Thursday, September 04, 2008

No Dues is Good Dues

When I first became published, I joined every writing organization I could think of. I wanted to meet other writers, to learn about the industry, to be invited to exclusive gatherings, to have the opportunity to be included in anthologies, to get my name and bibliography in mailing lists and newsletters and on websites.

I eventually let all of my memberships lapse, with the sole exception being the International Thriller Writers.

The reason for not rejoining these organizations was a purely selfish one--I didn't feel that they were worth the seemingly ever-increasing dues I had to pay. I believe writing organizations are supposed to help writers, but I couldn't really point to anything helpful being done for me or for my career.

Networking with fellow industry professionals is a wonderful experience, but I discovered I could do that without spending several hundred bucks a year in membership fees.

I've never really understood the importance of awards, and have found some of them to be nepotistic and self-congratulatory.

The organizational newsletters and websites that listed my books also listed 3000 other books, making me wonder about their effectiveness.

I kept up my ITW membership because that organization did help me and my career, namely by putting one of my stories in a high-profile anthology. They did other things as well, but that was a biggie and it earned my loyalty .

Then just yesterday, ITW sent out an email that said, in part:

From the beginning, ITW was not – and was never intended to be – a writer’s organization like most others. Our purpose was not to collect dues, publish newsletters, and have a convention once a year where we get together and talk about what fine fellows we are. We are a group of published writers who have banded together to promote our genre in an innovative, effective way. With that in mind, the Board of Directors decided in July that dues are inconsistent with our mission, and we have voted to eliminate all membership fees for qualified, active members.

Well color me impressed.

With this one decision, ITW has made me believe there is an organization that truly wants to help me and my career. But it's done more than that. I've long stood fast to the belief that volunteering is masochistic, and no good deed goes unpunished. However, if the ITW decides it needs me for something, anything, they've got me, no questions asked.

For the first time in my professional life I feel proud of being part of writing organization. And it's a really nice feeling.

To learn more about the ITW, visit


Spy Scribbler said...

I refuse to be part of any organization that segregates, that says these people may do this and these people may not, but all must pay.

I was eager to join ITW, but now not so much. So the non-"real" authors pay dues, but not the "real" ones? That's even worse than RWA.

That, to me, is just one step away from RWA, where the majority of the membership are not "real" (about 80%!) and fund the majority of the income, and yet are not allowed to attend certain events, workshops, etc.

I can't do the whole you/not you thing. Just like when I qualified for PAN in RWA, I couldn't join, because I knew I would get things the rest of the membership wouldn't, even though I wasn't paying extra and the majority of the non "real" members were paying for what they wouldn't get to see.

I think it's bad practice. I really don't understand it. Yes, I know Allison Brennan always says that non-"real" writers should be SO grateful to "real" writers for all that they "freely" give that non-"real" writers should just be thrilled to pay extra for less.

If I join a group, it better be an all-inclusive one. My music organizations are. They don't segregate. My husband's medical coding professional organizations don't segregate. I'm not sure why writing organizations are so obsessed with segregation. It's really a bizarre practice.

Anonymous said...

My willingness to pay money to be a part of a group is directly proportional to my knowledge and approval of what they're spending it on.

I liked being in Mensa. It was fun to show off. But in practice, it was a $52-a-year magazine subscription, and the magazine basically sucked. I loved the local newsletter but it was not worth $52 a year.

When it comes down to it, writing professionally is a business. So, is $100/year in membership dues, say, going to make you at least $100/year more in income? If so, then it's a good buy. Otherwise, avoid. I think this is especially true for new authors. What most people need is not more newsletters and conferences... it's more time spent writing!

MontiLee Stormer said...

Nice - so what is considered "qualified active member"?

Same problem I have with HWA - I'm not their kind of "published", not their kind of "active", so therefore I'm not a "real writer". It's exclusive and counter-productive.

I don't mind paying dues to organizations that help me network and meet new writers, expecially when I can see where they are going - conventions, promotions, marketing.

JA Konrath said...

To become an Active Member in ITW:

This membership is available to thriller authors published by a commercial publishing house including genre-related non-fiction. Generally, these publishers pay an advance against royalties, edit books, create covers, have a regular means of distribution into bookstores and other places where books are ordinarily sold, and receive no financial payments from their authors.

I don't see how this segregates or is exclusionary.

Let's take an extreme case. If I take my 11 year old son's collection of stories he's scribbled in his school notebook and upload it to and get a bound, printed copy, does that make him an author who should be allowed to join a professional organization?

I am NOT saying that self-published books aren't "real." I've read some that are well written and well done.

But therein lies the problem. With no restrictions at all on membership, a writing organization would take anyone, even eleven year olds. If the goal of the organization is to promote and raise awareness of a genre, it won't be taken seriously if a large number of its members have lousy books.

Again, I'm NOT saying that all self-pubbed books are lousy. But anyone with a few words strung together and a Mastercard can create a book.

If ITW allowed self-pubbed books to be included, it would have to appoint someone to decide which ones are worthy, and which should be excluded because they aren't up to standards.

Not only would that take an unreasonable amount of time, it would be subjective, arbitrary, and unfair.

The only fair way to select members is to use the vetting process already established by the industry; the industry itself.

Again, this isn't about who is "real" or not. It's about avoiding the slippery slope of "what's good enough."

I worked long and hard to get published. I'm sure many self-pubbed authors have worked just as long and hard. But some self-pubbed authors haven't worked long and hard. I know. I've judged several self-pub contests and had to wade through A LOT of garbage. And since there is no clear way to distinguish the good from the bad other than personal taste, and since traditionally published books by paying houses have a vetting process, it makes perfect sense that the ITW adopt a gatekeeping policy by choosing only books that have been invested in by publishers.

Again, it doesn't speak to quality or passion, and it isn't meant to snub or to judge. It simply is necessary, less the organization lose integrity by opening itself up to some really bad writing.

Anonymous said...

This is timely as I am looking at different groups now and weighing their usefulness in terms of what I will get in return.

In the writing groups I attend, there are cheerleaders who push the regional and national Canadian associations, but beyond the discounts for conferences - which might be worth it if I could attend any of them (Canada is a very big place and travel - not so easy as in the U.S.).

I appreciate your take and those of the commenters.

Spy Scribbler said...

Joe, for exactly the reasons you mentioned, I was perfectly fine with ITW until this. Any group is allowed to set standards for membership for itself, and I fully support that. ITW was very clear it was for thriller authors only, by their standards of publication. Fine, no problem. I was eager to be qualified, because it seemed, from the outside, the most supportive writing organization I'd seen.

But now ITW has opened up membership to EVERYONE. Anyone who wants to join.

The irony is, ASSOCIATE members must pay but are not allowed to vote. ACTIVE members vote, but do not fund the organization.

That is seriously screwed up, don't you think?

As far as RWA, I would fully support them if they would make it a "real" only organization. They don't. They take money from all authors, but provide exclusive opportunities, workshops, and benefits to ONLY "real" authors, and don't even let non-"real" authors, (who are helping to pay for it!) listen in. Since 80-90% of their income comes from non-"real" writers, I find that appalling.

Jim said...

It's totally proper for the ITW to exclude self-published authors. I can't think of a single self-published author who has ever written anything worth reading.

MontiLee Stormer said...

It means Scott Sigler wasn't a "real writer" for the several years EarthCore and Ancestor were being widely read and distriubuted via podcast. Time Wwarner/AOL wasn't validation of his writing, but a recognition that he had a market and they wanted a piece of it.

There are lots of writers out there who are popular and not because of traditional publishers. It sounds like the ITW is holding true to the old standard that we have to wait for the brick and mortar publishing houses to recognize us before we can give ourselves the mantle of "Real Writer".

Maybe the ITW should take that extra step and appoint someone to oversee that operation. If it's all about promotion of the genre, what is the genre missing by excluding writers who can't get agents/publishers/contracts?

Spy Scribbler said...

I want to add, I applaud their efforts to make themselves an organization unlike any other. Like I said, it was the only organization I was interested in joining.

My first reaction when they announced this a couple months ago, was: What are they thinking? Do they realize how this looks?

Anonymous said...

Frankly Jim, you are an ass in my humble opinion. I know several authors that were discovered through the self publishing world and picked up by a major publishing house and then went on to sell more than you could ever hope to. There are many well-written self published books out there and to claim that self-published authors have never written anything worth reading is sheer arrogance and ignorance. You should do your homework on that statement and you will see a particular self published book which is well know which has sold millions. In fact it’s probably on your bookshelf and you don’t even realize it.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:48,

I'm pretty sure Jim was being sarcastic, since his own books happen to be self-published. If you had done your homework (thirty whole seconds worth of research) before spouting off, you would have known this.

MontiLee Stormer said...

The irony is, ASSOCIATE members must pay but are not allowed to vote. ACTIVE members vote, but do not fund the organization.

That is seriously screwed up, don't you think?

This is interesting, spyscribbler. It's like a pyramid scheme, almost. Let the pleebs fund but not really participate. Active members get all of the perks and effectively spend the money.


I swear I've sold more works and made more contacts with my little $10 and $15 dollar organizations. I'll think stuck with those for a while.

MontiLee Stormer said...

Anon - Jim was being sarcastic.

You should do your homework on that statement and you will see a particular self published book which is well know which has sold millions.

Doctor, heal thyself. Had you followed his links in his profiles or done a simnple search, you'd see he's an accomplished author with a press that wouldn't qualify with the ITW.

They don't know what they're missing.

Joe Moore said...

“But now ITW has opened up membership to EVERYONE. Anyone who wants to join.”

The qualifications to join ITW have not changed since its inception. Membership is opened to anyone who qualifies. This was the criteria prior to eliminating dues for active members and has not change.

Spy Scribbler said...


Associate Membership: ITW welcomes applications for Associate Membership from authors, readers, publishers, agents, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, experts such as criminologists and intelligence operatives, and anyone who is interested in and supports the thriller genre.

Stacey Cochran said...

I would just like to second all the folks who have responded saying ITW is exclusionary.

While I think it's great that they're ending paid dues for members, I think it's divisive to pass judgement on writers because of who they're published with.

Divisiveness is not good, particularly when founding an organization. And clearly, there are people who find it irritating and divisive.

Do its members really need their egos bolstered by being one of the "accepted"?

I organize a thousand-member strong writers group in North Carolina. We charge no fees, and make no exclusions to who can join.

Simply from an organizational POV, this strategy has helped to develop our group very quickly and in positive, supportive manner.

Additionally, I'm beginning to draw plans for a board of directors with a goal of eventually filing for Non-Profit 501(c)(3) status. This will help in finding and acquiring grant money on down the road.

I truly believe this is the better way to build a writers' organization.

Minimize divisiveness, file for non-profit status, and acquire money for your organization from grants.

Spy Scribbler said...

Again, maybe that's not the intent, but the outcome seems like Montilee said:

Let the pleebs fund but not really participate. Active members get all of the perks and effectively spend the money.

JA Konrath said...

Okay, I enjoy a heated debate as much as the next guy, buy let's take the animosity down a notch.

Spy -- the associate members don't fund ITW. From my understanding, the writing projects ITW heads funds ITW. I know THRILLER made a bit of money, and it's being used to help run the organization so dues aren't required.

But, again, in an effort not to be exclusionary, ITW
allows others to join. Here's what they say:

One point. Dues for Associate members shall remain $95 per year. This had to be retained since the elimination of dues for Associates could well have led to so many associates that there would have been no reasonable way to service them, thereby overly increasing administrative costs and defeating the purpose of eliminating dues for Active members. Well over 85% of ITW are Active members. But we welcome and cherish our Associates as a vital part of the organization since most are industry professionals or writers not yet published by one of our many approved publishers.

This makes sense to me. If someone wants to join, let them join, but they won't be active members.

Jim, you know I like your books, and I know the efforts you put into writing, publishing, and promoting them. But most writing organizations have to draw the line somewhere, and once exceptions start being made it's a slipperly slope. Even trying to review self-pubbed books on a case by case basis seems like an amazing amount of work--there are tens of thousands of new self-pubbed books every year.

Montilee, it isn't about being "real." It's more about being fair. Once one exception is made, where does it stop? What rules should dicatate which self-pubbed authors are worthy and which aren't?

Case-by-case won't work. There are simply too many self-pubbed authors, and the ITW isn't adequately staffed, equipped, or even knowledgable enough to meet those authors' needs.

Spy Scribbler said...

Well, we'll have to agree to disagree. I will join any professional organization that does not segregate its members.

I don't care WHAT their standards of membership are.

But once in, I only want to be a part of an organization that treats all of its members equally, that embraces all of their members with equal respect.

To me, this looks like they want to become RWA, where they encourage fans, readers, and amateur writers to join and fund their organization, and then treat them like second-class citizens.

Spy Scribbler said...

If they want to embrace "readers" and "those interested in the thriller genre," why not make it free and ask for donations? Why not make a culture of volunteerism?

I would've joined if all were paying dues. (I'm fairly certain readers and wannabe writers were not included in the membership possibilities a year ago.) I would join if all weren't paying dues. And if all weren't, you can bet, like you, I'd be volunteering out the wazoo. I wouldn't donate $95, because I simply don't have it at the moment. I would, however, donate if they asked and had provided an experience worthy of it.

Joe Moore said...

"Associate Membership: ITW welcomes applications for Associate Membership from authors, readers, publishers, agents, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, experts such as criminologists and intelligence operatives, and anyone who is interested in and supports the thriller genre."

Like the active membership qualifications, the above statement has been in place for associates since ITW began. Nothing has changed except that qualifying active members no longer have to pay to join, they only have to qualify.

JA Konrath said...

I don't care WHAT their standards of membership are.

An interesting idea, but are you really sure about that?

I had my last Jack Daniels book featured in a summer issue of The Big Thrill, a newsletter ITW produces, which is read by thousands of booksellers and readers.

If everyone were allowed, the newsletter would be five times as big and much less appealing.

Librarians, booksellers, reviewers, and readers in general aren't interested in the 134 page epic "THE THEIF WHO GOTS FOR FINGERS" by Emily Greenhorn, with cover art by her son Mitch, eight typos per page, and a plot that apparently hinges on the same four adjectives used several hundred times each.

What does that say about the publication that gives both of those books equal time and equal weight? Is this a respected industry journal, trying to offer its readers what they came for: namely, news about the latest big releases?

An extreme example, sure. But, frankly, if I'm joining an organization whose goal is to raise awareness of the thriller genre, it can only do so by having some standards. And it's not fair to me, as a member, because the orgainzation was created to help people like me, published traditonally.

ITW has no agenda to debase, demean, or exclude. I'm 100% sure of this, since I know most of the board members personally.

ITW does have an agenda to promote the genre that I've worked my butt off trying to become a part of.

Should I be allowed to join the NASCAR circuit if I don't have a license, even though I may be a pretty good driver? Would you want to see people racing cars without any experience or credentials?

Actually, that would be pretty funny...

Jude Hardin said...

Free membership?!? Woohoo!!!! Yay!!!!! Doin' the Snoopy dance, baby...

Wait a minute. I'm not published yet.


I think anyone who has an agent should get free membership.


JA Konrath said...

If I were self-pubbed, and I wanted to start an organization, my first order of business would be to seek out the best self-pubbed authors. After all, if I wanted to be taken as a professional, one of the things I'd do is surround myself with like-minded professionals who had similar agendas and goals.

That would mean excluding many of the books produced by vanity press author mills, and concentrating on those who have made a business of writing. After all, I wouldn't want to have the book that I've carefully written, edited, typeset, and published in any way compared to THE MEMOIR THAT GOES NOWHERE, the detailed story of Jacob Boring who spent the last forty years wtaching TV.

Would I be wrong to exclude some authors? No. If I wanted my organization to be taken seriously, only serious people should be allowed to join.

An organization like that could do a lot to lift the stigma that many self-pubbed authors face, and to raise awareness and perhaps even distribution of quality self-pubbed books.

But once you start letting in the riff-raff, the organization loses its impact.

Again, I'm NOT saying that self-pubbed books suck. I'm saying ITW has to draw a line. Just like an organization for self-pubbed authors would also have to draw a line if they wanted to have any credibility.

MontiLee Stormer said...

Montilee, it isn't about being "real." It's more about being fair. Once one exception is made, where does it stop? What rules should dicatate which self-pubbed authors are worthy and which aren't?

Actually - when you look at the rules and The List - you see that it *does* take Self-Published Authors on a case by case basis. I stand partially corrected and I'll say that *if* ITW does review works on a case by case basis - looking at marketing, promotions, sales, hard numbers - then in that sense it is distinguishing itself from other organizations.

The dues system still is ridiculous. I'm not paying for a newsletter and a badge for my website if I can't participate in the activities that being a "member" is all about.

Fine - let me join, but don't charge me for the priviledge of having no voice.

Stacey Cochran said...

Would you want to see people racing cars without any experience or credentials?

We've got a track down here in Wake County where folks gather every week for races like this. It's a lot of fun.

Likewise, staying with the sports analogy, plenty of people enjoy going to junior high, high school, and college basketball games. In fact, a lot of people enjoy watching players develop through these ranks... rather than watching NBA games.

Again, from an organizational POV, what ITW is doing is bad strategy.

Joe Moore said...

"The dues system still is ridiculous. I'm not paying for a newsletter and a badge for my website if I can't participate in the activities that being a "member" is all about."

There are a number of benefits to active members that unpublished associates don't have. But they deal with promoting member's published works which would not apply to an associate anyway. Here are the main differences between an active member and an associate membership: Associate members cannot sit on the board of directors, chair a committee or vote.

You might want to visit the ITW website and click on About ITW>Join ITW for a complete list of member benefits.

JA Konrath said...

Associate members are those who recognize and appreciate what the ITW is doing without necessarily directly benefitting from them.

If I were to join an organization dedicated to protecting baby harp seals, that doesn't directly benefit me, and whether or not I can vote or participate in any baby harp seal activities isn't the point--my money is showing my support for the cause.

You wouldn't become an ITW associate member to promote your books. You'd do it because you're helping raises awareness of thriller ficiton.

Stacey, I think amateur sports are great. But there are different leagues and organizations for a reason. You don't put a Little League pitcher in a MLB game. It's not fair to either of them. And if I subscribe to a magazine about NBA basketball, I don't care about what the score of every single high school game played over the last season was.

Jude Hardin said...

Honestly, I think they should just keep the $95/year dues for everyone. Surely anyone who wants to be a member can afford that, and it would eliminate the controversy.

Let's face it. Self-pubbed authors and unpublished authors are also book buyers, and I don't see the point in alienating them for a measly ninety-five bucks.

MontiLee Stormer said...

That would mean excluding many of the books produced by vanity press author mills, and concentrating on those who have made a business of writing. After all, I wouldn't want to have the book that I've carefully written, edited, typeset, and published in any way compared to THE MEMOIR THAT GOES NOWHERE, the detailed story of Jacob Boring who spent the last forty years wtaching TV.

And that is exactly the kind of bias self-published authors don't need.

Frankly, if I were an author with Simon and Schuster, I'd be embarassed to be on the same imprint as say Paris Hilton, but I don't hear people condeming S&S or Fireside.

MontiLee Stormer said...

You might want to visit the ITW website and click on About ITW>Join ITW for a complete list of member benefits.

I did thanks. I stand by what I said. I'd get a newsletter and help promote real Writers (one of which I wouldn't be considered) with marketing and awards committees. Again - I pay, I'd work, and Real Writers benefit off my money and work.

However, my point is the ITW basically says you're not a real author but you can still join, pay dues to promote the Real Authors and allow them to network, and maybe someday, you'll be a Real Author too.

At least as an Affiliate Member of HWA I could vote with my membership, participate in panels for cons, and vote for the Stoker. Still exclusionary but now that I see ITW's model, HWA's requirements make a lot more sense and aren't nearly as cliquish.

JA Konrath said...

And that is exactly the kind of bias self-published authors don't need.

I've earned that bias the hard way. I judged several self-publishing contests, and not only had to read but critique over a hundred self-pubbed books.

In all candor, I didn't find one that I felt was worthy of being in print, though two came close and might have made the cut with some heavy editing.

On the opposite side of that coin, I've read and enjoyed some self published books. But they are few and far between.

If I self published, I'd be mortified to be grouped in with some of the books I was forced to endure. The bias exists, because there truly is a lot of crap being self published.

Is there also crap being traditionally published? Sure. But as far as rations go, I'd say 1 to 2 percent of self-pubbed books are worth reading, vs. maybe 80% of traditionally published books.

I'm not trying to discriminate. But if you had to live the hell I lived, you'd feel the same way. :)

And, for the fourth time this thread, I'm not saying all self-pubbed books are crap. But being traditionally published is so difficult for a reason. It allows authors to learn the craft, meet a minimum set of criteria, and rewards them for learning and improving. It's a damn hard club to become a part of.

I can point to the reasons why most books were published, either tradionally or self-pubbed. And I believe the best of the self-pubbed authors could, if they desired, be traditionally published.

Stacey Cochran said...

The ITW by-laws state the organization's purpose:

The specific and primary purpose of this Corporation shall be to: bestow recognition and promote the thriller genre at an innovative and superior level for and through our Active Members; to provide opportunities for mentoring, education and collegiality among thriller authors and industry professionals; and to grant awards for excellence in the thriller genre.

With the exception of "to provide opportunities for mentoring, education and collegiality among thriller authors" the fundamental purpose of the organization is self-congratulatory and self-promotional in nature.

I think a group dedicated toward a self-less fundamental initiative and development and growth for all writers is a better foundation to build from.

But I don't know. ITW has some heavyweights... I'll give you that.

It's neat to read their by-laws.

JA Konrath said...

Well, yeah, Stacey. The reason I joined is because I want to raise the awareness and promote thrillers in general, and my thrillers in particulate.

I truly can't see how being selfless is going to help me sell more books.

And yet, here I have a free blog about the publishing biz, which can be downloaded as an ebook with more than 750,000 words of advice. :)

Joe Moore said...

“However, my point is the ITW basically says you're not a real author but you can still join, pay dues to promote the Real Authors and allow them to network, and maybe someday, you'll be a Real Author too.”

ITW is not funded by associate membership dues. Associates make up only about 15% of the membership. Their dues are a small portion of income and revenue, and barely cover the administrative costs of processing new members. Unlike other writer’s organizations that have to rely on dues to function, ITW has found original and unique ways to fund the group without charging active member dues. It’s done in part by publishing collections of stories contributed by the members such as the international bestselling THRILLER ANTHOLOGY and the award-winning CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT.

Just because an author is unpublished does not mean he or she is not a real author. 100% of all authors were unpublished prior to their first contract. Also remember that ITW associate membership is not only open to unpublished authors, it is also available to book sellers, librarians, editors, publishers, agents, publicists, and virtually anyone interested in the thriller genre.

JA Konrath said...

Just for fun, I checked out PublishAmerica, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and BookSurge. These are POD publishing houses that ITW doesn't count among accepted publishers.

ITW has an active membership, as of this writing, of 604 authors.

There aren't a lot of people getting published in the thriller world. But for a writing organization, 604 is a lot of members, and if each is good for a book a year, on any given month the ITW is helping to promote about 50 books.

I began counting authors in the Thriller, Mystery, and Suspense catagories in the above 4 POD houses, and gave up counting at 15,000 names.

That's 15,000 self published books that can be called 'thrillers.' And those are only from four POD houses. I didn't count CreateSpace, Lulu, LightningSource, or the literally hundreds of other POD outfits that exist, let alone the substantial number of authors who self-publishing using offset printing.

So ITW supposed to let more than 30,000 authors into their organization in the interest of fairness? How fair is that to the 604 members who worked their tails off to get published traditionally?

I'm pleased to be featured in a newsletter with only 49 other books in it. I'm now supposed to share space with 2500 authors in a single monthly newsletter, when the vast majority of these books are poorly written? Do you think booksellers and librarians will wade through a list like that?

I'm incredibly supportive of my fellow writers, whether they're unpubbed, self-pubbed, or traditionally pubbed. I've given out a lot of advice, dished out dozens of blurbs, taught a lot of classes, read a lot of manuscripts. I want every writer to be successful and sell a lot of books.

But when "helping others" translates into "limiting my opportunities" I think that's a little too much to ask of me.

Spy Scribbler said...

Joe, you're absolutely right. I misspoke. I do care what the standards are, of course. What I meant was, I'm just not debating what the standards for entrance are at this point. What I'm debating is dividing the membership once you've got it.

I believe their idea was not to divide their membership. I really do believe that, which is why I was so disappointed.

The foundation they've laid, though, means that it will probably "grow up" to be RWA, and that disappoints me. I think they should learn from the history of that organization, because this very foundation led to what is wrong with RWA now: the professional writers are upset because it's not more focused on their needs. The "not real" writers, the amateur writers, and just romance fans are now the majority of the membership, and many don't like being treated like second-class citizens while they fund the majority of the organization.

I've been a big fan and "watcher" of ITW. I really am disappointed it's laying the same foundation as RWA, because where else can this path lead? When you divide your membership, you will have discontent. When you segregate, you divide your membership. That's not a healthy organization, and certainly not a healthy foundation.

I think your comparison to baby seals is a good one. As a matter of fact, I have a membership to a local museum, too.

I wouldn't call that a professional organization, though. It's a charity. I don't expect my charities to serve anything but their cause.

True, I'd be willing to donate to a charity benefiting thriller authors. Totally.

But a professional organization should be a little more than a cause for thrillers charity, and I don't think ITW means to be. You would know, because you're friends with them. Most professional organizations I know provide networking support, continuing education, and yes, they "advance the cause" of their profession, but not exclusively.

I am totally not debating what the standards are today. I'm just debating the need to segregate the members you've got. I just don't think that bodes well.

And from my understanding, ITW excludes romance authors and other genres, which is perfectly fine, not just self-pubbed. My debate is not with who they exclude, but that they divide who they've got.

Spy Scribbler said...

"But when "helping others" translates into "limiting my opportunities" I think that's a little too much to ask of me.

Joe, I 100% agree. It is. But do you really think the people who would limit your opportunities to fund yours?

Because RWA started out the same way. I doubt it will be very many years before the majority of ITW are not "active" writers. Then it'll be the same situation as RWA.

And NO one is saying the organization is supposed to help anyone except its own paying members. NO ONE is saying we don't appreciate all that some authors do for others. People do that in every profession. I do that in my other one, but I don't expect others to pay my membership to my professional organization because of it.

And dude, I think you're cool. Someday, I want to be a thriller writer, so I'm concerned.

JA Konrath said...

My debate is not with who they exclude, but that they divide who they've got.

I understand what you're saying. I'm hearing you.

But I don't think ITW divides their members.

ITW is set up to promote thrillers and the professional writers who create thrillers. It isn't a writing club where anyone can join. Only professional writers can join.

It's not saying, "We want all authors, and then we'll make some of them pay." It's saying, "We want professional writers, but if you aren't a professional writer and want to support the thriller genre, you can be an Associate."

So yes, authors who don't meet the criteria can join. So can editors, agents, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, and fans.

But the organization wasn't created to help self-pubbed authors, editors, agents, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, or fans. It was created to help traditionally published authors. And I belive the ITW's criteria for membership is a valid way to define these authors.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link. I didn't even know they existed.

JA Konrath said...

But do you really think the people who would limit your opportunities(should) fund yours?

That's their choice, but if it were me, and I was a newbie author (which I was not too long ago), I wouldn't see the need to join ITW until I sold that first book, because I don't see the point to it.

Have any former associate members become active members? I'd be curious to see if this has happened, and what they found valuable about being an associate.

As for RWA, I dunno how it's run, but your scenario sounds like its members are getting the short end of the stick.

Joe Moore said...

I’m confused. I keep hearing that ITW is segregating it’s membership. The qualifications to join the International Thriller Writers has not changed since day one. The only thing that has changed is that active members no longer have to pay dues. ITW is a professional organization for published authors. If you are not published, you do not qualify to be an active member. But you can still be a part of the organization as an associate.

As far as networking, ITW sponsors the Debut Author Program. When an author member acquires their first contract, they can join this program, network with dozens of other debut and veteran authors, and be mentored by the bestselling thriller author Lee Child who heads the program.

ITW also sponsors Across Borders, a networking organization that helps domestic members gain knowledge on getting published in foreign markets and international authors learn more about domestic publishing.

I was in the board meeting that made the decision to eliminate active member dues. The theory was that we didn’t want to follow in the footsteps of other organizations. It was expressed with the proposal that if we imitate, we are followers, but if we innovate, we are leaders. Many of our fellow writer’s organizations have been around for years—some for decades. ITW was founded in 2005. We don’t want to be like other organizations. That’s why we find ways to fund ourselves without asking our active members to take on the burden.

Writing like any other profession demands that each of us crawl before we walk, and walk before we run. ITW is an organization of walkers and runners. If you are still learning to crawl, you can become associated with an open, approachable group of pros that are more than willing to help and nurture.

Stacey Cochran said...

I think ITW members should get to wear a little crown on their heads.

Make it free for anyone to join, but just so that the 604 "acceptable" members don't get their feathers ruffled being associated with riff-raff like me, give them a crown they can wear on their heads at group events.

A crown would solve all of our problems.

I'd paid 95 bucks to see that.

Jim said...

"Writing like any other profession demands that each of us crawl before we walk, and walk before we run. ITW is an organization of walkers and runners. If you are still learning to crawl ... "

I have no objection to any group of people banning together and setting forth qualifications to join their group. The minute there are qualifiecation set, some people will meet them and some will not. So be it.

What I do find offensive, however, is the attitude of ITW members who think that they are professionals and "can run," because they are traditionally published, while anyone else who is not traditionally published is not a professional and cannot "run" with the big dogs.

Setting qualifications is OK. Using those qualifications to pronounce that those who meet them are professionals and those who don't are not, is a whole different story.

JA Konrath said...

I think ITW members should get to wear a little crown on their heads.

I want a big crown, not a little one, and it needs to say "Senor Grande."

Stacey, for heaven's sake, go to Xlibris, buy ten random books, and try to read them cover to cover.

And Jim, I don't see the attitude you're alluding to, but even if it exists, why should that offend you? You're doing what you want, your own way, and doing well. Is peer validation that important?

If you really cared about what your peers think of you, then why not publish traditionally?

If you don't care (and you shouldn't) then what others think doesn't matter in the least. Even if they think you're unprofessional (which nobody here said.)

I'm a professional writer. That means I get paid for writing. That's the label I'm using for myself, to describe myself and my fellow ITW members.

If someone doesn't think that label applies to you, who cares?

For the record, I'm not equating you or Stacey with the horrible self-pubbed books I was forced to read as a judge.

But how else can the ITW distinguish who can be an active member, and who can't? What's a fair way that won't open up the floodgates and allow thousands of very bad writers into the organization (and you two are not very bad writers, and I'm not saying you are, for the fith time.)

Jim said...

JA, here's my analogy.

The Green Guys form a group. Qualification to get in: Must have green skin.

JMH has polka-dotted skin and doesn't qualify. JMH's reaction" No problem, what they do is their business.

The Green Guy's then ANNOUNCE, on blogs and otherwise, is that the reason for the qualification is because green skin means the person is a professional and all other skin colors (including polka dots) mean the person is not.

JMH reaction: Offended.

JA Konrath said...

Fair enough, Jim. But I really don't think it's a question of who is professional and who isn't. It's a good bet you know more about publishing than the average published writer, because you see a side of it they never see.

I don't see anyone in this thread belittling or devaluing you, other than that anon guy who was blatantly wrong.

Perhaps "professional" is a label that lends itself to misinterpretation, in which case this is an issue of semantics rather than ideologies.

I've gotten pretty good at being able to judge the quality of someone's writing. My view is entirely subjective, of course, but I would rate your books on par or better than a lot of professionally published books I've read.

But I'm not going to weed through 30,000 self-pubbed books to find 300 that are quality, and neither is anyone else at the ITW, so there has to be a line.

This particular line makes an assumption. It has no other real choice. The assumption is that the majority of self-pubbed authors aren't as good as the majority of traditionally pubbed authors.

This assumption is correct.

Of course, there are exceptions, but it's really impossible to allow for exceptions, because then it becomes a question of subjective taste and opinion, when it's much easier to make it a question of crieria (approved publisher paying an advance, etc.)

Now, if one looks at this criteria and chooses to call those who meet that criteria "professionals", well, perhaps it isn't the best label, and perhaps it does imply or even implicity state that those who don't meet the criteria are not professionals.

It also assumes that those who don't meet the criteria aren't very good.

I'm sure there are cases where it is wrong on both points. I know several self-pubbed authors who write good books, learned how to make a business out of it, and manage to do well.

Unfortunately, exceptions can't be made for these people. Is it fair? No. But I don't see any way around it.

Does that mean you're any less of a writer, promoter, or businessman than I am? No. Not at all.

Which is why you shouldn't be offended if you don't meet someone else's definition of "professional." It's your definition that counts.

JA Konrath said...

Also, I'd like to make clearn that I'm not speaking on behalf of ITW in any of my posts here. These are my opinions, and my rationalizations, and I have no say in how or why they chose certain criteria for membership, only that it makes sense to me.

JA Konrath said...

I'd also like to point out that several posts up I did call some self-pubbed authors "professionals."

Stacey Cochran said...

I want a big crown, not a little one, and it needs to say "Senor Grande."

Well, that's it... ITW is gonna have raise the dues, folks.

JA wants a big crown.

(I'd be happy with a paper hat myself. One that says "Senor Peppy")

T. M. Hunter said...

I don't write thrillers, but SFWA has similar standards for their membership. Myself, I have no interest in joining for various reasons...but if they want to choose only to offer certain membership levels to certain types of published individuals, that's their choice.

Speaking to one of Joe's earlier points, to where he mentioned a self-pubbed author should congregate with successful self-pubbed an author with a small press using print-on-demand technology, I try to hang out with published authors (who are successfully published by industry standards). I want to learn as much as possible about the business, so I can be an author published by a major house with a hefty six-figure advance on a multi-book contract (hey, I can dream, right? :-P ).

I've seen many similar attitudes demonstrated here as on other sites I visit...that organizations (like ITW or SFWA) discriminate against people published by anyone other than major houses (most have the same complaints about bookstores and other places who hold standards to publication). They bash these organizations for their standards, but don't we all want to become an author who meets those defined standards? Isn't that our eventual end-goal?

Personally, I think you become like the people you hang around with (I think Joe might have had a blog about that recently?). If you hang around published authors and learn the business, you'll eventually get there. If you hang around with people complaining about how organizations (and bookstores and various other places) are all out to keep POD- and self-published authors out of their ranks, you'll likely continue to stay out of their ranks.

Maybe I'm just way off...

I agree with spy, though, an organization who collects dues from one section of their membership should collect the same from all. I'm not sure what SFWA does in that regard, since I've never really been interested in membership.

Jim said...

"I don't see anyone in this thread belittling or devaluing you, other than that anon guy who was blatantly wrong."

I think that anon comment actually came from my wife. I'm going to ask her about it later.

Also, for the record, none of my comments were directed at you, JA. You've been a great champion of the newbie as well as the self-pubbed since you entered the scene in 2006.

Lots of people don't know it, but you even went out of your way to read and blurb my first book before anyone in the world had even heard my name. I'm still in your debt for that.

JA Konrath said...

No debt at all, Jim. I liked the book.

Spy Scribbler said...

Well, it's a lot to think about. If the published (Henceforth "published," in my use, in this discussion only, refers to those published by ITW's standards, and is absolutely no judgment as to whether any author not included in above definition is or is not published.) some of the authors are funding the organization through ITW publications, then I can feel more comfortable with those not writing the ITW publications having to pay dues.

I can respect that their desire to take the unpublished as associate members comes from a place of wishing to include.

I suppose only time will tell, especially as more people learn that all thriller fans can join, and that 15% number becomes a majority rather than a minority.

I really want ITW to be a good org. RWA does not make it past this damned "fair" meter in me. Believe me, I would LOVE to continue being a member. LOVE. I love the people in it. But it's policies don't strike me as fair at all, and they cause much strife within.

So I have high hopes for ITW. I really would love to see it be a fair organization to all its members, whatever that criteria for membership may be. I'm dying to join a professional writing organization that treats its members equally. More than even all the other benefits, I just like being around other people who understand what it's like to be an author.

Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,
You certainly appear to have stirred up a hornet's nest with this one, but I have to agree with you. In my experience as a writer so far, I can say much the same about writing competitions: the ones that are worth entering seem to be those that don't charge a fee, making their money from sponsors, etc. rather than entrants.

JKB said...


That is impressive!

I'm currently reviewing whether or not to join SCBWI. I know you're not a member, but does anyone have an opinion on this organization?

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I, too, joined organizations and found I got nothing in return. Except to feel left out because I couldn't fork over the grand it took to go to the annual conference. I think, in the past, before the explosion of the internet, these organizations were useful, but now you can connect with other authors free of charge and still get the same results.

Stacey Cochran said...

I think self promotion and self congratulations can only hurt you.

By the way, have you visited

It's an awesome site!

Anonymous said...

I'm not a member of ITW. Why? Because I am not published. I accept this, because there are standards for membership.

I AM a member of the American Bar Association. Why? Because I meet the membership requirements:

1. I graduated from an ABA-accredited law school.
2. I am licensed to practice law before the highest court in at least one state or jurisdiction (in my case, two jurisdictions).
3. I paid my dues.

You are not a member of the ABA. You didn't meet criteria 1 or 2, and therefore have no need for criterion 3.

This makes perfect sense to me. It makes perfect sense to you.

Why does this not make sense to so many unpublished writers on your blog? If they don't want to be associate members, they don't have to join. If they want to be active members, they need to meet the membership criteria.

Case closed. You've been far too patient in hearing these grievances.

Stacey Cochran said...

Hey we got Perry Mason weighing in on the topic.

I'm gonna make some microwave popcorn.

Anonymous said...

you've summarized pretty well why I have decided not to renew my membership in the SFWA. It's a decent enough group, and they're trying hard but honestly? I'm still mystified what I was supposed to get from being a member that I can get only by being a member.
And that bit about volunteering...oh, yes. A year ago, even some months ago, I felt different, can't believe how cynical I've become in that time but I've done my volunteering and already it's obvious how it's going to go: yes, I think what we're trying to do is a good thing and it could benefit writers. Other writers, not me. My "career" will stall and get nowhere because I'll be too flipping burned out from volunteer work.

I'm getting out now before any lasting damage is done.

so, yes, a wholly selfish move but there is a point where you need to look after yourself and realize a situation where you'll end up only giving, where others benefit but not you and getting hardly anything back is not a good situation to be in. In real life, it tends to be called an abusive relationship.
in writers orgs it's just professional abuse.

this is me, doing a 180 from the way I felt back in April this year. What a fool I've been.

JA Konrath said...

Not a fool, David. Just idealistic.

I'm still a little idealistic, but in a way where I'm the boss.

Once people start telling you what to do--or even worse, when you do something for people and must deal with their complaints--then "abuse" is a good way to descibe it.

But giving and helping on your own terms is a much better way to function.

That said, if ITW needs me to man a table, they got me.

Anonymous said...

It's pretty hypocritical for Stacey Cochran to bitch about ITW considering he showed up at ThrillerFest last year and proceeded to hang up posters advertising his latest self-published novel in all the meeting rooms. Can you imagine the balls it takes to do something like that? Someone had to sit down and explain to him why that was wrong. And he ended up asking for referrals to agents!

ITW is an organization that exists to promote the thriller genre and to help advance the careers of professionally published authors. If that doesn't sound like your kind of thing, don't join. (I'm not a member because I didn't see the point. I'm not a joiner.)

Who cares what some group of people is getting together and doing when it doesn't hurt you or anyone else? Why would anyone be so concerned or upset about it? Who gives a shit? ITW can do whatever the hell they want. It doesn't affect me or anyone else on her complaining.

As for all the self-published authors out there who are constantly complaining that they can't join MWA or ITW---why don't you guys get together and form your own organization? Instead of always bitching about the efforts of hardworking volunteers in other groups, do some actual work yourself and start your own group.

Do what ITW has done. Start an organization. Get members. Raise money. Earn respect for the genre. Get media coverage. Help sell books. Publish anthologies. Give out awards.

Why not? What's stopping you? Jim Hansen & Stacey Cochran -- you can be the co-presidents. Do something for a change---don't just criticize what other people are doing.

If you won't do it, why not?