What I’d like to see from a professional writer’s organization

Unless you are one of those who don’t do Facebook or Twitter or any other form of social media (and I miss the days when it wasn’t seen as a necessary part of a writer’s life), you’ve probably heard about the latest dust-up revolving around SFWA. I’m not going to get into the particulars about that. My friend Kate does too good of a job discussing it — in full snark mode — at Mad Genius Club this morning. However, all the shouting and demands that the “dinosaurs” go off and die and leave the organization to the politically correct and socially conscious made me start thinking about what a professional writers organization should be.

The first thing any writers group that says it deals with “professional” writers must do is define what “professional” means. You can see the requirements to join SFWA as a “pro” here. Scroll down the page to look at what the organization considers “qualified markets”. See anything missing? I do. SFWA makes no provision for self-published authors to join. Nor do they allow you to join as a “pro” if you sell to a publisher that doesn’t pay an advance. It doesn’t matter how much money you make. Sorry, Charlie, you didn’t sell to one of their “qualified markets” and get the minimum advance. That means you aren’t a “pro”.

There’s another problem here. Once you qualify for pro status with SFWA, you are qualified for life. So, one qualifying novel sale or three qualifying short story sales and you’re in. You can contemplate your navel for the rest of your life but, by God, you’re a pro writer according to them. Meanwhile, the indie or small press author is out there writing their hearts out, earning money and yet not getting the love.

Oh, I know someone is going to say that SFWA has now formed a committee to look into what they need to do to maybe, kind-of sort-of, allow indies in. I don’t have much faith in committees, especially when this step should have been taken years ago. How can an organization claim to be aware of the needs of its members when it does its best to exclude a huge portion of those it is supposed to be helping?

Another issue I have with SFWA, and other writers organizations, is that they aren’t really writers organizations. You cease to become a writers organization when you start letting agents and publishers become involved, especially if they are given any sort of voting rights. If you are going to allow anyone but writers to be members, they absolutely cannot have voting rights and they cannot be included in major policy decisions — like does the organization file an amicus curiae brief IN SUPPORT OF AUTHOR RIGHTS.

A writers organization should have examples of model contracts that protect the rights of their members. Now, before anyone jumps on me, I know SFWA has examples on their site. My problem with what they have? Each of the entries on the contract page dates from 2009. Five years. In five years SFWA hasn’t done anything to update these contracts or warn their members, or anyone else going there to see what they should or should not have in their contracts. So royalty language, reversion of rights, copyright grabbing, and other issues that have come up in the intervening time haven’t been addressed. How is that working for the benefit of their members?

A professional writers organization should also act, well, professionally. It should take a stance against any member taking information that has been put out on a members-only list and then taken it public, especially if it is to attack another member. Leadership of that organization should possess an even hand in meting out discipline to members and not worry that someone might whine because they slapped down one of the politically correct dahlings. And, for the love of Pete, you shut down any public pillorying of a member by other members.

In other words, if you are going to put yourself out there as a professional writers organization, you have to adapt to the changes in the industry. That’s what most writers are interested in. We get tired of the in-fighting and name-calling that is taking place in the public forum. It makes the organization look like a bunch of toddlers throwing a fit because the other kids won’t share.

So, SFWA, from one writer who made much more than your “pro markets” pay in advances last year but who doesn’t qualify for membership because it was through a non-qualified market, wake up, grow up and adapt. Otherwise, you will go the way of the dodo bird. You’re on the endangered species list now. Wanna try for the list of extinction?

10 Comments

  1. I wonder how many “non-pro” writers have out-earned some of the “pros” within the SFWA. I know that I’ve earned more than their required minimum for advances as well as pay per word for short stories, but I wonder just how many there are.

    1. If you go by the information contained in Howey’s breakdown of e-book revenue, I’d say quite a few. I’d also lay odds that the vast majority of those are writing books readers actually want to read, not books beating the reader about the head and shoulders with a “message”.

    2. I write niche erotica which is all either sci-fi or fantasy based. (I’m actually pretty proud of some of the completelyconsistentandlogicalthankyouverymuch tech/magic systems I’ve come up with for my books.) I’ve sold thousands of books and made thousands of dollars. Yet I am doubly damned. A pox on their house.

      And you haven’t been poxed until a sci-fi erotica writer has poxed you. This stuff makes weasles look like a mild sunburn. >:)

  2. Yea – I saw the writing on the wall for SFWA in the late 90s. They were already playing the exclusive game with newbies. It was like they didn’t want any competition from the new writers coming up–

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head, Cyn. They can’t let any of those nasty, unwashed newbs in. Especially not those who aren’t “proving themselves” by going through the same out-of-date road to publication they went through. But they aren’t dinosaurs. Oh no. And they also don’t know that to call a woman a “lady” is not an insult or sexist.

  3. Back in the ’90s, I had more publication credits than many Hugo winners, earned at word rates 3-10 times those specified for membership in SFWA… writing columns in tech newsletters.

  4. “You cease to become a writers organization when you start letting agents and publishers become involved, especially if they are given any sort of voting rights.”

    This. Even if every other issue somehow magically got resolved, there would still be this.

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