Select organizations for writers hard to join, but worth the effort
ONLINE COLUMN: Web Savvy
Published: September 16, 2008
Several years ago, I decided to apply to the American Society of Journalists and Authors. ASJA began in 1948, eventually spreading its New York roots to grow a diverse membership of more than 1,100 independent nonfiction writers. A friend of mine was a member, and he encouraged me. I put it off—my friend had a stellar list of credits like top glossies, newspapers and a hefty selection of books. I studied the membership requirements on the Web site—six full-length bylined articles "primarily from major publications."
Members network at the 2008 ASJA conference in New York City.
Photo by Photo courtesy ASJA.
It took me a few hours to put the package together. It took a few weeks for the organization to reject my first application, but it was done with a carrot. I needed to send more clips. I strolled into our garage and looked at the stacks of boxes holding work from my freelance career. It took about two seconds for me to realize I'd omitted some very good work because I had focused on sending current work. So I plucked half a dozen more clips applicable to the term "major publications" and re-tooled my application. That time I was accepted.
If I had to pick only one organization to belong to, ASJA is the one I'd choose. The annual conference offers opportunities to sit down and talk with agents and editors one on one. There's a forum for members who want to ask each other questions about projects or the profession, or just shoot the breeze. I don't frequent the forum as much as I did at first; I don't have time. But the organization is invaluable to me in terms of access to information as well as saying something about my own professional brand. Membership means your work has been vetted by an organization of professionals. There are also other benefits, such as access to health insurance for self-employed writers like me.
The same goes for the Authors Guild, an organization founded in 1912. This organization bills itself as an advocate for writers, and offers members a Web site and free book contract reviews. My membership in that organization is primarily useful for the information I have access to, and it also speaks to my brand. I was turned down the first time I applied because although my nonfiction book was published in a traditional manner, my publisher was a small house and the advance was too small. So I re-applied, using my freelance clips. The AG requires you have three works published in a periodical with general circulation—those you see available at newsstands nationwide. Your clips can't be from trade or professional publications. There are other options for joining and you simply look to see where your own portfolio fits.
I no longer do travel writing on a regular basis, but if I did, I'd apply to the Society of American Travel Writers. You have to have a sponsor, and there's a vetting process. If you're focusing on travel writing, this organization is a great goal for visibility of your brand in the industry. SATW holds an annual conference.
ASJA, AG and SATW offer a way for editors to connect with writers, by means of job listings and in some cases, word of mouth via the membership.
I'm a past member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and I have to say if that industry is your focus, you need to belong to this organization. There are categories of membership for both professional and unpublished writers. The forum and the magazine are two excellent benefits.
The Editorial Freelancers Association also makes membership available to different categories of freelancers; there isn't a vetting process. EFA sends project notices to members on an almost daily basis, and this is a rich resource particularly if you have strong editing skills. I'm a past member, and I found it very useful.
The Online News Association offers several categories of membership; you're only vetted if you seek professional status. This organization keeps you abreast of online content trends, tools and resources. I've been a member for several years and I've often told my writer friends the membership is equivalent to courses in providing online content. I've learned a great deal about writing for the Web simply by reading the discussions that come to me by email. There's an annual conference, and though I'll miss it this year, next year I plan to attend.
Some of these organizations have hefty dues. It's up to you to study the requirements and weigh the possible benefits. Some like ASJA have public sections on the Web site where information is made available even if you're not a member. Non-members can also attend the annual conference.
Most editors are aware of organizations that vet writers. Some of the best projects I've worked on have come to me through my memberships. Nothing beats talking to an editor or agent in person, and membership in an organization that sets standards really says something about your brand. I joined ASJA and the Authors Guild after many years in my profession, and my dues are covered by the benefits I've received. The same goes for ONA.
Bear in mind there are networks that generally accept all comers. But if you're setting career goals, select at least one professional organization that will not only bring work directly to your door but also offer another positive dimension to your own writing brand when you query an editor.
American Society of Journalists and Authors
The Authors Guild
Society of American Travel Writers
Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
Editorial Freelance Association
The Online News Association
Previous column at Web Savvy: Networking with other writers
--Posted Sept. 16, 2008
Stroll the Web with us when our next column takes a look at some unusual and some new sites that offer rich resources to writers building an online brand.
Photo caption: Members network at the 2008 ASJA conference in New York City. Photo courtesy ASJA.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International, The Florida Times-Union and Sky News.