Finding My Fellows

Laura Laing, ASJA President

I first learned the word “fellowship” in the little Lutheran church I grew up in. I liked that the first part of the word felt happy, welcoming. A “fellow” is a good friend, someone you can count on for support and kindness. “Ship” means the state or condition of being something. It makes sense that “fellowship” felt friendly to me as a child. It still does. When we were in fellowship, we were in community—friends together in support.

Of course, fellowship isn’t a word consigned to religion. It simply means to be in friendly association with others, especially those who share interests. I have sought fellowship with others in many ways: book groups, parents of my child’s friends, social justice advocates, family reunions, yard salers, beer brewers, kitten fosters, and other writers. For whatever I’m interested in, there’s a group of like-minded people to join.

When I first became a freelance writer in 2001, I signed up for a freelance writing list serv. This was pre-social media, so the group stayed small, and I got to know a number of the other members very well. One person reviewed my first pitch to Parents magazine, and squealed with me on the phone when it was accepted. Another person offered an online course that taught me how to set up financials and a budget for my burgeoning business. And a third copy-edited two of my books 15 years later. I was a beginner way back then, too green for ASJA and thirsty for advice about how to develop a strong career in freelance writing.

I can’t believe where my career has taken me, thanks to those—and other—generous people, all of whom I have met because I joined groups of established freelancers who were supportive and generous. When I was experienced enough to join ASJA, I dove right in, excited to take my little business to the next step. Through this organization, I’ve gained so much: friends, colleagues, skills, critical advice and feedback, clients, and yes, a nice income. I’m one of those members who doesn’t think about how much money I earn from attending a conference or pitching to an editor at Client Connections. For me, it’s the people who have meant far more.

But perhaps you’re thinking of joining ASJA or renewing your membership to benefit your bottom line. Or maybe you can’t imagine giving up your ASJA membership because you’d miss close connections that can come from an in-person conference or volunteering. Maybe you’re thinking of joining because you need a boost to push you further in your career or into a new area of writing. There are dozens of reasons to join or renew, and many of them are very personal. I like that about ASJA. Our programming is broad enough to offer something for almost anyone, and our members are some of the most generous anywhere.

This month, we’re launching a new website, which is huge news. We’re also beginning our membership drive, which is much more common but no less important. The revenue we bring in through membership dues pays for Virtual Client Connections and Virtual Pitch Slam, as well as our magazine and awards program and webinars and masterminds and advocacy work. But perhaps more importantly, it is the foundation of the robust experience that we share with one another. I’m not big on superlatives, but I can confidently say that ASJA is the only organization in the world that offers such a stellar community of experienced and proven freelance writers. We’re here for each other, encouraging growth and risk, and celebrating successes.

ASJA is unique because our members are laser focused on professional freelance writing. We’re not hobbyists or dabblers. We’re not staffers. Each assignment puts food on our tables, and the work we do represents some of the finest writing published anywhere. Membership in ASJA is confirmation that you are a pro. At the same time, we offer opportunities for writers who are on the verge of going professional, through our associate membership program. In order to support freelance writing as a career, ASJA recognizes its duty to foster professional writers, not just support those who have already made it.

This year, we’re adding two new categories of membership for writers. Almost three years ago, the ASJA board adopted a strategic plan to broaden our membership base without diluting our commitment to professional freelance writing. Beginning this month, we’re offering limited membership for students in graduate writing programs. These new members will have an opportunity to learn from our pros—how to pitch, the ins and outs of contracts, the process of writing a book proposal, and yes, how to build a business that is both profitable and enjoyable. Like associate members, our student members will not have access to our client networking programs, like Client Connections. Our hope is that they will grow and become associate or professional members.

At the same time, as the definition of retirement has changed, we recognized the need to restructure our membership category for members who are retiring. For years, members who are 65 and older have been able to take advantage of reduced membership dues, based on the assumption that they were retired. But some of our members retire earlier than 65 years old and others continue to publish long after that age. We’ve introduced a new retired membership designation for current members who are no longer freelancing. Retired members will not have access to client networking programs, like Client Connections, but they’ll continue to receive all other benefits, including reduced rates to the conference and ASJA Magazine. Members who currently receive reduced rates will be grandfathered in, but going forward, these special rates will be available to any member who has retired—regardless of age.

In addition to these new membership categories, we’ll also offer corporate and collegiate memberships. In short, these categories are a way to streamline our sponsorship opportunities, which offset the high costs of in-person conferences. Membership Engagement chair Carolyn Crist provided details about each of these new categories in last week’s Confidential post. 

Over the next few weeks, you’ll receive messages from us about ASJA membership. If you’re a current member, you’ll be asked to renew. If you’re not a member yet, you’ll get information about membership. And we’re excited that our new website will coincide with this year’s drive, which will make the renewal and application processes much easier. I hope you’ll consider these invitations carefully, ask questions of us, and take the plunge. The water is fine.

Without members, ASJA ceases to exist. We—professional freelance writers—are the reason that our organization has been around for more than 70 years. With the publishing industry in constant flux, we need each other. We need other professional writers to take a second look at an essay or to review a book proposal. We need insight on markets that only another writer can give. We need raucous cheering sections when we land a big client or sell a book. We need you.