Why I won’t be joining SFWA

At a businesswomen’s fellowship recently, we were asked to talk about a trait we inherited from our parents. By the time it got to be my turn, several others had already said “love of learning.” Not wanting to be a copycat, I said, “My parents were Star Trek fans from before anyone ever coined the word ‘Trekkie,’ so I have to say they gave me a love of the fantastical.”

So I’ve been a science fiction and fantasy fan pretty much from birth. I therefore knew about Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, known as SFWA, though I never gave it much thought beyond occasionally reading its Writer Beware blog, which is excellent, by the way.

I don’t know why, but even when I was writing for the secular market, I never considered joining SFWA. Just as well. They wouldn’t have me.

Unlike the writing associations I belong to, SFWA has no place for those who are learning the craft. It doesn’t exist to foster new writers, only to protect the interests of those who’ve already made the big time, as they define “big time.”

To join the SFWA, you not only have to be published, you have to be published at an “approved” publishing house. To be approved, the house must pay in advance or on publication. Publishers like Splashdown Books and OakTara, which pay authors only after books are sold, need not apply. Self-published authors, no matter how many books they’ve sold, are also excluded.

What drew my attention to SFWA was its refusal to authorize Random House’s Hydra imprint because Hydra authors received no advance. Random House actually wound up rewriting its contracts to placate the SFWA.

So Hydra now offers two options: the SFWA-approved advance on royalty, in which the author receives 25 percent of net revenue, or a profit share model in which authors receive 50 percent net. Seriously. SFWA thinks it’s better to get half as much royalty money, as long as some of it is paid in advance.

I find it sadly hilarious that an organization founded by a science fiction writer clings to an old-fashioned business model rather than embracing the future. And if you don’t think the future of publishing is in print-on-demand, lean management, and self-publishing, you haven’t been paying attention.

That pretty much makes SFWA an organization I’m not interested in joining. Even if I could.


About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

6 comments on “Why I won’t be joining SFWA

  1. Good grief. It’s the the folks at SFWA have been asleep for the last decade. There are many, many self-published authors making more than those still under the old system. That’s because Amazon pays five to six times more in royalties (on a $2.99 ebook) than what someone is going to get at Random House.

    • Exactly. It’s like the Chamber of Commerce refusing admission to a person who’s self-employed. Publishing seems to be the only business where being your own boss is frowned upon.

  2. The SFWA…who? 😉 I’m not sure I even know who they are! In all seriousness, basing someone’s membership in an author created organization on external factors over which they may not have much of any control–is ridiculous.

  3. I’d join if any of their zines would accept my work. Granted, I haven’t tried terribly hard, but I have tried. Interestingly, one of their “acceptible” fantasy zines required me to send a paper version of my story along with an SASE. Ha! As I was fiddling with all that paper, I asked myself more than once why I was bothering. The lack of an electronic submission process was a telltale sign that they wouldn’t get my brand of satire. Regardless, if a writer can claim SFWA status, it definitely ups their credibility, so it’s a worthy goal to pursue within reason. In the meantime, I’ve decided to set up my own speculative fiction ezine. Maybe one of these days, I’ll get to be a literary snob too. (Ha! again.)

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