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March 15, 2007

SFWA President: I'm a Write-In Candidate

I got a ballot from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America about a week ago; the ballot is for electing the officers of SFWA -- President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. As I read the ballot, I noticed two things. First, there was only one candidate on the ballot for each category, and no way to register a "none of the above" vote; two, the SFWA members standing for president and vice president are people who, for philosophical reasons only (having nothing to do with their respective personal characters), I would not vote for nor wish to be at the helm of the organization at this time.

While the ballot does not offer a "none of the above" option for voting, it does offer SFWA members the ability to offer a write-in candidate instead. This is me announcing, somewhat reluctantly, that I am now offering myself up as a write-in candidate for SFWA President. If you are a member of SFWA and you are dissatisfied with the presidential choice offered to you, you may write me in; if elected, I will serve.

Allow me to note that I am not particularly keen on serving in this position; I've been a SFWA member long enough to know that it's a fairly thankless position, with lots of herding cats and dealing with aggravating minutiae, and I have a career to look after at the moment. I'd just as soon not be president of SFWA, and if I am elected president, you should know now that I will view the position as something I am doing in addition to my writing career, not something of equal importance. I might as well be honest with you on that score.

If I don't really want to be president of SFWA, why am I offering myself as a write-in candidate?

1. Philosophically, I'm opposed to having only one candidate for a leadership position of any organization I am involved with. I don't think it speaks well for the organizational health of the body; it suggests an apathetic membership. One can debate whether the membership is apathetic because the organization is not useful enough to be engaged in, or whether the membership is simply apathetic in a general sense (or both). Whatever the cause, it's not an encouraging sign.

I have always been honest that I've pretty much viewed my membership in SFWA as an affectation; I've never expected SFWA to do anything for me because I require nothing from it. However, I have the luxury of regarding my membership as an affectation; other members of SFWA might actually want it to do something useful for them. I happen to think SFWA can be useful; I happen to think it doesn't do a particularly good job of being useful. I have opinions on the matter strong enough that I believe that I can be a reasonable candidate for the job of president. As there is only one other person running, I feel obliged to put my hat in the ring if only to offer a reasonable and notable choice for the position.

2. I don't believe that Michael Capobianco, the fellow running for SFWA President, is at all the right person for the job. Let me note again that this is not a reflection on his personal character; I've not met him outside the online SFWA newsgroups and a few other online venues, so I cannot speak as to whether he is a nice guy or whatever. I'm sure he is. Likewise, Mr. Capobianco is a past president of SFWA and has won the organization's service award, which suggests that in the past, at least, he has been viewed as a reasonable choice for leading the organization. The question in my mind is not his past service, of which I have no experience (it was before my time) but whether he's the right person to lead SFWA forward now.

I don't think he is for two reasons. First, he hasn't had a novel published in this century; his last published novel, White Light, which he co-wrote with William Barton, was published in hardcover in 1998. Essentially, he's a decade out of practice with the practical aspects of publishing science fiction. This matters if one believes, as I do, that SFWA should primarily be a professional service organization; it particularly matters if one believes, as I do, that the publishing world in the 21st century, even this early on, is manifestly different than it was in the 20th century. I have books professionally published in both centuries; I know how much it's changed, and I deal with the publishing world on a daily basis.

Second, I believe that based on what I've read from him Mr. Capobianco is fundamentally afraid of the changing publishing world, and the changes in the world of speculative fiction, and that this fundamental position will cause him to make his tenure as SFWA backward-facing and defensive, rather than forward-thinking and innovative. This will make SFWA even more irrelevant to working writers -- that is, the people who are shaping science fiction -- than it already is.

Simply put, the professional organization of speculative fiction should not be headed by people who believe their job is to hold back the future. I believe strongly that Michael Capobianco sees it as his role to hold back the future and to maintain the status quo in publishing and in speculative fiction. That battle has already been lost; the publishing world has already irrevocably changed from when Mr. Capobianco last published. It's time that SFWA moves forward with leadership who understands this.

I'm not keen on being SFWA president. But I'm even less keen on Mr. Capobianco being SFWA president, enough so that I'm willing to offer myself for the position.

(I believe similar things about Andrew Burt, who is the fellow running for Vice-President; however, I'm not offering myself for that position, so I'll leave it at that for now.)

Now that you know why I am offering myself as a write-in candidate, it's time to hit you with my platform. It's a platform that is based on the idea that the primary goals of SFWA should be a) to advance the position of speculative fiction (and particularly written speculative fiction) in the mind of the public and b) to benefit and advance the active speculative fiction careers of its members.

Here's what's on the platform:

1. A rational view of copyright issues that while strongly affirmative of a creator's right to control his or her work also recognizes that the biggest problem facing creators is not piracy but obscurity. To that end I suggest re-evaluating the potential of online browsing initiatives in particular, to get samples of work to the largest possible audiences while still giving authors a say in how that work is viewed. That said, while this issue is "sexy," this is the issue out of all the ones I'm presenting here that SFWA should spend the least amount of time on. Other issues are more practical and more fundamental to the well-being of SFWA members' careers, and the health of the speculative fiction genre.

2. An understanding that the most critical segment of our audience is the youngest segment; to that end I will suggest SFWA undertake initiatives with publishers, libraries and educators to get speculative fiction in front of new readers and help create the next generation of speculative fiction writers. These initiatives will include mentoring aspiring science fiction writers and creating SFWA-branded anthologies of new, fun and age-appropriate anthologies that the organization will offer to schools, free in printable electronic form.

3. An expectation of service from all SFWA members in the organization's institutional and educational goals, including those noted in point two. Speaking as someone who has a membership primarily as an affectation, I can say that requiring active service will be beneficial in shaking out the hangers-on and giving those who remain the feeling that SFWA is doing something useful, because it requires something useful from them.

4. SFWA should be viewed as a first-stop resource for every literary event, SFF convention and speaker-seeking organization in the country for speakers and panelists. I suggest the hiring of a full-time and salaried Director of Speculative Fiction Evangelism. The director's job will be to identify, pursue and generate opportunities in organizations and communities where SFWA members can promote speculative fiction, the organization, and their own work.

5. SFWA's Web site sucks, with abominable aesthetics and clunky design and navigation. The official organization of the literature of the future should not have an online presence that looks like it came from 1997. I will suggest a massive revamp of the site to make it more attractive, easier to use and most importantly more relevant to speculative fiction readers and enthusiasts, including an initiative to create new content on the site on a regular basis, to attract readers and raise awareness of SFWA and its relevance to both speculative fiction readers and writers.

6. The Nebulas are one of the two major awards in literary science fiction, but their luster has dimmed over the last several years; they are no longer the equal to the Hugos in terms of relevance and timeliness, and their nomination process leaves them open to accusations of nomination via logrolling rather than literary quality. As a result they are less useful to SFWA members in promoting their own Nebula-nominated work, and they are less useful to SFWA as a publicity-generating tool. I will suggest a number of steps to bring the Nebulas back to their position of pre-eminence in the science fiction world, including a return to calendar year nominations, making the nomination process anonymous to eliminate the appearance of quid-pro-quo nominating, and presenting the Nebulas at major SFF conventions -- i.e., in front of fans, rather than away from fans at a private SFWA function.

7. Presenting the Nebulas at a major science fiction convention would necessarily eliminate the need for a Nebula Weekend, but it would still be useful and beneficial to have a SFWA-themed event, to handle face-to-face SFWA business and to let the members socialize, and also to get SFWA members in front of fans old and new. I will suggest the formation of a SFWA Jubilee Committee, whose task will be to run an annual convention complete with programming for fans and readers as well as for private SFWA business, and to have the Jubilee move its location annually and work with organizations in the communities in which it is held to raise interest in the event and to bring in both old-time fans and new potential readers (particularly from high school and middle school).

8. Two of SFWAs most useful initiatives are its Emergency Medical Fund and its Legal Fund, to help members who find themselves in tight spots. I will suggest active, aggressive and persistent fundraising initiatives to pile money into both of these funds to assure they are always ready when members have need.

9. Any professional organization lives and innovates by attracting new members. I will suggest initiatives to assure that every SFWA-eligible writer who is not a member knows he or she is eligible to join -- and that we want them in our ranks.

That's enough for one one-year term, I think.

Now, you may ask, do I honestly think all of these things can be accomplished over the course of one term? I do not; there's no assurance that any of these initiatives will make it out of the gate, and remember, in all of this I'll also be having a career, writing my own books and taking care of my own business. Be that as it may, these are the things SFWA should be tackling, whether I am the one at the helm or not. Please consider this an open-source platform; if you want to be a write-in candidate, or be a candidate next year, please take as many of these ideas as you want. I don't mind getting off the hook for this gig.

If I am to be the one at the helm, it would be helpful to have a SFWA executive committee that is both philosophically aligned with these goals and willing to do the work to implement them; I suspect I would be particularly in need of an uber-competent VP who would have a passion for organization and a gift for details, because God knows I'm deficient in both. I hope someone will step forward and offer themselves as a write-in candidate for VP, and please please please be competent.

I will say this: If you're a SFWA member, don't vote for me if you're not willing to have me come in and stomp around and try to get these things done, and not necessarily be the most politic guy when I do; likewise don't vote for me if you are not willing to pitch in when I come asking for your help, which I will. I'm not going to try to get this done on my own; if I look out among SFWA members and I don't see people willing to step forward and make the organization useful and relevant to their careers and the careers of other science fiction writers, I'm out of there. I want to be very clear about the fact I have no compunction against saying "see ya" if I don't think SFWA's membership is serious about SFWA. I'll resign the post and go back to my plow. So make no mistake that a vote for me is a vote for an obligation to SFWA by you. If I have to stop thinking about my membership as an affectation, I think you should have to, too.

There it is. Thanks for reading.

Update, 1:17 am 3/16: Derryl Murphy has announced a write-in run for SFWA VP.

Posted by john at March 15, 2007 10:14 PM

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Comments

Dean | March 15, 2007 10:24 PM

Wow. I'm impressed. Seriously.

If I were a member of SFWA (and if I were eligible, I'd be a member) I'd probably vote for you just on the strength of what I see here. Because if you are reluctant to serve, you sure don't show it. I don't see a bit of reluctance here. I see passion and rational thinking, which is usually a damned effective combination.

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 10:28 PM

Dean:

"Because if you are reluctant to serve, you sure don't show it."

Heh. What part of "I'd rather not" is not coming through?

Really, I don't want the gig. It's a headache, as far as I can see. But I don't think the alternative is acceptable.

Justine Larbalestier | March 15, 2007 10:34 PM

You're mad. But if I were a member I'd write you in.

Though I really don't think no. 2 is that urgent. Science fiction is positively thriving in it's young adult, manga, graphic novel and anime forms. It's only the grown-up published-as-sf form that seems to be moribund. And even then there are lots of exceptions.

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 10:39 PM

Justine Larbalestier:

"Though I really don't think no. 2 is that urgent. Science fiction is positively thriving in it's young adult, manga, graphic novel and anime forms. It's only the grown-up published-as-sf form that seems to be moribund. And even then there are lots of exceptions."

I think its urgent to SFWA; it needs to be part of that territory and it needs to be relevant to those writers and readers. Right now I don't think it is. Make no mistake number 2 is as much for the benefit of the organization as for the kids (if not more so).

Patrick | March 15, 2007 10:45 PM

How do you feel about making it more inclusive, such as a limited membership for writers who have not published yet?

Right now, I'm told that I'm not able to join because I haven't risen to such high ranks. Well, if you don't help me get there, why would I want to be there?

Leah Bobet | March 15, 2007 10:49 PM

I may have actually found a reason to join SFWA.

Never thought I'd say that. *g*

Patrick | March 15, 2007 10:49 PM

I really should read everything before I comment... I would assume that "These initiatives will include mentoring aspiring science fiction writers " would mean that you are in favor of such a move.

TCO | March 15, 2007 10:52 PM

bleh. post too long.

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 10:53 PM

Patrick:

"How do you feel about making it more inclusive, such as a limited membership for writers who have not published yet?"

There are already associate memberships, which I think are adequate.

I think SFWA should be a primarily a professional organization, so professional credits should be relevant.

TCO:

It's not relevant to you anyway.

Steve Brady | March 15, 2007 10:55 PM

John, haven't you been paying attention for the last decade? Writing a mile-long substantive policy post is no way to get elected in this country. Maybe they do that sort of thing in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of France, but not here.

Just post a funny picture or something.

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 10:58 PM

Steve Brady:

I don't mind if I don't get elected; I just want people to know they have a choice.

Bryan Taylor | March 15, 2007 11:01 PM

Didn't Douglas Adams say that the person most suited for office is the one who doesn't want the job?

Naomi | March 15, 2007 11:03 PM

I may have already tossed my ballot -- having determined that there were no contested races, I saw no particular reason to waste a stamp.

Are you going to run next year, when you could actually put your name on the ballot, and include your manifesto with the mailing?

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 11:05 PM

Naomi:

"Are you going to run next year, when you could actually put your name on the ballot, and include your manifesto with the mailing?"

Hopefully next year someone will run I will be comfortable voting for, and I won't have to put my hat in the ring.

Patrick | March 15, 2007 11:07 PM

Think about this.

https://www.rwanational.org/eweb/dynamicpage.aspx?webcode=AboutUsGeneralMem

I'm just saying. Want to know something -- ask a romance writer.

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 11:13 PM

Patrick:

RWA is not SFWA. I don't think offering membership to people who have no actual publishing credits is useful. There are of course lots of ways to engage people who are not members, and they should be done. But the membership criteria for a professional writing organization should be professional writing credits, in my opinion.

Kristine Smith | March 15, 2007 11:22 PM

FWIW, PAN spun off of RWA when published writers felt that their needs were being overwhelmed by those of the prepubs. The needs are different, and it's difficult for a single organization to be all things to both sides.

diana pharaoh francis | March 15, 2007 11:28 PM

So, if you don't win, will you run officially next year? I have to go digging for my ballot . . .

Di

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 11:31 PM

Di:

As I noted to Naomi, hopefully next year someone will run I will be comfortable voting for, and I won't have to put my hat in the ring.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 15, 2007 11:31 PM

See my e-mail to you, John.

But what I want, besides all the things that you've listed, is some acknowledgement in the organization that Affiliate Members matter. I'm an affiliate member. I'm one of the people who damn well goes out there and sells your books. And I have almost no rights, no input, no anything.

diana pharaoh francis | March 15, 2007 11:34 PM

And then I read Naomi's post . . . duh. But seriously, I'd like to see you in the post. I admit I'm more a lurker in SFWA than not, but that's partly because there's a lot of what seems to be random pecking at one another (and I work at a college, I get enough of that) and I'll confess to not having a great sense of what the organization can do or should do. So I'd like to see your leadership and get behind it.

Di

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 15, 2007 11:54 PM

AAAAAAAAAARGH!

Your platform is so compelling, rational, and reasonable that I have a terrible suspicion that you'll win.

[gnashes teeth, rends tunic]

John Scalzi | March 15, 2007 11:58 PM

PNH:

I suspect Mr. Capobianco has lots of friends who will vote for him.

Jacob | March 16, 2007 12:09 AM

Well looks you tubed Michael Capobianco's website. So in terms of the internets it's Scalzi: 1, Capobianco: 0. (BTW has anyone ever noted the awesome use of "tubed" in TAD)?

B. B. Kristopher | March 16, 2007 12:11 AM

You know what would go a long way towards making SFWA relevant to new writers? Getting off their duff and getting a health insurance plan set up like the National Writers Union and the Authors Guild, only not buggering it up and only offering it in four or five states, but offering it in the whole bleeding country. That's something that would definitely get me interested in joining SFWA. Another might be a program similar to the "Back in Print" program the Authors Guild runs with iUniverse.

Also, SFWA's positions on electronic rights are so vague and paranoid as to be useless to someone who's going to be looking at their first novel contract in the near future. The model contracts could also use some updating.

But darn, I'm glad to see this post. This actually gives me the hope that SFWA might get turned around.

I guess it's probably to late to join so I can vote in the election.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 16, 2007 12:12 AM

[breathing exercises]

You're right. Increasingly, the people who actually have a clue about the real challenges facing print SF as a business aren't members of SFWA any more.

Whew!

(Seriously? Joking aside, and speaking as an evil editor/publisher type, I think there should be an organization devoted to standing up for writers' interests and kicking our asses. Unfortunately, SFWA isn't that organization. )

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 12:12 AM

Jacob:

"Well looks you tubed Michael Capobianco's website."

I should have known that might happen; it was a geocities site, after all.

I'll swap out the link to his Wikipedia entry.

(Update: swapped)

Diatryma | March 16, 2007 12:14 AM

I'm pretty sure I'm not eligible for SFWA, but I'd vote for you because of Point 2. I'm not so far removed from young-writerhood myself.

Dr. Phil | March 16, 2007 12:16 AM

My hat -- and I always wear one -- is off to you, sir. Having been drafted twice by organizations I've belonged to, by members unhappy with "the usual" candidates going through the motions, I both sympathize and wish you good luck. Sorry I can't vote for you -- not enough pro paying credits yet -- but I can say I've heard lots of rumblings from younger writers questioning SFWA's relevance to them. Which is, I think, a great shame.

At least your great platform has a chance for good visibility amongst the writers who are most likely to be the first to write your name in -- you're taking the toughest road to election, after all.

Dr. Phil

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 12:19 AM

BB Kristopher:

"You know what would go a long way towards making SFWA relevant to new writers? Getting off their duff and getting a health insurance plan set up like the National Writers Union and the Authors Guild, only not buggering it up and only offering it in four or five states, but offering it in the whole bleeding country."

Mmmm... crazy logistical nightmare, that is. I would like to see it happen too, although I suspect that SWFA's relatively small size makes it all but impossible. I'd have to look into it.

PNH:

"Joking aside, and speaking as an evil editor/publisher type, I think there should be an organization devoted to standing up for writers' interests and kicking our asses. Unfortunately, SFWA isn't that organization."

Yup, and yup. You know I love ya, PNH, but when it comes to business, you and I aren't always on the same side, and that's true of any writer and editor/publisher relationship. I'd be nice for most writers to have backup.

Dr. Phil:

"At least your great platform has a chance for good visibility amongst the writers who are most likely to be the first to write your name in -- you're taking the toughest road to election, after all."

Considering that I'm not all that keen on having the job, to me this is a feature, not a bug. It also would suggest that if I do, people really wanted me in there.

I do hope my platform gets out there among the writers. Like I said in the entry, it's an open source platform; I hope people take it for their own. Save me the problems of actually being president. I'm happy just to be the idea guy.

JonathanMoeller | March 16, 2007 12:22 AM

Meh. Getting elected SFWA president in 2007 is a bit like getting elected Holy Roman Emperor in 2007. You might get a nice hat, but the world's moved on.

Writer Beware does good stuff, though.

Dean | March 16, 2007 12:22 AM

John:
Heh. What part of "I'd rather not" is not coming through?

Well, it reads not as 'I really don't want to do this' but rather as 'I think this stuff needs to be done and damn it, if nobody else is going to do it I will'. So I'd say it's a guarded 'I'd rather not'.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 12:25 AM

Dean:

"Well, it reads not as 'I really don't want to do this' but rather as 'I think this stuff needs to be done and damn it, if nobody else is going to do it I will'."

More like: "Don't make me do this."

Ellen | March 16, 2007 12:33 AM

I'm not an SFWA member (though I suspect I'll become one when I'm eligible), but if I were I'd vote for you. And I kind of hope you're forced into serving sometime when I am a member.

Paula Helm Murray | March 16, 2007 12:39 AM

too bad I already turned in my ballot, I'm likely to get busy with my day job and forget it/

Run again. Early enough to get on the ballot.

will shetterly | March 16, 2007 12:50 AM

Huh. I'm tempted to upgrade Emma's membership to "family" so I can vote for you. I'm certainly going to help her look for the ballot so she can vote for you. If it's already been trashed, I'll see if it's possible to get another.

Emma or I will always be a SFWA member because the Emergency Medical Fund was there when she needed it. Writer Beware is a wonderful service. The rest of SFWA has just seemed irrelevant for ages. I've long wished someone would simply kill the Nebulas, but I don't know if you could get the members to agree.

May the election give what you need!

Evan Goer | March 16, 2007 12:58 AM

"Well looks you tubed Michael Capobianco's website."

I should have known that might happen; it was a geocities site, after all.

That's a pretty telling detail right there.

Derryl Murphy | March 16, 2007 01:11 AM

Announcement here:

http://derrylmurphy.blogspot.com/2007/03/stepping-back-up-to-plate-well-john.html

Don't know if you'd agree with me being your running mate, John, but you've guilted me into doing the same. I worry that we're too late, but I also know that it'll only be one year, so it can't be an unmitigated disaster.

Can it?

D

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 01:19 AM

Derryl:

Noted your hat-thowing in an update to the main post.

Tim Pratt | March 16, 2007 01:37 AM

Geez, John, now I have to go and dig my ballot out of the recycling bin, where I tossed it earlier in disgust at the pointlessness of voting in uncontested races (and my unwillingness to write in the names of unsuspecting victims).

You have a good platform.

Tom Nixon | March 16, 2007 01:38 AM

But the membership criteria for a professional writing organization should be professional writing credits, in my opinion.



Yup. As it happens, I'm a member of the Authors Guild and it also requires publications. That doesn't seem an unreasonable sort of requirement for a professional writers organization.

Nick Stump | March 16, 2007 01:51 AM

What does the SFWA do for members? I'm assuming it's not like the Writer's Guild which forces studios to pay us a minimum and has health insurance as soon as we sell our first script and a retirement plan after you're vested which takes 5 years of earning a certain amount.

I don't think people who aren't published should be full members of a professional organization or writer's union. These are professional organizations and to let anyone join would uncut the whole professional status of the organization and turn it into a large fan club.

The Writer's Guild provides a lot of services for non-professionals, tutorials, script registration. We want people to become members, but they have to sell a script first, and the Guild will be right there as soon as you make a deal, with protection, health insurance, etc. I know it sounds like Catch 22, but most of these unions don't help with sales anyway. That's always up to the writer and/or the writer's agent.

Good for you, John. I think you have the energy and attitude for such a job and if you win, so will the SF Community. Write a screenplay and then I can vote for you. We could sure use some fresh ideas in the Writer Guild for sure.

Michael M Jones | March 16, 2007 02:27 AM

John, I actually regret not being able to vote, not being an Active (and why the heck can't Affiliates and Associates have any say in who runs things? Dammit, now I'm kind of annoyed. Unless you've sold a certain amount of fiction, you're just not as important, regardless of whatever else you've done in the field. I know it's SF and Fantasy -Writers-, but you'd think the organization would respect editors, agents, publishers, reviewers and so forth just as much... I think that should be addressed as well. Why is it some guy who sold a book or three stories back in the '80s and has done nothing but keep up his membership since has more of a say than the people active in the field today in all categories? Er, anyway...)

John, based on what you've said, I'd either vote for you, or at the very least insist that future Presidents look to this platform for ideas on where to go.

Mary Robinette Kowal | March 16, 2007 02:38 AM

Heck, I should be an SFWA member, but their website won't complete my registration, nor will anyone answer my email queries. So, I can't vote for you but I can sure as heck see the need for you.

(Yes, I'm sending off a paper registration.)

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 16, 2007 03:07 AM

Michael M. Jones:

I am in total and complete agreement with you. Been bugging poor John about it all night in e-mails, too. =)

Rachel | March 16, 2007 04:25 AM

"There are of course lots of ways to engage people who are not members, and they should be done. But the membership criteria for a professional writing organization should be professional writing credits, in my opinion."

Sure. I wonder whether people aren't asking whether the requirements for what constitutes a professional market might not be changed at some point. Subterranean, for instance, is not on the SFWA list, or at least it wasn't last time I looked. Most anthologies coming out from small presses also don't seem to qualify (if I'm reading correctly), even if they pay and distribute well. (Selfishly, I'm thinking of _Glorifying Terrorism_ here.)

I have a few semi-pro credits, but no pro credits. Consequently, I'll be watching this from the sidelines, but with interest.

Diatryma,

If you're still watching this conversation, your RoF sale qualifies you to be an associate member. And I want to still be a young writer, so therefore I dub you one, too. :-P

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 06:40 AM

PNH - I'd happily kick your ass if you gave me a reason, but you Tor folks are so damn reasonable. There's another toy company pretending to be a publisher that has my attention at the moment.

SFWA actually can do quite a lot for its members. It's not always flashy, headline-making news, though. In the past two years, we've helped the Dell magazines folks rewrite portions of their contracts to make them more friendly to writers. We've also seen at least three magazines raise their word-rates to meet our new standards, and I count that a good thing for writers. We're currently financing an audit of Wizards of the Coast on behalf of two SFWA members that may - or may not- have ramifications for many more members. I count these as good things. And our Grievance Committee has helped settle a goodly number of matters for our members.

Health Insurance is not going to be something we can offer at reasonable cost. We've checked and checked, and every five or six years, we check again. The membership is too small, and the rates we can get are no better than the rates you could get for yourselves. At one time, we were able to offer a policy in conjunction with the National Writers' Union, but the rates on that policy went up and up until it became next to useless for most of our members. I'm not sure that NWU even offers it now.

John, officially, I think it's my place to remain neutral in the election, but I think this is a good thing you're doing. I, too, was disappointed that more members weren't willing to stand for office. If you win, move your desk close to a sturdy wall - you're going to be banging your head against it. A lot. Yet, if you can cut through the noise of 1,500 egos and not lose yourself in navel-gazing, you can accomplish something meaningful.

Welcome to the deep end of the pool. And good luck.

Robin Bailey,
SFWA President

kriz1818 | March 16, 2007 07:28 AM

On the Insurance topic:

Oddly enough, a couple days ago Laura Ann Gilman posted a link to The Freelancers Union, which is currently offering reasonable-looking health insurance to NYC-area freelance workers ... and is looking to expand. Could SFWA affiliate with this organization in some way?

Best,

Kriz Who Will Someday Be An SFWA Member, Really and Truly

Patrick | March 16, 2007 07:50 AM

RWA is not SFWA.

Can you enlighten me to the difference? What does SFWA do or provide that RWA doesn't?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 16, 2007 08:11 AM

Robin Bailey: "If you can cut through the noise of 1,500 egos and not lose yourself in navel-gazing, you can accomplish something meaningful."

And there's a big part of the problem. There aren't 1,500 actual professional SF writers. Not by an order of magnitude.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 08:21 AM

Patrick:

"What does SFWA do or provide that RWA doesn't?"

Not offer memberships to people who are not published writers appears to be one.*

Patrick, the answer to whether I support membership in SFWA for people who are not published writers is no.* That's not going to change. I don't think it's useful and I don't think it's needed. SFWA should certainly make itself useful in helping aspiring SFWAns make the transition into published status, and to a good extent, it does that now. But at the end of the day it's an organization for professional writers, and needs to be composed of professional writers.

If you want to be in SFWA, great: Earn it. If RWA doesn't make you earn it, that's its business.

(* SFWA does offer affiliate memberships for professionals in related fields, like editors and agents. I think this is fine.)

Ilona | March 16, 2007 08:45 AM

The problems which you address in your platform are the reasons why I am not a member of SFWA.

The image of SFWA - from the outside - makes it seem like I would be a poor fit. I know a number of members who have serious doubts about staying a member and that certainly doesn't help.

Jim C. Hines | March 16, 2007 08:46 AM

Add me to the list of folks who now has to go dig up that no-longer-irrelevant ballot.

You also prompted me to go look up Michael Capobianco's platform, for comparison. (Posted in the private SFWA newsgroups at http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.private.sfwa.electiondebate&artnum=6149 for anyone else who might be interested.)

For whatever my opinion is worth, you're doing a Good Thing here -- thank you for that.

And good luck! (Whether luck means winning or losing is another question entirely :-)

Paul | March 16, 2007 09:09 AM

Excellent platform. I'd vote you in if I could. Still waiting for my affiliate membership to be processed...

Patrick | March 16, 2007 09:10 AM

Your current presidential candidate hasn't published in 9 years, by your statements. That makes him professional? Is he even writing still? From PNH's comments, I get the impression that this is what your "professionals" look like on average.

I can understand your stance. I'm not necessarily trying to change it. As an outsider, I see RWA as a very successful organization and SFWA as not. RWA is supported by their top genre writers. Is SFWA?

I'd like to see SFWA be successful and become an organization that I'd want to join. I see this exclusivity as part of the problem. If it is exclusivity you are seeking, why wouldn't there be a clause stating that your publications need to be with in x amount of years?

Either way. I applaud your efforts and wish you the best of luck.

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 09:12 AM

Mary Robinette Kowal --

If you've applied for SFWA membership and not gotten a response, send your questions to me. I'll try to answer your questions or expedite your application.


Robin Wayne Bailey
SFWA Prez

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 09:28 AM

Patrick:

"Your current presidential candidate hasn't published in 9 years, by your statements. That makes him professional? Is he even writing still?"

That's an excellent question. I do think Mr. Capobianco's lack of recent publication is relevant to whether he is the best candidate.

There is some discussion within SFWA about whether there needs to be some sort of criteria for maintaining an active status (one publication every three years or whatever). Theoretically I think that might be useful but as a practical matter it seems unlikely to go anywhere, as this would need to be something passed by the SWFA votership, and people are usually very reluctant to vote themselves fewer benefits. I wouldn't waste any time on it. However I do think there something to be said for making sure the organization's focus is on the needs of active writers.

Having said that, even if one admits to SFWA having a certain amount of dead weight in the form of writers who qualified for publication and then haven't published seriously since, and that this is something SFWA is just going to have to live with, I don't believe a solution will come in the form of allowing more people who are not publishing to enter its ranks.

"I see this exclusivity as part of the problem."

Anyone who writes three short stories or one novel and is paid SFWA-qualifying rates can join. This is not exclusive; it is an acknowledgment SFWA is an organization of professional writers. And this is not a problem.

G. Jules | March 16, 2007 09:36 AM

Patrick: RWA's open memberships are very useful from the perspective of an unpublished writer. RWA focuses on the pre-professional writer, who may never sell but who will keep paying membership dues. That's fine; but it means there's less of a focus on the needs of the professional writers (and note the emergence of PAN to provide for those needs, as Kristine Smith noted above).

I don't have survey data or anything, but what I've heard indicates that a fair number of the high-profile authors who are still involved with RWA are doing it because they remember how much RWA helped them when they were on the way up.

There are a lot of other organizations and resources within the SF field which help unpublished writers: the focused workshops (Odyssey, Viable Paradise, Clarion), the online workshops (Hatrack River, OWW, Critters), the market listings (Ralan, The Black Hole response time trackers), the bewares (Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware). And those are just the first few to leap to mind. You don't have to be a SFWA member to make use of any of these resources.

I'm also ineligible for SFWA membership, and frankly, I'm glad SFWA wouldn't take me as a member. Different groups of writers have different needs. If I make it as a professional writer, I want SFWA to be there as an organization for professional writers. Not an organization there for anyone with the money to join.

D Chunn | March 16, 2007 09:40 AM

I can't name any recent Nebula or Hugo winners. Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring. I can probably name a number of World Fantasy Awards, though I'm not sure why.

The website does suck, and 1997 is a rather generous estimate.

jeffrey ford | March 16, 2007 09:42 AM

You have my vote.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 09:42 AM

D Chunn:

But you can name a recent Campbell winner! Right? Right?

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 09:52 AM

Patrick - SFWA's membership includes Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Jean M. Auel. Peter Beagle, Greg Benford, James Gunn, Terry Bisson, Michael Bishop, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova, Ray Bradbury, David Brin, Terry Brooks, Lois McMaster Bujold, C.J. Cherryh, Chris Claremont, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Laurel Hamilton, George R.R. Martin, Philip Jose Farmer, Gene Wolfe, Alan Dean Foster, Harry Turtledove, David Gerrold, Martin H. Greenberg, Joe Haldeman, Kevin Anderson, Brian Herbert, Nancy Kress, Mercedes Lackey, Robert Sawyer, Frank Robinson, Julian May, Frederick Pohl, Mike Resnick, Fred Saberhagen, Robert Silverberg, Jack Vance, and Jane Yolen. Among many others.

Your mileage may vary, but I'd say that, yep, SFWA is generally supported by most of the top names in the field. Not all - but most. When PNK suggests that there aren't 1,500 professional in SFWA, he's voicing (I believe) the not-uncommon opinion that SFWA's membership standards are too -lax-.

I'm gladdened to hear John state that he's not in favor of relaxing those standards. Rather, they should be tightened.


Robin Wayne Bailey
SFWA Prez

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 10:01 AM

Oops. Don't know why that duplicated. Sorry.

Lugo | March 16, 2007 10:02 AM

he hasn't had a novel published in this century; his last published novel, White Light, which he co-wrote with William Barton, was published in hardcover in 1998. Essentially, he's a decade out of practice with the practical aspects of publishing science fiction.

I don't have a dog in this fight, but it seems to me that anyone eligible to belong to the SFWA should be eligible to be President of the SFWA. Membership requirements say nothing about when the member published, only that he or she did so.

One wonders... how many SF writers have "one Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more" within the last five years? Does this unnecessarily limit the Presidency pool? Perhaps the pool should be limited, of course.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 10:03 AM

G. Jules -
Which of John's 9 points does RWA not already do?

You make many of my points. the high-profile authors who are still involved with RWA are doing it because they remember how much RWA helped them


I'm pointing out how RWA does point 9 WAY better than SFWA.

It seems that SFWA needs writers more than writers need SFWA. How do you make writers want to be part of SFWA? Just because they are eligible?

If I go to Clarion or Odyssey, when I'm published and want to give back or help out. I help those organizations, not SFWA.

I'm not jockeying for membership. I'm trying to help. I've found resources to help me where I'm at now and where I'm trying to get to. But like many here, I'd love to see the organization be useful.

Dave Ruddell | March 16, 2007 10:04 AM

But you can name a recent Campbell winner! Right? Right?


Cory Doctorow?

B. B. Kristopher | March 16, 2007 10:08 AM

You know, I would actually agree with a minimum threshold for maintaining membership, but I suspect it would never happen.

The other thing that might be nice, and honestly, might help clear out some of the dead weight, is a code of ethics/conduct. Basic rules that say "This is a professional organization, and if you can't behave as a professional, you don't belong here."

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:15 AM

Dave Ruddell:

What? Cory won that award last century!

Patrick:

"But like many here, I'd love to see the organization be useful."

Opening up a professional writing organization to people who are not professional writers yet is not going to make it more useful to the people who are professional writers, Patrick. And that is who SFWA is for.

As I said earlier, SFWA should do many things to encourage novice SFF writers and help them toward meeting the requirements for eligibility. When they meet the requirements, they should be encouraged to join and then to participate so the organization makes a compelling argument for membership.

As I said, RWA is free to do what it wants for its own reasons. I don't believe their choice is the best one for a professional writing organization, and I wouldn't endorse it for SFWA.

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 10:18 AM

Wasn't the idea of dividing writers into active and otherwise floated during the short-lived Sawyer administration (Who admittedly was soon replaced by Norman Spinrad, who I believe was seen as easier to work with)?

A three-year qualification period might penalize the slower writers. Martin, for example, went four years between installments in his fantasy series (although he did have one novella in 2003, I think) and Kingsbury has had gaps of up to 26 years in his publications (Even recently, 7 years passed between "The Heroic Myth of Lieutenant Nora Argamentine" and PSYCHOHISTORICAL CRISIS). A qualification period that disqualifies a best-selling author like Martin might be seen as a little peculiar.

B. B. Kristopher | March 16, 2007 10:18 AM

But you can name a recent Campbell winner! Right? Right?

Elizabeth Bear

TCO | March 16, 2007 10:18 AM

John: That too. bleh. ;-)

Tim Akers | March 16, 2007 10:18 AM

I'd like to say that I have been firmly opposed to joining SFWA, precisely for the reasons John has listed as being in need of reform. The organization strikes me as backwards looking and curmudgeonly. So. Good luck.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:24 AM

James Nicoll:

"A qualification period that disqualifies a best-selling author like Martin might be seen as a little peculiar."

This is one of the many reasons why I have no interest in divvying up the SFWA membership in this sort of way; it's asking for a headache that's not worth having.

That said, I do think the focus on SFWA should always be on the health of active writing careers; both in those whose careers are chugging along nicely and in helping those who have stalled or had some setback get their work into the public arena.

TCO | March 16, 2007 10:25 AM

(trolling on) I beleive in an aristrocatic attitude. Wannabes should be excluded from the SFWA. In fact, John is the conservative's candidate. The other dude is a "usedtabe". That's John's main point. So asking for rights for the hoi palloi is the wrong thing wrt John. You would have a better chance with the other dude.

Oh...and wannabes: "hahahah...you're not getting published."

P.s. I'm intentionally not closing the tag.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:32 AM

TCO:

"Wannabes should be excluded from the SFWA."

More to the point, a "wannabe" should be helped and encouraged by SFWA to become a "be," the better to benefit from the services SFWA has on offer. "Ustabes" in SFWA can benefit from leadership that is actively publishing because those who are actively publishing are likely to have a better roadmap to help those who have detoured back on to the publishing roads as they exist today.

I don't believe in aristocracy as regards SFWA; I believe in the value of a professional organization comprised of and for professional writers and focused on the tasks of creating new writers, servicing publishing writers, and helping writers who are not publishing get back into the swing of things.

Sue | March 16, 2007 10:35 AM

7. Presenting the Nebulas at a major science fiction convention would necessarily eliminate the need for a Nebula Weekend, but it would still be useful and beneficial to have a SFWA-themed event, to handle face-to-face SFWA business and to let the members socialize, and also to get SFWA members in front of fans old and new. I will suggest the formation of a SFWA Jubilee Committee, whose task will be to run an annual convention complete with programming for fans and readers as well as for private SFWA business, and to have the Jubilee move its location annually and work with organizations in the communities in which it is held to raise interest in the event and to bring in both old-time fans and new potential readers (particularly from high school and middle school).


And while I'm not able to be a member as yet, as a teacher and budding writer (working on the publishing aspect :>), I'd be MORE than up for helping you across the board as possible, but especially with #7 here :>.

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 10:35 AM

"But you can name a recent Campbell winner!"

Bear, Lake, Spencer, Walton, Smith, Doctorow.

Firstly, I've done reviews of the Campbell winners. secondly, I got in the habit of following the Campbells because of George RR Martin's anthologies in the 1970s and 1980s. Thirdly, I know most of them.

There's probably a baseball analogy that could go here. Do they give out some sort of award for promising new players?

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:37 AM

James Nicholl:

"There's probably a baseball analogy that could go here. Do they give out some sort of award for promising new players?"

Um... Rookie of the Year?

TCO | March 16, 2007 10:38 AM

John: Come to the dark side. Let slip your inner dog off its leash.

P.s. This may not be helping you get elected...;-)

Jeff Hentosz | March 16, 2007 10:39 AM

For us in the bleachers: when's the ballot deadline and results announcement?

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:42 AM

TCO:

Tempter!

Jeff Hentosz:

Ballots must be received by April 28 (i.e., you'd want to mail them by around 4/18). The results are published in the Forum mailing afterward.

John Joseph Adams | March 16, 2007 10:43 AM

John! You're entirely too reasonable a person to run for SFWA office! I'd totally vote for you if I were anything but a lowly affiliate whose voice does not matter.

-JJA

Major Sukkup | March 16, 2007 10:45 AM

…name a recent Campbell winner…

Why, John, you are the most recent winner of that vaunted plaque! I saw it on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and in the middle column on the front of the Wall Street Journal. I think.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:47 AM

Don't forget my fashion photo spread in In Touch magazine!

G. Jules | March 16, 2007 10:48 AM

Patrick: My point, just to make things abundantly clear, is that I like the idea of SFWA being around as an organization which looks out for the interests of professional SF writers. I see no compelling reason why admitting unpublished writers would advance that goal, and a number of reasons why it wouldn't. End of point.

If SFWA helps new writers too, that's great; and in fact they already do -- Writer Beware and The Black Hole are SFWA-sponsored or were SFWA initiatives, and a lot of other SFWA members I highly respect are involved in the other programs I mentioned. Let me repeat that, just to be painfully clear: I think SFWA helping new writers is nifty; the fact that SFWA is already helping new writers is, likewise, peachy-keen. I just see no reason why the goal of helping new writers must involve giving them voting rights in the organization.

And now I'm letting going to let my argument stand, because I don't want to be one of those people who assumes anyone who disagrees with them just didn't understand their last explanation.

I'm curious -- what's your involvement with RWA?

Michael Capobianco | March 16, 2007 10:56 AM

Welcome to the race, John. Now it is a race, and that's a very good thing. I hope we can have a debate, as well as some informal discussions as soon as possible.

I must admit that I never expected the state of my webpage to be an issue in the campaign. It's gotten more hits in the last day than it had in the year before, so I guess I should work on it. ;-) The actual website is Michael Capobianco. The Geocities one is a back-up.

FWIW, I am not a status quo candidate. I agree with you that SFWA's focus has to change. Where we disagree is in what can practically be done and what needs to change.

Michael

Patrick | March 16, 2007 10:57 AM

So,

How do you propose to accomplish point 9 in your platform?

How do you get members and potential members to not see it as an affectation as you do/did?


Are you starting to get the feeling of why you don't want to do this? :)

Amanda Downum | March 16, 2007 11:01 AM

I'll make you another tiara if you're elected.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward | March 16, 2007 11:01 AM

John--

If I was eligible to vote for you, I would (damn it, I'm trying to get there!).

As a middle school teacher actively *trying* to get kids out there to read science fiction and fantasy (heck, getting kids to *read*, period!), I strongly support anything SFWA can and will do to promote the genre specifically and reading in general.

Christopher | March 16, 2007 11:02 AM

I think the deadline to receive votes is sometime in April.

I usually go for a sameday turnaround on SFWA ballots and so I didn't know that a write-in campaign was in the offing.

Grumble.

Anyway, good luck, man. Thanks for giving it a go.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:04 AM

Patrick:

"How do you propose to accomplish point 9 in your platform?"

Mostly by doing points 1-8 first.

Amanda Downum:

Oooh! That's definitely a perk worth having.

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 11:05 AM

"Um... Rookie of the Year?"

In theory I like baseball but in practice, I discovered that watching it involved sitting in Exhibition Stadium, which I think doubled as a meat-locker.

"Bear, Lake, Spencer, Walton, Smith, Doctorow."

And Scalzi, of course, except that for some reason I have a hard time thinking of you as being recent enough to qualify.


Jeff VanderMeer | March 16, 2007 11:07 AM

If I was a member, I'd definitely vote for you. If you win, I might just rejoin.

JeffV

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:07 AM

James Nicoll:

"And Scalzi, of course, except that for some reason I have a hard time thinking of you as being recent enough to qualify."

Well, I was hanging around before OMW got published. I give the impression of being an old(er) hand.

Jeff VanderMeer:

Well, if I win and you rejoin, I'm gonna put you to work, man. Fair warning.

Rob Davies | March 16, 2007 11:12 AM

I would vote for you if I could, John. I agree that the SFWA website should be revamped and made to look more, ah, futuristic. Or at least contemporary.

Your platform sounds great and I hope you win. (As long as your books keep coming.)

Patrick | March 16, 2007 11:15 AM

what's your involvement with RWA?

None. But, the people who have helped me the most have been members.

The reason why I think the inclusive nature of RWA makes more sense is because of the SFWA definition of 'professional'.

It is geared toward short story writers who may only strive to write as an affectation, writing 1 or 2 stories a year. Theoretically this makes a great minor league system for writers. But it doesn't. In my opinion.

Someone writing 1 or two short stories a year isn't professional, in my opinion. Someone striving toward a career as a writer is.

I don't write short stories, because I don't READ short stories. I tried, because it made logical sense that it was the minor leagues. Except it isn't. It's closer to T-ball.

I understand the concept and desire for an 'Organization of Professional SF Writers' but I think a 'Professional Organization of SF Writers' stands a better chance.

Michael, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, too. :) Let the debates begin. :)

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 11:18 AM

"Wasn't the idea of dividing writers into active and otherwise floated during the short-lived Sawyer administration (Who admittedly was soon replaced by Norman Spinrad, who I believe was seen as easier to work with)?"

Hi, James -- some corrections here. When SFWA first began it distinguished between active members and associate members on the basis of frequent publication. If a writer joined as an active, but then didn't publish again - even a reprint - for three years, they were "re-qualified" as an associate. Associates could do everything that actives could do except vote on business matters and hold office.

However, at Robert Heinlein's, um, insistence that policy was changed and "once an active, always an active" became the new rule. During Rob Sawyer's brief term, the organization underwent a bitter and divisive fight to determine whether or not SFWA should reinstitute "requalification." But "requalification" lost decisively, and "once an active, always an active" remains the rule. Nobody really wants to fight it again.

Robert Sawyer, I should note, was succeeded by Paul Levinson. Sharon Lee followed Paul. And Norman followed Sharon. "Requalification" was roadkill by the time Norman came on board.

History R Us.

And John, this is my only concern about your run for office. You're still a fairly new member. Do you have enough grasp of SFWA's history, of the dynamics of the organization? Have you had enough interaction with its membership? Grand ideas are wonderful and play well to the crowd, but do you have the patience to handle the day-to-day minutiae, because there's no escaping it.

Speaking of not escaping it, I've got to go write a FORUM report. Zoom! --->

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:34 AM

Robin Bailey:

"And John, this is my only concern about your run for office. You're still a fairly new member. Do you have enough grasp of SFWA's history, of the dynamics of the organization? Have you had enough interaction with its membership? Grand ideas are wonderful and play well to the crowd, but do you have the patience to handle the day-to-day minutiae, because there's no escaping it."

I have a pretty good knowledge of the history of the group and what some of the dynamics are; I don't pretend to be an old hand, however.

The platform above is just that: A platform, a statement of ideas. As I note in the entry, whether these ideas are implementable -- and whether they would be implementable under my tenure -- remains to be seen. I certainly wouldn't expect to get them all passed; indeed, I don't know if all are practical. But I think they all should be put out there and wrestled with.

I don't expect to be politic all the time; I don't expect to be popular all the time. I would like to at least get things moving forward. One of the things I liked about your tenure, Robin, was I think you were moving things in the right direction; I'd like to keep that momentum going.

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 11:35 AM

"Ballots must be received by April 28 (i.e., you'd want to mail them by around 4/18). The results are published in the Forum mailing afterward."

The results are officially announced at the business meeting at the Nebulas, which I believe will be May 11th. There's a longer gap this time than usual between the ballot due-date and the event.

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 11:36 AM

"During Rob Sawyer's brief term, the organization underwent a bitter and divisive fight to determine whether or not SFWA should reinstitute "requalification." But "requalification" lost decisively, and "once an active, always an active" remains the rule. Nobody really wants to fight it again."

Thank you for your corrections, which serve to show why I shouldn't rely on what I laughingly call my memory (I remember Levinson's term mostly for the resolution to the Dragon Magazine CD-Rom thing but for some reason my memory wants him to have preceded Sawyer).

"Sharon Lee followed Paul. And Norman followed Sharon."

I could have sworn that Sharon Lee _followed_ Norman Spinrad. Ritual admission that wikipedia is not the most reliable source but it seems to agree with me.

Just out of curiousity, what fraction of the SFWA membership would have been reclassified from active to associate had the changes gone through?

Lucy Kemnitzer | March 16, 2007 11:36 AM

Anyone who writes three short stories or one novel and is paid SFWA-qualifying rates can join.

This part isn't true: if you look at the qualifying and specifically-not qualifying markets, you'll find that there are professional-rate-paying markets which do not qualify.

Matt Jarpe | March 16, 2007 11:38 AM

John,
I'm glad you're energizing this debate. Like many newbies, I wanted desparately to be part of SFWA, to join in the secret SFF.net newsgroups and go to the swank parties and vote for the Nebs. When I got my third story published I joined up right away.

Imagine my disapointment to find out what really goes on in the secret SFF.net areas. It's like getting the key to the executive washroom and finding the bosses snapping each other with towels and giving each other wedgies. I also burned myself out reading for the awards (Hugo and Nebula) and finally dropped out.

It seems to me the loudest voices in SFWA are the ones with the least relevance to the concerns of profesional writers. Maybe they've just got a lot more time on their hands. I do like the Emergency Medical Fund and your manifesto here has convinced me to donate what would have been my membership fee, had I stayed on board, to that fund.

Good luck.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:40 AM

Lucy Kemnitzer:

"This part isn't true: if you look at the qualifying and specifically-not qualifying markets, you'll find that there are professional-rate-paying markets which do not qualify."

Agreed: should read: "Anyone who writes three short stories or one novel ain SFWA-qualfied markets can join."

TCO | March 16, 2007 11:47 AM

Lucy: This is a common wannabe attitude. That your "sales" are actually sales. That glorified fanzines and even websites (!) are magazines. They only one who cares about those crappy markets are other wannabes. General readership has a hard enought time knowing about the Big Three. Once you drop below that, you're in minutia. Those other 'zines are things that people run out of love because they want to call themselves editors of something. Oh...and the "small press" (much really vanity press)...don't get me started.

Read the GVW Chronicles episode, where Brian hears about someone making a "sale" and doesn't have the heart to ask if it is to a paying market. That skewers you wannabes.

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 11:53 AM

Joyce Reynolds -- are you aware of aboutsf.com? As a teacher with an interest in science fiction, I think it will interest you. It's a website developed at KU by James Gunn aimed at teachers, librarians and students. It's jointly sponsored by SFWA, Tor Books, SFRA and the private pockets of too-few people.

It's just one of the "backward-looking and curmudgeonly" things that SFWA does or helps to do to foster new readers and to get SF into the classroom.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:55 AM

TCO:

You don't know this, but Lucy is rather well-established in science fiction circles and knows this stuff very well. Your trying to lecture her about this stuff is, well, amusing.

The SF community has more than one focus for esteem; being a writer can be one, but so can being a fan.

Walt Boyes | March 16, 2007 11:59 AM

As a new SFWA member (so new I ain't got my membership card yet) I have to agree with you, John:
"More to the point, a "wannabe" should be helped and encouraged by SFWA to become a "be," the better to benefit from the services SFWA has on offer. "Ustabes" in SFWA can benefit from leadership that is actively publishing because those who are actively publishing are likely to have a better roadmap to help those who have detoured back on to the publishing roads as they exist today."

That's why we've spent so much time and money on the "Introducing" slot at JBU, and why we maintain the JBU slush conference on the Bar. We are teaching wannabees how to be published, and we are deliberately doing it at a much higher rate than we can publish ourselves. We think it is necessary to the health of the genre and the profession. We are going to continue to do it, and we are pleased to see that several authors who we have helped polish their stories have gotten published elsewhere when we've been closed to new submissions.

Walt Boyes
Associate Editor, JBU
new Active Member, SFWA

Chang, the real O.C. | March 16, 2007 12:00 PM

Shoot,dog,I'd votefor you. I suspect I need to collect a few more rejection slips and acceptances before then. You do make an extremeley cogent,intelligent and articulate argument for the Betterment of the SFWA.

The In Touch spread will not help. Not even with the leopard print thong. OR THE LEOPARD!

Catherine Mintz | March 16, 2007 12:02 PM

I am the current SFWA Secretary.

If you are an active member and have lost/tossed your ballot, you are entitled to a replacement, and I urge you to ask for one and vote, no matter who your choices might be. SFWA needs contested elections.

I also serve on the Membership Committee. We are in theory up to date with applications. If you have applied and not gotten a response, it's time to make sure your application didn't vanish in a computer glitch.

TCO | March 16, 2007 12:05 PM

JS: Mebbe, mebbe not. And I aim to please.

That said, and "building on that" (hehe): There is a common and repeating fallacy of wannabes wanting to dress things up as more than what they are. Calling glorified fanzines, magazines. Calling "sales", where no or minimal money changes hands. And I love pointing to the Emporers naked doodads, when he is naked and others try to ignore it.

Of course, BP wrote the DON QUIXOTE equivalent wrt wannabes (vice knights) in his Chronicles. He nailed their tender reality-avoiding hides to the table. Oh...and every single "howtobe a writer" site like Poyer's and Sawyer's does the same. So that is more evidence that the problem is common and that it is good and noble and fun to correct it.

I just like doing it with a bit more spin and meanness.

Oh...and I don't care if I don't know some detail. Nya nya!

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 12:06 PM

"I could have sworn that Sharon Lee _followed_ Norman Spinrad. Ritual admission that wikipedia is not the most reliable source but it seems to agree with me."

Arrgghhh. James, I'm sorry. Thirty hours without sleep are catching up. It was Rob, then Paul, then Norman, then, Sharon. Then Catherine Asaro. Then, uh, hmmm, well, me.

"Just out of curiousity, what fraction of the SFWA membership would have been reclassified from active to associate had the changes gone through?"

Interestingly, as part of that debate Michael Kube-McDowell and Linda Dunn conducted a fairly rigorous study and poll of the membership. The discovery was that the larger proportion of the membership -had- sold at least one short story or had a reprint of a previous story within the three-year lapse period that was under consideration. I don't remember the exact numbers now (and obviously not at this hour).

Oh, and John S -- thanks. I've gotten unused to compliments.

TCO | March 16, 2007 12:13 PM

Walt: You're a case in point. It's not just about the "helping other people stuff" for a guy like you. It's about showing off that you are a "real writer" now. Give me a break. The real writers are the ones in that paragraph at the beginning (Sawyer and Niven and Spinrand and all that.)

For the guys like Sawyer or Poyer or whatever, it's about having some interesting content at their site, about encouraging book buying, and getting people to take classes from them, and vote them awards. And Sawyer would probably admit it. Not with the way I say it with a twist of the knife, but with some PC way of dressing it up as "marketing".

Tempest | March 16, 2007 12:20 PM

I'm not a member of SFWA and hadn't considered joining once I reached the lofy goal of three pro pubs, but if you get to be president and get even one of these goals accomplished I might actually consider joining.

Johnny Carruthers | March 16, 2007 12:21 PM

Good points made in your platform. Unfortunately, I'm not a member or SFWA, so impressing me doesn't really accomplish much. Good luck.

TCO | March 16, 2007 12:29 PM

Why not start a renegade organization that outlaws non-actives?

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 12:31 PM

Too much effort.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 12:33 PM

TCO - Will you allow wannabes?

TCO | March 16, 2007 12:37 PM

Only my special hug partners, Pat.

Jules Jones | March 16, 2007 12:40 PM

I write cross-genre, so I have an interest in both SFWA and RWA. I can't join SFWA because none of my sales have been to qualifying markets. I can join RWA, and as of the beginning of this month I can even join RWA as a pro-published member, because my publisher has just been recognised by RWA. Nevertheless, I have had a great deal of passive help from SFWA over the last few years, because while I cannot join the organisation, it makes a great deal of useful material available to non-members. Old-fashioned and ugly the website may be, but there's a lot of useful stuff on the public area. This is not the case with RWA.

As noted, I am not a member of SFWA, nor am I likely to be any time soon. I still have an interest in it being a healthy, well-functioning organisation, and I think John's platform is a good one. I'm glad he's willing to stand.

Norayr | March 16, 2007 12:44 PM

John I am not a writer but a simple fan of your fiction. My concern is that if you get involved in SFWA you will have less time to write the books that we love to read. I know of at least one science fiction author who is involved in so many different projects that he states that he does not have time to write novels on a regular basis. Hope it does not come to that.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 12:52 PM

Norayr:

"I know of at least one science fiction author who is involved in so many different projects that he states that he does not have time to write novels on a regular basis. Hope it does not come to that."

My mortgage tells me to tell you not to worry about that too much.

Chaz Brenchley | March 16, 2007 12:53 PM

John -

Reluctant bosses are the best. If I were a member, I'd vote for you instanter.

Hmm.

Catherine Mintz:

I believe I qualify. If I applied for membership now, would I be safe to get a decision (and a vote) before the deadline...?

Sam | March 16, 2007 12:54 PM

Norayr:

I second that Norayr. While it is nice for you (John S) to devote your time and efforts to this, speaking as a fan and someone who knows absolutely nothing about this RSVP, 3CPO jibberish you guys are intent on talking about today the selfish part of me just wants you to write Science Fiction and let someone else worry about that stuff.

A.R.Yngve | March 16, 2007 01:37 PM

I'm not a member (and probably never will be), but I think your proposals are very sound and forward-looking.

Good luck, and I hope you'll get to lead the SFWA into the 21st century.

Harry | March 16, 2007 01:38 PM

I had heard, on Lawrence Watt-Evan's sff.net newsgroup, that requalification was not a big issue with SFWA. He and several others pointed out that it would exclude a very small number of members, and most of the people who would be affected by requalification rules quit the organization on their own after a couple years.

For the life of me, I can't find a link to the discussion.

Note: IANASFWAM

PixelFish | March 16, 2007 01:50 PM

Am not a member (yet). But I have often wanted to grab the SFWA website by the digital lapels and give it a good shaking. Or you know, redesign it so it is attractive, easy to navigate, and standards compliant. (Customizable RSS feeds from writers blogs might be a way to promote SF writers.) There's a lot of helpful stuff there, but sometimes it's hard to find. And style sheets....please, Flying Spaghetti Monster, give me style sheets. (We could even make style97.css for those people who are inexplicably fond of Times Roman with #0000FF hrefs.)

Just mentioning a potential overhaul would have me voting for you, were I a member of said organisation. Alas, I am not, but I think your platform is teh swell.

Michael M Jones | March 16, 2007 01:51 PM

I'd still love to see some more attention paid to the double standard I brought up above, which a few people have chimed in on: that it's perfectly fine for the -rest- of the field to join SFWA and contribute their money and time and so on, but the only real voice they get is pretty much unofficial.

If SFWA is a membership organization for professional writers, why are agents, editors, and publishers allowed to hang around the sidelines looking shifty until it's time to throw wild con parties? Why aren't they entitled to nominate/vote on awards, and why don't they have a say in who runs the organization? Why are writers with less than three qualifying sales likewise penalized? Are they somehow less invested in SWFA's future and its success, or less qualified to vote for awards?

That's what gets me. It seems that so many of the people with their finger on the pulse of the field today are left out when it comes to these things. Take, for instance, Ellen Datlow, who helps put out several anthologies a year on average, including the highly-regarded Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Can you tell me that a well-informed, active, influential member like that isn't qualified to vote for President? No, the fate of SFWA lies in the hands of people who might not have actually published anything in years. Not just in those running, like in this current election, but in those voting.

I guess what angers me is that for the first time, I want to get involved, even in a small way, and I can't. I want to make my voice heard by voting. I want to help improve SFWA, and yet I can't. I've had three sales. It's just that the first sale was to a market which died before it could achieve qualifying status, and the third was a reprint of the second. But I've been steadily active in the field, in one way or another, for going-on ten years, and an Affiliate or Associate member of SFWA for most of that time. But when it comes down to the crunch, I'm just not worthy to say "Hey, I'd like to vote for John."

It's not exactly like there are any other membership organizations for those involved in the SF/Fantasy field, right?

In the meantime, I guess I'll just sit back and enjoy my right to read the Bulletin and the forums, hug my SFWA Directory, and work on the grassroots movement to get other people to vote for John.

Nick Mamatas | March 16, 2007 01:56 PM

Usually I write myself in (the rest of the time I write in "BATMAN, MOTHERFUCKERS, BATMAN!!!") but this time I wrote you in.

Nick Mamatas | March 16, 2007 01:58 PM

As far as why editors, agents, etc. are not allowed full voting rights, the answer is rather obvious.

SFWA may need to move against various editors, agents, etc., with greivances, audits, public campaigns, etc. Were agent and editor members given the vote, they would likely vote in their interests: for officers who would not aggressively protect the rights of writers through grievances, audits, and public campaigns.

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 02:05 PM

Nick Mamatas:

Did you write "SCALZI, MOTHERFUCKERS, SCALZI!!!"? Because it would rock if you had.

Nick Mamatas | March 16, 2007 02:19 PM

You always struck me as more of a Bat-Mite figure.

Walt Boyes | March 16, 2007 02:34 PM

TCO said: "Walt: You're a case in point. It's not just about the "helping other people stuff" for a guy like you. It's about showing off that you are a "real writer" now. Give me a break. The real writers are the ones in that paragraph at the beginning (Sawyer and Niven and Spinrand and all that.)"

Crap. I've been a real writer (defined as I pay my mortgage with the money) for about twenty years now. I make my living as a writer and as an editor. I don't need SFWA to validate me. I DO need SFWA to help promote the genre that I've been active in a lot longer than I've been writing in it.

It absolutely IS about helping other people. What, you think the dozen or so of us that regularly crit on JBU get paid for it? Get real. It is for the luv.

The reason I joined SFWA, and the only reason, was that I have a bias toward being part of the solution.

Walt

Steve Carper | March 16, 2007 02:35 PM

I'm the SFWA Liaison to Writers Organizations, so I keep tabs on how the other major genre groups are structured and what they do with their members' money. Some of this information that is of general relevance to f&sf writers goes into my Writers' Bloc column in the Bulletin.

In the grossest practical sense, the organizations that do the most have the most members and the most money. The Authors Guild has the largest names and can afford a full time legal staff to pursue the suits that are of benefit to all authors. The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators allows in would-be members and can afford to sponsor two major conferences a year that are primarily dedicated to teaching the craft of writing.

And the Romance Writers of America, which also allows in would-be writers, holds a major conference each year at which a special day of panels each are held for librarians and for booksellers. This gets their members' books into the view of those who can make purchases happen in a direct and efficient manner. That's in addition to their Romance $ells advertising booklet and the other promotional ventures they can fund.

While I've been agitating for change in SFWA for years, in terms not dissimilar to your proposals, I'd strongly suggest that your ideas are close but not completely on the mark.

First, while I acknowledge that the culture of SFWA is such that allowing in would-be writers is a non-starter, something must be done to increase the money that the organization has to spend. We need to roughly double our income to begin to have enough to get any message into a world already suffering from cacophony. That includes paying for at least one new full-time position, preferably for promotion, something I've long insisted was necessary.

Second, we need to get our message out past our fanbase and into the larger readership. Rolling the Nebulas into a fan convention and holding a fan convention of our own does not send the message of professionalism that we need. We can open up the Nebulas by making them into a conference on the business of writing, capped by the award. But it must be separate from a con.

What can SFWA do better than any other organization? It can teach the craft and business of writing f&sf, and it can promote written f&sf and those who produce it. SFWA needs to brand itself as the automatic go-to for that information, just as RWA has for the romance genre and SCBWI has for the children's' book genre. Both organizations charge for access to that information in ways above and beyond the cost of a membership, although that is their financial base. Could SFWA-brand books (chapbooks, pamphlets, conferences, whatever) on f&sf writing bring in an audience? Perhaps. Could promoting the Nebulas beyond their current invisibility and paperback status bring in revenue? Perhaps. (I'm already on record as calling for a return to a calendar year nomination schedule for the Nebulas to make them more attractive to buyers.)

Since I'm already on public record as calling for several of the planks in your platform, I have to say that I think you're on the right track. The publishing and the reading worlds have changed. SFWA must change with them. Tweaking the knobs on contracts should be an average Tuesday for the organization, not a boast for an administration.

Realistically, however, change will take money and a full-time paid staff not composed of people who consider their membership an affectation. Every successful writers organization has a paid professional who runs the organization. Every single one. Until SFWA understands that simple truth and makes some effort to address it, no substantial change is possible.

Money and staff, John. How does your candidacy address them?

Laurie Mann | March 16, 2007 02:35 PM

Gee, John, you're taking what was supposed to be a quiet Nebula Weekend and gone and made it all interesting. See you in New York - do you plan to bring that tiara?

Patrick | March 16, 2007 02:35 PM

Jules - I may be down playing the help I have recieved from people who are members of SFWA that got me started. But, none of them ever came out and said SFWA is great. RWA members that I have met, tend to. Some are former SFWA members.

I do agree with John in principle that it should be an organization of professionals and focus on professional issues such as copyrights, healthcare, legal funds and such. It's the definition of 'professional' that's a little sketchy, which is probably why RWA opens it up.

It's not like we can have a test like the bar exam to qualify writers as 'professional'.

I'm just thinking that opening it up and making it a positive experience for 'wannabes' encourages them to become and stay active as members when they do get published. Thus, growing the organization and increasing its leverage, which PNH implies that it currently lacks. The way it appears now, is it is a status symbol. Symbol of what, I'm not sure.

I ask this, what's the harm in having unpublished writers?

Michael M Jones | March 16, 2007 02:37 PM

Nick -
That's as logical as anything, I suppose, though somewhat disappointing and disillusioning. I can see where that might cut down on that sort of thing. I suppose those agents/editors/publishers who achieved Active status at some point in the past before taking up a more dominant role as agent/editor/publisher, are less likely to manipulate the system for their benefit now. Maybe.

I don't know, I'm not sure that answer really satisfies me enough though. I'm still ... unhappy with the status quo. And I'm unhappy that there simply isn't any better - or other - choice, to my knowledge.

TCO | March 16, 2007 02:43 PM

Walt: Try to step back and self-reflect and have some insight and perspective. You're supposed to be a writer and all. Don't you see some patterns of human nature, here? Sheesh.

Laurie Mann | March 16, 2007 02:43 PM

Steve wrote:
Second, we need to get our message out past our fanbase and into the larger readership. Rolling the Nebulas into a fan convention and holding a fan convention of our own does not send the message of professionalism that we need. We can open up the Nebulas by making them into a conference on the business of writing, capped by the award. But it must be separate from a con.


Certainly the rumor that the Nebulas may take place during the ABA in the future really doesn't help. The ABA is a huge event and the Nebulas are going to be buried.

While I work on and attend fan cons, I'm don't like the idea of making the Nebulas part of an existing con. Since the Nebulas are given by writers to writers, it makes sense for them to be part of an event that SFWA runs.

Of everything John said, the point I agree with the most is to streamline eligibility so the Nebulas are voted for works published in ONE (and only one) year. And he's also right that the Web site needs some work.

TCO | March 16, 2007 02:45 PM

Walt: Try to step back and self-reflect and have some insight and perspective. You're supposed to be a writer and all. Don't you see some patterns of human nature, here? Sheesh.

Anonymous | March 16, 2007 02:46 PM

You have my vote!

On the "leading website" trope--add "leading social media strategy" and "leading virtual world presence."

And yeah, Centric will do all three on a pro-bono basis if you're elected--and, of course, if you're interested.

We've written it. Now, let's LIVE in it.

Jason Stoddard | March 16, 2007 02:47 PM

Argh, comments ate my identity for the post above.

Annalee Flower Horne | March 16, 2007 02:51 PM

I'm not a member (obviously), but I just want to weigh in on the whole 'should non-pros be allowed to join?' thing.

Why in dog's name would they be? Should people who just think electrical work would be a swell thing to get paid for be allowed into the IBEW?

We wannabes have our own support structures-- places like AbsoluteWrite and people like Miss Snark. We don't need the same kind of support as published authors do. And while our interests are closely related, they are not the same. SFWA should be refusing us membership.

If they let us in, one of two things would be true:
(a) they'd be taking our money and using it to support a group we are not a part of; or
(b) they'd be taking the money of published writers and using it to support a group they are not a part of.

Either way it would be bad news.

Kaolin Fire | March 16, 2007 02:52 PM

I can't vote for you, but I'm trying to spread the love.

One pro sale and, er, "sidetracked with editing".

Ken Brady | March 16, 2007 02:58 PM

Did you write "SCALZI, MOTHERFUCKERS, SCALZI!!!"? Because it would rock if you had.



If it wouldn't invalidate my ballot, I'd put that on my ballot right now.



Thanks for the motivation to do something with this ballot sitting on the coffee table. It's good to see someone actually pushing for advancing an organization whose membership is theoretically all about advancement.



Your point #5 is compelling, and should be extended far beyond a revamping of the SFWA website. Too many pro SF writers are invisible in online areas where SF is becoming reality. Of the 4.5 million people registered on Second Life, guess how few of them are SF writers?



Let's get things started. I'm on board to do something.



So, we've got Derryl Murphy up for VP as well. Anyone else?

Ken Brady | March 16, 2007 02:59 PM

Eek. Sorry about the triple spacing.

Nick Mamatas | March 16, 2007 03:49 PM

Some years ago, the HWA, in response to a financial crisis, opened up its membership to anyone with fifty dollars and the result was ridiculous. The HWA boards and venues were filled with shills for PublishAmerica, people who had no interest in ever writing for publication (they wanted to meet Stephen King or talk about horror movies), and literal semi-literates. The level of discourse was very low: "what's a cover letter?", "i wrote a book with witches and ghosts. it is 20000 words long. does anyone have an agent i can send it to?", and a personal favorite: "The only reason I'm still an Affiliate is because editors keep rejecting my work in favor of stories by Active members!" It took quite a while to raise the bar and get rid of the dead weight. Even now, HWA is trivially easy to join, but it is in much better shape now than it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to having standards of membership.

Sure, RWA is big and powerful. Romance is a large fraction of the fiction marketplace. It would be big and powerful even if they eliminated their "pre-published" membership. However, RWA is still chockful of teeth-gnashing over membership issues, and there were internal dust-ups over "romantica" and other non-traditional forms of romance, new publishers being acceptable, etc.

Michael, as far as Actives who are now primarily agents/editors, etc., there are only a relative handful of those. Even if they did vote against writerly interests, it would hardly matter. But if agents, editors, etc. were allowed to vote and given full privileges, clearly the problem would be more profound.

Michael M Jones | March 16, 2007 03:58 PM

Nick - Again, good points. But another realization has come up that still rankles me a little: As an Associate, I pay the same dues as an Active. Now, I don't begrudge SFWA the dues at all. I'm still proud and pleased to be a member. I just find it somewhat ... bothersome that for the exact same money, I get less of a say in things which interest me.

I wish I could properly propose some form of equitable resolution that would improve upon the current situation. Maybe eventually I'll be able to. The system seems flawed, though.

Kami | March 16, 2007 04:09 PM

Why restrict membership?

GIVEN; that doing anything with SF authors is like herding cats,

ALSO; that doing anything with SF fans is even morso,

AND; that the bargaining power of ALL the famous, bestselling SF authors is considerable,

AND; that the buying power of ALL the SF fans is small compared to the general public,

GIVEN; that the corporations that produce and distribute are soulless creatures who's only motive is profit;

THEREFORE; it makes sense for the aforementioned small group of SF authors to collectively threaten, I mean, bargain those soulless corporations, since authors have monopoly power over the right to copy.

ALSO; the interests of the aforementioned AUTHORS are best represented by, well, authors - they have mortgages on the line, not entertainment.

THIS IS NOT TO SAY; that interested non-published-authors are unimportant, but that their interests are not completely overlapping.

NOR; is this to say that fans, and not-yet-professional authors do not care about what happens in the field, nor is this to say that they don't care about their favorite authors - of course we do.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 04:31 PM

When PNK suggests that there aren't 1,500 professional in SFWA, he's voicing (I believe) the not-uncommon opinion that SFWA's membership standards are too -lax-. - Robin.

Ah ok. See, I read it as the organization was too small to have money and clout and using inflated numbers. So, the opinion is the crazies are screwing it up for everyone.

I did say that I agree with the exclusivity going the other way, as well.


Good example, Nick. Was there a "Published-Pro" status?

I apologize if I'm annoying anyone/everyone.

TCO | March 16, 2007 04:46 PM

Mike (you ignorant slut): You say that you are happy paying the dues, then you whine about not getting more for your money. Did you cry like a baby and not get spanked enough as a child? Think, man, think.

(Ok...I'll spell it out: If you are unhappy with the deal, then write some fucking salable stories. If you're not good enough for that, then quit. If you decide to pay anyway, then you know what you're getting and can stop whining like a liberal.

TCO | March 16, 2007 04:50 PM

No way there are 1500 decent writers of SF and F nowadays. I can never find a good book to read, even when I spend freely.

Stephanie | March 16, 2007 04:56 PM

I'm pleasantly surprised to see that the website got a whole corner of your platform to itself. I gnash my teeth over the unprofessional appearance it gives the genre's professional organization. I'd donate some time towards fixing it up, if you wanted help from an opinionated non-member.

Jules Jones | March 16, 2007 04:59 PM

Patrick: My personal experience of RWA is that it can be quite thoroughly unwelcoming to certain classes of writers, to the point of having in the recent past been willing to take the full membership fee while denying them some of the benefits of membership. As Nick mentioned, there have been internal dustups, not least over denying certain membership benefits to writers of erotic romance, changing the rules to exclude certain publishers, and trying to officially define romance to match the personal prejudices of some of the officers. I first encountered one of the pseudopods of the 2005 fracas by egosurfing and finding myself cited by name as an example of the sort of thing that the more... ah... traditional romance writers were perturbed by.

I'm aware that this affected a minority of members and has since been sorted out, and I had the misfortune to be thinking about joining just as the whole thing blew up; but nevertheless, the RWA is not quite as warm and cuddly to not-pro-yet writers as you suggest.

Not that SFWA is free of politics and bickering, of course...

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 05:08 PM

SFWA is a huggy lovefest all the time.

Michael M Jones | March 16, 2007 05:12 PM

TCO -
You win. I'm off to burn my manuscripts, trash my computer, and start life anew as a plumber.

John -
Thanks for giving me the brief opportunity to voice a few of my own thoughts. Good luck with the election. Or bad luck, as it may be.

karawynn | March 16, 2007 05:22 PM

Being one of those slackers who hasn't written professional fiction since the twentieth century, I finally let my 'affectation membership' lapse last year, to possibly be resumed someday when I'm actually ready to market a completed novel.

So I can't vote for you. I would, though. Good luck with that mess.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 16, 2007 05:27 PM

To be clear: SFWA doesn't exclude agents, editors, and publishers from being Active Members.

It excludes agents, editors, and publishers who haven't sold a novel or three short stories to a qualifying market.

Speaking of qualifying markets, why on earth isn't Night Shade Books a qualifying market? (I just checked; it's not.) They have national distribution, good representation in the chains, and they recently beat us at auction for the next novel by a well-known SF writer. Somebody's asleep at the switch.

Steve Carper | March 16, 2007 05:36 PM

My understanding is that the membership committee does not work proactively. They wait until somebody applies using a publisher as a credit and then see if the publisher qualifies.

So if nobody has tried to qualify using Night Shade Books as their sole credit, the membership committee would have no reason to list them.

Alternatively, there could be something that disqualifies them for reasons I know nothing about.

Jeff VanderMeer | March 16, 2007 05:40 PM

John said: "Well, if I win and you rejoin, I'm gonna put you to work, man. Fair warning."

Yessir, Scalzi sir. And I ain't being sarcastic. I'd be happy to be put to work.

Jeff

TCO | March 16, 2007 05:41 PM

NightShade Books...sigh. Why do the wannabes always want to define the bar low?

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 05:44 PM

TCO:

Stop trolling and be a good boy.

TCO | March 16, 2007 05:59 PM

(/trolling)(good boy)

Nick Mamatas | March 16, 2007 06:11 PM

One of the qualifications for publishers of novels is that it must be listed in the Literary Marketplace and Night Shade is not.

It's a very silly hurdle, but it would take some kind of by-law change to alter it, which doesn't make it impossible, but people would scream sufficiently about it explicitly to deny qualification to independent presses like Night Shade to make it very difficult.

As far as why members would try to do such a thing, it's generally because the Old Guard is almost entirely out of touch with reality.

Hannah Wolf Bowen | March 16, 2007 06:34 PM

One place to start with the website: the membership form. I just tried to fill it out (I've been eligible for a while now) and apparently I have to click that and print this and copy that other thing? Not to mention that the form may not have gone through, as I think was mentioned above.

I overstate a bit. But I also just submitted a request to join HWA, and took me two minutes, and I paid that fee right there with a credit card. And now I'm done, whereas SFWA will have to wait until Monday when I'm back at work with copier and fax machine.

Not even a member yet, but I know who I'm happier with!

Sheila Finch | March 16, 2007 07:49 PM

Nice to see a contested election again -- hope you're not too late declaring, John. Good luck.

Sheila Finch
(Western Regional Director).

Robin Bailey | March 16, 2007 07:50 PM

On RWA -- RWA is not powerful because it lets in lots of, ummm, "pre-published members." It's powerful because the romance market accounts for as much as 75% of the fiction sold. At least, according to one of RWA's own commissioned studies. Science Fiction, on the other hand, accounts for only 6 to 11%. Mysteries barely more and westerns far less.

On Associate membership -- Someone mentioned Ellen Datlow above. If you think Ellen Datlow doesn't have a voice in SFWA, you're nuts. She's going to edit the 2008 Nebs volume; she's one of my first go-to people when I have questions. She makes herself available to the organization, and SHE TAKES PART.

We have many associate and affiliate members who make their voices heard and who play an active part in SFWA. Keith Stokes, for instance, our SFWA News director. There are others. The only issue regarding whether you have a voice, or not, is how willing you are to get involved, rather than just sit on the sidelines.

And lest there be doubt, SFWA works as hard for its associates as for its actives. A considerable percentage of grievance problems involve associates who need a hand. When we're able to improve contract language or pay-rates, that benefits -everybody- across the board, active or associate. Associates have the same access to our communications as affiliates - the BULLETIN, the FORUM, the ONLINE UPDATE, SFF-NET (a dubious benefit, I acknowledge, but there it is).

Affiliates get all that, except the FORUM. Personally, I wouldn't care if they got that, but I'm only the president and SFWA is a slow boat to turn.

Ellen Datlow (a dear friend) must find it of some benefit. She's been around a long time. So have others.


SFWA Prez.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 16, 2007 08:23 PM

TCO: Seriously, stop being a troll. It's very annoying, especially as an affiliate member myself.

To summarize a bit of what I think about affiliate members... I would love to have all the same rights as active members, but I completely see Nick's point about SFWA possibly having to move against agents, editors, publishers for various things in the future. All well and good. Yet, at the same time, I would still love to be able to vote for the Nebulas and access the forums, even if just for the purpose of providing information about the current state of publishing. (I'm an agent, btw, for those that don't know.) But I'm currently prohibited from voting for the Nebulas and I can't access the forums.

John has told me in e-mail that he'd be up having those two things change, for affiliate members, if he was elected. That's why, later tonight, I'm going to write out a much longer and detailed blog post about my thoughts on the whole thing, and encourage people to vote for him. I can't vote for him now, and probably never will be able to do so as an affiliate member, but if he can work to get us more of a voice in the organization, I'm all for it.

Also (and this is what the subsequent blog post will mostly be about)... I am just as passionate and committed to the genre as any active or associate member. I want to be given the chance to participate in promoting it to readers, young writers, and anyone else who will stop and listen. Right now, I can't do a damn thing through SFWA.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 08:41 PM

I'm only the president and SFWA is a slow boat to turn.

Have you considered invading a small writers' group claiming that they are recommending the wrong font to justify a state of emergency and be elected emperor?

Michael Capobianco | March 16, 2007 08:50 PM

For the completists, and any SFWA members who haven't received their ballot yet and don't care to visit sff.net, here's my platform:

Yes, I'm running for President again. For the newcomers among us, I've been the Authors Coalition liaison for going on thirteen years and have served on a number of other committees for a decade or more. I have been Vice President, Treasurer, and President of SFWA. In short, I have quite a bit of experience with this organization, and I believe that I understand how best to move it forward. I've been kibitzing for a long, long time now, and anyone who reads on sff.net probably has a pretty good idea of how I feel about SFWA.

When I was President from 1996-1998, I accomplished quite a bit. I created the position of Executive Director and hired SFWA's first full time employee, my Board and I re-wrote the By-laws, and I revamped the Officers' Guidelines and Grand Calendar. Under my leadership, we got Star Trek authors compensation for books that were being exported, fought against the Star Wars flat fee contract, and put Uwe Luserke, the notorious German "agent," out of business. Times have changed and there are many new threats to members. Here's what I plan to do if I'm elected:

I'll concentrate on authors' rights and getting authors a place at the table as publishers and the Internet giants discuss the future of our digital rights. We've been systematically excluded while Google and Amazon plunge merrily ahead, scanning and displaying large portions of our works whether they have the right to do so or not. I understand that members have divergent views on copyright, but the bottom line is that the individual author should have the ultimate say over how his or her work is used. This is a matter that concerns me both generally and individually, and I will be pursuing it vigorously. As a beginning, I would like to set up a conference at which authors on both sides of the issue try to work out points of agreement.

I'll work to make SFWA functions more automated. This includes making it easier for officers and selected volunteers to update parts of the website without having to bother the webstaff. I hope that we can do this with the Forum, Online Directory, and NAR, as well as updating the Officers' Guidelines and the like. I'd like to do both a private and public SFWA blog, to increase real-time communication with the members and readers, in addition to maintaining an ongoing presence on sff.net.

I'll advocate for an ongoing program in which SFWA dedicates 2% of the General Fund per year for infrastructure improvements, and 3% per year to special projects. The Fund is large, and we can afford to tap it in small amounts. Other than this, we should live within our budget. The Authors Coalition money we receive every year is not going to dry up, but it should be used for author advocacy, not day-to-day expenses. I see several areas where we might be able to save some money, especially with the Forum, but I'll tread carefully and reach a consensus before doing anything drastic.

One of our biggest problems is that the Board exists in an information vacuum. Attempts to collect information such as contracts or royalty statements from members have largely been unsuccessful. I propose that, as an experiment, SFWA pay a small bounty to any member who sends a copy of a current contract for analysis by the Contract Committee, somewhat less if the contract has been redacted. Maybe then we can return to the kind of contract analysis that was favored by Damon Knight as one of the main goals of the organization.

I believe that SFWA should follow up on its Orphan Copyright work and continue efforts to make it easy for potential publishers to find members in order to buy rights. We began this effort ten years ago with the Authors Registry, but, the Registry, which is run by Authors Guild, has stalled. If it can't be brought into the present via online registration and information updating, SFWA may have to create and maintain its own registry.

In order to bring SFWA up to speed, I don't believe we need to make any immediate changes to the By-laws or Award Rules. I will reconstitute the By-laws Committee with an eye towards a future restructuring of the organization in which the employee(s) are more firmly integrated, but I don't see that happening any time soon. I do believe that we need a written Policies and Procedures Manual for the Executive Director position, and a long overdue rewrite of the Officers' Guidelines, and I will do my best to get that done during the next year. I will also fully implement the Worker Relation Guidelines (http://sfwa.org/private/offguide/EmployerRelations.html) that create a procedure for the President and Board to handle disputes that may arise with employees.

If you elect me, I promise I will again give the organization my best efforts.

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 09:55 PM

Patrick Nielsen Hayden:
Speaking of qualifying markets, why on earth isn't Night Shade Books a qualifying market?

TCO:
NightShade Books...sigh. Why do the wannabes always want to define the bar low?

Just how ignorant of the field does someone have to think the Hugo-nominated Tor editor who, among other achievements, acquired three of the five novels (editing two) nominated for a Hugo last year is a "wannabe"? I ask not out of malice but a simple curiousity as to how well sealed the information-proof environment that TCO apparently lives in is. Is this some manner of reverse black hole effect, where no information can enter?

James Nicoll | March 16, 2007 10:00 PM

"In theory I like baseball but in practice, I discovered that watching it involved sitting in Exhibition Stadium, which I think doubled as a meat-locker."

And before anyone asks, yes, I _am_ aware of the Sky Dome. I refuse to watch any sporting event held inside the CN Tower's scrotum.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 10:09 PM

James - He's been trolling Ellen, Gardner, and Gordon for several years now. He can only be defeated by hugs.

TCO | March 16, 2007 10:35 PM

John: They're picking on me, now that the good boy tag is on. :-(

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 10:44 PM

Yes, TCO, thank you for being so forebearing.

Everyone leave TCO alone now, please. His good boy tag is on. For this thread, anyway.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 10:59 PM

What? John! I was just trying to give him a hug. Doesn't he look like he needs a hug?

John Scalzi | March 16, 2007 11:02 PM

Well all need a hug, Patrick. I want mine from Halle Berry.

Patrick | March 16, 2007 11:17 PM

What? My hugs aren't good enough? Are you saying I'm not cute? That's twice in one week people have said that.

Fine...

I'll hug Michael Capobianco, even though I can't pronounce his last name.

Jenny Rae Rappaport | March 16, 2007 11:58 PM

Patrick:

"What? My hugs aren't good enough? Are you saying I'm not cute? That's twice in one week people have said that."

You're very cute, Patrick. But Halle Berry's got breasts, and I'm assuming you don't. Key difference there. =)

John Scalzi | March 17, 2007 12:07 AM

Two key differences, really.

Dan Goodman | March 17, 2007 12:36 AM

TCO: Not long ago, the highest-paying sf-specific market was a webzine.

Currently, the highest-paying market is another kind of electronic zine: Jim Baen's Universe.

TCO | March 17, 2007 12:46 AM

Dan, Dan, Dan. I can't really answer you with the tag on. My hug-buddy will have to speak for me.

Ellen Datlow | March 17, 2007 12:47 AM

I don't want to distract from the fascinating election stuff here but have a few comments.

Thanks Michael (Jones) and Robin. Btw, I THINK I'm an affiliate not an associate (although I could be wrong).

I also can see the reasons why editors are not allowed to be active members of SFWA. However, it's a little more complicated for anthologists. I sometimes am in completely different positions as an editor--when editing for a magazine or book publisher I'm supposedly on the side of the publisher for whom I work. But as an anthology editor I'm in a similar position to the author vis a vis my anthology's publisher.

I would like to vote or at least recommend for the Nebs and can see the HWA rule applying to prevent editorial conflict of interest: editors are not allowed to recommend their own work in the anthology category (not applicable, of course to SFWA)or for a story or book they've edited.

But I'm also fine with being an affiliate (or associate)--or whatever I am :-)

Dan Goodman | March 17, 2007 12:49 AM

Stever Carper: "Convention" and "fan convention" are not exact synonyms. For example, the World Fantasy Convention is intended to be Professional and Serious.

Mary Robinette Kowal | March 17, 2007 01:45 AM

I wanted to say that I heard back on my SFWA active membership today, and I've been approved. Thank you, President Bailey for looking into that.

Patrick | March 17, 2007 10:34 AM

Thanks Jenny! My fragile self-esteem has been restored. I admit the soft cushion of Halle Berry's breasts is quite appealing when hugging.

Dan - TCO hasn't read anything since Heinlein's Juveniles were originally published. And he's a bean counter and will argue that it isn't financially viable and then demand proof by way of financial numbers, which generally aren't made public, to refute his claim. It's best to chuckle and then offer him a hug. It's the only way to defeat him. Affection.

Bill Schafer | March 17, 2007 10:45 AM

Speaking of another non-qualifying market -- at least I suspect we don't qualify. We at SubPress have paid numerous $10k - $15k advances, $20k+ advances for single books, and once went over $50k for a six book deal that involved mostly backlist titles, one original novella, and an original collection.

But according to the SFWA we're not a pro market.

Go figure.

Bill

Nonny | March 17, 2007 01:41 PM

I'm not a member of SFWA, but if I were, you'd have my vote. The organization needs an overhaul to meet the needs of modern writers. The publishing industry isn't the same as it was even a few years ago, and ostrich theory isn't going to do anyone any good.

As it stands, I see no reason to join SFWA. I primarily write fantasy with romantic elements, and of the two organisations, RWA seems to offer a lot more to its writers. I haven't seen any solid reason to join SFWA outside of the prestige. I've known several long-term members of SFWA who have left in the past few years because it wasn't helping, or in some cases, the attitude of the other members was actively detrimental.

I don't agree with everything you've said, John; I also think SFWA would be better off being like RWA in regards to unpublished writers... or at the very least, less stringent membership requirements. As I understand it, most e-publishers don't qualify for SFWA membership, but there are people who are meeting with a good deal of success with e-pubbing, and it's becoming more accepted by the industry in general. But, that's my opinion. YMMV. :)

But I think you could do a LOT of good here. The organisation needs shaking up, and there aren't many people willing to rock the boat. Crossing my fingers here. :)

Anonymous | March 17, 2007 04:48 PM

Hannah Wolfe Bowen -- In light of your problem with the online application, and Mary's, our treasurer is now running a test of the system to see what might be causing the glitch. I invite you to try it again. And remember, paper apps are still acceptable, too. Or contact our Executive Director by email. That's execdir@sfwa.org

Bill Shaeffer -- Hope I haven't misspelled that. I'm doing this from memory. I haven't heard of Subpress and don't know anything about your business. But if you're not on SFWA's approved markets list, odds are that nobody's ever contacted us about Subpress. You're welcome to apply, of course.

Nick Mamatas | March 17, 2007 05:17 PM

I haven't heard of Subpress and don't know anything about your business. But if you're not on SFWA's approved markets list, odds are that nobody's ever contacted us about Subpress. You're welcome to apply, of course.

Let's see. An

a. anonymous person who has

b. never heard of one of the more prominent specialty publishers, and yet is

c. is willing to take "odds" that SubPress doesn't qualify simply because nobody has applied with it and not, say, because of the fact that SFWA demands that its publishers be listed in the LMP, and

d. still helpfully recommends that the publisher apply for qualifying status.

Yep, there's pretty much all the problems with SFWA right there, in microcosm. No accountability for lip-flapping, no knowledge of a significant fraction of contemporary publishing, stating conclusions without evidence or knowledge, and then offering up a suggestion that puts all the onus on others to get anything done.

Hannah Wolf Bowen | March 17, 2007 05:28 PM

>Hannah Wolfe Bowen -- In light of your problem with the online application, and Mary's, our treasurer is now running a test of the system to see what might be causing the glitch. I invite you to try it again. And remember, paper apps are still acceptable, too. Or contact our Executive Director by email. That's execdir@sfwa.org

>Bill Shaeffer -- Hope I haven't misspelled that.

The easy way to make sure you've got a spelling right would be to scroll up a couple o' inches (and then a couple more to check mine, too--there's no 'e' on the end of 'Wolf') and take a peek at the post(s) you're replying to...

And thanks for running a check on the form, and yes, I did see that the online form isn't the only way to apply. The point, though, was that applying to SFWA seems to be a multi-step process however you shake it.

I have to mail or fax proof of publications, no matter what I do. If I'm paying by check, I have to mail that. If I'm using Paypal, I have to print or fax the application form. It's great if the online form works--but does it save me any time or trouble? Looks like not so much.

It's a mild irritant to be sure. But as first impressions go...seems a little needlessly complicated and fussy.

Robin Bailey | March 18, 2007 01:50 AM

Hey, Nick -- congratulations. You do a fair impression of a penile appendage. I don't know why that post came through as "anonymous." Strange and mysterious are the ways of computers. The perversity of computers tends toward a maximum. And all that.

I've been publishing regularly for 25 years, and no I'm not familiar with Subpress. I haven't had to deal much with "specialty presses." But hey, thanks for the feeble attempt at abuse.

I've spent considerable time here the last two days answering questions about SFWA, clearing up misconceptions where I could, and helping a few people when I could. I see now that all the turds aren't just in SFWA. A few hang out here, too.

Regards,
Robin Bailey
SFWA Prez

Christopher | March 18, 2007 09:49 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, the current President of SFWA.

Here's something a lot more pleasant. This morning's Washington Post Book World has stellar reviews of the two new Howard Waldrop collections. No point in you clicking through, Robin, they were both produced by "specialty presses.")

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/15/AR2007031502608.html

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 09:57 AM

Robin, you know I like and respect you, but Nick has a point. You're the current President of SFWA and you haven't heard of Subterranean Press?

Dude, they're paying writers real advances. Some in five figures. Their list includes new books by Neil Gaiman, Bruce Sterling, Charles de Lint, Connie Willis, Joe Hill, and Elizabeth Bear.

I don't mean to jump on you for missing one detail. We all do that. But there's a growing perception that today's SFWA simply isn't hip to the fast-changing game. One of the things a lot of people are failing to notice is the emergence of so-called "small presses" that barely qualify as "small"--that produce entirely professional-looking books for which writers are paid professional-level advances and royalties. These outfits are no more "specialty presses" than DAW. They're publishers. They just don't happen to be in New York.

When an outfit like Night Shade has national distribution through Diamond and representation in the chains--with extremely respectable nets for some of their titles showing up on Bookscan, which clocks cash-register sales, not copies shipped--and yet they're not considered a "professional market" by SFWA because they're not in LMP, it really does look like SFWA has a cultural and institutional problem.

Saying that the companies themselves haven't applied for recognition is a poor answer. SFWA shouldn't be waiting for publishers to apply to be included on their list. SFWA should be making it SFWA's business to stay abreast of what's going on in actual, consequential, commercial SF and fantasy book publishing.

To repeat: I know you're a good guy. I know you've done good things as SFWA president. I know this probably feels like nitpicky faultfinding. But the fact is that an increasing number of people have the impression that SFWA is a club for small-time writers that's hermetically sealed itself off into 1997. This is probably unfair in some ways. But it's a real perception, and it didn't get started for no reason at all.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 10:12 AM

Christopher links, above, to a Washington Post review of two Howard Waldrop books.

The review is by Michael Dirda, an editor and critic for the Washington Post's book section. Dirda, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his criticism, is one of the country's better-known reviewers, and one of the best friends SF has in the literary world. It's largely because of Dirda that the Post has reviewed contemporary SF so much more frequently, and so much more respectfully, than any other major paper in North America.

In the piece to which Christopher links, Dirda is praising two Howard Waldrop collections, one from Michael Walsh's Old Earth Books and one from Gavin Grant and Kelly Link's Small Beer Press. Funny about Small Beer. I see Small Beer books in the front window of the flagship Barnes and Noble store on Union Square. And I see Small Beer listed on SFWA's web page as a publisher that's deemed specifically ineligible as a credit toward full SFWA membership.

Maybe there's a good reason for this. What Gavin and Kelly are doing is a lot more like great small-but-respectable literary publishers like James Laughlin's New Directions than it is like Tor, or Del Rey, or for that matter Night Shade Books. Perhaps (I'm just speculating; I have no inside knowledge) Small Beer has done deals where authors co-financed the publication of their own books, thus tripping SFWA's quite reasonable disinclination to validate vanity publishing.

And yet, there they are in the window of Barnes and Noble, and there they are with their book being praised by one of the most prominent reviewers in the country today. This doesn't make SFWA wrong. But it does suggest that SFWA's model of what SFWA is about could stand a rethink or two.

Linda Steele | March 18, 2007 10:13 AM

Funny, I was just looking at that nomination ballot and snarling about having no choices, except vote for the candidate or no one. I don't write in people against their will. But you, well, that's another matter. I appreciate the option! One part of your platform, the need for better funding of the medical and legal funds, is a pet peeve of mine. Best of luck!

Laurie Mann | March 18, 2007 10:39 AM

Not to mention that at least one Small Beer Press book (Magic for Beginners) was reviewed in Time magazine and had major reviews in other mainstream publications. I guess that much publicity doesn't count towards being a professional publisher?

Granted, the fact that some authors make up small presses merely to self-publish something should make SFWA a little leary about granting professional status automatically. But it normally takes about 5 minutes and a Google search to distinguish between legit presses and vanity presses for authors.

I've been watching SFWA for many years, and find that it is painfully slow to change. So maybe it's time to put some young Turks in charge to shake things up a little? Speaking as a non-member, of course; I'm aware that the last big shake-up was difficult for SFWA, and, in the long run, relatively little changed.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 10:41 AM

Ellen Datlow writes:

"I also can see the reasons why editors are not allowed to be active members of SFWA. However, it's a little more complicated for anthologists. I sometimes am in completely different positions as an editor--when editing for a magazine or book publisher I'm supposedly on the side of the publisher for whom I work. But as an anthology editor I'm in a similar position to the author vis a vis my anthology's publisher."

This is a bit off base for a couple of reasons.

First, to repeat a point I made elsewhere on The Whatever recently, it's not true that "editors are not allowed to be active members of SFWA." Full-time, in-house, salaried science fiction editors are as eligible as anyone else to be active members of SFWA, if they've written and sold a novel or three short stories to qualifying markets. I was an active member of SFWA for several years, because I've written and sold three short stories to qualifying markets. My Tor colleague Beth Meacham was likewise an active member for a while, eligible by virtue of a novel and a bunch of short stories. Eric Flint gets paid to edit Baen's Universe and I'm pretty sure he's an active SFWA member right now, based on the roughly 497 novels he's written and published in the last few years. So let's please put away the notion that SFWA excludes editors. SFWA is a writer's organization; active membership is open to selling writers who meet SFWA's criteria, no matter what else they do for a living.

Second, I've edited anthologies, and while Ellen's right when she says anthologists are in a similar position with regard to publishers as authors often are (i.e., we do a deal with the publisher in which we're essentially the book's "author"; we get an advance against future royalties; we get to argue with the publisher about reserves against returns, etc), the fact is that the anthologist is themselves a business entrepreneur, and their position toward their contributors is pretty much exactly analogous to being the "publisher." If SFWA were to go with Ellen's suggestion that anthologists deserve some kind of voting presence in SFWA because we, too, have to negotiate with book publishers, there's no reason not to admit book-packaging corporations with dozens of employees as active members of SFWA as well, and SFWA really, really doesn't want to go there.

Nick Mamatas | March 18, 2007 11:13 AM

Robin,

Thanks for your comments! Always glad to hear from the President of an organization to which I belong. Really impressive too, the way you quickly apologized for spelling the names of other correspondents — including a writer about to join SFWA —  wrong, and for your accidental anonymous post...which unlike your first half dozen posts didn't even have "Robin Bailey SFWA Prez" down at the bottom.

But you're right, it is my mistake. I shouldn't have assumed that the casual disregard and silly ignorance in your anon post came from some random SFWA member (an officer? a rank-and-file member attempting to take some level of organization responsibility and dropping the ball?) — such a display could ONLY come from the Grand Pooba His Own Self. There was a study, gee, more than a decade ago now, that examined email usage in corporate settings. It found that a very large number of casual errors — typos, getting names wrong, making short and context-free comments, using all caps, confusing quoting of previously sent texts, etc. came right from the executive suite. The errors were a cultural signifier, a way of saying to the recipients of these emails that they were less important than the senders.

Finally, if I may dare offer up one more comment, Robin (Can I call you Robin? Who about His Most Grand and Exalted Excellency? Slapnuts?), there's no need to put the term "specialty presses" in square quotes. The term is an actually existing term of art. Many of SubPresses books are signed editions. Why I bought signed SubPress books from William Browning Spencer, T.E.D. Klein, and Norm Patridge this past year and almost enjoyed all three. (Klein's is a bit of a stinker, honestly.)

Sean Wallace | March 18, 2007 12:08 PM

Subterranean Press has been around since 1995, publishing authors like Peter Beagle, Elizabeth Bear, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Poppy Z. Brite,
Orson Scott Card, John Crowley, Charles De Lint, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Jack Ketchum, Caitlin Kiernan, Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Ligotti, Brian Lumley, George R. R. Martin, Tim Powers, John Scalzi, Lucius Shepard, Robert Silverberg, Dan Simmons, Charles Stross, Connie Willis, and many more. *taking a breather*

They're a little hard to miss, I would say :-)

TCO | March 18, 2007 01:39 PM

The "fast changing game" seems to me to smell of writers trying to get published, somehow, anyhow, when demand for their product is low. It's more about a circle jerk of authors sans readers, than it is about "electronic replacing traditional" or similar comments. It's really just a gradation of the tendancy towards vanity publishing.

(John...is this considered trolling and non-good-boy? I really think it's a point that needs to be made, as so many of the wannabes live in a world of "how they want things to be" rather than a world of "this is the way things are, let's be curious and learn and analyze things". They remind me of Bush-lovers talking about "building schools and crap in Iraq". They don't want to really think about things with insight. I don't think this kind of attitude is useful in a writer. They miss too much that way. They should be more like Trey and Matt.

Mary Kay | March 18, 2007 02:41 PM

Okay, everybody take a deep breath and step back.

First, I've known Robin Bailey for going on 30 years and Nick, you're wrong about him. He may have been careless about spelling but, you know, it doesn't even come close to meaning what you're attributing to him. It probably means that the dual jobs of being a writer and being president of a notably contentious body made him short of time and rushed. Or you know, maybe he sucks at spelling.

Second, I own a good many Subterranean Press books and I didn't realize that was what was being referred to as SubPress. Perhaps I am out of the loop on the cool slang.

That being said, Subterranean Press and Small Beer are not qualifying markets? WTF?

TCO | March 18, 2007 02:51 PM

Maybe we should let in Whortleberry Press and Publish America as well.

John Scalzi | March 18, 2007 02:57 PM

TCO:

"John...is this considered trolling and non-good-boy?"

This is fine. (Update: Realizing now that TCO was attempting to characterize Patrick Nielsen Hayden as a "wannabe," which is, well, amusing, to say the least. TCO, you should know the players before you make comments that make you look foolish; that "wannabe" is arguably the most influential editor in science fiction publishing, and, also, my editor.)

The crack about Publish America is trollish, however.

Nick Mamatas | March 18, 2007 04:36 PM

Okay, everybody take a deep breath and step back.

Huh? Oh I get it, it's that tedious rhetorical tactic of pretending that other people are being hysterical in order to position one's own commentary as the only rational things being said.

Well gee Mary, don't go nailing yourself on the cross so quickly for your pal! Call off the lynch mob! Stop running around waving your petticoats and shrieking "I don't know nouthin' 'bout birthin' no baby!" Just for two seconds clam down your hysterical shrieking!

See, I can do that too.

First, I've known Robin Bailey for going on 30 years and Nick, you're wrong about him. He may have been careless about spelling but, you know, it doesn't even come close to meaning what you're attributing to him.

Part of writing for an audience means that one's meaning should be clear even to those who don't know the writer for thirty years.

It probably means that the dual jobs of being a writer and being president of a notably contentious body made him short of time and rushed. Or you know, maybe he sucks at spelling.

As has already been pointed out, it's not even a matter of spelling. It was a matter of scrolling up a bit. And, of course, his crack about my being a "penile appendage" and a "turd" rather suggests that indeed Bailey was being imperious and writing with a casual disregard for those he was addressing after all. Funny how you left all that out.

But boy, being a writer and doing something else with his time too? Woah, he must be exhausted, typing in his comments with one trembling finger while in a sick bed. I mean, surely, nobody else here is a writer AND something else...

Second, I own a good many Subterranean Press books and I didn't realize that was what was being referred to as SubPress. Perhaps I am out of the loop on the cool slang.

"Cool slang"? Oh, that's right, more rhetorical nonsense. In this case, a common one in the SF social milieu — blaming one's own ignorance or public stumble on the faux coolness or snobbery of everyone else.

Seems to me that a clever man would have Googled the name "Bill Schafer" upon having a fellow of that name appear here to discuss the $20,000 advances, instead of just saying that he had never heard of such an outfit and then giving a dubious-on-its-face and inaccurate-in-fact description of why Sub doesn't qualify.

Of course, a clever man, especially president of SFWA, may also engage in such silly activities as reading Locus, or Publishers Weekly, or patronizing well-stocked bookstores or examining the wares in SF convention huckster rooms, and would have thus not made so basic an error. If he did do so accidentally, he might be rather more contrite about it, instead of putting the term "specialty presses" in scare quotes and implying that they are irrelevant.

John Scalzi | March 18, 2007 04:49 PM

Note:

I'm actively trimming trollish and/or personal attack comments now. Nick/Robin etc, you can talk about SFWAs blindsight regarding small press without talking personal smack. Thanks.

TCO, you've earned a trip to the moderating queue. Your comments are now being screened by me before they go out. Try to get around this, you get plonked permanently.

Gavin | March 18, 2007 06:17 PM

John, congrats on enlivening the SFWA conversation and for keeping it in the open. You have Kelly's vote. (Me, I have to get a new ballot since it was recycled due to there not being a contest.)

Patrick, we've never asked any author to co-finance a book. We always pay advances: some miniscule but some of them pushing into Not Bad and (with the pb rights sales) into Shut Up! deals.

As for being a SFWA-listed market: our zine, LCRW, is definitely not. As for the books: I figured someone at SFWA would figure out if we were or not. If a listing in the LMP is what it takes we never will be as I'd rather not be flooded with more queries and manuscripts.

Tempest | March 18, 2007 06:23 PM

Everybody here is a doodyhead! (is that okay to say, John?)

Anyway, I think this point about certain small presses that not only produce a quality product that sells but also give authors significant advances not being SFWA qualified is an important one. It's right at the center of what many people feel is not working in SFWA. A few months ago I was talking to a small press publisher about why their anthologies do not qualify toward SFWA membership. It wasn't the pay rate, but the size of the print run that was the sticking point. The publisher said to me that they would not reveal to SFWA how many copies were initially printed - they printed as many as they needed at the moment and would print more when they needed them. This is not acceptable to SFWA for whatever reason.

Due to advances in printing technology, it seems to be that the size of an initial print run doesn't mean what it used to mean (whatever it used to mean). Nor does the ability to have any number of books printed quickly mean the books will be low quality and unprofessional. Yet these books don't qualify.

What this says to me is that SFWA is still stuck in the last century. How is an organization like that going to be useful to a person like me, publishing *now*? When the president of SFWA doesn't know a major market, albeit a small one, it doesn't do much for my opinion of the organization he represents. (It also doesn't help that he runs around calling people 'penises' for saying things to him he doesn't want to hear.) What does SFWA have to offer to a science fiction writer in america? I mean, besides penis jokes.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 06:36 PM

If someone in SFWA is deciding which "small press" anthologies qualify their contributors for SFWA membership based on print run, I'm extremely curious to know what kinds of print runs they think non-"small press" anthologies get. I can name some hardcovers from major New York houses, not just Tor, that were printed in very low four-figure quantities.

Gavin makes an excellent point about the LMP. In a Googlefied world, there's very little reason for an outfit like Small Beer--or, for that matter, Night Shade--to get themselves listed there. Which just underlines how out-of-date it is to use LMP listing as an indicator of whether a publisher is real or not. If I were starting a new publishing house, I'd be in no hurry to get listed in the LMP.

Michael M Jones | March 18, 2007 07:17 PM

I sincerely hope that future SFWA officers, be it John or Michael or whoever wins this year and the year after and so forth, will try to fix this part of the system also. I was downright surprised to hear that Robin had never heard of Subterranean Press; I'd been under the impression that while small, they were important.

Likewise, I was surprised to hear that Small Beer didn't count, nor Golden Gryphon, nor Night Shade, the latter two I know I've seen in places like Barnes & Noble and Borders.

The guidelines for qualification may have been adequate once upon a time, but I think it's getting about time they were expanded, or revised. After all, the world and nature of publishing seem to be changing and evolving also. It seems to me that it would be in SFWA's interests to stay on top of emerging markets and potentially qualifying markets, since the thing every SFWA member should want is a place to make a good sale.

I hope that future administrations will be a little more open-minded and proactive, instead of waiting for the markets to vaguely stumble across their doorstep by accident, only to pooh-pooh them.

John - Maybe I can;t vote for you, but if, by whatever chance, you get elected, you can feel free to put me to work if you can find a use for me. I'd love to help SFWA join this century. :>

John C. Bunnell | March 18, 2007 07:41 PM

The Literary Marketplace problem is an artifact of SFWA's Bylaws, which state that (a) book publishers not listed in LMP shall be defined as small pressees, and (b) small press publications cannot be considered as qualifying credentials. As has been noted upstream, this is clearly not a realistic standard in today's publishing marketplace.

However, changing SFWA's Bylaws has been an organizational nightmare for something like a decade now. The very short summation goes something like this:

The Bylaws, which were originally written for a much smaller and less diffuse organization than today's SFWA, were until quite recently written in a way that made them extremely difficult to change. They are also extremely inconsistent in terms of detail: some aspects of SFWA operation (membership credentials, elections process) have very specific provisions, while great swaths of SFWA's day-to-day operations (Griefcom, publications, committee structure) are formalized only very thinly if at all. They are unhelpfully ambiguous in some respects, and were not drafted with an eye to maintaining compatibility with evolving standards of legal-nonprofit practice.

As a result of the foregoing, the Bylaws are badly out of sync with the way SFWA actually works -- in some cases, as with the membership credential provisions, to the serious detriment of SFWA's ability to adapt and change with the times.

At the same time, there is a great deal of resistance within SFWA to making any significant changes, because of the amount of effort expended in various piecemeal attempts at amendments over the past decade or so. No sitting President or Board since 2004, when the Bylaws amendment that (somewhat) simplified the amendment process was passed, has been willing or able to implement the kind of thorough, thoughtful process that would be needed to amend or redraft the Bylaws to reflect the shape and needs of today's SFWA.

This is, of course, not a "sexy" or popular organizational issue -- but a good case can be made, I think, that many of the barriers to SFWA's forward progress on the kinds of issues both Michael and John want to address exist as a direct result of the rickety state of the Bylaws as they presently exist. They are a elephant in SFWA's living room . . . and for good or ill, they're a severely wounded elephant that isn't going to go away until it gets in to see its doctor.

Christopher | March 18, 2007 07:52 PM

Hey John C. Bunnell, would you be amenable to posting something like that (very welcome) summary over on the "debate newsgroup" that John links to in a later whatever post. If you don't want to take the trouble, would you mind if I copied it over there?

TCO | March 18, 2007 07:57 PM

I beleive that those urging small press recognition are doing it for the wrong reasons. Small presses exist more and more because the genre has contracted and because there are more writers who want to publish than readers who want to read (not literally, but in effect).

The change in technology has helped with small print runs, also. However, this is not a case of "big presses dying" and "being replaced by small ones". Of a genuine market shift based on meeting demand (from readers).

Those urging small press recognition just want to be considered "real writers" when quite simply they are not. Not in terms that the SFWA defines it. The arguments about "technology" and "things changing" are really just rationales for weakening standards. They are the exact cry that one would expect to hear from "wannabes". This is not new--I've seen it on the net for years. It's not restricted to this issue either. It's a common dynamic, of people wanting to inflate their importance and by use of language seize a prize that they have not earned.

Real writers, real thinkers want to understand things. Want to strip away hypocricies. This is what Orwell did. What Brian Plante did in the GVW Chronicles. What South Park does. What Menken and Twain did.

Don't give in, SFWA. You won't only by compromising your standards. You'll be participating in the ongoing devolution of labels and clear thinking.

Tempest | March 18, 2007 08:38 PM

um... TCO, what are you on about? I've only read part of the comments here and I realize you're kind of a clueless person regarding almost everything pertaining to this discussion. But still... Nightshade, Subterranian, and Small Beer are just full of wannabes? To include them would be lowering standards? Obviously, you haven't read *any* of the comments where people list who these presses publish, so I won't bother reiterating those names. needless to say, you're Just. Dead. Wrong. And that's the bottom line.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 09:15 PM

TCO writes:

"I believe that those urging small press recognition are doing it for the wrong reasons. Small presses exist more and more because the genre has contracted and because there are more writers who want to publish than readers who want to read (not literally, but in effect)."

You aren't listening. I haven't been "urging small press recognition." I've been pointing out that certain specific outfits that get called "small presses" aren't, in fact, all that small.

"Those urging small press recognition just want to be considered 'real writers' when quite simply they are not."

You keep saying this, and it's wrong every time. I'm not "urging small press recognition," and I have no need to be considered a "real writer". I'm the editorial manager of the largest line of SF books in the English-speaking world. I'm pointing out that a few of these so-called "small presses" are actually operating in the same leagues as normal trade publishers, based on the number of copies they're shipping, the level of distribution they're getting, the sort of review attention they're able to command, and (important to SFWA, I would think) the kind of money they're paying their writers.

You have one insight, which is that there exists a kind of wannabe who's full of big talk about how their no-hope e-publishing or POD schemes are going to overthrow New York trade publishing next Tuesday. Those people are silly; you're right about that. But you're sillier, because evidently absolutely nothing will dissuade you from thinking that you're arguing with someone who believes that. You have your one insight, and you're going to repeat it over and over again no matter how inappropriate it is to the actual conversation. I'm sorry you have cognitive problems, but it's not my fault.

John C. Bunnell | March 18, 2007 09:16 PM

The changing role of small, specialty, and niche-market presses is not just an artifact of Internet, electronic, and POD printing and distribution technology making it easier for Joe Anybody to become a "publisher" and for Steve Awful to put his stories in front of the (mostly indifferent) masses. As some of the above examples indicate, these presses are also an outlet for well-established "midlist" writers whose so-called mainstream publishers won't touch some or all of their work anymore. (In this light see particularly Wildside Press and Five Star.)

And that may well be relevant for just such midlist writers if they are not now SFWA members but wish to sign on.

[Christopher: I'm happy to crosspost as appropriate. It may be later tonight, however, as I'm expecting to be called away for dinner any minute now....]

RJ Sevin | March 18, 2007 09:22 PM

"Those urging small press recognition just want to be considered "real writers" when quite simply they are not."



Unless you're confusing POD vanity published writers with those who've published through places like Sub Press, Cemetery Dance, PS, and even my own Creeping Hemlock Press, I guess I'll have to cc Ramsey Campbell, Bentley Little, Tom Piccirilli, Gary A. Braunbeck, Thomas Ligotti, Tim Lebbon, and even the horrid Nick Mamatas, breaking the news that they are, in fact, not real writers.



And if you're not confusing the two, you're equating them. That's pretty damned ignorant.

Patrick M. | March 18, 2007 10:24 PM

Isn't SFWA qualifying largely irrelevant unless someone is actively trying to join who's first novel is from one of these publishers? I suppose SFWA probably SHOULD be on the look out for them for new members. Wouldn't those "Mid-list" writers have other credits if so-called mainstream publishers won't touch some or all of their work anymore.?

Aren't these publications generally taking 'new' people who have mostly come up from the short-story ranks and would already have credits? I admit to being ignorant here.

Wouldn't being officially recognized and listed by SFWA cause a similar problem to being listed in LMP? be flooded with more queries and manuscripts.

Other than membership eligibility, what's at stake? How many people have been published that wouldn't be eligible otherwise? Will I need two hands?

Ellen Datlow | March 18, 2007 10:34 PM

Patrick,
Oh cmon, you KNOW what I meant. Of course editors who are also writers can be active members. No one ever said they couldn't. If you'd like me to be more specific I am an editor who is not a writer and I cannot be an active member. Although I have written nonfiction articles and been paid for them.


>>>>First, to repeat a point I made elsewhere on The Whatever recently, it's not true that "editors are not allowed to be active members of SFWA." Full-time, in-house, salaried science fiction editors are as eligible as anyone else to be active members of SFWA, if they've written and sold a novel or three short stories to qualifying markets. I was an active member of SFWA for several years, because I've written and sold three short stories to qualifying markets. My Tor colleague Beth Meacham was likewise an active member for a while, eligible by virtue of a novel and a bunch of short stories. Eric Flint gets paid to edit Baen's Universe and I'm pretty sure he's an active SFWA member right now, based on the roughly 497 novels he's written and published in the last few years. So let's please put away the notion that SFWA excludes editors. SFWA is a writer's organization; active membership is open to selling writers who meet SFWA's criteria, no matter what else they do for a living.>>>>

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 18, 2007 10:42 PM

Well, no, Ellen, I wasn't sure what you meant, because if I had a nickel for everyone who's assured me over the years that SFWA forbids editors from being full members, I'd have a small jar full of nickels.

It's right up there with the belief that stories published in venues that don't qualify authors for SFWA membership are ineligible for the Nebula. People, including smart people, get lots of silly ideas into their heads. I certainly do. So don't tell me I "KNOW" what you meant. I'm trying to make sense of a world full of confusion every bit as much as you are. Grant me the presumption of good faith.

Nick Mamatas | March 18, 2007 10:58 PM

Independent presses like Night Shade et al, aren't all that different from the many paperback presses that emerged in the wake of the paperback revolution — those presses to which TCO lights his candles nightly, it seems — except that these latter day publishers concentrate on hardcover and trade paperbacks as opposed to mass market paperbacks. Given the rise of the big box bookstore and the decline of non-bookstore venues for mmpbs (e.g., grocery and drug stores, newsstands) this is hardly a surprise. It wasn't that long ago that many of the imprints of the Big Five were themselves entreprenuerial start-ups. Reader demand is only a secondary consideration here. Were Ace or DAW ro be founded today, we would expect them to concentrate on hardcovers and TPOs, not PBOs, as the former formats are more economical.

(Aside: it's funny that TCO thinks large publisher equates in some uncomplicated way to high quality. What the hell is he reading? I'll take two.)

As far as "real writers" and all that, here's the point that seems to be missing despite the fact that it has been repeated a number of times. Night Shade et al — with perhaps a couple of exceptions — do qualify for SFWA membership except that they do not bother to pay for a listing in LMP. As there is hardly any reason to list one's self in the LMP these days, SFWA's use of LMP to keep out vanity publications while keeping in commercial royalty publishers is no longer functional.

Patrick M., the various independent publishers involve both newer writers and more established writers, as do the Big Five imprints. Some forms of publication, such as the short story collection, are now largely the precinct of the independent press, for example. In 1998, Waldrop could get a collection published by St. Martin's. In this century, it's been Subterranean, Old Earth, Wheatland, and a reissue by Small Beer.

And no, a listing by tiny SFWA is not at all the same as a listing in the well-entrenched LMP. It's hardly as though people are refusing to submit to Night Shade or other such publishers because they are so desperate to join SFWA. The whole kerfluffle just shows that SFWA is a bit out of it. It's not a big deal, it's just a telling symptom of an organization that is hidebound and oblivious, it is not a publishing problem.

TCO | March 18, 2007 11:24 PM

Nick: You're right that I'm fighting more with logic/intuition than with facts. My impression of these small presses is that they are not entrepreneurial ventures but are labors of love. Sort of like any magazine other than the Big 3: those tend to be mags that people put out so that they can say that they are editor of something. And there are so many wannabes out there that they try to act like those mags are actually anything special. Like anyone reads them. On the midlist authors: part of the issue is that the genre IS SHRINKING. Sawyer says it's so. And verily it is. So that tells me nothing that midlisters are dropping into that stuff (small presses). Similarly, your list of magnificent lights in the genre (in small press) rings no bells with me. I think you have a lower standard for popular success than I do.

Patrick M. | March 18, 2007 11:34 PM

I'm certainly not defending that SFWA doesn't have problems, but this seems to be a silly point. If they are not actively recruiting, which they probably should be, then I don't see a problem with the "We'll check it out if someone applies with it" theory.

And until such time, there isn't really a need to revist that particular by-law, so it's sort of understandable that it is still there, to me. That doesn't say to me that the organization is out of touch. It sort of says it has more important things to worry about, or it really says nothing. YMMV.

John Scalzi | March 18, 2007 11:55 PM

TCO:

"Nick: You're right that I'm fighting more with logic/intuition than with facts. My impression of these small presses is that they are not entrepreneurial ventures but are labors of love."

There are some small presses that don't make much in the way of money; there are others that I can think of that are doing very well financially. They're all over the board in that respect. Off the top of my head I can think of a couple of small press publishers/editors who are entirely entreprenureal in their approach to their business -- they do it because they love it, but they also do it to make lots of money.

Nick, incidentally, is the editor of Clarkesworld magazine, which is a nice small magazine, publishing some good and interesting fiction. I suspect among the other things Clarkesworld is supposed to do, it's also intended to make money.

TCO | March 19, 2007 12:15 AM

Never heard of it. What's the subscription base? Price? Electronic or print?

Nick Mamatas | March 19, 2007 12:16 AM

My impression of these small presses is that they are not entrepreneurial ventures but are labors of love.

You'd be surprised, especially given the small presses about which we are talking (those that have four-five digit print runs and offer $2000+ advances). They're small businesses that supply a total income for one or more households. They're not much different than any other small business; they've just not been acquired by a larger publisher yet.

Sort of like any magazine other than the Big 3: those tend to be mags that people put out so that they can say that they are editor of something.

The hilarious thing is that the so-called "Big 3" are only big compared to those small genre magazines. Those digests are pure legacy systems. Without only a few thousand subscribers and few thousand newsstand buys, they are minuscule when it comes to the world of magazines. They're not even big compared to specialty magazines for people who keep lizards as pets or those who are interested in radical left politics. There are blogs that are more widely read. I've published short fiction (and tons of non-fiction) in venues with twenty times the readers of any of the Big 3.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 19, 2007 12:32 AM

I'm particularly impressed by the belief that "entrepreneurial venture" and "labor of love" are qualities that can't co-exist in the same enterprise. This is what fundamentally marks this T*O dude as an amateur.

Nick Mamatas | March 19, 2007 12:35 AM

On the midlist authors: part of the issue is that the genre IS SHRINKING. Sawyer says it's so. And verily it is. So that tells me nothing that midlisters are dropping into that stuff (small presses).

Actually, the sheer number of SF/F titles published are on a long-term upward trend. (Remember, about sixty years ago there were hardly any). The pool of readers for these books is what appears to be shrinking due to the increased number of choices.

Further, for the most part, midlisters who remain active and who publish in the small press are also publishing with the Big Five. I can get a Joe Lansdale, Connie Willis, Kit Reed, Charles DeLint, Orson Scott Card, Poppy Z. Brite book from any number of small presses OR Big Five imprints.

Ellen Datlow | March 19, 2007 12:36 AM

Ok.I'll accept that ;-)

But what really irks me is that if I'm not considered an "author" when editing an anthology and have a problem with my publisher, I don't believe I can take my grievance to GRIEFCOM, which means one of the more important functions of SFWA is closed to me.

>>>Well, no, Ellen, I wasn't sure what you meant, because if I had a nickel for everyone who's assured me over the years that SFWA forbids editors from being full members, I'd have a small jar full of nickels.

It's right up there with the belief that stories published in venues that don't qualify authors for SFWA membership are ineligible for the Nebula. People, including smart people, get lots of silly ideas into their heads. I certainly do. So don't tell me I "KNOW" what you meant. I'm trying to make sense of a world full of confusion every bit as much as you are. Grant me the presumption of good faith.

Nick Mamatas | March 19, 2007 01:07 AM

Clarkesworld is both print and electronic.

Free website stories: www.clarkesworldmagazine.com tied to a niche mail-order online bookstore. We do two stories per month, one a feature based on solicitations of authors with books that can be sold through the store, and one from another author (this second section is edited by me).

Signed/limited chapbooks of issues available for collectors, singly and via six-month subscription.

Annual TPO anthology available for those who like to read on paper, but want an economic format.

We pay 10¢ a word.

tchernabyelo | March 19, 2007 07:50 AM

I'm at best a fledgeling writer (my one pro-rate sale was in a market that last time I checked wan't SFWA-compliant as it hadn't been published for long enough), but I can say with confidence that I don't much care whather a market is a "small press" or not. I sub primarily to markets that I believe have two things; decent distribution/cachet, and decent semi-pro/pro payscales. There are a fair number of those out there, in terms of the genre.

I certainly don't worry about whether a market I sub to is SFWA-compliant or not (and not just because I don't live in the US).

As for things like Nightshade being a "small press" - I recently picked up a Nightshade book in my local Waterstones here in the UK. It nestled there nicely on the shelves next to "big" imprints.

Jeff VanderMeer | March 19, 2007 09:59 AM

I always like to talk about "independent publishers" like Subterranean and Night Shade, etc., rather than calling them "small press publishers", which tends to carry an expectation of necessarily smaller advances and print runs (which isn't true). It's interesting that there's still this stigma in publishing, which doesn't really exist in, for example, music, where four guys can start a band and a label in their basement and not have to deal with these kinds of perceptions.

As Patrick has said, places like St. Martin's Press and others often offer advances and do print runs that are smaller than what NS or Subterranean or a host of others can offer. I suppose it's a bias of place, too. If NS and Sub were based out of NYC, they'd probably be perceived differently.

Jeff

Jason Williams | March 19, 2007 10:07 AM

I guess it all depends on how you define small press. At Night Shade, we've got around 30 books on the schedule for this year, with an average print run of 5000-6000.



We have national distribution. We meet with the buyers from the chains on a fairly regular basis. We've recently released a first novel from a completely unknown author that shipped well over 6000 copies. One of our books has, at last count, sold just shy of 20,000 copies.



We've recently acquired books from Walter Jon Williams, Elizabeth Moon, S.M. Stirling, Peter Beagle, Neal Asher, and several others, including a batch of most excellent first novels. We pay pretty decent advances, including the occasional five-figure advance.



Publishers Weekly wrote a very nice article about us last week, even if they did call me a mercenary. Something about my almost having joined the Foreign Legion instead of starting a publishing company.



Small is a state of mind, I think. Small certainly describes staff, being that there are only two of us, which makes for a lot less sleep that normally would be desired.



At the Nebula Award banquet last year, I asked about what it would take to be listed as a qualifying market, and the only criteria we didn't match was a listing in the LMP. At that point, I thank the nice lady for her time and politely declined. I can't keep track of the manuscripts we do get (did I mention there were only two of us?) and I certainly don't need or want the landslide of manuscripts that we'd get from it.



I seem to have completely forgotten whatever point it was I was trying to make, so I'll stop typing now.

Lauren | March 19, 2007 10:27 AM

I've been eligible for SFWA for a while but never considered joining because if its backwardness. In my opinion, the whole genre needs a jolt of forward-thinking (which is ironic/pitiful given the nature of the genre).

Scalzi, if you win, I'm in.

John Scalzi | March 19, 2007 10:35 AM

Oooooh, and Lauren has scary, scary organizational skills. I could totally use her as my enforcer. This crazy idea just might work!

John C. Bunnell | March 19, 2007 05:37 PM

As regards "midlist" and the economics of publishing -- that's a subject complicated enough to deserve a conversation all on its own.

However: as noted above, the problem is less that the midlist is shrinking than that it's undergone a qualitative change. What we've got now in place of midlist authors, to a great extent, are midlist brands, largely filled by series and tie-in fiction. In SF/F this manifests as Star Trek and Dragonlance novels, in romance as the various category series imprints (one of the latest is a Harlequin/NASCAR tie-in series), in mystery/thriller as things like Tom Clancy's Net Force, spinoff novels for 24 and CSI, and so forth. And witness the explosion of heavily branded fantasy series in kids'/YA....

This has all manner of implications for writers -- not all of them bad, although writers who object to getting involved with tie-ins and other forms of shared-creation fiction are fighting an uphill battle these days. (Which arguably leads back to an actual SFWA-election-related question, namely how well SFWA is equipped to cope with these changes in the genre marketplace....)

Dawn B. | March 19, 2007 06:27 PM

I'm late to the party here, but I wanted to make a series of comments regarding the professional status of SFWA.

I used to be a Chemist. As such, I joined the ACS (American Chemical Society), which is the professional organization serving chemists. I joined as a student (which I paid minor dues for, got half as many of the weekly newsmagazine and couldn't get discounts to conferences nor access to health care plan and lots of other bennies and I could only become a Student Assoicate due to my declared major & two sponsors) and then as a full member once I graduated and was working. They are what I'm using as a basis for a pro Organization.

Only those working in chemistry or who did but are on hiatus (job change, unemployed, parenting, etc.) are allowed to join and access the myriad benefits. There are a lot because (a) they are HUGE organization, (b) they have expensive dues [otoh, Chemists get paid more on average per annum than writers on average], (c) they are an old organization and (d) they have a lot of paid staff. They also get money from the Journals they run, which would be akin to SWFA having its own publishing line of science fiction books and using the profits for the organization.

But you can't get in unless you are a working Chemical Professional. And I think that is a good thing. And the same for SFWA. It is a professional organization. Hence, it should service the professionals. Writers who don't meet the (IMO relatively low) standards to get in aren't professional. Hell, you can't make a living on 3 short stories a year. You could on a novel/year. Hence, I don't want SFWA to open its membership doors to those who don't get in. As has been stated before, there is a HUGE support network for those that are as yet unpublished in SF/F.

The reason RWA, IMO, services non-published and/or non-pros is to (a) get their money and (b) organize the equivalent of the SF/F fan cons for the Romance World. If you compare a non National RWA convention to a good SF/F Fan Con (BayCon for my home town comes to mind, ConFusion, WisCon, etc. are others I can think of) you will see much the same. A lot of panels talking about books in general, many with authors talking about trends and their own books, readings & signings with Big Name Authors, and a few panels on writing and how-to as well as a workshop to two. I will say that RWA conferences are more likely to have an Agent/Editor pitch session than your average SF/F fancon and may offer more than one writing workshop. But it is mostly a fan con with a slightly higher emphasis on writing than our fan cons.

So, RWA services the non-pros because they are not already by the fan base. SFWA doesn't need to service the non-pros because the Giving Back program is already ingrained in our culture and Pros don't avoid the Fan Cons by any stretch of the imagination.

Dawn B. | March 19, 2007 06:38 PM

Re: SFWA qualifying markets

IMO, SFWA is out of touch with what markets are pro. I say this with some bias as I was aware of a lot of scuttlebutt regarding the raising of pay rates that seemed geared at excluding Strange Horizons a few years back, which is a market that I really think was deserving of that merit. It has since been recognized (yay) but there was definitely some grumbling among the old guard. Specifically, because it meant a lot of the younger generation was suddenly allowed into their little club. That viewpoint turned me off to wanting to be in SFWA should I ever qualify (which is a very distant thing right now).

The discussion above re: SubPress & Night Shade & Small Beer Press also tells me that SFWA needs to really figure out the qualifying markets. I understand that it may be difficult to word in such a way to exclude things like Publish America or vanity presses as well as the truly small press magazines, I do think that excluding the publishing houses being used by our Hugo, Campbell & Nebula authors is sorta odd. Especially when the pay & distribution isn't that of a collector's market. I'm really glad to hear that Night Shade is doing first time authors (I hadn't known) and I suspect Bill would too, given how much he's been willing/eager to work with young rising stars.

All in all, it isn't a major deal because I think it is true that most people getting published by these independents are already in or qualify for SFWA, but the time will come when that isn't the case and I think SFWA should be proactive in qualifying markets before they are put to the test, rather than after. Most people won't try to submit for membership if they read the list and see their stuff doesn't qualify. It is work SFWA is putting on potential members, and it really should be the other way around.

Jed Hartman | March 19, 2007 09:20 PM

Wow -- belated congrats on your candidacy! Regardless of platforms, I'm glad to see the election contested.

A few unconnected thoughts, mostly nitpicky and/or musing:

I think you should add an item 10 to your platform -- I think you should promise to wear a tiara to all official SFWA functions.

I think it's worth mentioning that there are some things that members can do even if they're not president. For example, I suspect it would be a lot easier to drop an email to the SFWA webmaster and talk with them about the site -- which anyone can do, whether they're a member or not -- than to be president. For all I know, you may already have done that -- I've encountered a couple of situations (not website-related) where I've volunteered to help out with SFWA-related tasks and haven't gotten a response (possibly because I'm an Associate member rather than Active). And maybe being president would give you more clout in getting the website changed. All I'm really saying in this paragraph is that SFWA members (all of y'all, not just Scalzi!) who want to be involved with the website's design can probably find a way to do so. In my interactions with them, the SFWA web folks have been very reasonable and friendly, though they haven't always agreed with me about everything.

re the Nebulas: "their luster has dimmed over the last several years; they are no longer the equal to the Hugos in terms of relevance and timeliness, and their nomination process leaves them open to accusations of nomination via logrolling rather than literary quality." I'm curious about why you feel that the relative status of the Nebulas and the Hugos has changed significantly in recent years. Was there a time when the Nebulas were as timely as the Hugos? (Have the eligibility rules changed significantly? I honestly don't know -- not being sarcastic here -- but I think the rolling-eligibility thing has been true for quite some time.) As for logrolling, I recently read a complaint about authors and publishers lobbying for a Nebula -- in a 25-year-old fanzine. So that's been going on for a long time as well. ...I also have a vague sense that the Hugos don't have quite the luster they used to, but I suspect that's mostly just that I'm more aware than I once was of how few people vote for them.

Regarding mentoring and youth: You may well know this, but I don't know if all your readers do: For a couple of years, SFWA had a Junior Membership program. They suspended the program in 2001; I think I read about why they did that at the time, but I don't remember. Can any SFWAns who were involved in that program talk a little about the pros and cons of it, and about why it ended when it did, and what lessons they learned that could be applied to future programs? (I imagine that's all been written up somewhere, but I don't know where offhand.)

Re Night Shade: I also think it's worth mentioning, in passing, that Night Shade's production values are superb. That obviously shouldn't be a qualification for professionalism, but man, the books are totally gorgeous. Good content, too, of course.

P.S.: Your commenting system invites me to sign in using TypeKey (while I'm previewing my comment), but when I tried to do so, I was told that your site doesn't support it. Not sure if that's a problem at your end or mine, but thought it was worth mentioning.

John Scalzi | March 20, 2007 01:55 AM

Jed:

A new presidential tiara has in fact been promised to me -- I would be remiss in not wearing it!

Nebulas: I'm not entirely sure if the nominating process was the same in the past, but I'm certainly willing to believe logrolling is nothing new. I suspect if SFWA were institute anonymous recommending, it would put a damper on the most blatant logrolling; it would never entirely stop, because people are people.

Typekey: Yeah, it's screwy on my end. Sorry.

Laurie Mann | March 20, 2007 06:42 AM

Aside from changing the Nebulas to changing eligibility for a single calendar year, the other Nebula change I'd encourage is doing away with the Nebula Preliminary Ballot. All you need to do is to trade 10 votes to get on it. Getting on the Preliminary Ballot seems to have less to do with promoting quality works and everything to do with vote-trading.

TCO | March 20, 2007 08:35 AM

How about getting rid of the Nebulas? The Hugos already cover the same ground.

Hannah Wolf Bowen | March 20, 2007 08:59 AM

Not that I think anyone's still reading this thread, but the online form still doesn't work and ditto that for the fax number.

Snail mail it is. Right-o.

James Nicoll | March 20, 2007 10:08 AM

"The hilarious thing is that the so-called "Big 3" are only big compared to those small genre magazines."

And where the top three sell, what, about 60,000 copies a month between them, China's Science Fiction World sells between 300,000 and 500,000 copies.

JC | March 20, 2007 10:36 AM

China's Science Fiction World sells between 300,000 and 500,000 copies.

Wow, another reason to get my Chinese up to snuff...

Janni | March 20, 2007 01:30 PM

I'll echo Justine's comments on number 2, even though it sounds like you're somewhat aware of the issues there--but it seems like on a regular basis someone who isn't so aware of those issues gets up and starts talking about doing more for young readers and writers, without realizing that YA SF/fantasy are thriving right now. Work to make the membership part of that, yes; but first, work to make sure the membership knows what's already out there. Not all of contemporary YA SF/fantasy looks like what SFWA members are used to "juveniles" looking like, so they often assume the books aren't there, when they are.

Some of the best speculative fiction being published for readers of any age is being published in YA now, and many of the writers writing it for that age are young writers. I hope SFWA--under whoever's leadership it winds up under--will always make sure to learn the territory here before trying to fix its supposed gaps.

Diane Turnshek | March 20, 2007 01:37 PM

Very happy to have you in the running, John. I'm planning a special "History of SFWA" programming topic for the Nebula Award Weekend because of the discussion here.

Jeri | March 20, 2007 01:39 PM

Two words, John (and Derryl): Thank. You.

Will run to PO Box tonight to pick up ballot.

John Scalzi | March 20, 2007 03:14 PM

TCO:

"How about getting rid of the Nebulas? The Hugos already cover the same ground."

If you look at the winners of the Nebulas and the Hugos over the last several years, there's not actually a huge amount of overlap.

Janni | March 20, 2007 04:40 PM

I wonder if those small press writers who are frustrated that their sales aren't SFWA-qualifying shouldn't go off and start a Small Press SF Writers' organization? Seriously, I'm sure there are issues writers whose sales are all small press face that are legitimate and need addressing; it's just that those issues are different issues from those who are trying to make some part of their living as writers. Not counting a credit toward SFWA membership really isn't a way of saying "we're better than you"; it's a way of saying "we face different issues than you face, and we'd rather keep SFWA focused on those issues."

But there's no reason another organization couldn't focus on other issues, at all. Especially if, as seems to be the case, so many small press writers are feeling that a writer's organization would be a useful thing for them.

Laurie Mann | March 20, 2007 05:03 PM

> John wrote:
> If you look at the winners of the Nebulas and the
> Hugos over the last several years, there's not
> actually a huge amount of overlap.

That depends on the year. For some publication years (as opposed to award years), there have been as many as three common award winners.

And then there was the publication year for which the same book won a Hugo, a Nebula and a Stoker (American Gods).

For a list of common Hugo/Nebula Award winners, check:

http://www.dpsinfo.com/awardweb/multiples.html

It's interesting to see how the Nebulas and Hugos feed off of one another. The Hugos were started a little more than 10 years before the Nebulas. For the first few years, the Hugos only had two fiction awards, Short and Long. The Nebulas started with four fiction awards, and, over the next few years, the Hugos also had four fiction awards. The Hugos had the Best Dramatic Presentation Award decades before the Nebulas gave out a routine "Best Script" award.

Christopher | March 20, 2007 05:29 PM

Janni, I may have lost track of some of the conversations going on in here, but isn't the "small press" part of the issue mainly about how the particular presses under discussion are publishers that pay their authors pretty well?

John Scalzi | March 20, 2007 05:45 PM

Janni:

"I wonder if those small press writers who are frustrated that their sales aren't SFWA-qualifying shouldn't go off and start a Small Press SF Writers' organization?"

There'd be a lot of duplication. Speaking for myself, I publish in both sizes because both do good things for my career.

As I note on the ElectionBlog (actually a newsgroup), the relevant criteria should be how much the author is getting paid, not whether the press is listed in the Literary Market Place.

TCO | March 20, 2007 05:53 PM

Janni: the wannabes really, really want to call themselves real writers. Being part of a smaller market org would not help them do this. They want to water down the standards for admission to SFWA. They want to call "sales" on things where no money changes hands. It's human nature. Oh...and SFWA should reject them.

Janni | March 20, 2007 06:08 PM

Janni, I may have lost track of some of the conversations going on in here, but isn't the "small press" part of the issue mainly about how the particular presses under discussion are publishers that pay their authors pretty well?

That's what's sort of being said, but understanding is that if a publication isn't SFWA membership eligible, it either hasn't been considered by SFWA yet, or it pays less than pro rates, or it has less than pro circulation, or it doesn't stick to its stated publication schedule.

But there are professional small presses, too, whose writers have issues in common with professional large presses, and even as I typed that, I realized it could be confusing.

Maybe what's actually needed is a semipro SF writers' organization.

What I'm trying to say, perhaps imperfectly, is: don't complain SFWA won't let you in. Figure out what it is you need that makes you want to join a writers' organization in the first place, and then form an organization that will give it to you.

JC | March 20, 2007 07:45 PM

That's what's sort of being said, but understanding is that if a publication isn't SFWA membership eligible, it either hasn't been considered by SFWA yet, or it pays less than pro rates, or it has less than pro circulation, or it doesn't stick to its stated publication schedule.

I think you may be missing the crux of the complaint raised in this comment thread. The complaint is that there are publications which pays pro rates, has pro circulation, have been considered by SFWA but are not considered pro markets. (The membership criteria for SFWA specifically mentions Small Beer Press as ineligible.) Part of the reason they are not is because they do not list in LMP. So the complaint here is over the definition of what constitutes a pro market. If a market pays pro rates, has pro circulation and publishes the works of established pros, why shouldn't it be considered a pro market?

This doesn't say anything one way or the other about the necessity of a semipro SF writers' organization. It just says that Small Beer, Night Shade and Subterranean are not the best examples you can use to make your point. (e.g., if someone sells her first novel to Night Shade, gets an advance comparable to a first novel advance at Tor, gets a 1st print run and distribution comparable to Tor, why shouldn't she quality for SFWA?)

There are any number of top notch semi-pro magazines with which you could make your point.

(BTW, looking at this comment thread, I don't see anyone complaining that SFWA won't let them in. The general impression I get among those of us writing who don't yet qualify is that we want to earn our qualification into SFWA.)

Janni | March 20, 2007 08:17 PM

I meay well be conflating this discussion with others I've heard on the subject; my apologies for that.

I don't disagree that the LMP requirement is outdated.

L. Jagi Lamplighter | March 20, 2007 09:26 PM

Very much enjoyed your post. This is the first thing I've read since my husband became a member more than ten years ago that has made SFWA sound interesting! (Might even get around to joining myself if they were doing some of those things.)

Hopefully, whether you win or lose, the ideas listed in your platform will remain topical and perhaps be addressed, if not right away, then over the next couple of years.

Holly Black | March 20, 2007 09:39 PM

Work to make the membership part of that, yes; but first, work to make sure the membership knows what's already out there. Not all of contemporary YA SF/fantasy looks like what SFWA members are used to "juveniles" looking like, so they often assume the books aren't there, when they are.

I also think that YA sf/f writers are a ready source to be recruited as new members. They're already qualified and often unaware of the genre community as well as its professional organization.

Also, glad you liked the posters!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 20, 2007 09:44 PM

What's confusing people like Janni is that there are two things going on.

There does indeed exist a kind of not-very-good wannabe writer who gets published by half-assed, short-lived "small-press" operations, and complains about SFWA not validating the gloriousness of their wonderfulness.

There also exist a bunch of publishers that are saddled with the label "small press" or "specialty press" for no better reason than the fact that they aren't in New York and aren't owned by Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone, or a German conglomerate. Some of them pay authors real money and distribute highly respectable numbers of books.

The latter are what we've been discussing here.

John Johnston III | March 20, 2007 10:01 PM

That was such a logical and well-reasoned manifesto that I just pulled out my ballot and voted for you. When the world changes, the organisms (and organizations) in it must adapt or become irrelevant - and eventually extinct. You want SFWA to adapt, which is something that SFWA has shown over and over again that it really doesn't want to do. More power to you.

By the way, you not only write SF like Heinlein, but it strikes me that you even reason like he did. Well done.

L. Jagi Lamplighter | March 20, 2007 10:16 PM

(My apologies to those who are engaged in the fascinating discussion about the definition of small press, but there did not seem to be a way to comment on the original post by Mr. Scalzi without doing it here.)

I reread my post and felt that it did not convey the point I wished to make.

I have been reading the SFWA Forum for over ten years, and I have often found the articles and letters interesting – sometimes amusing, sometimes encouraging, sometimes disturbing. While some of the issues have seemed trivial to me, others have been important in the grand scheme of things, and I would not want to deny them their place.

However, other than Writers Beware, very little of what I’ve seen had been things that would engage my fellow writers, something I could show to friends and say: "Look what SFWA is doing! Don't you want to make an effort to join!"

There were several points in Mr. Scalzi's post, however, that did make me sit up and go "wow!" One was the idea of revitalizing the website, making it more accessible, more interesting, and perhaps adding something to be updated on a regular basis. (Or even clear links to blogs by members would be nice!)

Another was the idea of having SFWA act as a clearing house for speakers and appearances. Now that sounds really useful! (Might be difficult to do, but what writer would not want access to a service like that!)

While I do not know if any of these ideas are practical, I certainly find them interesting, and I appreciate the idea of trying to make sure that the organization meets the needs of the members in the best way possible.

Josh Jasper | March 20, 2007 11:17 PM

Given the acrimony on some of the politial threads, I'm somewhat sissapointed in a not-getting-to-see-a-horroble-trainwreck sort of way, but gladdened at the discourse here.

Mike Williamson | March 21, 2007 12:03 AM

My problem with the Nebulae is this: I'm not a professional SF reader. I'm a WRITER. I don't have the time, money, nor inclination to acquire and read a dozen or so shorts, novelettes, novellas, "novels" (That may only be 40K words, which is to say, 1/3 to 1/4 of a book), scripts short and long, see lots of movies...

And being an SF writer, rather than one of those overpaid fantasy hacks;-) I lack the funds to travel to snazzy banquets in far off towns with hotels in the $100+ a night range...I do that for conventions where I can set up and sell for a profit (Other stuff as well as my books). Nebula banquet? Nice idea. Hold it in Columbus or Indy and I'll consider it.

And "Short, book-length, dramatic" should cover all bases for the Nebulae. Let's not get like the Oscars with "Best set decoration for a short foreign black and white period piece," please.

What else can SFWA do? I don't know. My professional bitch is that, with 8? 9? books sold and in print, reprint, multiple editions, book club editions, and two more in negotiation, I can't find an agent who isn't an idiot. I can't find an agent at all. "It doesn't interest us at this time." Well, I would think that selling a print run in 21 days and maintaining 90% sell through for 3 years would be "of interest," but it seems not to be the case. I have other work that needs homes, and I'd be happy to give them their 15%, but they don't seem to take it seriously. Perhaps that's a job for SFAA...

Otherwise, I do make some contacts and enjoy the occasional party...just promise not to stop the parties, John.

quixote | March 21, 2007 12:23 AM

PNH and several others have said it: cultural and institutional problems, best described by the commenter who said it's like getting into the exec's washroom and discovering all they do is snap towels at each other. And at the n00bs. And at the "small presses." And. And. And.

When I joined SFWA, I really wanted to get involved, contribute skills, help new writers, and all the usual stuff that's unfortunately incompatible with towel-snapping. Over the years, I've grown discouraged. So much so that I'm posting this anonymously. (And yes, I have published "this century.")

Honestly, maybe we should have a special category of membership for humor writers, whether sf or not, who can help us get over ourselves.

John C. Bunnell | March 21, 2007 01:47 AM

A point that might be borne in mind in discussions of SFWA: a sizeable amount of the baggage attached to SFWA's checkered reputation nowadays is arguably an artifact of deeply entrenched circumstances beyond most of its individual leaders' control.

I've referred upstream to SFWA's Bylaws, which have formed a large part of the problem. For a number of years, the Bylaws were next to impossible to amend due to a combination of rapidly increasing membership and the way in which the amendment provisions were written. That's only been changed quite recently in SFWA-time -- and the LMP provision is only one example of the dated, ambiguous, and/or limiting provisions in those Bylaws.

A further difficulty (in my mind, at least) has been that the Bylaws set out a governing structure that assigns most operational powers to the President, which worked well enough for the small, compact organization SFWA was when it was founded. Unfortunately, it works far less well for the much larger and considerably more wide-ranging organization SFWA has become -- but because the Bylaws have been so difficult to amend, it hasn't been possible to properly update or adapt the existing governance structure. (There's a further wrinkle, in that the kinds of Presidents the existing structure attracts tend not to want to alter the existing Bylaws -- but that way lies a discussion of SFWA politics and history that would rapidly become unproductive.)

The end result of the above is that SFWA is an organization with enormous potential . . . in the medium to long term. In the interval, success (and organizational reform) are likely to require any incoming President to exercise considerable diplomacy and patience if he hopes to accomplish a particular agenda.

Matt H | March 21, 2007 02:04 AM

Cross-posted from the SFWA Election-Update thread, as I hadn't realized this thread seems to be the more active (sorry if you have to read this twice):

Hey John -

Longtime reader, even longer time SF fan. (I'm about to turn 30, and I've been hooked ever since I read Drake's Rolling Hot when I was 12.) I've heard of the SFWA, and as an aspiring writer, I've done my best to learn about the different advocacy and support groups available within the industry. I've always been less than impressed by the SFWA, if only because they don't seem to have done anything that would warrant my attention. Your recent campaign rekindled my interest, and I've been following along with detached amusement.

Until tonight. Thanks for posting the link to the Q&A taking place on the sff.net site - lots of interesting reading. Some good points, interesting views into the history of the organization, some heated arguments unrelated to the actual election - a typical forum discussion. It's also been very enlightening to see how the different candidates respond to questions and present themselves to voters.

SF has always been a niche non-mainstream market, but it seems to have gotten more and more closed off in the past few years. Given the high level of technology that we currently live with, the advances that are straight out of the pages of older SF, and the very tech-aware attitude of younger generations, this should be a boom period for SF. Computers are no longer threatening doomsday machines, robots are used in everyday manufacturing, we're physically exploring Mars, people communicate over vast distances instantly - we're living the SF of the past! My five year old has an alarm clock that is smarter and more powerful than anything that existed when my father was born. Why has SF not been able to capitalize on the general public's comfort with technology? Why does it continue to be seen as the domain of musty old men and their crazy stories?

(As an aside, my wife LOVES the Eve Dallas stories written by JD Robb - these stories have near-future technology that could qualify as SF. She LOVES these books, but won't have anything to do with 'my' SF. No interest, even when I attempt to draw parallels between the books we read. Give her a fantasy book, and she's happy - give her a book that substitutes a computer and cyborg for a wizard and a dragon, and she has no interest in cracking the first page.)

Why can't SF reach out to these readers? The general public certainly isn't going to immediately clamor for 'hard' SF, and Charlie Stross would make my wife's head explode. But she could handle some light SF, some introductory SF, that might just scratch an itch she didn't know she had (much as Harry Potter did for fantasy for her). Give her a suspense/thriller/mystery that uses SF as a backdrop, and she just may go for it, and just may seek out similar books and authors. But she won't seek it out - she wants to be wooed.

And, to circle back around, after reading the posts by the candidates listed on the ballot, I despair for the future of SF. SF isn't reaching out to new readers, the SFWA leadership doesn't want to explore new markets and new ideas - they're stuck in the old world.

Michael Capobianco isn't a visionary leader, he's middle management, somebody who keeps a meeting on track. He doesn't want change, he likes things the way they are - he understands the organization as it is, and is comfortable navigating its hallways. His postings and attitude remind me of the genial old man who runs the local meeting of some organization that hasn't added a new member in 25 years, and doesn't want to. It's the guy down at the barber shop who sits with his buddies and talks about how things used to be, and how great they were. He's non-threatening, but his inaction will cause harm. SFWA will continue down its current path to irrelevance. Anybody who looks down upon self-promotion is no longer relevent to the conversation about today's marketplace. If he views writing as a pure art form (publishers should promote and not make the author get their hands dirty), then why the heck hasn't we taken his own advice and written anything in the last decade?

Andrew Burt, on the other hand, pisses me off. His resume, on a technical level, looks somewhat impressive. Some neat programming, some good coding, interesting thoughts - for a coder. He should be a behind the scenes type of guy who helps keep the webpage up, who helps co-ordinate online activities and publication of news, a guy who helps automate duties that free up time for other work. He's not a VP type of guy, someone who will go out and work the crowd, someone who inspires others, someone who 'gets' what needs to be done and wants to push SF into a new age. I saw an awful lot of bullet points about anti-piracy work, but saw darn little about productive efforts to publish electronically. Darn little about efforts to promote SFWA activities online, darn little about efforts to bring SF readers to a central gathering place, darn little about anything positive. Shutting down piracy is good, is useful, is beneficial - but it's not what an evangelist (which is what a VP should be) does - it's what a committee member does. I'm glad he has added some neat code into the world, and has hacked on Unix - but so have I. That doesn't qualify me to run for VP of SFWA. Being a self-made millionaire doesn't qualify him to run for VP. Being an arrogant SOB who talks down about current technology, technology used to engage the very fans who support your work, sure as hell doesn't qualify him to run for VP.

Seeing the type of old boys club that runs SFWA fills me with dread for the future. New initiatives should learn from the past, not be stillborn because they failed before. New technologies should be embraced and exploited to bring in new audiences and new markets, not denigrated and treated as fads.

I'm disgusted by the attitudes and positions taken by these candidates. When (not if) I am published, I will not join a SFWA organization run with this type of mindset.

I wish you luck in your campaign, John, but I'm not sure they deserve you. It might be better to let SFWA slowly die off and allow the stragglers to fade off into that long night. A new organization may be required, one that understands and embraces today's (and tomorrow's) world.

Thanks for letting me vent, back to lurking.

Matt H

James Nicoll | March 21, 2007 11:20 AM

"Janni | March 20, 2007 04:40 PM

I wonder if those small press writers who are frustrated that their sales aren't SFWA-qualifying shouldn't go off and start a Small Press SF Writers' organization?"

"Small Press" has two problems:

1: It's possible for a small company to become a big company. Would there be a point where excessive sales would get a member of the SPSFWO ejected?

2: Names can shape perception. Remember the Mensheviks.

Nick Mamatas | March 21, 2007 01:33 PM

Another point. There was a organization for small press writers called the Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and they gave themselves some nice awards and put out a nice magazine and all that stuff, but generally, small press folks don't have much need for an org — is one really going to rally the troops or go to court for a ten-dollar payday? As far as the collegial function of such orgs, the 'net solves that problem, plus lots of people don't stay in the small press. Some folks move over into working with the largest publishers, and some folks vanish into nothingness. Not too many people left after those two subsets leave the org.

Janni | March 21, 2007 02:19 PM

Fair enough, Patrick--I've been part of several conversations about SFWA qualifications the past few months, and I think I did conflate some of those conversations with this one.

David Sherman | March 21, 2007 02:45 PM

John,

Damn, now I have to dig through the piles of paper on my work table to see whether or not I've already voted. Don't think so; uncontested elections don't really seem worth the effort of voting.

There's been a lot of discussion here of not-yet vs published writers.

When I was starting, someone defined it for me thusly: "A writer is someone who gets paid for writing. A professional writer is someone who makes his living at it."

SFWA's a professional organization. I've thought since the beginning that the qualifications for active membership are too lax. Even though my first SF novel was published in the last century, I didn't apply for membership until earlier this century when my seventh SF/F came out, because the first six were collaborations. (That's in addition to eight earlier non-SF/F novels I'd had published.)

But that's just me.

To the associate members who feel perhaps cheated because they pay the same dues that you and I do, but don't get all the benefits: Many professional organizations (I have been a member of such) charge higher dues to associates than to active members.

As for once/always active, early in my career I was a member of a writers' organization that required one magazine/newspaper piece every three years or one book every seven years to maintain active status. Hardly a hardship for anyone who claims to be a professional writer.

Now, where's that ballot.

And, John, thanks

Michael Capobianco | March 21, 2007 04:25 PM

I'm just catching up to this fascinating conversation. It's great to see SFWA policy being discussed in such detail by such a diverse bunch.

I'd just like to say that part of the problem with SFWA and these so-called small presses is that things are changing very rapidly, and the SFWA officers and Membership Committee do not automatically have access to the proprietary information that would allow them to easily distinguish between the actual small presses and this growing category of, for lack of a better term, let's call midsize presses. The main way an author finds out about the contract terms, advance, and sales of a publisher is through their own experience. Everything else has to be regarded with a little skepticism, because there's so much hype out there. I actively pursued purchasing a Bookscan membership for SFWA just so there'd be some objective even though flawed evidence for the membership to look at. What am I getting at? At the moment, there's very little sharing of information within SFWA about the details of the current sf publishing scene, and this is at least partly responsible for the slowness of these midsize presses to get the recognition they deserve. I hope that, if I'm elected President of SFWA, we can change that. I've proposed that we pay a bounty to any member who supplies our Contract Committee with a copy of a current publishing contract, preferably unredacted, for analysis. Ultimately I'd like to put PDFs of these contracts online so that all members can draw their own conclusions, but that might not be possible.

I firmly believe SFWA needs to keep up to date with exactly these sorts of publishing issues so that it can provide real, solid information to the members.

John C. Bunnell | March 21, 2007 04:53 PM

When I was starting, someone defined it for me thusly: "A writer is someone who gets paid for writing. A professional writer is someone who makes his living at it."

There was a time when that standard was more or less realistic. For writers of genre fiction, by and large, the 21st century is not that time. The cold fact is that it's become increasingly difficult for fiction writers to make a living from fiction writing. Today's genre writers -- including a lot of the better-known ones -- mostly have day jobs, SOs with day jobs, sizeable retirement savings, or other sources of primary support.

And I suspect that a very high percentage of the genre writers who do write fiction full time are doing much of that work in media-based or otherwise cross-marketed universes -- which raises its own set of questions.

Nick Mamatas | March 21, 2007 05:38 PM

Getting objective information about independent presses simply is not as difficult as you claim, Capo, full stop. It's no harder to get info from Bookscan than asking someone with access to look things up for you. It's a breeze to examine Ingram's and B&T's stock and ordering info. I do it all the time.

As far as the question of making a living from writing, or writing fiction (to narrow it down) or from writing SF/F (to narrow it down even further), the question is a little silly. Yes, many pros have day jobs or spouses with the same, or write other material, or do lectures and appearances, but that's often not simply the difference between wealth and starvation. Many people aspire to a middle-class lifestyle. A fair number of writers who don't make their living from writing SF/F could do so, it just wouldn't be much of a living...about the same as working the cash register at Wal-Mart.

Michael Capobianco | March 21, 2007 06:36 PM

Nick, I would appreciate it if you'd e-mail me the name of someone who has access to Bookscan information and would be willing to share it with me. My address is in the Directory.

I admit I haven't been researching these midsize publishers recently. For the record, I am not on the Membership Committee, so I haven't been thinking about SFWA membership credentials for quite some time. I had brief access to the Bookscan database in 2004, and back then I was not impressed with the sales figures I checked for a few books from the new generation of midsize publishers, but that was a long time ago.

TCO | March 21, 2007 08:01 PM

Be wary, wary, wary of the hype. There are a huge amount of wannabe writers (and wannabe editors, wannabe publishers) who want to say they are professionals, when they are not. When they are fans.

Nick Mamatas | March 21, 2007 08:40 PM

Well, Capo, I surely have no idea which of my friends would want to share their Bookscan info with you — after all, I don't even know you! Who knows if they do, or how they feel about you. The point is that having any interaction with the publishing industry of 2007 allows for fairly easy access to Bookscan.

It's also rather odd to ask for a favor and then not even offer up the courtesy of providing an email address.

TCO | March 21, 2007 09:12 PM

Nick, you are awfully, awfully coy. You always want to turn arguments around to questions for other people. In this case, you claimed something was easy and when called on it, could not deliver. Mike is better than you.

John Scalzi | March 21, 2007 09:17 PM

TCO, Nick can't offer information that belongs to other people. His response wasn't coy, but noted the fact of the situation.

Ysabeau Wilce | March 21, 2007 09:25 PM

Like many others, I tossed my ballot because it seemed a waste of time to vote for uncontested candidates. However, based on what I've read here, I've requested a replacement--Sieur Scalzi, you have my vote. It's long been a frustration to me that SFWA seems so trapped in the past, and I'm delighted to see someone step up to the challenge. Adapt or die, as they say.

And if you win--I'll be happy to do what I can to help, just let me know. I would be *glad* to have the chance.

I also join my voice to the rising chorus of "Let Small Beer/SupPress/Nightshade, et al. In" It's crazy that a writer can be nominated for a Nebula, and yet not qualify to join SFWA. Crazy and shameful. Just because a press is "small" doesn't mean it's unprofessional. There has to be a better evaluation method than the one that exists now.

Oh, and huzzah to a SFWA web-site revamp. It's also crazy that a SCIENCE FICTION organization has such a backwards-looking web presence. And can we lose the unicorn, please? It's cute, but just plays into stereotype.

You are a brave brave man and I wish you luck!

TCO | March 21, 2007 09:29 PM

John: My observation of Nick (in general) stands. and in particular as well (he said it was a no-brainer and than could not supply someone who would give the info to help the cause. a sign of rhetoric rather than honesty or helpfulness. I have seen this before and it is an informed opinion of behavior.

John Scalzi | March 21, 2007 09:33 PM

Ysabeau Wilce:

Thanks! I'm definitely putting you down on my list of volunteers.

TCO | March 21, 2007 09:59 PM

You know, John, if I align against you, it might help you get elected. Sort of the inverse of what Paul Begala (or James Carville or Pat Cadelle) said about how the Osama Bin Ladin "endorsement" hurt Kerry in 04.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 21, 2007 10:50 PM

"The point is that having any interaction with the publishing industry of 2007 allows for fairly easy access to Bookscan."

Exactly right. If SFWA were run by actual working SF professionals, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Weston | March 21, 2007 10:52 PM

John,

I'm not a member, either. I'm a member of HWA, but with recently science fiction pubs, I've been considering joining SFWA also. Reading your platform, I can't help but nod at most of the points, especially 2, 4, 6 and 8. You're right on man, including somethings that I'm going to pass onto my HWA peeps. Good Luck.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 21, 2007 11:08 PM

Ysabeau Wilce: "It's crazy that a writer can be nominated for a Nebula, and yet not qualify to join SFWA."

At the risk of being seen as abruptly switching sides in this argument, allow me to say, no, it's not crazy, it's luminously sane.

The Nebulas and SFWA membership qualification are two entirely different games. The Nebulas are (at least in theory) all about literary quality. SFWA membership qualification is (at least in theory) all about professionalism.

As things stand, the Nebula Award (along with the Hugo Award, the World Fantasy Award, and most other major SF awards) can be won by a story self-published on someone's LiveJournal, and that's as it should be. Regardless of the fact that SFWA would be batshit crazy to let people in as full members based on stories self-published on their LiveJournal.

Think it through.

-et- | March 22, 2007 01:27 AM

John C. Bunnell wrote:

"When I was starting, someone defined it for me thusly: 'A writer is someone who gets paid for writing. A professional writer is someone who makes his living at it.'

"There was a time when that standard was more or less realistic. For writers of genre fiction, by and large, the 21st century is not that time. The cold fact is that it's become increasingly difficult for fiction writers to make a living from fiction writing. Today's genre writers -- including a lot of the better-known ones -- mostly have day jobs, SOs with day jobs, sizeable retirement savings, or other sources of primary support."

I'm not sure that this comment should be limited to recent times. Looking on from the outside as a non-writer (the bug skipped my generation), I have the impression that there may have been a relatively brief period when it was possible for more than a very limited number of writers to make a real living at it. However, from conversations with my father, who was a successful short-story author in the mystery genre, it was definitely not true from when he started in the thirties, up through at least the early sixties. He paid his bills with income from a day job as a Research Chemist, even though he had no trouble selling almost everything he wrote to either Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock's MM.

On a different subject, I find the discussion about Small Press issues interesting but a little amusing from one perspective. I have on my bookshelves my Dad's copies of the Gnome Press editions of Asimov's Foundation series, his I, Robot, van Vogt's Weapon Shops books, plus several other "Golden Age" authors. As I recall, the Gnome Press publisher operated from the kitchen table of his NYC apartment, and the press runs for Asimov's books were 2000 copies. I have no idea if Gnome Press was listed in LMP, but I suspect it was not.

With best wishes,
- Tom -


Michael Capobianco | March 22, 2007 01:47 AM

Patrick Neilsen Hayden said: "Exactly right. If SFWA were run by actual working SF professionals, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Patrick, I've talked to many working sf professionals about it, and not a one has access to the Bookscan database for the kind of research I'm talking about. Sure, they can get a friend of a friend to find out numbers for a specific title, but that's not what I'm after.

And Nick, I get enough spam without putting my e-mail address here.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 22, 2007 08:06 AM

Michael, that may be, but beyond that, it's not all about Bookscan. Basic knowledge of what's going on in SF didn't begin with the invention of Bookscan. The SF insiders who founded SFWA and ran it in its early years didn't have Bookscan, and yet somehow they managed to do a pretty good job of knowing what the heck was going on. Conceivably this was because they were people like Damon Knight, and Frederik Pohl, and Bob Silverberg--working professionals who'd been around the block a time or two, often in more than one role (writer, editor, anthologist, agent), and who knew a lot of other people in the field. Conceivably, if SFWA wants to be effective again, it needs to find people like this and put them in charge.


To go back to Night Shade Books, I was aware that they were becoming a real publisher, not a hobby "specialty press," long before it occurred to me to look up a few of their titles on Bookscan. Why? Because I make it my business to know what the heck is going on in my industry! This means I gossip. With employees of other houses. With authors at conventions. With booksellers. With chain buyers. And I'm not even a particularly effective "networker." I'm lousy at small talk, tend to go home early from parties, and I'm crap at remembering to pass interesting gossip along. And yet even an introverted toad like me manages to know, most of the time, the major things that are going on in SF publishing, because it's part of my job and I make it a priority. It's also part of SFWA's job and SFWA ought to make it a priority. It beggars belief that the current SFWA president can casually remark that he's never heard of Subterranean Press. Not because Bill Schafer's operation is the biggest thing on the horizon or the most important story in the field today, but because they've been around for years and are paying writers non-trivial amounts of money. What else do the current cadres of SFWA officers and would-be officers not know about? I hardly know what to ask first.

Anonymous | March 22, 2007 10:17 AM

>Why? Because I make it my business to know what the heck is going on in my industry! This means I gossip.

This made me laugh (in a kindly way) because most of us writers live a kind of hermit-like existence. We don’t have a lot of people to gossip with. One can attend the few conventions we can afford to attend and chat on email or visit blogs, but it’s extremely hard to get even a friendly fellow author to share information about advances. Writers will sometimes share how much they make in a year, but advance amounts are harder to pin down.

I do try to keep abreast of the field as much as I can. I read the magazines, browse online, and keep my eyes and ears open at conventions, but I had not even heard of Night Shade, much less known they were doing a descent job.

This kind of information is very valuable! And just the kind of thing I think we all wish SFWA could tell us.

The problem, as I see it, is that it is an organization of writers where the people leading it are often writers. Writers just don’t have access to a lot of the info that would be useful to other writers. On the other hand, it seems foolish to restrict the presidency to only editors or people with contacts.

But it does seem as if some changes should be made now that the membership is so big. What changes…I don’t know.

Michael Capobianco | March 22, 2007 11:20 AM

I agree it's not all about Bookscan, Patrick, but it is all about finding objective evidence of a publisher's worth. It's getting harder and harder to tell whether a publisher is professional based on appearances. I can think of a few off-hand that produce beautiful books, some of which can even be found in bookstores, and yet pay no advance, and whose books sell in the double or triple digits. One would conclude from reviews and web presence that these publishers meet SFWA's standards, but they don't. More is involved than just listening to gossip, which can be misleading.

And it's been my experience that many of the most professional sf&f writers pay very little attention to new markets or, for that matter, contract terms, because they allow their agents to handle those things. Obviously, you're in a position to know much more about this than I am, and, as always, YMMV.

We still don't know that Robin didn't know about Subterranean Press, btw. I think he was reacting to the name SubPress, which I didn't recognize either.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 22, 2007 11:35 AM

Jesus, Michael, to listen to you, it's nigh-impossible for anyone to know roughly what's going on in any industry. Trade journalism is impossible. Locus is impossible. "It's getting harder and harder to tell whether a publisher is professional based on appearances." Oy.

If only there was an organization of writers who actually sell SF and fantasy commercially. They could band together and exchange information among themselves! Of course, you'd probably want their leadership slots to be filled by writers who are well-known for their knowledge of the contemporary industry and also commercially consequential enough that publishers will return their calls. I wonder what we would call such an organization?

Michael M Jones | March 22, 2007 11:42 AM

I suggest we call it Bob. Shiela if it's a girl.
Those are catchy names.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 22, 2007 12:45 PM

Nah. Never name a writers' organization after a failed Microsoft product. Also, never play cards with a guy called Mom.

Laurie Mann | March 22, 2007 12:57 PM

Like I've said before, it takes about five minutes and a Google search to determine if an imprint name is a vanity press or a real live publishing house. It's really not that hard to figure out.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 22, 2007 01:12 PM

To be fair, what SFWA wants to know are things you wouldn't necessarily discover from a Google search. Do they offer new writers substandard deals? Are some of their titles "co-financed" by the authors? What's their actual distribution into brick-and-mortar stores?

Still, as I keep saying, this stuff isn't rocket science. Book publishing doesn't happen in conditions of totalitarian secrecy. To the contrary, publishing people are gabbers. It's what they do--they make stuff public!

Michael Capobianco | March 22, 2007 01:27 PM

Patrick, as I said over in the election blog, SFWA's been in an information vacuum since before I joined in 1990. It's nice to fantasize about what it might be. I'm concerned with trying to improve what it is.

MWT | March 22, 2007 01:55 PM

Is that like rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg?

Kate Nepveu | March 22, 2007 02:09 PM

Michael Capobianco: SFWA's been in an information vacuum since before I joined in 1990

Why?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 22, 2007 02:15 PM

"Patrick, as I said over in the election blog, SFWA's been in an information vacuum since before I joined in 1990. It's nice to fantasize about what it might be. I'm concerned with trying to improve what it is."

So am I. And as I said before either here or there (I forget at this point), if the primary organization of professional SF writers in America is "in an information vacuum," that's probably not because the state SF publishing is a uniquely unknowable field of knowledge.

My own contention is that SFWA has become an inward-turned and dysfunctional subculture that drives knowledgeable people away. There's where your "information vacuum" comes from, not from the purported impossibility of assembling a roughly accurate picture of the SF publishing business as it actually exists.

Even as late as 1993 and 1994, the private SFWA threads on GEnie included a broader spectrum of well-informed industry insiders than I see on SFF.net today. I take no pleasure in noting this, but it's true.

Laurie Mann | March 22, 2007 02:22 PM

Patrick, it's probably true that you can't get complete distribution numbers from Google. However, you can make some good guesses about the sales of specific titles through Amazon (since Amazon will sell anything from anyone, and keeps their best seller list updated).

I expect you can probably figure out if an imprint is more of a print shop than a publisher from Google (and thus requiring author financing). However, it's always possible the "publisher" is so illegitimate that they won't even tell you that author financing is required up front.

Some genre-related publishers might qualify in some ways for SFWA acceptance but not in other ways. I'm not sure, for example, if NESFA Press would qualify as a SFWA-blessed publisher or not. They do pay advances, but they mostly do reprints or guest of honor books. And, despite the fact that NESFA Press has never published unsolicited manuscripts, it still gets query letters.

So, you're right, it's not always obvious. But, in the vast majority of cases, it's not too hard.

Michael Capobianco | March 22, 2007 04:19 PM

Aiiieee! Amazon rankings! Run for the hills! Laurie, I hope you weren't suggesting that SFWA use Amazon rankings, which are notoriously wonky and can be easily gamed. I should mention here that, while it may be easy to tell the pros from amateurs at the high end of "small press," at the bottom there's not nearly so much clarity.

Patrick, you say that SFWA "has become an inward-turned and dysfunctional subculture." When, in your estimation, did this change take place? From my perspective as a member who joined in 1990, it's always been this way. Yes, there were more knowledgeable people in the organization then, but they did not share their knowledge. I remember times when Damon would prod beginning writers into trying to negotiate certain contract terms. The question naturally arose, have the more established pros gotten those changes? But the question was never answered. No doubt that there was much information trading at bars and the like, but within SFWA, it was as quiet as the grave.


Susan | March 22, 2007 04:37 PM

Just for the record? "It's always been that way" is not actually a good response to "it's a problem".

Stephanie | March 22, 2007 05:30 PM

I've been following the sff.net not-a-blog with increasing disgust and came here to post, only to see that Matt H. has said everything I wanted to.

So. What Matt said. (Minus the wife part.)

TCO | March 22, 2007 08:33 PM

I think the people gnashing and screaming at Capa are both unpleasant and unreasonanble.

TCO | March 22, 2007 08:46 PM

John:

What was the print paid subscription of Subterranean Magazine before it went web only?

John Scalzi | March 22, 2007 09:27 PM

Dunno. Was a guest editor. Circulation was not something I was privy to.

TCO | March 22, 2007 10:46 PM

Typical wannabe magazine. Wants to act all professional and than hides its numbers. Typical, typical, typical.

Were you paid a real salary?

John Scalzi | March 22, 2007 11:13 PM

Don't be silly, TCO. Subterranean isn't hiding its numbers, I'm just not the right person to have asked.

Of course I got paid. Do you think I work for free? I got it as a lump sum, however, not a salary.

TCO | March 23, 2007 11:32 AM

Weren't you curious what their circulation was? How can you work on the mag and not want to know that?

You're fencing with me on the editor payment question. I wasn't asking about the timing of checks, I'm looking for indications of the professional status of the magazine.

I strongly suspect that this "magazine" had low readership (we both know that hits, pagecounts, etc. are a poor and inflated metric) and was mostly an effort by writers or publishers or editors to act like "real" writers, publishers, etc. The reason I strongly suspect that, is that this is what I see so often in this little arena.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | March 23, 2007 01:02 PM

TCO, have you had any other insights in your life, or was it just the one?

Anonymous | March 23, 2007 01:14 PM

>Weren't you curious what their circulation was? How can you work on the mag and not want to know that?

Having worked on several magazines, I can support Mr. Scalzi's position. I've never had any clue what the circulation of those magazines were. It never seemed to be an issue. (What they paid me -- now that I knew.)

My question about the SFWA issue is -- couldn't SFWA ask the publishers to provide information? Let's say there's a writer who would like to be a member, and he got an advance of $5,000 from Fly By Night press. Couldn't he go to his publisher and say: SFWA will let me join if you -- Fly BY Night -- can give them evidence that you meet their criteria (once we decide what that is,) can you please submit the required info so that I can join SFWA.

Some publishers might not want to do this, but some would be willing. It might be a decent way to deal with the in between presses -- i.e. presses for which SFWA had no particular evidence one way or another.

Another possibility would be to ask the membership to fill out a questionnaire about who they work with and how much they received as an advance. Any press that came up as qualifying (again -- once the qualifications are set) could then be added to the acceptable roster.

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 01:32 PM

TCO:

Inasmuch as we have no indication that you know anything substantial about the publishing world at all, while you are fully entitled to your opinions, it does not follow that those of use who are actively engaged in it need to have any substantial concern over them. If you wish to show that you actually know what you're talking about, by all means decloak and give us your publishing resume.

Otherwise not entirely sure what your point is. The professional status of the magazine is not in doubt because everybody who was involved in it was paid. The writers were paid genre-competitive rates (the listed rates were 5 to 7 cents a word, although I paid everyone the 7 cent rate), I as the editor was paid (how much I was paid is none of your business, but speaking as someone who makes writing his business, I'll say I was not paid poorly), and the production staff was paid, as was the printer. The publisher of the magazine is a professional small press with a substantial book list and revenues. There was no volunteer work on the magazine, so far as I know. It was done by professionals, top to bottom. What its circulation numbers are or were is irrelevant to that fact.

As for whether the writers only did it to feel "real," TCO, by making such a statement you're merely showing your ignorance of the magazine and its contributors. One of the writers in the magazine is currently a New York Times bestselling author. One has won the World Fantasy Award, another a couple of Hugos, and a third (not me, although I have one) the Campbell (although actually the WFA winner is also a Campbell winner). One was the story editor for one of the Star Trek series. I can't even begin to count the number of books all the contributors have between them. I did make the effort to buy from new writers, of course, because I felt it was important to do, and I'm pleased to have given four writers their publishing debut. They are now indeed "real" writers, in the professional sense, because they got paid for their work.

You're conflating a low readership (which you assume), with low-quality, amateur production. It's not a good conflation.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 23, 2007 01:41 PM

Dear Mr. Scalzi,

(1) Thank you for stirring things up with a reasonable platform;

(2) Thanks to PNH for "discovering" and publishing you;

(3) You said: "Anyone who writes three short stories or one novel and is paid SFWA-qualifying rates can join. This is not exclusive; it is an acknowledgment SFWA is an organization of professional writers. And this is not a problem."

(4) However, it IS a problem, in the context of your earlier staement about "hangers-on."

(5) The details of what is or is not applicable to SFWA membership have changed from time to time. The extent to which members are "grandfathered in" or not have been applied in an arbitrary and capricious way. There are people with very few publications who are Active, maybe even Lifetime Active. There are people with enormous numbers of publications whose membership has not been renewable, and/or not been upgradable to Lifetime Active. There was a motion by Jerry Pournelle, which I seconded, years ago, to create "Fellow of SFWA" and to grandfather in anyone who'd been member for 30 years. Yet that measure lost. Please email me if you want details. The problem is acute and several years old. That means that there are people who would LIKE to vote for you, but are prevented from doing so.

(6) I enjoyed meeting and speaking with you at the LACon. Your fiction impresses the hell out of me and my family.

Keep fighting the good fight!

-- Professor Jonathan Vos Post
co-webmaster
http://magicdragon.com
Over 15,000,000 hits/year

Jonathan Vos Post | March 23, 2007 02:04 PM

"AS A WRITER, it's very difficult to reach people because it requires them to read."

Joel Stein:
I am a venti scribe
Some of his latest work can be found on a Starbucks cup.
March 23, 2007
Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-stein23mar23,0,4993403.column?coll=la-opinion-columnists

Forgot to mention that before. Also, the attempts to forge enduring and mutually useful liaisons between SFWA, HWA, MWA, NWU, WGA, and RWA have usually started out positive, become bogged down in politics, and died. Liaison with SFRA is good, as I see it. Don't know if SFWA ever tried liaison with Western Writers of America.

As to speakers' issues, how come some authors had over 30 panels at the most recent Worldcon, and others, who were endorsed in writing, in advance, by several panel moderators, who had pollede the other panelists and gotten unanimous approval for adding said panelists, were (by Program Chair) denied permission to be on any panels? Is this something SFWA wants to deal with, or not? Many SFWA members are happy with the way they are treated at cons; some are bitter. Rational improvements are possible, but, to be fair, there is far less money involved in these disputes than with book, magazine, TV, film, gaming, graphic novel, and paid on-line publication issues.

Nebula Awards ceremony ought to be televised, at least on-line.

Every newspaper and radio station and TV station ought to have current contact info of SFWA officers, recent Nebula nominees in their geographgic region, and living Grandmasters. There's a lot in the news that SFWA members comment on intelligently between themselves, but the mainstream Press is pig-ignorant of Science, let alone of nuanced Science Fiction extrapolations and explorations of science and science policy.

SFWA presidency seems to be a Robocop role -- you're seriously injured already if you qualify for the role, and will be more injured in service. A hero can bring some Justice into a corrupt system. But cops, for good reasons, hate getting in the middle of domestic disputes.

David Moles | March 23, 2007 02:17 PM

JVP: There have been actual cases where someone let a membership lapse, the membership requirements changed, and they were not allowed to renew the membership? I knew SFWA was screwed up, but that is waaaay screwed up.

TCO | March 23, 2007 08:25 PM

I'll bet money that if the subscription rates were large, that they would have been touted. The unwillingness to disclose them tells volumes. As does the end to the print runs.

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 08:29 PM

TCO:

Once again, I can't tell you what I don't know, so claiming "unwillingness" to divulge doesn't wash. If you want to know what the circulation was, ask Bill Schafer. He knows.

TCO | March 23, 2007 08:36 PM

John, I got that, already. I'm responding to the tacit disinterest and unwillingness, to give the number. That it is not trumpeted. That it is thought nosy to ask. Etc.

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 09:11 PM

A world of information at your fingertips on the Internet and you need me to give you a number? Ha! First, I'm not going to give you Bill's number since you are a spray of letters on my Web site which may or may not have an ax murderer on the other end of them. Second, type "Subterranean Press" into Google and do your own leg work, you lazy sod. If you are so all-fired interested in the answer, this bit of effort should be trivial.

Be that as it may, why you need the circulation numbers is beyond me, since your contention about circ numbers being a tie to whether the magazine is professional has already been cut out from under you.

TCO | March 23, 2007 09:34 PM

a. I did the Google.
b. The pattern of coyness on these things by small presses tells volumes and fits in a pattern. As a writer, you ought to look for these types of hypocracies. It's interesting human nature. Just like the GVW Chronicles.
C. Subterranean is sounding more and more like SCIFICTION. I took tons of greif from the "Ellen lovers" for saying that the "business model" was dotcom bullshit, hiding out, waiting for the plug to get pulled. I was right.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 23, 2007 09:49 PM

David Moles:

(1) Yes, I assert that "there have been actual cases where someone let a membership lapse, the membership requirements changed, and they were not allowed to renew the membership."

(2) The Membership Committee, the Executive Director, and various officers have been aware of this for over a year, sought more data, received more data, but apparently have not made an official determination.

(3) All involved officers have been polite and professional. The President, in a technically correct manner, has stayed out of the fray, as there is not yet an official decision that requires appeal.

(4) I do not leap to the conclusion that "SFWA ... is waaaay screwed up."

(5) I am very fond of SFWA, in which myself, my wife, and my father have all been members.

(6) The SFWA Emergency Fund may very well have saved my wife's life, when insurance companies played ghod with my wife's cancer surgery.

(7) Unofficially, I've been told that the SFWA entry process was easier in the past because SFWA just needed the money more back then.

(8) Unofficially, this is not why at least $1,000.00 of fees submitted to SFWA were not cashed, although one would think that SFWA could always use an extra kilobuck.

(9) One of the most bizarre lacunae is that publication in the SFWA edited, SFWA published Nebula Awards Anthology does not contribute to one meeting the entry requirments for SFWA. Mr. Kafka, may I introduce you to Dr. Godel?

(10) There are deep and strange currents aflow, and some are sufficiently sensitive that I prefer not to air the semi-dirty laundry in semi-public venues.

(11) Bottom line: there are problems. As an optimist, I believe that the problems can be solved. As a realist, I have already seen that the solution takes absurdly much time and effort, and has not yet been found.

(12) If Mr. Scalzi is as good at organizational politics as he is at fiction, then I wish him luck in accomplishing his goals.

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 10:03 PM

TCO:

Oh, for heaven's sake. Subterranean Press is the first listing out of Google and one the site there are e-mail addresses which you can use to send Bill Schafer an e-mail and ask him the question. Either he will tell you or he won't. I've told you I don't know the answer; that's not evasive, it's rather direct.

I suppose I could ask Bill, of course, but I won't, because it's not worth my time, as unlike you I'm not under the cockamamie apprehension that the circulation of Subterranean Magazine has anything to do with its professional nature. It's your question, you ask it.

TCO | March 23, 2007 10:58 PM

I googled circulation and Subterannean and did not find it.

TCO | March 23, 2007 11:00 PM

No duh, I can ask him. Bottom line is that the coyness, the lack of interest, the hesitancy to answer. The "going to web" hyped as positive. It's all part of a pattern. A pattern of hypocricy. I throw the bullshit flag.

TCO | March 23, 2007 11:02 PM

I think you didn't ask the circulation, NOT out of a lack of curiosity, but out of a feeling that it would embarress the dude, and that there was hesitancy to say how low it was. That's what I think. I've seen this pattern.

MWT | March 23, 2007 11:07 PM

I think what TCO is trying to say is that the entire publishing industry is composed of "wannabees."

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 11:22 PM

TCO:

Throw the bullshit flag all you want. I keep telling you: There's no coyness or hesitancy to answer. The answer is: I don't know. The fact that you refuse to accept I don't know as a valid answer is really not my problem.

As for Bill being embarrassed about the circulation numbers, well, that gives me a giggle, because there's not much Bill's embarrassed about. Of course, he still might not tell you the circulation numbers; not because he's embarrassed about them, but because he may decide you're just some internet troll, and that it's none of your damn business. That, of course, is an entirely separate thing from being embarrassed.

What you're really doing is hanging on to the circulation numbers at the last shred of an argument about small press professionalism that's already been throughly demolished. You should probably let it go. But if you don't want to, well, whatever makes you happy. If hanging on to the circ numbers gives you the feeling that you've got the topside of this argument, fine.

TCO | March 23, 2007 11:25 PM

Why did he stop publishing hard copies if not because they were not selling well enough to justify the expense?

Nick Mamatas | March 23, 2007 11:32 PM

Hmm, didn't know this was still going on.

TCO, you are ridiculous. People occasionally give me Bookscan access because they know and like me. Why would I attempt to pass that on to Capo, whom I neither know nor like, and potentially abuse a favor by doing so?

Capo: pathetic, Are you really telling me that you can't think of any other way of emailing me other than:

a. telling me to go to the SFWA directory to find your email address.

b. posting it here in a spambot-accessible fashion?

Here are a couple other alternatives that are inherently obvious to everyone on the Internet:

a. YOU go look in the SFWA directory for MY email. After all, YOU are asking ME for a favor.

b. Google me to find my email and email me.

c. Ask Scalzi for my email.

d. post your email here in a spam-blocking fashion. (Something like "My email is 'firstinitiallastname at aol dot com.")

You don't have the energy or brainpower to come up with for any of those things, but you think you can manage to lead SFWA toward anything but continued slow grinding death? What a sadsack.

TCO | March 23, 2007 11:45 PM

Nick: Your comments will now be moderator reviewed before being allowed.

John Scalzi | March 23, 2007 11:53 PM

TCO:

There are lots of reasons why Bill would choose to do so; I leave it you to try to figure out what they might be. Otherwise, it's none of your damn business. I know why Bill made the choice, and it has nothing to do with the print version being a failure (it was doing quite well), but if you think I'm going to share someone else's confidential business information with an anonymous poster of largely trollish comments on my Web site, just because that anonymous poster wants me to, then you're out of your goddamned mind. I mean, honestly, TCO. Are you twelve or something? Use your head.

No doubt this response will cause you to fall back to your line about secrecy and evasiveness and hypocrisy, but really. It's neither hypocrisy nor evasiveness when the world doesn't give you a cookie every time you demand one.

TCO | March 24, 2007 12:42 AM

That's fine, John. Facts are that reasons for this type hesitancy are usually embaressment at poor circ. That is well known.

By the way, you've bounced around from saying that it is no problem to get the info, to maybe I would/wouldn't get the info from Bill.

In addition your comment on the editor payment question was evasive. (If you don't want to share the amount fine. But the "lump sum" versus "salary" is just fencing.) And (of course) I don't care how much money you got. I'm trying to evaluate the magazine.

TCO | March 24, 2007 12:44 AM

Look, John. You've had your say. I've had mine. I'm not ASKING you to give me the cookie, after the first refusal. But I'm also not GOING to stop from thinking about inferences. Don't you get that?

John C. Bunnell | March 24, 2007 12:53 AM

Picking a couple of unrelated items out of the blogstream:

JVP: One of the most bizarre lacunae is that publication in the SFWA edited, SFWA published Nebula Awards Anthology does not contribute to one meeting the entry requirments for SFWA.

Not bizarre at all. Definitionally, a fiction sale to a Nebula Awards anthology is a reprint sale, and word-rates for buying reprint rights are traditionally (a) low, and (b) nonexclusive.

[Varied comments on inaccessibility of circulation figures]:

It occurs to me that there are only two reasons circulation figures were ever semi-public knowledge in the first place: (1) publications who mail issues in certain postage-rate categories have to publish those figures every so often, and (2) publications that rely to any significant degree on advertising revenue need to tell advertisers how many people are seeing the ads (and charge accordingly). If there's a scarcity of data as to the circulation figures of many newer specialty or small press fiction publications, it follows that those publications must not be using either (a) traditional mail distribution channels, or (b) an advertiser-supported revenue model.

And that suggests that the way magazines work today is sufficiently different from the way magazines used to work that we may need different ways to measure their "professionalism", whatever that is. Which is a whole 'nother basket of scorpions....

John Scalzi | March 24, 2007 01:08 AM

TCO:

"But the 'lump sum' versus 'salary' is just fencing."

That's flatly idiotic. "Salary" means something specific. I was not paid a salary. I was paid a certain amount, all at once. I got paid a lump sum. The fact I was giving you a direct answer and you describe it as fencing indicates you have trouble processing direct answers you don't like.

"But I'm also not GOING to stop from thinking about inferences. Don't you get that?"

I get that you don't want to stop arguing even when every possible rationale you have for arguing has been demolished. Your inferences are bad because you've started from bad premises and you're arguing from ignorance. You have shown no indication that you have the slightest clue about anything regarding the real world of publishing at any scale, be it large, small, or otherwise.

This isn't a political argument, TCO -- I'm a professional in the publishing world and have been for 16 years and I can assure there is almost nothing you have said in this entire discussion that indicates you know anything relevant about what you're attempting to argue. I can only imagine the reason you continue to argue this despite your clear and obvious ignorance is because you just can't stand not to win an argument to which you've set yourself.

Any inferences you might make are bad because you clearly know nothing relevant. And particularly in this case I can assure you the things you claim as "fact" and that are "well known" are nothing of the sort. You honestly, truly and sincerely do not know what you're talking about, and I wish you would stop pretending you do because at this point there's no possible way to convince me -- as you have not convinced any person associated with publishing who has interacted with you in this thread -- that you're doing anything more at this point than farting through your fingertips.

Stop pretending that you know anything about this particular subject, TCO. Move on. Take the hint.

TCO | March 24, 2007 01:17 AM

[Deleted for not taking the hint when it was offered. TCO, you clearly don't understand that I own this Web site and you are here on my sufferance, and if I find you insufferable, you don't get to play. Back into the moderation queue with you, TCO. -- JS]

Jonathan Vos Post | March 24, 2007 03:16 AM

John C. Bunnell:

Thank you for the well-intentioned injection of logic.

"Not bizarre at all. Definitionally, a fiction sale to a Nebula Awards anthology is a reprint sale, and word-rates for buying reprint rights are traditionally (a) low, and (b) nonexclusive."

So, something that ran in Analog, and then appeared in the Nebula Awards anthology is not applicable to SFWA membership -- why?

Instead of picking on the anomaly, let me critique the paradigm. There is too much published for SFWA to evaluate publications by quality, hence a dollar-based metric is applied. But then, for the Nebula Awards, dollars don't matter, only quality. Afterwards, quality doesn't matter, just dollars again.

There have been Nobel Prizes in Literature for works that didn't earn enough to be SFWA eligible. Yes, I know that the Nobel is usually more of a lifetime achievement award, but single works do get cited.

Another SFWA anomaly: science fiction poetry was not eligible, then it was eligible, then it was ineligible again. [background music: Donovan -- "First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is"]. However, SFWA never formally defined "poetry." Is it one of those things like the Supreme Court's "I know it when I see it?"

Wouldn't be strange if directing the Emmy Awards wasn't sufficient to make the director eligible for an Emmy?

So long as I'm rambling about awards outside of SFWA genre(s), and since Nebula "logrolling" was mentioned, I still appreciate this comment on the Tony Awards:

"First, if you're nominated, of course you vote for yourself. Second, otherwise, you vote against your enemies. Third, you vote for your friends. Fourth, if you have any votes left, you vote your conscience."

I am never entirely sure if I'm logical or not. Back in the 1960s, I was at a "10 items or less" line at a grocery store. (Yes, we both are tempted to red-line that to "10 items or fewer"). I had about a dozen items. I was wearing my Caltech jacket.

"So," said the cashier. "Caltech, eh? Are you an English major who can't count, or a Math major who can't read?"

JC | March 24, 2007 09:01 AM

So, something that ran in Analog, and then appeared in the Nebula Awards anthology is not applicable to SFWA membership -- why?

I don't think that's what John C. Bunnell said. If I read him correctly, he said the sale to the Nebula Awards anthology is not a qualifying sale for SFWA. He didn't say anything about a sale of the same story to Analog. It's not the "something" which is applicable to SFWA membership, it's the for how much you have sold the "something." So, in this case, it would count for one qualifying sale, not two.

I don't see anything in the membership criteria that suggests that subsequently selling a story to a reprint market at non-pro rates cancels out a previous sale of the same story at pro rates for the purposes of qualification. (Then again, I'm only going by the SFWA web site. I'm assuming it's accurate but not definitive.)

Jonathan Vos Post | March 24, 2007 01:58 PM

As a writer, if I've failed to make something clear, it is entirely my fault. Let me rewrite.

Writer X had a sale to Analog. That publication won an award and appeared in the Nebula Awards Anthology (and other resale anthologies). Writer X applied for Active Membership in SFWA, listing several sales, including the Analog piece (listed once only). Writer X was a member for many years. Writer X ran into a very rough period, with medical, legal, and employment crises simultaneously. Writer X wrote to SFWA saying so, and promised to soon restart sending memership fees. Writer X was told by the SFWA Executive Director to hurry up and not just restart paying membership fees, but to pay the lump sum to upgrade to Lifetime Active membership, as that lump sum was slated to increase soon. Writer X snailmailed in the lump sum, and heard nothing for a year. Writer X queried. Writer X was told that the membership had lapsed, and the criteria for membership had somewhat changed. Writer X was told that previously qualifying works no longer qualified. Writer X submitted a new list, with more than enough to qualify, and pointed out the irony that the original sale to Analog was said no longer to qualify even though it had been republished in venues including the Nebula Awards Anthology (and other resale anthologies). Writer X cautioned about the novel listed among the stories, because the coauthor Y had paid Writer X extra so that only the coauthor's name Y appeared on the title page. Writer X, being a professional writer, happily signed the contract, took the extra money, but suggested to SFWA that the coauthor's agent could verify that Writer X was, for SFWA purposes, a novel author and that should count as 1/2 of a novel in membership eligibility which, when combined with 2 stories, should be as good as 3 stories, hence Active status, hence cash the check and upgrade to Lifetime Active. Another half year has gone by, with emails to officers, officers promising to look into it, the SFWA president stepping out of the line of fire. Meanwhile Writer X has been unable to vote for Nebulas, vote for officers, and has been treated as a nonprofessional at cons. There are other problems connected to this, but this is the gist of the genuine example which I so poorly stated before. SFWA has bigger problems, but one wonders how many small problems like this are jamming the In Box, and need a strong President to clean up.

Jonathan Vos Post | March 24, 2007 02:05 PM

As a writer, if I've failed to make something clear, it is entirely my fault. Let me rewrite.

Writer X had a sale to Analog. That publication won an award and appeared in the Nebula Awards Anthology (and other resale anthologies). Writer X applied for Active Membership in SFWA, listing several sales, including the Analog piece (listed once only). Writer X was a member for many years. Writer X ran into a very rough period, with medical, legal, and employment crises simultaneously. Writer X wrote to SFWA saying so, and promised to soon restart sending memership fees. Writer X was told by the SFWA Executive Director to hurry up and not just restart paying membership fees, but to pay the lump sum to upgrade to Lifetime Active membership, as that lump sum was slated to increase soon. Writer X snailmailed in the lump sum, and heard nothing for a year. Writer X queried. Writer X was told that the membership had lapsed, and the criteria for membership had somewhat changed. Writer X was told that previously qualifying works no longer qualified. Writer X submitted a new list, with more than enough to qualify, and pointed out the irony that the original sale to Analog was said no longer to qualify even though it had been republished in venues including the Nebula Awards Anthology (and other resale anthologies). Writer X cautioned about the novel listed among the stories, because the coauthor Y had paid Writer X extra so that only the coauthor's name Y appeared on the title page. Writer X, being a professional writer, happily signed the contract, took the extra money, but suggested to SFWA that the coauthor's agent could verify that Writer X was, for SFWA purposes, a novel author and that should count as 1/2 of a novel in membership eligibility which, when combined with 2 stories, should be as good as 3 stories, hence Active status, hence cash the check and upgrade to Lifetime Active. Another half year has gone by, with emails to officers, officers promising to look into it, the SFWA president stepping out of the line of fire. Meanwhile Writer X has been unable to vote for Nebulas, vote for officers, and has been treated as a nonprofessional at cons. There are other problems connected to this, but this is the gist of the genuine example which I so poorly stated before. SFWA has bigger problems, but one wonders how many small problems like this are jamming the In Box, and need a strong President to clean up.

Nick Mamatas | March 25, 2007 10:07 AM

Shity, but no surprise.

Of course, qualifications should either be grandfathered in or members should be. It's not complicated. But SFWA is incapable of learning, so there we go with that

L Jagi Lamplighter | March 25, 2007 05:05 PM

I am confused by the somewhat lengthy argument about circulation:

My understanding is that SFWA is a writer's magazine -- meaning that they safeguard the writer's interests.

One of SFWA's goals -- as best as I understand it -- is to see that writers get paid fairly. Hence, when setting their goal for what counts as a “professional” magazine, SFWA chose to look at the amount that the magazine pays writers. Under a certain cut-off – I think it’s 5 cents at the moment – vs. over that cut off.

Under these terms, a magazine could be in the home of every family in America – but if it didn’t pay its writers a decent wage, SFWA would not recognize it.

Or, a magazine could have three readers, but if it pays the fair wage, SFWA is willing to recognize it. (This may not be strictly true. ;-)

In this case, why does the circulation of a magazine matter?

PS. I think it's bad form to nag writers about the business side of a periodical he wrote for. Do people badger actors about MGM's circulation numbers?

Sheila Finch | March 25, 2007 09:58 PM

Jonathan, cons are owned and run by fans. SFWA has no say about the content of panel discussions at cons, nor writers that should be put on panels, nor should it. If John Scalzi becomes president, he won't be able to change that fact either.

Andrew | March 26, 2007 01:13 AM

I would think that the President of SFWA expressing disappointment at how a Con chose to treat an SFWA member would have some influence, though not authority. If the leadership of the SFWA has no relevance to fans engaged in the organizing of Cons, maybe that's an indictment of the SFWA to a degree.

Tania | March 26, 2007 02:45 AM

I read about this earlier this evening, thought I'd share over here. IANA SFWA member, just to be clear.

A LJ community has been set up for the SFWA and the URL is:

http://community.livejournal.com/sfwa/

Jonathan Vos Post | March 26, 2007 06:13 AM

Sheila Finch: I thank you for clearly making a point, based on your extensive experience as author, SFWA officer, and expert in resolving problems. It is true, at that level, that: "cons are owned and run by fans." The below also incorporates a response to the above-commenting Andrew.

A related question, of interest to SFWA, is: "for WHOM are cons run?"

Some answers which I've been given in the past, and slightly parapharase hereinunder:

(1) "Cons are owned and run by the fans, to the fans, and for the fans. Authors are just the pawns maneuvered by fans in their arcane fannish battles, and should be discouraged from trying to understand what is really going on." In which case, except for SFWA members who started as TruFen and have sworn a solemn oath to Ghod, SFWA should stay the hell away from things They Are Not Meant To Understand. The Secret Masters of fandom shall smite anyone who intrudes in battles beyond the stars.

(2) "Cons are run for the paying audience, who only come because of the value delivered by authors at panels and autographings and other events." In which case authors are given at least a minor stake in the financial arcana of cons, such as not having to pay for membership, having Guests of Honor housed free, fed free, and in some cases travel paid for, and SFWA can help to negotiate standards (such as a SFWA Suite at Worldcons).

(3) "Cons are run for the Science Fiction Industry as a whole, which is an oozing heterogeneous pulsating eldritch multi-tentacled entity, embracing books, magazines, comix, films, videos, web sites, blogs, collectable trading cards, role playing games, video game consoles, computer games, costumes, ray guns, gem-encrusted swords, chainmail for the overweight, and the like." In which case SFWA has a stake proportional to the ratio of their members' sales to the Industry gross revenues, which ain't much. Books and magazines, after all, add to less than toilet paper in the Paper and Paper Pulp group of industries.

I have a split belief in these paradigms. After all:

(1) I serve on the Executive Committee of an International Conference which has SFWA members as featured guests, and am in fact head of the Plenary Sessions which include SFWA members as well as Nobel Laureates. In that capacity, I'd prefer that mere writers not get in the way of the serious business of Con Ops, Con Logistics, and Con Finance.

(2) I have been known since the 1970s for "giving good panel" and thus persons designated by cons including Worldcons as Panel Moderators often seek me out from afar (but for certain reasons not from my home town) and greatly desire me to be on their panels, and, in a hundred or so cases, the moderator is me. In which case SFWA has an interest in Moderators not being treated like crap. Moderators, after all, being Moderate, and being involved in Moderation, which makes everyone else's life better.

(3) I'm merely one of at least Ten (10) professional authors, editors, and publishers in my multigeneration extended family, genetically and by in-laws, and have a dynasty whose interests overshadow the petty and recent concerns of the mere mortals of SFWA and Worldcons, the whippernappers.

In any of the 3 paradigms, I do sincerely believe that there are constellations of major and minor problems, and wherein a good SFWA President can shine a little light into the darkness and chaos that drags us down... "into the dark depths of darkness and, umm, depth."

Andrew Lambdin-Abraham | March 26, 2007 12:41 PM

It seems to me that in so much as SFWA is a professional organization, it has some role in promoting member authors in general. Cons, in many cases, are good places to promote written work, and which often have a demand for authors as guests.

Therefore, even if Cons are run for fans by fans, authors still have a potential interest in them

Therefore, it makes sense that SFWA should probably put itself foward as a resource for people, be they Cons, Booksellers, or even college looking for a guest. The comes partially from having a list of SFWA members by geography, who might be locally available for events, or by theme (probably from a list submitted by authors, making this opt-in) so that a Con or Conference about "Westerns in Space" could find a relevant author. Likewise, if certain events start having an attitude of ill treatment towards authors or professional guests in general, that should be noted and other authors warned they might not wish to attend.

Sheila Finch | March 26, 2007 04:00 PM

Andrew, I believe there are resources in SFWA to address some of the concerns you mentioned. If someone has been treated shoddily by a con committee (promised but not given a fee, fr'instance, or extra memberships for family, or housing, or whatever) then the SFWA con alert committee will look into the matter of contract violations and try to resolve it. Con committees are also given information such as the directory to help them reach members to invite. And the large cons, such as WorldCon, have a SFWA liason to keep the interface between people putting on the cons and writers trying to secure slots to promote their work running smoothly. Of course, this can never be entirely successful for all parties, and glitches ansd snafus occur.

Con committees hold the position that it's their event, and they can invite whom they want and offer free memberships to participants or not as they see fit. A lot of SFWA members fret over this, seeing it as being asked to provide the "entertainment" at the con for no pay. I happen to be one of those who think we should at the very least get a free membership out of the con, but I don't stop going to cons over the matter if they aren't up front with the offer. (I mutter a lot in private.)

But I do believe con committees have the right to invite whomever they wish and SFWA shouldn't be in the business of trying to strong-arm them over this. From what I've seen of committees at work, they base their decisions on such things as audience feedback about a panelist and ease of dealing with the person. Jonathan may be right in that he gives good service on panels, but that doesn't mean he should be able to insist -- or have SFWA insist for him -- that any particular con invite him to their party. They do the work, they make up the guest list.

I hope this makes a little sense?

Jonathan Vos Post | March 26, 2007 09:00 PM

Again, at least one-third of me (the Ex Com part) completely agrees with Sheila Finch, whose fiction, teaching skills, administrative skills, and people-skills I admire. The other 2/3 of me at least partially agrees with her. If I thought I had the right to have SFWA strongarm anyone to my benefit (which I don't) then the precedent would lead to people I don't like getting SFWA to give them advantages that I don't want to see.

Precedent-based arguments are the basis of Law, and in that sense I believe that grandfathering-in membership is a precedent matter.

The paradoxes at the heart of SFWA are numerous, and have been pretty well thrashed out in the past. The urban myth is that attempts before Damon Knight's to create something like SFWA drove away 1/3 of those attending the meeting, who said "This is too much like a frickin' Union" and and another 1/3 who said "this is not enough like a Union."

A century earlier, Charles Babbage tried to make an English Writers Union, with Charles Dickens as the Big Name Pro.

There is the whole issue of the dynamics of herding cats, nailing jello to a tree, and establishing a consensus of contrarians, a moeity of solipsists.

There is the problem that SFWA needs a strong President, then gives him/her a hard time for being strong.

There is the problem of being collectively ripped off by Hollywood and certain online venues, which Harlan Ellison so dramatically enunciated and dealt with.

There are problems of overseas copyright violations, with Russia and China playing key roles, and victims including Harry Harrison and Robert Silverberg.

There is the issue of whether Medical Insurance can cover Writer's Block, which NWU encountered.

There are ideological splits in SFWA's interface with geopolitics, as happened during the Vietnam War, and over Star Wars (I mean SDI, not the 6 movies).

In general, SFWA is a Good Thing. Sometimes Best is the enemy of Better. I agree that SFWA can do better, and the Scalzi Agenda is an interesting place to start.

Thank you for tolerating my perhaps too-frequent comments here. Those who know me are free to roll their eyes and say that I'm even worse in real life. And I defend to the death their right to do so. But it's not SFWA's job, I think.

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