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.

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