We started off The Writer’s Union of Canada symposium with the presenter announcing, “Self-publishing is mainstream!” Dead on and right on, brother! Come to Jesus! Most of the day was dedicated to authors taking hold of their careers, navigating through the logistics of self-publishing and going indie. As I’ve mentioned in several posts since, it was a great event filled with exciting information that went deep. The kick in the nuts didn’t come until the end of the day.
As we wrapped things up with questions to the presenters, someone asked if she qualified to join The Writers’ Union of Canada. Nope. It looked by the show of hands that about half of the attendees (at least) were not TWUC members, but they couldn’t join to lend their voice to Canadian professional writers. Publishers decide who is traditionally published and only if you are traditionally published does TWUC recognize you as a candidate for the union. (Yes, there’s an appeals process in which a committee could decide your worthiness on a case-by-case basis, but I didn’t get the feeling that opened a lot of doors for the great unwashed.*)
There are people within the union who want to change this, but there is resistance. Despite all the DIY enthusiasm and knowledge of self-publishing displayed at the symposium, so far it seems the only writers the union recognizes are — and will be for the foreseeable future — the traditionally published. The concern, they say, is about quality. I’ll grant you many self-published books suck. They often are not edited or are not edited well. (In fact, I wrote a blog post not long ago entitled Why self-publishing sucks (and what you can do about it.)
However, the larger point is, you don’t professionalize a group by shutting them out. You raise the standard by bringing them in. Amateurs often become professionals by mentoring and community interaction. Self-publishers can also bring a lot to the table. Many DIY authors will have a lot of information and support to share when many trad authors switch to independent publishing. (Gasp! We talk and share and know things, too! Imagine that!)
Here’s a secret: quality is a myth. You don’t use traditional publishers as gatekeepers. Not anymore. You already refuse to read much of what they publish. You have your unique tastes. You use curators you trust to let you know about a great book to read. Anyone reading this post could name several books traditionally published that, according to their lights, do not constitute “quality.” It’s all, trad or indie, subjective. Do I have to remind anyone that The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis was rejected by trad publishing? That book only saw the light of day (and won the Stephen Leacock Award and CBC’s Canada Reads contest) because Fallis self-published first.
The presenters were not necessarily against letting self-published writers in. They seemed to say that it was the system that was slow on the uptake. “It’s an evolution,” said one.
Yeah? Since we spent the day talking about the publishing revolution, maybe we should splice some DNA and catch up!
“Apply anyway,” another presenter advised. “If they (meaning the admissions committee) get enough applications, maybe they’ll be moved.”
Bewildered, one participant asked, “Why wouldn’t you be proactive and lead” by going ahead and accepting self-published authors? Good question. I asked him if he wanted to be president of a new self-published writers union. He grinned and said, “Sure!” The presenter looked at me with…was that disdain?
Opening up the TWUC membership means a larger, more powerful and better-financed union. Look at the Romance Writers of America. If you’re interested and actively pursuing a writing career, you’re in. That is a big tent that’s open to anyone interested in romance books. They’re big enough they could stand up to their biggest sponsor (Harlequin) when necessary.
A powerful union filled with fresh blood and entrepreneurial, proactive people makes a small union into a big (and relevant) union.
But why should you care? What’s the alternative? Well…I’m not trying to start anything here, but since TWUC isn’t being especially proactive, there is a huge opportunity to start up a union for self-published writers. If you’re DIY, you could join, hold events, help with disputes, etc.,… Oh, and get some fucking respect.
I’m not saying we should. I’m saying we could if TWUC continues at a glacial pace while the old media models implode around them. The crazy part is there are forces within TWUC that agree. Apparently there aren’t enough of those like-minded individuals on the admissions committee. We could unionize. Should we? There are benefits, though if TWUC loosens up we wouldn’t have to invent that wheel.
Maybe they better move before you take the idea of a Self-published Writers of Canada and run with it. (SWOC? Nah, that’s the Steel Workers.) Shutting out the self-published is a major tactical error considering the self-published are a determined group of people who don’t take kindly asking permission to do things. We are all about git ‘er done, DIY ASAP.
Brain food, comrade. If they aren’t as forward-thinking as their own symposium, they could go from The Writers’ Union of Canada to A Writers’ Union of Canada.
*Alternatives? Where you live, there’s some kind of association of varying applicability to your writing career, amiability and varying strength.
Here’s a list of links which is by no means comprehensive: The Canadian Authors Association, the Editors Association of Canada and the Periodical Writers Association of Canada, the Horror Writers Association, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, SF Canada, Crime Writers Association (UK), Crime Writers of Canada, Mystery Writers of America and the aforementioned Romance Writers of America . Check each association’s membership criteria and see if their goals match your own. Another aspect to consider is how active each organization is in your area.
Tomorrow’s posts: If you’re up early, a style ruling on when to use “each other” instead of “one another” (well, never ‘use’ another human being) and at 11:45 EST, one of the good things The Writers’ Union of Canada is trying to do. You know me, I’m all about the yin/yang balance of the universe.
- Writers: Why self-publishing sucks (and what you can do about it) (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Self-publishing resources (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Dump your preconceptions (and your word processor) (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Self-publishing links (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Are you skeptical about self-publishing? (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Writers: Self-published book wins big on CBC’s Canada Reads (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)