SFWA to Accept Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors as Members

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Self-published fantasy and sci-fi authors who meet minimum income requirements will now be able to become members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers America (SFWA), one of the biggest and most respected groups for speculative fiction authors in the industry.  Among other activities, SFWA is responsible for running the Nebula Awards, the Golden Globes to the Hugo Awards’ Oscars.

“Writers write. Professional writers get paid a decent amount for what they write,” said SFWA President Steven Gould. “For the past five years, it’s been apparent that there are ways to earn that decent amount that were not being covered by our previous qualification standards. Though these changes took a substantial amount of time, I’m grateful to everyone who worked toward this end.”

Vice President Cat Rambo said the move would help SFWA “[adapt] itself to the changing face of modern publishing,” which sounds really nice for an organization that has been trying to rehabilitate itself after fierce allegations of sexism that took out its previous president and sparked ongoing debates about the role and representation of women and minorities in a genre traditionally dominated by improbably muscled shirtless white dragon-slayers saving blonde sexpot damsels in distress.

So while this gesture at inclusion is super cool for self-published authors who have made at least $3000 off a single novel or those who have sold at least 10,000 total words of short fiction for six cents per word, it’s not clear exactly how many self-pubbers are going to qualify.  My guess is that there won’t be many.

Recent data suggests that the majority of self-pub authors earn between $1 and $4,999 per year, but that’s a pretty big range, and it’s likely that most of the authors fall close to the bottom of it.  The data also doesn’t indicate whether those authors have published one book or one hundred, so it’s hard to tell if there will be an influx of Active members.  To nab an Associate membership, authors have only to sell a single story of at least 1000 words at the same six-cent rate.

“We are using existing levels of income but are now allowing a combination of advances and income earned in a 12 month period to rise to the qualifying amounts,” the announcement says, which may help self-publishers that rely on momentum instead of pre-sales to work their way into the target zone.  But it’ll be hard to tell the real impact of the decision until indie authors start to put in their applications.

Having more or less followed the inclusiveness flame-war over the past few years, I can’t say I’m a big fan of the SFWA or how they handled themselves.  They have some big problems that need to be worked out in the long term, and I’m not sure that I would join even if I could manage to approach the financial requirements.

But I do think this is an important signal to the speculative fiction industry, and the traditional publishing machine at large, that powerhouses like the Big Five only make up one lane on a road that’s broadening as we speak.  I like to see anything that shows self-publishing gaining acceptance in meaningful ways, and I think it’s a good gesture.  Only time will tell if it’s a meaningful one.

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