The most important thing you can do as a writer is to write, and I always try to create more time behind the keyboard. As I cull through my commitments and consider the tradeoffs, I wonder if writers organizations are a distraction or a necessity?
What are writers organizations?
Writers organizations are membership groups whose main purpose is to help writers. They often focus on a specific genre or field of writing. Many have national level boards and local chapters who host monthly meetings. They survive on volunteerism and member participation.
Which writer organizations represent suspense writers?
There are several genre groups that represent suspense writers. Horror Writers Association (HWA) promotes dark literature and the interest of those who write it. International Thriller Writers (ITW) represents professional thriller writers from around the world. Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is the leading association for professional crime writers in the United States. Romance Writers of America (RWA) is dedicated to advancing the interests of career-focused romance writers (this includes romantic suspense writers). Sisters in Crime (SinC) promotes the ongoing advancement, recognition, and professional development of women crime writers.
What are membership benefits?
Each group provides members advocacy, opportunity, community, and industry insight.
Each year, HWA offers members an opportunity to promote their books at their exhibit at BookExpo America. This trade fair is the largest gathering of booksellers, librarians, and publishers in the United States.
ITW’s debut author program promotes new authors through media coverage and social media support. Debut authors can post on ITW’s blog, The Thrill Begins and are showcased in The Big Thrill, ITW’s monthly magazine.
Besides promotion, there are other forms of advocacy too. RWA and SinC wrote letters to the editor of the New York Times when the paper eliminated mass market paperback lists (a list that romance and mystery writers dominated for years), urging them to reconsider their decision.
Writers organizations offer opportunities through contests, publications, classes, and mentorship programs.
Annually, each group recognizes the best published works in their genre. Award winners enjoy the prestige of being recognized by their peers and recipients often see a bump in sales. For pre-published writers, RWA offers the most contests with the Golden Heart award and competitions hosted by each of their regional chapters. Editors and agents judge all contests so entries are evaluated by industry leaders.
In terms of publishing opportunities, MWA hosts the best first crime novel competition. The winner receives a contract from Saint Martin’s Minotaur. MWA and SinC also publish short story anthologies. Published and pre-published members can submit. These anthologies are edited by best selling authors and are often showcased at conferences. MWA’s most recent anthology, Scream and Scream Again: A Mystery-Horror Anthology, is edited by RL Stine and will be released by HarperCollins in 2018.
Organizations offer classes both online and in-person. Some are free and others require payment beyond annual membership dues. ITW has an online Thriller school with classes taught by best selling thriller authors. RWA hosts monthly online classes on craft and business. SinC has an online chapter for pre-published authors called the Guppies who offer classes for crime fiction writers. Local chapters bring in best selling authors to teach. Jeffery Deaver, MWA president and best selling author, recently held a class to at my local MWA chapter.
Some groups offer mentorship programs. ITW’s Mentor Forum is a platform where New York Times bestselling authors, David Morrell, Lee Child, and Lisa Gardner to name a few, provide advice to debut and midlist authors to help advance their careers. Both HWA and MWA have mentorship programs also, with one-on-one sessions between professional authors and new writers.
Community and Industry Insight
Each organization publishes magazines or newsletters at varying times throughout the year. Each have their own style and specific focus. Most, discuss craft, industry news, and promote their members.
Local chapters host monthly meetings that offer an opportunity to connect with fellow writers. Members can also connect virtually through social networks and online forums.
What’s the downside?
Participation in these groups takes time and support from volunteers. Monthly meetings equal a day or more away from writing. If you volunteer to teach a class, run a conference, or judge a contest your commitment will be even greater.
With the exception of ITW, who funds their organization from their annual conference and anthology sales, there are annual membership fees for national and local chapters. Membership to multiple groups can grow costly.
In the end, the downsides seem small compared to the benefits of being a member. But do these benefits outweigh time away from writing?
For me, I think it depends on where I am with my writing journey. Starting out, the classes and connections I made through these organizations were a game changer. But now, moving forward, everything revolves around getting that next novel done.
So how I do I decide what to attend and where to participate? I think the key is to evaluate each event and ask myself: Will this class improve my writing? Will this meeting help make my book better? Can I support the chapter by volunteering for a specific event, like judging a contest, rather than support a long-term commitment like filling a board member position?
What do you think about writer organizations? Are they worth the time commitment?
Stacy Woodson is a U.S. Army Special Operations veteran and a self-declared fitness junkie. She loves a good conspiracy story and has penned one of her own. She believes in the power of a good writing community and how it can elevate your writing. She is a contributor to DIY MFA’s 5onFri and a Claymore finalist. She’s represented by John Talbot at the Talbot Fortune Agency.