Wednesday, September 22, 2010

SFWA Membership Guidelines

For years and years I was told that all one had to do to qualify for a SFWA (Sciend Fiction Writer's of America) membership was to sell a novel or three short stories at professional rates. Many people still believe this, and when I looked at the application process some years ago, that seemed to be the case. But times have changed. The new guidelines, found at are much more strict.

One cannot sell to just any professional market. One must sell to a market that has already been qualified by the membership committee, and only sales to those markets will count. To be qualified, a market must meet certain criteria and must meet the SFWA bylaws. The criteria for a market is:

"•Payment for all works of fiction (other than reprints or serializations), either in advance of publication or on publication, at the rate of either (a) at least $2000 for a single work or (b) at least 5c/word (3c/word before 1/1/2004); and
•Must have published consistently for a period of at least one year before the market will be considered qualifying; and
•Must have a print run or circulation of at least 1000 copies, or the equivalent in other media (e.g., demonstrated downloads in electronic media); and
•Is not self-publication, vanity press, or other type of author-paid or fee-charging press, as demonstrated such as (1) by having published at least ten distinct works by different natural persons during the date range; and (2) by authors not having paid or been requested to pay fees or give consideration of any kind."

The first two points are common sense. The third and fourth are a bit more disturbing, in that they seem designed to shut out the small press and POD publishers. Yet these small presses are a rising force in the publishing world. They may put out only two to four titles a year. Their circulations may be in the hundreds, not the thousands, especially if they are selling to a niche market. And since they do not qualify for SFWA membership on their sales, there is no incentive for them to follow SFWA guidelines in any other regard. If these small presses were only a minor part of the publishing world,I wouldn't worry -- but they do appear to be changing the publishing industry. There are so many of them that collectively they are becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Another disturbing thing is seen in the book publisher's list. Night Shade Books was put on probabtion for violating book contracts. "In this case, “probation” means that although Night Shade Books remains on our official list of qualified SFWA markets, during the term of probation, acceptance for SFWA qualification of fiction contracted for publication by Night Shade is suspended." In other words, if your book was under consideration during the time these violations took place, and was accepted after the probation was set in place, then you get punished.

Just to add a little more anxiety to the publication process.

So what does this mean for me, personally? One, that I'm no nearer a SFWA membership than I was a few years ago, and my chances of ever qualifying are much slimmer than ever. That list of potential markets is quite short. Two, even if I do sell to a qualifying market, there is always the chance that it could suddenly become non-qualifying due to the way it treats someone else. Three, there are a lot of markets, both for short stories and for novels, which have little incentive to follow SFWA guidelines. Four, I know that if I self-publish my books, they will look good and be done right. Adding that up, self-publishing makes more sense than small press publishing.

I guess I better go publish some books!

1 comment:

  1. I don't know, when I became a member something like 15-20 years ago, the rules may have not been spelled out quite so clearly, but they did use those same criteria to vet every publication. You never got in automatically.

    The point of a writing organization like SFWA isn't to qualify members, really, it's to put pressure on publishers.

    But you are right that the world is changing, and your goals have to change with them. SFWA may simply be less relevant to the career you're carving out for yourself.