For those Whatever readers who are also members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Association of America (SFWA for short), SFWA member Derryl Murphy is doing an informal poll of members, asking: “What Should SFWA Do For Me?” (“Me” in this case being “you,” not me, John Scalzi (or me, Derryl Murphy)). If you’re a SFWA member and have a strong opinion, you should head over and give some constructive criticism.
I have to say quite honestly that I don’t really have any expectation that SFWA will ever do anything for me. I joined it pretty much exclusively because I liked the idea of joining the same club that Robert Heinlein and other favorite authors of mine were in. Three years in, I keep my membership for three reasons: One, the personal amusement of being in SFWA; two, to contribute to SFWA’s emergency legal and medical funds; three, to vote on the Nebulas. I don’t ever expect to benefit from SFWA’s legal or medical funds, and I find it deeply unlikely I’ll ever win a Nebula, much less be nominated for one, so I don’t see either of those working for me. But it still amuses me to be in SFWA.
Now, if I were King of SFWA, I would make a lot of changes, among them:
1. Put the Nebulas back on some sort of schedule that would help them approach relevance and usefulness for the careers of the authors nominated;
2. Institute a requirement that active membership status requires a book sale or publication in a pro-level magazine/online site at least once every three years; members who don’t meet this requirement are elevated to “emeritus” status which allows them to nominate and vote for Nebulas but not for officers or amendments/changes to SFWA bylaws (active status to be regained by once more meeting SFWA’s entrance requirements for membership);
3. Hire a full-time publicist whose job it is to promote the works of SFWA members and get them speaking gigs, store appearances and SFWA-related signings;
4. Hire another publist whose sole gig is to promote science fiction to young readers and work with publishers and authors to create free (or very low-cost) SF-related materials for schools and teachers;
5. Rebuild the Web site so it looks and acts like something designed this millennium, and works to promote both SFWA and its authors;
6. Align the philosophies and practices of SFWA to reflect the realities of writing professionally in the 21 century;
7. Build out the Nebula Weekend into an annual Worldcon-like event, to raise the status of the Nebulas and to build public awareness of SFWA (and also, to generate revenue to be placed into a general endowment)
8. Raise the cost of membership to cover new programs and to build an endowment for the emergency funds.
9. Require SFWA members to offer a certain amount of pro bono work to help the organization meet its educational and public outreach initiatives.
Basically, I’d make SFWA an actual professional organization rather than just a nice clubhouse for all us SF writers to belong to and play in.
However, back here in the real world, I don’t perceive much of an interest on the part of the SFWA membership to make the organization one that actually caters to the needs and interests of professional writers, and I’m not personally inclined to attempt to overcome the organization’s institutional inertia (not to mention actual resistance) against stuff mentioned above. Well fine; inasmuch as I’m a member primarily out of affectation, if people like the dysfunctional status quo, so be it.
I recognize that the standard response to complaining about organizations like SFWA is “if you want to change it, pitch in,” but the thing is, I don’t see why I always have to be the one to effect change. I’d like change to happen without me having to bust my ass; that’s what I pay my dues for, to have other people deal with this stuff. I realize this is terrribly selfish, of course. But there you have it. Unless SFWA really does want to make me king and I can institute all this unilaterally. In which case, Like Cincinnatus, I’ll be happy to leave my plow for a while. Let’s just say I don’t expect my ascension any time soon.
(SFWA members, a reminder — if you have anything to add about what you’d like SFWA to do for you, go to Derryl’s blog and put it there. If you’re just commenting about my megalomania and indolence, you can do it here. Thanks!)