Off It Goes
Posted on March 21, 2007 Posted by John Scalzi 28 Comments
Behold! My SFWA ballot, all ready to be mailed. I must confess, I voted for myself. I also voted for Derryl Murphy in the veep slot; I felt that he would probably be the best fit for me in philosophy and goals, should I win, and also independently I like his platform. Mr. Burt’s apparent decision to base his campaign on defeating my presidential run, as chronicled at the SFWA ElectionBlog (actually a newsgroup), does also lend toward my voting for the other fellow. In any event, I’ve voted now. The deed is done.
If you are a SFWA member, please do remember to vote. You have, effectively, a month from this very date to vote (all votes have to be received by 4/28). If you threw away your ballot, you can get a new one from SFWA by contacting the secretary, Catherine Mintz; if you’re thinking of joining in order to vote in this election, you better do it right soon (like, now). You don’t have to vote for me (although I want you to), but you should vote.
Joining or rejoining to vote is relatively cheap, since SFWA pro-rates memberships in order to sync up with the membership calendar year (July to July, I think). I joined now at the half-year rate, but if I’d waited until April, I would’ve gotten the quarter-year rate–and maybe missed the chance to vote.
In that photograph, did you blur out SFWA’s address, but not your own?
Yeah. I have my address all over the site, and I’m listed in the phone book. It’s not that difficult to find me.
This whole thing is consuming my computer time. I can’t imagine what it’s doing to you, John, and Andrew Burt.
I believe Mr. Capobianco is taking it in stride. I believe Mr. Burt may be a bit more stressed. I suspect I’m somewhere in the middle.
By the way you write your name on your return address, (or sign it rather) I bet you have tons of fun signing checks.
I can see Ms. Mintz now:
“Oh, this must be John Scalzi’s ballot.”
“How can you tell?”
“By the address, silly!” ;)
(sorry, seemed funny in my head)
Godspeed through Texas, Sclazi’s Ballot!
John, wait, you FORGOT THE STAMP!
No, no. Krissy will add it on.
Just caught these Prez threads, fun! I wish you good luck, or perhaps bad, as I don’t know where on the Hamlet spectrum you currently quiver.
Just read the swfa membership requirements, how about some ballot stuffing? Hook up with a qualifying venue, then hire a bunch of folks to each write (3) shorty-short SHORT pieces at a nickel per word. By buying three-word stories (like “Shorty shorted shorts.”) you can create two new members per buck. This would prove: 1) you understand 21st Century market conditions better than your opponent, and, 2) you might just be crazy enough to work.
[warning: insanely long comment follows]
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 ™; 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
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.)
5. 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? :-)
I’m a complete outsider on all of this – a regular Whatever-er and an occasional SciFi reader – but I found the election blog quite enjoyable. Especially this from John B:
“To frame it via analogy, if SFWA were “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, I’d cast John Scalzi as Ty Pennington, and Michael Capobianco as the foreman of the weekly homebuilder’s construction crew.”
John, I just bought a new home. If this President thing doesn’t pan out, how about bringing your bull phone over and and giving it a makeover?
Ugh, formatting. John, that should be:
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…etc.
John Scalzi, “Krissy will add it on.”
I don’t know, John. We’ve already seen one defection within the household (and as all guys know, women stick together). What could be easier than to sabotage your ballot?
Maybe it’s that John is not allowed near the stamps anymore?
Chang, I figured out why you’re being randomly moderated. I fixed it, I think.
Thanks. It’s weird how sometimes it goes through and sometimes not. Must be all the chang.com/pornmerchants spam’s out there.
And here’s why John can’t play with stamps anymore. 3 Inverted Jenny’s, John? Where’s Athena’s college tuition going to come from now?
Shoot. My HTML isallf’ed up in there! Try again?
Here’s why John can’t play with stamps anymore. 3 Inverted Jenny’s, John? Where’s Athena’s college tuition going to come from now?
That was a completely funny post (the stamp thing).
Thanks for making me laugh.
I e-mailed Catherine Mintz and received a very prompt response telling me that I needed to e-mail Jane Jewell, execdir at sfwa dot org. FWIW. This’ll teach me to be efficient when sorting my mail. I think John declared his candidacy the day after my recycling went out.
I have mixed feelings about the idea of a junior SFWA membership for not-yet-professionally-published writers, as Mary Anne suggests. The needs of working writers — the questions we need answered, the advice we need, the support that helps us advance both in our craft and in our career — are really different from the needs of amateurs who are in the process of breaking in. There are actually a ton of places that amateurs can get support and encouragement — while there are remarkably few venues where professionals can get that sort of support and advice. It’s a lot more straightforward to give support and encouragement to amateurs; what they need tends to be easier to provide. And, there’s endless demand for it. So, it’s the sort of thing that could become what the organization does, to the exclusion of supporting professionals.
On the other hand, I haven’t felt as if I’ve gotten much of useful advice from SFWA anyway. On the other other hand, I haven’t used the online SFWA forums much at all, and if I did, it’s possible that I’d get more out of it.
And on the other other other hand, SFWA’s definition of “professional” apparently excludes Mary Anne, which frankly boggles my mind. If I were to custom-craft an online community of writing and publishing professionals who I thought could bring both interesting questions and useful, relevent information, Mary Anne would absolutely be on the list. Near the top, even. If the standards of our professional organization are excluding her, there’s something screwy about these standards.
I want to add, also, that I was an unpublished amateur semi-recently. (It feels a lot more recent than it was.) So I’m still pretty tuned in to snotty professionals whining, and when I re-read my post, I irritated myself. :sigh:
So, if anyone is really interested in hearing what sorts of information professionals need that amateurs don’t really that are really hard to talk about honestly in mixed company, I can talk about that over at my own blog. Honestly, though, it’s not like any of this useful exchange happens in (for example) the SFWA suite at WorldCon. At least not at the WorldCon I went to. The SFWA suite that time was mostly just very crowded.
I’m looking forward to learning the results. The defection ad and posters were priceless. :-)
Naomi, I think what I’d say in response is simply that there are actually a lot of levels in publishing. At various points in my career, I have been:
– unpublished, but working hard
– published only in poetry
– publishing fiction in microscopic venues
– had a few pro short story sales (not in sf)
– edited various professional magazines and anthologies, some to rather large sales
– published two work-for-hire books with a big mainstream publisher, which sank without a trace
– published a major short-story collection with a different big mainstream publisher, to excellent reviews and mediocre sales
– had a completed novel under contract go into publishing limbo
…and I’d say that at every point in the process, my needs for advice and assistance have changed, and I imagine they will change further as I (hopefully) progress in my career. (I’d call myself an ’emerging’ writer at this point in my career — eventually, I imagine I’ll be a ‘mid-career’ writer, and hopefully someday an ‘established’ or ‘senior’ writer.)
It’s possible, I suppose, that the needs of folk in the first few categories would drown out the needs of others, but I think that could be handled with careful portioning out of interest areas and committee priorities. I’m reminded of the very old days of Usenet, where there was a newsgroup just for newbies, and a corps of hardy volunteers who patiently, over and over again, explained things to the bewildered newbies. :-) It’s felt to me as if I were a bewildered newbie every time I progressed to a new stage in the process, and I’ve appreciated every bit of help I’ve gotten along the way.
Generally, I’d just like to see SFWA serving *all* genre writers, not only all ‘professional’ genre writers. That’s obviously a pretty big philosophical difference between me and much of SFWA’s current membership, which is why I wouldn’t be likely to be elected, even if I did qualify for membership and chose to run for prominent office.
I also emailed Catherine Mintz and was redirected to Jane Jewell, who promised to send my ballot out, stat. I have to say–I was a bit discouraged reading all the commenters on the other blog entry who were saying: I would vote for you, but I never bothered to join SFWA. Well, back when I first qualified, I wasn’t going to join SFWA either, but then a very wise gentleman (Paul Park) told me I should, noting that then I could nominate for the Nebs, and would get an invitation to the SFWA reception. Of course, you can go to the reception without being a member of SFWA, but receptions are expensive things, and it seemed to me that rather than freeload year after a year, I should be chipping in somehow, via dues if nothing else. And having the option to nominate for the Nebs is always nice. I don’t do it often, but when I do, it’s heartfelt. Anyway, now I’m glad I did join SFWA, and I can’t help but wish that others had done so as well, rather than remaining aloof. The only chance of change is from within. Of course, until now, *I* didn’t try to do much to change from within, but it’s hard to muster up a solo effort. Now that a movement is under way, I’m delighted to be able to participate. So I urge those of you who can qualify but haven’t, and who want to see change, to get your paperwork in the mail ASAP and join the Revolution!
Mary Anne, you’re not as far out of step with people in SFWA as you might think; there are folks in my writers’ group who are in both SFWA and RWA and would really, really, really like to see SFWA become more like RWA. Which allows unpublished writers to join, and offers mentorship and assistance to them.
I completely agree that each individual needs a huge range of things at each separate step.
With regards to unpublished writers, junior membership and mentoring, here’s the thing that I wish someone had done for me. I wish there was a mentoring program for new writers at the point they qualify for SFWA.
I vividly remember the confusion upon finding that I had a book deal and no idea about the *new* rules of the game. There’s more information now than there was in 2001 when I was looking, certainly, but most writing advice is still geared toward the unpublished or it’s about promotion. I wonder if there’s a way to shepherd new professionals through the early steps of their careers.
Hehe, as an unpublished writer, I’m all for the mentoring idea. :) In fact, my first thought to anonymous’s post was, “RWA has mentoring???”
(I’m still all about fixing the website. CSS! Content divorced from design! RSS feeds! Useful information organised to be even more useful!)
John, I’m sorry. After spending way too much time reading the SFF.net boards, I apologize for wearing my jester’s hat in regard to this election. Please win. Please run again next year (if the bylaws allow that). And please shake up that disfunctional organization and remake it something I want to join.
Also, for anybody that still has a vote, I recommend the announced write-in candidates for both President and most definitely for VP.