Three New SFWA Programs

One of the nice things about having a lot of pots bubbling away, particularly when other people are supervising some of them, is knowing what’s coming up on the menu. So here, in no particular order, is a deeper look at three pet projects that are manifesting.

SFWA Ed will be online education via the web: an array of classes aimed at a range of writers, from new to professional. We’ve got a lot of members who teach, and I know our coordinator has been reaching out to as many as he can. That’s been rolling along splendidly thanks to the undauntable and indefatigable Jonathan Brazee. I believe it will be a mix of paid and free classes; we’re still figuring out all the details.

First Chapters is my attempt to answer the question: how can I know what to vote for in award season without reading every single book? That’s the biggest complaint I hear about any of the awards. Or one of them, now that I think about it. At any rate, this compendium will have a first chapter from eligible books, with the info you need to figure out what category or categories it fits in for awards like the Nebulas, Hugos, Norton, the Dragon Awards, etc. Using it should help someone find the books they want to read in their entirety. If you’re interested in making sure you’re contacted when we start taking chapters, please drop me a line. (If you have been asked not to contact me, please mail your interest to This project is rolling along thanks to the efforts of Dan Potter and the Publishing Committee.

The Preserve Your Legacy Campaign. So to talk about this one, I have to talk about a SFWA volunteer, Bud Webster, who was frickin’ tireless in working with the SFWA Estates Project, which works to connect authors’ estate with publishers, editors, scholars, etc. Bud was smart and funny and above all, kind. One of the good-hearted people that help keep the world running. This campaign is aimed at helping writers learn how to preserve their literary estate and archive their works. This one’s being driven by the excellent Lawrence Schoen.

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Media Consumed in October, 2017

happyhalloweenNot much October travel, yahoo! Game-wise it’s still StarDew Valley and Skyrim on computer and console, D&D5E and Star Wars RPG (Fantasy Flight) for tabletop.

In television, I’m happy to have a new season of DC Legends and The Flash start; I’ve been working my way through The Arrow and am finishing up Season 2 now, but it lacks the humor and sweetness of the other two. We did finally get around to watching season 1 of Stranger things, which didn’t really grab me much at first, but finally won me over. We finished that up last night and are looking forward to season 2.

As part of my reading, I did learn how to pick a lock this month, or at least have gotten to the point where I can pick the practice one in about ten seconds (which makes me feel a little badass, but in a pretty limited way) and also understand both how a skeleton key works and what a padlock shim is. I figure this will be a useful skill, post zombie-apocalypse. Maybe. Lotsa story ideas brewing from it, though, including a new Serendib piece.

Here’s the books I read:

Anonymous. Visual Guide to Lockpicking.
Michael Bishop. Light Years and Dark. One of the strongest anthologies I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across.
Leigh Brackett. The Long Tomorrow.
Rutger Bregman. Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build an Ideal World. Great argument for basic income, lots of fascinating history of what’s been tried (and worked with amazing effectiveness).
Chesya Burke. Let’s Play White.
Chesya Burke. The Strange Crimes of Little Africa.
Robert Coram. Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. Interesting bio, particularly if you’re curious about 4GWarfare since his concepts inform it.
Tananarive Due. The Black Rose.
Tananarive Due. My Soul to Keep.
George Alec Effinger. Heroics.
Laurie Forest. The Black Witch.
Victor Gischler. Ink Mage.
Robert Graves. Watch the North Wind Rise. Well, that was interesting, is all I’m going to say about that.
Charlaine Harris, Day Shift.
Brandon Massey. Whispers in the Night.
Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough. Space Opera.
Nnedi Okarafor. Binti.
Lorenzo Pecchi and Gustavo Piga. Revisiting Keynes: Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.
Declan Shalvey. Deadpool vs. Old Man Logan #1.
Michael Swanwick, Being Gardner Dozois.
Pamela Samuels Young. Buying Time.

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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Self-Defense Class, Week One

Image of a baby two-toed sloth, taken at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica.

Sloths are kinda irresistible in the morning.

Well, it’s been interesting.

Monday, I got up at 4:45 AM and drove over, first making sure I’ve eaten half a protein bar despite my stomach protesting the early hour. Because I’m always anxious about getting places late, I was there fifteen minutes early and got a chance to chat with the instructor, Carrie, a peppy woman maybe 10-15 years older than I. The gym’s fairly minimal: mats and bags. Four other women arrived, and we got started.

Shock number one. We’re learning self-defense, but this is also a fitness bootcamp with a hearty dose of circuit training included. I find the fact that I walk a lot and do a plank once every few days has totally deluded me to my state of fitness. This is brought painfully home during the jumping rope section. I haven’t done it in decades and simply cannot do more than a couple without hitting my feet. Still, I persevere.
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Nattering Social Justice Cook: Defending Yourself

kickboxing-152817_1280Monday, in the wee and terrible hours of the morning, I’m dragging myself off to the first of twelve women’s self-defense classes, which meet three times a week for the next month.

While I’m not fond of the circumstances pushing the need for something like this, it’s something I’d thought about for decades, so probably it’s good to be going ahead and doing it before I get so creaky that I worry about breaking a hip. As it is I know I’ll be collecting some bruises.

It coincides with a gun class halfway through, since I figured as long as I’m living in a house with guns, I might as well know how to pick one up and shoot it in the case of a zombie apocalypse. (This is an interesting year! So far I’ve added the following skills, all at 1st level, to my character sheet: scuba, lockpicking, coffee roasting. Basic CPR is another I want to append before year’s end.)

Mainly this will be interesting because it’s a big change in mindset. The last time I hit a human being with my fist was, I think, second or third grade. While I’ve played sports, they’ve never been rough and tumble ones; softball, golf, or tennis are more my style. Maybe bowling. I did fence briefly in high school and have always regretted not sticking with it.

But, plain and simple, I’m going to be grappling with my own fight or flight instinct and learning how to look at the landscape a bit differently. I plan to journal throughout because I think I’m going to run up against my own internal anger and deal with it in a way I’ve never had to before. I know it’s there because I glimpse it every once in a while.

While I was at Snake River Comic Con, I was talking with some other women about self defense classes, since a couple of them had taught them (in fact, SRCC’s kids track included a Hogwarts Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher showing them how to use a quarterstaff). They all agreed that they’d hit a particular phenomenon (“It happens all the time,” one said.) A man shows up to a women’s self defense class in order to demonstrate to the women that the class is pointless and in each case getting taken down by the instructor. And that night, when I was thinking about the mindset required to appoint oneself the policer of women, showing up to give the message that men can hurt them no matter what skills they acquire, I could feel that anger creeping along my body, extending outwards along my limbs, tensing them in a way I had to consciously concentrate on in order to stop.

I am aware of my surroundings at most times that, when on the street, does factor getting grabbed, because I have been groped, grabbed, squeezed, and otherwise forced into physical contact that I didn’t want multiple times. That sounds paranoid, but I think many women know what I mean. For me it’s a result of this encounter when I was a young adult, maybe 19 or 20. I was walking to work around 9 in the morning, downtown, when I passed an elderly man. There was nothing about his appearance or demeanor to distinguish him from a normal human being. But unlike one, he grabbed my ass as he passed, not a tentative little pat but a full-out invasive, startling, unexpected move that stopped me dead, spun me around, while he walked on, smiling broadly.

Where was the pleasure in that act sited for him? Was it the feel of my flesh? Or in the fact that he’d violated my boundaries, there in daylight? I’m pretty sure it was the latter.

How shitty does your soul have to be to get enjoyment out of hurting another person, either physically or verbally? Seriously. Trying to rebuild the crumbling brickwork of internal sense of worth while not realizing this is the very thing that’s destroyed it. Taking pleasure from hurting a fellow human being is vile. It corrodes your humanity in a way Uncle Screwtape would have heartily approved of.

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 10.19.06 AMNowadays, I’d react differently. I’d take a picture, call the cops, and follow him till they arrived. Because that sort of shit needs to stop.

Beyond two actual attacks, since then plenty of subway gropes, elevator boob brushes, lingering hugs. Laughing invitations to sit in men’s laps. Sometimes meant to intimidate, but often unthinking, like the fourth grade teacher known for snapping girls bra straps but who also gave me my first Heinlein novels to read. And you know, I don’t really care about a lot of that myself because I’m older now and know how to roll my eyes while at the same time keeping an elbow ready for that man standing waiting for the airplane bathroom and rubbing his crotch on my shoulder. (Yes, taken from life.) But that’s armor I’ve acquired. Many of my fellows, particularly the younger or particularly different ones, don’t have the same toughness.

Maybe we can try to create a world where they don’t need to. In some ways I’m encouraged by the way 45 has actually forced some formerly more wishy-washy allies into solidarity, made them go, well, okay, maybe the mentality informing “you can grab ’em by the pussy” isn’t really so much humorous as it is toxic.

I ramble. That’s okay. We are all made up of impressions, encounters. Moments frozen in our memories and shaping our thoughts for decades to come. What does it mean that there’s people out there who want others — particularly women — to have moments of fear, powerlessness, humiliation, pain? How do you heal those broken souls so they stop spreading their poison? Is that the right strategy? It seems the best longtime one, the one with the most result for the human race.

Call-out culture is something I was thinking about this morning. It seems to me the teaching there is aimed outward, not at the person being called out so much as the people witnessing. Perhaps more effective but also one that takes the center target and leaves them humiliated, angry, hurt. Yet that’s not the intent so much as collateral damage from pot shots at the system. I find talking privately usually more effective, but there are times when that’s not appropriate. Thinking about the guy who grabbed me, it would have seemed pretty appropriate to call him out because it would have made him realize sometimes there are consequences to oneself from committing and taking pleasure in assault.

Maybe this rumination is all particularly appropriate for a Sunday morning. Figuring out this shit is hard and looking at the Unitarian church’s sermon today to see if it’s applicable, I see they’re going to be discussing arguments for and against changing the wording of the First Principle from “person” to ‘being”. Probably a lengthy walk in order to think would be more useful, and luckily it’s a nice day for it, blue skies and leaves still on the trees being all beautiful and autumn-y.

Still waiting on that Adulting for Dummies book I was metaphorically promised as a child. Maybe they’ll hand them out in the first session of that defense class.

We shall see.

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Interview with Sherwood Smith on Omniscient Point of View in the Inda Series

TeaShopSherwoodSmithRecently the question of omniscient POV has come up in several classes, so I started reading some examples of it. One of the best I hit was Sherwood Smith’s Inda series. I figured, why not go to Sherwood and ask some questions about how she pulled that off.

What drew you to using omniscient point of view for the Inda series? What sorts of stories work particularly well with that POV? Were there any models that you looked when working with it?
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Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Report, Part 2 of 2

sound-1283826_1920In Part One I presented a discussion between writers Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl about Fireside Fiction’s reports on black writers in speculative fiction. In this part I want to talk about SFWA and what it can learn or has already learned from both the report and the discussion, along with listing some of the action items I’m taking away from it.

What’s Happened So Far

When the original 2015 report came out, we discussed it on the SFWA Board but little conclusive was achieved. I wrote about some of that discussion as well as my own thoughts.

Of the various action items the SFWA Board talked about, some have been fulfilled.

  • We successfully surveyed the membership in a project started by Justina Ireland and brought to completion by Erin M. Hartshorn, and are working on analysis of the results. We pushed hard on this, and I used part of my discretionary fund to pay for 10 $25 gift cards to use as prizes for filling the form out. Over half the membership responded, which I think may be a greater percentage than we’ve ever had in recent decades. I would like to think renewed enthusiasm and faith in the organization’s direction drove participation as much as the gift cards, but truth be told, the gift cards were probably responsible.
  • The Grants Committee’s decisions were informed by this during the last round, and I also looked at the decision afterward to make sure we were serving a number of diverse groups. That’s a step that needs to get formally written into the process, in my opinion. Over the past year I’ve been reaching out to groups supporting writers and F&SF works of color in order to let them know the grants are there and worth applying for, such as HeroNation.
  • On a personal level, as SFWA President, I’ve been trying to read in a way that informs me, while also making sure I’m promoting black writers while working towards overall diversity.

But there’s more to be done. (For example, that publishing house outreach is something I need to figure out, so my next step is asking our volunteer wrangler to find me someone to compile that list. Or the SFWA Star Project has been pretty inactive, so I need to prod around and see if someone won’t start driving it while firmly resisting the urge to do it myself.)

There is a fine line between asking for help from black writers in fixing the issue and expecting them to fix it. I still try to navigate this in addressing the issue, and with the podcast, my hope was to a) facilitate discussion that promoted awareness of the issue and b) gather information that helps me — and the rest of the SFWA Board — figure out what SFWA can/could/should best do.

Gleaning Action Items
Beyond the podcast, I looked to the original report, its follow-up, the accompanying essays, and some of the pieces it sparked in order to inform myself. This is accordingly an imperfect view and does not touch on every related piece, but I think I’ve created a decent list of things to do.

When the Fireside Fiction report came out, I was dismayed initially, and remain a bit daunted by it. For me it was hard to look specifically at this one aspect, black writers, rather than diversity issues overall. Realizing that was revelatory and only came about because of feedback that someone graciously gave me. Attitudes about class, race, gender, sexuality all play together in the make-up of our own personal filters on the world; I found it useful to try to change that filter and I’m very grateful to the essay writers as well as people who talked personally with me about the issues for their valuable time and effort.

Two black writers have been important to my own career. The first was Octavia Butler, one of my Clarion West instructors. The second is Samuel R. Delany, whose The Fall of the Towers was one of the first pieces of adult SF I read, and which inspired me to try to find out for myself all that SF could be.

One of my core beliefs is that if I’m leading an organization, I need to make sure that organization is doing what I believe to be the right thing. So what can I help SFWA do? Here are my notes.

Nisi Shawl: Ones and Twos and Rarely Threes. Shawl mentions editor Gardner Dozois telling her Clarion West class in 1992 that writing and selling stories in a particular universe is a good path to selling a novel in that universe. She references Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing and makes the observation that the suppression of thought requires nothing more difficult than misunderstanding. For me that raises a question about how to recruit and train slush readers. She also notes that “you have to be printed to be reprinted.” In the podcast this came up again: for there to be better representation in the slushpile, there needs to be more black publishers, editors, and slush readers in the system.

Action item: Think about slush readers. How do we create systems that recruit widely and also teach those readers and editors to read without so many filters? (Reading these essays might be a pretty good start on that.) Figure that out, then figure out how to spread that knowledge via panels, podcasts, handouts. Slush readers and interns are where the majority of our editors and publishers come from; change at this level will spread upward and do so within a few years, particularly if we figure out ways to help first-time anthologists and newbie editors as well, perhaps simply with resources.

Brian White: A Note from the Editor of the #BlackSpecFic Responses. White’s piece is most useful to me in talking about the changes Fireside itself made in reaction to the report. They included an anonymous way to self-report when submitting, something that SFWA could adapt to its membership form. They added special submission periods aimed at specific groups. That I’m not sure about translating – an obvious way would be grants or awards aimed at those groups, perhaps, but that’s not a substitute for inclusion in the existing ones. Changing staff to be more representative is another step, and something SFWA can incorporate in its staffing and volunteer (perhaps?) process. As is amplifying and building on the discussion itself.

Action items:

  1. Look at how we’re staffing and talk to the volunteer coordinator.
  2. Budget in 2018-2019 for analysis that looks at the Nebula awards/nominations/recommended reading lists in terms of racial/gender/class diversity.
  3. The podcast is one way SFWA can further the discussion. Figure others out. What can we do to leverage this effort more effectively? What sort of follow-ups are useful?

Tobias Buckell: Boldly Going Nowhere. Buckell talks about Leonard Nimoy and how Spock’s mixed race character was one that Buckell could identify with himself. He notes “Getting validated is really important to us humans.” He talks about being told repeatedly that characters of color don’t sell, and looks at the numbers that he’d expect from SFWA.

Action item: How can SFWA help with validating black writers? Our annotated reading lists, handed out at places like the Baltimore Book Festival, is one place. Inventory what we have and figure out holes. Then start filling them. As a follow-up make sure this material gets into our “SFWA-in-a-box” packet that lets members run SFWA meetings/panels at local cons and events.

And while I’m at it, we should probably make sure that membership survey gets done at least every two years.

Justina Ireland: Two Percent. Ireland points out that “promoting diversity and inclusion isn’t a passive state, it’s an active one.” She debunks issues of quality and, like White’s piece, hers presents some steps: 1) support successful black authors and SF mags publishing them, 2) challenge panel line-ups (and I’d add topics, and structures, and alls sorts of practices), 3) be vocal regarding supporting and promoting black writers, and 4) make spaces welcoming and inclusive.

Action item: For me, this underscores an existing issue that’s been slowly getting better, but not fast enough: the SFWA forums. Which deserve their own, and lengthy, post, but I am postponing that until I finish setting up a meeting with the expanded moderation team and talking to them about policies.

Troy Wiggins: Speculativeness Blackness. Wiggins talks about the disappointment of science fiction, “a space defined by creating new and different realities,” not looking at racism. Racism is very much part of American culture and in the news right now – to not question it seems a retroactive move. He talks about what magazines can do: soliciting from black authors, hiring black editors (and slush readers), not using a blind submission system as an excuse, tracking submission rates, heavily publicizing and promoting stories by black authors, and openly courting stories from connected authors. This last point puzzled me a bit — did it fit into a mentorship program, perhaps? It wasn’t until I read Jemisin’s later reaction to something that happened to her after the initial report came out that it clicked for me.

Brian White: Interview with N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin is unsurprised by the numbers. She references a strong black self-published fiction segment and that intrigues me enormously, because I know we have a lot of resources that self-publishing folks will find useful. She also notes that after #Racefail, many magazines began including a statement that they were interested in diverse fiction, and that for her a magazine that lacks that is signaling an editor who is either nor current with the industry or not interested in publishing diverse fiction, including fiction by black writers.

Action item: Look at the overall magazines and see who has such a statement and who doesn’t. Publish best practices to go along with our model magazine contract.

Anonymous – We Are Writing the Future. They talk about some of the reaction and charges of flawed data, and make valid points. I love this line, “Black people are in your science fiction, writing your future.”

No action item there, just a quote to be jotted down in my notebook.

Reactions to the First Fireside Fiction Report

I looked to the second report as well as some of the pieces reacting to the report for more insight, and found the following particularly useful:

Finally, as a result of reading I began to understand that phrase “openly courting stories from connected authors” when I read about an upsurge in invitations to established black authors immediately after the first report was released. Yes. Mail established black authors not just for their stories but to get -their- lists of people we should be helping. Ask them to suggest slush readers. Let their network come into play and amplify the hell out of it.

Reactions to the Report

One of the things that happened after the Fireside Fiction report came out was that I, like a number of other figures in the field (or so I would suspect) received an email from “Lev Bronstein” saying they and a group of “editors and writers” had put together an analysis that “suggests that we can’t draw any useful conclusions from Fireside’s report.”

In reading the report, I found that they had quoted me as part of their justification for their actions, and I replied saying not to use my name in that fashion. I’m still irritated by the assumption that I’d want to be associated with the amount of privilege showcased in both that email and the essay that they briefly posted then took down as a result of the absolutely inevitable and IMO justified Internet reaction to it.

It was, alas, not the only thing that in my perception would attempt (perhaps deliberately, perhaps simply a result of the misunderstanding Shawl references) to divert, distract, or otherwise detract from the message of the report. But it would be wearisome and discouraging to begin to assemble anything reporting on that.

Yes, you can perform verbal things and come up with “no useful conclusions.” Or you can believe the voices that work together in the accompanying essays to say, Yes, this is what we’ve experienced. Yes, this is an issue. Yes, we need to change it because it is harming people and the field overall. I believe the stories I’ve been told and they hurt my heart. The friend who had an editor highly interested in her book and looking forward to working with her — until the point where they met face to face and the white editor realized my friend was black. The friends who wryly compare notes on which of the black authors they regularly get mistaken for. And I believe the lack of representation in F&SF hurts the field and deprives us of some voices with a whole lot of things to say.


One thing I know is that this analysis should have happened sooner. I am, alas, only one woman, and I juggle at least a dozen SFWA-related things at any given time. There’s an essay about a complaint I received regarding a Service to SFWA award that goes with this, and that will be appearing soon. The wheels of bureaucracy grind exceedingly slow, particularly when powered by volunteer labor, and SFWA has brought that lesson home to me again and again.

Making sure we are useful to members, particularly self-published ones, is important. All writers want value for their money, including black writers. A membership card and a chance to say you’re a member isn’t enough by a long shot. So here’s something about what we offer and will continue to offer, what we’re trying to accomplish, and why. A list of what I’m trying to do, and the promise that I’ll listen to — and try to understand — feedback about it.

So. I don’t have any of the answers, I think. But I’m working at moving forward. As with other SFWA-centric blog pieces, I am following my philosophy about transparency whenever possible, not just in terms of processes, but the decision making behind them. I’m happy to answer questions about any of this, and to those with toes I’ve stepped on unnecessarily, I hope you’ll let me know so I can sidestep your feet in the future.

Peace out,


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Talking About Fireside Fiction’s #BlackSpecFic Reports, Part 1 of 2

sound-1283826_1920A few days ago Steven Barnes, Maurice Broaddus, Tananarive Due, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Tonya Liburd, and Nisi Shawl were kind enough to let me record their conversation about Fireside Fiction’s reports on blacks in speculative fiction. The discussion centered specifically on what SFWA can learn from the report in order to improve/expand existing efforts as well as things it should or shouldn’t be doing.
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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Four: What Lies Down the Road

2017 Nebula conference swag bags assembled and awaiting distribution.

2017 Nebula conference swag bags assembled and awaiting distribution.

This is the final part of a four part series. In this part, I’ll talk about plans down the road and make some predictions for what SFWA will witness over the next few years. Overall, I think it’s going to be nothing but positives and that SFWA will continue its tradition of helping authors.

The series so far:

  1. Part one describes the organization and its history.
  2. Part two talks about the decision to admit independent and small press published writers.
  3. Part three talks about what happened when the independents were first admitted.

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Pitches and Synopses Workshop: Some Highlights

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SFWA and Independent Writers, Part Three: Launches and Lurches

This third of a four part series about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s decision to admit independently published writers talks about the first wave of independent members and SFWA’s efforts to add value for those members. Here is Part One: History of the Organization and Part Two: Bringing in the Indies.

The doors opened on March 1, 2015 and SFWA Executive Director Kate Baker was standing by to process and admit our new folksSwinging the Doors Open to Independent Writers

The doors opened on March 1, 2015 and SFWA Executive Director Kate Baker was standing by to process and admit our new folks. This gave us a chance to observe the new criteria that the Board had been working on for so long in action with a mind for what sort of refinements might be necessary further on down the line in order to make SFWA even more welcoming to independent and small press writers.

I was glad we’d prepped the message boards. The new forums were immediately put to use and introductions made, with plenty of delighted welcomes. There was – in my perception – no contention, only enthusiasm.

Here’s a videocast M.C.A. Hogarth did aimed at indie writers evaluating whether or not to try SFWA:

Some statistics for the number-minded:

  • We admitted twelve new members in that first wave, and there’s been a steady influx since. At the same time, existing members that had independent published experience felt more empowered to step forward and share their knowledge.
  • According to the recent membership survey, 14.10% of the current membership identifies as indie, with another 37.57% considering themselves hybrid.
  • Only a small percentage (less than 5%) derives more than 50% of their income from crowdfunding.

All My Expectations of Indie SFWA Members Confirmed
As I and others had argued repeatedly, the change did not result in an influx of unqualified, affluent hobbyists trying to buy their way into SFWA, and we could, finally, put that particular straw man to rest and play taps while other straw folk were being assembled in the background.

As you can see by the numbers, it wasn’t a massive surge, but a solid number. For some people it was part of a lifelong dream. For others, it was a cautious exploration of just what SFWA had to offer them. More than anything else, these were pragmatic, working writers. In a thread on the discussion boards, people began to share their sales number in a revelatory and instructive way that emphasized what a smart move for SFWA this had been. I still inist one of the smartest moves that happened during my time with the board.

I kept meeting new members at cons, to my pleasure and delight. We began to offer more SFWA-focused programming at conventions, such as a panel about What SFWA Offers at GenCon, Norwescon, the Nebulas (that was a no-brainer), and others.

Unexpected Results from the Indie Wave

  • We found we’d done something groundbreaking without realizing it: become the first organization to allow crowdfunded projects to qualify. The question of net versus had been a subject of much discussion during the Board’s conversation, to the point where the overall category was in jeopardy, so I was happy to discover pushing to keep it alive had been useful.
  • Rarely did people have to combine sales in order to prove they’d hit the 3k in one year mark. Instead it was usually a question of “Do you want my sales from Amazon or Kobo? (or something else).
  • A delightful surge of volunteers and new energy should have been expected, but it took me by surprise nonetheless.

New Members Benefits — And Vice Versa
With that surge in volunteer energy came a lot of new stuff, primarily driven by Vice President Maggie Hogarth. People entered wanting to not just to connect with other members but to add their energy to the organization and help it grow to meet their needs.

Among them:

  • The New Release Newsletter. Taken from the description: “The newsletter goes out every two months, and feature science fiction and fantasy new back-list re-releases from SFWA members, including books, stories, games, and other creations.” (SFWA members can sign up for it here. Releases that are announced should be from the month before or the month after the newsletter goes out.) That newsletter goes out to close to 1000 subscribers and has an above-average open rate.
  • The Partners Program has been more successful in some areas than others, but overall it’s tried to build connections with industry contacts. Particularly successful ones include BookBub, HumbleBundle, Kickstarter, Kobo, and Storybundle. Today we launch one of the results of that, the second Storybundle we’ve done, this time the SFWA Fantasy Bundle (that link will go live Wednesday morning!). The Sci-Fi bundle earlier this year netted each of its writers a nice chunk of money, around $900, along with the curator’s payment, an equivalent amount which I donated to SFWA, as I’ll do again with this one. Next year our Self-Publishing Committee will take over running this program, and there will be three bundles altogether.
  • The Netgalley Program was a long long time coming and something I don’t know would have happened without Maggie lending her voice to insist this was something useful for our members, but it’s now something people frequently ask me about. I stole the idea from Broad Universe, which was to buy a membership that our members could use for individual books for a substantially cheaper cost than getting such a membership on their own. Here’s how to use it to promote a book.
  • The SFWA Star Project was a cool effort (and remains one) but it’s been a bit of an uneven project. Originally proposed by Rob Balder, it used a small budget to promote and support worthy crowd-funded projects. Material rewards gained by supporting a Kickstarter go to SFWA’s fundraisers to be used there.
  • Expanded Nebula Programming was a natural outgrowth of the new energy, and programming tried to bring in both partners that year as well as create programming aimed at the new members. One lesson learned that first year was that the usual basic level stuff was not what people wanted, but rather in-depth looks at specific aspects of the industry and how to use SFWA’s services to the most benefit. Another was that we needed to figure out a new bookstore policy in order to accommodate everyone.

Nebula programming for the indies would be an issue both that year and the following one, with many indies feeling they were unrepresented and saying so on the discussion forums. The second year seemed to me to be partly an issue of perception and bad framing rather than actual lack: while many of the panels were aimed at indies as well as hybrid and trad pubbers, they were not marked as being of interest to indies. To my mind, they have progressed significantly each year: for me last year’s highlights included the mentoring program, the chance to hear experts talking about their wide range of expertise in office, and the fact that we managed to give everyone, including the indies, a way to have their books for sale there at the events. (Thank you Sean Wallace!)

Many existing services were already there for the new members such as the Featured Book/Artist program, the Nebula Awards, and appearances at events such as WorldCon, the Baltimore Book Festival, GenCon, and others. Other new things were applicable to all sides, such as the SFWA Speakers Bureau, introduced in early 2016 or the emerging Grants Program. I tried to make sure that indies were represented on the SFWA Recommended Reading List, and continue to do so, as do a number of other people.

All in all – things were swell, and continue to be so.

Next time, in Part Four (the final one) — what does the future hold in store? Includes talking about data from the recent SFWA member survey as well as revelation of at least one cool project designed to help people reading novels for all yearly awards, including the Nebulas, Hugos, Dragon, World Fantasy, among others. *cue mysterious music and exit*


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