I joined the SFWA (Science Fiction& Fantasy Writers of America) on Friday, something I’ve wanted to do since I started down this path of becoming a writer. However, like many organizations out there, sometimes you can’t just sign up simply because you want to. In this case, you have to be a published author in order to join. Since I’ve officially sold, I qualify and they were very happy to take me in. (And now I can rub shoulders with George R. R. Martin. Well, not really, but I can pretend, anyway.)
It’s an interesting problem, especially for aspiring authors. You want to join professional writing groups to prove that you’re taking this venture seriously…but you can’t, because you haven’t proved yourself yet. (Just like finding a job, eh?) And hey, even getting pubbed isn’t always enough – for example, I can’t join Novelists Inc yet, because I actually have to have two or more books pubbed in order to qualify. (Not sure if the sale counts or if the books have to have actually hit the shelf, but I have more than enough on my plate right now, so I’m not worrying about it.)
I think for a lot of writers, the issue is that they need to find the right organization for the level they are at. For example, SFWA has more things to offer a published writer, as far as networking and advocacy go. And although there is some good information for new writers, someone who is brand new may need more advice than what they offer.
Now, in the past, I’ve been accused of being an “RWA groupie.” I wouldn’t say I go that far, but I still believe it was a great place for me to get my feet wet. Back when I first started, I didn’t know where I was going or how to go about it. I knew I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to get pubbed, but that was it. When I started prodding a little deeper, it was very disheartening to try to sort through all the information coming at me (epubs, trad pubbing, agents, editors, GMC, ack!). I knew I wasn’t really a romance writer, but I did like romantic elements in my stories, and for RWA that was enough – the beauty of their organization is that you don’t have to be pubbed to take advantage of what they offer.
In my case, it wasn’t the membership itself that I cared that much about, but the fact that I could use it to get into other subgroups of RWA (like FF&P or Passionate Ink, for example), as well as access to tons of workshops and contests. Places I could go and learn and network with other writers in the same writing space as me. Now, RWA is large enough that they also have tiers, PRO for writers who have submitted work and been rejected and PAN, for published authors. And again, each subgroup has its own interests – after all, a member of PAN probably doesn’t need a workshop on how to write a query, but they may need more information on how to pay their taxes in regards to an advance.
The point is that unless you’ve got a mentor of some sort to help you navigate, such organizations are very helpful. Writing can be an isolating endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be, especially given the resources available now via the internet. Try some on for size…if you don’t mesh with a certain group, move on until you find one that suits your needs.