What does an association membership get you? This depends on you.
My sister always uses the term: Reason, Season, and Life. Usually she is talking about friendships. But it applies to this too.
REASON: The reason you join associations is to advance your career. As we are specifically talking authors here, the reason would be to get published.
A novice author, when they decide this IS the path they want to travel, will join an association to learn the ropes. This industry is very overwhelming, but if you could meet another person in the same shoes as you, already you're making progress. Networking with other like minded people is a must. An association can offer this.
Most associations are national and have local affiliates. My suggestion is to get involved in a local branch of a bigger association. You will then meet people in your area pursuing the same goals. During these local meetings you will not only network with like-minded people, but classes are held that help you understand the industry you are now working in.
Let's specifically talk writers. During these meetings you will be introduced to how to write a query, how to outline, editing skills, dealing with editors, what you need to know about contracts, how to promote yourself...and on and on. The goal is to get you, the author, from jotting down ideas to holding that book in your hand. This group will be made up of people on each leg of this journey. You'll be able to walk it together and support each other. When you have that support the mission is easier.
The national associations usually hold multiple conferences or a big convention once a year. I highly recommend attending these. The education is bigger and sometimes better and there are hundreds of people to meet. (Not just authors. Editors, publishers, agents, bloggers, readers...you get the picture.)
SEASON: This refers to the time you will spend in these organizations. Going into it you're thinking, "I'm home!" But the truth is, you might outgrow your association. Specifically, author organizations tend to educate the newer authors. The classes become redundant when you're looking at taking your tenth class on how to pitch to an editor. In time, if everything has worked the way you want it to, you move from being a novice to an expert. Hopefully you have that book in hand, as that was the goal. Now you begin to teach the classes the newer authors need. You've become the expert. But, you can get stuck here and alliances shift. That's when we move into the phase of Life.
LIFE: As a new author I adored the alliances I made with the successful, multi-published authors. I was grateful for their help, their advice, and their willingness to still hang with me--a nobody. As my own career changed I met them eye to eye on the world of publishing and still I was grateful to have them. But, what happened was they weren't the ones "running" the smaller organizations. They had done their time in the presidential seats and had held all the offices. Now the published authors are being directed by those who are just getting their feet wet. It was hard to sit through a class on "how to write a query" for the tenth time and now it was being taught by someone without a publishing contract. The reason for that is: the published author is now too busy being published to help organize the classes for the newbie.
This isn't in any way a slam to the published and successful. It is reality. But as a published author you might find that the association holds nothing for you at that point and it's time to walk away.
Life can also mean, you're in there for life. I have seen authors get stuck in associations and they never get out and they never meet their goal. They hold every position on the board, more than once. They love to be in the midst of it all. They organize the events, they plan the contests and oversee them, they teach those classes over and over...but they never get published. They write the same book 300 times and submit it to every contest out there, but they never leave the organization. They get stuck there for life.
So you see some pros and cons. You have to decide what is right for you and you have to know when to step up and when to step out. Be mindful that I don't mean any disrespect to the organizations as they are there to better the environment for the author. They are proactive when it comes to legislation and to fighting for rights on many levels. (RWA was right there to help Nora Roberts out when she was plagiarized and was a big component in getting rules established for such things.) These organizations need forward thinkers. The industry is changing fast and they need people to lead them into the future.
What might happen is you'll find yourself shifting organizations due to need. Once I was a great candidate to be an RWA member. I got so much out of that and I loved every moment. But when I became a publisher the game shifted. I'm not an author to them anymore, even though that is my main focus. So I shifted my organizational needs. I now am part of organizations that embrace both sides of my career. Neither is better than the other, just better suited to me.
Aside from the networking (which is key), the educations (which is necessary), you're going to find that you'll receive benefits you can't get on your own. These benefits can range from legal advice to discounts on a rental car. Yes, use all the benefits that come with membership.
Educate yourself on the right association before you shell out your hard earned money. They can be essential to the success of your career and they can all be beneficial as long as you know what you want out of it.
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Bestselling Author Bernadette Marie is known for building families readers want to be part of. Her series The Keller Family has graced bestseller charts since its release in 2011, along with her other series and single title books. The married mother of five sons promises Happily Ever After always…and says she can write it, because she lives it.
When not writing, Bernadette Marie is shuffling her sons to their many events—mostly hockey—and enjoying the beautiful views of the Colorado Rocky Mountains from her front step. She is also an accomplished martial artist with a second degree black belt in Tang Soo Do.
A chronic entrepreneur, Bernadette Marie opened her own publishing house in 2011, 5 Prince Publishing, so that she could publish the books she liked to write and help make the dreams of other aspiring authors come true too. She believes her journey into the publishing world and onto bestsellers lists is one to be shared and enjoys teaching others how to make their own success happen.