I’ve been a card-carrying member of Romance Writers of America since 2005 when I started this writing journey. I found out about them when my sister suggested I enter the first story I ever wrote into the Golden Heart Contest. Thank goodness the entries were full because the manuscript everyone in my family loved, turned out to be 100,000 words of crud. LOL! But this post isn’t really about that.

It’s about an organization that 7 years ago I absolutely needed. Mostly because it pointed me in the direction of my local Maine chapter where I met some amazing writers who were more than willing to share their experience and teach me about the craft of writing. That led me to writing contests where I learned sooooo much from some very honest and giving judges. And followed that up with RWA chapter conventions.

I learned how to write query letters and where to send manuscripts. I devoured every issue of the RWR, the monthly magazine put out by RWA, filled with articles written by authors who had walked this path before me.

A year later I signed my first contract. And that’s when I got the first cold shoulder from RWA. I had signed with Liquid Silver Books (whom I adore) which is an electronic publisher. They didn’t offer an advance and for some reason that meant I wasn’t “career-minded” and didn’t deserve to have my contract listed as FIRST SALES in the RWR. Yeah, that stung.

But RWA couldn’t ignore the digital train filling up with authors who weren’t wearing blinders and could actually read the signs on the publishing horizon. They slowly accepted that authors who were published only in digital formats might actually be making money. They even allowed us into the prestigious “Published Authors Network” when one of our books earned $1000 in royalties, which was the minimum advance they felt was worth an author’s time. They lost a little of their luster at this point. More and more magazines were arriving and sitting around unopened before they got recycled. Still, I was happy to be in online RWA chapters that offered classes and support that I desperately wanted and needed.

Fast forward a few more years. I’ve found several author and reader groups online that aren’t affiliated with RWA. They support the needs I have, social, promotional and educational. Facebook and Twitter exploded, offering me even more opportunities to connect with authors and readers. I have a whole array of friends that I’ve never met face-to-face, but who are as dear to me as some of my highschool and college friends.

Now self-publishing has added another avenue to the road to publication. People are questioning the need for agents. Is Harlequin with it’s meager advances and low print runs the gold standard anymore? It used to be that authors who were members of RWA held more credibility with the big romance publisher. I’m not so sure that’s true anymore. I’m meeting more and more highly successful romance authors who are not members of RWA.

And then there’s the convention. But even that has lost its shine for me. With conventions like Romantic Times, Lori Foster’s Get-Together and Ellora Cave’s Romanticon authors are offered many opportunities to meet and greet not only other authors, but readers as well. And isn’t that who I’m really working to get to know? The RWA convention is for members only.

Now, RWA is trying to figure out where self-publishing (that dirty word that also meant you weren’t “career-minded”) is fitting into their model of publishing. With so many NYT Bestselling authors re-releasing out of print and backlist titles, it’s no longer a publishing avenue they can ignore. I’m not sure where they’ll end up when it all shakes out, but the question is, have they become an organization that romance writers no longer need?

I don’t know the answer to that question.

I’ve been questioning my membership over the last couple of years. Mostly because RWA continues to raise their yearly dues (like everything else in the world that’s increasing). And I’m using them less and less. I have enough connections now that when I’m inquiring about a new publisher or perhaps (some day) shopping for an agent, I know there will be all kinds of people who will be able to steer me in a direction that works best for me. For now I continue to plunk down my money so I can continue to be active with the Maine Chapter. Some of my dearest friends are in that group. And I would miss seeing them. But I’m not sure it’s worth the $110 (RWA and Chapter dues) a year for me to be a member of that chapter.

What do you think? Are there advantages for romance authors to be members of RWA? Do you think those that bow out are missing anything? I’m really trying to figure this one out.

44 Responses to RWA … Really What Advantages?

  • I left in 2009 when I was told I wasn’t “really” published by more than one national board member at RWA Nationals. I got sick of it. Part of me was stingy. I was not about to give someone 80 bucks of my money, and then more to the local and special interest chapters I was a member of, to be told I was published. At that time, I had over 20 books released.
    I could not find any value. Believe me, if I could, I would have stayed. But, I found myself at a loss at what they provided. I was a founding member of Passionate Ink, but even in that, I found little use. And, it always felt like a caste system, very cliquey. I agree with you. I get more out of AAD than I ever did at RWA. At first, there was a lot of info I could use. But once you get past that, it is a waste of money and time. I could no longer justify paying the money just to say I was a member. Nothing came of it, so I walked and spent the money on promos.

    • Melissa – I’m so glad you stopped by. After attending Nationals and being a member of local chapters you come at it from the perspective of someone who’s been there, done that. And you haven’t missed it in the last 3 years? That certainly says something right there doesn’t it?

  • Nina, follow your heart on this one. I do hear from authors who credit their entire career to the help and support they received from RWA.
    I think some people luck out and live near really wonderful chapters and some don’t.
    The fact you’re questioning yourself every year about membership is your answer…
    XXOO Kat

  • Vonda – RWA is very smart in requiring people to be members of the main organization if they want to remain active in the chapters. It’s my chapter mates that I love and would miss terribly.

  • Vicki – *sigh* Again with the writing friendships. Seriously, it’s the only obstacle between me and hitting the road.

  • Hi Nina,
    We only know each other from facebook, have seen you around the block there. Not sure if this will help you, but I was a member of RWA way back in late 1980s. At that time, the dues weren’t as expensive as they are now, but still pricey. And you had to be a member of national to be a member of the local chapters, which was really great and the people were wonderful and some I miss. Then I ended up moving to Hawaii the last year of my husband’s last duty station and I started the Aloha Chapter there and we managed to get some really great (famous) authors to join the group. I understand the Chapter is still going strong. While in Hawaii, I attended the RWA Conference in San Francisco (1989 or was it 1990) and it was great but was more for authors than being able to meet readers. I ended up getting out of RWA after my divorce and feeling that it was beginning to be more of a snobbish type group that made you feel that if you weren’t published by a big six publisher, you weren’t a writer. I have learned that the local chapter I belonged to isn’t a RWA chapter anymore and they call themselves something else now. So, apart from the local writing groups of RWA, I couldn’t see why I should stay in a group that wasn’t supportive of one’s writing efforts if one wasn’t published by a big six publisher.

    You sound like, as the others said, have perhaps made a decision. 🙂

    • Jacqueline – Yeah, I say it every year about this time. But really, I’m thinking of making the leap. I love my MERWA friends, but I see them around FB and twitter. Hardly seems worth the renewal fee.

      And I think there are many chapters leaving the RWA umbrella so writers can still take part as I think fewer and fewer romance authors are affiliated with RWA.

      I’m definitely leaning …

  • Nina,
    great topic and timely for me as I sit and stare at the (not cheap) application for renewal in front of me. I let my membership lapse as every time I read any magazine or anything from them it made me feel like some sort of hack because I didn’t write for Harlequin or whatever. I think I am going to take yet another pass on it.

    • Liz – I’m just not seeing the advantages anymore. And good luck with your decision. Somehow it seems naughty to pass it up, doesn’t it? Like we’re doing something wrong as romance authors.

  • As a member of RWA for a year, I’m beginning to question why I joined in the first place. Love the magazine that comes out and the website is a great tool for me. Unfortunately, I live in the sticks (country) so getting to a chapter meeting is about two hours away for me. In addition, the chapter I would normally belong to DOES look down on epubbed authors and are very snobby.

    I don’t think that they are going to change their tune anytime soon regarding e-publishing, which is the way that everything seems to be pointing to. *sigh*

    Marika

    • Marika – At least you’re using the website (which I go to about 4 times a year) and the magazine (which goes immediately into the recycle bin as soon as it comes in the house). My local chapter is actually 4 hours away from me. Still worth the trip! The ladies (and one gent) have seen a lot of changes since the chapter began and I’m proud to say they continue to support everyone who publishes, regardless of the venue. They make changes to their policies as the publishing world grows and changes.

      Waaa … don’t make me leave them RWA!

      • Why are you throwing the magazine as soon as it comes? I find the magazine interesting. Anyway, if you don’t want it why don’t you unsubscribe from the paper magazine? I believe that for more than a year RWA allows to switch to only digital subscription for the mag.

        • Adila – I stopped reading it cover to cover when I couldn’t be listed in the “first sales” column. I stopped reading the articles when I discovered most of the information wasn’t anything new. Much of the information I’d read online on blogs.

          And I haven’t looked into the magazine subscription enough to know how to stop the hard copy from being sent to my mailbox. I do remember looking for a place on the application last year and didn’t see anything. But I really should get that changed. Yes, I recycle it, but it’s a waste to have it sent at all.

  • Nina, you expressed my thoughts exactly, only you said it better. I too am questioning staying in RWA. I needed them in the beginning and they were a great help and I learned a lot. But their elitism toward ebooks and now indie books has soured me. Like you, I’ve made terrific online friends. One friend whom I’ve never met (she lives in Reno, NV, I live on the East Coast) has become my promo/indie guru. She formats my indie books and is a font of knowledge on indie publishing. I made PAN with my first sale, to Avalon Books. I got paid $1000 and that was it. I’m not a big earner with indie publishing, but I sure make more than that $1000 Avalon paid me. Why do I need RWA, especially with their elitism? Like everyone else, I want to stay in my local chapter. I also want to keep my PAN membership. I know, it’s not a big deal, but at the time I sold, it was a big deal to me, and I hate to give it up. If I ever drop out of my local chapter, I will probably drop out of RWA. Thanks for a very timely post.

    • Cara – RWA hasn’t figured out what to do with authors who make more than $1000 in royalties through self-pubbing. Clearly, they are professional authors who are “career minded” and should be welcomed into PAN (professional author’s network) with open arms. But it will be a long time before that happens. RWA moves veeeerrrry slowly. I think more than anything, that frustrates authors who have kept up with technology. RWA just seems to be behind the 8 ball when it comes to changes in publishing.

  • This might be my last year–that’s the way I’m leaning. I have to renew before nationals, and I do plan on going to nationals this year–mainly b/c my kids are going and we’re going to take time to go to Disney. After this year, I’m not sure…

    • Diana – I’ve never been to Nationals, mostly due to the cost. It didn’t seem to even out with expenses vs rewards. Besides, I’ve never had anything ready to pitch to an editor or an agent at that time of year. I hope you have a wonderful time with your kids and you find the convention offers you opportunities you may not get at other venues.

  • Honestly I think it depends on the person. I have heard people talk about leaving and actually stop being a member because they felt that they were not being treated equally and weren’t respected for one thing or another. The only reason I really stay is because I need to have membership to be a part of my local chapter. I hate that you need to be a part of one so you can be a part of the other…

  • This sounds similar to the Hunger Games. When will everyone jump ship and what’s to keep the local chapters from leaving the umbrella of the main organization? What would happen if we did?

    I would hate to lose you as a chapter mate, Nina, however, I know I wouldn’t lose you as a friend.

    Hugs as you make your decision, oh and lets talk at the MERWA retreat.

    Michelle

    • Michelle – I suspect some chapters will jump ship. But as I’ve said a couple of times, it feels like there’s some safety under the RWA umbrella. Of course there are some ways it ties the hands of the chapters as well.

      And even if I leave dear friend, you’ll still be on my speed dial!

      hugs to you!

  • I’m trying to decide whether or not to let my membership lapse. We have so many avenues, so many resources aside from RWA these days, and it seems antiquated, behind the times to some extent. Don’t know yet.

    • Julia – Antiquated is a good word. And there are still some in RWA upper echelon who think “I came the way of hard knocks with rejections and failures. Why should an author who self-publishes get to be considered successful … even if they’ve made the NYT bestseller list?” Not everyone mind you, but some. Which means changes will be harder to make. I think RWA continues to lose members in droves because they’re unwilling to recognize and adapt to changes.

      I suspect by the end of the year … I also will be one of them.

      • I’m from this “some”. I’m not published yet, but I want to get published by a publisher. So I have to go throw agent search, then submitting to the agent, then rejections, then after acceptance the work with an editor. If after all the hard-work and surviving rejections, I become a PAN and then someone self-publishes and becomes PAN, I would feel mistreated. Sorry, but there should be a difference. However, maybe they should just create a SPAN category for self-published authors. A self-published writer would get SPAN if gets good sales on 2nd book. (1st one could be sold thanks to good advertisement)

        • Adila – I’ve gone both routes. I am published first through Liquid Silver Books and now Ellora’s Cave. I had to submit, live with rejections and eventually become contracted. My books went through the editing process and received 5-star reviews from readers and review sites alike … yet RWA refused to see me as published for a couple of years. With their new standards for epublishing, I’m now a member of PAN.

          Why shouldn’t this be true for self-published romance authors? TRUST me when I tell you, a professionally done self-pubbed book is not an easy task to complete. Not only are you doing all the writerly things, but now there’s the business of hiring a good editor and cover artist AND putting it up on Amazon, B&N and all other venues … all the publisher stuff as well.

          Many authors with books rejected by NY are finding tremedous success self-publishing them. And readers are buying them up in batches.

          Do those authors not deserve the recognition for their success along side traditionally published authors? NYT and USA Today aren’t creating two best seller lists. Self-published titles mingle right in with the big six’s books. Because sales are sales are sales. Readers wouldn’t contine to buy a poorly written book and push it to the top of the heap.

          I think RWA could see that as well. I don’t think there needs to be a distinction. And I say that as someone who’s gone both routes.

        • Adila – I’m epubbed and self-pubbed and I’m PAN several times over. It’s harder and harder to sell a book to a publisher and actually achieve something. I wish you luck but sometimes we have to make our own luck.

  • Hi Nina –

    I’m probably going to be the flip side… I know the national RWA dues are a chunk and then you add your local chapter and it’s $110, but when you divide that over the year that’s less than $10 a month for the opportunity to network with your local chapter…

    I know my local chapter has helped me enormously! Not only with arranging book signings and workshops, but also with support and bringing in great out of town speakers for our meetings that fire me up to keep writing and publishing.

    So I guess you have to weigh the benefits, but for less than $10 a month, I think RWA is still a benefit to my writing career. If you’re running a business, you join the Better Business Bureau even if you never attend a meeting. I consider RWA a writer’s business expense… 🙂

    Just my two cents… Good luck! 🙂

    Lisa

    • Lisa – I’m so glad you stopped by and took time to comment. I like to hear both sides.

      And yes, you do join the better business bureau, but that’s because there isn’t anything comprobable out there for businesses. My point is that there are many avenues for authors to continue education and promotion opportunities. I just don’t know if RWA is the one romance authors need to choose.

      But thank you again for taking time to share your positive feelings about RWA.

  • Vonda and Nina,
    The only reason I continue to pay the RWA dues is so I don’t lose my many wonderful chapter memberships. If not for that, I would have let my RWA membership expire. I am in the same boat you are Nina. I really do not like paying that huge annual fee when honestly, it’s not benefited me one single bit. I am where I am because of my determination and hard work. Not RWA’s.

    Great post, Nina. Keep us updated on what you decide.

    • Renee – Again … it’s the chapters. I keep trying to convince my Maine chapter to drop the RWA affiliation so I can still hang with them. But there’s something about the security of being under the RWA umbrella that makes everyone feel better. *sigh*

  • Wow, Nina, you’ve really tapped into something that writers obviously feel very strongly about! Kudos to you for that. 🙂

    To put in my two cents, here is the reason that I will stay with RWA: The organization was an advocate for the romance writer when she was still considered to be a lonely housewife writing watered-down porn, and when reading romance was something to be done in private, away from the judgmental eyes of the pseudo-intellectual. Today the publishing industry at large recognizes romance authors as commercially viable, and the public recognizes us as artistically worthwhile. I believe that RWA has had a lot to do with that transition. And I predict that in the coming years, RWA as an organization will become a strong supporter of the independent, self-published author. Why? Because the membership will show them that this is a viable, healthy, exciting way for writers to get their work to readers.

    It’s true that the bigger organizations are slower to adapt themselves to change. And it’s frustrating to feel that we as indies being sidelined because we’ve chosen to break away from the pack and follow a non-traditional career route. But changes are happening. We’re witnessing the relatively rapid evolution of an industry that is famous for its glacial pace. When RWA makes the leap to fully embrace self-pubbers, they are going to be a huge force to be reckoned with. And I want to be a part of that! 🙂

    In the meantime, I love the camaraderie of my fellow romance writers. I love the accessibility and helpfulness of the seasoned veterans. I love the workshops on craft, motivation, and promotion. All of that is well worth $150/year to me. And all of that is why I plan to remain a member of RWA.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking post!

    • Misha – I whole-heartedly agree that romance authors are an amazing group of supportive writers. I haven’t met anyone in this business who wasn’t willing to share their experiences with me. I’ve learned soooo much from so many that has made this journey of mine easier for all they’ve given to me. But now I’m finding many of those authors outside the confines of RWA.

      That being said, I’d like to thank you for taking time to offer such an insightful comment. It’s nice to have a couple people who are advocating for RWA stop by and share their very positive feelings about the organization. I think it’s important to have people on the fence like me, hear both sides.

  • I benefitted from RWA tremendously when I first joined. But after my first book , Druid’s Daughter, was pubbed by Ellora’s Cave the snubs began. I wasn’t really a writer, in some of their eyes. And then as I kept pubbing and still wasn’t truly accepted I quit. It’s a damn shame because the classes and lectures offer so much to a beginning writer. But I think they’re beginning to catch on, and I’m hopeful for the future.

    • Jean – It will be interesting to see how things change in the next years. RWA will have to step up to the plate to keep authors who are no longer finding support within the organization.

  • Ask yourself this: At any book signing, talk, workshop, etc., does anyone ask if you’re an RWA member?

    I stay because I got into PAN as an epub before their major snub attack on epublishers. And…I want to be that “thorn in their sides” reminder that epubs are here to stay.

    I joined in 1994, and have little use for RWA now. Other conventions like RT, RomantiCon, etc., offer more interaction for authors, writers and readers…and readers are an important element in our business.

    Remember the Harlequin chaos because they dared to start an epub line and would be shunned by RWA? What to do, what to do. I told my chapter that RWA would find a way to “recognize” epubs so Harlequin could remain “a publisher in good standing” in RWA’s opinion. And, son of a gun, RWA had a revelation about accepting epubs. Surprise, surprise.

    Do I need RWA…for anything? No. I’m published, have many friends/contacts outside of anything they offer. Haven’t been to an RWA conference in years. No plans to go again. Too many better options are available, and I intend to enjoy them.

  • What a great blog Nina. I joined around the same time as you but must have slipped in under the snub because RWA gave me PAN status for my e-book with Ellora’s Cave. Do I find RWA useful – No. I do find the anti-e-book and anti- Indie publishing model hard to take. I thought the purpose of RWA was to teach writing skills, not view how much an author makes. I’m Canadian and my RWA fees are huge and I rarely open that magazine anymore and if I do, I’m only interested in first sales because I like to applaud those authors. I took the Indie route with my YA because I had enough of RWA saying e-pub wasn’t worth it. To me it certainly has been.

    • Renee – And there it is. Not that it’s not a good organization, but is it really relevant for most of us? I’m seriously leaning toward no.

  • I was a member for two years, and my first publisher, The Wild Rose Press fortunately was an acceptable member. The contests that chapters offered were invaluable to me–from those critique sheets, I learned my strengths and my weaknesses. Then the dues were raised, I became tired of the contests, and the magazine articles seemed repetitive–much like any other magazine.
    The closest chapter to me is 55 miles away, so that was of no benefit. I did have my name on their website, but it certainly did nothing for me.
    Since RWA really did nothing personally for me, and the dues increased, I dropped out. I can’t tell that it hurt me at all…since it wasn’t really helping me.
    If you have publisher who look upon memberships in such organizations as being worthwhile, then, you might want to stay in.

    • Celia – But the thing is, I’m not sure that publishers are looking at RWA as the show of “professionalism” it used to symbolize. I suspect if I let my membership lapse I will hardly feel a ripple in the way I do things.

  • Hi Nina, great post!

    Here are my thoughts and they don’t seem to be too different from the others. With all large organizations there is good and bad. The same with RWA. One has to decide what is important to them with their internal moral code and go from there. On one hand, I’m happy RWA stood up to a large web site that spent more time destroying romance authors than helping them by NOT renewing the owner’s membership. I hope they don’t cave on this in the future.

    On the other hand, I cannot abide by discrimination in any venue. RWA has segregated Big Six authors from Indie authors, and have alienated many, many writers. If their main scope is to promote romance and support writers, that should mean ALL authors. It should not hinge on class, religion, color or any other medium, including how one chooses to publish their books. It’s either all-inclusive or its not.

    The US fought segregation and discrimination for years and won that battle in the 50’s. This is the 21st century RWA, and it’s time the people who run the organization wake up and realize that. We don’t single out certain groups of people, and by all means, we don’t discriminate, favor or hold bias against one group over another. It’s not only illegal, it’s unforgivable.

    That’s my two cents for what it’s worth. For those who still find a reason to stay with RWA, I wish you all the best success,

    Keta
    http://www.twitter.com/ketadablo

  • Vijaya – I do think it will be really hard to get chapters who feel some protection under the RWA umbrella, to venture out on their own. But how wonderful would it be if they weren’t all bound by the rules and regulations that doesn’t seem to support every published author equally across the board.

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