Writing Excuses 6.3: Professional Organizations

As you may or may not know, Mary Robinette Kowal is currently the Vice President (a volunteer position) of SFWA, the Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. And after killing two minutes talking about acronyms and the composition and pronunciation thereof, we start into the actual topic — professional organizations, why or why not to join them, and what they offer.

We spend a lot of time talking about SFWA specifically, which is hopefully useful to anybody who might want to write genre fiction. We talk a little bit about the National Cartoonist’s Society (of which Howard is not a member), and about NASE (the National Association for the Self-Employed) to which Howard and Sandra do both belong.

Mary then gives us some considerations for joining any professional service organization — personal reasons (what can the organization do for you specifically), and societal reasons (what additional clout can your participation in the organization generate.) Dan talks to us about the Horror Writers Association, a group with the awesome “horror.org” domain.

If you’ve ever wondered what SFWA or other professional organizations have to offer, this ‘cast may be helpful.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold, narrated by Grover Gardner. This novel has been nominated for the Best Novel Hugo Award this year.

Writing Prompt: Come up with a way for Howard to join SFWA. It must involve rappelling.

Professional Organization Links of Note: SFWANCS, and NASE, the Horror Writers Association, and Webcomics.com.

Mary’s Herculean Task: Get 952 science-fiction and fantasy authors to vote on the upcoming SFWA ballot.

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24 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.3: Professional Organizations”

  1. I hate to be a stick in the mud, but is professional organization the correct term for what you’re describing (at least, in the definition used by professional engineers, lawyers, doctors, etc)? According to the technical definition, professional organizations represent a highly specialized body of knowledge that can only be joined through an accredited training program, and are given authority to handle licensing of members to practice by the government. (An engineer spends half a decade getting a degree that has to qualify under strict guidelines in order to join, and you cannot legally act as an engineer without said membership, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals are more or less the same, with variations in time spent getting educated.)

    I don’t dispute that many authors (of any genre) are superior writers with greater knowledge of their field than most, it’s just the lack of an accreditation process (getting published is more equivalent to the experience requirements for trainee professionals). Furthermore, the fact writing licenses don’t exist (and shouldn’t, as long as I don’t have to read everything) removes one of the core objectives of these other professional organizations – ensuring that mistakes are not made (if a doctor makes a mistake, it can kill the patient, if an engineer makes a mistake, the roof of a new building can fail and crush dozens or hundreds of people…if a writer makes a mistake, their book is slightly worse than it otherwise would have been)

    Of course, being Canadian, I only work with the Canadian definition of a professional organization, and ours is heavily based on the British definition. Perhaps in the US it is correct to use the term “professional” more broadly than it is up here. (The first thing thing I was taught in my professional ethics class was that we should never again describe the upper echelon of sports as professional athletes, under similar reasoning.)

    Like I said, I don’t mean to be asinine about this, but it seems like you’re describing something different (though similar), for which I have no unique descriptor.

    And Mary – good luck with getting quorum for the ballot, though I predict problems. APEGBC’s turnout is only about 27%, and that’s with bylaws and an organization that can single handedly kill your career if it’s mismanaged. But then, perhaps the fact that membership is voluntary will mean a larger percentage of the membership will care enough to vote.

  2. Anyone writing YA or children’s books should join the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. You don’t need to be published to join, and there are local chapters everywhere. It is a great way to meet friends, join a critique group, or learn more about the craft or the business.

  3. I look forward to the time when I’ll have the option of joining SFWA. This podcast gave me the best reasons yet that I’ve heard for joining

  4. Rashkavar, I believe that the term “professional” is used to describe someone who makes money at what they do. A professional athlete gets paid for chasing a ball around, while college kids doing the same thing don’t. If I remember correctly–and with my 1 mb memory, there’s a chance I don’t–the Olympics will not accept an athlete who has received money for playing his sport, as it’s this receiving of money that makes him a professional, and the Olympics are for non-professionals.

    Can anyone out there support or wreak havoc on what I’ve just said–please? =)

  5. I would argue that, since one has to be a published author (and there are standards for this) in order to join SFWA, the vetting requirement is there much as it is for an electrician or a lawyer… *Thankfully* there is no licensure requirement.

    Coppertoe is behind the times, though; Olympic basketball opened to the NBA and others some years ago. Not opening the can of worms as to whether this was *right*. Nope, nope, I won’t, I won’t…

  6. Coppertoe’s definition is correct (though the Olympics is a poor example, as they will often accept paid athletes in some sports, basketball being the most famous). Rashkavar is also correct, but only for a much narrower slice of a very specific population. My personal belief (as a Descriptive Linguist) is that a definition so restrictive as to be used incorrectly by the vast majority of the population is a non-useful definition. Better to say that becoming a professional in certain fields is a very different process than in others, each very difficult for their own, unique reasons.

  7. My thoughts are with you, Mary. As a long-time staffer at a research library / archive / historical society, I’ve seen how difficult it is to get a large portion of the membership to participate in anything. I hope your diligence will be rewarded.

  8. I think the neatest part of this cast, for me, is that you don’t have to be American to join SFWA. I don’t know if New Zealand has an equivalent organisation, though we do, I think, have local writer’s organisations. Have to check to see if they have the same clout.

    But if they’re not made of as much awesome, when I eventually sell a novel, I could join SFWA. Neato.

  9. Love SFWA. Can’t wait to qualify for membership.

    But, with publishing changing so drastically and so fast, will SFWA ever let me join as a self publisher or podcaster or blogger?

    I understand the purpose of SFWA’s qualifications for membership, but I wonder if more and more legitimate writers will be excluded as publishing continues to evolve.

  10. I second Tony’s question. I’d love to join SFWA at some point, but with the radical changes in publishing I’ve decided to go the indie publishing route and forgo sending my stuff to traditional publishing venues until things settle down.

    The way things are going, I expect that several major houses will go under in the mid- to near-future, and if I can build a career just as well by going the indie route, why should I risk getting my intellectual properties entangled in a messy bankruptcy?

    Also, with all the ridiculous rights grabs that publishers are making these days, it makes a lot more sense to me to build a platform through epublishing my own work first, so that I have more weight to throw around when/if I decide to go with a trade publisher.

    How does SFWA fit into these changing equations?

  11. Just to make sure that we get really off topic, the reason the Olympics were opened to professional players is that the “amateurs” from communist countries were, while not receiving a paycheck for their time, full-time athletes. So, as it was easier/cheaper/more feasible/etc. to allow paid athletes to participate as opposed to trying to enforce (and define) true amateurism we now have NBA & NHL players participating in the Olympics.

  12. Going to stick my neck out…but I don’t know how helpful SFWA would be to indie-published authors. The things Mary talked about — list of others’ agents, negotiating contract disputes — don’t seem to apply.

    Even as not-a-member, I’ve greatly benefited from SFWA. My first education in SF/F writing was reading all the articles on the site, at least twice. Amazing! It gave me a good idea of how the industry worked early on, so I’ve never made any amazingly idiotic mistakes.

  13. Very informative – I’d wondered about why SFWA wasn’t offering insurance, glad to hear you guys are trying to fix that (and my sympathies on the red tape involved).

    I love the SFWA website – great resources there for public view (for those of us unable to venture into the members’ inner sanctums). I’ve seen the website recommended by many non SF&F pros, for everthing from from P&E to the Turkey City Lexicon.

  14. SFWA,

    My wife and I joined together. We waited until we had a big enough body of work so we could join together. Mary was instrumental in smoothing the admin bobbles along the way. Thanks much. Send your mail we will respond. Grin


    (Who writes technical papers for a town that does not exist and is in another universe.)

  15. This was one of the most helpful episodes yet. Listening to everyone’s input really helped illuminate some of the mistakes new writers make. If only, I could have that many experienced voices in my head. If possible, more please.

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