or even a better deal on your health insurance. Professional organizations can use their large membership numbers to negotiate for their members.
Legal advice and grievance resolution
Every once in a while, an author can end up in a sticky situation with their agent or publisher, or even with another author. When that happens, many organizations can offer you access to legal professionals who have experience in publishing and intellectual property matters and can effectively guide you through the process.
“How do I decide which organization to pick … or if I should join at all?”
Like any decision having to do with your work or personal life, there is always some degree of uncertainty. “How do I know if it’s a good fit? What if I hate it?” wars with “What if this is the best thing I could do for my career right now?” The choice is entirely personal, but here are actions you can take to help you decide:
Get a recommendation or a referral.
Ask fellow writers and publishing professionals for their advice. Which organizations do they belong to? Which ones seem the most active?
Research local chapters.
Whether you live in a teeming metropolis or a small town, take the time to find out if an organization you’re interested in has a local chapter, either in your town or nearby. See if they have a social media presence, where you can get an idea of how active the local group is and what kind of events they hold. Remember that local chapters can sometimes be run by volunteers (such as the SCBWI), which can affect their level of engagement.
Check the vibe of their social media.
Whether it’s a warm, involved group of people or just a few grumblers, it’s always worth looking at an organization’s social media pages to try and get a sense of the community and the type of feedback their members are giving.
Look at their conferences and events.
If you’re already planning to attend an organization’s conference (such as the big annual conference for the RWA), it might be worth comparing the costs of the event with and without membership. Depending on the event, sometimes the amount of money members save on registration can make joining the group a no-brainer.
Check your budget.
Not everyone can afford annual membership fees, but some organizations offer limited memberships at reduced costs. And remember that your membership fees count as a tax write-off!
Consider sticking with your genre.
While it might be tempting to join a national organization like the Writers Guild of America, you may find you get the best support and resources by joining a genre-specific organization (see our basic list below).
You’ll only get what you put into it.Aside from the more obvious perks like special deals on events and things like medical insurance and legal assistance, you truly have to make the effort to make membership valuable. That means attending conferences, using the resources they make available to you, and capitalizing on their opportunities. If you don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to take full advantage of what’s being offered, it might not be the best choice for you.
“So who are some of the biggest organizations, anyway?”
The Authors Guildwww.authorsguild.org
Dedicated to “supporting authors and protecting author rights,” the Authors Guild offers numerous support services to members, such “business bootcamps,” contract assistance, awards, and strong advocacy for authors who are publishing books.
National Writers Union
Intended for all kinds of professional writers (journalists, copywriters, bloggers, and more), the NWU is a strong advocacy group that fights for fair compensation, freedom of expression, copyright protection, diversity, and more, as well as offers support services for writers.
Alliance of Independent Authors
If you’re a self-published author, this is one organization you’ll want to explore. They’re notable for their advocacy, information, and active online community. They also maintain the “ALLi Watchdog Desk” that is committed to protecting self-published authors from scams and unethical book publishing companies.
The Writers Guild of America, West
The WGA is a labor union that represents those who write for television shows, movies, news programs, documentaries, animation, and new media (the internet and mobile phones). Their “primary duty is to represent our members in negotiations with film and television producers to ensure the rights of screen, television, and new media writers. Once a contract is in place, we enforce it. Because of the WGAW’s long-term efforts, writers receive pension and health coverage, and their financial and creative rights are protected.”
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association of America
Awards, tips, advocacy, and their incredibly useful Writer Beware blog make the SFWA a go-to site for authors in all genres, not just speculative fiction.
Romance Writers of America
A large and quite popular organization with strong local chapters, trade shows, and the annual RWA conference, this group has long represented a networking “must do” for romance authors.
American Society of Journalists and Authors
Dedicated to nonfiction writers, this organization is a valuable source of information and networking. Along with awards, podcasts, and grievance assistance, the ASJA also offers an “Emergency Writers’ Assistance Fund,” a grant program designed to assist members who cannot work due to extenuating circumstances (such medical emergencies, disability, or natural disasters).
Books for kids, middle grade, and YA
The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
Aspiring kid-lit authors will love the resources, the active communities, and especially the bookshop feature for members’ books. (We’ve featured the SCBWI as part of our “Organization Spotlight” series.)
Mystery & Thrillers
International Thriller Writers
Emerging and midlevel thriller authors will want to check this organization out because part of their aim is to have successful and bestselling authors aid, mentor, and encourage new writers in the genre. The group also offers incredible networking opportunities at their annual ThrillerFest conference.
Mystery Writers of America
Their newsletter, discusstion lists, library and bookstore contact databases, mentor program, and manuscript critique program are just some of the many benefits of membership in MWA.
Horror Writers Association
http://horror.orgAlong with offering awards, mentoring programs, author features and interviews, and resources, there’s also a fun gallery of horror author “selfies.”