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My renewal notice for SFWA arrived a few days back. This year, dues have been bumped up to $70. ($700 for a lifetime membership.) And I'm left wondering ... is it worth it?

SFWA membership was a major landmark for me. I grabbed an associate membership with my sales to Writers of the Future and MZB's Fantasy Magazine. When I finally got a third pro sale and qualified for active membership, I was thrilled.

Years later, I'm torn. Being in SFWA did lead to one short story sale -- indirectly. An editor said she'd look at a story submission from me if I already had her address, as a way to screen out submissions from absolute newbies. I had the SFWA directory, looked her up, and made another pro sale. I also get access to some of the private SFWA newsgroups, which can be entertaining, but there's really not much there that I'd lose sleep over if I lost it. I know of one market where the editor has said he's not open to subs, but SFWA members can query ... but it's not really a market I'd be right for anyway.

I have been getting a little more interested in the Nebula awards and process this year, and I'd lose access to all of that if I let the membership lapse. But is that worth $70/year? More, if they keep raising dues, which has been hinted at in a few places. (How reliable those hints are is a matter for Ouiji boards and Tarot cards to determine.)

There's a lot of debate whether "Active Member, SFWA" on your cover letters will get you noticed in the slush pile. Jim Van Pelt chats about it at http://www.sfwa.org/writing/sfwa.htm. I suspect it might help, in some cases. But hey, "Two novels forthcoming from DAW Books" probably works just as well, if not better.

I know at least one of my friends was having the same debate recently. Maybe there's something about little kids that makes you start thinking about how many diapers $70 could buy :-)

So I'm curious -- what do you think? Are there advantages to SFWA membership I'm simply not taking advantage of, and should be? Is that single story sale enough to keep going for a few more years? (If it led to one, odds are decent it could lead to another.)



( 68 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
I think griefcom and the emergency medical fund do good things, so I say yes.
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:30 pm (UTC)
I don't know the specifics of how they work or how much support they actually provide from year to year, but I'd certainly agree with you that these are two very good and important things.
Emergency Medical Fund - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 08:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Grievance Committee - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
EMF - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:27 pm (UTC)
Well, there's the free membership in sff.net, me being known for pinching pennies (would pinch half-pennies if the US mint still issued them) and the free web hosting for my sometimes-updated web page.

I've met some people on-line that I never would have known otherwise. Whether that's a net good or bad thing remains vague at this point.

I've seen some interesting business discussions in the private SFWA lounge on sff.net, and some entertaining flameage.

Otherwise, the contacts don't do much good for me. I don't write short fiction, and that's where most of the networking seems to go.

Haven't sent in my $$ yet this year. I'm debating the same issues.
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:44 pm (UTC)
well, i can't offer any advice, but I will say that all the librarians I know are similarly put out by the $100-140 we shell out to the American Library Assn every year. (100 just for ALA + about 40 for our relevant subdivisions: Assn of College and Research Libraries, Public Library Assn, etc.)

I pay it every year because it's the professional thing to do, but I always wonder what I get out of it too.

Does anyone understand why we give our money to these organizations?

At least you get to vote for the Nebulas, which is way more than my ALA membership will ever get me...
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:51 pm (UTC)
Ken -

I've always been spoiled, because my employer (a law firm) pays for my membership in American Ass'n of Law Libraries and Special Libraries Association. That's a double-edged sword for the associations, though - we law firm members aren't always as active as we would be if we were paying our own way. (Of course, the issue's more complicated than that - the academics take over the AALL conference because they *have* to publish, so there aren't as many slots for us non-academics...)

I think that the "professional" appellation actually counts for a lot, though...
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
Enter me into the "questioning" category as well.

I queried my agent, to see what he thought. His opinion was that SFWA is growing in strength and that there's a possibility that in the relatively near future it might be organized enough to weigh in, in a meaningful fashion, on some of the new media and copyright issues out there. (Me, I'm not so sure that the Association will have that organization or strength in the foreseeable future.)

I will likely pay this year, and try to keep active track of what I learn first through SFWA (rather than learning through the grapevine later).

Oh - and as you say, Jim - Griefcom and EMF do good things for some people. (The question, of course, is whether those are "charities" that I want to continue to support in light of other contenders.)

Gee, I guess I'm not being very helpful here, am I? :-)
Jul. 13th, 2006 01:04 pm (UTC)
Actually, that does help. If nothing else, it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one struggling. I was half-expecting a chorus of, "What are you, nuts? Of course you should/shouldn't be paying that money every year, dummy!"

You know, I had been looking at the numbers and wondering if I'd be better off just doing the $500 lifetime membership about a week before the dues increase showed up...

I dunno. Sticking with it for one more year to see what happens could work. I also might let it go for a few years. After all, I can always join back up if I change my mind. It's not the end of the world (or my career) either way.
(no subject) - mindyklasky - Jul. 21st, 2006 09:52 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 21st, 2006 12:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)
I left a couple of years ago. If SFWA grows in strength and influence, I may rejoin, assuming I'm still writing spec fic. Former agent felt that business articles in the Bulletin were worth the cost of admission, but you can sub to the Bulletin without being a member.

After years of telling folks to check out the Lounge for great business discussions, I grew weary of the sometimes vicious noise that tainted the place. I saw the political infighting drain some very good people--SFWA more so than other organizations seems to take joy in eating its young, but maybe the other orgs do as well and I just don't see it.

I feel the Nebs are an unnecessary financial drain of questionable value. It's my understanding that the only award that has any effect on sales is the Novel Hugo. All else is egoboo. The two other writer orgs to which I belong don't do awards.

Another writer whose name I can't recall posted that every young(er) writer had to leave SFWA in a huff at least once. It was part of some growth process. Maybe he was being facetious.
Jul. 13th, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
If you're already a member, you can read about the budget at the SFF.NEt SFWA Lounge. like some said, there are some cantankerous people, but you can always skip those posts--I sure do, and I don't think I've missed anything.

anyway, they laid the budget out and the operating costs are now way more than they bring in--they haven't had a dues increase for many years.

Whether or not you think what they spend it all on is worthwhile or not is up to you . . . but as a member, you get in a voice in that stuff.
Jul. 13th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
I'm debating whether or not to renew also, and I've been a proponent of SFWA over the years until now, doing my best to point out the important work of Griefcom, the EMF, and Writer Beware to prospective members.

But there are institutional inefficiencies in SFWA on a scale that makes me want to tear out my hair. And posting important information about whether or not I should renew in the sff.net lounge would be one of them.
(no subject) - sartorias - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ccfinlay - Jul. 15th, 2006 01:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 15th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ccfinlay - Jul. 15th, 2006 01:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elysdir - Jul. 23rd, 2006 07:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sartorias - Jul. 13th, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - delkytlar - Jul. 14th, 2006 01:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Is the cost deductable as a professional expense?
Jul. 13th, 2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
It's tax deductible, which means I'd get probably $15 - $20 back from Uncle Sam.
Deductible dues - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 08:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 03:25 pm (UTC)
Now you're making me wonder. SFWA hasn't been much of an advantage to me, and as a networking tool, LJ beats it hands down. I get kind of frustrated with all the gray hair in SFWA that seems to dominate every conversation on the lounge. SFWA's attitude toward copyright and new media is very confused. ("The copyright is mine, all mine! I shall slay any who dare to write fanfic." and "What's this? A new media publishing opportunity in which I shall not get paid an advance and am giving up a lot of rights? But it's Amazon, so it must be great! Where do I sign?") I know a lot of younger writers who are in SFWA, but they all seem to get chased away from the lounge by the poisonous, hateful tone of discussions, and the sort of irrelevant know-it-allism. Every conversation is an exercise in oneupmanship, and a long series of people spouting off about what they think they know. Now of course access to the SFWA lounge is the least of the benefits of the organization, but I can't help but feel that the lounge members represent the organization as well. When you post in an official SFWA area, you are speaking as a member of the group, and too many members are just waiting for a chance to attack others. I have struggled because frankly I don't want to be a member of an organization like that. It's just ugly. I've gotten to the point that I only read about one post in a hundred in the lounge newsgroup. I never read the forum, just throw it in the trash. I don't much care for the online updates. No time. And the bulletin is okay, but still seems pretty low signal-to-noise to me. Maybe I won't renew this year. I don't know.
Jul. 13th, 2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
I loved getting to the point of _qualifying_ for SFWA, but it never crossed my mind to join. As far as I know it has no benefits for non-American writers, and I'm not interested in spending $70 just to vote for the Nebulas. As regards submissions, I think the story is what sells, not "SFWA-member" on the cover letter.

That's not to say SFWA isn't a worthy organisation, or that you shouldn't join. Just that for many of us outside the U.S there is no obvious motivation to do so.
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
"Just that for many of us outside the U.S there is no obvious motivation to do so."

Yup, I definitely understand that one. And I think SFWA on the cover letter might help get you out of the slush, just as "Clarion Grad" does for some markets, but it still has to be the story that makes the sale.
Jul. 13th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
Huh. I wonder if I qualify now. I did a couple years back but got convinced not to join. Maybe I should look into that and into the group again.
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
If you qualified before, I would think you still do. What convinced you not to join, if you don't mind me prying?
(no subject) - gaaneden - Jul. 13th, 2006 06:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
A while back, the president of SFWA wrote a letter detailing all the things that SFWA does in fact do for its members. I'm looking for that letter, but so far I haven't found it.
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
I would be very interested in seeing that, if you can find it... Was this Robin Bailey who wrote it?
(no subject) - mabfan - Jul. 13th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mabfan - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
Paying Those Dues - (Anonymous) - Jul. 13th, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Paying Those Dues - (Anonymous) - Jul. 13th, 2006 04:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Paying Those Dues - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 05:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 05:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:49 pm (UTC)
So, do you ever write/email publishers and ask them for free copies of books being considered for the Nebula? I've done that in the past, and now that I'm paying for diapers, I'll probably be doing it in the future.
Jul. 13th, 2006 04:55 pm (UTC)
I haven't, no. I've never been very active in Nebula nominating, so it didn't feel ethical to take advantage of that unless I was going to start doing the nomination bit more seriously. Does that make sense?
(no subject) - jonhansen - Jul. 13th, 2006 06:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 05:41 pm (UTC)
I joined SFWA as an Affiliate in 2001, with my dues then being paid by my employer, DAW. I stepped up to offer my experience on the Contracts Committee where Mindy Klasky gave me some terrific advice on how to navigate the waters of the organization. Then President Spinrad had his reservations about my involvement, as did Founder Damon Knight. Still, I thought I had something to offer.

Since then, when my first short story was published in 2003, I immediately upgraded to Associate Member, and started paying my own way. I've become a member of more than five committees, all of which have done good work for the organization. We've sent Michael Capobianco and Charles Petit to speak on behalf of writers to the Copyright Office, at meetings that were otherwise solely attended by people from media, publishing and computer companies. SFWA was the only writers organization to offer a comprehensive solution to the Orphan Copyrights debate, a solution which will probably be adopted, in part, by the Copyright Office.

The Contracts Committee saw the horrible terms that Amazon was offering for its Amazon Shorts contracts. We went public in the Fall in the Bulletin with my evaluation of the shortcomings of the contract terms. Yesterday, I received what should be the final draft of a new, more author-friendly contract form from Amazon. No one else stepped up to make Amazon's terms better for all writers. Only SFWA.

I could probably go on and on about the good work that SFWA does in this industry. A lot of the benefits are minor, and may or may not accrue to the benefit of non-members. But, we do a lot of work that does benefit our members in small ways that they may not notice, and which (as in the Amazon case) will benefit every writer from our lowliest Associate (Hi!) to Stephen King.

I can't say whether any particular member's $70 is better spent elsewhere. Each person has to judge his/her own needs. However, the organization does a lot of good for writers. Even with all of the committees I'm on, my work for SFWA takes up a minor amount of time (sometimes, as recently, a couple of weeks can go by without need for my assistance). If more of our members would step up and volunteer their time to our committees, we'd be more effective, and people would see exactly where their money was going.

It's been three years since I made that first short fiction sale, and two years since my second. I'm one short story away from Active status (and, God be good, the one sitting in this envelope on my desk is that story). I could use an extra $70 in my pocket this year for a good many reasons, but I'll be writing my check in the weeks to come. It's worth it.
Jul. 13th, 2006 07:51 pm (UTC)
A clarification on the Amazon Shorts matter: I and a former SFWA VP have been in negotiations with Amazon since the Fall of 2005 to get Amazon to tone down the various bad terms in their contracts. The results of those negotiations should be announced shortly. We understand that the SFWA negotiated contract will become Amazon's standard, not reserved to SFWA members only.
(no subject) - jimhines - Jul. 13th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
Well said - (Anonymous) - Jul. 14th, 2006 08:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jul. 13th, 2006 06:07 pm (UTC)
Those Dues
The smartest thing I ever did was buy a lifetime membership for SFWA. It pays for itself rather quickly (and now, of course, there's talk of eliminating that option.)

For me, the benefit (singular) of being a SFWA member is getting to vote on and recommend for the Nebula. I've found the National Writers Union to be a better advocate for me for grevances, and the Romance Writers of America a better organization for support, networking, etc. than any other -- hands down.

Jul. 13th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
I've been an Active member since somewhere in 1989 or 1990. But my professional output ground to a halt in 1991 for a variety of reasons, and not only have I not sold any fiction since 1991, I haven't even written any.

I justified my continuing membership in SFWA on the grounds that I was still receiving royalty income. [One very nice thing about MZB's various anthologies is that they kept getting reprinted in foreign language versions.]

But it's now been 18 months since I last received any royalty payments, and that last one was less than $10.

I'm not a writer now. I don't write. Sometimes I sort of, kind of think about it. At infrequent intervals during summer vacations (I am a school teacher), I "noodle around" with some world-building and story ideas, but I've yet to write anything other than notes and outlines in 15 years of "noodling."

But until now, I've always justified my remaining a member for yet another year of the grounds of "I've been earning anywhere from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars per year in royalties from things I've written."

This rationalization allowed me to convince myself that I'm not one of those people that some members complain about in the Lounge at sff.net: you know, the person who just barely qualified for membership years ago and now is a "Who? What did s/he ever write?" for everyone but personal friends; the very minor writers that some other members assume are getting into conventions free, gobbling down the free food and guzzling the free booze in SFWA suites, and expecting to have the same voice in the organization as a "real writer" with multiple published novels.

I haven't read an issue of the Bulletin or the Forum in several years, since they always seem to arrive when I am overwhelmed with things related to my teaching job. They always seem to end up in the trash before I find time to get around to them.

I read fewer than half a dozen sf/f novels a year and almost no short fiction in the genre. I have not made a single Nebula recommendation in the entire time I have been a member; I haven't voted on a Nebula ballot in almost a decade (most years, I look at the ballots, realize I've not read a single one of the works there, and toss it in the trash). The last few years, I've not voted in the annual officers election either.

I am not a volunteer. I tried back when I first became an active member, but there wasn't anything available that I was qualified for (other than helping to set up/clean up a SFWA suite at a couple conventions). Since I'm not currently writing, I have no agent, I belong to no other writers' organizations, etc., etc., and I've been to all of one convention in the past 4-5 years, I doubt I could help the organization by volunteering now.

Every year I think about not paying my dues and ceasing to be a member of SFWA. Every year I find myself saying, "Oh, it's only $50, and it gets me a newsgroup at sff.net and dm.net." But dm.net has gone away, and I think I've made all of two posts in my own newsgroup at sff.net in the past year. What am I paying $50 for?

A tax deduction? When I don't have an income from writing anymore?

I could afford to pay the increased dues. I have no quibble with whether the organization does a science fiction/fantasy writer any good. Right now I obviously feel as if SFWA is not doing me any good because nothing of concern to professional writers (whether SFWA is involved or not) has anything to do with me these days.

For the past few years, renewing has been nothing more than an exercise in ego. I can, so I do. But isn't it about time for me to stop this?

Jul. 14th, 2006 05:18 pm (UTC)
I hope you'll stay. And I really hope Oz will get some writing credentials of his own so you can sign up for the family membership deal. ;-)

Jul. 14th, 2006 03:21 am (UTC)
DM Net is back, BTW. And a much more pleasant place to visit as of late, compared to SFF Net.

When I was but a tender Affiliate Member, my first pro sale had a potential contract problem. Because I was a member and because I paid attention to what SFWA can do for its members, I knew that I could contact the head of the Contracts Committee. One phone call to committee chair Ray Feist, followed by a call to Rob Sawyer, then Canadian Regional Director, and things were quickly settled. Not just for me, but for all the authors in the book.

Recently, in my own role as CRD, I did the same for another anthology. And indeed, the publisher was keen to play nice with me. He knows that his rates don't match our established minimum, but he was still willing to fix the more onerous issues pretty much immediately.

There are authors out there who frankly don't care what SFWA can do for them, and continue to belong out of inertia, I guess. Others only belong for the Nebulas, or for the camaraderie. Others join and stay just in case something happens where they need us (recent activity with the Legal Fund would suggest that some could think of their membership as a form of insurance; note that I'm not saying that anyone who has used the LF do approach it that way).

Folks are welcome to view their membership any which way they like. Me, I prefer to think of my own membership as a way to pay forward. Yeah, there are things this org does that benefit me (again, check out the new contract with Asimov's and Analog, where they approached SFWA and asked for input). But if other authors coming down the pike aren't able to figure out the intricacies of this biz, and end up taking nasty terms, that affects me as well.

I don't give a damn if "Member, SFWA" on my letterhead makes a difference. Indeed, I have not once put it there. But I do know that being a member got me into some functions where I met editors, and those meetings got me invites, speedier processing of stories, what have you. Be personable, be polite, be professional, and be good at what you do. Use SFWA as a common ground to make this industry a little better for all of us, or at least as a way to hold back the tide.

Back to SFF Net and disagreeable people for a moment (sorry I'm wandering here; 4 noisy boys are in the next room over and rattling my skull): those who are obnoxious can be killfiled or just ignored. As well, this organization contains people with a wide range of opinions on just about everything (think of copyright as a prime example right now). We will never be able to make everyone happy all of the time, but if folks who disagree with a policy just roll over and let it go, or if they quit in a huff, changes don't get made. Me, I welcome diversity, and I like to think that I can learn and grow from this variety of opinions.

All this said in hope that you and others here stay. Your own views are as welcome as any other's.

Jul. 14th, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
Robin Bailey, current President of SFWA, reposted his Q&A in the lounge, and gave me permission to copy it here. So here it is, cut into sections because otherwise it's too big for LJ to allow:


The President Replies to Real Letters

Q: What would I get for my dues? Give me some examples of tangible benefits.

A: Your $70 gets you a lot! Many members say our most important benefit is the
Grievance Committee, the envy of a lot of other writers' organizations. When
you run into a problem with an editor, a publisher or an agent that you can't
solve on your own, GriefCom stands ready to do battle for you – with a history
of successful results that only negotiating as a group can get. One way or another,
SFWA has taken on:
# magazines that stopped paying writers or didn't pay for reprints
# agents who tried to extort money from their clients illegally
# publishers that relied on non-standard definitions of rates in their contracts,

# publishers that were sold and then conveniently “lost”royalty records
# a huge franchise market that tried to cheat its writers out of foreign royalties

# a publisher who went bankrupt, trapping scores of manuscripts in legal limbo

And we've been successful in all of them. SFWA also exposed a foreign agent
who was selling rights to stories written by our members and then pocketing
the money.

Then there's the Contracts Committee, ready to help you decipher the terms of
your contract and give you advice. If you find yourself involved in expensive
legal action concerning your work, SFWA has a Legal Fund to help you out. And
if you become ill and fall on hard times, there's our Emergency Medical Fund
to loan you money to help towards those bills.

We offer a Circulating Book Plan – a kind of lending library – so you can keep
up with what's new without paying a lot of money. We try to provide mountains
of free books and magazines in SFWA suites at conventions and the Nebulas. Free
books are also available for members from some publishers, just for the asking.

You'll get the Directory which provides contact information for over 1600 writers,
editors and agents, the FORUM which provides a variety of discussions and current
information, and the BULLETIN – a professional quarterly which contains numerous
articles on the business of writing and selling, market reports and interviews.
We also have a brand new SFWA Pressbook to help you get publicity for forthcoming
books in the press, something that can seem impossible to do by yourself.

You'll have access to private areas of the SFWA.org website, and free access
to sff.net, an invaluable tool for networking and information exchange. You'll
receive the SFWA Online Update by email to bring you the latest time-sensitive
information quickly. And you can use the SFWA Webring to promote your own website.

And if that's not enough, there's a Speakers' Bureau to help you find people
and organizations willing to pay to hear you speak on topics of your choice.

Jul. 14th, 2006 12:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this, Michael! Currently waiting for window installers to show up and make a mess of the house, but I'll be going through this later this morning, when I have time to give it most of my attention. (Assuming the window guys don't accidentally shoot a nail through my PC or anything like that. What fun...)
Jul. 14th, 2006 11:43 am (UTC)
SFWA Letter, Part 2
Robin Bailey, current President of SFWA, reposted his Q&A in the lounge, and gave me permission to copy it here. So here it is, cut into sections because otherwise it's too big for LJ to allow:


The President Replies to Real Letters

Q: Aren't SFWA members mostly concerned with Nebula voting? Why should I want
to get involved with all the politics?

A: Admittedly, some people who should get a life spend way too much time arguing
over awards. Declaring anything “the best” in an artistic endeavor is a mug's
game. But this is also true of any other award, including the Academy Awards.
What the Nebulas can do for science fiction and fantasy writers is draw some
attention once a year to our genre. Perhaps we get a little press for the awards;
perhaps the Nebula Awards Showcase volumes will sell a few more stories and
attract a little more attention on the bookstore shelves. If we didn't have
the Nebula Awards, someone would invent them all over again. People like awards;
they're pretty gewgaws. But anyone who attaches more importance than that to
them should go home and rethink.

Q: I've heard there's some tension in SFWA between the old crowd of established
writers and the “newbies” like me. Will I feel uncomfortable?

A: A good rule to follow is: Never give too much weight to a few strident voices.
For as long as the organization has existed, a few loud voices have always declared
that the Old Farts should dry up and blow away and make room for the Young Writers
Who Really Have Something To Say. Most new members' experience is of how open
to questions and how generous in giving advice the more established members

Q: I'm a new writer, at the beginning of my career. Why should I care about
issues like copyright that SFWA seems obsessed with? Self-promotion means a
lot more to me right now than copyright.

A: Most of us who've been in this business for many years still endeavor to
promote our own work. This isn't antithetical to protecting our copyrights –
and other publishing rights – too. Copyright allows you to be as restrictive
or as permissive about the distribution of your work as you like for the duration
of copyright. If someone infringes on your copyrighted work, we can help you
detect it, and if you want to pursue the issue, we can help.

But there are other issues you'll face as a writer. What will you do when your
publisher declares your work out-of-print then turns around and transfers it
automatically into a print-on-demand program so that in effect you can never
get the rights back? And how will you deal with your publisher who insists on
a look-back clause in your contract that prevents you from auditing your books
after a scant two years? When publishers are holding massive reserves-against-returns
on your book, thus denying you your just royalties for an indefinite period
of time, how will you feel about that? These aren't hypothetical situations.
SFWA is dealing with them right now. In any endeavor, you have to be prepared
to stand up for yourself, and when you need help, SFWA will stand up with you.
SFWA has a track record of defending its members.We've gone toe-to-toe with
publishers. We've sent representatives to testify before the Federal Office
of Copyrights, so that our collective voice can be heard. Even if you don't
feel this applies to you right now, at least you can be informed and know what's
going on, and knowledge is power.

Q: So how much use is it to put “SFWA Member” on a submission?

A: Not a lot. Why should it be? If you haven't established a name – and your
name doesn't attract an editor's attention – only the quality of the story matters.
To be honest, all writers – SFWA members included – have “trunk stories” that
just don't work, and all writers have bad days or the occasional bad idea. We
can't expect professional editors to buy poor quality material just because
it says “SFWA” on the manuscript.

Jul. 14th, 2006 11:44 am (UTC)
SFWA Letter, Part 3
Robin Bailey, current President of SFWA, reposted his Q&A in the lounge, and gave me permission to copy it here. So here it is, cut into sections because otherwise it's too big for LJ to allow:


The President Replies to Real Letters

Q: SFWA seems to be most interested in deciding what markets are “qualified”
for membership and establishing “professional” rates of pay. What has that got
to do with me? Doesn't that chase a lot of otherwise good markets out of business?

A: While we've seen a few markets kick and scream they can't afford to raise
their rates for writers, we haven't seen a single market collapse for that reason.
And printers raise their rates, paper prices go up, office supplies and utilities
go up, even editors and staff members get raises. Why should writers eat off
the bottom of the tank? It's SFWA's purpose to fight for the rights of writers,
to fight for fair treatment for writers, and in other words improve conditions
for writers. Those conditions include the highest rates of pay we can get. In
most cases, major magazines have followed our lead. If we hadn't pursued this,
we might all be still getting two cents a word for our work.

Keep in mind that nothing prevents our members from selling to low-paying markets
if they so choose, or even giving their work away for free. We're not in the
business of telling you where to sell your fiction. We do, however, define for
the purpose of membership what a qualifying “professional” rate of pay is.

Q: Networking is important to me, but surely I can get that elsewhere?

A: Granted; there are many ways to network. SFWA provides as many opportunities
as it can for those who wish to take advantage of them. Through SFWA suites
at major conventions, Nebula Conference weekends, and the New York Publishers
Receptions, we try to bring all players into contact with each other. And through
newer events like the Authors and Booksellers events, we try to provide our
members with the chance to meet another important side of the business – those
who actually sell our work. And don't overlook free access to SFWA newsgroups
on sff.net.

Q: Can I get health care coverage through SFWA?

A: SFWA on its own is too small to get decent group benefits. We've tried –
many times. For a while we were able to offer coverage under membership in an
umbrella organization, but the premiums were exorbitant and the program soon
collapsed. At this time, all we can promise is we'll keep on looking for a solution.

Q: Well, okay, I'm almost convinced, but if the organization is doing such great
things for writers without me, why do I need to join?

A: Sure, you can sit on the sidelines and enjoy the benefits others fight for
you to receive. But we hope you'll think the battle's worth joining and see
how much better we can do in the future with your help. We're not perfect, but
inside SFWA there's a small army of volunteers working to improve the professional
life of new writers just like you. We'd like to welcome you as a member.
Jul. 14th, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
Jim --

My goodness, your blog has been chock full of useful stuff of late. I put a link to this LJ post on the Twin Cities Speculative Fiction Writers Network message board.

Just spreading awareness of this conversation. Thanks to everyone who posted. It's been an eye opener.

Jul. 14th, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
"It's been an eye opener."

Me too. I've been at home today while contractors replace all the windows in the house, so I'm way behind in reading and posting, but this has been wonderfully helpful. Hopefully for others as well.
Jul. 15th, 2006 07:47 pm (UTC)
I am also sort of sitting on the dues notice.

On the one hand, I am sure I will renew -- the benefits outweigh the negatives for me (I've used Griefcom and they helped with a foreign magazine non-payument issue, have already received a deferral one year when I was really screwed financially, etc), and I only regret I haven't had money to become a lifetime member earlier. Now the lifetime memberhsip is going up too, so it's definitely outof my price range.

Anyway, I am actually sort of sitting on the dues to see if I can pay them a bit later...
Jul. 15th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC)
If I renew, I'm going to see if I can scrape up the money for a lifetime membership. I plan to keep writing for the next 40 or 50 years, so it would make sense...

And I've heard from a few folks who have used griefcom for various contract issues. I understand why writers and editors don't generally advertise that info, but it's also good for the rest of us to see that yes, it does help.
Jul. 16th, 2006 09:58 am (UTC)
I'm there with you on the "to renew or not to renew" fence. I'd be totally signing that check without reservation if the SFWA still offered a group medical plan option. The emergency medical defense fund is nice to have as recourse to turn to in the event of a major emergency, plus I find the information in the Bulletin to be timely and useful, but I'm not sure if it's worth $70 a year to me when I'm hemorrhaging money out of savings to pay for day-to-day living expenses.

I'll probably end up renewing on the rationale that it's tax deductible, but I suspect I'll dither over it for a while first.
Jul. 17th, 2006 12:25 pm (UTC)
"I'm not sure if it's worth $70 a year to me when I'm hemorrhaging money out of savings to pay for day-to-day living expenses."

Sympathy. As a few folks have noted, there are options to defer or do a payment plan deal...

But yeah. Our AC started to die again this weekend, and on Sunday my lawn mower vomited oil all over itself. This is after we paid for new windows that got installed on Friday. Oof. Not fun.
Jul. 21st, 2006 08:31 pm (UTC)
I've been having the same internal dialog... interesting.

I have the dues slip in the "payables" file... and will probably pay it. Even though most of what I have published is non-fiction (and so non-qualifying even though it pays LOTS better! ;-D), I do write SF shorts, and am working on some novels including a collaboration. But - as Douglas Adams said, "It takes an awful long time to not write a book." :-\

So... personal considerations aside, I've decided that I'd pay it anyway, I think. Por Qua? Because of the work they do for ALL writers. The anti-piracy efforts, the welfare fund, the promotion of the genre, arbitration with slow-paying publishers for payment, etc. Gosh... that's really quite a lot for only $70 a year.

But it'll have to wait 'til next payday.
Jul. 21st, 2006 09:03 pm (UTC)
"Because of the work they do for ALL writers."

That's been pushing me toward paying as well. I wish I could rewrite this post now based on everything folks have shared and talked about here. I'd definitely talk more about the balance between what SFWA does for individuals and what they do for writers as a collective.

And yeah, non-fiction pays SO much better than fiction. SFWA did help push a few markets up past the $.05/word mark. Then ellameena drops by and mentiones one of her $.50/word article sales. Grumble.
( 68 comments — Leave a comment )


Jim C. Hines

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