on July 16, 2009

I get asked a lot about the pros and cons of joining International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. Here’s my two cents about the benefits of each organization, so you can decide which is right for you.

* Founded by published authors for published authors. They attempted to be another fan organization, but it didn’t work (IMO.) They are now expanding more into the unpublished author realm, and I think that will be far more successful. They promote the thriller genre, and specifically thriller AUTHORS.
* Approximately 1,000 members. 80+% are published authors (print published only.) Only published members can vote. The organization is controlled heavily by the board (which for this group works very well) and the by-laws both support no major upheavals/take-overs while also requiring new blood regularly via term limits. Associate members (non-voting) can be anyone from unpublished, agents, editors, publicists, reviews, fans, etc.
* Incredible debut author program for thriller writers (in any genre–mystery thriller, romantic thriller, etc.) If you are a debut author that can even remotely be classified as a “thriller” you need to join.
* Gender parity–probably 60/40 men/women . . . maybe with an edge of 65% men. This is to be expected because men write more thrillers.
* Published author focus–published authors do not pay dues, they have opportunities to be in anthologies that financially support the organization, and there are other (paying) opportunities to buy ads in their growing online newsletter The Big Thrill and join in other promotional venues.
* Conferences have 400-500 attendees.
* Not a big online chat group.
* No local chapters. The once a year conference is it.
* Volunteering matters–if you volunteer for something, opportunities generally follow (it might not be this year, but they have a long memory.)

* Founded by romance writers (published and unpublished) to promote/support romance and help romance writers learn the business.
* Over 9,000 members, of which about 20% are published. At least 95% female, if not more. Women generally write romance.
* The focus is really on unpublished authors. There is no better place to learn the business of publishing than RWA.
* RWA conferences have 2000+ attendees.
* Strong local and online chapters that provide workshops, classes, friendship, and the human connection that as women, I think we need because writing is so solitary.
* Some promotional opportunities through the RWR, a print magazine.

One key difference, which is partly because of the size of the organizations, is that at Thrillerfest, there are events where everyone mingles. The Random House Reception this year everyone was there–you had authors and agents and editors all mingling in a warm and friendly atmosphere. There wasn’t a sense of competition as there often is at RWA. It was all business, all professional. Very similar to the PASIC industry receptions we have, but on a much larger scale.

For me, I am a member of both. I joined RWA in February of 2003 after I went to my first local chapter meeting. I had an agent (not my current agent, not an agent who was able to sell me, but that’s another story.) I had two completed novels and hardly knew anything about the business. I’ve always believed that I would have been published with or without RWA; with RWA, however, I learned far more about the business of writing than I could have learned on my own, and I think I sold faster because of the information I had through the organization. With everything, you have to take advice with a grain of salt and consider the person offering the wisdom. Some things work for some people and not for others. But with RWA you get a breadth of experience and advice, can pick and choose what works for you, and make informed decisions. My caveat is that you can’t take anything you hear as gospel, whether it’s from me or Rocki or Karin or even Nora Roberts. What works for us might not work for you, BUT you can take the variety of experiences to help you carve your own path that works for you. I’ve been to every conference since Reno 2005.

I joined ITW shortly after it was formed in 2006. I went to the first ITW conference quite nervous–these were some major authors. Who was I? I was a newly published nobody in mass market, and these were mega authors. I fell in with the debut authors because I felt more comfortable with them–they were like me. Sure, they didn’t have a book out yet, but my trilogy was essentially a debut book and I still didn’t know a lot about the business or what to expect. This is where I met Toni, Robert Gregory Browne, Brett Battles, Alexandra Sokoloff, JT Ellison, and more. They were all debut authors in 2007, and I ended up sort of by chance mentoring my pal Gregg Olsen and landing in an anthology edited by Lee Child. I missed 2007 conference because it conflicted with RWA and my base is RWA, but honestly? I really missed going. I’ve been to the last two, and am definitely planning on 2009.

If RWA and ITW conflicts again, I can’t honestly tell you where I would end up. It depends on a variety of things, but I don’t want to lie: I have more fun at ITW. I’m not as stressed, I don’t have to work as hard, people tend to be less competitive and it’s not as fast-paced and busy. If I accidently ignore someone because my mind is in a million places, they don’t take offense. If I see an acquaintance talking to a mega author, they make room for me when I lurk around the side wanting to meet the individual. Authors go out of their way to introduce unpublished or new authors to editors, agents, the press, and other authors. ITW isn’t perfect, there are cliques like with every organization, but the people truly go out of their way to include.

I don’t mean to diss RWA, and I’m not. There organization is huge–ten times larger than ITW. They have a different purpose and mission. And the opportunities to hear a diverse and fascinating group of authors is incredible. RWA has networking opportunities that you can’ believe, and you make friends that last a lifetime. Or should. As a woman, you have people who understand what it’s like to write with a husband who thinks you’re ignore him, or juggle the kids’ schedule with your, and RWA members are much more willing to share heartbreak and the downside of the business. We share success and failure, and when you have a group of friends in RWA, there is NO ONE more supportive of you and your career. As a woman, I need that emotional connection with people who understand what I’m going through without the need to explain it. Because writing is so solitary, RWA provides the online and in person venue (though local meetings–which usually rock) to connect with like-minded humans. ITW doesn’t have that sort of emotional connection and they don’t have local chapters–and they shouldn’t, because that’s not the purpose.

There is no reason why you can’t join both if your write romantic suspense. In fact, you should. But you should know the benefit of each and accept that they are different organizations with different purposes and try to love each one for what they are. Check out the offerings at each conference. Thrillerfest is more expensive than RWA, but on the flip side you can only pay for the days you want to go. So if you just want to go to Craftfest (geared toward unpublished authors) you can. PASIC, the published author chapter of RWA, is similar experience for me as Thrillerfest on a much smaller scale. We have a bi-annual conference with industry professionals and gear everything toward the professional romance writer.

Next year, I am thrilled that there is a week break between the two conferences. I don’t think I can do a back-to-back conference again.

If you’ve been to both, what’s your experience?