Authorguy's Blog

SFWA

Posted on: October 30, 2010


A couple of days ago I got into a bit of an argument with Victoria Strauss on Twitter, on the subject of Writer’s organizations such as the SFWA and the MWA, for Science Fiction and Mystery writers, respectively.  The initial motivation for the whole discussion was a tweet by her that the MWA had delisted Dorchester Publishing, presumably because they had opened a vanity publishing arm, although that was not stated. (Edit: apparently it was because they weren’t paying royalties to the authors.  see comments)

What bothered me about this was that most of these organizations qualify their members based on their publisher being listed, which seems kind of bizarre to me, so I sidestepped as I usually do and asked her why they do that.

After many tweets and a lot of back and forth we ended up pretty much where we started.  My position is simple: If you claim to write science fiction and want membership, then your application should be judged on the basis of either your science or your fiction, preferably both.  My understanding of her position is that the organizations use the amount of the advance/royalties paid to the author as an objective measure.

For SFWA, qualifying pubs must pay at least $2,000 advance. (http://twitter.com/victoriastrauss/status/29010933697)

Once again–it has nothing to do w/ quality of yr writing. Focusing on pub, rather than author, avoids such subj. standards (http://twitter.com/victoriastrauss/status/29013535029)

Once again–“good” and “bad” are not involved. That’s the benefit of using a non-subjective standard like advance amount. (http://twitter.com/victoriastrauss/status/29014033541)

Has nothing to do w/what you write, or benefiting pubs. Has to do with the org’s minimum professional standards for membership. (http://twitter.com/victoriastrauss/status/29011227741)

I’m not sure what the amount of the advance is supposed to be an objective measure of, though, except perhaps the ability of the publisher to pay high royalties and advances.  Why the org (in this case the SFWA) determines the worthiness of an author to join based on what his publisher pays him is beyond me.

Well, not entirely beyond me.  I’m an author, after all, it’s my business to come up with plausible storylines.  One that occured to me was this: Way back when, last century, when science fiction was ‘in its infancy’, so to speak, there was a concerted effort to distinguish it from other forms of fiction.  This is where Bat Durston comes from, a western hero in a rocket ship, the kind of story that ‘you’ll never see in the pages of Galaxy(?) magazine’, or some such.  Science fiction stories, in order to be acceptable as science fiction, had to meet a set of criteria which would distinguish them from mere adventure stories set in space.  Which is fine, especially when you consider that science fiction has so much in common with these other adventure stories that without a high fence it would be very easy for them to melt into one another.

Now here we have a nice professional standard.  ‘You want to be a SF writer, you gotta do this.’  How do we know you’re doing this? Easy, you got your story published by a publisher who only publishes this, sort of like a kosher deli. The publishers filter for the SFWA the same way the agents filter for the publisher.  Story quality really doesn’t enter into it; we all know the big boys publish oceans of crap SF every year.  I’m still not sure how the royalty angle fits in to all this, except that there is supposed to be some further connection between the ability to pay high royalties and the adherence to the SF code that escapes me.  I suppose it is possible that the SF rabbis who vetted the publishers for their adherence to standards noted the standard advance amounts paid by the ones that passed the test.  Sort of like determining who has a heart by checking for kidneys.  And I can further suppose that the slew of new indie publishers out there either do not pass the tests for adherence to the SF code or haven’t been checked at all.

Could it be that what really bugs u isn’t that SFWA excludes u, but that its standards imply that yr publisher isn’t professional (http://twitter.com/victoriastrauss/status/29013174252) (emphasis mine)

So large advances imply that a publisher is ‘professional’.  I suppose adherence to the SF code implies or requires some sort of corporate infrastructure in order to check the science, which further implies access to larger amounts of ready cash for advances.  One wonders what would happen if an indie passed the test (“Hello, Google!”) but only offered a tiny advance.  Would they be required to offer larger advances, like the big boys do, or would the SFWA lower their standards for what is required in order to be considered a “pro publisher”?  Three guesses.  On the other hand, when a show like Firefly wins the Hugo, you know that there’s something wrong with the SF code somewhere.

None of which really matters, although I think this is the argument Ms. Strauss was trying to make, because I am a fantasy writer.  Were I to try to gain admittance to the SFWA, it would only be because there is no equivalent organization for fantasy writers.  I prefer SF when it’s fantasy in SF clothing.  I don’t claim to be writing SF, although my futuristic paranormal may raise a few brows.  Why should a fantasy writer be held to the same standard as an SF writer?  Should the SFWA have a separate branch for us mere fantasy authors, or not accept any fantasy authors at all?  Is there, should there be, a standard for fantasy?  I think it’s too late for that.

So where do the fantasy writers go?

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29 Responses to "SFWA"

This will never change. Most of these orgs have become wolves in sheep’s fur. They are not truly Writing orgs, they are Business orgs for the elite. I have no problem with the authors who join them. I have tremendous respect for most of them. Why? NOT because they got a big advance, but because they wrote a book. Not even that they got published, they wrote a book, or several in most cases.

My company does not belong to ANY writer orgs for the reasons they all give. Our advance is minimal, some would say laughable. However, we work with 80% new authors and 80% of those authors NEVER earn out their laughable advance. Many will fuss at me for saying that (the laughable part) but I have gotten a rep in this business for being straight about things.

If a new author is not taught/trained on how to market and sell their books once they enter into a publishing contract, they will not sell books and their career will not flourish. Does a larger advance give any publisher the guarantee that the author will sell better? Pulleeze. It simply means the publisher will be out MORE money when said author does nothing to market and sell their book.

Why don’t these authors market and sell more? Because the so-called writer’sorgs are telling them they don’t have to do anything afte their book is published. They are being taught that it is the publisher’s responsibility to market and sell the book. That simply isn’t true. I defy you to find any publisher who does NOT want their authors to market and sell their books. One publisher who is willing to do it all for them.

This is a ridiculous notion. It is time for authors to start taking responsibility for their own success. It is also time for writer’s orgs to go back to what they USED to be. A place to learn about the business and not just have smoke blown up their skirts. You don’t get praised for how much money you got paid for writing a book. You get praised for how many people buy and read and love the book you wrote.

Robert Kiyosaki once stated in an interview that a best seller list is just that, a best SELLER list. It is based on sales. To my knowledge there is no best advance list.

And by allowing authors to skip over the marketing and sales part of the test, orgs are simply generating a larger number of one hit wonders and writer who ultimately end up self-publishing because no publisher will contract them because they never sold any books.

Sheesh, look what you made me say!!!!

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Sorry about that.

I said much the same thing, that ultimately the writer’s orgs. are pushing writers towards the big boys, simply in order to get into the writer’s org. A feedback loop that has ceased to have a justification. I may have had one once, but I’m not sure it does now.

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[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Karen Syed and AaronsBooks, sean hayden. sean hayden said: SFWA: http://t.co/Y9pooNe. […]

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I recognize I shall fall in the minority here, but I support Victoria’s stance on this. Where will fantasy writers GO? Hopefully to the publisher they are best ‘matched’ with, and if they desire membership in their professional organization (for whatever genre) then they will seek publication by recognized magazines and publishers who pay advances. I do not see this in any way as working ‘against’ an author.

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I am not opposing her ‘stance on this’, which should properly be called the SFWAs stance on this. I’m merely trying to understand it as best I can, based on 140-character fragments and a reading of the SFWA conditions for membership.

Second, I have found a publisher I am very well matched with. Echelon Press produces character-based fiction in a wide variety of genres, and they have been consistently willing to take a chance on my work. The big boys are forced by their own nature and structure to publish only the most mainstream of books, with only a tiny margin left over for originality. The more creative the work, the less it can be baselined and compared with other work to judge whether they’ll make or lose money producing it. Not saying it’s wrong, but it does mean that there’s almost 0% chance of the most creative work coming out of a big press.

Third, there is no recognized professional organization for fantasy writers, and part of my point is that the SFWA is something of a catch-all, and the standards they apply to SF writers shouldn’t be applied to us. How this problem should be addressed is part of my question. As long as fantasy novelists are seeking membership in this organization there should be a recognition that fantasy has different rules to live by, but this will not happen as long as fantasy writers are willing to contort themselves to fit in with those rules when it may not be the best thing for them.

Whether or not these organizations further damage authors’ careers by not advising them to take the lead in marketing, selling, and promoting their own work is not something I can speak to. I haven’t spoken with any members of these organizations or heard what they advise their members to do. However I do believe that they skew the curve by influencing authors to go to a publisher that may not be the best for them, simply because they are listed with the organization.

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“Third, there is no recognized professional organization for fantasy writers, and part of my point is that the SFWA is something of a catch-all, and the standards they apply to SF writers shouldn’t be applied to us.”

I am a fantasy writer, and SFWA does, in fact, represent speculative fiction…BOTH SF and Fantasy. That is not something that can be reasonably disputed given the roster of members is comprised heavily of fantasy authors.

Nor do I understand the argument that traditional press ignores the new and different. If this were true, our genre would not be where it is today and untold hundreds of authors would have gone unpublished. Of course they want work that is marketable and will sell well…publishing is a business. And that remains a constant whether it is traditional press or e-pub or anything short of vanity press.

But, as I understood it, this ‘discussion’ was about the merits of the SFWA, RWA, MWA, etc choosing a base-line by which they determine if a publisher meets set criteria for recognition…not a debasement of traditional press. Or did I misread the intent?

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I meant there is no Fantasy Writers of America, not that there is no organization representing fantasy authors. Of course SFWA must be representing fantasy authors, otherwise how could they be applying the wrong standard to them. Nor did I say that traditional publishing ignores the new and different, just the most new and most different.
You got my intent right, though. I am concerned that these organizations have a standard which may perhaps have been useful once but seems to be less so now.

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While I believe there is a lot in traditional publishing that might need to change as the industry continues to evolve (as it has, and must) … advances being among the things better consigned to the past in favor of perhaps a better cut on actual profits…

I think that the goal of the SFWA and other professional organizations if to maintain the quality of their membership. Some guidelines must be established in order to keep it professional. This is not so different from the SAG memberships. Community theatre, and there are many excellent community theatres, do NOT qualify toward membership. Type and level of work guidelines are established up front and those interested in attaining membership, and the benefits associated with this, must make their own decisions on how to achieve this goal. They are not saying artists who choose not to seek SAG can not be equally creative, but that this select group has sought and met their criteria as professionals and are recognized as such.
And meanwhile Independent filmmakers and artists continue to do ‘their own thing’… and some achieve recognition on their own.
Isn’t this basically the same thing?

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If there is a standard being maintained, and if the advance is being used as a key to that standard, that’s fine, although I doubt that it’s quite as accurate as it might once have been. One question is, is the advance particularly relevant anymore? Whether or not there is even a coherent standard is another. Certainly, ‘maintaining the quality of the membership’ would require one. Of course, one could also say that the job of the organization should be to bring SF writers up to speed, rather than wait until a publisher has done all the work for them to inherit. Lots of would-be SF writers out there could use some advice, rather more than is shown on the website.
My main question, though, is how do the fantasy novelists get accommodated under this or any standard? I don’t believe there is a standard for fantasy, and I don’t think the current SFWA criteria are properly applicable to fantasy novelists. Not that such an organization would help me or even have me, my general attitude to standards and rules is to break them.

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The problem is, there are no choices for WRITERS. The orgs out there base author eligibility on the actions of the publisher. This is absolutely counterproductive. It doesn’t matter what the org does for its authors if only “certain” authors can get in because of their publisher.

I am sorry (not really) that my company does not “qaulify” for any of the writers orgs, but how I run my business will not be dictated by a group of authors who know nothing about my company or how it is run. I don’t think any of my authors miss out on anything from the orgs because the company does not qualify. Annual dues? benefit? Chapter dues? Benefit? Monthly chapter meeting charges? benefit? Contests judged by other members of the org? benefit? Conferences? Anyone can pay to go to them? And really, how does an author benefit in sales when networking with other authors. We know that authors buy very few books at cons and when we do it from our “friends.” Again, I ask, benefit?

Contests need to be judged by readers! Not other authors, or librarians, or booksellers. by READERS. They are the ultimate goal and thereby should have the say. It is their money we are trying to earn.

When writers orgs ceased to benefit the authors as opposed to certain authors, the respect became an issue for me. When a group of writers who decided I don’t pay enough money up front to authors who have ZERO track record in selling books and actually knowing how to earn back tose advances, decided amongst themselves that I am not “legitimate” or that I don’t matter or qualify, I stopped supporting the orgs. Period.

It is every writers choice to decide for themself where they are going to invest their time and money, I however, no longer encourage my authors to pay those fees. The money is better spent on marketing.

No one has to agree with me, I don’t care. What I care about is the serious lack of education and support for authors who don’t make the grade because of their publishers. Just wrong!

K

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I have these comments from Pauline Baird Jones:
“I went head to head with RWA and Sisters in Crime over this very issue. It can make you crazy. I don’t believe RWA ended up with a money standard, because I pointed out how low they’d have to set it to keep their published authors and that it would be embarrassing. Sisters in Crime actually went with print run. Yes, let’s tell a publisher how to do run their business-into the ground so we can all feel “professional.” They aren’t delisting Dorchester for being “vanity,” or they shouldn’t be, but for not paying their authors. If they are delisting them for not doing print books,
well, we’re back to tell them how to run their business, aren’t we? Dorchester MUST print books (and not pay their authors and go out of business and oh yeah, not pay their authors!) And in the process punishing the authors for the decisions of their publisher, even though they claim to
be an author organization.”

“When SINC changed their guidelines, those of us with small press argued against the one stricture in a short list of about five things, I think: print runs. And went down. RWA same thing. I was basically hounded out of the org by a handful of people. The majority of members are hardworking and helpful and just trying to get ahead in a tough business. I was almost ready to go back when they enacted a policy that said if you weren’t with a major publisher you were vanity published. I believe they backed off that. These days I direct my energy toward groups that support me and my goals and try to keep the negative energy out.

What I find interesting, if you look at the Agency Five pricing model, you see that publishers have succeeded in making readers aware of an author’s publisher and pricing. In essence, they have trumped author brand for publisher brand. And it’s a negative, not a positive. A pricing model also
designed to save a business model, btw. And who will get punished if the print books don’t sell? The author, who has no control over the price of the digital books or how they are released.

I couldn’t figure out why publishers would piss of readers to this extent, until someone pointed out major publishers don’t consider readers their customer. BOOK STORES and other resellers are, in their estimation, their customer. While that still boggles my mind, it explains a lot. “

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I think there are a few misapprehensions in your post that it might be valuable to clear up.

1. SFWA stands for Science-fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
2. Dorchester was delisted by MWA in part because they weren’t paying royalties. They do not have a vanity publishing arm.
3. The membership criteria exist because the organization needs quantifiable standards. It should not come down to someone pointing and saying “this is good.”

“I’m not sure what the amount of the advance is supposed to be an objective measure of, though, except perhaps the ability of the publisher to pay high royalties and advances. Why the org (in this case the SFWA) determines the worthiness of an author to join based on what his publisher pays him is beyond me.”

Part of SFWA’s mission is to help genre writers have a sustainable career. The business of writing varies depending on if one is writing for a commercial publisher or a self-publisher. Since the average self-published novel sells only 150 copies, it is generally not a viable route to a long-term career. By contrast, the average print run for a debut novelist with a commercial publisher is 5000 copies. The author gets paid whether all of those copies sell or not. So, using quantifiable measurements is a way of trying to guess whether a new author is likely to be on a path towards a sustainable career.

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With regard to 1, that sucks, because the only theory I could come up with regarding your standards depended on a separate pre-existing criterion, which doesn’t exist for fantasy. As for 3, there’s a lot of SF and F one can point at and say “this is pretty bad” that would still qualify the author for membership in an SF/F writer’s org. The quality of the writing shouldn’t be a criterion since part of your function should be to make it better.

Regarding the last, indie presses and POD printing mean that now the average print run of a book is 1, or however many someone may choose to order. A path toward a sustainable career is better indicated by whether an author sells a certain percentage of his print run, rather than how much he got paid for it beforehand. So far Unbinding the Stone may not have sold a lot, but every copy printed has sold. A Warrior Made got a print run and I’m trying to sell through them all. I started a business as a bookseller just to make sure my books are on a shelf somewhere, and I’m personally out there most weekends, at local craft fairs, travelling hundreds of miles to book festivals and some cons, putting my own money up front to try to sell my books. The fact that I’m out there selling says more about my sustainability than whether I got paid a hypothetical $2K and sat on my ass the whole of last year. Certainly my publisher appreciates it more. It sounds like you in the SFWA would accept Joe L. Slob with one book for 2K advance rather than me with 3 books and eight short stories at ‘laughable’ advances, even though I sell my books and Joe doesn’t. Joe may have gotten $2k once but he won’t get it again unless the books sell.

Thanks for responding, Mary. I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs.

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THANK YOU Mary! A very concise and to the point explanation.

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With regard to 1, that sucks, because the only theory I could come up with regarding your standards depended on a separate pre-existing criterion, which doesn’t exist for fantasy.
Your theory was incorrect. The business model is pretty indistinguishable for the various branches of speculative fiction.

As for 3, there’s a lot of SF and F one can point at and say “this is pretty bad” that would still qualify the author for membership in an SF/F writer’s org. The quality of the writing shouldn’t be a criterion since part of your function should be to make it better.
To be more accurate, there are a lot of published books out there that are not to your taste. Someone liked them. Pick any award-winning novel you like and look at its one-star reviews. There will always people who hate it. Having an organization that sets itself up to be an arbiter of taste sounds like a recipe for disaster to me.

As for advances, the thing to understand is they are an advance on royalties. In other words, the publisher makes a guess about how many copies of the book will sell and gives the author a percentage of that up front. This allows an author more time to write. It also demonstrates a publisher’s commitment to the work.

Should authors participate in promoting their book? To the best of their ability, of course. Is an author’s career ultimately determined by how many books they sell? Yes. However, when looking at the beginning of a writer’s career, there is no way to know this. So, what our criteria are set up to do is to make a guess about an author’s likely career path. This criteria has to be quantifiable and verifiable.

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It’s too bad my theory was wrong, since it was the only one I could think of that made any sense.
As for #3, actually, I meant ‘pretty bad’ and not merely ‘not to my taste’. I don’t call something bad simply because I don’t like it.
Your reply still doesn’t explain how the amount of an advance means anything. a) it seems that the advance should be compared with the size of the print run before you get a measure of publisher confidence, b) an advance that gives the author time to write is much larger than the $2K you require for membership, and c) you still aren’t taking sell-through into account.
It still seems to me that your mission statement is completely unrelated to your criteria.

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I think the basic problem here is that you want an organization that acts as a watchdog to your idea of quality. That’s a different type of organization. SFWA is a professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy and related genres. As such, our mission statement says, “SFWA informs, supports, promotes, defends and advocates for its members.”

As to your other points.
a) Here’s our criteria for qualifying a market.

http://www.sfwa.org/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/#qualify

To qualify a new Qualifying Professional Market, it must be found acceptable to the Membership Committee. In particular, it must satisfy the following criteria for a given date range to qualify for membership purposes:

Payment for all works of fiction (other than reprints or serializations), either in advance of publication or on publication, at the rate of either (a) at least $2000 for a single work or (b) at least 5c/word (3c/word before 1/1/2004); and
Must have published consistently for a period of at least one year before the market will be considered qualifying; and
Must have a print run or circulation of at least 1000 copies, or the equivalent in other media (e.g., demonstrated downloads in electronic media); and
Is not self-publication, vanity press, or other type of author-paid or fee-charging press, as demonstrated such as (1) by having published at least ten distinct works by different natural persons during the date range; and (2) by authors not having paid or been requested to pay fees or give consideration of any kind.

b) You are correct. This is our minimum requirement. Authors should be paid more but when looking at an author at the beginning of their career path having a minimum threshold is useful.

c) No, we aren’t. As I’ve indicated before, the criteria are trying to establish a minimum threshold. Recognizing an established author is easy. The threshold is set so that new authors who are likely to become established can join at a point in their career where they are most likely to need help with professional questions. These are people who already know how to write, but might have questions about contracts, book tours, and networking.

Does everyone who meets the minimum threshold gone on to have a long career? Frankly, no. But people who stop writing generally drop out of SFWA and the organization has a pretty low attrition rate.

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I couldn’t care less about quality. The issue is the author. Not the market. The publisher is irrelevant to whether an author is a qualified ‘professional speculative fiction writer’. If he is a) a writer, b) of spec fic, and c) professional, that is all that matters. The measure of the writer’s professionalism should be the writer’s behavior, not his publisher’s business practices. Is he taking steps to do his best work, promote his work, produce more, and improve his technique? That’s the standard of professionalism. Focusing attention on the publisher is simply driving writers to some publishers and away from others, which is great if you’re shilling for the publisher but not so great if you’re a Writer’s Organization.

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>>As for advances, the thing to understand is they are an advance on royalties. In other words, the publisher makes a guess about how many copies of the book will sell and gives the author a percentage of that up front. This allows an author more time to write. It also demonstrates a publisher’s commitment to the work.<<

This is the most frightening thing of all from a publishers view.

1. Advance on royalties: it is ABSOLUTELY impossible for a publisher to make any kind of assumption on the number of books that will sell, especially with regard to new authors. There is NO track record, thereofre the advance should be in agreement with that potential.

2. More time for an author to write: this is the worst thing authors are told over and over. Being an author is a career choice and should be handled as a business. To be told all they need to do is write, is ludicrous. Sales and marketing are crucial to the success of any book and a publisher should not be expected to do this solely and without the support and committment of the author.

Perhaps once an author has several books under their belt and successful sales number, but not before they have learned every aspect of the business of being an author.

3. The committment of the publisher? Really?? How much more committed need we be after putting up the time and financial investment to edit, format, produce, graphics, text, other materials on behalf of the author. Isn't that commitment? When does the author take repsonsibility for their own work and do the same? They don't because so often now the "Writers Organizations" they are members of tell them they don't have to do it.

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No one that I know of has said that writers shouldn’t market themselves and that’s certainly not SFWA’s stance. This is a strawman argument.

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Not entirely. While you do put up a great deal of material for authors, the fact that you require them only to get an advance, which as you pointed out, they get regardless of whether they sell any books at all, doesn’t put any incentive or onus on them to carry through, and it’s the carry through that publishers look for.

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Mary Robinette Kowal said: “…what our criteria are set up to do is to make a guess about an author’s likely career path. This criteria has to be quantifiable and verifiable.”

Precisely, for any measurement to be worthwhile it must be verifiable and quantifiable. This is a measure of something otherwise difficult to measure in concrete and verifiable terms.
Whether it is perfect or not, the criteria are there to help authors acheive their goals and to recognize when they are on the path to doing so.

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It’s science fiction. Is it fiction? Is it scientific? What other criteria do you need? These criteria you’re talking about are about so-called ‘professionalism’ and ‘career paths’, but advances are not a particularly good way to measure those. A debut author gets a 2K advance, now he’s in, writes nothing else, and where’s your professionalism? A writer who writes, gets published, works to market and sell his book, writes another…Now that’s professionalism.

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It’s science fiction. Is it fiction? Is it scientific? What other criteria do you need?
While SFWA does require a qualifying work to be fiction and to have at least one speculative element, the organization has a much broader definition of genre fiction that just scientific fiction.

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My point is that the criterion should be the author and his work, not the publisher’s business practices.

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You have interesting theories. What quantifiable and verifiable criteria would you put forth to measure your ideas of what “professional” means?

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I’d like to weigh in on this. As Marc’s publisher, I am thrilled at his commitment and professionalism. I did not give him a large advance, but he has worked his butt off to sell his books and I couldn’t appreciate him any more than I do.

First and foremost, an author needs to be held somewhat accountable for thier sales and lack of. You know as well as anyone that the bookstores have taken a hard stance against publishers and authors not represented by the big houses of NY. It is very clear and there is no denying it. I have done everything I should to help my authors sell books, international distribution, availability to booksellers and liraries. I promote, I attend events with books to sell, I advertise, and so many other things.

It disgusts me to know that my authors cannot belong to writers orgs because I don’t pay them a high enough advance. But let’s look at why I don’t.

1. I cannot guarantee that ther books will on bookstore shelves. Why? Because I cannot pay tens of thousands of dollars for shelf space. I can however make them available to every single bookstore that wants to get them.

2. Bookstores (not all but many) refuse to shelve our books because we do not do large print runs. Well, at one point I did runs of 5000 and 2500 then 1500. Many of those books are sitting in my warehouse unsold because the author was under the impression that it was my sole responsibility to market and sell those books. They refused to participate in advertising opps, they refused to do author events, they refused to contact stores and booksellers on their own behalves. And this is sad, because many bookstores asked when I called them why the author had not contacted them.

We have published nearly 200 books, and of those books 26 authors did NOT earn out a $50.00 advance (17 of them did not earn out a $35.00 advance) and I was eaten alive with returns for books that *I* got into distribution and stores and then the authors never did anything to promote them or sell them. The same authors never went on to write a second book. I have actually had 4 authors who never contacted or responded to me after receiving their contract and advance.

I have had four authors recently request their rights back after I put their books into print so they could self-publish. How can anyone expect to run a publishing house without the full support and committment of their authors?

What criteria should orgs consider?

1. Authors should be required to submit a certain amount of work annually that is written for the sole purpose of publication.

2. New authors should be considered on their strategy for publication and success.

3. Authors with one book in publication should only be allowed to remain or advance in the organization as per the sales of their book. If you want to force a publisher to pony up the inner workings of their business (which really are no one’s business) then the information they pony up should be sales figures, not financial amounts. Require authors to sell a certain number of books annually and you give them goals and incentive to succeed.

4. The inner workings of a publishing house should be irrelevant to the criteria for AUTHOR inclusion.

I will NOT give large advances until the sales of my company justify it. Do I have authors selling thousands of books? Absolutely, but not enough to give everyone who comes in a big advance.

However, those authors selling their books and working alongside me and my staff are being compensated with a royalty check at the end of each period and that is what should matter.

Should an author who gets a $1.00 royalt check for 6 months sales be allowed in a writers org? Certainly not. Should an author who earns $500.00? More likely!!

Shouldn’t a writers org make the writers responsible for their own success?

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I find it interesting that you require more than any publisher does or can, and you aren’t even risking any money, which they are. There are no quantifiable and verifiable criteria except those that track nothing and mean nothing, like author advances. I would look for sell-through on the books published, the number of events committed to and the number actually attended, all the sorts of things that most publishers require as a marketing plan before the book is ever accepted. If an author attends or fails to attend whatever meetings you hold, participates or fails to participate in whatever activities you promote, should all be factors.

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“The measure of the writer’s professionalism should be the writer’s behavior, not his publisher’s business practices. Is he taking steps to do his best work, promote his work, produce more, and improve his technique? That’s the standard of professionalism.”

I too am curious about what criteria would be used to determine this. These all seem to be highly subjective judgments that could (and would) easily be disputed. How do you determine whether a writer is “taking steps to do his best work?” What those steps are or should be? What “best” is?

Or suppose, to address “produce more,” the organization decides that members must publish a book a year. Or a book every two years. What about the authors who write more slowly, or are temporarily sidelined by illness or family matters, and can’t meet those production thresholds?

The point is that no matter what standards you use, you are going to wind up excluding people. The only question is how you exclude them. Personally, I’d rather be excluded because of my publisher’s business practices (which would mean that every other author with that publisher would be excluded too, and would not imply any judgment on my work habits or the quality of my writing), than because the organization deemed I wasn’t “professional” enough.

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