Why This Indie Author Won’t Be Joining the Writers’ Union of Canada

Canadian novelist Maia Sepp takes the Writer’s Union of Canada to task over its attitude to independent authors.

Canadian novelist Maia Sepp, author of

Maia Sepp, author of “The Sock Wars”

I’m disappointed in the Writer’s Union of Canada’s membership committee’s recent announcement of their decision to (potentially) include indie writers. Instead of innovating with an eye to the future, the union chose to adopt a two-tiered membership requirement, an act that simply reinforces negative stereotypes about indie writers – that the quality just isn’t there, that novels with “big ideas” can only come out of publishing houses.

The current requirement for union membership is a single attribute: “(y)ou must have had a trade book published by a commercial or university press” (or equivalent). The proposed membership rules for indies are threefold: novels have to have ISBNs, “commercial intent,” and be peer reviewed. I’ll put aside commercial intent (if it’s for sale, it’s commercial), and ISBNs, which are easily obtainable, and focus on the peer reviewed requirement.

Limiting Opportunities

In Canada’s publishing climate, the opportunity for review (particularly for non-literary or genre work) is so slim as to be non-existent, particularly when so many review avenues are closed to indies as a matter of policy. It’s equally telling that the union doesn’t specify exactly what this requirement means in real terms – but felt the need to include this kludge, so they can reassure traditionally published union members that there won’t be hordes of indies breaking the doors down and taking resources away from real writers.

Limited Knowledge

Should Canadian indies consider applying to the union? I’m baffled as to why they’d want to join an organization that didn’t even feel the need to communicate what they bring to the table vis-a-vis the unique needs of indie writers in their recent announcement. Mired in the way things used to be, what does the union know about indie publishing today that I don’t? With my contacts in the digital sphere, the incredible generosity of indie writers in terms of information-sharing, as well as support from organizations like ALLi, I’m more up-to-date on indie and digital issues than the union is. And the Canadian Author’s Association doesn’t have a closed membership policy, so why not join a organization that has historically had an eye towards emerging and indie Canadian writers? Why accept second-class status in the union?

Finally, what will it mean when a writer sells thousands of books but fails to secure a review or secret handshake from a union tribunal?* That they’re not really a professional writer? That they’re not part of Canada’s cultural landscape? I find that preposterous. And until the rules to join the union are the same for everyone, I’m just not interested.

* (see comment from jkdegen)

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13 Responses to Why This Indie Author Won’t Be Joining the Writers’ Union of Canada

  1. Good post. I absolutely appreciate this site.

    Stick with it!

  2. Dianne Greenlay June 26, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    Maia, I’m a Canadian writer, too, and any so-called professional body that shows such archaic rigidity in its membership requirements seems like just too much work (for us) to bring their knowledge level up to current standards in the publishing world.

    Yes, that’s right – THEY are the ones behind and out of touch with today’s publishing opportunities and seemingly unaware of the shift towards the “directly-from-the-author-to-the-reader” model that has evolved, and THEY are the ones needing to be shown the way by Indies, who, as you and Martin pointed out have a far greater and up-to-date knowledge base in all aspects of publishing, publicity, and marketing, than such a group could ever offer us.

    With all the support and information that is provided with membership in ALLi, there is simply no advantage to joining the Writers’ Union of Canada.

  3. James Fontana June 25, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    Way to go Maia. What oft’ was thought but ne’er so well expressed.

  4. Martin Crosbie June 25, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

    Well said, Maia. I’m in BC and I’ve been critical of our provincial writer’s association. I agree with your point at the end of your article-I know more about the self-publishing industry than the writer’s federations do. Not really sure why I need them. So, even though they opened the door a crack they won’t be getting my membership fees.

    • Maia Sepp June 26, 2013 at 4:38 am #

      Thanks, Martin. I really find their attitude fascinating. I wrote a comment on the union’s announcement page two weeks ago and never got a response. I tweeted Orna Ross at ALLi about the decision and got an answer back from her…the same day. Kinda shows the difference in attitudes, I think.

    • Alyssa Linn Palmer June 26, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

      I don’t even know if my province has a writer’s association. (AB) It probably does, but I’m not especially inclined to seek them out, for the same reasons.

  5. Alyssa Linn Palmer June 25, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    When I first saw the news, I thought, ‘Hey, that might be cool.’ …but then I saw how they held their noses. Any organization who does that with indie writers will never get my membership.

  6. Dianne Ascroft June 25, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Yes, writers unions and such organisations are definitely focussed on traditionally published writers. The Society of Authors in the UK acknowledges self-published authors but it only accepts a self-published author for membership if his/her book has sold more than 300 print copies or 500 ebooks within a 12 month period. They intend to call the shots, it seems.

    • Maia Sepp June 26, 2013 at 4:33 am #

      I’ve heard that, Dianne. I wonder how many indies have joined…

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