I want to talk a little bit about how I found RWA, why it’s important, and how you can get the most out of your dues money every month. The key? Participation. But let’s take a few steps back.
I’ve wanted to be a published author since I knew books were a thing. The first thing I ever wrote was a story about a mouse who steals cheese, complete with illustrations, when I was five years old. When I was a teenager, I spent a lot of time in my hometown’s indie bookstore, spending my allowance money on paperbacks and fantasizing about the time when one of those books would bear my name.
I have a degree in English lit, and for awhile after college, I thought I was writing capital-L Literature, so it took me longer than it probably should have to realize that what interested me most were the relationships between the characters, and so I was really writing romance. It took a few more years for me to really find my voice and decide on the kinds of books I wanted to write. I was finally ready in 2009, and I had a manuscript I had faith in, so I submitted it to a publisher.
The rest would be history, but one of the things I wish in hindsight is that I’d had someone to tell me even half of what I now know about the industry. I had no plan for marketing, no real author brand, no career plan, not even a really solid idea for the next book.
What I had were years of experience working in the publishing industry. Like a stubborn teenager, I thought I knew everything. And, sure, I’d worked in editorial and production, so I knew how books were made. But I didn’t know how to be an author.
I joined RWA in 2011, about a year after my first book came out. By then, I had a second book out and a few more in the works. I joined RWA because it seemed like a logical thing to do. I was a romance author, after all. Romance authors join RWA.
I didn’t do anything with that membership. I didn’t go to RWA conferences or even local chapter meetings. I waited for the benefits to come to me, but nothing happened. After a year, I was questioning whether I should renew, because I wasn’t really getting anything out of it.
But then a now-defunct RWA chapter in the south excluded LGBT books from their contest.
RWA has not always been welcome, and as an organization, it still has some work to do, but what I got out of that particular incident was that there were people in RWA who wanted to further the cause of diverse romance, who agreed with me that romance is romance and so it all belongs under the same umbrella, regardless of the gender or race of the characters. I was writing romances in which men fell in love with each other, and once the dust cleared from this particular scandal, I felt welcomed into RWA. I happily renewed my dues.
And then I thought, I should work a little harder to get something out of this.
So in 2012, I went to my first local chapter meeting. I left the meeting feeling supported and inspired. I kept coming back. And now I’m the president of the chapter.
I think there are probably a lot of members who are wondering, “But what’s in this for me? Why do I pay dues every year?” Well, here are a few of them:
• Networking. RWA meetings and events are a great way to meet industry professionals and other writers, to build your support network and get advice on everything from crafting your book to where to submit to marketing the book once it’s published.
• Education. RWANYC has a program at every meeting intended to teach something to our members, but there are other educational opportunities available as well at conferences and online classes offered by other chapters and the national organization.
• Outreach. RWA, both nationally and locally, continues to reach out to media and booksellers, and has become an important advocate for its members. This includes guiding authors away from unscrupulous publishers and fighting to help diverse romance gain recognition and acceptance.
The thing about an organization like this is that you get out what you put in. If you don’t participate, you won’t get much out of it. Participation doesn’t have to mean a big time commitment unless you want to make it. I personally have found serving on chapter boards to be rewarding, but I get that not everyone has the leadership aspirations I do.
But I can tell you that, since I started attending meetings, I’ve met a ton of wonderful people, I’ve found allies within my particular publishing niche, and I’ve learned so much that I don’t believe I could have learned anywhere else. I absolutely believe that my membership and participation have enriched both my writing and my writing career. But I didn’t start to really gain any of that until I got more actively involved.
If you haven’t been to a meeting in a while, consider coming back! Start there and see what you get out of it. If you want to do a little more, there are small ways to get involved. Attend a critique meeting. Volunteer to help out at one of our chapter’s events. Drop by a Board meeting to get a feel for what that’s like. Or shoot me an email and we’ll talk about what you can do.
The whole romance industry has changed by leaps and bounds in the six years since my first book came out. Self-publishing has been a game changer, but so have the growing audiences for erotic, LGBT, and multicultural romances. I wish sometimes that I could go tell my 6-years-ago self some of what I now know, but what I can do is apply it going forward, and to keep learning and doing and improving.♥
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate McMurray is President of RWA/NYC, and an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She also served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.