What RWA Has Done for Me Lately

Dramatic sunset last night. And I got more happy news yesterday, which I should be able to share next week. Hopefully the world won’t end in two weeks, because I have plans.

There’s been some bruhaha over in the hallowed halls of RWA lately. One of the special interest chapters, Women’s Fiction, is being disbanded because their mission and bylaws don’t match RWA’s. RWA, being the Romance Writers of America, has the mission of furthering the romance genre. The Women’s Fiction chapter deliberately focused on fiction for women that are not romances. The chapter bylaws were apparently quite clear on this and some members were even asked to leave (with no acrimony, dues refunded) because their work did not meet the Women’s Fiction definition. All of this has come into play because of increased IRS scrutiny of non-profit tax-exempt organizations. Organizations with this status cannot have subsidiaries with bylaws that are in conflict with the umbrella organization.

All very dry and not really what I want to talk about today.

Amidst all the debate – and there’s been a fair amount of lively and mostly polite debate on the forums and email loops – one person said that RWA had never done one thing to advance her career. A couple of people called her on it, but I’d like to take it a step further.

I am a believer in professional organizations. The strength in numbers created by people of like minds can have a massive impact on the world, creating a smooth path that newcomers sometimes never appreciate.

I think of this with the women’s movement. So many young women refuse to identify themselves as feminists. That’s because we have the enormous luxury of not needing to. We can vote, hold office, walk about unescorted, obtain any job we wish, control our own money, cannot be owned or traded like property. All important qualities for being an independent human being – and all things that women did not use to have, and that many women around the world today do not have. It’s only a non-issue for the women enjoying the rights the women before us fought for.

Unions are a huge topic of conversation today. The impact of unions on our economy, creating in many cases unsustainable – even ridiculous – organizational and fiscal scenarios. But we can’t forget how unionization changed the face of our world following the industrial revolution. We take for granted our five-day work week, 8- or 9-hour days with breaks to eat, as if these are basic rights. Of course little kids go to school and can’t work in factories. But all of these “basic rights” are only there for us to take for granted because our predecessors banded into unions and fought for it.

Now, comparing a professional organization for writers of romance looks a bit weak in the face of these profound battles, but the principle is there. For a romance writer – and member of RWA – to say the organization has never done one thing for her only demonstrates that we have no idea what we’d be facing if RWA had never existed.

There’s a reason that the RWA president has to have published at least five books (I think that’s the right number), because our president must be experienced in the industry, with a credible level of clout for dealing with publishers and literary agencies. What if romance writers never had that public face to represent us?

We all know that romance has long been the sneered-upon bastard stepchild of the reading world – despite its tremendous sales. What kind of conversations would we be having about romance without those sales numbers that RWA compiles and shouts to the world?

For myself, I can vouch that RWA has opened more doors for me and provided the greatest community than any other writers organization I’ve been part of. And I’ve been in quite a few – from arts councils to small critique groups. The conferences, local chapters, online chapters and other communities in RWA have given me an array of tools and friendships that I could never attempt to quantify.

More, I feel certain that those writers who banded together back in 1981 created a smooth road for me. There are all sorts of things I take for granted that might not be there without our powerful and respected professional organization.

I’m proud and grateful to be a member.

18 Replies to “What RWA Has Done for Me Lately”

  1. Jeffe — Nicely said. We each have our own reasons to be part of RWA, and the organization certainly has helped me, too. I’ll be serving as president of our local chapter, OCC/RWA, next year. That said, all the women’s fiction I’ve read — just about — does contain that “romantic element” so it’s a tough distinction for me to make.

    Have a good day.

    1. Thanks Louisa! And yes – that “romantic elements” thing is a sticker. How much is enough? For myself, I think self-identifying as a writer of romance suffices. It’s when things are in official bylaws that it gets harder to deal with.

    1. It’s true. And I was amused by your introduction of actual facts. *gasp*

      (though I think chapter bylaws often state that associate members can’t be on the chapter board, fwiw)

      1. Chapter bylaws vary. I don’t know how much RWA is going to dictate those in the future since they are undergoing change. The RWA bylaws and P&P do NOT specify that ass’s can’t hold any chapter positions. LIKE most people want to do that anyway, you know? It’s a scrabble every year to find volunteers. I have also followed up with the RWA employee who answered my question originally to inquire why the public version of the website seems to be at odds with the Bylaws and P&P. I think the “rules” are different for Ass members who are writers and Ass members who are acquiring editors, and the public rules seem to assume all Asses will be editors. I have it in writing that Ass members (YES I KNOW I KEEP WRITING ASS, AND LAUGHING) can join PRO and PAN and other things.

        1. You’re so funny. And you’re right about the chapter positions – but many chapters make the chapter bylaws mirror National’s and thus they incorporate that piece about their own boards too. For better or worse.

  2. Great article, Jeffe. I would not be published if it wasn’t for the things I’ve learned in RWA. My local chapter has some of the nicest artists I’ve ever worked with, in any industry. I also appreciate the way RWA works to give the romance industry the respect we deserve. I hope that RWA continues to evolve the way they treat digitally published authors, but I think that will work itself out. The industry keeps changing so fast! But I agree. I am proud to be a member of RWA.

  3. Well said. When I began on this journey to publication RWA provided me with information, with eduaction and a road map. I’ve serves as historian ,vice president for my local chapter, without which I don’t think I would have kept writing, at least as consistently. Every organization has it’s challenges. it also has rules it has to follow if it wants to remain in existence. And we all have to play by and within the rules. (even if they suck)

  4. I think the problem is that most people are consumers. They think that being part of an organisation only means that organisation should do something for them. They never stop to think about what they in turn can do for that organisation.
    Well, that’s my experience anyway.

  5. Hear hear! A thousand percent!

    I couldn’t agree more and I think the comparisons to bloog-n-guts acitivism are more than justified. Like you, I’m a passionate believer in professional organization sand the power of collective bargaining…and not so long ago romance was treated as something shameful and inept. It’s all too easy for us to squat in the now and pretend that we aren’t standing on the shoulders of giants. RWA has spent 30+ years changing the landscape of media culture to claim a space that I’m honored to occupy.

    1. Wow, Damon – how did you come across that old post?? But so glad you agree, and that you reminded me I wrote this. I’m honored, too, to be part of RWA – and to have met you at the national conf!

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