What I’m Hoping For SFWA in 2016


Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

If you don’t recognize the above, you have a treat in store and should go spend a few hours with that. To those just returned from that mission and the others who know Pogo when they see it, salutations and so many warm wishes for the season.

I’ve got a few end of the year write-ups I’ll be posting, but the first of them are some thoughts about the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in 2015, and what I hope to witness for the organization in 2016. As you may know, Bob, I became SFWA President midway through the year, after a year of serving as the Vice President.

SFWA’s 2015 Accomplishments

Recently I wrote up some thoughts for our internal publication, the SFWA Forum, and that end of the year assessment led me to think about the org and give it a letter grade, which was a solid B despite the fact I’m a notoriously hard grader. Plenty of room for improvement, but overall we didn’t do too badly and have some things we should be quite pleased by.

Among SFWA’s accomplishments that I’m particularly proud of:

  • We hammered out membership criteria that didn’t just include writers publishing independently or with small presses but made us the first organization to consider crowdfunded projects as a publication path. That’s led to an influx of new members and fresh energy that’s been delightful to be part of.
  • Ad Astra: The SFWA 50th Anniversary Cookbook, which Fran Wilde and I edited, was recently featured in a Humble Bundle and has earned some money for the SFWA Legal Fund, while the overall Bundle benefited the SFWA Givers Fund, which feeds money into the funds underneath it such as the Legal Fund, the Emergency Medical Fund and other projects. Many thank yous to Sean Wallace, who both helped get the cookbook produced and also suggested including it in the bundle.
  • Establishing that same Givers Fund, an effort by Oz Drummond and Bud Sparhawk (as part of their much larger effort to get SFWA finances working efficiently and correctly), has let us standardize a process for accepting, evaluating, and awarding grants. We just finished the process for 2016 grants, and money is going to places such as a YA lecture series, the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop, historical archives, and an innovative effort focusing on encouraging crowdfunded efforts, among others.
  • Kate Baker, the SFWA Operations Director, has been putting out the Singularity, an electronic newsletter for members that appears twice a month, since early in 2015, and it’s become a publication to which multiple committees, volunteers, and members submit their news. If you’re a member curious about the Singularity, you can find the back issues on the discussion forums.
  • The SFWA New Release Newsletter and curated Kickstarter page are volunteer-driven efforts that provide additional publicity outlets for members. They’re spiffy! And show we’re paying attention to this electronic age, in my opinion.
  • The Nebula Awards Recommended Reading List was made public for the first time, and that, along with related efforts, has led to unprecedented levels of participation in the award so far, a pattern which continues.
  • The Contracts Committee hammered out a model contract for magazines and did a beautiful job of it, including annotating it for the benefit of writers. Contracts like this are a subtle but powerful way to affect the industry for the benefit of writers as well as markets. Other model contracts are in the works. (If you’re a SFWA member, please note that we have sample contracts for most of the SFWA qualifying markets; you will find them in the Resources section of the discussion forums.
  • We publicized our accessibility checklist when we realized it was a resource that conventions could use, something we’d already done with our anti-harassment policy.
  • I’m not recounting any of the small or behind the scenes things happening with groups like the Grievance Committee, but I can tell you they worked hard to solve problems and when it was something they couldn’t help with, they tried to give me a headsup so I could figure out where the organization could be of service. I met a writer at a convention recently, heard her troubles, and was able to say, “Okay, we’re going to start with X, and then once that’s done, we hook you up with Y and Z,” and feel confident that we would be able to do something.

Overall, I think that’s a pretty strong list of accomplishments for a year and it underscores that at a time when there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth about cultural boundaries and social media clashes and all of that, the organization — which represents and is made up of professional F&SF writers — spent its energy and time on things that genuinely benefited the field overall rather than running around worrying about pissing on things, which seems to have become a favorite sport for some in the field.

Some Bad Stuff

It wasn’t all peaches and cream, needless to say.

The 2015 Nebula Awards went over budget because of unanticipated costs, and then there were other budget issues, including having to cancel the 2015 NY Reception. The lack of a plan behind the 50th Anniversary Anthology finally sank that project when our CFO and I realized that the books would have to sell for 84.50 each in order to break even. The Bulletin emerged at a limping, sad pace that was sorely behind schedule, and was missing at the Nebulas. The Nebula Awards anthology for 2014 just got released this month (and would have appeared in 2016 if someone hadn’t made me aware of the issue so I could push back on that.)

We lost some people that the world will be less for. And on a small and personal level, I had no idea how much impact this would have on my writing, and that’s, frankly, painful.

Some necessary rearrangements were made behind scenes. Some were smoother than others. Nuff said about that.

What I’m Looking Forward to in 2016

There’s plenty to anticipate in 2016, but here are some of the highlights as we continue to lurch boldly into the future.

  • A better, stronger, more timely SFWA Bulletin. We’re looking at resumes right now for the Bulletin Editor position while Neil Clarke is working on revamping the magazine a bit and has put up submission guidelines for people interested in submitting to it. (The SFWA blog also pays for nonfiction; you can find its guidelines here.)
  • Continued expansion of ways in which we serve independently and small press published writers. I’m seeing some cool projects, including a recent SFWA grant to support a crowdfunding effort that I’m excited about. We are (holy smokes, finally) about to have the long-promised NetGalley program in place.
  • The Nebula Awards are important to the genre and I hope to see them continue going strong. Making the recommended reading list public was part of the effort to help them achieve more prominence; you’ll see some others manifest in 2016. They’re being held in Chicago again this year; they coincide with BEA and I will point out that we’ve got a good hotel rate at a very lovely and historical hotel, the Palmer House, if you’re planning on going
  • M.C.A. Hogarth has been a terrific Vice President, proactive and self-guided. One of her projects is a guidebook for SFWA members that explains everything: how to join the discussion forums, how to nominate for the Nebulas, how to participate in the Featured Book Program on the website, who to mail with directory issues, etc. That will appear in 2016 and I think it will be a bit of a revelation to us all.
  • Even more members discovering the private SFWA discussion forums, where there’s a lot of information and industry advice being exchanged. People have been using the chat room functionality there for regular productivity sessions and chats and at least one board member, Jenn Brozek, uses it for “office hours,” where people can come chat to her about issues or questions.
  • Getting the newsletter in place has helped us start figuring out a process that coordinates SFWA’s outward and inward facing publications, which include the Bulletin, the blog, the discussion forums, the Forum, the Singularity, social media, and more. Getting these publications feeding into each other is crucial; we’re slowly assembling a picture of what that will look like and putting processes for consistently handling the organization’s publicity needs in place.

Volunteer efforts consistently wow and amaze me. I’ll close with one of those, member Henry Lien’s recruitment anthem for SFWA. Look for a synchronized performance of it at the Nebula weekend in 2016; I hope to see you there.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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