A few years back, I stopped to eat at a truck stop outside Bakersfield.
If you know me, this may come as a shock considering my refined tastes and delicate nature. But I digress. (And please, just ignore those pesky hoots of laughter coming from the various parts of the country where ASJA’s board members live. They’re just jealous of my legendary gravitas.)
While gobbling down my double bacon cheeseburger deluxe, I noticed something odd. A glance around the room revealed that I was the skinniest man in the room. Me, a one-time beanpole who drifted.
I’d never felt so great about being so out of place.
A 50-something friend of mine had a similar experience when he joined a gay men’s chorus full of seniors: “I’m the hot young thing!”
But not everyone who stands out is the belle of the ball. We all know what it’s like to feel out of place among crowds of people who don’t seem to be like us.
Finding Yourself in the ASJA Crowd
No one should feel out of place in the ASJA. But we do hear from people who look for writers like them and have trouble finding them in our organization.
No wonder. ASJA members aren’t spread out among ages, genders, or ethnicities. We tend to be female, AARP-eligible and white.
The ASJA leadership is well aware that we need to attract a more diverse membership to avoid stagnation, irrelevance and decline. We see a crisis coming as members age, and it’s focusing our minds.
We may not be able to do much about the gender divide, because most freelance writers — if not independent writers as a whole — appear to be women. But we can turn things around when it comes to bringing in more young writers and writers of color.
This year’s annual writers conference brought tremendous progress on this front. Our speakers included many minority journalists and members of the LGBT community. There’s more to do, however, and we’re dedicated to change for the better.
New Money for New Outreach
At my request, ASJA’s 2015-2016 budget includes funding for outreach to other journalism organizations. This means ASJA leaders will go to more conferences, hopefully including those put on by groups that represent minority journalists.
We hope to speak and tell more journalists how to survive, thrive and protect themselves as independent writers. If we’re lucky, we’ll make new friends and new allies while recruiting new ASJA members.
In addition, we’ll be focusing more than ever before on making sure that we are a welcoming place for all independent writers.
We can start with events like ASJA’s annual and regional conferences. Here’s my commitment: We will do even more to bring diverse speakers to our events. We will teach journalists how to find new voices to add to their stories. And we will seek to bring in more editors from a wider variety of media outlets and publishing houses that serve minority communities.
We must also devote more effort to reaching younger independent writers and providing the services they want and need.
Two Days to Rock Your Career
As I write this, we’re getting ready to sign a contract with the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City to hold our annual writers conference next spring. We’ll get you the exact dates as soon as they’re finalized.
There’s a big change for 2016: We’ll be holding a two-day conference instead of the usual three-day event. As always, one of the days will be limited to ASJA members only. Members Day will feature the fabulous Client Connections event, formerly known as Personal Pitch.
As attendees know, a three-day conference can be exhausting and expensive. Some ASJA members just come for two days, and non-members often settle for
Among other benefits, a two-day conference will allow our organizers to be more selective about the sessions we offer. We plan to hold events like field trips for early arrivers so you’ll still have more than two days to boost your career.
Big Apple’s Still the One
Yes, we’ve held our annual writers conferences in the same city for more than 40 years — as long as we’ve had them — and at the same hotel for several years.
Is it time for a change? ASJA members have lots of opinions about this. Here’s my view: We’re right where we need to be.
New York City remains the media capital of the world. Many of the top magazine editors, publishers and literary agents — the people we want and need to know — are based there.
Sure, there are exceptions. Not everybody who’s anybody is in the 212 area code. That’s why we’ve held regional conferences over the past two years in Chicago (twice), San Francisco and Washington D.C.
But the annual conference is different. It’s much bigger than our regional events, attracting 500 to 600 attendees each year. More than 55 agents, editors and publishers met with our members during Client Connections at the 2015 conference, and almost 170 speakers shared their wisdom to help independent writers survive and thrive.
There’s no way to bring that kind of crowd to another city without spending tens of thousands of dollars. And we can’t accomplish that without greatly increasing our conference registration fees.
The Roosevelt Hotel, meanwhile, continues to offer us the best deal in the NYC area. We could move to a more modern hotel, but we’ve determined that it would come at a higher cost, one that would be borne by every single attendee.
I remain dedicated to limiting conference expenses to keep more dollars in your pockets. After all, we have better things to do with our money. Like, say, take a road trip to a certain truck stop up Bakersfield way where a husky guy can feel like a million bucks.