I have been a member of Romance Writers of America since the early 1990’s. In that time, I have seen a lot of issues roil the ranks of membership. It seems every few years, something decreed by the board causes an uproar, and unhappy members leave. Currently there are over 10,000 members in RWA, so the number of those departing seems to have a negligible impact on the organization as a whole.
The loss of these members is most felt is at the chapter level, especially the small chapters, where every member is known and prized. I belong to the Land of Enchantment Romance Authors (LERA), which is the chapter covering the entire state of New Mexico. Although our state strongly supports the various arts, our chapter ranges between 30 to 40 members. This range has remained constant throughout the years. Every time there is an upset at the national level, our chapter loses a few members. Others replace them as they learn about what we offer, but there is sorrow when we can no longer see our friends on a monthly basis.
Large chapters have the ability to bring in big names for their programs because they have a strong financial foundation. As a small chapter, to bring in a well-known author or editor as a speaker is expensive. First of all, there are very few direct flights to Albuquerque where we hold our meetings. Any speaker will have to change planes, and the distance is expensive in both traveling time and money. Our few members have to bear a heavier portion of the costs, or we must encourage non-members to attend.
Yet, belonging to a small chapter means everyone knows what project you’re working on, what successes or obstacles have arisen. We can cheer or commiserate as necessary. Writers speak the same language. Every survey our chapter has done praises the way our monthly meeting begins with each author introducing herself by name and what is happening writing-wise in her life. It’s one of our chapter’s strengths.
Yet, but by belonging to the national organization, we have access to the e-mail news about craft workshops, publishing notices (such as when a company goes under) and business instruction. These days, whether one is traditionally or indie published, an author needs to understand contract clauses and building her own social media platform. I have learned much through the network of workshops RWA provides through its conferences and on-line classes. Although I am attempting to write down my business plan, the important thing is I have made decisions about what I want to do. I’ve been able to research things I didn’t even know I didn’t know, such as: Some “experts” advise authors to use their web sites to sell their books directly to their readers. However, if you sell books through your web site in this state, you are subject to New Mexico’s gross receipts tax. (Not quite the same thing as a sales tax.) Because of this, I don’t sell any products through my web site. It’s not worth getting caught up in the clutches of the Department of Tax and Revenue. Belonging to LERA helped me to know about this decision and its financial ramifications.
For knowledge like this, I think it’s important to belong to a professional writing organization like RWA. There’s more to writing a book these days than just putting the words on a screen. If you want someone else to read it, the author must think of how to get the story into the reader’s hands, and that involves questions other authors can help you with. To meet these authors, you should belong to RWA. The wealth of knowledge you gain will quickly repay the amount you paid in dues.