Casual fans of sci-fi and fantasy might not be aware of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, a group founded in 1965 to promote the interests (primarily financial) of writers in the genre. Or, as they say on their website:
SFWA is a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. Esteemed past and present members include Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Ray Bradbury, and Andre Norton.
SFWA informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its members. We host the prestigious Nebula Awards, assist members in legal disputes with publishers, and administer benevolent funds for authors facing medical or legal expenses. Novice authors benefit from our Information Center and the well-known Writer Beware site.
SFWA members look out for each other and provide assistance, mentorship, and camaraderie. Between online discussion forums, private convention suites, and a host of less formal gatherings, SFWA is a source of information, education, support, and fellowship for its authors.
SFWA Membership is open to authors, artists, editors, and other industry professionals who meet our eligibility requirements.
In addition, the SFWA has published compilations of some of the greatest sci-fi ever written, such as this one, which I’ve gushed about before.
Sounds awesome, right? As a fantasy/sci-fi writer, I ought to drop everything and join tout de suite, shouldn’t I? Well, I can’t join SFWA. The eligibility requirements are:
To become an Active member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate either:
- Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or
- One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or
- One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee.
To become an Associate member of SFWA, applicants must demonstrate:
- One Paid Sale of prose fiction (such as short stories) to a Qualifying Professional Market, paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), minimum $50.
And what are “Qualifying Professional Markets?” The SFWA site lists several examples: they’re certain book publishers or magazines. So, you see, the SFWA isn’t for everyone who fancies themselves a writer and is willing to pay their dues. Before you can get in, you have to prove yourself by making some sales first, and not just to any old publication.
Huh. Here, I had been hoping that SFWA would help me, a newbie author, make those sales, but I guess I’m on my own for that.
Well, no, not so far as the SFWA is concerned. You see, back when the SFWA was formed—and even up until a few years ago—self-publishing was considered unseemly, something only done by losers who couldn’t get published anywhere.
But the publishing industry is changing. The Internet—and particularly Amazon, with their Create Space subsidiary—has made it possible for anyone to write, print, and sell their work without middlemen like literary agents and publishers. And while sales of self-published books have been skyrocketing every year, the traditional publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores have been doing this:
Like me, more and more authors are choosing to self publish, for various reasons: more artistic control over their work, retaining publishing rights, avoiding the “query-go-round” of submitting manuscripts to agents and publishers, and—oh, yeah—higher royalties.
Not to mention that mainstream publishers don’t apparently do much for their authors: check out this story about how the latest book by J.K. Rowling—yes, THAT J.K. Rowling—floundered in the marketplace when it was published under a pseudonym. And that was after another publisher turned down the manuscript.
Now, perhaps I’m biased or just foolishly naïve, but I would think that the SFWA, being an organization of individuals who supposedly specialize in forward-thinking and speculation, would notice the dramatic increase in the number of self-published authors and at least reconsider their membership criteria so as to expand their group. To date, they have not, but to be fair, new SFWA Steven Gould broached the idea when he announced his candidacy. So there’s that. Currently, however, it doesn’t matter if I’ve sold 100 copies of Dragontamer’s Daughters or 100,000: because DTD’s self-published, I’m not allowed in.
But okay: it’s their organization, they make the rules. Maybe I can publish my next book traditionally, pay my dues, and get in. And once I’m in, maybe someone there can answer these questions I’d have for them:
- What can SFWA do to help expose my work to potential buyers (publishing agencies and SF/F fans)?
- Can SFWA connect me to writers more experienced in marketing to mentor me on better ways to promote myself and my work?
- What will SFWA do to continue to promote the popularity of fantasy, sci-fi, and other speculative fiction (e.g. superheroes) to the general public and casual fans?
- What is SFWA doing to address the slow-motion collapse of the traditional publishing industry, so as to help protect the livelihood of beginning and mid-list authors?
- What is SFWA going to do to address the fact that the top-selling sci-fi books in 2012 were either published many years ago or were tie-ins to video games or movies? How will SFWA promote the newest releases and original works?
Lately, however, SFWA has been concerning itself with several other, non-financial matters. You can find a detailed list and discussion here, but let me offer some examples, sticking just to the facts and presented without comment because the issues are highly contentious:
- In their regular column of The Bulletin, the SFWA trade magazine, two older, white male authors wrote a piece about female editors they have worked with; many SFWA members complained that the remarks made in the column were sexist.
- In the same issue as the original offending column, the (female) editor of The Bulletin used a Vallejo-type illustration of a “warrior woman” in a “chainmail bikini” (a la Red Sonja) as the front cover, which many SFWA members also found sexist. The editor resigned from The Bulletin and from SFWA. The Bulletin was put on hiatus while a committee studies how to address issues raised.
- SFWA authors outed a (married) editor at Tor Books as having sexually harassed several women at various conventions over the years; the editor left Tor.
- SFWA began expulsion proceedings against author and blogger Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day). On his blog and in SFWA forums, Beale has often written statements that many other SFWA authors have found offensive. He and SFWA author John Scalzi have feuded for years; Scalzi started a charity drive this year in response to Beale.
- Former SFWA vice president Mary Robinette Kowal posted a blog piece asking the “rabid weasels” of the organization to resign.
While these issues are very important to many other authors, they are less so to me. As you’ve probably gathered, what I would most want out an SFWA membership would be help selling what I’ve written and intend to write. Writing is an art, but it’s also a business: I have the “art” covered; it’s the “business” I could use a hand with.
So no, unless circumstances change, I won’t be joining SFWA.
I have, however, applied to join the Eastern Shore Writers Association. While ESWA is not primarily concerned with writers’ financial well-being (the original purpose of the SFWA), I learned a lot about marketing my books at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference last February. I’m also meeting monthly with a few other ESWA writers to explore social media and learn how to better promote our works.
That’s already more, methinks, than I would ever get from SFWA. I’m looking forward to interacting with—and learning more from—the others in ESWA.