SFWA, Accessiblity and Diversity

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There’s have been many kerfluffles involving the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA). The latest one begin when a former member began a petition over recent changes to the staff and policy of the organization’s flagship publication, the Bulletin. As a result of the current back and forth between factions, one member — a vocal minority — made the suggestion that the bar for membership should be raised. There’s a lot I could say about the current debate(s) going on, but I want to specifically address the idea of accessibility and diversity.

Membership requirements, in general, are a good thing for an organization but should be recognized for what they are: exclusion. To what degree they exclude depends on the type of organization, its goals, philosophies, etc. Billing itself as a :”professional organization for authors of science fiction, fantasy, and related genres”, one would assume the requirements are imposed to limit membership to anyone who has a professional interest in writing science fiction, fantasy, and related genres. Seems simple, but there’s always fine print.

The argument made by Brad R. Torgersen is that to be a more professional organization, SFWA needs to be more exclusionary, with the goal of eliminating “non-professional” writers, thereby raising rates enough money through dues that the organization can then use to hire administration staff and increase benefits to its members.

…impose an annual fiction writing income floor, below which members cannot fall without being placed on the inactive list, and therefore losing the ability to vote and/or participate in the org.

Anyone capable and willing to contributing $500 or even $1,000 U.S. dollars (or more) per year, is unlikely to be an amateur, or a pro-am.

I will say, flat out, this is a bad idea. It’s too exclusionary, and would decrease diversity. In fact, I would argue that SFWA should _lower_ its membership requirements.

For active writers, there are two membership tiers: Active and Associate, both of which require prose sales at a minimum rate of $0.05/word. I would like to see a third tier, for writers who have not yet made a sale to a market able to pay those rates but have demonstrated a commitment to their craft, such as 3 sales at a semi-pro rate, or a cumulative revenue total. Give this tier some limited benefits, such as access to the forum and the bulletin, but not all of the benefits of the higher tiers. Perhaps offer it at a lower yearly rate to adjust for the different benefits.

Or, as has been pointed out to me on Twitter (thanks John and Tim), use the Romance Writers Association (RWA) as a model or inspiration for how to include “non-professional” writers.

By being less exclusionary, the organization will become more accessible to a diverse group of people across income levels, gender, orientation, social classes, etc. The organization would gain new, interesting, and previously under-represented voices in building a future.

Many writers toiling in the semi-pro ranks treat their work with the same professionalism, if not more so, than those currently qualified by SFWA definitions to call themselves such. The previous SFWA administration, under John Scalzi, and the new helmed by Steven Gould, have made great strides in improving the organization as a whole. It should be recognized just how much work it is to retrofit a monolithic steam engine with maglev. I expect the diversification will continue, but I would love to see a bigger change to allow.

Posted on 19 Feb 2014 #diversity #SFWA