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SFWA

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.)

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( 68 comments — Leave a comment )
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secritcrush
Jul. 13th, 2006 12:26 pm (UTC)
I think griefcom and the emergency medical fund do good things, so I say yes.
jimhines
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
jhetley
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.
kenllama
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...
mindyklasky
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...
mindyklasky
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? :-)
jimhines
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
kristine_smith
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.
sartorias
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.
ccfinlay
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
jeffreyab
Jul. 13th, 2006 02:44 pm (UTC)
Is the cost deductable as a professional expense?
jimhines
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
ellameena
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.
cybermonklives
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.
jimhines
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.
gaaneden
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.
jimhines
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
mabfan
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.
jimhines
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
jonhansen
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.
jimhines
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
delkytlar
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.
delkytlar
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
lyda222
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.

maryosmanski
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?


(Anonymous)
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. ;-)

Michael
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