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Opinion: Professional Societies – Opening Doors or Putting Up Barriers?

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.

Photo of Groucho Marx

Don’t be like Groucho Marx, who famously said “I refuse to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” (See foot of page for photo credit)

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.

Headshot of Catriona Troth

Catriona Troth, indie author and member of many helpful authors’ societies

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.

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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

 

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8 Responses to Opinion: Professional Societies – Opening Doors or Putting Up Barriers?

  1. Linda Maye Adams August 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    It looks like the writing organizations were caught off guard by all the changes in the industry that happened following that, just like the publishing industry. They used to have a lock solid definition of “success” and it was blown out of the window. Given the comments on both sides of the Amazon-Hatchett issue, you probably won’t see any major changes until the old guard disappears. I think indie publishing scares a lot of the professional writers because they all saw how much of a horror it was during the early years — a place where you went because you weren’t going to ever be able to get published. Their heads are still going to back to that, and not that publishing has gotten so focused on instant hits that they’re strangling themselves right out of finding new blood.

  2. Catriona Troth July 23, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    Alison, I am very glad to hear such a positive account from you. That list of rules on the website is formidable and must be pretty off-putting for some authors. It is good to know that the attitude behind those words is much more welcoming.

  3. Alison Morton July 22, 2014 at 8:56 am #

    I think it’s very difficult for writing associations at the moment. Everything that was so clear and defined is being stirred up. Is it any wonder some of them are gasping for breath and feeling defensive? Leaving aside the murky metaphors, I think organisations *are* trying to adapt. The human default is risk-averse; this goes back beyond the Stone Age and as we know with the dieting/fitness conundrum we face today, pushing against out intrinsic natures is very difficult.

    I’m a “New Writer” member of the RNA, unable to graduate into full membership at present even though I have three books on the market. But the RNA is a lovely, nurturing organisation with so much going for it and doesn’t really deserve all the opprobrium being heaped on it.

    Saying that, I and many other SP find the current rules frustrating. However, the committee and members are well aware of this and are taking positive steps. The Romance Writers of Australia, who were the RNA’s delightful guests at the conference earlier this month, have found a solution and I saw RNA committee members scribbling furiously in their notebooks during that particular session…

    Change is on its way. Be a little patient. It’s coming.

  4. Pia Fenton July 21, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    The criteria for membership were drawn up long before we held our ballot and this was only added to our website to make it easier for any potential member to check whether they are eligible or not.
    Although 53% of members may have voted for a specific option in our ballot, you didn’t mention the fact that our Constitution demands a two thirds majority for any changes to take place (ie. 66%).
    The matter is still under consideration by the RNA’s committee and we have set up a sub-committee to look into it further.
    Pia Fenton (RNA Chair)

    • Debbie Young July 21, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

      Pia, thank you very much for clarifying the RNA’s position there. I’m sure everyone will be very glad that the matter is still under consideration by the RNA’s committee, with a special subcommittee too. If you do decide to change your rules to allow full membership to indie authors, please do let us know so that we can spread the word to all our readers, who I’m sure will be hear about it.
      .

  5. Warren Shuman July 21, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

    Hello Catriona:

    It’s an old story. Politics: preserve the staus quo… They are scared by the burgeoning Indie Authors’ successes. Instead of inviting new ideas, they try to preserve the “We always did this way… ” mentality, much to their future regret. They don’t believe in Adapt and Survive.

    Best of Success.

    Wrren.

  6. clare weiner July 21, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    I’m sorry about the family suspicion: it depends on the family … ours happens to be well equipped with professionals (e.g. at proof and copy editing) and the only reason I have ‘used’ them. It’s a ‘family firm’, but wd be excluded on the grounds of people who have no experience, knowledge, or qualifications in publishing. Everyone would be quite rude if I were trying to push them to treat me differently, and even NOT paying ‘mate’s rates’ to a son, I am still very much at the back of the queue for his free-lance work.

  7. Pauline Baird Jones July 21, 2014 at 5:29 pm #

    Special Snowflake syndrome. If “everyone” can do it, then no one is special and by dang, I jumped through all those hoops and I should be special!

    Been hearing variations on this theme since I first ventured into digital publishing in 1998. The “we have to protect authors” was favorite “argument.” Another good one was, “You’re hurting all of us if you don’t publish the way we do.” I was even told that it was “better” for me to make no money, than make some money publishing the “wrong” way. LOL

    For me, the criteria about who to join is very simple. Can they –WILL they — help me do better and support MY business model? If they can’t or won’t, bye-bye.

    My business. My life. My choice. Oh, and my dues money.

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