respect for writers

I’ve written about the importance of networking for writers previously on this blog, but having just attended my first annual conference of The Writers Union of Canada (TWUC), it is once again fresh on my mind.

Approximately 200 of the more than 1,800 authors belonging to TWUC gathered in downtown Toronto for three days of events, from a vibrant Welcome Reception for new members and first-time attendees (I fit the bill in both categories) on the Thursday evening, to the election of officers on the Sunday morning, when a rather small group of enthusiasts gathered to wrap up the business session of the meeting and vote in the new executive.

Kudos to Alan Cumyn, outgoing national chair, for setting a stalwart example throughout the meetings, and providing calm and focused leadership over the past year. Having been to numerous AGM’s of various orgs over the past couple of decades, I truly appreciated his ability to conduct business, move the conversation forward and still ensure that everyone has been heard and feels respected.

Congrats to Greg Hollingshead for taking on the role of chair for the 2011-2012 term, a year that is sure to be filled with its own distinct set of challenges.

I was also truly impressed by the staff of TWUC who ensured the conference was set to run smoothly, but who truly understood that staff is paid to serve the organization … not run the show. That difference of understanding that the board of directors is — and should be — the driving force behind any organization, made this one of the most effective and efficient national conferences I have attended. Looking forward to TWUC’s conference next year in Vancouver.

Attending conferences has always been an important part of my career as a professional writer. We learn from one another through the informal talks we have with others (someone might recommend a market, a publisher or agent or answer one of the questions that’s been mulling about in your mind.)

We learn from the presentations and workshops on the official program, and we are inspired by the keynote speakers throughout the event.

The TWUC conference had many terrific speakers and educational sessions. The first evening of the conference was highlighted by a 25th anniversary celebration of the Public Lending Rights (PLR) Commission. Many authors have received welcome PLR cheques distributing funds representative of our books being borrowed through the public library system.

At the launch of "Before You Say Yes ..."

At the launch of “Before You Say Yes …”

I was disappointed that my latest book, “Before You Say Yes … A Guide to the Pleasures & Pitfalls of Volunteer Boards” (BYSY) was excluded from PLR payments as it is considered a guidebook and all guidebooks are excluded from eligibility in the program. How unfortunate that a choice in subtitles made by the publisher of a book might deny an author from entitlement. I was assured that many other TWUC members have had non-fiction titles deemed ineligible in the PLR program, but that doesn’t make me feel much better.

My book was a completely unique idea, my creation — not a templated guidebook for which an author could not be credited with originality of an idea. I am told that the PLRC frowns upon non-literary works. The New Oxford American Dictionary on my Mac defines literary as “having a marked style intended to create a particular emotional effect.”

My book has its own particular style and was written with the intent to evoke emotion in the reader. Judging by the positive 5-star reviews it has received, my book has accomplished that goal. Yet, the PLRC does not see value in it. Having personally put a copy of BYSY into the hands of the chair of the PLRC at the conference, I am hopeful that prejudice may change — if not for me, for other talented authors who, in the future will write useful, worthwhile, and valuable books whether they be deemed “Literary” or not by Canadian literati.

As a board member and leader of many organizations over the past couple of decades, it has always been my approach to be inclusionary, not to alienate worthy allies. I believe we achieve much more through a consensus building philosophy and the building of strong alliances rather than bullying and an attitude of aristocracy.

Nonetheless, hats off to the trailblazers who worked tirelessly to form the PLRC. Former chair of TWUC, Andreas Schroeder, spent in the area of a decade fighting to establish a body that would reward authors whose books were being “rented out” via the public library system. In 2010, the PLRC paid out $10 million to authors across the country. For that, we all celebrate, whether we are among the blessed or the shunned.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

15 Responses

  1. Suzanne says:

    Wish I could have joined you there, Doreen. Sounds like TWUC is an amazing organization. Your insight into Boards is always fascinating and valuable.

  2. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks, Suzanne. I'm sure you'll be a TWUC member soon. As soon as you have a book contract confirmed!

    And yes, TWUC is definitely an interesting and well-run org. I was quite inspired by it all.

  3. Deborah Carr says:

    Thanks for posting about the conference, Doreen. I truly wanted to go this year, as it is also my first year with TWUC, but finances simply couldn't permit any travel for me this spring (neither PWAC or TWUC).

    I, too, have been very impressed by what I have seen of the organization and how nicely they welcome new members and I'm pleased to have the chance to join their ranks.

  4. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for your comment, Deb.

    Plan to attend next year! The TWUC conference will be in Vancouver next year, Ottawa in 2013, Atlantic Canada (either Halifax or St. John's) for 2014, and my hometown of Winnipeg for 2015. I really think that having the national conferences across the country is a terrific way to showcase writing from various parts of Canada, while giving us a chance to see members in and from the various centres. That formula has certainly worked for PWAC over the years and I hope we return to it.

  5. robin-d-laws says:

    It was good to almost meet you at the AGM. I think we share a parallel take on the event, as newcomers coming to TWUC from long experience in other fields.

    Did you have a chance to check out Soma as part of your chocolate research?

  6. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks for being a new visitor to the blog, Robin. Yes, I'm sorry we didn't have a chance to talk at the conference, but I sure saw you shaking it up on the dance floor!

    And yes, I definitely had the privilege of eating SOMA chocolates while in TO. Please check out my travel blog for more on that. Would love to have you drop in & share your thoughts at: http://diversionswithdoreen.wordpress.com

    Best regards,
    Doreen.

  7. robin-d-laws says:

    Chocolate research — a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

  8. Christine Cowley says:

    Enjoyed your post Doreen and I concur with you and Robin. I was very impressed by the conference as a whole, especially the welcome and, clearly, the hard work on the part of the organizational team.

    But it was something more for me—I am changed, as a writer. I have never felt such a sense of “tribe” in my life, and the fact that it was about something so central in my life—writing—and not just an accident of birth, it was all the more meaningful. I have been trying to blog about it but the words don’t come. I guess I’m still processing… I am home I guess. I never knew I needed anyone else in order to write. Now I know that I do, and I want to be around other writers.

    Doreen, I am really disappointed that your book was not included in the PLR program. I agree wholeheartedly that “protecting” what we cherish by smothering it in exclusivity is a huge mistake that will exact a price down the road. From all that I heard, given our national government of the day, the PLR needs all the support it can get.

    I will take this opportunity to say (before it is distant past) that as a newbie AGM attendee my hopes and expectations for the conference were exceeded by a long shot. It will take highest priority on my professional to-do list from now on.

  9. Heidi Turner says:

    Fantastic post, Doreen. Thanks for sharing your experiences. One day, if I ever have a book published, I'd love to be a member of TWUC. Sorry that your book was left off the PLR, thought. That is indeed disappointing.

  10. Proofreading and editing service says:

    Interesting post! I agree that we need to have respect for writers. It is really good. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. wizardofwords says:

    Thanks to all for your comments.

    Christine, it's interesting how you were touched by the tribal feeling at the TWUC conference. I've been a member of PWAC since 1997, and one of the things that has kept me as a member is that we, too, feel that PWAC has a tribe of its own. And from that tribe, I have made many wonderful friends.

    We writers really DO need one another. That's why I think attending writer's conferences is so important – to our sanity, and to our development as writers.

  12. Elle Andra-Warner says:

    Although I've been a TWUC member for a few years, this year was the first TWUC AGM/Conference I've attended….and I was very impressed. Yes, you are right — right from the beginning of the conference I felt like I was a TWUC tribe member.

    What I particularly liked was the passion about writing and writers' rights, plus respect for their craft of writing that every TWUC member felt. They didn't just talk the talk — they walked the talk.

    The well-attended workshops were interesting, with an ecletic mix of excellent presenters. I've attended a lot of conference workshops over the years, and felt the TWUC one was one of the best. The subjects were relevant, with solid information presented.

    And yep — I'll be in Vancouver in 2012 for the next TWUC conference.

  13. wizardofwords says:

    Right on, Elle! Or should I say "Write on!"

    It was great rooming with you at the TWUC conference. Gave us a chance to process all we were experiencing. I bet Vancouver will be that much better. It's such a beautiful city with a vibrant arts community. Can't wait!

    Am also looking forward to the PWAC conference next week in Montreal. Great city, and another amazing "tribe" of writers.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Hi, Doreen. I wasn't able to post on your blog … I tried a few times and it wouldn't work (probably my fault), but I wanted to thank you for your balanced, honest opinion on your TWUC experience. As a new author, I know little of TWUC but am now encouraged to learn more.

    It is frustrating (in polite terms) when our creations don't fit the slots set out by self-proclaimed governing bodies. I'm running into more than my share of bias by being self-published. But, there's an opportunity to have fun with the system, too. You should have seen the looks from fellow publishers at my first Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association meeting when I introduced myself as a publisher AND author. Sudden silence, shifting glances … the enemy was among them and they couldn't do a thing about it 🙂

    Best of luck, and may your book(s) help to melt the 'literati' bias.

    – Jennifer

    Jennifer Hatt, Author
    Finding Maria
    http://www.FindingMaria.com

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