My 2 Cents on: The SFWA and Selfpublishing

my 2 cts onMy 2 Cents on:
The SFWA and Selfpublishing

zur deutschen ÜbersetzungI do not often get involved in SFWA politics. In fact, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to a SFWA meeting. The last one I attended, you had to pay to get out and the organization raised several thousand dollars in twenty minutes.

In the past forty-odd years that I have been a member of SFWA (including a short period when I let my membership lapse) I have generally avoided SFWA elections.

But despite my protestations of disinterest, SFWA has been good to me and I care about the organization enough to express an opinion--an informed opinion.

One of the candidates for president has cited the decline in print publication as a justification for radical changes. He may be right that change is necessary, but in my exhausted opinion, the changes he is advocating are not good ones. They would completely change the nature of the organization.

And yes, there are several areas that should be discussed and considered by the membership, starting with "What must the organization become to provide the most value to its members in the future?" Should the organization expand to include game designers? Should the organization recognize self-published authors? Should the organization change the rules and hand out more awards?

While these are good questions to ask, I have reservations about taking any actions that would drastically change the character of the organization.

When I joined, 46 years ago, SFWA had only 90 members. It was an organization of working writers, people who earned their living at the keyboard, Every member had significant science fiction credentials. Browsing the directory was like reading a Who's Who of the Golden Age.

But the science fiction market was still pretty much trapped in the pulps, with some markets still paying only a penny a word. When Damon Knight started SFWA, the goal was to elevate working conditions, protecting the rights of authors, and establishing a set of standards for our "industry." In its first decade, SFWA took on some pretty big battles--and won most of them.

SFWA has grown tenfold since I joined. Many of us have benefited from its expansion. That growth has made it possible for the organization to provide significantly more services to authors. The expansion of the membership rolls has also changed the organization's structure and goals. SFWA has had to adapt. A lot of good people have served as officers over the years, considering the challenges the organization faced, making adjustments as they went, and working their butts off to make sure the organization continues to be a valuable asset. The changes they made were only made after careful consideration by the entire membership.

As I noted above, one candidate for president wants to make radical changes. I fear that the radical changes he proposes will seriously hurt the organization. The expansion of membership qualifications to include game designers and self-published authors will seriously change the character of the organization. And I do not see how that change can be for the better.

The other candidate has a solid credential as a working author, and I believe he has a much clearer sense of what SFWA is and what it needs to become in the future. Yes, the publishing industry is changing. The decline of print editions, the disappearance of the backlist, the growth of ebooks--all of those things are challenges for working authors. There's another issue as well--because we are now living in a science fiction world, science fiction itself is evolving into a different kind of genre. But that's another discussion.

We have had times of boom in the past, we have had times of bust. We'll have boom and bust in the future as well. But I do not think it serves SFWA to radically change its membership qualifications because someone says the sky is falling.

I do not not think that SFWA will be served by adding to the organization individuals who are not working authors (at least not as we presently define them) and who do not share the concerns of working authors (as we presently define them).

SFWA's membership rules have always been based on the idea of genuine qualification--demonstrating to an editor that a writer's words and ideas, themes and characters, deserve to be published.

At it's absolute best, the heart of science fiction is humanity taking a long hard look at the universe and asking "What does it mean to be a human being?"

I believe that the SFWA needs a president who understands that science fiction has become a literature in its own right--a president who has a genuine respect for an organization of men and women who still look up to the stars and wonder about the possibilities of the future.

Therefore, I am endorsing Steven Gould for the presidency of the Science Fiction Writers of America. I am encouraging other SFWA members to take a long hard look at this very important choice and to take the time to send in their ballots.


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