Pros and Cons of Professional Writers’ Organizations

Posted on May 4, 2013 by Martin Z

Will You Say Yes or No to Professional Writer Organizations?“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
—Groucho Marx

Professional writers’ organizations should have no cons. Journalists, technical writers, corporate writers and content writers for hire should all find joining a professional writers’ organization very beneficial to their career.

Unfortunately, many professional writers’ organizations are often helpless when they’re fighting to help writers against unscrupulous publishers. Many of them also seem more concerned about recruiting members to increase their revenues rather than achieving objectives that would be so impressive that writers would join without a sales pitch—as I have done on a couple of occasions.

As someone who has been asked to recruit members into professional writers’ groups, I can guarantee you that many of my supervisors wanted me to invite anyone who said they are a writer into the group. Heck, some of them would invite someone as crazy as Groucho Marx into their organization—even if the recruit lacked talent or credentials.

The pros of joining a writers’ organization are plentiful. They include:

Career Networking: Many professional writers toil anonymously for small companies. A talented person could write for a small newspaper for years without being noticed by a big-city editor. Sending your resume is often fruitless. The better alternative is meeting editors in an informal setting and gradually getting them to realize you’re talented enough to move up.

Helping Other Writers: I was recently asked by the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists to be one of the judges for the San Diego SPJ Journalism Competition. This is a chance to give credit to journalists who have produced quality work in the past year. (New Jersey journalists are judging a San Diego contest because writers’ organizations are rightly trying to be as objective as possible.)

Sharing Information: Have new websites or specialized publications been launched? Which publications are hiring or firing? Who pays well? OK, the answer to that last question is no one, but the point is that members of writers’ organizations often share information that can help other writers.

Fighting For Writers: This is where I make the transition to the cons because the National Writers Union (NWU) did a great job in fighting for freelance writers for hire whose copyright rights were taken by publishers who resold the writers’ work without their permission. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in 2001 in Tasini Vs. New York Times that the publishers owed the writers money. Individual writers could not have triumphed over publishers, but a writers’ organization did.

NWU membership exploded because of its accomplishment. I was one of its new members. In 12 years, though, professional writers’ groups have exhibited close to zero organizational skills in fighting for writers. First, the NWU, the Authors Guild, and the American Society of Journalists and Authors agreed to a settlement with a few dozen publishers in 2005 without any input from their members. The settlement called for freelance writers all over the USA to receive about $12 million.

The professional writers groups did such a poor job of informing writers about the settlement that only a small percentage of them filed claims. This meant that many claimants were going to get a lot of money, but the writers’ groups then lost a court case to a professional wrestling writer with a grudge. It’s now 2013, and not one writer has received one penny from a 2001 Supreme Court decision.

Shockingly, the writers’ groups made no effort to inform their members—now mostly ex-members—about what was happening. NWU membership plummeted from 7,500 to 1,200. Its solution was to ask me and others to recruit members, but the union had no website, no health insurance program, and no recent achievements.

If the writers’ groups had focused on achievements rather than recruiting, they would have far more members.

Martin Z is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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