Crunching the Numbers of ASJA Membership

I love spreadsheets, perhaps more than the typical person. A good day is when I can build a few formulas and crunch some numbers. If that sounds strange, know this: I’m a writer with a math degree. Writing and mathematics are generally considered incongruous, but honestly, the practice of mathematics is remarkably similar to the act of tracking down a story. Both require proof.

In college, I learned ways to prove that the sum of two even numbers is even. As a journalist, I learned that interviewing a variety of sources often gets me closer to the truth. As an essayist, I understand that my argument must be supported by facts. It’s not enough for me to say that the Appalachian region of Virginia has been hard hit by the closing of coal companies. I need to show this truth with numbers: the dip in average salaries over the last 30 years, the winnowing down of populations, the increase in the average age of residents.

But the numbers don’t tell the full story. Not by a long shot. Interviews with residents help readers understand how desperately the people of southwest Virginia want to stay in their hometowns. They can’t leave the graves of their grandparents or sell the only land belonging to anyone in their families. They don’t want to give up their small, tight-knit community. They can’t fathom living in a city, where they can’t hunt or fish or grow a garden. They can’t afford the rent in a more expensive locale, or they don’t own a reliable car.

In statistical analysis, these are called quantitative and qualitative data: the numbers and the stories. Honestly, we use these measures when making all sorts of decisions, especially when it comes to money. I pay a little more for a certain brand of washing machine soap, because it’s the kind my mother used and I like the scent. I over-tip waitstaff because I spent three summers serving hungry travelers at a Holiday Inn restaurant.  On the other hand, I don’t understand why I would put a high-test gasoline in the tank of my Toyota, and I can’t fathom spending more than $30 for a pair of jeans.

ASJA’s 2020 membership campaign began last week. This means some of you are considering joining for the first time, while others are thinking about whether or not to renew. This seems like the perfect time to crunch the numbers and to consider the qualitative reasons for joining.

The first approach is to consider how much an annual membership costs per month. At $235 per year, the monthly cost is only $19.59. And if you want to break it down further, that’s $4.52 per week. (Just for fun: the cost per hour is 2.6 cents.)

Another option is to consider the value of membership, which is both a qualitative and quantitative question. Professional membership comes with benefits, including the opportunity to sign up for a Virtual Pitch Slam or Virtual Client Connections. As a professional member, you can also meet face-to-face with editors and clients at our Client Connections program during the annual conference in NYC. (Last spring, thanks to the pandemic, we moved this program online. TeleConnections was a huge hit.) These pitching opportunities are both a chance to practice selling your ideas and to actually land assignments. Only one $250 assignment covers a year of membership and then some.

Most of our members have also reported that being in community with other freelance writers has made them more profitable and productive. Need an accountability partner? Want to know the name of an editor at your dream pub? Looking for a beta reader for your book? ASJA members are eager to help one another in lots of different ways. Being plugged in to a community of professional writers can also mean introductions to new clients and even referrals.

I don’t even know how to put a price tag on suing the state of California over AB 5, an egregious anti-freelance law. While we’re not sure where this case will end up, we can follow through because of the strong support of our members. We’re fortunate that the legal action itself doesn’t cost us anything financially, but our members have been on the ground in California, New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere, advocating for your right to make a living as a freelancer. They’ve also compiled useful resources, so that you can get involved in the fight.

We’ve been told that $235 is a hefty price for association membership dues. I’ll admit it: Our dues are higher than those of other writers’ organizations. But be honest: Which other organizations are helping you land clients, advocating for your rights as an independent writer, and providing you with a strong community of professional freelance writers? Most other writers’ organizations are largely made up of staff writers; others focus on niches (like biography or ghostwriting); and those with a freelance bent, cater to writers who are new to freelancing. All of these organizations are important; many ASJA members belong to several and ASJA partners with other writers’ organizations whenever possible.

But ASJA is the lone professional freelance writers’ organization in the country. Only writers with proven records or those with clear trajectories can join. Because of that, ASJA must provide top-level resources for our members, and those resources are expensive, even for a largely volunteer-run organization. A lot happens behind the scenes to help you grow and maintain your business. Every single day, an ASJA volunteer or staff member is working on a program designed to help you land your next client or become more efficient in your business practices or connect you to other professional writers.

So, when you get your notice for renewal or an email encouraging you to join for the first time, just do it. In the scheme of things, your membership fees are a true investment in your business. And if you’re not convinced, run the numbers. I find that a spreadsheet and a few simple formulas can help.

ASJA’s fall membership drive began on October 1. Get more information about ASJA membership here.