Jody Lynn Nye: One Big Dysfunctional Family

Right about now, many of you are wishing that you never had to deal with about half of SFWA ever again, but let’s step back momentarily from the fury and heartaching, and look at the discussion for what it really is: a family argument. No, it won’t ever be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Many families harbor resentment over one topic or another, for decades or generations, but you stick together because you’re a group with common goals and dedicated to mutual protection. You may snarl at Cousin Maisie, but you pass her the vegetables anyhow.

When I first started publishing, Esther Friesner welcomed me to the herd with a button that had three Greek letters on it: Nu Psi Fi. That, and my brand new SFWA membership card, helped lessen the feelings of being out on my own, floating in space. I had a peer group that accepted me as a fellow writer. It respected my choice to become a working professional in a creative field. I was welcomed. Resources were opened to me that I didn’t know existed.

Like most writers, I had begun by telling stories to my friends and family, then branched out into creating my own books with my father’s office paper and stapler. From there, I moved onto writing fiction for club newsletters, including the Society for Creative Anachronism and a few (very few!) fanzines. I outlined novels and wrote stories, and threw them into the back seat of my Volkswagen bug or into my closet. Somehow, it had not occurred to me that although I read and wrote obsessively, that there was a way for me to become one of those writers whose books I could find in libraries and bookstores. Before the Internet, there were few how-to manuals and even less in the way of pointers to find them. In my late teens, I finally looked at the submission guidelines in a few of my favorite magazines.

Could I? Should I? How can I?

And I did. I submitted a short story to Analog. It was rejected, but with a very kind personal letter from Stanley Schmidt, telling me he had seen my plot before, but he liked my style. He invited me to send him something else. And did I? Nope. I had no way of knowing that a personal letter was a very rare and wonderful thing, meant to encourage me to form a relationship with this editor and this publication. All I knew was my story had been rejected. It was years before I fell into the field again. If I had had someone to tell me the meaning of my letter, I would certainly have tried again then. I sure had a backlog of stories I could have sent in.

To guide newcomers through the arcana of publishing houses and editing is only one of the useful functions of a group like SFWA. If I had been an associate member of SFWA, or even aware that it existed, I could have asked about resubmitting, simultaneous submissions, how long to wait to ask or if to ask, how to choose a market, or any of myriad mysteries that confront a baby writer. It’s a big, hostile world that doesn’t want you to get your book or story published. How nice to have a group that is dedicated to helping you negotiate those difficult customs and practices.

To explain that you won’t get along with everyone in publishing and that is all right, is also one of the functions of an umbrella organization like SFWA. With wide eyes, I watched blood feuds going on between established pros, but seldom did any of the parties involved insist that the other didn’t belong in science fiction publishing or should be thrown out of the membership. People have retreated from involvement, given up their memberships or GAFIAted*, but almost never expelled. At the same time, I saw multiply-published and multiply-awarded authors sitting down with neophytes to explain worldbuilding or help to work out the kinks in a tangled plot. People sit and discuss advances in science with open enthusiasm. That support is vital. It sets science fiction apart from other genres, such as mystery writing, in which everyone is cagey about method and secretive about their ‘maguffins.’

The literature field is mysterious. It has never been easy to get published. Every decade, someone declares that it’s more difficult to sell a story or book than it was before, but it seems to have been just as hard then as it is now. Royalties are better and worse. New opportunities have arisen that never existed before. E-publishing has opened up the possibility of gaining an immense readership without going through a legacy, bricks-and-mortar publisher. Even the New York Times has created a bestseller list for online work. With SFWA’s help, new writers can learn to negotiate contracts, stand up for rights and cross out boilerplate clauses, and warn one another against predators who will steal our work and refuse to pay. Book theft exists, as it always has, but we have the means to warn one another. And we do. Word goes out at conventions, at SFWA meetings, and online about pirate sites. While it’s impossible to shut the predators down completely, we need to be vigilant for all our fellows, not just our own work. It’s the ‘broken window’ situation. Where neighborhoods have broken windows and visibly vandalized houses, crime creeps upward, because there is an appearance that no one cares. An organization like SFWA shows, and must show, that we care as a group for the well-being of our neighborhood, our work, and our copyrights.

Writers, especially science fiction writers, explore ideas. We think more about the future than any other group except working scientists. We’re still human beings, yes, meaning that we come with a full array of emotions, personal baggage and cultural differences. The future is what ties us together: the future of SF, of publishing and of our own careers. If we were all on a malfunctioning spaceship together, we would have to pool our talents and intelligence toward our mutual survival, no matter what we thought of our fellow crew members. Each one brings to the situation talents that you as an individual might lack, and vice versa. Publishing is that spaceship. Welcome aboard. Please remember what an important resource SFWA is for budding writers such as we once were. Make room for others as others before you made room for you. And pass the potatoes.

*GAFIA is an acronym for Getting Away From It All. Yes, someone had to explain it to me, too.

Jody Lynn Nye lists her main career activity as ‘spoiling cats.’ When not engaged upon this worthy occupation, she writes fantasy and science fiction books and short stories.

Before breaking away from gainful employment to write full time, Jody worked as a file clerk, book-keeper at a small publishing house, freelance journalist and photographer, accounting assistant and costume maker.

For four years, she was on the technical operations staff of a local Chicago television station, WFBN (WGBO), serving the last year as Technical Operations Manager. During her time at WFBN, she was part of the engineering team that built the station, acted as Technical Director during live sports broadcasts, and worked to produce in-house spots and public service announcements.

Since 1987 she has published over 40 books and more than 120 short stories. Over the last twenty or so years, Jody has taught in numerous writing workshops and participated on hundreds of panels covering the subjects of writing and being published at science-fiction conventions. She has also spoken in schools and libraries around the north and northwest suburbs. In 2007 she taught fantasy writing at Columbia College Chicago. She also runs the two-day writers workshop at DragonCon.

Jody lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, with her husband Bill Fawcett, a writer, game designer, military historian and book packager, and a black cat, Jeremy. Check out her websites at and She is on Facebook as Jody Lynn Nye and Twitter @JodyLynnNye.