Friday, August 01, 2008

Renew or not renew?

Charles here, pondering why I waited until 10pm to post the entry I wrote last night.

Yesterday I got a past-due renewal note from the Mystery Writers of America. They politely pointed out that I’m behind on my 2008 dues, and that if I wanted to remain a member in good standing, I had better ante up quick. And that’s the thing—do I want to be a member?

I’m not a joiner by nature and in the past when I did join something it turned out to be more work and a lot less enjoyable than I had hoped. Like when I joined the Army. Sure, it looked like fun, but then they don’t show you all the non-fun stuff you end up doing. I joined a softball league a few years ago and, other than the post-game beers, it was nothing but a lot of running and “fun” exercise. Now since I joined the MWA, they haven’t made me run, but who knows what they got planned?

I first joined the MWA because I thought I had to. Not legally had to, just had to. They had just nominated Relative Danger for their prestigious Best First Mystery award and I felt I sort of owed it to them. So I sent my check and, less than 6 months later, got my business card-size Official Membership Card, allowing me access to all the perks and privileges afforded to members in good standing. It also put me on the official mailing list, ensuring I would receive official publications. I’ve been a dues-paying member now for 4 years—do I want to make it 5?

There are some good perks that I could access—like a fund for writers who have fallen on hard times, a mentoring program for new writers, a link to experts on poisons and the law and copyright—but I really haven’t found a need. I do get the mailings, usually informing me about weeknight meeting in Manhattan, a mere 6 hours away. They also send me a newsletter that has a couple good (short) pieces each month (plus pages of stuff I don’t read, like MWA Chapter Updates and proposed changes to sub-section 2A-7 of the MWA bylaws). And when I go to a larger convention, I can attend a cocktail reception (free wine and cash bar) hosted by the MWA. Also, as a member, I have the privilege of attending the yearly Edgar’s Week festivities in New York City. True, I have to pay for a room and transportation and then pay the conference fee itself, but as a member, I have that right! All for just $125 a year. [CORRECTION: $95. CB]

I give more than just the money. For 3 years I have volunteered for the mentor program, reading selections of manuscripts by pre-published authors. It’s a lot of work—I read my assigned submission at least three times before writing my 500-1000 word critique. And I’ve submitted a proposal for creating a high school level Mysteries in the Classroom website for teachers, but that fizzled out I guess since I haven’t heard a word on it in six months.

Rose thinks I should just go ahead and pay. “You’re lucky to be eligible and you never know what it’ll bring your way.” Perhaps. But last night I made a two-column list—on one side, the benefits I’ve enjoyed as a member of the MWA; on the other, promotional things I could have done with the time and money instead. Guess which side is longer?

What say you? Are professional organizations like the MWA (or the CWC or the International Thriller Writers) worth the cost of membership?

9 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

Having been on the executive of one of these types of organizations in many capacities, I can say unequivocally that they can and often do a lot of good. Many of the things most members see are in terms of (as you pointed out), "What are you doing for me?" There's more to it than that.

One thing I have discovered is that writers are exceptionally self-focused (in many ways we have to be) and view themselves as being exceptionally busy. "I don't have time for that," is a constant cry.

Writers' organizations can help with a number of things their members can't or won't do. For instance, they can advocate on behalf of their members with governments. They give awards which heightens public awareness of what we do. We would not have the Public Lending Rights Commission here in Canada if it weren't for the advocacy of the Writers' Union. I get a very nice cheque every year from this because my books are in libary collections in Canada and the PLRC tracks this.

I think that's worth the price of admission.

Charles benoit said...

If you're Canadian.

As far as promoting reading, I doubt that the MWA - or any organization - is about to turn around a culture bent on not reading (or not reading as much as I'd like them to be reading). And with about a thousand members, there's no way the MWA can promote us as individuals or even as a group - a cozy is not a hard boiled and who knows where I'd fit in. I hear you Rick, but I'm still not convinced. I need to hear from more of you.

Phyllis Smallman said...

Hi Charles,

As membership chairman of the Crime Writers of Canada I have strong feelings about your posting.

To begin with I met you at a MWA conference in Florida, Sleuthfest, and went right out and bought Relative Danger so you made at least one sale off your membership. And how many sales came from being nominated for an Edgar? Remember how great you looked in that tux for the picture in the national newsletter? That must have generated a ton of sales and I bet all your publicity says "Edgar nominated author." By the way, is there any news of a recount yet?

And if it's all about networking, and there's no one better at networking than you, Charles, how would we network without an association in place? How did you end up on a blog with all these Canadians...wouldn't be because you met them through the CWC would it?

As for myself, I would never have been published without Crime Writers of Canada. I won the Arthur Ellis Award for unpublished manuscripts and this led directly to a contract with McArthur and Co. Instead of being published last April, Margarita Nights would still be a file on my computer without CWC.

I hate phrases like the greater good, you didn't hear it from me, but damn it, sometimes we just have to do things for that very reason. I know the people you mentored felt they got more than the price of their membership from your comments. We don't pay back, we pay it forward.

And did I mention the importance of having a bio on the CWC web-site with a link to your own web-site?
At this point over 30% of my referrals come through this link, the largest single referral site, marketing, marketing, marketing.

So listen to Rose and send in your dues. I'll be sending out your renewal to CWC shortly.

Cheers
Phyllis Smallman

Vicki Delany said...

I sort of side with Charles. We don't have unlimited funds, so we have to decide where to put them. I belong to Sisters in Crime (dues due to the local chapter AND the larger organization), CWC, and the Writers Union. At the beginning of the year, that's a lot of money to fork out. The question has to be: what is XX going to do for me? Of them all, I think the CWC is the most worthwhile. Cool Canadian Crime goes out to a lot of bookstores and libraries. Particuarly if you're not with a publisher with a big promo budget, that's exposure you need.

Charles benoit said...

I've heard from a LOT of folks off line on the pros and cons of renewing. Right now it's running 60% in favor of mailing that check. "See," Rose pointed out earlier, "I told you so."

Vicki Delany said...

Charles, look in your junk mail folder to see if you have any messages from me.

Lou Allin said...

As a Canadian author in a small press (may I mention that authors from our press have won three of the last four Arthur Ellis awards for Best Crime Novel?), I don't have money to burn either, but I do belong to Sisters in Crime and Crime Writers of Canada.

What do I get for my $95 Canadian from the CWC? My bio and picture on their website, all of my events noted monthly in their bulletin, my latest books listed in Cool Canadian Crime, a e-subscription that goes out to over two thousand readers internationally (many of whom are librarians), and so many connections that I've given up counting.

Recently I joined the executive of the CWC as BC VP, an honour which gave me insight on how hard people work in the background so that events like the Ellis Award banquet, the shortlist parties, National Canadian Crime Writing Week (or month as we will soon make it) can take place. Someone organizes, sends e-mails, liaisons with people at the venues, even buys a celebratory cake. I used to merely participate. Now I realize that work has to be done for all of us to help each other.

I haven't yet "used" my Sisters in Crime connections, but I plan to do that for our upcoming Bloody Words Convention here in Victoria in 2009. I intend to use my members catalogue to contact every Sister in Washington State and Oregon to invite them personally.

So to add to this thread one more idea, it's not just belonging. It's adding your talents to the brew. That's why I'm glad Phyllis Smallman has taken over as Membership Chair. We've already established a new high in numbers.

Charles benoit said...

The check went in the mail this morning.

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