Because you’re all just dying for yet another post about the never-ending carnival of hair-pulling that is the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, right? Right. Or if you’re not, go read Sarah Hoyt’s post. Which is, arguably, the greatest post about SFWA in the histories of the forevers.
But, assuming you’re still with me, allow me to post my own opinions on how SFWA might be fixed. (And why these things are unlikely to ever happen.)
1. Set the bar high!
No membership for people not earning the greater bulk of their annual income through fiction writing. Also, impose an annual fiction writing income floor, below which members cannot fall without being placed on the inactive list, and therefore losing the ability to vote and/or participate in the org. Sounds harsh, right? Well, if you want to “professionalize” your org, it’s not a bad idea to force it to be composed strictly of professionals. Not amateurs. Not even pro-am. Professionals. SFWA most likely will not do this because the majority of voting SFWAns are amateur and pro-am, some of whom only ever make sales irregularly, and almost nobody presently in SFWA will vote himself/herself off the island. Even if it means improving the org’s professional clout.
2. Hire people to administer the org.
Elections get messy because elections introduce politics and petty side-taking. Plus, no member on a board or in an officer’s chair will likely risk his or her reputation with his or her publisher by launching an investigative audit and/or lawsuit. The people doing these things should not have publishing skin in the game. They should be hired to run the org and be business-minded, without having their income dependent on the business model itself. Who picks and hires these front men (front women?) is something the org would need to figure out. Maybe a randomly-selected body of 7 members would annually review the performance(s) of the front men and/or hire people on an as-needed basis? The front men would also be empowered to kick out members who don’t pay dues, don’t meet membership requirements, etc. This is unlikely to happen because there are many SFWAns who covet SFWA office and/or would cry foul if ever SFWA actually began to prosecute their publishers in court. And because they get to vote, such a sweeping change in org governance is liable to be voted down.
3. Get rid of the Nebula Award.
Like elections, the award introduces politics, pettiness, grudges, etc. Thus division in the ranks. And for what? At present, the award carries very little value — outside of prestige. And then, it’s a limited prestige, because very few people beyond the ghetto walls of SF/F even know what the Nebula is, much less consider it a hallmark of storytelling quality. Scrapping the Nebula will never happen because there are a great many current SFWA members for whom attaining a Nebula nomination and/or win is a treasured, highly emotional goal. If the Nebula went away, these people would die a little bit inside. So, because they get to vote, they will never vote away the Nebula.
4. Jack up the annual membership fee.
As with Item 1, this has the intended effect of keeping the bar high. Anyone capable and willing to contributing $500 or even $1,000 U.S. dollars (or more) per year, is unlikely to be an amateur, or a pro-am. Plus, it forces members to have actual skin in the game. Presently, the SFWA dues are a minor trifling that earn each member “achievement unlocked” bragging rights, but little else. What is there to hang your hat on when the great majority of the group are not precisely Name Authors? It’s a true arrival moment if/when you can meet Item 1 and Item 4. Then you know you’re Somebody. This won’t ever happen because (again) the bulk of present SFWAns will not vote themselves out of the club. Especially for the sake of a hugely increased membership price tag. Even if it enables SFWA to effect Item 2.
5. No politics, no politics, no politics.
SFWA should not, as an org, concern itself with who is sitting in the U.S. White House, nor the U.S. Senate, nor the U.S. Congress. It should not concern itself with overseas military operations, nor domestic social welfare programs, nor city and municipal elections. SFWA should also not concern itself with social studies and humanities department theory, to include sex and sexism theory, transgender theory, race and ethnic theory, and so forth. The SFWA ought to be a business org dedicated to protecting and expanding the business opportunities of its members. Anything outside of business concerns, would be strictly off the table. Something for individual members to pursue on their own time, outside the walls of the org. This will most likely not ever happen because the present SFWA body is increasingly dominated by amateur and pro-am voices who want to make SFWA into an explicitly political organ with explicitly political doctrines, to include the org’s own magazine — its content, its editorial slant, etc. Ideally, the SFWA Bulletin would be neither Mother Jones nor The National Review. Alas, the reality is that the Bulletin is going to reflect the loudest opinions and voices in the present org, regardless of whether or not these opinions have anything to do with businss, or whether the voices have any qualifications to speak on business matters.
There could be more done, but I think these five items cover it. Until or unless one or several of these items are implemented, I think it unlikely that I personally will renew my SFWA membership. Which is not a swipe at those present SFWA members and officers who have labored very hard (sometimes for many years) to make SFWA into an honorable body that does right by its authors. Rather, I have to look at SFWA in terms of its actual effectiveness in the field. For me, there is almost no function SFWA might claim to be able to carry out, which I could not carry out for myself. To include legal protection, health insurance, and me being my own best business advocate, where entering into (or severing) relationships with publishers is concerned.
Now, this might just be me being a self-starter who has independent access to things, via my military Reserve job and my full-time private sector job. And if you’re thinking it might be odd for me to want to see the SFWA bar raised to such an extent that I personally might not ever qualify for membership, I would point back to my military career. High bars don’t scare me. High bars are good. High bars make you work for a thing, and work to keep it after you’ve gotten it. I see no downside to a high bar, even if it means reducing the SFWA ranks to a couple hundred people, who all pay a lot of money to be members. I believe firmly that this would transform SFWA into an org capable of taking on almost any publisher, in court or out of court, and doing for authors what SFWA has, in its present form, been mostly unable or unwilling to do.