Monday, September 10, 2012

The Value of Professional Organizations

I am a member of the League of Utah Writers. One day in my critique group, the question (in not so many words) came up as to what was the value of being a member? Some of my group members complained that they had already heard everything, their local chapter didn't share anything interesting, and the group tried to get them involved as soon as they showed up.

I've had several weeks to consider their perspectives and these are my thoughts about the importance of being part of a professional group:

  1. The most selfish (and in many cases, basic) reason is because it looks good for you. Agents/Editors are overwhelmed with submissions these days from people who think they are the next Stephanie Meyer, JK Rowling, or John Grisham. Frankly, they don't have the time to sift through all the crap. So, when a query letter indicates that this author is a member of a professionally recognized organization, the author automatically jumps to probably the top 5% of potential clients. Being a member of a professional organization indicates the author is serious about his/her writing, and they have already fixed a lot of the amateur problems because they've already learned how to recognize them.
  2. I agree that I've "heard it all."  I've been involved long enough that I rarely learn anything new. But sometimes there are new perspectives from an author that leads me a different direction. And not everyone has heard it all yet, so it is a good opportunity to share and learn from each other.
  3. I really enjoy being a part of the organization because of the friendships I've gained. My husband is really supportive of my writing, but he's not a writer, so he doesn't quite understand the difficulties or problems. Now some of you say, "Well, I'm in a critique group, and that fulfills my need to talk with other writers." That is true, but most of the time, successful critique groups have members that are approximately on the same skill level. Professional organizations have members of all abilities, including those who have more experience than you do. I've gained a lot of wisdom, knowledge, and advice from these more experienced writers. And let's be honest -- this is an industry that is very much about who you know more than what you know. A recommendation from the right person can make all the difference in the world.
  4. And finally, my chapter also struggles a bit with finding willing leadership, and so we do try to get people involved. The biggest problem seems to be either finding "time" (don't we all struggle with that?) or feeling incompetent. But I guess I don't have much tolerance for someone who says they don't enjoy the topics when they are unwilling to help. One who is in a leadership position has the opportunity to mold the group in the direction they would prefer to see. Also, I have served as President of my local chapter for a about a year and a half, and my service there has provided opportunities to further strengthen my resume, including professional presentations, and other leadership roles.
So, get involved.  If not for yourself (and I promise, there are benefits for everyone), then for the other less-experienced writers who could learn from you.