I’ve spent a bit too…

I've spent a bit too much time in the last few days following the SFWA presidential election. It's of interest to me in part because once, some years back, I actually did think about what I would change if I were running SFWA. A bit of a moot point, since I don't qualify for membership -- I think I have one sale that might qualify me for associate membership, and I have been at times an editor who would qualify for affiliate membership, but that's it -- I just don't publish enough in-genre. But I thought about the problem some.

Sadly, I can't post the following to that newsgroup, since I'm not a member. If a member wants to post it for me, feel free.

Here's a quick list of what I would change if I were King of SFWA right now. Note: this is not what I would change if I were President, since if I were President, I'd still have to persuade lots of other people to get these things done, and I suspect most of them wouldn't happen. This is what I'd change if I could just go in and make the changes. Swoop! In the current debate, some of them might be points for discussion; some may just be suggestions that others might take up and implement.

My overall goals are for: maximum effective transparency, enthusiastic participation, streamlined process, increased funding. In approximately that order.

If I were King of SFWA, I would:

  1. create a junior membership for unpublished writers, at a reduced rate -- this would give them access to private SFWA online areas and publications, encourage them to join working committees, and let them attend the SFWA convention parties; this would not come with voting rights (as affiliate membership does not currently). This is primarily in the interest of a) greater transparency overall, and b) reducing the resentment that so many unpublished writers feel towards SFWA. I'd like to bring them into the organization, actively helping with the work, rather than treating it as a special club that they can only gaze it from the outside. What has most irritated me about SFWA over the last decade is the 'holy grail' aspect of it, the way that the current set-up encourages writers to see SFWA as some sort of goal to strive for, a certification of accomplishment, when what it should be (in my opinion), is simply a professional organization of some use to people working (successfully or unsuccessfully) in the field. Joining it shouldn't mark a change in status, making you a Real Writer Now (tm); it should simply be something you join because it can be of help to you, as is the case with every professional organization I've encountered in other fields.

  2. change the overall SFWA membership rates to a higher rate (but sliding scale) -- so it would a) start off nominally higher, b) increase based on members' self-reported incomes (no policing of this; we take it on trust), but c) also allow for hardship cases to pay reduced rates or waive fees entirely. In my experience with other organizations, this generally results both in far higher membership fee income overall, but also allows for understanding towards those facing financial difficulties. Those who currently hold Lifetime memberships would continue to hold them; it's unfair to change the rules in mid-stream in that situation, and they should be rewarded for their faith in the organization and their foresight.

  3. take Amy Sterling Casil's advice about making whatever legal changes necessary to facilitate grant-giving -- and ideally, some element of SFWA would have 501(c)3 status such that it could accept tax-deductible contributions towards education, etc., which I suspect would potentially generate a tremendous amount of revenue from our more successful genre writers (and involved readers)
  4. drop the LMP listing element of qualifying publications; I gather this is already in the works, which I strongly approve of
  5. add a web-based form directed at the membership committee on the main SFWA site, allowing writers to submit suggestions of publications/publishers that would qualify for membership; have that form generate an automated public summary page that notes: a) which pubs are currently under consideration, the date submitted, and the current status thereof, b) which pubs have been denied, and for what specific reason. With a note that once a publication has been denied, there is a six-month waiting period for re-application, and the system will automatically reject any suggestions to re-investigate them during that time. This would a) streamline the process for membership, b) create greater transparency in the process, and c) allow those interested parties who are not currently applying for SFWA membership to nonetheless help keep the qualifying pubs listing up-to-date. (Note: I think this last is especially important -- consider the case of writer Jane Smith, who has published with X publisher and Y publisher, but is still waiting on her third potentially qualifying sale. She may not apply on behalf of X or Y publisher for months, or years, and so those publishers would languish in uncertified status -- which means that in that interim time, all those aspiring SFWA members will rank them lower on their submission priority lists than they would if the publisher had that SFWA-qualifying status certified. So, speaking as once-editor of Strange Horizons, it seems strongly in the markets' interest to qualify them as quickly as possible. In the end, this should result in a net benefit to all writers, since once those markets are in the system as SFWA-accredited, it is to their interest to retain that accreditation, even if SFWA raises rates, other requirements, etc.)
  6. finally, do a better job of communicating with the public the status of certain high-interest issues in the organization. I would address this in the form of a FAQ on the top page of the website, with such questions as: "What kind of health insurance can I get through SFWA currently?" and "Why can't I get more health insurance?" This would greatly lessen general grumbling and might actually drive further volunteerism, since the answer to "How can I help get SFWA health insurance?" might be "Join this particular committee! You don't have to be a SFWA member to help us work on this project!" This is currently a FAQ on the top page, but it doesn't address health insurance, for example.
Oof. Now, aren't you glad I'm *not* running for President? :-)

One thought on “I’ve spent a bit too…”

  1. Unsurprisingly, I agree with a fair number of your ideas. But I have one practical concern about part of your first item:

    “create a junior membership for unpublished writers, at a reduced rate — this would give them access to private SFWA online areas and publications”

    Although I applaud the general sentiment, I suspect that in practice giving unpublished writers access to private SFWA online areas would convince many of them not to join SFWA (and would give others some bad models of professional behavior).

    I say that because my first exposure to those online areas was a thoroughly disillusioning experience: I immediately saw various writers I had long idolized being viciously nasty to each other. Granted, that particular moment was in the midst of a particularly awful flame war; and I suppose it would help bring newer writers down to earth a little. Still, it did make me pretty unhappy about the organization for a while.

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