Give and Take

Laura Laing

I am an introvert. I have to tell people this, because I do not act like an introvert. At least not in public. I’m pretty good at working a crowd, and my momma taught me how to make small talk, just like any good Virginia momma would. I am also genuinely interested in what others are thinking and doing and feeling.

But trust me when I tell you that after the ASJA cocktail party where we may have met, I needed three episodes of New York Real Housewives to recharge my batteries. That day I spent chatting on Facebook required a two-hour nap for recovery. And that weekend I spent reporting on site about a soon-to-be demolished church in Baltimore? I took the following Monday off. 

I suspect that among ASJA members, I am not a minority in the -vert department. Writing seems to be a remarkably good match for those of us who feel overstimulated with others for long periods of time. I largely agree with the supposition that writing is a solitary vocation, even with all of the reporting and editing coordination. The solitary part is what puts fuel in my tank (even though writing is also uniquely exhausting).

But while the writing itself may be a solitary affair, I completely disagree that writing is a lonely vocation. Even though I’m an introvert, I’m also a joiner.

I suspect that you’re also a joiner of sorts, otherwise, why would you be an ASJA member (or considering membership)? Naturally, it’s one reason I am not only a member of ASJA but also a volunteer. Because being a member of a huge national organization is not the same thing as cultivating community.

A few of our long-time volunteers—including Wendy Helfenbaum, Jennifer Goforth Gregory, and Kristine Hansen—often assert that you get out of ASJA what you put into it. Your dues go to programming, but the real payoff happens because you’ve put some time into developing relationships with other members. Money won’t buy you connections. For most of us, freelance writing hinges on solid networking, and for professional writers, that networking is most fruitful among other freelance writers.

ASJA offers networking opportunities for sure. You can pitch your ideas to an editor in a variety of settings. You can learn about a publication or a market in our magazine. You can ask questions of editors and writers during conference sessions. You can reach out to a fellow member to ask for a contact. But honestly? The more you put into ASJA, the more you’ll get out of it.

That’s because personal connections make much more of a difference than cold calls. Among the friends I’ve made in ASJA, I can tell you what each specializes in, and if I hear of an opportunity for someone with that expertise, I’ll certainly share that info. I’ve been known to send an editor the name and email of an ASJA member who might be a good fit for a particular project. And when members I know well have asked about my experience with a particular publication or editor, I’ve answered honestly. Likewise, ASJA members have shared their contacts with me; they’ve sent me copies of their book proposals; they’ve recommended me for speaking gigs.

We do this because this is how a community works.

The first time I ever volunteered for ASJA was at my first New York City conference. I was terrified to meet new people in big, fancy ballrooms. So, I arrived a day early to help assemble the conference materials that would be handed out the next day. I sat among boxes overflowing with past issues of ASJA Magazine, free pens, conference booklets, and fliers for editorial services, and I got to know a few of my fellow members, as well as the staff. The next day, I knew about five people, which made me feel less scared. By the end of the weekend, I had made true friends. Within a couple of years, I had added to my bottom line thanks to referrals and suggestions. In fact, my highest paying client came from an email sent by a fellow ASJAer. She saw an ad and thought I’d be a good fit. Within a week, I had begun a three-year partnership with a client that netted me well into six figures.

I firmly believe that you’ve got to give to your community before it’s okay to take from it. Sure, Tele-Connections is available to those who haven’t volunteered a single time or haven’t yet had an opportunity to help another ASJAer, even informally. And you can land assignments that way, no doubt. But the real payoff is with your fellow members. There’s no secret handshake for this, no special password. (I promise.) I know the people I do in ASJA because I have volunteered. It’s that simple.

I’m going to invite you to think of volunteering as at least a little bit selfish. Yes, volunteering is ultimately about a need to give back, but it’s also about the very human need to connect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to share your skills because you know it will pull you into the community more fully. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your time and expertise in the hopes that you might meet people who can help you along in your career.

And if you don’t have time to volunteer right now, don’t sweat it. There will always be volunteer opportunities available at ASJA. Sometimes we need people to head up big initiatives. Sometimes we need proof-readers. Just in case, take a look at the list of volunteer opportunities below. We’d love to have you along for the ride. And the best ASJA volunteer job could be waiting for you!

The Grants Committee researches and then applies for grants on behalf of ASJA. You don’t have to have experience with grant writing to help out. We need good communicators, and that’s every ASJA member! Email Katie Navarra at for more information.

The First Amendment Committee is looking for members to review First Amendment issues for ASJA’s involvement. They also need someone to represent ASJA in a multi-organization coalition that fights book bans by government-run bodies, including schools and libraries. Want more information? Email JoBeth McDaniels at

Jennifer Billock is looking for SIG (Special Interest Group) leaders for June: in particular, someone who can lead a group about WordPress. If you have other SIG ideas and are interested in leading a discussion, reach out to Jen at

We also need to someone to take over our Virtual Pitch Slams, which occur about once a month. The gig involves finding an editor willing to spend an hour-long, interactive session (moderated by an ASJA member) hearing pitches from our members. The other part of the job is opening up registration and closing it once 12-15 people have signed up, as well as promoting the event and liaising with the editor and the writers who will be pitching. Here’s more info on the program. Email Wendy Helfenbaum if you want to learn more about the volunteer job:

Our conference chair, Kristine Hansen, is looking for two conference volunteers: one to manage the journalism Snack Chats and another to manage the book Snack Chats. (This volunteer gig comes with free entry to our conference!) Here’s what the job looks like: Brainstorm a list of great Snack Chat topics – like investigative reporting or publishing your first book – and then recruit topic leaders. (ASJA 2021’s committee already has a few leads, so you won’t be starting from scratch.) Collect their bios and Snack Chat descriptions for promotion. Work with the conference committee to manage the signup and promotion of the Snack Chats. For each of the tracks, the Snack Chats will be held on one day – and participants will go into different breakout rooms according to the session they signed up for. (No chance of double-booking this time!) Each Snack Chat is for up to 10 conference attendees and – because many sold out last year – we expect them to be a highly desired conference offering. To learn more, check out the Snack Chats page on our conference website. Email Kristine at if you’d like to help out.

To help populate the education section of our new website, we’re looking for some volunteers to curate ASJA content including past blog posts, magazine articles, market reports, podcasts, and more. This is a new, short-term responsibility, and we’re looking for a chair, as well as a team of folks to support this effort. In essence, the job requires reviewing archived ASJA materials and deciding what makes sense to bring to the new website. This is the kind of job that can be done without meetings and can be easily squeezed between work and home responsibilities. Email me for more details:

Don’t see anything that strikes your fancy? Be sure to read ASJA’s newsletter, The Weekly, for volunteer opportunities throughout the year!

Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash