Home » Fantasy/SciFi » Is the SFWA losing its relevance?

Is the SFWA losing its relevance?

19 February 2014

From TeleRead:

SFF.net is the discussion forum website of the SFWA, but has always maintained two sets of forums: public ones, sff.*, that anyone could read and to which anyone who registered with an email address could post, and private ones, sff.private.*, that were only open to SFWA members. (I’ve long read a number of public SFF groups via an NNTP reader.) The posts in question were from sff.sfwa, one of the public groups.

The posts had to do with certain figures on the opposite (which is to say, non-sexist) side of the debate from those taking part in the discussion, most notably Mary Robinette Kowal. One particular member of the discussion, Sean Fodera, who works in the contracts department at Kowal’s publisher, Macmillan, compared his reactions to Kowal to his phobia of dogs. John Scalzi hasblogged about his and Kowal’s reactions to the whole affair.

. . . .

Scalzi has still been following the discussion (as can anyone; it’s still taking place on a public forum after all) and derived great amusement from a post complaining that “[t]he newer members who Scalzi et al brought in [during his recent tenure as SFWA President] are an embarrassment to the genre” and referring to them as “insects who…don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines (sic) on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular.”

. . . .

The true question is, is the SFWA even relevant to me? And will it ever be relevant to me? I posted this question in the discussion thread on Scalzi’s post, and Scalzi deleted it for being “off topic,” which is fine—his blog, his rules. But I think my question is valid, and indeed important in this brave new world of self-publishing.

Let’s look at the SFWA’s membership requirements. Essentially, they are three prose fiction sales at magazine rates to “Qualifying Professional Markets,” one prose fiction sale of at least $2,000 to a “Qualifying Professional Market,” or a professionally-produced dramatic script that has big enough names for the Membership Committee to okay it. Those seem to be valid requirements for an organization that is all about professional (which is to say, “traditional”) publishing. (Even if the recent antics of some of its members seem to be anything but “professional.”) Looking at their document on “Why Join SFWA,” they list all these benefits that mainly apply to people in deals with traditional publishers. A Grievance Committee to negotiate contractual disputes, for example.

What does the SFWA have to offer people who only self-publish?

. . . .

What is the SFWA doing to reach out to [self-published authors], or to assist these people? At the moment, it seems determined to pretend they don’t exist. An author could make $100,000 from his self-published works but still be completely ineligible for SFWA membership if he didn’t feel the need to make a traditional sale also.

Link to the rest at TeleRead


88 Comments to “Is the SFWA losing its relevance?”

  1. Why would SFWA reach out to the self-published author? They don’t currently recognize self-publishing as a valid criteria for entry. I’d think before they do any reaching out they’d have to change that first.

    I see value in organizations like SFWA, and I see that SFWA is in the throes of change (if it wasn’t changing you wouldn’t see nearly the amount of acting out from its old guard members) but at this point I don’t think I’ll ever be a member, because at this point I don’t think I’ll ever publish traditionally.

    • Even if I qualified for membership in SFWA (I do by the numbers, but I’m indie so they don’t count) and even if I wanted to join (which I don’t) I wouldn’t unless and until they changed the membership requirements thusly:

      1) No one who is not an active, publishing writer of science fiction or fantasy may join or retain membership.

      2) No one who is employed by a qualifying market or any affiliated entity may join or retain membership.

      The fact that editors and publishers, who are the counterparties to the people the association allegedly represents, are allowed to join is beyond ludicrous.

      • Based on your criteria, most, if not all indie authors would not quality either as many, many indie authors self-edit.

        And without getting into the while trad-publishers are not your enemies thing, many authors also edit. Are they supposed to give up what may be half of their income stream to satisfy the requirement?

    • As I understand it, if your sales have reached a certain point, it doesn’t matter if you self-publish. They had a rules change in the last year or so.

  2. There’s a whole generation of writers–including tomorrow’s bestsellers–who don’t bother with any of these anachronistic organizations: MWA, ITW, SFWA, etc.

    By clinging to sad, outdated legacy “requirements” for membership that ignore the hottest, fastest-growing 35% of successful writers or attempt to treat them like second-class citizens, these crusty old organizations have already made themselves irrelevant to the true publishing industry.

  3. As a self-published career writer who has never been a member of SFWA, it seems to me that the one thing SFWA really excels at is creating drama. That’s fine if the drama is directed at a misbehaving publisher, but when it’s directed at other authors, it becomes toxic for everyone. Since I don’t have a traditional publisher and don’t really have a desire to find one, membership in the organization strikes me as more of a liability than anything else. Even if they did admit self-published writers, I wouldn’t join unless SFWA reinvented itself, and I’m not holding my breath for that to happen anytime soon.

    • The drama is a byproduct of the fact that SFWA is genuinely changing, and there are members who genuinely don’t like it. That kind of drama is largely unavoidable, I’m afraid. I feel bad for dinging them about it since it’s one of the most visible signs of progress you can have. Awfully unpleasant while it happens though.

      • Actually, SFWA drama has been going on for decades. I only tuned in relatively late with the “Stanislaw Lem is actually a collection of *gasp* Soviet agents” accusation from Dick, and dramas haven’t abated. The Ellison fisticuffs, the technicolour pixellated peasant (or whatever) comment, the SF writers jumping desks while demanding more violence from the US government (yes, I know this wasn’t SFWA per se, but they were all SFWA writers). If someone was keeping tabs, to me — as a non-US SF writer and reader — the list goes on and back. Not recent at all.

        For the sake of balance, I don’t see much relevance in BSFA either. I subscribed to their journal for a while but got sick of seeing the same ole names recycled, over and over and over and over again. And if anyone thinks the Americans are sexist, they should try reading some essays from da guys across the pond. Good grief.

  4. How are the Masons, Elks club, Rotary club and Kiwanis and [insert name of fraternal order here] doing nowadays?

  5. Yes. Next question?

    • Agreed. Could the same be said of the RWA? Maybe not.

      • The two major pluses of RWA is that it accepts non-published writers and it has excellent craft classes at a far more reasonable price than MFA programs.

        IMO, their classes on the business side suck. I left two years ago after a few incidents regarding me self-publishing. I’ve heard things are starting to change within the organization, but not enough yet for me to reapply for membership.

        The big difference to me is the prolems within RWA are due to the rapid changes in the industry and the romance subgenres, but the problems within SFWA are triggered by the changes in American society as a whole.

  6. *grabs ears*

    Ugh, I know it doesn’t matter that I keep re-iterating that we now have a self-publishing committee that has advanced new membership rules permitting self-published authors into the organization… but I feel like I have to keep re-iterating it anyway.

    If someone would like to point me to a SF/F writers’ organization that offers the services SFWA does that also is ‘relevant,’ please do, so I can join it. Until then, maybe there’s some merit in bailing out the ship we’ve got.

    • I didn’t see any evidence of any sort of outreach to self-publishing writers on the SFF or SFWA web sites. Where might a self-publishing non-member interested in joining up right now go to see this information?

      • The guidelines just got to the board, which is reviewing them. When they okay them, they’ll be published on the website on the membership requirements page, along with the existing reqs. I can summarize the new requirements as being “prove you’ve made as much money self-publishing as you would have meeting our original trad publishing requirements.” We had a very long discussion about that when developing the requirements, about not punishing self-publishers by making them prove more profitability than traditionally published authors.

        You’ll need to submit royalty statements from a list of approved distributors, like Amazon or Smashwords, etc, as proof of the money-making, so that’s all you’re going to need to hand over.

        I could use these guidelines to re-qualify for membership based solely on my self-publishing pay, so I think they’re going to work well.

        • Ah, then we’re not actually in disagreement.

          I say, “The SFWA is not relevant to self-publishing writers right now.

          You say, “We plan to be relevant to self-publishing writers at some point.”

          Those do in fact sound like quite sensible guidelines, and I could see those self-publishing writers who would like to join the SFWA being glad to sign up under them. I’ll certainly admit the SFWA does offer quite a few benefits to its members, such as the group health insurance plan, that would be useful regardless of how one published.

          If and when those guidelines get to be okayed, I’ll be delighted to write another article saying so. Until then, it’s kind of disingenuous to talk about “the services SFWA offers” when, in fact, it currently does not offer them to the people I was writing about it not offering them to.

          (I plan to clean up my room at some point. Have planned to for months. Doesn’t make my room clean right now, though.)

          • It does, in fact, offer them to people who qualified for SFWA under the original rules, but who’ve been abandoned by, screwed over by or orphaned by their traditional publishers, and who have turned to self-publishing to revive their careers. While new self-publishers aren’t seeing these services yet, within the organization there’s a lot of help being offered on topics of interest to people publishing their own work: seminars on book covers, help on using Kickstarter, talk about taxes as they apply to self-published ventures, etc. We’re maintaining a list of contractors and freelancers (and currently trying to decide how best to publish that to the membership). There have been several Bulletin articles about self-publishing topics already, and the new Bulletin that just went to press has at least one–I know, because I wrote it–on monetizing web serials.

            SFWA already does help authors who are self-publishing. What it doesn’t have, right now, is a way for indie-published authors to join their hybrid published colleagues as new members, and we are FIXING that.

            Like I said, if there’s another organization like SFWA for SF/F authors, that also does all these mythical things indie folk want, I will join it in a heartbeat. But people seem to enjoy pointing at SFWA and mocking more than they want to say, ‘hey, let’s do something productive about this, even if productive = showing those old dinosaurs how it’s REALLY done.’

            • M.C.A. you’ve been working at this for a while now. SFWA is moving a bit slow on it.

              • I know, and it’s super frustrating to me. It is, however, an organization that runs almost entirely on unpaid volunteers who are continually being distracted by the aforementioned drama.

                I’ve only been in SFWA (again) for a little over a year. I will say this: since I rejoined and said, “Hey, you people, why the self-publishing hate??” things have gone from almost no one discussing the subject to people talking about it, helping one another on it, trying to decide how to help each other more with it, and putting together a committee not just to revamp the qualifications, but to help existing members figure out how to take advantage of self-publishing.

                I’m not going to ever call SFWA nimble. But in the past year, it’s really felt like someone’s pricked them awake on the topic. I have hopes, thus.

          • Well if you’re actively cleaning up your room, but it’s not clean yet, you do get some recognition for that. If MCA says they’re doing that I’ll absolutely take her word on it.

            • Fair enough. I’ve gone ahead and updated the original article to point that out.

              (Though I still feel it’s worth noting that a non-member wouldn’t have any way of knowing that from any of the SFWA’s public-facing information at this point.)

        • Cool. I’m glad to see that sense prevailed in the end!

        • I interesting. Back in the inky mists of time when I was in the SFWA they didn’t state any monetary amount. I was accepted based on selling some short stories and having a book accepted by a publisher. For all that I made somewhere in the vicinity of $50. So does this mean I have to show I made $50 by self publishing in order to rejoin (some 30 years later)?

          • If you were a member before, you should be able to re-up without having to requalify. You could email the Ops Manager, Kate Baker, to confirm or clarify.

            office at sfwa.org

      • Also, just for clarity’s sake, SFF.net and SFWA.org are two separate organizations. You shouldn’t expect to find official SFWA-related information on SFF.net.

        • SFF.net was formed at the time of the GEnie diaspora. I have been a member of SFF.net since around that time.

          SFWA pays for a set of private boards on SFF.net. I am not a member of SFWA so I don’t have access to those boards. Those boards were set up before the new web site forums that SFWA maintains themselves. Some SFWA members did not want to move to the new forums or had trouble with signing up, so both sets of boards exist and have somewhat separate participation at this point.

    • *grabs ears*

      Funnily enough, I totally see this as Business Manager jaguar grabbing her ears.

  7. There was a long thread on Kindleboards last year about self-publishing and the SFWA. Even those of us who would have wanted to join years ago had a hard time figuring out why we’d want to join now, and the well-intentioned suggestions for allowing self-published authors in basically came down to ‘you’ll have to make several times as much money to qualify as you would have by selling to trade published markets, because making money though self-publishing is so much easier.’

    I’d like to see an organization that benefits SF writers of all kinds, but I’m far from convinced the SFWA is it.

    • I started that thread on Kboards. 🙂 I agree SFWA’s not that org right now. But some members are working on it. If we can get the self-pub thing figured out, we can hopefully get more members in and then make the changes from within. As an all volunteer organization, that’s the only way to make any changes.

      • If they go for equality in requirements with trade-published writers, I either qualify now or am pretty close; maybe I’ll give it a year and see whether it’s worth staying.

  8. From the SFWA’s Membership page:

    To qualify a new Qualifying Professional Market, it must be found acceptable to the Membership Committee… In particular, it must satisfy the following criteria…:
    (3) Is not self-publication, vanity press, or other type of author-paid or fee-charging press…

    The SFWA is apparently stuck in the 1990s. They don’t differentiate between indie publishing and vanity presses.

    Losing their relevance? They lost it a long time ago.

    • See M.C.A. Hogarth’s comments above.

      Those are indeed old rules. They are being fixed. It takes time to fix these things — especially since for the past few years SFWA was preoccupied by the re-incorporation effort. (No, it shouldn’t have taken that long. We had issues with the original lawyers involved. They have been sacked.) Rules changes like this have to be proposed, discussed (and SFWAns are argumentative by nature, it tends to go with the genre), agreed upon, submitted to the board, approved by the board, and published. We’re at step 4. I’ll be surprised if the rules haven’t changed by year’s end.

  9. All these organizations were created as a quasi-union for writers in specific genres for the purpose of dealing with the problems created by publishers. Over time, as the organizations grew, other benefits came about (such as group health insurance).

    For the self-published author of today, those old organizations are not relevant because we don’t have to deal with the problems created by publishers. BUT, I do think there is value to be had in self-pubbed authors organizing a group of our own.

    Why? Group Health Insurance, for one. Also, as a group, we could have muscle to deal with Amazon if/whenever that becomes necessary. Heck, we could use that muscle to get a real Pre-Order ability, or at least let Amazon know what we really want now from them — what we value. Hugh Howey’s recent data explosion tells us that, if organized, we have some serious power.

    Besides, SFWA and others like it won’t serve us well even if they admit us in. They’re interest is still with legacy pubbers.

    • They’re [sic] interest is still with legacy pubbers.

      That’s changing. Surprisingly, I think the change is driven more by the old timers with massive backlists than some of the more recent authors with a handful of trad-pub sales who came up the hard way and either still believe what DWS calls “the myths” or just feel that if they had to go through that, so should everyone else. But the interest of any association is driven by the interests of its members. Between the old timers with big backlists, newbies going the hybrid route (and for short fiction, magazine/webzine sales are still lucrative and relatively painless (rights revert quickly)), and soon totally independent members, SFWA interests will shift more and more away from legacy publication. It has already started.

    • Yes, yes, a million times yes on the health insurance thing.

      I would join anything to get a quasi-decent rate on health insurance.

      • Have your experiences with the new health exchanges not been good?

        Frankly, while there’s always a place for emergency funds for things like health emergencies, I don’t see health insurance being all that big a deal to American writers anymore.

        • For everyone I know (except for those working for large corporations like Monsanto), health insurance rates have risen to the point of being unaffordable. In 2011, I had a catastrophic plan that cost $75 per month with a deductible of $5,000; that same plan is now $168.99 per month with a deductible of $6,350. The more money the federal government throws at the problem, the more the health insurance providers jack up their prices and the harder it gets for the small businesses and the self-employed.

          But that is a whole other can of worms.

          • I’ve seen the same. But just the way that the AHCA was set up meant that would be the case for most insurers.

          • Part of that was snark (I am not, in fact, a fan of the ACA.) But part of it might have been a bit subtle for those who aren’t policy wonks. Small groups are not going to be be able to do much better than individuals on the exchanges anymore, because their policies will have to conform to ACA just like the exchange policies will. So I don’t know, going forward, that associations which don’t actively contribute to the premiums (like an employer) will be much help to the insurance costs of their members. The dust is far from settled: ask me again in three years. 🙁

  10. Um. No.

    (Well, on the sexism thing, maybe, but that’s always been a problem.)

    But for self-publishing: They’ve always been irrelevant to self-publishing (just as self-publishing has always been irrelevant to them). So they are not “losing” their relevance.

    Is SFWA changing? Of course, but that change will come from their membership, not from a bunch of snarky people who aren’t interested in becoming a member. As more and more of SFWA’s members go hybrid, they (the members) will have to decide and define what they want from the organization.

    They may never feel the need SFWA helping them with their self-publishing. Or that may become their prime objective. That’s their business.

    Here is the enormous irony: The people snarking about SFWAs membership requirements act as though the only value of SFWA is the honor of being a member. (?!?!?)

    They can’t have it both ways:

    Either SFWA is exclusive, and therefore it’s an honor, and therefore they should stop bitching about it being exclusive, OR SFWA is a professional organization formed to help writers deal with traditional publishing, and it’s irrelevant to self-publishers and they should stop bitching about it.

    In either case, the answer is the same.

    • I don’t think I mentioned the word “honor” one time in my article. Perhaps I could have been clearer that the SFWA does have some benefits that would be helpful to any writer, if it would have them for a member. Maybe I should go back and add some clarity there.

  11. The fact that SFWA seems to spend so much of its time in exercises of defining who can be allowed in their club, and in promulgating orders of shunning for those whose thoughts don’t conform is pretty clear evidence of its irrelevance.

    • Really, SFWA spends hardly any time at all defining who can or can’t be a member. (What a boring way to spend one’s time!)

      That it may seem to spend much of its time that way probably says more about the selective attention of those reporting on it, or those paying attention to such reports.

      The real time being spent is on things like the Grievance Committee (which necessarily goes under-reported for confidentiality reasons, and is usually concerned with trad-pub) and other projects.

      • Really, SFWA spends hardly any time at all defining who can or can’t be a member. (What a boring way to spend one’s time!)

        Maybe that’s the problem. When this was discussed last year, the solution of requiring a writer to make the same amount of money for the same number of stories to qualify whether they’re trade or self-published seemed obvious, but it’s taking months to work through the bureaucracy.

        It’s kind of embarrassing when many of the best-sellers in a genre are self-published, but the authors aren’t allowed to join the best-known writers’ association in that genre.

      • Well, actually, Alastair, when one goes to an organization’s website with interest in possibly joining, then sees that there are all kinds of requirements in order to do so, that is what one’s attention is on.

  12. I’ve never been a joiner, so I don’t actually care, but my guess is leaning towards yes.

    Full disclosure: I’ve yet to see any of these author organizations offer anything worthwhile to writers that can’t be obtained elsewhere.

  13. Let’s say for a moment that SFWA allows membership for proven SP authors, those who sell a certain amount, meet their genre criteria, etc.

    Yearly membership fees are about 90 bucks, if I recall.

    Now, what does a member get for meeting the standards of entry and paying that fee?
    Consideration for the Nebula Award?
    A list of author email addresses?
    A chance to vote for the President and other officers?

    I’d want more practical stuff, like workshops and help with branding, marketing, library distribution, paper printing, that sort of thing.
    We can talk insurance, be it medical, life, dental, vision, what have you.

    What does the organization offer?

    • The Bulletin actually has useful articles, no matter what people tell you: about taxes, about branding, about conventions, about business stuff (I’m going to pitch them an article about ergonomics/health issues for writers next, I think).

      They offer legal services, of which I am right now partaking in order to get opinions on a contract for a voice actor podcasting stories for me.

      They offer emergency health funds, and are reincorporating in part in order to be able to offer group insurance.

      They have chat seminars: the last one was from an editor for the Pathfinder games about writing for the gaming industry. We had one before that on marketing trends in cover art.

      The private forums have been very useful for me in terms of arranging group promotions and finding new opportunities: I sold two stories to anthologies based on chat in the forums. It’s a good place to make connections.

      And that’s just the stuff that’s been useful to me.

    • Also, Associate and Active members can nominate works for the Nebulas. Right now only Active members can vote (personally, I think Associates should be able to vote too).

      Any work that meets the rules is eligible for a Nebula. Just need people to nominate the work and then vote. If I read the rules correctly self-pubbed works are eligible for consideration. (http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/rules/)

      An annual Membership Directory provides contact information for all SFWA members (members have the option to opt out of being listed).

      I was on the self-pub committee with MCA and, like her, am impatiently waiting for a result to the work we and the other members put in.

  14. Okay, I could say lots of snarky things, but I won’t. Because if the SFWA wants to join the twenty-first century, that’s a positive thing for writers. But half-measures aren’t going to make the SFWA relevant again.

    I, along with many other new writers like me, have become the reason why.

    I’m 100% self-published. That was my choice from day one. I never even considered going the old-school route. Signing with a legacy publisher interests me about as much as getting a rectal exam.

    – I’ve held the #1 Science Fiction Best Seller on Amazon.com.
    – I’ve sold 25,000 books in my first 5 months.
    – I had a $9000 January.
    – Barnes & Noble stores carry my Ingram-distributed indie hardcovers and paperbacks.
    – Barnes & Noble has held book signing events for me. Making them thousands of dollars.

    I am a professional Science Fiction writer.
    And a professional Science Fiction publisher.

    Some new SFWA “affiliate membership” nonsense is of zero interest to me.

    The day SFWA becomes relevant again is the day it does not discriminate against membership *at all* based on some archaic notion leftover from the industry’s bygone past.

    • When the self-publishing criteria go into effect, there won’t be some kind of ghetto membership for indie-published authors. They’ll qualify on the same ladder as traditional published authors: associate membership is awarded to both trad and indie published authors who make a certain amount of money/sales; full membership is awarded to both trad and indie published authors who make the maximum amount required by the criteria. No difference.

      • Sounds like y’all are going about it the right way, then. I respect that.

        Looking forward to seeing the new criterion go into effect.

        • I am an unrepentant indie for many reasons… I’m not going to fight for changes unless I feel they respect the work I do now and give me the tools I need to get my work done. My concern is for my friends and peers writing SF/F. I want us to thrive. Anyone can go it alone, but it’s a lot more comfortable tackling a challenge in a group of like-minded types, even if all you want is a quiet place to kvetch about how you accidentally muffed the celestial mechanics in your latest story. 🙂

          • I’ve been reading this thread, but just can’t shake a certain amount of discomfort about the requirements at all. Maybe I’m naive, but why this “ladder”? Why this emphasis on keeping certain writers out? What harm would it do the organization if SF/F writers of whatever level were to join?

            • To be honest, I think at this point it’s a practical issue. The organization wants to be useful to people who are making a career out of writing SF/F. They don’t have the number of volunteers necessary to serve the number of people who would join if anyone could. (And no, I don’t really think increasing the membership pool would increase the number of volunteers, having watched this dynamic in other, larger organizations.) So, knowing there’s a limitation to the amount they can reasonably do without paying a staff (which incurs a lot of legal complications), they’re trying to find criteria that help limit the membership to the people they think they can help.

              It’s not a nefarious thing, seriously. Or an elitest thing, though it can be turned into one. It’s a practical thing. You can’t be everything to everyone, so given that, how do you narrow your focus?

              Broad Universe, which is mentioned somewhere around here in this thread, serves SF/F authors at every level of their career. But they have to be women. That’s how they limited their focus.

              • Broad Universe focused on promoting the works of women writers because there was a need, as the continuing struggles demonstrate. This was not a practical decision made to keep the organization’s size manageable.

                Everyone is welcome to join. You don’t have to be a writer or a woman, you just have to want to support women writers of SF/F/H.

                • I’m not suggesting that it’s the only, or even the primary, reason that it formed, no. (I joined BU when it first got started, in fact. I can pin a badge on myself that says ‘I was there!’ I even manned one of its Worldcon tables one year.) But every organization has these problems, and has to go about solving them somehow. Narrowing your focus has the useful side effect of curtailing the problems of too large a membership versus too small a staff.

  15. Just to offer one more prospective…

    I’m a lifetime member of SFWA–bought that membership when it was available with the profits from the first novel, way back in the ’90s.

    Currently, I’m a hybrid: I am traditionally published, a member of a publishing cooperative (Book View Cafe) and so published by a small press, and I have my own publishing company and self publish.

    I have heard nothing but good regarding the SFWA grievance committee. It was why I joined, though I knew it was like insurance: A good thing to have, and hopefully I would never need it.

    The emergency medical fund has helped writers I know.

    I am interested to see what SFWA will be able to offer in terms of health insurance. This could be of use to a lot of writers.

    As for the bulletin…I have a different opinion than Ms. Hogarth. I’ve rarely if ever found it useful. Since I’ve gone hybrid, I find it even less so.

    I don’t hang out on the forums. I’m not that social. (^_^)

    So what can SFWA offer the writers of today? I don’t know. From my perspective, very little.

    However, I wouldn’t write SFWA off just yet. I haven’t cancelled my membership, though I’ve been tempted to, more than once. They are in the process of making changes. I can see that. It’s a slow process, but I have hope that they’ll be more relevant in the future.

  16. A few short years ago, being of the sci-fi persuasion, I wanted to join SFWA. NO ACCESS. Not published by trad-pubs, don’t bother knocking. It sounded elitist to me, but I am not the type that the more the gates stay close the more I want to join the club. So I said, “your loss.”
    I also tried to figure out what SFWA is, a guild? Other than medical insurance and inside gossips, what else do they offer? It is not like the actors union or the director’s guild in Hollywood, which sets fair pay practices, this elitist group caters to big publishers.
    Bottom line, what’s in it for me?
    Nothing I cannot get for free now. They could not get me published by trad-pubs, and writing sci-fi does not require membership.

    • It’s not like SFWA has the kind of leverage that the unions have; you don’t have to be a member to get published. But neither does it “cater to big publishers” (see the activities of griefcomm, for example; SFWA has had even big publishers audited).

      That said, since SFWA recently raised its per-word rate for qualifying short fiction sales, the major magazines (eg Analog, Asimov’s) have also raised their word rates. Of course that could be coincidence.

      • I noticed they’d gone up since I submitted last. I was wondering whether they had to raise rates to compete with self-publishing for shorts, or for some other reason.

        • Professional rates for writers have gone up very slowly in relation to inflation. It was overdue.

          For decades, authors were getting paid the same rates while everything else went up in price.

      • When all the publishers, across the board (collusion, anyone?) decided to slash ebook royalties and start paying on net, not gross, where was SFWA? Why weren’t they up in arms over this?

        While I agree that the grievance committee does great work, the perception that SFWA caters to big publishers persists for a reason.

        I am hopeful that the perception can be changed, and SFWA will do better work. But change is slow.

    • Just a minor correction, copying from Hogarth’s post above:

      “They offer emergency health funds, and are reincorporating in part in order to be able to offer group insurance.”

      So, emergency funds, yes, health insurance, no. I’ll be very curious if they’ll be able to offer group insurance, given the uncertainty over the Obamacare rules.

  17. For women who write SF/F/H, there is an alternative to SFWA: Broad Universe (www.BroadUniverse.org), which welcomes indies, trad-pubbed, and hybrid writers at all stages in their careers. Membership is $30/year.

    I’ve been a member for a few months and am so grateful I joined! Here’s how I’ve benefited:

    * Mentoring: the Broads are very generous with their advice. As an indie writer, I didn’t think I had much chance to get onto the program at Boskone. Thanks to the coaching I received, I was invited to participate in 5 panels and do a solo reading and book signing.

    * Readings and book sales: At many cons, Broad Universe sponsors a group reading and a sales table. Any broad can read and sell her books — commission-free. I participated in both at Boskone. Fun and profitable!

    * Promotion: Through our website, podcasts, presence at SF/F/H events, book catalogs, special chapter events, and signal-boosting by other Broads.

    * Discount on NetGalley: members can post their books on NetGalley for $25/month. That’s a great deal.

    * Networking and friendships: We have active lists. Questions are answered quickly, generally by someone with experience on that topic (whether it’s producing an audiobook or knowledge of a particular market). Plus, it was really nice to go to an event knowing I had built-in support.

    Please join us. Broadminded men are welcome, too.

  18. I was a SFWA member for about 20 years. I dropped my membership last year.

    Joining SFWA had never been a “goal” for me. I was originally a romance writer, so I had published at least 10 novels and already belonged to RWA and to NINC. I joined NINC, an organization for multi-published career novelists (which, yes, now accepts self-publishing credentials) back before it had Bylaws or a name, and NINC is where I have done a lot of volunteer work, including serving on the BoD for 2 years, and where I am currently an opinion columnist). I only subsequently joined SFWA after selling 8-10 sf/f short fiction stories, because it seemed to me that if I was actively writing and selling sf/f, then I should probably belong to the organization that was for working sf/f writers.

    I joined with some misgivings, since I already knew SFWA’s reputation and had witnessed a number of its internal quarrels from the outside. (Even 20+ years ago, observing SFWA feuds was a popular pastime for non-members.) My misgivings were soon justified–and for the next 20 years, I sat through one SFWA quarrel after another after another after another.

    Almost every year, I considered not renewing; but every year I did renew, in the hope that SFWA would soon become a professionally-oriented organization focused on the profession of writing sf/f. Many years, I renewed because of assurances within the org that such a change in SFWA was j-u-s-t around the corner, we were on the cusp of big improvements in SFWA! Some years, I renewed because I thought the incoming BoD might be able to shift the org in the direction of professionalism. Some years, I renewed despite a wholly unprofessional BoD, thinking that surely others were as fed up as I was, so SFWA would finally shift to focusing on professionalism and professional matters as a direct reaction to a BoD that had taken the org in the wrong direction.

    (Why did I not participate in bringing about the changes I wanted? Because of the toxic internal culture of the org. I did a LOT of volunteer work during the years I was a SFWA member… but I always did it for -NINC-, not SFWA. Because volunteer work in NINC leads to people saying “thanks,” whereas I saw too many instances where volunteer work in SFWA led to the volunteer being nastily attacked.)

    Anyhow, last year, after 20 years, I decided I was done waiting. It had been silly to wait that long. It was time for me to leave SFWA.

    For 20 years, it seemed to me that SFWA’s primary focus had consistently been on itself and its internal problems, rather than on the sf/f writing profession. For 20 years, it seemed to me that SFWA members’ focus, in the context of the org, had been primarily on each other rather than on our mutual profession. I had ceased believing this would change–and although I was still hearing the familiar reassurances that SFWA “is changing” or “is on the verge of big changes,” or that “we’re planning great things for SFWA,” etc… I had ceased believing this. I’d been hearing it for 20 years, yet here we were in 2013, same-old same-old. And so it was definitely time to go.

    As a SFWA member, however, I used the service of the Grievance Committee twice and found it helpful on both occasions. The value of that member service is a key reason I didn’t quit in years when I was considering it. However, by the time I did quit SFWA, I had not used that service in 8 years, so it’s not one I was concerned about missing (and since I last used it, I have retained an attorney whom I consult on my professional problems), though I did ask the committee for some non-confidential information in 2009

    I also valued the important work of Writer Beware, but I realized after MWA donated some money to it that there’s no reason that I couldn’t do the same, without the distraction of actually belonging to SFWA. (But kudos to SFWA for supporting this valuable work!)

    The bottom line for me is that as someone focused on the craft and business of being an sf/f writer and earning my full-time, self-supporting living this way, I was not a good fit for SFWA and never had been. And since leaving, I have to admit, my only regret is that I didn’t leave sooner. SFWA was just a frustrating distraction for me for too long, and I shouldn’t have remained as long as I did.

    • While NINC does allow in self-published authors, I will say that SFWA’s new self-publishing guidelines should be more inclusive than NINC’s… in the sense that you can use Kickstarter money to qualify. I asked NINC if my successful Kickstarter campaigns qualified as long as they were in excess of the required earnings, and they said no. That was disappointing, since they seemed otherwise pretty forward-looking.

      • How in God’s name should Kickstarter make any difference? Hell, most people should come up with $250 worth of self-publishing income in a month or three if they get a few stories up. If these new guidelines are so strict for self-publishers that you need crowdsourced dedicated funding to meet them, I’m not sure you’ve made them as inclusive as you think you have.

        • Because NINC’s guidelines are very specifically that you have to make a certain amount (I think it’s at least $2000) per single TITLE, within a certain timeframe, and you have to do it with more than one title. In other words, you have to prove that within a year (or whatever the time frame was), you have at least 2 novel-length works that have made $2000 each.

          I had two novel-length works that made over $4000-$6000 in less than a MONTH through Kickstarter.

          That didn’t count.

          I didn’t see how that made sense. *shrug*

    • This more than anything makes me think that it’s better to just let SFWA do its own elitist thing and start over with something new.

  19. My understanding is that it’s very unlikely that a group like SFWA could offer health insurance that is competitive with the plans being offered under the ACA. That may not be true in some states, but, again, it’s not likely that SFWA would negotiate plans for members on a state by state basis. One of the primary benefits of a group plan used to be that it would cover pre-existing conditions; now that’s not as much of a concern.

  20. Yes, yes it is. There are many legitimate concerns SFWA could be addressing. What does SFWA concern itself with? Checking members for ideological purity, and looking for the next member to burn at the stake. How long has SFWA been emulating the Spanish Inquisition? Too long.

    Check, in particular, the Orwellian language of this recent SFWA statement regarding their publication, The Bulletin:

    “Over the past few days, there has been much public discussion about a non-member’s petition to SFWA regarding oversight of our member publication, the Bulletin.

    While this petition has not been formally presented to SFWA, I have seen versions and they express concerns for something that does not and will not exist:

    Specifically, the editor of the Bulletin will not have to go to any selection or editorial review board to approve material.”

    Translation: SFWA isn’t going to censor The Bulletin. But we find in the next paragraph:

    “In compliance with the by-laws and the will of our members, there will be regular oversight of the Bulletin to ensure that it is inclusive of and reflects the diversity of all our members, and that it continues to address the changing needs of professional writers.”

    Translation: SFWA WILL have something very similar to a review board, with the same functions. But it’s okay since we’ll call it something else. Hmm…


    It’s not about the writing profession anymore with these folks. It’s about having the ‘right’ ideas, about a lot of things not directly related to writing, such as politics, social issues, and so forth. It doesn’t matter how good the writing is if your ideas run afoul of the SFWA Inquisitors.

    • If SFWA was kicking people out for ideological purity, they would have tossed me within a few months of me joining, because I am very much not the acceptable political or religious majority in SF/F anymore. But they haven’t, and when I mention being uncomfortable, inevitably three or four people will quietly message me and say, ‘please don’t leave, we like having you here, and people like you. We don’t want to become an ideological monolith.’

      And these are usually people I know would otherwise disagree with me.

      This is not to say I’m not surprised that they haven’t kicked me out yet, because most days I am. But I’m also willing to be convinced that I’m being paranoid because of the way, in general, people of my convictions are dismissed or excoriated or mocked in the fandom and the industry.

  21. Perhaps what we need is an Association of Self-Published Authors or, more specifically, an Association of Self-Published Science Fiction Authors.

    • I think the distinction between “Self-Published” and “Traditionally Published” is completely meaningless.

      Why should a new association choose to discriminate in the opposite direction?

  22. The one subject I don’t see mentioned here is “networking”. I also don’t see “community”.

    I’m not a member of SFWA but know and have worked with many members and have taken advantage of various services the organization offers.

    There’s more to an organization than the services it offers. Very often, the benefits to be had are largely intangibles.

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