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Opportunity knocks? Self-published writers could unionize (plus association links for writers)

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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.

Filed under: authors, Books, DIY, ebooks, getting it done, publishing, Rant, Rejection, self-publishing, Writers, Writing Conferences, , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lorina Stephens, Robert Chute. Robert Chute said: Opportunity knocks? Self-published writers could unionize (plus association links for writers) http://wp.me/pRG3O-Uf […]

  2. JHHCanada says:

    I agree with some of your thoughts here; I think that TWUC was saying, we’d like to include self-published writers but, “we have to figure out how we would judge the quality of the work.” They’re currently delegating that responsibility to traditional publishers: “if a publishing house says you’re good, we’ll assume you are.” And while that’s not *always* going to be true, it’s not a terrible benchmark. I suppose TWUC could organize some kind of submissions committee that judges self-published work – or perhaps unpublished work (why would it even have to be self-published?) – but who has time for that volunteer job? TWUC was asked why there has to be some assurance that members are publishing “quality” work, and their response was that when you are trying to lobby the government it’s important that you have credibility via a high-quality membership. A good example here is the CA organization. High standards demanded of their membership and very high clout. Of course, the CAs have to pass one of the most rigorous series of exams out there – and maybe that’s the answer. TWUC? How about a writing and editing exam (CAs also have to pass a lengthy and complicated internship)? If TWUC is dragging its feet on this (and they probably are), it’s likely because it’s a huge issue with massive ramifications – and it’s a logistical nightmare. There are no easy answers.

  3. Chazz says:

    It’s interesting that came up when you were there, as well. (I gathered you were at the Friday symposium and I was there Saturday.) I agree with you there aren’t easy answers, though somebody should start coming up with some answers.

    I’m skeptical about the quality argument. I suspect that’s an old media, nose in the air thing. What impresses governments (and I say this as someone who has worked as a lobbyist) is numbers. United voices (and dues, yes, dues) power campaigns.

    I hope that sometime soon TWUC will get one message together instead of holding to evolution on one hand and revolution on the other.

  4. Chazz says:

    Oh, and JHH, thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

  5. Rebecca says:

    I checked out TWUC’s membership requirement after the symposium and discovered that regardless of my multiple short story sales, I was ineligible. I needed to have a “book” sale.

    One idea for expanding membership would be to add some kind of “Associate” option. This is available in both RWA and HWA as well as in most other author organizations I’ve heard of or been involved in. Limiting the membership to only “book” sales cuts out a number of authors who are selling both to traditional markets and elsewhere, not even just the self published authors. There are a wide range of authors not being served by such strict guideliness, and they aren’t all self published.

  6. […] I hope that isn’t necessary since it could duplicate effort across platforms and dilute the voice of the writing profession. (However, if the self-published aren’t represented at all…hm. I won’t get sucked into a rehash. If you missed it, read, cogitate, plot and plan.) […]

  7. […] haven’t been much of a joiner ever since. So, the point of today’s post is, there are all kinds of associations for writers and editors out there. They are often run by a small board of volunteers who are a harried, unappreciated bunch. If you […]

  8. […] I’ve already posted about the possibility of a writer’s union for the self-published. Maybe soon we’ll see new kinds of workshops from writing conference organizers, workshops that acknowledge the new reality doesn’t match the old reality. […]

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