Together we can!
When I walked into my first meeting of the local RWA chapter two years ago, it felt like walking into a brand new school. It was filled with friendly faces, but they all had their own groups. It seemed like everyone had known each other for years. Could I fit in here?
Members rushed around to get things done. I have since found out that while many of our members are founding members or have been with CRW (Colorado Romance Writers) a long time, many of the busiest people were fairly new. A small group of people ran a proportionally large organization. But my perception then was of a tight knit group.
That first year I didn’t make it to all the meetings. Members made a point to be friendly, but I knew, the key to making friends was getting involved. So I dipped a toe in and summarized a meeting. Easy, but taking notes and summarizing aren’t social activities. I had started to meet a few people, but I wanted to do more than learn people’s names. I wanted a connection.
What could I do to help, to get involved? What would fit into my already over-booked life? I already had the 2 kids and a husband, worked part time, was a Girl Scout leader and co-chaired a large committee at church. I had no time and yet here I was again thinking of volunteering. Why? Because I wanted to be involved. All my other volunteer activities were truly for other people. CRW was for myself. I wanted to participate, meet creative people like me and kick-off my writing career.
Oh yeah, the writing career. The reason I’d joined CRW in the first place. Somehow volunteering in this organization should do something for my writing career. I thought all I had to do to become a writer was finish a book and then start sending it off to publishers, but it turns out that the new age of writing requires being one’s own marketer. Who knew? Now I was responsible not only for finishing my book, but funding and designing a website, blogging and marketing said book. Somehow being a volunteer for CRW, a group founded for the purpose of getting romance writers published, should accomplish something for my writing career.
When our reservationist had a baby I jumped at the position. Here was something I could do at home, at my convenience. The instructions were simple. Send out invites to our meetings and keep track of rsvps.
Oh and by the way, take the money for the meeting and hand out receipts.
Oh and by the way, store three large totes of paper goods (actually four now) and bring them to each meeting so we can have lunch.
Oh and by the way, make sure someone shows up with lunch.
The job grew and grew, but it was still manageable. And I was finally meeting people. I felt like I was an official member. Volunteering felt good. Then our annual tea was in jeopardy. No one was stepping forward to run it. An intrepid group of volunteers (myself included) came forth and volunteered to make sure the tea happened. Now I really got busy.
Like the reservationist job my small role in the tea grew and grew until, by August, it easily dominated my life. And the tea wasn’t until October! I was in charge of purchasing books for the published authors. It sounded like an easy job, call a book store and put in an order, but it turned out to be much bigger than I imagined. Making sure I had all the authors, their current titles and ISBN’s was only part of the job. The other part was balancing how many books we could afford to purchase, and what would happen if we couldn’t sell all of them? Should I use a large chain who could easily obtain all of the titles, or should I support a local book seller who might have trouble obtaining all of them, but would be flexible in giving us a credit and take back our unsold books?
As the deadline for the tea approached and I waited for our books to arrive I became more and more tense. I began to wonder…how is this helping my career? I’d virtually stopped writing. I had no blog, no website and I certainly wasn’t marketing myself, let alone my book. Was volunteering for my chapter, making sure the published authors were happy, worth my small amount of free time?
After kvetching about this to the IMC’ers up at Margie Lawson’s Deep Immersion Class, I began to think hard. Where should I put my volunteering efforts? I love my chapter and if you asked me I would tell you that I wouldn’t be anywhere as far along in my writing if it weren’t for CRW. They are the sole reason I finished my first book, and they are the reason I have branched out to take classes, attend conferences and began to learn writing as a craft. They are the reason I have pitched to agents.
No, maybe currently my volunteering isn’t promoting my writing to anyone but the thirty core members that show up regularly to meetings. But attending chapter meetings keeps me focused. I get to hang out with other crazy people. Crazy people who can discuss topics from medieval undergarments to steam-punk. Crazy people who understand when you say you haven’t mopped the kitchen floor for weeks, because you absolutely had to have your Golden Heart entry polished by the end of November. And crazy people who know why I am still writing and trying to get published and will continue to do so, even if it takes years.
I am going to focus more on marketing myself. Look out world, my e-Zine is coming soon! ParanormalFreebies.com debuts in June 2011 and will let readers of paranormal fiction know about all the wonderful free promotions available from authors like me! And I will be looking at different volunteer opportunities as they come up, seeing if they will do double duty and promote my books as well as help others.
It may be that volunteering takes away from my writing time, family time and personal time, but it also makes me a better writer, creates net-working opportunities and enables me to make friends of a writerly persuasion. My small efforts at my local chapter also keep a valuable organization going for that next wanna-be author who creeps into her first meeting hoping to find crazy people like her. People who support and encourage and without whom I don’t think I would have ever had the courage or knowledge to come this far. Thank you volunteering, for not only teaching me about the publishing business, but also netting crazy writer friends.
Just like me.
This article is re-posted with permission from Sherry Issac’s e-zine Wildflower.
Wildflower explores the world of the emerging writer.
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