Monday, April 23, 2012

Irony: Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America stuck in the 20th Century.

Science Fiction has long had a reputation for peering into the future, taking into account the social and technological changes and their effects. Thus, there is a certain irony at how locked in the past the SFWA is.

First, let me say that I applaud the concept of a filter for membership, in some instances. Just as I think that in the age of eBooks there is still some need for filtering and quality control. I think that this is why small publishers will continue to have a modest chance at survival in the near future. We are filters and help with quality control.

However, SFWA is using old style, outdated and strange quality control and filtering. Very 20th Century.

First, let’s examine the continued prejudice against self-publishing. You might think that as an editor at a small press, I would be for this sort of prejudice, as it steers some authors toward a publisher, rather than toward self-publishing. I am not, for a variety of reasons.

SFWA uses monetary calculations as it measurement—by and large. Yet, it simultaneously it discounts self-publishing. So, Amanda Hocking (before she signed with a large publisher) with a million dollars in sales, but self published, would technically not be eligible. I am sure that that if she applied at the time, she would probably have been granted a waiver, but there are a lot of writers that are better writers than Ms. Hocking (sorry Amanda, you are a great commercial success and I am in no way denigrating that!), who sell $10,000 or so worth of self published books, that technically cannot join. Really—how forward looking of you SFWA. Catch the wave of the future, but not at SFWA.

The thing is that one expects an organization like SFWA to be both forward looking and to encourage young/new writers, not to be a hang out of well established writers only. New writers, very good new writers, often turn to small presses (such as us, I thump my chest) because small presses are more cutting edge. We accept funky thinking. We look at the future and not the past for trends. Yet, the SFWA tends to discriminate against both small presses and authors who work with them. You need an advance of at least $2,000 to qualify as a writer and your press needs to have existed for at least 1 year with at least 10 titles.  Sounds easy? Small presses are entrepreneurs, risk takers, looking toward the future. They fold, go bust, and often don’t last a year. You want quality, you filter and don’t grow too fast. As a press, you might not jump in with 10 titles the first year, you might actually filter…for quality. SFWA does not filter for quality, it filters by old style market metrics. The irony is huge.

I think one forward thinker, Stanislaw Lem, may have had it right.  He basically criticized American SF, but really SFWA, for being too commercial and interested only in money, not quality. That was in 1973. Too bad the SFWA has not radically changed since then. But, to think it would would be Fantasy.

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