Last week, I started my review of the writers groups to which I belong. All two of them. I belong to only two because I can’t afford more, in either time or money. Last week, I talked about the National Press Club (NPC), which at $562 a year is quite pricy. This week, I’ll cover the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), which at $195 is well worth the price.

Unlike the NPC, which virtually everyone knows, the ASJA has a lower profile. I, at least, had never heard of it until a colleague of mine mentioned it. It’s been around for more than 50 years, however, and bills itself as “the nation’s professional organization of independent non-fiction writers.” My friend had found its annual conference, held in New York City, to be worthwhile, with lots of great networking and professional development opportunities. I decided to join in order to go to the conference.

It’s going on three years now, and I still haven’t made it to the annual conference. The first year, I had to choose between the conference and a free trip to Hawaii. (No brainer!) Last year, the choice was between the conference and opening night of my son’s high school musical, in which he had the lead role. (Parental guilt pangs won out.)

And yet, I’ve still gotten a lot out of my ASJA membership.

Because it targets freelance writers, ASJA seems a better fit for me. Most of the services are practical, offering help with the day-to-day challenges of freelancing. Although its website, like the NPC’s, is poorly designed, it contains some very interesting resources if you poke around a bit. (Note: these are mostly in the walled-off “members only” area.) There’s a section where members list what they’ve been paid for certain jobs – a great resource when I’m at a loss for how to price a particular project. The trouble is, the search function on this doesn’t work very well, so I end up manually looking through all the submissions. There’s another section where writers spread the word about publications that have stiffed them on payment. Again, very useful information.

They also have a contracts committee that reports on the latest trends and things to watch out for in legal agreements. I have written to the committee chairman, an attorney, several times with questions about contracts and copyright law. He has always responded with very detailed answers and advice (although with the caveat that this is not official, legal advice). Again, this is stuff that hits me where I live, every day.

I’ve also found work through ASJA. If you request it, the organization automatically sends e-mails on freelance opportunities. I don’t have to worry about hunting around on its website for find a jobs board.

ASJA also publishes a monthly newsletter that usually has at least some articles of interest. How to get into particular niches, like ghostwriting or medical writing, for example, including how much they pay. Each issue has an interview of an editor at a magazine that uses freelancers. The piece usually covers what type of pitches the editor looks for, the best way to reach him or her and what the magazine pays for freelance work.

Even though I have yet to attend its annual conference, I did go to one ASJA-sponsored conference, and it turned out to be the single most valuable event I’ve attended in my freelance career. Sponsored by ASJA and the John S. Knight Fellowships, “The Future of Freelancing” was not just informative and inspiring, but gave practical advice on how we freelancers can survive and thrive in the new era of digital journalism. The information, and the camaraderie, was great. (I blogged enthusiastically about it last summer.)

As for the annual conference, three’s got to be the charm. I don’t expect another free trip, and my only child is off to college. Meanwhile, there is a local ASJA chapter in my area, and we meet periodically. It’s a great networking event. We all talk about our latest jobs, the state of the profession, good and bad experiences with various clients. It’s invigorating to talk with others who are enthusiastic about what they do. I always come away with a list of about a dozen things to follow-up on.

While ASJA isn’t perfect, it’s well worth the money. I’m still looking in vain, for example, for a writers organization that offers reasonably priced training in digital journalism skills — things like podcasting, video reporting, even basic programming skills. If you’ve found such a source, please share!