Saturday, 13 April 2013

Where Do I Belong? A Guide to Professional Organisations for Writers

by Catriona Troth

It can be hard for writers at the start of their career to figure out which of the bewildering array of writers’ organisations out there might be for them.  So here, to help you, is a brief guide to who? why? and how much? *
*Updated from an article first published in Words with Jam magazine

We’ve focused primarily on UK organisations, but we’ve noted which ones accept overseas members, and we’ve also taken a look at a few US and international organisations too.

The Membership criteria listed are generally those for Full Membership, but some organisations offer various forms of associate membership that admit a broader range of unpublished or self-published authors – or those such as editors or agents that are in related professions.

It’s worth noting that membership fees for professional organisations may be reclaimable against tax.

Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi):

Cost: Author Membership (International) $99 / £75 / €89pa (for other levels of membershipt - see website)


The Alliance of Independent Authors is a professional organisation of self-publishing writers and advisors.  Launched at the 2012 London Book Fair, it now has flourishing communities in countries including the US, the UK, Japan and Australia, as well as a very active and friendly members-only Facebook Group and a Self-Publishing Advice blog . Members can be listed on their ‘Find an Indie Author’ database.

  • Author Membership is open to those who have published independently, or to trade-published authors who are preparing to publish independently.
  • Professional Membership is for those who are earning their living from their independently published works
  • Partner Membership is for anyone offering service to independent authors whose service has been vetted by ALLi
  • Associate Membership is open (at reduced cost) to anyone interested in self-publishing
ALLi provides advice from experienced professionals on every aspect of independent publishing.  You get a member pack on joining, and there are help-lines and several guidebooks.  They can vet contracts, and connect writers with services for self-publishers (such as editors, designers and marketing agencies) that have been approved by their watchdog service.

ALLi engages with booksellers, literary agents, trade publishers, libraries, book clubs and media to advocate for self-publishers' interests. Through their Open Up To Indie Authors campaign, they are working with reading agencies to bring self-published work to reading groups and libraries and literary events.

They have also built relationships with rights agencies to allow their members to sell, for example, translation rights to their self-published books.

Society of Authors (SoA):

Cost: £95 pa (less if you are under 35, or for associate membership)


The biggest and best known writers’ association in the UK.

Full membership is open to:
  • Those who have had a full length work published or have been offered a contract; 
  • Those who have has at least a dozen short items published (with payment); 
  • Those who have self-published or have had a work published on a print-on-demand/ebook only basis and have sold over 300 copies of a single title in print form or 500 copies in ebook form within a 12-month period.
One of the most valuable benefits of membership is their free vetting service for contracts, and many authors will join when they are offered their first contract.  Other benefits include a Reader’s Tickets for the British Library and discount membership of affiliated organisations (including CWA, RNA and HWA). They organise some great talks, act as a market place where any members can advertise their skills and services, and even provides bursaries and financial help for professional writers in need.

Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ):


Cost: £45 pa (less for associate, student or overseas membership) + £25 initial joining fee

The SWWJ was founded in 1894.  Past Presidents have included Richmal Crompton, Margery Allingham, Vera Brittain and Joyce Grenfell.  The current President is Victoria Wood. Their aims include’ the encouragement of literary achievement, the upholding of professional standards, and social contact with fellow writers.’

Members must submit a CV and be sponsored by two professionals (agents, editors or existing SWWJ members) who vouch than they are bona fide professionals working in literature, journalism, or related spheres.  (Since 2004, published male writers can join as associate members.)

They provide a critique service for members that covers articles and non-fiction books, as well as poetry, short stories and novels.  If you are interested in writing for the stage, they have a drama group which periodically runs workshops with professional actors.  Members can submit a script in advance for a one act play needing fewer than a specified number of actors.  The script can then be thoroughly tested on the day, in preparation, say, for submission to a festival or other competition.

Since 2010, they have run a self-publishing service, Scriptora, which allows members to publish potentially difficult to place work such as poetry anthologies and out-of-print backlists.

They run a summer festival and maintain an overseas section. Full members become affiliates of the New Cavendish Club in London, which provided inexpensive accommodation in central London.

The SWWJ runs both open and members-only competitions. Recently, for example, they ran an open competition for a Life Writing piece of up to 700 words.

One of the more unusual benefits of membership is that you receive a Press Card. 

Writers’ Guild of Great Britain (WGGB):

Cost: 1.2 % of earnings from writing, subject to a minimum £180 pa and a maximum of £1,800 pa


Membership is open to writers who have accumulated at least 8 membership 'points', where a professional contract for writing in terms ‘at or above the Writers’ Guild minimum terms,’ earns 8 points, any other commercially produced work earns 4 points, and each self-published work earns 1 point.

Membership is open to authors of books, but the WGGB (like Writers’ Guilds in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere) is first and foremost at union for writers working in film, television and radio.

Those who have not yet earned enough points for full membership can join as candidate members, at a cost of £100 pa.

They have a free contract-vetting service and they also offer a pension for writers in TV, film and radio, with mandatory employer contributions for writers who work for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 or an independent production company.

The WGGB negotiate minimum rates with broadcasters and theatre companies. They campaign on behalf of writers - for example, when it was recently announced that BBC Radio 4 would cut the number of short stories broadcast, the WGGB immediately issued a statement to campaign against the cuts.

They do, however, have a Books Committee, and the annual Writers’ Guild Awards cover fiction and non-fiction books, as well as writing for stage, screen, television and radio.  Off The Shelf at Black's is a collaboration between the WGGB and Black's members club in Soho, offering a series of monthly one day residencies for fiction writers at Black’s.

Crime Writers’ Association (CWA):

Cost: £60 pa


The CWA promotes the crime genre and provides social and professional support for its members. 
Membership is open to published authors in the crime genre, in the UK or overseas – not to self-published authors or to those as yet under contract.  As well as novels and non-fiction books, screen plays, television scripts and plays with a crime theme count. 

CWA is well known for running the annual ‘Dagger’ awards, including the Debut Dagger, awarded each year to an unpublished writer based on the opening chapters and synopsis of their novel.  Many of the winners and short-listed entrants have gone on to be published as a result of the award.

Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA):

Cost: £50 pa (£57 outside EU)


The RNA was formed in 1960 ‘to promote romantic fiction and to encourage good writing.’  It now represents more than 700 writers, agents, editors and other publishing professionals. Membership is open to all published writers of romantic novels and full length serials of at least 30,000 words. Vanity and self-published works are explicitly excluded.

However, the RNA also runs a New Writers Scheme, which admits 250 unpublished authors annually.  For a fee of £120, they can take part in all RNA activities and also submit a typescript of a full-length novel for appraisal.

The RNA holds regular meetings, with expert speakers sharing their knowledge and experience, and runs an annual conference, where members discuss publishing trends and craft tips.  As their website says, ‘These gatherings are also social events, where members and their guests can enjoy the company of other writers, share the ups and downs of the writer’s life, offer and receive support and encouragement.’  They have an on-line forum for members and a quarterly magazine.

Their annual awards ceremony presents a total of six awards for romantic novels – plus the Harry Bowling Prize For New Writers.

 RNA has close ties with libraries, reflecting the popularity of the romance genre among library users. They issue an e-newsletter to librarians giving details of our members’ latest publications, information on talks and events that have taken place in libraries and the latest RNA news.

Historical Writers’ Association (HWA):

Cost: £65 pa for a standing order, £70 by Paypal or cheque


One of the newest professional writers’ associations, the HWA was founded in 2010 to sustain, promote and support writers in the historical field. Their first President is Michael Morpurgo.

Membership open to writers of historical fiction and non-fiction who have work published by recognised publishers in the last five years, where‘historical’ is defined as 35 years or more before date of application.

HWA held an inaugural Literary Festival in July 2011 at Kelmarsh Hall, in conjunction with English Heritage’s Festival of History.  Members have also taken part in a programme of Winter Activities held in conjunction with English Heritage at historical venues around the country.

The HWA awards the HWA Crown for Historical Debut Fiction for ‘the best historical novel by a first-time fictional author of any nationality, first published in the UK in English during the Judging Period.’

Historical Novel Society

Cost: $50pa / £30pa


Unlike the HWA, the Historical Novel Society is open to anyone who is interested in and passionate about Historical Novels. They started in 1997 as a campaigning organisation for a genre that was then in the doldrums. It is now an international organisation, active in both the US and the UK.

They run competitions to discover new authors, conferences bringing authors and readers together, and maintain internet groups and lists. They are supportive of self-published authors and have an active review section for indie-published historical novels.

They define historical novels as those whose main focus is more than fifty years in the past.

Society of Childrens’ Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI):

Cost: $85 pa for the first year, $70 thereafter


Founded in 1971, SCBWI is an international organisation ‘for those writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television, and multimedia.’
SCBWI lobbies on issues such as new copyright legislation, equitable treatment of authors and artists, and fair contract terms.

Full membership is open to those whose books, articles, poems, stories, illustrations, photographs, films, television or electronic media for children have been published or produced. SCBWI distinguishes between those books which have been 'Published and Listed' (ie published by traditional publishing houses). Those whose books have not been 'Published and Listed' are still eligible for membership, but are restricted from some member benefits.  

Associate Membership open to anyone with in an interest in children’s literature.

There is a British branch of SCBWI, but membership is through the international organisation. 
SCBWI in Britain run the biennial Undiscovered Voices competition, as well as regular ‘Slush Pile Challenges’ set by agents and editors.

They have a network of regional coordinators who run local critique groups and organise workshops, speakers and social events around the UK.

They run a series of talks by professional writers in London and Manchester/Chester, masterclasses for writers and illustrators, a retreat, and an annual two-day conference.

SCBWI International gives a number of grants and awards, including the Golden Kite award for excellence in children’s literature and ‘work in progress’ grants for both writers and illustrators.

Horror Writers Association

Cost:  $69 pa


An international organisation with an active UK chapter. 

Membership is open to published professional writers of horror or dark fantasy.  (Affiliate members need only to have published and been paid for a short story (or equivalent) in the genre.) They run a mentoring programme, produce market reports, list agents interested in the horror genre

The Horror Writers Association present the annual Bram Stoker Awards for horror writing (including screenplays, graphic novels and non-fiction).

English PEN / PEN International:

Cost: £50 pa (London and overseas) £45 (rest of UK) £15 (student)

Website:  /

English PEN is a campaigning organisation supporting the freedom to read and the freedom to write around the world.  They campaign on behalf of persecuted writers, editors and publishers.  In the UK they campaign to reform laws that curb free expression, and for greater access to literature.  They also promote and support literature in translation. Membership is open to anyone.

Their writer-led education programme, Readers & Writers, aims to give refugees, offenders, detainees and young people in schools experiences with reading and creative writing. They also award a number of prizes annually for excellence in literature. 

Membership open to anyone 'whether you’re a writer, a reader, an editor, a translator, a publisher, a literary agent… or just someone who is passionate about literature and freedom of expression.'


A Selection of Writers’ Organisations from the U.S.

Romance Writers of America (RWA):

Cost: $95pa (plus $25 new members fee)


Membership is open to ‘all persons seriously pursuing a romance fiction writing career.’ Others may join as associates.

They provide information and support from writing classes to information about the publishing industry. As well as several online chapters, they have many local ‘real world’ chapters around the US, allowing you to meet other romance writers face to face.

Mystery Writers of America (MWA):

Cost: $95 pa


Membership open to ‘professional writers in the crime/mystery/suspense field whose work has been published or produced in the U.S., who reside in the U.S.  Writers must have been paid for their work and must not be self-published.’

You can join initially as a ‘Fan’ and move on to ‘Active’ status when you become published. They provide a broad range of support for new writers, as well as an opportunity to meet editors and agents who specialize in buying and selling all variations of the mystery genre.

They have a monthly newsletter to keep the membership up to date on new mystery releases, breaking news in the publishing world, tips on innovations in self-publishing and eBooks, and articles specific to the craft of writing mystery. Local monthly meetings feature talks by experts in fields related to writing mystery like law enforcement and legal experts.

The MWA University offers full day seminars teaching writers new skills in craft and discussing topics regarding traditional and self publishing.  

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)

Cost:  $90 pa


Membership is open to writers with paid publications in ‘qualifying markets’ (which appear to be US only).

SFWA’ informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for’ Science Fiction and Fantasy writers. They assist members in legal disputes with publishers, and administer benevolent funds.

Through on-line forums, conventions and less formal gatherings, they provide information, education, support to their members.

The SFWA present the annual Nebula Awards.


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