18 August 1999

From: Norman Bauman
Subject: Re: [MW] writers' organizations
Date: 10:32 PM 8/18/99 -0400

At 07:20 PM 8/15/99 -0400, Linda Zapczynski wrote:
>I'm interested in signing up with an organization, for various reasons. I
>was looking into SPJA, Author's Guild, National Writers Union. Are there
>any others? Can anyone recommend one over another? I'd appreciate any

I wrote up the following comparison of the ASJA, EFA, NWU, STC, PRSA, IABC, NYNMA, NASW, and AMWA, primarily in NYC though most are nationwide.

The services provided include (1) social and professional meetings, with top people in the field (2) membership directories that people use to hire writers, (3) job services such as email lists and telephone hotlines, (4) newsletters, (5) advice on contracts and business situations, and (6) health insurance. You can read more on my web site.

American Society of Journalists and Authors
This is the elite (or elitist) writer's organization nationwide, usually book authors or writers for magazines read by the general public. They have (1) a newsletter with info on markets, rates, magazines that don't pay, (2) Dial-A-Writer service for jobs (3) meetings with magazine editors. Their initiation and membership dues are fairly expensive. I'm not a member.

Editorial Freelancers Association
I'm a member. They include writers, editors, indexers, and all the editorial specialties. The main benefits are (1) The membership directory, circulated among editors. It got me a job that brought in tens of thousands of dollars a year for several years (2) Meetings where publishing industry people tell us what kind of freelancers they're hiring and how much they pay (3) A newsletter, which I write for (4) Job phone listings, hopefully on the Internet soon. It got me a good job, writing for a biotechnology newsletter (5) Health insurance, I get my HIP insurance through EFA. It's not great but health insurance is a problem anywhere in the US. They have about 1,000 members, mostly in the New York area, but they're starting chapters around the country. Dues are about $110/year.

National Writers Union
I'm a member. Anyone can join. The NWU has both a National organization and local chapters, which handle different activities. Their membership has doubled to about 3,500 in the last 9 years, and the main reason seems to be health insurance. (1) they provide health insurance nationwide to freelance writers, through their affiliation with the United Auto Workers. I asked an editor of a healthcare newsletter whether to get my insurance through the EFA or NWU, and she suggested the EFA by a slight edge. (2) They offer contract advice to magazine and book authors. (I personally think their magazine negotiating positions can be too aggressive.) (3) They have a job hotline with listings on their web site, mostly for technical writing or for labor unions. (4) In their "grievance" procedure, if you don't get paid, they ask publishers to pay you, and it often works. It's like a lawyer's letter. Of course, if the publisher tells the Union grievance officer to buzz off, you have to take them to small claims court after all. (4) Some chapters have good local meetings and activities. People from Boston who relocate to New York tell me that they are disappointed with the NY chapter. The NY chapter once had very good monthly meetings for business writers, science writers, magazine writers, etc., but it depends on having people to volunteer. The NY local is organizing a series of workshops in NYC for fiction writers and poets, but they've been slighting the needs of working writers. (5) The NWU has a definite left activist political character, which some people (like me) like (though some members are actually Republicans). The Union has brought lawsuits like *Tasini vs. New York Times* over electronic rights, and they have plans of organizing every writer in the U.S., and dictating prices and terms to publishers (assuming the justice department antitrust division will let them, unlike doctors). Some members have criticized President Tasini for being autocratic, for ignoring rank-and-file members, for coming up with grandiose, screwball schemes, and ignoring practical issues--and they're right. See the Village Voice. It has the worst bureaucracy of any writers' organization. Dues are on a sliding scale from about $100 to $200.

Society of Technical Communicators NYC
This is for technical writers. They have a nationwide organization Their meetings were good and the members are smart. (A little nerdy, though.)

PRSA Technology Section
The parent Public Relations Society of America is an organization of people who do well-paid public relations writing, mostly PR agency employees or freelancers. If you're an experienced magazine writer, you can get paid 3 times as much for the same kind of work that you do for a PR agency. (Although marketing and rewriting is harder.)

International Association of Business Communicators NYC
I was at their meeting last night in a Central Park restaurant. They work for big corporations, usually as employees but often freelancers. They write marketing material, employee communications on health and retirement benefits, etc. A freelancer once told me, "I owe my career to the IABC." Her career was corporate speechwriting. She worked 4 hours in the morning, at $100 an hour, and spent the rest of the day writing her novel.

New York New Media Association
This is not a writer's organization, but they cover the Internet very well, and include writers. Their web site has jobs for writers.

Computer Press Association
I don't have the web site handy, but the is good for journalists who write about computers.

National Association of Science Writers
I belong to NASW. They have a good email list, with much less traffic than MagWrite, which is a great place to ask questions on science-writing-related issues, like contract provisions and rates. They also have a great email jobs list, particularly for university PR. They have a good newsletter and web site. I've also gotten jobs through their membership directory. Dues are only about $70.

Science Writers in New York (SWINY)
This is the New York affiliate of NASW. We have had several good meetings with editors of science magazines.

American Medical Writers Association
I also belong to AMWA. A month or so ago, I got a call from a woman at a PR agency who calls me whenever she gets too busy to do the work herself. She had an 18,000-word transcript of a panel of doctors, who were discussing her client's new drug. She wanted me to boil it down to a 5,000-word summary to hand out to the pharmaceutical company salesmen. I took 2 days and it paid $2,500. She originally got my name through the AMWA frelance directory. But most AMWA members do work for pharmaceutical companies, something like the IABC. About $100/year, although listings in the (very useful) freelance directory costs more.