class participation

Because I am a total sucker for a clearance sale, I bought these beautiful shoes that are too nice and summery for the gray, slushy New York City winter we’re currently having. Because I am a writer, part of me thought, “That’s a really great metaphor for an essay I’ve been meaning to write.” Basically, a lot of us pay for opportunity—pink Fluevog pumps that can’t be worn until spring, say, or a membership in a professional organization—without fully taking advantage.

As you may be aware, I’m currently serving as president of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance special interest chapter of Romance Writers of America. It’s an online chapter, as opposed to a local chapter (for example, I am also a member of RWANYC). All exist to serve the interests of career-focused romance writers.

I get asked frequently whether joining RWA is worth it. “What’s in it for me?” writers want to know.

Here’s my answer: Maybe nothing. Or maybe a great deal. It depends on what you put into it.

My first year in RWA, I paid my dues and then… did nothing. I’m not sure I really understood RWA’s mission or how it operates, so I mostly waited, figuring the value would make itself apparent. It didn’t. I joined my local chapter, which has an active email loop, but I mostly ignored that. I didn’t attend any events. When it came time to renew my membership, I almost didn’t, because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to be getting out of the organization.

But then I renewed and also joined Rainbow Romance Writers. I volunteered for RRW projects and started attending local RWANYC meetings. New York City actually has a wonderful, thriving community of romance writers and fans, and I had no idea until I started going to events.

Anyone who has ever been to a convention knows that feeling of walking into a room and feeling like you’ve found your people. That’s been my experience at RWA events, at conventions, at readings and signings. I’m kicking myself for waiting so long to get involved in person. Because it’s not just meeting your fellow tribe members; every chapter of RWA has writers at all stages of their career, from “pre-published,” in the parlance of RWANYC, to bestselling. Everyone’s experience has been unique. I find it tremendously valuable just to talk to other writers, to learn from their experiences or to spitball ideas or even just to talk about books we love or tropes we could do without. I actually spent a lot of time this past weekend having meals with other writers and talking about the biz. It’s inspiring.

My local chapter, probably primarily because of its location, also attracts a lot of industry people to our meetings. We get editors and agents and librarians and lawyers and publicists and bloggers and so on as guest speakers. That’s been educational. I’ve gotten to meet and have great one-on-one conversations with some of my favorite writers. Hell, meeting Nora Roberts at last year’s RWA conference and gawking at her shoes was basically worth the price of admission if you have been reading her books as long as I have.

One of my first acts upon joining Rainbow Romance writers was to volunteer for a chapter project, which also turned into other opportunities. The most notable thing I did was co-write a survey of romance readers and then later analyze all the data. I learned a ton. That work apparently convinced the powers that be that I was board material, so I was persuaded to run and now I’m sitting here wearing the proverbial tiara as president.

A lot of what RRW does is probably not obvious to its membership, but I can point to some tangible things that happened before my time on the board (helping to get reviews of LGBT romance in RT magazine being the big one) or things I had a direct hand in (like the Writers Workshop at GayRomLit).

My project for my presidency is bookstore and library outreach—I want to see more LGBT romance in those places, to raise the profile of LGBT romance writers and get books into the hand of more readers. That’s maybe a lofty goal, but I believe it’s doable. I’ve already talked to bookstores and I’m doing a panel at a library next month and I’m hard at work as president. Library outreach in particular has been a pet project of mine for a while, particularly since I learned via the aforementioned survey that many, many readers discover new books at the library. That’s a huge opportunity our community might be missing out on.

I wouldn’t be doing any of this if I hadn’t gotten involved. I wouldn’t be having these experiences, and I do believe my life and career have been greatly enriched by my involvement with RWA. My dues money would be like throwing a fistful of cash into thin air if I hadn’t started going to meetings and volunteering.

RWA, RRW, local RWA chapters, all of these things can do a lot for you, but only if you get in there and take advantage of what’s being offered.