Possible Upcoming Changes to SFWA Membership

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an august non-profit on whose board I have served in the past, held its business meeting in January of this year, and since it was virtual, I had the chance to attend, which was a nice chance to see some familiar faces, meet some new ones, and hear what the organization has been up to in the past year.

An interesting development for SFWA that seems to have been flying under most people’s radar is that the organization’s members will be voting on whether or not to change the membership requirements in a way that the organization has not previously done. This may be one of the biggest changes made to the membership yet in the organization’s 50+ years of history.

The new qualifications: a writer can join as an Associate member once they have earned $100 over the course of their career, and as a Full member at the $1000 level.

That’s a huge and very significant change from the current, somewhat arcane membership requirements of $1000 over the course of a year on a single work to become a Full member. Particularly when you think that one of the most contentious propositions on the discussion boards in the past has been the idea of re-qualification, of making people prove they qualify on a yearly basis. Moving away from a system so complicated SFWA had to create a webform to walk people through whether or not they qualified to something like this is a big win in so many ways.

Why I’m absolutely voting yes:

  • This change makes SFWA available to more people in the earlier stages of their career, which is often when they most need that community, support, and advice.
  • More and more varied members will make the Nebulas a heck of a lot more interesting and perhaps combat some of the logrolling that I’ve witnessed over twenty or so years.  This has the potential to really shake things up in a good way.
  • More and more varied members means more volunteers and budget and that’s huge. One of the best things about admitting indie writers was the wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm added to the organization overall. This is even more of that.
  • That also means more people talking on the boards. I’ve been a moderator on those boards for a long, long time, and they remain a source of community, news, and information for me. The more the merrier, in my opinion. 
  • This change also opens up the game writing qualifications in a way that answers a lot of the existing issues. SFWA’s admitting game writers has been a bit bumpy, mainly because of the incredible variety of ways that writing can manifest.
  • On a small personal level, it may mean I’ll witness less truculent bullshit from people personally affronted by the existence of the past requirements, although people will continue to think SFWA is a gelatinous cube.

For this to pass, enough of the full members need to vote on it. If you are a full member, I urge you to check your email for the mail with the voting link, which would have come on January 15, with the subject “[SFWA] 2022 Call for SFWA Board Candidates & Bylaws Vote”. The cut-off date for getting this done is February 15, a rapidly approaching deadline.

One other change from the board meeting answers the question of how this affects the idea of “SFWA qualifying markets,” which has in the past been used as a way to make sure fiction markets increased their rates every once in a while. We’re going to see a fiction matrix that looks at a number of factors, including pay, but also response time, quality of contract, etc. It’s very nice to see this long overdue project finally manifest, and I bear as much guilt as anyone in the long overdue part, since I was around when it was first proposed and should have kicked it along significantly harder than I did. I’m very happy to see this and ten thousand kudos to the people who made it happen.

There wasn’t much else to the meeting that surprised me. Like a lot of the F&SF organizations in 2021, live events have been a problem. (This surprised me given that SFWA was one of the first organizations to put on a pandemic version in a way that really showcased what a virtual event could be.) But hotel and event stuff has been problematic for a lot of events, to the point where some seem moribund or seriously endangered, and given that, it’s unsurprising that cancellation costs of the event have wounded the SFWA budget.

Overall though, SFWA remains pretty robust financially, and the Emergency Medical Fund, Legal Fund, and Givers Grants programs are still doing stellar work. You’ve seen some of that continue to play out in the DisneyMustPay campaign. I will remind people that it’s a good place to direct charitable donations, and that you can also support it through the Amazon Smile program, buying SFWA’s Storybundles and HumbleBundles, or even by buying one of those cool secret decoder rings.

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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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