The writers’ association new structure empowers “ambassadors” to host local events to support members who aren’t necessarily in busy literary hubs like New York City.
All the serious writers live in the biggest cities, right? No, but to better support its members who work outside the country’s largest publishing hubs, the Authors Guild (AG) has launched a chapter program starting with 14 cities, with more to come.
Executive Director Mary Rasenberger said the shift to a chapter structure has been on her mind since she arrived at the organization three and a half years ago. But other priorities—including a lengthy litigation saga over freelance-writer payments that finally ended this spring—kept the idea on the back burner.
“We asked, what do our members want from us and expect from us?”
Still, Rasenberger kept the discussion about it going with AG’s board. During those board discussions, she said, “We asked, what do our members want from us and expect from us? And one of the things that came out of that was community. One of the things we can provide our members is community, but we have not been doing it very effectively outside of New York.”
The new regional chapter model, launched earlier this month, comprises 14 U.S. cities, including well-known writers’ locales such as New York, LA, Chicago, Boston, DC, and the San Francisco Bay Area. But smaller regions, such as Raleigh-Durham, NC, and Las Vegas, are also included. Members of those 14 regions represent about two-thirds of AG’s total membership, and more regional chapters are planned, Rasenberger said.
To support those new chapters, AG has assigned two “ambassadors” for each region. Each ambassador serves a two-year term, acting as a liaison to regional members and helping to create dedicated events for members. AG staff put out a call for applications from members last winter and was quickly overwhelmed. “We thought we’d hear from 20, 25 people,” Rasenberger said. “We had over 150.”
To narrow the list down, AG selected ambassadors based on their proposals for events, connections with other local organizations, and general enthusiasm for the program. “We work very hand in hand with the chapters, not so much developing the ideas but making sure we know what’s going then providing them with financial assistance,” Rasenberger said.
All of this puts new demands on AG in terms of resources, since it intends to compensate chapters for event-related expenses such as venue rentals and speaker honoraria. To that end, AG has hired a new part-time staff person to assist the director of membership with the chapters. But Rasenberger said it has no intention to raise member dues or establish chapter dues.
“I think we’re more likely to go out and try to raise money for [chapters] through foundation support, if anything,” she said. “We see this as such an essential service to provide members. Some of our members are really struggling financially. A lot of writers are right now, so we make a huge effort to keep our minimum dues low.”