The long march towards irrelevance

Science fiction and fantasy writer Sarah Hoyt explains why she is no longer an SFWA member:

Yes, when I dipped into the discussions in SFWA I became aware that most of the people talking were unreconstructed college Marxists.  But given the organization’s policy of “once qualified you’re in forever” and the fact that the ever-shrinking advances (a subject for another post, really) made writing either a mad choice because you had to write six books a year to make a middle-class income, or a hobby, it was to be expected those with time to get into never-ending public wrangling would be college professors.  And we all know what those are like.

And then came Amazon and the possibility of indie-publishing.

SFWA was always resistant to the idea of self-publishing.  Its rules were designed to protect those who were traditionally published.  In fact, over the years, they ignored transgressions in contracts and behavior if the publisher was big enough.  After all the leadership of SFWA, too, had to work for the six publishers remaining.

To say they didn’t cope well with the new system when any writer can publish himself, there’s virtually no stigma attached and several new writers have made far more than the beginning advance is to understate the case.  There were alarums and excursions and loud Amazon denunciations and pledges of eternal love to the traditional publishers.  I think some members dropped out over these, but I was busy writing and paid no attention.

Then came the dispute between Amazon and IPG, a small distributor of small press books.  The details evade me after all this time, though to be fair they were never very clear, except that IPG screamed Amazon was bullying them or forcing them to sell their books cheaper or whatever and SFWA – with no question asked its members, no clear delineation of the dispute – immediately came down on the side of IPG.  This while many of us were making a substantial income from Amazon and while IPG could not provide a living income to any of the authors’ it distributed.  (The key word about IPG being “Small.”)

This penetrated through my fog of writing, and I dropped SFWA, and eventually MWA who took the same, if less vocal position.  (I’m also currently lapsed on RWA, simply because I see no benefit in the membership.)

I realized that of the things I expected SFWA to do, it was doing none: it did not provide for members in financial distress; it did not secure us group insurance rates; it did not dispute the abuses or ever-shrinking advances of big publishers, of even the wisdom of the push-marketing model, all of which materially hurt their members; it did not complain of contracts that frankly amount to RICO violations by preventing the writer from working except at the sufferance of the publisher; it didn’t even, really, teach new authors.  RWA has a division of unpublished authors, whom it gets in touch with mentors and teaches.  SFWA’s version of “beginning authors” are those who have sold enough to be called professionals – i.e. those who already have some clue how to navigate the system.

In fact, SFWA didn’t do anything that might be considered its legitimate interest, but continuously stuck its nose in things where it had no interest, such as disputes between distributors and Amazon.

This is when I let SFWA lapse and decided never to renew again.

The current chaos in the SFWA is primarily the result of two strategic blunders by the old guard who are now being driven out by those who wish to turn the organization into the Vereinbarunggehend Geschlecht Polizei.  The first was the decision to stop requiring Active members to requalify, aka “The Heinlein Aberration”. That is why the organization now has an overabundance of Active members who have barely published anything, are terminally insecure about that fact, and are hell-bent on finding some way to demonstrate that They Are Too Equal to the real writers.  The second was the decision to permit Fantasy, and later, Horror writers to join the organization, aka “The McCaffrey Mistake” . There was always going to be a severe culture clash between the hard science fiction writers and the romance writers… even when they put their romantic triangles in space.

Since it is a lot easier to simply write necrobestial romances than master one or more scientific disciplines and turn that into interesting fiction, there are considerably more of the necrobestial devotees shambling about.  And they quite genuinely believe that their work is every bit as Valid and Important and Serious as the science fiction despite the fact that there isn’t an original idea to be found in any of it.  Derivative schlock like Puppinette ripping off Jane Austen and McRapey ripping off everyone he has ever read is about the best one can expect from that crowd.

Will she choose the wolf or the vampire?  Will she choose the rebel spaceman or the alien stand-in for the Gentleman of Color? Will she choose the sexy zombie or the sexy witch? SFWA fantasy isn’t a literature of ideas, it’s a literature of geometries.