ASJA 70th Anniversary Gala…ASJA through the Decades, Part 2

ASJA history and ASJA’s 70th Anniversary Gala are intertwined; perhaps in the not-too-distant future, extraterrestrials will be rooting for information about our culture and come across a description of May’s upcoming bash. So now is your chance to be part of ASJA history and have a blast in the present. “Agents, editors and other industry VIPs are signing up to celebrate ASJA’s 70th Anniversary Gala, 6-8 p.m. May 17 at the Steelcase Penthouse overlooking Columbus Circle,” said super ASJA volunteer, Estelle Erasmus, the chair for the Gala, and last year’s NYC conference chair, who is also the host/curator of the ASJA Direct Podcast.  “As of today, more than a dozen literary agents, as well as editors from Atlas ObscuraCNNLongreads, Brain, ChildFamily CircleNew York MagazineThe Daily BeastMetropolisNext Avenue/PBS have RSVP’d  to attend this intimate event. 

“Delicious food will include crab cakes, beef crostini, coconut shrimp, a cheese and crudité station, cocktails and more. There will also be a mystery raffle,” Erasmus continued.  “I’m looking forward to bringing ASJA’s members, board members and VIPs together for a gala celebration event that will demonstrate just how excited ASJA is about its past, present and future as the go-to voice and resource for working freelance writers.” Tickets are limited “because we want to keep the Gala small and intimate, for optimum networking and celebrating, and we are almost at capacity.” Order your tickets here.

And now for the history…

1978 (30 years) ASJA had officially changed its name from the Society of Magazine Writers (SMW) to encompass its many successful book author members, whose ranks included New York Times bestselling heavy-hitter Mary Higgins Clark. The spring New York conference had been established a few years prior, with a member’s day (called the “Member’s Meeting”) and the 30th anniversary gala as part of the festivities. Members paid only $15 for the conference and $32.50 for the whole package. And while the February 1978 issue of the ASJA Newsletter was typewritten and mimeographed, with what looked to be handwritten illustrations, it was jam-packed with information, including member’s publications, books and various achievements; intelligence on which publications were good to work for and paying well and others that weren’t so much; and less compelling (to some) but very comprehensive minutes of the monthly business meetings. Information about pay was detailed in two sections:  “Paycheck”—a form of which exists today—and “Roundup.”  With the latter, a list of publications and their rates of pay (word counts weren’t specified), $600 was considered low with $1500 to $2500+ given a “B” and above rating.  Towards the end of 1978, the newsletter was switched to a typeset, more highly designed format, resembling the slick layout of today’s ASJA Magazine.

1988 (40 years) Here’s a mystery. For some reason, by early 1988, the newsletter went back to what might be tactfully called a “more homey” mimeograph-type format of what looked like handwritten dates and page numbers and inserted drawings and line art. However, each issue was consistent with specific sections: Among others, “Book Bag,” “Regional Reports,” “Market Monitor,” “BuyLine,” and my personal favorite “Dial-a-Writer,” of which the late member Dorothy Beach was the gatekeeper. Unlike today’s Freelance Writer Search (FWS), members had to pay a percentage of their take to ASJA should they garner an assignment from DAW, as it was called, which was still a fixture when I joined in the early 1990s. As a newbie member, it seemed somewhat intimidating and unscalable. Thanks to the internet and social media, many of those walls have come down—along with FWS, the Forum has “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” Both are available to all levels of membership. The New York Conference, the Llewellyn Miller Fund and the rights and contracts committees were all thriving in 1988. (Today the Llewellyn Miller Fund is known as Writers Emergency Assistance Fund (WEAF) and is administered through the ASJA Charitable Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt organization.) The 40th anniversary party took place in December at Gracie Mansion in New York City, also official residence of then-Mayor Edward T. Koch. Koch proclaimed the week of December 5 to be “American Society of Journalists and Authors 40th Celebration Anniversary Week,” a mouthful if there ever was one.

1998 (50 years) By now, computers and desktop publishing had completely replaced the old graphics. A dependable workhorse filled with valuable information, the newsletter was still helmed by the late former ASJA president and long time writer advocate Dodi Schultz. At that time, the Internet was just coming into its own, and ASJA had entered into the digital age. (An early 1998 banner read “Visit ASJA on the World Wide Web” with the old-school http:// in front of The anniversary gala was moved back as part of the May conference. Held at the elegant National Arts Club, it featured a fancy menu of appetizers, a cold buffet and a birthday cake and an open [italics deliberate] bar. “No tacky fishing in your wallet when thirst comes on,” wrote 50th anniversary chair Katie Fishman. Entertainment included an ominous-sounding skit “Ghost of Editors Past.” Speaking of ghosting, the “Warning List” outed nonpaying markets, nasty editors, and other writing scofflaws. “Roundup” remained strong, with the bottom of pay barrel being $750 and the top being $3500 and more. Little did we know what lay ahead.

2008 (60 years) Ten years ago, the ASJA Monthly (now ASJA Magazine) more closely resembled the currently bimonthly iteration except that the former was of published 11 times a year (the July/August issues were combined).  While acceptable to share the “Public” section of the magazine with others, it was verboten to pass along the “Confidential” part as it contained rates and other sensitive information. Regional Chapters were branching out, with Southern California, San Francisco, Southeast, and more socializing and meeting regularly. The online “Phorum” as it was called then, had been active for several years. Along with sharing information, members got into lively and sometimes not-so-friendly discussions about everything from contract rights to political issues (a sort-of precursor to Facebook). The conference had expanded its offerings to multiple sessions and days, with Personal Pitch, Pitch Slams and still-intriguing topics such as “New Markets for Medical Writers,” “Should You Self-Publish?” “First Pages: Agents/Editors Critique Non-Fiction,” and many more. ASJA made its own foray into self-publishing with 60 Candles: Reflections on the Writing Life, which featured contributions from some 155 members.

That’s whole a lot of writing, networking and influencing packed into 70 years. Yet thanks to its tuned-in and dedicated members, ASJA remains forever young and—dare I say it?—hip. Happy birthday, ASJA!

Sign up for the 70th Anniversary Gala by clicking here, then jumpstart your career with Navigate. Motivate. Captivate., ASJA’s annual New York conference Friday and Saturday, May 18-19. And mark your calendar for the
Client Connections lottery May 2-7. You must be registered for the conference to enter the lottery.