To SFWA or not to SFWA?

Having cleared my throat on polit(ick!)s, I wanted to get back to a skiffy subject: now that I’ve got three professional short fiction sales under my belt, do I join the Science Fiction Writers of America?

There was a time when I dreamt of being in SFWA. This was many, many years ago, when I considered SFWA to be something of an elite club for established professional science fiction and fantasy authors — people I pretended never got rejected, and whos membership in mighty SFWA guaranteed sales.

I’ve since learned better. SFWA membership doesn’t make you bulletproof. It’s also not even a merit badge of literary eliteness, since over a thousand people are in SFWA, and probably only a few hundred of them are anywhere close to being ‘common’ names among well-read SF&F fans, much less house-hold names among average U.S. readers who aren’t explicit skiffy fans.

Plus, it’s expensive. $80 a year doesn’t sound like much, but at this particular point in time, my wife and I are actually trying to cut how much we’re spending on writing-related activities, because it would be nice to be able to claim an actual profit from my writing, on our taxes — either this year or next. And I’m already looking at shelling out $20 a month for Publisher’s Marketplace, possibly another $500 for the Superstars seminar in Salt Lake City in January, and the Renovation World Science Fiction Convention in Reno, Nevada, for 2011.

Assuming my check for my latest sale shows up before the end of 2010, this year I’ll have made the better part of two grand. Historic, for me as a writer, but still just a drop in the bucket, given expenses and household budget. For this writing schtick to be truly worth my time, it has to prove to be a net plus for the family coffers, not a net minus like it’s been since 1992. I’ve got a real shot at flipping over to for-profit production, and I’m considering very carefully how and when I decide to load the scales against the profit margin.

Maybe I’ll hold off and join SFWA when I get my check for my fifth pro sale? Or perhaps I will really hold out and join SFWA when I get my first advance on my first novel? As neat-o as it would be to claim SFWA membership right here, right now, it would feel like a frill. It’s not a pressing necessity. I don’t have money to burn, as they say. I’m already burning too much as it is.

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8 thoughts on “To SFWA or not to SFWA?

  1. Brad, I joined SFWA after my third pro sale and I think the org is still worth the annual dues. The regular Bulletin magazine, official forums, and other resources for members are nice to have, though I haven’t made as much use of them as I could since I’m still working on short stories and novels and such.

    I’ll add that putting “member SFWA” on cover letters for stories is nice, and while it doesn’t necessarily give the story an instant pass up the editorial chain, the membership has opened a few doors for me that I don’t think I would have known about without the membership.

  2. Thanks for the data point, Jim. I imagine I will join SFWA at some point, I just can’t spare the $80 right now. I’m also busier than hell and am — like you — probably unable to spare the time to sufficiently explore SFWA and all it has to offer. Heck, I am ready to cancel my PM membership mostly because in the two months I’ve had it, I’ve barely used that resource. I just don’t have the time.

  3. Brad, ultimately it comes down to what’s best for you, right now, at this very moment. While SFWA isn’t a bulletproof shield or a badge of honor, it’s a very well known organization. And, I hear it has insurance plans for writers. If you want to go freelance, insurance for the self-employed is VERY expensive. 100-400/per month and that’s just for one person. It also gives you access to the big names. Where do you think some con organizers find names and numbers of potential guests? Plus, it’s another tax deduction.

  4. I plan to join as soon as I am eligible — but not to benefit my writing career, to benefit my career in engineering and teaching. Having that on my CV would give me a little extra flexibility, and allow me to focus in interviews and salary negotiations on how those “soft” skills will allow me to be a better teacher, etc. It would also be a help when I inevitably need to take time off work to accept all those fabulous awards attend conventions, and I think that with a professional membership it’ll look less like I’m indulging a hobby.

  5. I seem to remember Tim telling us that the bulletin and the member directory were worth it. He didn’t say a thing about putting SFWA on our cover letters. Membership probably doesn’t mean much from the standpoint of impressing an editor, but the resources might be.

    I haven’t joined yet. Simon did get an associate membership though so you might be able to ping him for his thoughts.

  6. Not worth it. I won’t join.

    Not when I qualify, not ever.

    Respects,
    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer Marches

  7. I’ve been thinking about this, and I suspect the current SFWA could be helpful. Mary Kowal’s a sweetie and has a pretty good take on what SFWA can and cannot do.

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