On Professionalism

Yesterday Brian Keene wrote a blog post which took a member of the HWA to task for what makes a professional writer. It's good stuff. Go read it if you haven't had a chance. I'll wait. Back?

Okay, so Brian's post reminded me that I had talked about what makes a professional writer a couple years ago. In the post I mused that some might considered professional writers only those who write full-time. The truth at the time, though, was that hardly any writers actually wrote full-time. Even Joe Konrath, who I quoted, had said that more people play in the NFL than write full-time.

At least, that was the case in 2009.

Now, four years later, a lot of things have changed. With the rise of self-publishing, more and more writers are finding themselves able to write full-time.

Before I signed with my agent several years ago, his first question to me was what was my ultimate goal.

I said to write full-time.

He acknowledged that he had some clients who wrote full-time, but most didn't.

Because, let's face it, that was the reality of publishing back then. Writers worked their butts off for a measly advance and low royalties, and still needed to work a full-time job to make ends meet. Now writers have the option of saying no to the measly advances and low royalties to go a different route. Is that route always successful? Not at all. But at least they now have a choice, which is rather refreshing.

I've never been a member of a writers' organization. I've just never seen the point. The only organization that I think is worthwhile is the Writers Guild of America, because they actually offer health benefits and retirement to their members. Unfortunately, the only way to join is if you write for movies and TV. All other writers' organizations? If they offer health benefits, those benefits are hardly comprehensive.

Back when I started writing, I thought I wanted to join the HWA. But then I had many friends who were members and heard the ongoing drama and even witnessed much of it on the private message boards which I was able to access using a friend's account, and I realized that no, I had no interest in becoming a member. It baffled me why so many writers wanted to join and become active members, until I realized that everyone was basically concerned about the Bram Stoker Awards. Well, okay, not everyone, but a good majority. I even saw writers make sure to mention in their bios that they were active or associate members of the HWA or some other writers' organization, which always struck me as odd, because really who cares? Your regular readers don't care. They don't care if you're an active member of some organization or if your book is published by a major publishing house. How do I know this? Because look at all the successful self-published writers out there. Readers want to find good books, plain and simple. The rest -- being members of writers' organizations, being nominated for awards, etc -- simply helps the writer feel good about himself.

Awhile back, I saw someone on Facebook complain that many of the writers on the Kindle top 100 bestseller list for horror were writers that they hadn't ever heard of. It didn't make sense to them, because they weren't "name" authors, or even authors who they were familiar with. Because -- surprise! -- those authors were not members of the HWA. They did not troll message boards. They did not follow the "rules" set forth by the HWA on how to get published, whatever those are.

What's worth noting, in fact, is if I wanted to join a writers' organization, there's a very good chance I couldn't do so as an active member. It doesn't matter that I've sold tens of thousands of books. It doesn't matter that I even managed to get on the USA TODAY bestseller list without the help of any publisher. It doesn't matter that I sometimes make more in one month than a writer will make from an entire advance for one book sold to a major publisher. What matters -- in the eyes of those who run these writers' organizations -- is whether my books are published by a "real" publisher, whatever that means anymore.

But you know what? That's okay. If I wanted to become a member of any of these organizations, it might bother me. As it is, I'm just happy being a writer. Or hobbyist. Or whatever.