the Periodical Writers Association of Canada
The Fifty-five Cent Question
By Frances Backhouse
I first heard of the Periodical Writers
Association of Canada (PWAC) in 1990, six years after I began
writing as a freelancer. Curious, I read the organization's promotional
literature and wondered whether joining would be a worthwhile investment.
I liked the idea of meeting fellow professional scribes and learning
more about the trade, but beyond exchanging my old manual typewriter
for a computer, I had never spent much money on my writing career.
It had never occurred to me that my low earnings from freelancing
might be a result of neglecting my career, rather than an excuse
for neglect. I had accepted the stereotype of the impoverished writer
without a second thought.
Then, one sentence in the brochure I was reading stopped me in
my tracks. "Membership in PWAC," it said, "costs
less than buying your daily cup of coffee and it's tax deductible
too." Fine, I thought, if I'm not willing to give up one cup
of coffee a day in order to make writing more than a sideline, then
maybe I'm not really serious about pursuing this goal. I checked
out the membership criteria. I saw I had enough points to become
an associate member and I would have twenty-four months to upgrade
to professional status. I decided to give it a try for two years
and see what happened.
To make a long story short, what happened was that I started learning
more than I ever thought possible about being a professional writer
and I haven't stopped learning - or applying the lessons - yet.
At chapter gatherings and annual general meetings I met colleagues
who became friends, mentors and sources of inspiration. In national
and chapter newsletters and on PWAC-L (our on-line discussion group)
I read about issues that affected me as a writer, promising new
markets, markets to avoid, and tips on everything from buying a
good tape recorder to self-syndication. Following the advice I received,
I gave up writing on spec and discovered I could sell just as many
stories when I insisted on having a firm assignment. I reconsidered
the value of my work and sought out higher paying markets. I diversified
beyond magazine writing, yet still found time to increase my output
of magazine stories. After years of shying away from the challenge,
I submitted a book proposal to a publisher and ended up writing
a book that is now in its fifth printing. The money I invested every
year when I paid my annual dues, came back with interest.
My experience is not unique. I know many writers who will tell
you PWAC transformed their writing careers. Of course, it doesn't
work for everyone. I've seen people sign up, sit back and wait for
results, and depart disappointed a few years later. Like most things
in life, you gain in proportion to what you put in. Even for the
least active member, however, the many benefits include: news, wisdom
and support through chapter meetings, personal contacts, newsletters
and PWAC-L; access to professional development materials such as
the copyright information kit; discounts on services and products;
free enrollment in CANCOPY; advice and assistance from the mediation
team; a listing in the PWAC directory; and, perhaps most important,
being part of a collective voice addressing critical legal, political
and business issues that affect all freelance writers.
All this for only 55 cents a day. When was the last time you bought
a decent cup of coffee for that price?
Frances Backhouse is National Membership Chair of the Periodical
This article originally appeared in Sources
#41, Winter 1998.
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