Last Day of the March Membership Drive

Today’s the last day of my non-profit’s March membership drive. On the one hand, I’m glad that we have 50 new members – welcome, everyone! Lovely to have you join us! On the other hand, we have a long way to go before we’re where I hope to be, and to be honest, it’s kind of stressing me out, folks.

I started the SLF (speculative literature foundation) back in 2004, when I was in a creative writing Ph.D. program (having completed an MFA). I was seeing my classmates applying for grants and residencies, and I was glad poets, fiction, and creative nonfiction writers had the option of that kind of support, in a world that where big publishing can be so random in what it deems worthy.

But I had a foot in the genre fiction world too – at that point I’d spent a decade in my 20s writing erotica, had founded Strange Horizons in 2000 (running it for two years and then handing it off to capable hands – it’s still going now, more than 20 years later, one of the top pro mags in the field). Many of my friends wrote science fiction and fantasy, and almost none of them were applying for grants or residency programs. They self-selected out, assuming that those programs wouldn’t be welcoming to genre fiction.

To be fair, back then certainly, they would’ve been right. That stigma is still there, though lessening, I think — the assumption that genre fiction can’t be literary, experimental, interesting. We should know better by now – with writers like LeGuin and Delany, Chabon and Link as our guideposts.

I started the SLF mostly to set up some grants that would be specifically for genre writers, to encourage them to apply. A travel grant, an older writers’ grant, diversity grants, a working class writers’ grant, even a specifically South Asian speculative fiction grant. We’ve been giving out those grants for 18 years, and if I totalled it all up, it must be getting close to $100,000 at this point, in direct support to writers. We’re proud of that.

Some of those grants were funded by generous individual donors, some by membership fees from our early supporters. The first three years of our diversity grants were funded by two women in children’s publishing who ran a marathon to raise the funds. We offered other programs too – in the early years of the SLF, we had small press co-operative, a short fiction award, a pilot mentorship program.

But most of that I had to put on the back burner when I decided to have kids – I just didn’t have the volunteer time available to run all those programs. We were very lucky that Malon Edwards was willing to continue donating his time, for over a decade, to continue administering the grants. And eventually, my kids got older, my time started opening up again, and I thought it was time to start building SLF programming again.

I’d learned a lesson, though – it wasn’t sustainable to have everything built on volunteers. SF/F has an amazing tradition of volunteer fan culture, dedicated folks who put on conventions every year. But it’s tough finding those fans, tough keeping them on track, dealing with burnout and illness and everything else that might get in the way. And it’s one thing to come together to put on a single event once a year – it’s something else entirely to run multiple ongoing programs, continuously.

We wanted to bring back the small press co-op, the mentorship program, the short fiction award. We wanted to start local chapters, and offer online panels with prominent fiction writers, editors, agents. We wanted to start a podcast where we could talk to more of those people, shine a spotlight on their work, share their experience and wisdom with the world. We wanted to teach workshops, both online and in person. We wanted to do SO MUCH.

I realized that to have the SLF be truly sustainable, we’d need paid staff. So that’s what we’re working on now. A few generous donors put in initial funds so that we could hire a few bright young interns as paid part-time staff. Now we’re trying to build our membership numbers – that’s what will really make us sustainable, if we have a broad base of community support, rather than relying on individual donors.

So 2022 is our bridge year, I hope. Currently, our expenses average about $6000 / month – that’s mostly staffing, but also includes things like website hosting, tech tools, etc. We get a few part-time paid staff for that; all together, they add up to something like 1.5 paid employees. But it’s a bit of a house of cards right now – I was able to find some individual donors to cover that for the first few months of 2022, and the plan is to keep looking for individual donors who can put up chunks of money ($250, $500, $1000, $5000?) to help us bridge to the point where memberships will cover those staffing costs. It’s all a little nerve-wracking at the moment.

We’ll be doing a Kickstarter in May for direct support of the Portolan Project, which should help, and we’ll run another membership drive in June. I really don’t want to run a membership drive every month – that takes staff time and energy that we’d rather put towards actual programming. I’m hoping we can start moving a little faster on building membership, with your help!

Memberships start at $2 / month. With 50 new members in this month’s drive, that’s $100 / month. (A little more, actually, since some people joined at higher membership tiers – thank you!) It’s definitely going to help us on our way, but from $100 to $6000 is a long way to go.

Here’s my request:

– if you like and appreciate me and my work,
– or if you love literature in generally, or spec fic in particular,
– if you’d like to make creative writing and literary instruction freely available to the whole world (our big new project – check out the Portolan Project on our website, and the MRAH podcast)
– and if you’re in a financial position to do so…

…we’d really love you to join the SLF. (And if you can be one of our larger bridge donors, who can donate a bigger chunk to help us get through this year, please do get in touch – I’d love to talk more.)

All donations and membership fees are tax-deductible in the U.S.

And if you can’t join right now, but can spread the word, that’s a HUGE help too. With Facebook and other social media now seriously throttling back visibility on anything that isn’t a paid ad, non-profits like ours are struggling to get the word out about our programs. Follow me, follow the Speculative Literature Foundation, and then llike / comment / share – all of that helps, so much.

Thanks for reading, folks – I know this was long!

Tl;dr – I’d love your support in bringing speculative literature to the world, helping writers everywhere gain the tools to tell their stories, shaping a brighter future.

Join us here:

Make one-time donations here: Same link!

..and don’t forget to apply for your company’s matching funds, if they offer them!

– Mary Anne, SLF Director

(Pictured: Most of the team!)

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