How do you choose which authors' societies to join, and will they let you in, if you're an indie author? ALLi member Catriona Troth, part of the Triskele Books collective, is grateful for the support she has had from both the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Here she reports on the attitudes of various professional societies to self-published books and their authors.
Early in 2012, I wrote an article for Words with Jam magazine about writers’ professional organisations. ALLi was about to be launched, I had just interviewed Orna Ross, and I wanted to let the world know about this exciting new venture. I also wanted to celebrate the support I had received from organisations such as the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and to help other writers pick their way through the maze of different professional organisations and answer the question, ‘Where do I belong?’
What a Difference Two Years Makes
ALLi was still just a gleam in Orna’s eye back then, so it was hardly surprising that many of these organisations excluded self-published authors. But what does surprise me is what has happened in the two years since then. I am regularly asked to update the article to keep up with the latest trends, and my latest trawl through the various websites, checking on costs and conditions of membership, has proved a real eye opener.
Some organisations have relaxed their rules. The Writers’ Guild, for example, has introduced a points system whereby you require eight points to achieve full membership. A full-length, trade-published work earns you the full eight points, while each self-published work earns one point. Hardly a level playing field, but a big step in the right direction.
SCBWI are at great pains to define what they mean by works that are “published and listed”, including the requirement that “the publisher must publish works from more than one author and illustrator, or family.” However, many of their benefits are still available to members whose books don’t meet these criteria.
Others, however, look as if they have been trying hard to close loopholes that might allow self-published authors to creep through.
Surprising New Barriers
For instance, I found exclusions where the author “has a familial relationship with the publisher, editor, or any managerial employee, officer, director or owner of the publisher or book packager,” (so no setting up your publishing imprint in your spouse’s name). Or where the author works for a publisher or agent and “their responsibilities in any way affect whether or not a submitting writer’s work is accepted or rejected by that publisher or agent,” (neatly cutting out author collectives like Triskele).
The greatest disappointment was the (British) Romantic Novelists’ Association. Their newly revamped rules for membership now extend to a full page on their website. These include the extraordinary condition that “the author should bear no part of the cost of preproduction costs or processes, nor undertake tasks that relate to: editing, copy editing, typesetting or other production costs, cover art or any commercial distribution tasks or costs (excluding book sales at author events such as signings or conferences).”
I imagine that it would come as something of a shock to my trade-published friends currently working their way through the edits on their own books that they should not undertake “any tasks that relate to copy editing” or that their input with regard to cover art is not simply ignored but actually forbidden!
What is most surprising is that these rule changes happened despite the RNA having held a ballot of their members earlier this year which showed that 53% of respondents wanted membership opened to self-published authors who met certain criteria and a further 23% wanted a new category of membership for self-publishers.
More Work To Be Done
I am frustrated that so many organisations feel that they have to put labyrinthine barriers in the way of self-published authors. Inevitably, as more and more trade-published authors discover at first hand the benefits to be had from (e.g.) self-publishing the out-of-print backlists, change must come. However, it underlines how vital ALLi's #publishingopenup campaign – and the Opening Up To Indie Authors guide – is to foster greater acceptance of self-published authors and the recognition of their increasingly high standards.
“Authors' societies: should you join them? will they let you? New post by @L1BCat @IndieAuthorALLi https://selfpublishingadvice.org/opinion-societies/ #publishingopenup”
Groucho Marx Photo credit: Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons