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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This is an abbreviated version of a blog post at Write It Forward. http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/

Was doing a little research about how various writing organization define a professional author. I was a bit surprised, given the reality of the changes of the past couple of years, to learn how four major genre organizations do it and who they say CAN'T be members.

Romance Writers of America: To be a member of their Published Author Network there are a bunch of paragraphs laying out money thresholds, etc. yada, yada, bisque, but when it comes to a novel or novella being eligible, the bottom line is "The work must not be self-published."

So, they don't care if you've got Amanda Hocking type numbers, nope, you aint cutting it. Not until you sign that deal with St. Martins for 2 million. Now you're an author. By the way, their threshold for being published the approved way for money is $1,000 from the right kind of publishers, ie not yourself. That's before an agent takes a cut. So, earning $850, as long as it's the approved way, means you're a professional author. Let me check. Hmm, so far today, I've earned well over $1,000. That's in a day. But that would not pass the test.

Mystery Writers of America: "Self-published books, whether they are published in print or as e-books, still do not qualify for MWA active membership."

Well poke me with a stick. No dodging that one. I note the 'still' part. A bit of reality creeping in?

Won't pass this test either.

International Thriller Writers: "Active membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house. This includes authors of fiction and nonfiction. By "commercial publishing house" we mean a bona fide publisher who pays an advance against royalties, edits books, creates covers, has a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receives no financial payments from their authors. ITW maintains a list of recognized commercial publishers."

So the fact I have an original title in the top 10 selling men's adventure bestseller list on Amazon for several months now is irrelevant because it wasn't published by someone on the ITW publisher list. And I can't be because I don't pay myself an advance.

I also question the 'regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold'. You mean Borders? I think a lot of books are 'ordinarily' being sold on Amazon and other e-book distributors.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America: Also has a list. And a threshold for what the publishers on the list have to pay you. There it's $2,000. So that would take me a little over a day to earn. Might have to stay up to 3 am. But still not qualify me since I'm not on the list.

This despite the fact one of my books is the #3 bestselling science fiction title on UK Amazon behind two books called something like Games of Thrones and has been in the top 15 in science fiction on US Amazon for several months now. And another is the #235 overall ebook on Nook right now, outselling the recent NY Times bestselling 'nonfiction' book of the same title. But those are the wrong lists. Those are based on sales.

So, nope, not passing there either.

Okay, before you go off on me, I get it. Times are changing and there must be standards. Or else we'll have every Tom, Dick and Francine calling themselves 'authors'. Well, actually that bridge has been crossed.

Yes, we need standards. The National Speakers Organization has an interesting way of determining if you're eligible for membership as a professional speaker: send in copies of the checks you received for speaking engagements. Have enough of those checks and you're in. Radical concept there. No requirement to having to speak before the 'right' crowds. Just get paid. I think they assume that means if enough groups have paid you to speak, you must be an okay speaker. Speakers to listeners. Radical. Would be like writers to readers.

Readers vote for authors with sales.

I've been a professional writer for over 20 years, earning my living at the keyboard. I've been, and am, a member of several of these organizations. But based on my work of the last year, I would not be allowed membership in these groups, even though my writing career is going far better than it ever has before. Even though, as a writer, I have more opportunities than ever before.

I just find that a tad odd.

I think these organizations do a great job. When I teach, I always tell writers to join their local RWA chapter regardless of what they write. ITW runs a kick-ass conference, Thrillerfest. MWA-well, I've never written a mystery so maybe they sacrifice goats at their meetings, but I imagine they're a solid group too for their members. SFWA, well, I've been told I'm not a science fiction writer by some people, and haven't been a member for a while, so not sure where things stand there.

We live in interesting times. I predict, with my non-science-fiction crystal ball, things will be much different in three years with all these requirements.
 

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I really hope so. It would go a long way to promoting writers and authors as a whole.

As it stands the associations almost promote an us vs them attitude which is harmful to both camps.
 

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kyrin said:
I really hope so. It would go a long way to promoting writers and authors as a whole.

As it stands the associations almost promote an us vs them attitude which is harmful to both camps.
I for one don't care what any organization thinks. I am a full time writer, who has self-published.
 

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For the Society of Southwest Authors, they have a statement which reads "Note: self-published authors will be accepted as professionals at the discretion of the board." I gave them my sales figures and my production costs (editor, cover, etc.). No problems and a very nice group of people.
 

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Good post, Bob.

It's interesting how this compares against other professional organizations in other trades. I'll use insurance for example. Everybody reading here likely has some kind of insurance. Independent agents only need to be professionally licensed and have a license in good standing, follow certain codes of conduct, and pay fees to join most of their professional organizations. The big one is paying/maintaining the membership fee.

I wonder if something similar will happen with most author-related organizations over time developing some sort of professional CONDUCT criteria not so much as whether or not you were paid by a traditional publisher.  The author as publisher has a higher "must behave like business owner" requirement than an author who writes books and does very little promotion.  There are also BBB-type concerns like did/does the self-published author put out a professional product on his/her own? I suppose the e-tailers can police this somewhat by delisting buggy titles but you have to wonder what criteria these organizations will set that makes sense?

If they did use some sort of author professional conduct, then authors slashing and burning other authors on messageboards, blogs, etc -- regardless of their sales -- might be ineligible for joining these professional organizations. I'm not sure that would be a bad thing but then just because an author might be an a-hole online (and offline) and treat others like garbage, doesn't mean they don't write and self-publish professional books.
 

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I belong to SF Canada (being Canadian and into spec fiction). I believe I needed to be paid for 2 pieces of fiction. It didn't matter how much, as long as I'd made income in some form or another. For those who don't make that bar or who aren't authors, there's still places for you to join as editors, publishers, magazine owners, etc.

I love belonging to them and being able to ask someone like Dave Duncan a question...and have him answer me!
 

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William Peter Grasso said:
Like Groucho said, I wouldn't want to be in any club that would have me for a member. :D
You beat me to it. Ditto. :p
 

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Don't get me started on RWA... I left them after falling into the great chasm where I was ineligible to enter the Golden Heart or Rita. Also, without a local chapter anymore, the national organization had very little to offer that I couldn't find elsewhere on the internet. I spend my dues on shoes instead. :)
 

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Hmmmm. I earned $2000 for a book published by Kensington Books - that would be my first time out. I was an Offcial Author.

Let's say that self-publishing since January, I've earned, oh, 22 times that? With my own covers, my own marketing, and my own place on the best seller lists.

I've failed. I am no longer an "author."

I may not be an author, but I'm not a prime candidate for bankruptcy, either. At least that has changed.
 

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Most of the big ones have membership fees. They also do a lot of good work.

There are a lot of things the SFWA and other associations do for its members.

Whenever some new and potentially harmful language pops up in a contract, they work quickly to make sure their members rights are protected.

Some even provide information and resources to non-members. I wouldn't get down on them or call them dinosaurs.

They are slow to change because most of their efforts do not involve self-publishing. This might change as the publishing industry changes.
 

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Sad really. I've been to Thrillerfest a couple of times, and I tried to speak to them about an Associate Membership. Nothing came of it. Truthfully, I've lost interest in these groups--but I do enjoy the parties!

William, thanks for mentioning Southwest writers. The Southwest is always more laid back! (That's why I left NYC years ago and live in Colorado.) ;)
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
The thing is these organizations have tons of expertise and help writers tremendously.  Perhaps the thing is, they should embrace writers who now have a different set of experiences?  I don't believe there is a single panel at any of their national conferences on self-publishing, because they believe it's not being a writer.  Yet, many top names in all of them are now self-publishing.  As J Carson Black notes-- she's selling tons of books, has plenty of experience. Wouldn't she be a valuable addition to any professional writing group?  Couldn't she add something?  Why is she now on the outside?

I am really not slamming them.  I think they are very valuable, but like any organization, when change comes you either ignore it, fight it, or embrace it.
 

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Bob Mayer said:
The thing is these organizations have tons of expertise and help writers tremendously. Perhaps the thing is, they should embrace writers who now have a different set of experiences? I don't believe there is a single panel at any of their national conferences on self-publishing, because they believe it's not being a writer. Yet, many top names in all of them are now self-publishing. As J Carson Black notes-- she's selling tons of books, has plenty of experience. Wouldn't she be a valuable addition to any professional writing group? Couldn't she add something? Why is she now on the outside?

I am really not slamming them. I think they are very valuable, but like any organization, when change comes you either ignore it, fight it, or embrace it.
Blake Crouch and I attended Left Coast Crime and the first Thrillerfest together (he played in the Thrillerfest band), and that's where I met Joe Konrath--oh yeah, and Barry Eisler. Ironic.
 

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modwitch said:
That sounds useful if I trad pub something, but not until then. Do they offer any value to a self-pubbed author? I have to say, at the moment it feels like joining the American Association of Accountants, or something. Fairly irrelevant, so I don't much care if I qualify.
modwitch said:
Well, actually... let me "go off on you" in a different direction. Why should I care? (Honest question). I'm a new writer, and about to be a full-time one. Should I care that these organizations wouldn't accept me? What do they have to offer? (I don't have local branches of any of them).

I'm not really looking to ride a horse at windmills screaming "Indies R Us". I'm looking to meet other writers and improve my craft. Is that gonna happen at any of these places? Do I need to be a member to attend events?

I get where it could really annoy people who do want to join, but I guess I'd need to want to join, first. Should I?
I can think of a lot of reasons for wanting to be a member of the SFWA. It has a wealth of information and resources including free legal help and advocacy. You can be sure if Amazon, Apple or some other organization changes the language in their contract / terms to something that's harmful to writers as a whole the SFWA will send their lawyers into battle. Membership can also open a lot of doors. You will meet a number of authors and improve your craft. You also gain a lot in terms of networking. Being able to network and talk with people in your chosen profession is beyond price, it's why the Writer's Cafe is such a great place.

I only have limited experience with the SFWA so I'm not sure how the other agencies stack up against it. That said, I won't kill myself or take away from my writing fighting the powers that be to join them or any other association. I am happy to write and wait till they change their membership requirements.
 

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And the fact is, Bob, more and more midlist authors are coming over every day.  These days, the odds of staying with a publisher for more than two books is astronomically poor.  There are so many good authors out there, and they've been told they're just not good enough.  And so now?  The publishers are combing the ebook best seller lists to court the same people they could have kept and built a few years ago. They already had them.

I know economics are hard for publishers, but with the big corporations giving all the directives, these pubs have lost their way. They don't know how to build anyone anymore.  Where would they be without Laura Lippman, Robert Crais, and Harlan Coben?  

What do these three authors have in common? They were built by their publishers back when they did that kind of thing.  
 

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modwitch said:
Well, actually... let me "go off on you" in a different direction. Why should I care? (Honest question). I'm a new writer, and about to be a full-time one. Should I care that these organizations wouldn't accept me? What do they have to offer? (I don't have local branches of any of them).

I'm not really looking to ride a horse at windmills screaming "Indies R Us". I'm looking to meet other writers and improve my craft. Is that gonna happen at any of these places? Do I need to be a member to attend events?

I get where it could really annoy people who do want to join, but I guess I'd need to want to join, first. Should I?
I'm with Debora. They don't want me, but I don't really care. I think it's incredibly short-sighted of them and they will be regretting it later when they do want us and we tell them to get lost.
 
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