Publishers Weekly has a lengthy article in the current issue about the Romance Writers of America, which has 9500 members, only 1600 of whom are actually published authors.
That can make for some uncomfortable moments at the group’s annual conference,
says agent Irene Goodman, who maintains that these aspiring authors "often view
editors and agents as gatekeepers who are the bad guys barring them from their
The agent, whose clients include bestselling romance writer Debbie Macomber,
continues, "They act as if we’re all part of some semishady, sub-rosa group."
Still, Goodman attends the conferences, wading through "this vast population of
the great unwashed masses of inexperienced, unprofessional people trying to
break in," in search of "a brilliant newcomer."
And there lies the paradox of RWA’s highly democratic (anyone willing to
write a $75 dues check is in) admissions policy. On the one hand, it is the
group’s greatest strength, enabling it to claim the largest membership of any
not-for-profit genre writers’ association in the world. And it creates an
important mission for the group, with a national conference and numerous local
conferences each year that make up a kind of finishing school for romance
writers. But this inclusiveness may also be the group’s biggest weakness,
diluting its clout by making it seem amateurish and, as Goodman points out,
making it harder for agents and editors to discover the truly motivated writer
among the dilettantes.
Still, as the group celebrates its 25-year anniversary, it’s a safe bet those
unpublished—or, as some prefer to call them, "pre-published"—writers will
continue to be welcome in a group that also boasts such big names as Nora
Roberts and Jennifer Crusie. Providing networking and support for aspiring
authors was, after all, the original mission when 37 charter members founded the
association in 1980…
…Crusie, who says everything she knows about the business she learned from
another RWA member, is more than happy to share the group with aspirants. "RWA’s
strength is that it’s got unpublished members. That’s where all the juice comes
from," she says. "I was a wannabe once."
The article makes passing reference to only one of the many embarrassing controversies that have rattled the organization in the past year.
At the annual conference this summer that marked the group’s 25-year
anniversary, some attendees felt less than celebratory after viewing a video
montage with a right-wing bent that was the centerpiece of the awards
presentation. It edited together footage of important political events from the
last 25 years with a pop-tune soundtrack, so that bouncy music played over
sobering images—none of which had anything to do with romance writers. Roberts,
who had been scheduled to serve as emcee, opted out. "I could not and would not
be a part of a ceremony that, rather than honor the organization and the
nominees, took the audience through 25 years of world tragedies," she says in an
e-mail. "I felt, and continue to feel, that it was horribly inappropriate and
Crusie, who served on the RWA board for three years in the late 1990s, says,
"there’s always upheaval," but adds, "it’s the same with any organization."
Yeah, but few do it quite so publicly and over such incredibly stupid stuff.