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Dan Goodman's prediction and politics journal.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Brought over from the LiveJournal version:
From a discussion on SFWA's workings at Forward Motion http:/fmwriters.com:

In the beginning, SFWA membership required a certain level of sales EVERY YEAR. And three cents a word was worth more in 1965 than five cents a word is now.

For whatever reason or reason, this requirement wasn't enforced. After a while, a majority of members would've lost their memberships if it had started being enforced. It was finally abolished.

So -- I don't think it can accurately be said that SFWA is restricting its membership to established professionals. Someone who has sold one novel, and will never sell anything again, will be a SFWA member for life.

And SFWA has expanded eligibility. It's made official the practice of accepting fantasy writers, for example. It's gone from defining "professional publication" as only including US publication to accepting any English-language short-story market publication.

There've been mutterings about starting an organization limited to _real_ professionals, and about starting one which would include people who can't yet meet SFWA's entrance requirement. Both might make sense, but neither would eliminate what I see as SFWA's most persistent problem.

Written sf and fantasy (and to some extent in other media) attract people who are good at scoring high on IQ tests, and not very good at dealing with people. This is the kind of person a SFWA officer is likely to be. This is the kind of people who'll be casting most of the votes in anything SFWA votes on. And it causes problems.

But why does SFWA operate so badly compared to many fan organizations? Compared to most fan-run local sf conventions?

sclerotic_rings
2003-09-24 01:37 (link) Select
Funny that you bring up the whole SFWA situation. When Robert Sawyer was president, one of the first things he tried to abolish was the grandfather clause on members that hadn't written anything in years, and you saw what happened to him. Few persons have more wrath than someone who French-kissed Kristine Kathryn's ass to get published often enough in Pulphouse to qualify for SFWA membership, and who now look at having their pinnacle of achievement taken away.

(Two years ago, Edgar Harris wrote a joke article intended for Revolution Science Fiction on how SFWA had changed its requirements for membership to being able to impersonate at least one cartoon character. Fiction writers got one, nonfiction writers got two, and those who wrote both got three, and that impersonation belonged to the writer for life, so much was made of Harlan Ellison getting dibs on GIR from Invader Zim, Bender from Futurama, and the Iron Giant. Me, I got Beavis and Zorak, and Gardner Dozois was quoted as saying "Don't give me none of that tree-hugging hippie crap! Respect mah authoritah!" and gaining admission before anyone realized that he wasn't auditioning. The more I think about the current condition of SFWA, the more I think that this idea is SFWA's best hope.)

dsgood
2003-09-25 17:52
Robert Sawyer had more problems than just that one, I gather. He seems to have greatly overestimated the power of SFWA presidents to get things done.

ionas
2003-09-24 05:31 (link) Select
I can share what I hear by culling the newsgroups of many writers involved right now in the SFWa steering committees.

SFWA runs badly because it's volunteer and year round, not just for a few months like a con. It runs badly because people who offer to be officers do it for many reasons, some of which aren't very productive of the steady work required. It runs badly because there are segments who want, passionately, different things. (Older SF writers wanted the Female Fantasy Writers out. Female Fantasy Writers feel that all writers ought to be in...but there needs to be some sort of bar, because "Look what happened to RWA" they say among themselves.)

The current crop of officers actually wants to clear up bylaws problems, get caught up with backlog of membership snafus and get the people in--or nearly in, if they really don't qualify. Like they still get membership applications from writers with three vanity press works who seem to think that belonging to SFWA is going to sell the boxes of bad books in their garage.

The current attitude is, get in those working writers. Build the organization so that there is some clout, and SFWA can get some of the medieval publishing bullshit changed--like twice a year royalties based on sales six months before, when everyone knows publishers have sales data every hour now. Advances that were small in 1963, in sixties dollars. Longer and longer waits to hear anything. Electronic rights grabbing.

dsgood
2003-09-25 18:10
"SFWA runs badly because it's volunteer and year round, not just for a few months like a con."

For Twin Cities cons, it tends to be at least eleven months. For Worldcons, it's several years leading up to the vote -- and then working during the three years leading up to the con. And fan-run cons are run by volunteers. So -- why do most of them run better (or at least without as much public commotion) than SFWA?

"It runs badly because people who offer to be officers do it for many reasons, some of which aren't very productive of the steady work required."

Same goes for fan organizations. So why do many of them run with fewer problems than SFWA does?

"It runs badly because there are segments who want, passionately, different things. (Older SF writers wanted the Female Fantasy Writers out. Female Fantasy Writers feel that all writers ought to be in...but there needs to be some sort of bar, because 'Look what happened to RWA' they say among themselves.)"

Now, that's a problem which many fan organizations don't have. (The ones with membership requirement do.)

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