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Authors Guild: Solitude and Solidarity

https://i2.wp.com/writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iStock-54... 300w, https://i2.wp.com/writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iStock-54... 768w, https://i2.wp.com/writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iStock-54... 2000w, https://i2.wp.com/writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iStock-54... 3000w" sizes="(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px" data-recalc-dims="1" />Image – iStockphoto: Katharina 13
Writing Alone, Working Together
To quote the immortal Alistair Cooke on Masterpiece Theatre, “Last time, as you’ll remember …” I was going on here about author advocacy. In the comments that followed, I discovered that everyone isn’t up to date on the Authors Guild, which is the States’ leading author advocacy organization, in business since 1912.
In the month since my last column here, in fact, the guild has made a series of moves that help define its developing role in the writer community and so this is a good time to back up and do a bit of groundwork on what the guild is, how it has changed since the start of 2015, and why authors may want to consider joining the 10,000 or so members already in place.
I’ll bullet out some talking points:

While you can see the organization’s member benefits laid out for yourself, here, I’ve chosen these recent points because they give you a look at the organization’s quickly developing proactive stance in six important areas:

  • Retail conflict mediation on behalf of authors
  • Legal action in defense of writers’ right to free expression
  • Outreach in a first wave of regional hubs, each chapter with two guild “ambassadors” guiding programming
  • Career training and strategy in the form of those traveling workshops for authors
  • Pro-diversity support for efforts like the gender-balanced coverage of books that VIDA has promoted for years
  • Fact-finding data collection and professional interpretation to get a grip on author economics today

As a point of disclosure, I’m not a member of the guild because I report on the guild’s work frequently as a journalist and have followed and commented on its changes and development since 2014. And my message today is more recommendation than provocation. If you don’t know the Authors Guild and its work–or if you have ideas about it that you haven’t revisited in some time–this is a good moment to give it a look.
Remembrance of Dings Past
https://i0.wp.com/writerunboxed.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Porter-Pr... 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" data-recalc-dims="1" />Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
By the summer of 2014, the Authors Guild already had begun to change, but the going was slow and the effort was hobbled by the raging Amazon-Hachette negotiations. The debate around that situation had given rise to the Authors United collective of writers, many of them marquee bestsellers, who sided against Amazon. The group was led by Douglas Preston and counted Richard Russo, then the guild’s vice-president, among its supporters. Scott Turow’s presidency of the guild had concretized an anti-Amazonian perception of the group in many minds.
As I wrote in July 2014, “Even beyond issues of Amazonian ardor or otherwise, the most general, overarching, abiding complaint about the Turow-led guild (and about some administrations before Turow’s) has been, in a word, elitism.”
This already had begun changing, however. Turow was on the way out. Author Roxana Robinson would succeed him as president. And the most important change would be the arrival at the beginning of 2015 of Mary Rasenberger, an attorney, as executive director.
Rasenberger would quickly begin turning things around in May 2015 by launching the guild’s Fair Contract Initiative, enumerating for publishers in a series of white papers its new demands for contract reform. By October of that year, the guild would make common cause with the UK’s Society of Authors in demanding better pay practices from publishers for authors. The advocacy efforts were growing smarter, leaner, more professional, and expertly articulated in such papers as the guild’s  Publishers’ Payment and Accounting Practices Need To Keep Up With The Times.
Publishers were “sitting up,” and so were authors. Rolling out its contract position papers, opening its membership to self-publishers as well as the trade authors, and learning to re-engage with readers of its blog posts (rather than shutting down unpleasant comment threads), the guild was shaking off criticisms of advantages for elite names in the business and speaking up for the overall community of writers in an increasingly challenging environment.
Two weeks ago at BookExpo in New York City, Rasenberger was on a panel staged by the Association of American Publishers on copyright challenges, and she spoke (‘It’s the Author Who Suffers’) to the dangers faced by writers when copyright protection is under fire. She’s a former policy planning advisor for the US Copyright Office in Washington and she and her team have been to the Hill this year to lobby for streamlined and less expensive copyright registration for writers of small pieces. You can keep up with news from the organization here.
While many more instances of engagement, contact, program development, and outreach are occurring, the main point I’d like to commend to you today is that the guild–with a dedicated team and strong support for Rasenberger’s turnaround efforts from Robinson as president, followed by current president James Gleick–is not your father’s old boys’ (or girls’) club.
However fair or unfair criticism of the organization was in the past–like “Bible verse fights,” you can find an anecdotal contradiction to any point you care to make in this conversation–the Authors Guild has been pressing forward for more than three years now, and a lot of hard work is starting to pay off in new programs and an accelerating national vision–not an NYC hunker-down.
In case you haven’t seen any news reports lately, writers in the States have probably never had more reason to stand together for the indispensable freedom of expression that their work requires. One of the proudest factors about the guild is that it has journalists as members, as well as novelists, poets, historians, literary agents and representatives of writers’ estates. Our sisters and brothers in journalism are being called “the enemy of the people,” just this week again, by a president who also tried to use prior restraint–a cease-and-desist letter–to stop Macmillan from publishing Fire and Fury.
Beyond the political crisis of the moment, the inherently non-aligned nature of the author workforce means that collective demands for better pay, better contracts, better treatment by the industry, the courts, and the government are more critical than ever.
While no membership is for everyone, I submit that this is a great moment for authors to check out the Authors Guild and consider adding their voices to its growing choir of support.

So how about you? What’s your thinking on this? How important do you see author advocacy and a collective presence for writers today? What’s your take on the Authors Guild today? Happy to hear from you if you’d like to chime in.

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About Porter Anderson (@Porter_Anderson)@Porter_Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, the international publishing industry news magazine of Frankfurt Book Fair New York. He and Jane Friedman produce @The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors. Anderson previously was The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, doing the #MusicForWriters series, often in association with Q2 Music. More on his consultancy: PorterAndersonMedia.com | Google+Web | Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Google+ | More Posts

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing. "
Kingsley Amis

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Fast fact about writing

Writing most likely began as a consequence of political expansion in ancient cultures, which needed reliable means for transmitting information, maintaining financial accounts, keeping historical records, and similar activities.