Ellen Michelson was a Toronto Chapter delegate to PWAC’s 41st AGM in Fredericton in May and grateful the conference was in eastern Canada, she went on to Charlottetown, Green Gables, and the Cabot Trail, eventually arriving in St. John’s.
In mid-May in Fredericton, New Brunswick, PWAC’s 2017 AGM and Conference addressed our profession’s rewards and challenges as well as the constant changes faced by professional writers. In presentations, round table brainstorming, and informal chats, experts shared their insights on what professional writers can do to adapt.
Many of the guest speakers and panelists have looked beyond the traditional world of publishing, which is increasingly challenged by digital content, to create very specific, targeted niches.
For example, guest speaker and panel member Tim Bousquet is an investigative reporter who founded the “independent, adversarial news site” halifaxexaminer.ca. It’s subscriber-based, because in his view, advertising revenue is no longer reliable. He believes his site has earned its credibility from the quality content his well-paid writers provide.
Meanwhile, guest speaker and science fiction e-novelist Terry Armstrong, writing as Cary Caffrey, is the author of three best-selling novels and teaches sci-fi and fantasy writing at the University of New Brunswick. In his experience, if readers embrace your characters and plot lines they’ll eagerly await your next installment. As a result, he’s writing a series and has found the quality of each novel can help drive the sales of the ones that preceded it and will follow it. He’s also found that aspiring writers will pay for his writing tips and how to become a published author.
Steve Slaunwhite, a guest presenter recognized for his success as a freelance writer, marketing expert, and coach, talked about how much the paycheque really matters. In fact, his recent focus on blogging for high pay resulted in a group discussion specific to pay rates. PWAC members shared real-life stories about the pathetic rates they’d been offered and why it’s generally best to direct your focus to finding and creating better opportunities. In today’s business and economic environment we need to be smart and strategic as much as we need to be more toughminded than ever to survive.
As PWAC Membership Coordinator Veronica Leonard explained in her Annual General Meeting report, our membership is growing with more than 100 new members joining since early 2015. Just a few are new to professional writing, while the majority are former periodical and newspaper staffers who turned to PWAC after job losses. Veronica wants them to assume leadership positions, for their own and other members’ benefit.
In Fredericton, my time with PWAC members and executives as well as the new information I acquired led me to reflect on my more than three decades as a proud and loyal PWAC member. At my first PWAC Christmas party, more than 30 years ago, I was greeted warmly and pulled into conversations with long-time members. By way of welcome, a veteran member remarked, “Freelancing gives you such a sense of security.” Her height, sleek black hair, intense red lipstick, sparkling smile, wowed me. The fashion spreads she was responsible for were renowned. I had published barely enough to apply for membership. My one ongoing job was producing a column for every issue of a national magazine. Each column earned me $40; the mag came out six times a year. “Security?”
After several years of active freelancing I started teaching high school and learned security can be rooted in the freedom and autonomy that comes with self-employment. My regular paycheque had a price: my school board and my union controlled the terms and conditions of my employment. As a freelancer, I was subject to editorial and corporate concerns and whims beyond my control, but decisions on how to spend my days and what would contribute to my income were mine. Our new members are proof that a full-time job with a regular paycheque can be anything but secure. Security lies in the confidence we gain from relying on ourselves and today, more than ever before, it’s up to us to find that security.
The flood of information, both heartening and challenging, was interwoven with social time, and food, food, delicious food. The conference organizer, PWAC’s Atlantic Regional Director Trudy Kelly Forsythe, earned our appreciation, not least for the many different ways she made sure we could eat chocolate … the banquet brownie, Pal-o-Mine (a New Brunswick candy bar), chocolate-dipped potato chips, and more.
The morning after the conference, newly-elected PWAC President Christine Peets and I strolled along the paved path by Fredericton’s river. City officials had the foresight required to create stunning parks along its banks. PWAC’s commitment to the future is paying off for our membership and, dare I say, for today’s writing environment.
Our path forward will not be as easy as that walk along the St. John River. Among us, we have the expertise we need. PWAC 2017 made the rewards clear.