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By Association: Should You Join a Writing Organization?

Freelance writers are plunking down annual membership fees to join a spectrum of writers’ and authors’ associations. But is it worth it?

To find out, the Freelance Strategist spoke with members of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)Association of Independents in Radio (AIR)National Book Critics Circle (NBCC), and New York Financial Writers Association (NYFWA).

Moral Support

As a newcomer to the freelance game, New York-based freelance writer and multimedia producer Aurora Almendral joined AIR for its pitching insights.

However, thanks to AIR’s email blast, which hooks members up with gigs, tips, and each others’ latest stories, she says she’s found much more: “You wake up every morning, see that, and feel like you’re a part of a community.”

Similarly, Caitlin Kelly, veteran freelance journalist, author, and longtime ASJA member notes that “writing is very isolating. You tend to be alone all day long.” However, ASJA offers password-protected, confidential online forums on which members can post everything from writing tips to writing gripes.

“If you say, ‘I’ve had a terrible time with X magazine, you get feedback like, ‘Oh my God, yes!’ Then you have what you need, which is a reality check.” Kelly said. “There’s an extraordinary camaraderie.”

Writers’ organizations can make otherwise alienated freelance writers feel a bit more connected, even if it’s just online.

Valuable Connections

Members raved most about the connections they’ve made. Arlington-based freelance writer and ASJA member Merlisa Lawrence Corbett met with editors and literary agents at ASJA’s Annual Conference during their members only session.

“You sit down with literary agents to pitch your book,” she said. “It was really valuable to get feedback and face time with these agents and editors.”

Thanks to their guidance, Corbett is now finishing the memoir that she workshopped at the conference.

Sheila Mullan, a reporter for Market News International and longtime member of NYFWA, says that she’s met sources as well as like-minded peers who give her insights into other sides of the industry. “I’ve made contacts at banks, I’ve made contacts with publicity people, I’ve met people at all kinds of different wire services, TV networks, magazines,” she said.

But what about tangible results?

Mullan says, “I do freelance work for the [New York] Post Sunday business section. I don’t think I would have landed that connection without going through this group.” Similarly, an ASJA connection helped Kelly land a personal finance column, which scored her $5,000.

The only caveat? Kelly advises that writers must give to an association just as much as they get; the selfish need not apply. “Volunteer immediately,” she says. “The minute you put your hand up, people know, ‘This person really has energy and time,’ and when you need help, they’ll vouch for you.”

For a freelance writer who can truly contribute to the community, an association may be worth the effort.

“Sometimes you can make a connection that can save you years and years of building up your network,” Mullan said.

Long-Term Career Growth

“My feeling is, there’s nothing more important than keeping the literary world going,” says Susan Shapiro, author, New School journalism professor, and NBCC member. In a landscape where print publishing dwindles, one way a freelancer can secure long-term career growth is to support the media ecosystem.

As a NBCC member, Shapiro helped authors’ careers by reviewing their books. As a board member, she and others endowed outstanding authors with prestigious NBCC awards. And now as a veteran member, she hosts panels, many of them free, that support new writers and authors.

Shapiro has hosted panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival, including one on how to break into book reviews and features. “I’ve had the best agents and editors come and speak,” she said, adding she recently did one with Ian Frazier of The New Yorker.

So whether a freelancer is a beginner looking for guidance or a veteran climbing further up the ladder, writers’ and authors’ associations can offer the moral support, professional connections, and long-term growth to bolster her career.

Kelly says, “You’re not going to get that off of LinkedIn.”

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes/flickr

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