Thursday, June 25, 2009

Organizations and writing

Let me first begin with a single statement. I believe in professional writing organizations for writers, agents and editors. I believe there is a purpose and I 100% support these organizations.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's begin...

I meet a lot of writers that are starting right from ground zero. They may have a "current novel they are working on" or have a lot of ideas for a story but haven't gotten started. Along the same lines, I meet a lot of writers that "have just finished their first novel and want to get it published." My answer to almost all of these writers is to get connected before they start anything. I tell them to find some writing groups and get started. I am talking here about "professional" organizations such as the RWA (both PRO AND PAN), the Pacific Northwest Writing Association, NINC, Mystery Writers of America and yes, even the AAR.

I bring up this idea in connection to what we spoke about yesterday. Remember? Keeping the eye on the prize? There is a connection to writing groups here that we also need to remember.

Writing groups are crucial for keeping the information flow going between the writers and the publishing industry. This is a place where information can be current and everyone in the writing community does not have to feel lost or abandoned as they struggle with their craft. As you all know, I am a big fan of attending conferences. Not for the social aspect of things, but for the simple fact that we can all learn something new as we sit in those sessions or listen to key note speakers.

When I attend conferences as an agent, I tell the audiences that I am honestly glad to be invited. I want to talk to writers. I want to know what is going on in their heads and I want them to know what is going on in my head. It is all about this public face to face interaction. Now, here comes that connection.

Many writing groups have "entry" requirements:

  • Sold three books in the prior year.
  • Sold to a reputable publisher
  • Been sponsored by a current memeber
  • Submitted projects for proposal

The intent is supposedly to keep the conversations in the group focused on the needs of that select group and to not be weighted down by having to explain basic concepts to the newbies. Ahh, that sounds noble, but I have to say, even the established writers are still learning. Even more so, remember that at one time, even those established writers were struggling to "learn" the material with no help. The end result, however, is that the flow of information has been stopped.

Writing organizations also put a requirement in an attempt to keep those individuals who are not there for the benefit of the business, those people who are really out to take advantage of people, out of the limelight and away fromt he members. The Romance Writers of America refers to this as "advocating" for the writing. I am all for an organization "advocating for the writer, however, we forget one additional point. This refers to the concept of "buyer beware." Again, in this case, I went to the RWA for a quote. "It will always be the author's responsibility to read all the clauses, question the ones he/she doesn't understand, find out what the industry standard is, and only then, with full knowledge, make the decision to sign or not to sign."

If it is up to the writers are to be fully responsible, organizations have to make the resources available to them. This is where those exclusionary rules tend to work against the flow of communication. If only a select group can participate, then only that select group can "get the information."

I have to admit, that I do, sometimes question the "exclusionary" rules of organizaitons. I am not complaining about the rules though. It is my belief that unfortunately, life is not fair and there are these barriers out there. I also believe that if a person doesn't like the rules to that game, they can always go to another group. We see this all of the time. Our family are members of a USA Swimming Team (my kids swim and my wife and I are officials). We see families leave teams and join other teams all of the time because they "don't like the way things are going." I wish them all of the best. No hard feelings but we have to be where we can get what we need to succeed.

Along with being an agent, I am a writer. There are other agents and editors out there that are also writers. I have been published. But, because I am an agent, I can not participate in groups. Although frustrating at times, I am not complaining about this. This is simply a point of fact. I still find ways to get the information I need as a writer through other outlets to continue to succeed.

As an agent, I follow the guidelines of the AAR. I am a firm believer of all that the organization stands for. I am not a member though. Nothing personal, I am simply not a member. This is also a point of fact.

I only bring all of this up to again ask those of us in the publishing industry to think today about what they are doing. Is the action we are taking helping to promote our craft and business, or is it driving a wedge between the business? I guess, in a way, this is my call to action. Not to change the rules but to rethink why we are in this business. What do we want to see happen.

As an agent of romance and women's fiction, I want to see the genre succeed. Not simply in numbers but in quality. I want this genre to be seen not simply as a summer read, but as a strong piece of the puzzle in literature. For that reason, I will do all I can to assist writers and the industry. That is my contribution. What about yours?


  1. This is a nice post, Scott. I am not currently a member of a group, but perhaps I should look around for one? I'm one of those new unpublished authors who is learning the ropes as he goes, but I can say I am so thankful for people like you who are willing to spell a few things out for us. So thanks. I also admire your goal of striving to make your genres filled with quality literature rather than just vast numbers of publications. Sometimes the idea of quality writing gets lost in the pursuit to just be published.

  2. Eric,

    I don't know where you live, but I know that my state has a couple of writer's organizations, some free, some requiring nominal fees every year. You could start by doing a search for groups in your state.

    My group is billed as a children's writers group, but all of us write everything. I specialize in romace, for example. So you could even check into groups that might not be your genre, just in case. :)

    Good luck!

  3. Some of the writing groups you mention took part in the Miss Snark scam agent hoax which turned out to be just some bloggers in Arizona and Florida, not a bona fide literary agent in New York City. I am now wary of any group which perpetrates this type of fraud on the writing professionals in our industry. We really don't need to be lied to by the supposed watchdogs. It is unprofessional and appalling

  4. Anon,

    I understand your frustration, but I think it is important to remember that we cannot make a generalization about an entire group do to the actions of just a few. Of course, it is always your right as an author to participate with any group that meets your needs.