The Writer’s Union and the art of gentle discouragement

writers union blue cropI was lucky enough to be able to attend a Writer’s Union workshop yesterday. I say lucky, because, as a writer without a book published by a “real” publishing house, I can’t be a member, so it was a bit like being invited to a frat house but not allowed to drink.

It was an interesting workshop on the new face of publishing, on the glories and challenges of self-publishing, the thrills of being offered an impenetrable contract from a “real” publisher, the shame of self-publishing that remains, since oh so much self-publishing is garbage.

I learned a few things I couldn’t have picked up hanging about on web street corners, but the prevailing thing I learned was to keep a sense of humour about writing and publishing and BY NO MEANS expect to make money at it.

Well, I knew that.

But it hits a little harder when a prize-winning author in adult and child books (from REAL publishers) still struggles with contracts that give her less than the Writer’s Union suggest. Or when the originally REAL published author who has turned to self-publication tells you that she still hasn’t made back the relatively small investment she made. And still mentions self-publication with a wisp of shame.

They laughed, both of them, whenever money or joy was mentioned. They mentioned they had their books with them for sale. No one bought any. It was fairly discouraging.

On the other hand, they emphasized the work that goes into writing a good book, and in a way that was reassuring. I keep getting people asking me about why I don’t send in my things to publishers and such, but these authors emphasized the need for many many many many revisions, at least 4 years of production, and then more revisions, preferably by a professional editor. So I am off the hook a bit for the manuscripts that languish unloved (but, I hasten to say, still percolating in my head) on my computer.

When is your stuff ready to send out? “When you feel like you are going to throw up if you have to read it again,” was the jist of things.

I’m only a bit nauseated. I think I need some more revision time. And now, yes now, I feel like I want to do it. Despite the discouragement.

Why? Well, if my mum were still around, she’d tell you why. I’ve always been a bit bloody minded. If someone tells me I can’t do something, that simply means (to me) that they don’t know me. My mum, for all her faults and our arguments and her preference for my brothers, told me that I could do anything I put my mind to. She told me this every day of my life and hers.

It’s in my genes.


So when someone says, oh, this is horrible and you will hate it and you won’t ever ever ever succeed, well… my mum inside me rises up, with fire in her eyes, and says, “WHO are YOU?”

She really shoulda been a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Check out the Writer’s Union website for all sorts of helpful information, including sample contracts and a list of editors and agents. Plus a contest or two. Well worth a visit!

And maybe, maybe, one day I can become a member. For now I’m hoping to join the Whiskey Association of Halifax. Membership is easier there, and it might help with the other.

4 thoughts on “The Writer’s Union and the art of gentle discouragement

  1. Diane Tibert

    And there it is, isn’t it? The truth about traditionally published and organisations who beat down those that do things differently. Unless you are an elite member of the publishing world, a Margarete Atwood, then you will not make a living as a novelist the traditional way.

    So why fight it? Go the untraditional way and test it for stability. That’s what I’m doing. I will never go the traditionally published way unless…unless I’m offered a contract that will make me do cartwheels. Otherwise, they can keep their measly 10% (and that’s the high pay out) of royalties and quarterly payments.

    Instead I will challenge the traditionally published author claim that you can’t make a living from your writing. I aim to do just that.

    PS: There is a movement a foot. It’s called WINS: Writer Independent in Nova Scotia. Only self-published authors and those who embrace self-publishing are allowed to be members. It’s underground at the moment, building strength for its arrival online.


    1. dorothyanneb Post author

      Nice! Good for you, Diane- you are leading a movement. The Writer’s Union is loosening up its rules a BIT – they are thinking of allowing self-published authors to be members provided they are approved by a panel…


  2. bethanyroseartin

    I was at this workshop too. Good comment on the exclusivity of the club. I wondered if some of the lamentations over the state of publishing was to stress the exclusivity of those who are published. The members of the union have not only published, but they’ve suffered for their art, and we apparently need to embrace suffering as part of publishing. Not sure about that, and good for you to press on despite their discouraging tone. And as an aspiring genre writer, a passing reference to “formula fiction” as being easier than real writing rubbed me the wrong way.

    Diane – Good luck, and I’m looking forward to WINS.


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