by Kate Baker
“Why SFWA?” and “What can it do for me?” These two questions have stumped many a SFWA board member, volunteer, and employee throughout our existence. The typical answer had always been, “Bragging rights and oh, the emergency medical fund.” While those two things are definitely beneficial, I’m here to tell you that the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is so much more.
As you can imagine, SFWA has had to evolve to stay relevant and useful to our members. Damon Knight started the organization back in 1965, and we’ve grown from a small group of members to nearly 2000 as I write this, a milestone worth mentioning in this ever-changing landscape. For some reason though, we’ve always had difficulty presenting our services in a meaningful way. In the past year though, we’ve been able to craft our elevator pitch to both new and prospective members, expand and enhance our offerings to all levels of membership, and create a handy graphic that will also need to be updated with all things awesome.
It’s no surprise that one of the most popular panels presented at the Nebula Conference (part of our promotional and educational missions) gave insight into all the existing and forthcoming programs and services that the organization has to offer. Not just to our members mind you, but to the greater SFF community at large.
Titled “SFWA Services – What Can We Do For You?,” the participants consisted of SFWA President Cat Rambo, Vice President Erin Hartshorn, CFO Bud Sparhawk, Director-at-Large Sarah Pinsker, Director-at-Large Lawrence M. Schoen, Volunteer Wrangler Derek Künsken, Writer Beware Volunteer and Advocacy Champion Michael Capobianco, and me, SFWA’s Executive Director.
Responsible for many of the different facets of the organization’s day-to-day operations and policy making, these key and dedicated individuals were able to share many of the great things we’re committed to and focused on doing. To my knowledge, we’ll be having the panel again at our next Nebula Conference in 2018. You can go to nebulas.sfwa.org for more information on the fantastic conference and awards banquet.
Also, because the things offered on the panel bear repeating as many times as we can, I’m going to do my best in distilling everything that was said in the course of an hour.
Our recent transition from a 501(c)(6) non-profit trade organization to a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization has presented many challenges along with the benefits that were described in the voting packet sent out to members in 2012. Namely, our ability to give grants instead of loans to those in most desperate need for emergent medical conditions that prohibit them from writing, or to help in specific writer-involved legal situations, was one of the bigger selling points for the change.
Moving our corporate registration from Massachusetts to a friendlier California, we were able to offer online voting instead of paper balloting for our elections and special referendums, which greatly increased voting participation. Since our reincorporation, we are now able to take donations directly to our SFWA Givers Fund which funnels into both our charitable grants program, (open every August through October 31st) and also into the better-known Emergency Medical (EMF) and Legal Funds. The change allowed us to work with organizations like Humble Bundle, StoryBundle, AmazonSmile, and personal donors who believe in our varied missions. For more information on donations, you may visit sfwa.org/donate.
We are an organization with rich and sometimes tumultuous roots, with an eye to the future. Our goals will always trend toward helping writers and industry professionals in the SFF community. Which is why, when you now ask me, what can SFWA do for me? I am honored to give you a really detailed list.
You should know all about this one. But in case you don’t: Founded in 1998, four highly dedicated volunteers took on the more nefarious and seedy parts of the industry, warning professionals in the field of unsavory practices by agents, editors, and publishers.
“Although we’re sponsored by US-based organizations of professional writers of fiction and non-fiction, our efforts aren’t limited by country, genre, or publication history. We’ve designed the Writer Beware website so it can be used by any writer, new or established, regardless of subject, style, genre, or nationality.”
Long before SFWA even considered becoming a charitable organization that worked for all SFF genre writers, Writer Beware was already doing important work that expanded far beyond our literary borders. Now led by Victoria Strauss, Michael Capobianco, and Richard C. White, this arm of SFWA continues to shed light and advocate in the darkest parts of the field. For more information please visit: sfwa.org/beware
Conceived by the late Bud Webster, who received a Kevin O’Donnell Jr. Service to SFWA Award for his efforts in this arena, the project now has the support of novelist Mishell Baker with the assistance of longtime volunteer, Michael Capobianco. Pairing estate managers with those individuals/entities who wish to keep works of deceased genre writers reprinted, the project keeps an active and updated list of those responsible for the rights of those works. Not only does this endeavor afford opportunities to serving members of the estate, but it can prevent long-beloved works from fading from view. We hope to expand this project even further in the future. Working with volunteers, we’re looking into ways to help authors preserve their legacies now. For more information: sfwa.org/member-links/projects/estate/
SFWA constantly keeps our ears to the wind, in order to alert you to scams or unsavory individuals who are unable or unwilling to fulfill a contract’s terms. When this happens, another dedicated group of volunteers step in for our members, willing to work confidentially and behind-the-scenes to get you what is owed. The committee members consist of Lee Martindale, Anne Leonard, Michael Armstrong, Gary Kloster, Eric James Stone, Paul Jackson, Ian Watson, and Dan Koboldt, each with their areas of expertise. Committee chair John E. Johnston III will point you in the right direction if they can take your case. You can find out more here: sfwa.org/member-links/committees/griefcom/
Our excellent WebEditor, Todd Vandemark, works with genre authors to provide content for our public-facing blog. Located at sfwa.org, you’ll find interesting and informative articles, which include, but aren’t limited to:
Curated by David Steffen of the incredibly useful writing submissions tracking site: The (Submissions) Grinder, here you’ll find a list of relevant and open markets soliciting work for the minimum professional rate of $.06/word or more. Once upon a time, this report had been curated for the SFWA Bulletin, but was moved to the website to give more timely information.
It is with great sadness that we often lose genre professionals. Steven H Silver works with care to craft biographies of those who are no longer with us—as a final tribute to all they’ve contributed to the field and/or organization.
Ranging from tips and tricks that some of the most successful authors utilize to complete projects or offer insights into marketing best practices, we sprinkle these gems throughout the week to help keep you motivated and organized.
From new programs and services that we offer to the larger news from publishers, editors, and agents, SFWA is committed to sharing the news that matters to you as a member.
The SFWA Bulletin
You’re holding it in your hands or reading it on your tablet or computer.
Offered as part of your membership, not only do you have the opportunity to read what other members or professionals in the field have written, the SFWA Bulletin is also a paying market. Feel free to pitch to Neil Clarke at email@example.com if you have an idea for a column or an article that may be useful to the SFWA members who read it, and to the larger writing audience that subscribes via Amazon or Weightless Books.
Being a writer can be overwhelming. When you have mastered the art of rejection (insert copious laughter here) and you finally make that first sale, the contracts committee has worked hard and has your back. Offering model contracts ranging from:
Voice Actor Contract
Author Collaboration Agreement Contract
You can find out more here: sfwa.org/member-links/committees/contracts-committee/
Curated Reading Lists
A relatively newer venture, some still may argue that our Nebula Awards Short List served as a yearly recommended reading list. In the past year or so, we’ve expanded that offering outward, after seeing increasing demand at events like Book Expo America or the American Library Association Meeting. Most recently at the Baltimore Book Festival, the events team solicited the help of Erin M. Hartshorn and Erica L. Satifka for reading lists that celebrated diversity and raised awareness of mental illness in genre fiction. We’re always looking for more reading list ideas, so please send pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s not only a great way to raise awareness about genre-critical issues, but a great way to promote a stable of authors and venues.
There is nothing quite like standing in front of a crowd, reading from an existing or upcoming work in an intimate venue. Starting with the Pacific Northwest Reading Series currently organized by another SFWA member and volunteer, Mark Niemann-Ross puts together a fine evening of author readings every quarter or so.
In addition, a grant was given via our yearly grant applications process to another 501(c)(3) to start a reading series in Chicago. Another SFWA-sponsored series popped up in Pennsylvania as Galactic Philadelphia wrapped up their debut event in October of this year and officially came under the SFWA umbrella. As with anything, if you are interested in seeing an ongoing event spring up in your town, our budget planning for Fiscal Year 2018–2019 will be commencing around the time we print this article. We need a plan, projected cost, and the volunteers who will be attached to the series. If approved, your city/town could be able to share the spotlight and the mic!
You can find out more information about the Northwest Reading Series: sfwa.org/other-resources/for-readers/reading-series/sfwa-northwest-reading-series
SFWA is committed to making all of our organization-sponsored spaces free of all forms of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination. Whether you sit behind a keyboard and participate in our member-only discussion boards, newly formed Slack channel, or show up to a SFWA-sponsored event, we have your safety in mind. We have a clear set of anti-harassment guidelines and procedures that can be found on our website and have offered these out to the community-at-large for further dissemination and use.
Additionally, our SFWA Ombudsman, a role currently occupied by Gay Haldeman, is ready to receive and act upon complaints as well. You can always get in touch with her at email@example.com.
You may find our full statement here: sfwa.org/2011/11/sfwa-statement-on-sexual-harassment/
In addition to making our SFWA-sponsored and controlled spaces free of harassment, we aim to make them inclusive and inviting to all members of the community. Back in 2011, SFWA put together a committee to evaluate accessibility in all arenas. They in turn, came up with a checklist that we use to evaluate event space. While we choose our yearly conference hotel with compliance in mind, we also work with the hotel and conference volunteers to make sure those with disabilities are able to enjoy our events. In places where we have not chosen the venue, we will still work with hotel or the facility management to make sure we mitigate any possible difficulty.
For more information, please visit: nebulas.sfwa.org/nebula-conference/2017-conference-accessibility/
One of the exciting benefits of the reincorporation mentioned above is that we are able to offer grant opportunities to deserving non-profit organizations/individuals. Disbursed from donations made to our SFWA Givers Fund, we’ve supported integral programs such as the Alpha Teen Writing Workshop, the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop, the Clarion West Writers Workshop, the SFWA Kickstarter Star Project, the forthcoming and aforementioned Chicago reading series, among others in the first two years of its existence. Over $24,000 was given out in 2017, and we look to offer similar amounts or more in upcoming fiscal years. While our current application period has ended, look for a new call around August of 2018.
Membership Discussion Boards
One of the perks of SFWA membership continues to be access to our member-only discussion boards. Filled with a broad range of topics, members can engage in conversation and lively debates from the current state of publishing to favorite recipes. If you are interested in what the SFWA Board is up to, all related business and votes are available, too. Looking for things to read throughout the year come award season? There is a great chance it will be in our fiction section, for free.
Featured Book and Author Program
On our public-facing website, look to the right-hand sidebar, where we feature both members and their newer titles. With thousands of unique page views daily, this program is instrumental in the ever-expensive and changing puzzle that is promotion. Did we mention it’s a free service to our Active and Associate members? To submit, please visit: sfwa.org/member-links/featured-books-and-authors-programs/
It can be difficult sometimes to snag a signing opportunity at a large convention like the annual WorldCon, the American Library Association Meeting, Book Expo, or local book festivals, but SFWA has you covered in that, too. In the past four years, we’ve had presences at many of these types of events, not only offering discounted or free admission through our participation (where applicable), but we’ve typically offered up our exhibition spaces to members who wish to hold a signing.
Even if you can’t join us at one of our many venues, conferences, or events, you can still promote yourself and your titles. We frequently put out a call for materials and have the opportunity to put out postcards and flyers or give away books and/or materials to potential readers and buyers.
At our Nebula Conference, multiple sponsorship opportunities from large banners to priority placement in our conference swag bags are available as well. More information on our 2018 Sponsorship Availability: nebulas.sfwa.org/nebula-conference/2018-sponsorship-opportunities/
The Nebula Conference and Awards
The SFWA Nebula Conference and Awards has evolved since the time it was launched in 1966. Celebrating over 50 years, the event has transformed from an awards ceremony only to three days of professional programming, workshops, a mass-autographing, and awards ceremony.
Focusing on three tracks relevant to professionals in the genre, attendees are able to choose from career management, professional development, and expert knowledge panels and workshops throughout the weekend. While the event is open to all genre writers and professionals, SFWA members still nominate and vote for the Nebula Awards, which are given out on Saturday evening at a banquet. The opportunities for networking are endless, along with the fun that comes with a meeting of peers in the industry.
Currently, registration is open to all professionals in the community for our 2018 Conference. For more information, please visit: nebulas.sfwa.org
One of the unique challenges at our Nebula Conference was making sure that everyone was able to sell their books. Despite sounding like a pretty straightforward process, it became harder to do as we grew. Smaller bookstores that volunteered in the past had trouble stocking inventory, and many indie and small press authors felt left out. Open to feedback, this past year, we took on the task as an organization to make sure everyone who wanted to participate, could. The book depot worked so well, that we’re doing it again at the 2018 Nebula Conference, and most likely the 2018 WorldCon. The depot staff will work to make sure we have your books for sale, and worst case, if they aren’t available, will work with you on selling them for a small consignment fee.
The SFWA Speakers Bureau
Launched in 2016, the SFWA Speakers Bureau is an excellent resource for all of our members. Aimed to connect our professional members with conventions, conferences, libraries, universities, or other speaking engagements opportunities, this free service continues to grow. Members are able to enter their availability, their areas of expertise, and payment requirements. For more information, please visit: speakers.sfwa.org
A few years ago, SFWA opened its doors to independent and small press writers and one of the questions that is often asked of the administration, is what can SFWA offer to these particular members. Enter NetGalley.
Putting your work into the hands of librarians, journalists, and reviewers, NetGalley’s purpose is to help authors secure buzz before launching. Normally, this service can cost upwards of $599 for a single membership and we provide this service to our indie/self-published authors at a greatly reduced cost of just twenty-five dollars per title. If you are interested in participating in this program, please visit: sfwa.org/member-links/netgalley-application/
New Release Newsletter
Started last year, the SFWA new release newsletter goes out every two months. Submissions are open to members in good standing and SFF genre pieces can be of any length. Premium ad slots are also available for just twenty-five dollars on a first come, first serve basis. The list is seen by hundreds of hungry and voracious readers. For more information, please visit: sfwa.org/member-links/new-releases-newsletter/
The Recommended Reading List
While only SFWA members can make recommendations to this list, the work does not have to be from a SFWA member. The organization made the list public last year in the hopes it would drive both promotional efforts and vote participation in the awards. The reading list can be found at: sfwa.org/forum/reading/
We’ve curated SFWA StoryBundles, which have been wildly successful for our members. The reader names their price, whatever they feel the books are worth, and they may designate a portion of the proceeds to go to a charity. Part of the rest of the money goes to the curator and the authors involved. Our current President, Cat Rambo, anticipates there will be three more opportunities for SFWA curated StoryBundles in 2018. Please check your member newsletter for more details.
The SFWA YouTube Channel
Curated by volunteer Diane Morrison, the SFWA YouTube channel is your go-to for curated playlists, replays of SFWA events where applicable, and special hangouts done by members of the organization on a wide variety of topics. Please go to: www.youtube.com/c/SFWAYoutube
The SFWA Singularity
Our monthly newsletter, curated by Terra LeMay, takes all the news and views from all things SFWA and puts them into one location for your reading pleasure. Press releases, new markets, new opportunities, new events, lists of member readings and appearances around the country (and the world), SFWA business, announcements of new SFWA services, popular discussion board topics, recent member accolades, lists of newly added members to the organization, etc. If you are a SFWA member, it should automatically hit your inbox.
Access to the SFWA Suite at Conventions
When I ask members what they view as one of the best things about their membership, I often get the answer, “networking.” If I had a dollar for how many people said being introduced to their peers at one of our many different hospitality suites, I would definitely not be rich, but it would still be enough to buy a bottle of scotch. (The cheap kind, not the 18 year Macallan.) The point of all of that though, is that the SFWA Suite whether at the Nebula Conference or WorldCon, or wherever we may have it in the future, is an excellent place to get away to a quieter space during the day and a great networking opportunity during the evenings.
While not technically a service, it’s still pretty awesome to join a nearly 2000-member strong organization aimed at making the field better for everyone.
As you can see, we continue to expand our projects and services as we grow and evolve. We’ve got even more stuff cooking up on the burner including an online university filled with classes for every skill level, a new organization-specific guidebook, a “first-chapters”-like project, even more reading series, a SFWA history and archive project, more reading lists, a librarian and university resource page, a book cover release project, and much more. Now, I’m giving you all of this to digest with one reminder. All of these initiatives were thought of and implemented by volunteers who spoke up and proposed their particular idea. As I’ve said in numerous conversations and panel discussions, SFWA is nothing without the people who invest in the organization as much as the organization invests in them.
This article was recently published in the SFWA Bulletin–Double Issue 210/211.