Tag Archives: professional sales

Writing: The Trouble With SFWA

Creative Commons: gnuckx, Flickr

SFWA stands for Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They’ve been around for almost 50 years and protect the rights of speculative writers, which  includes legal and emergency medical aid, ironing out contract disputes, putting pressure on publishers (there is a bad boys list) and otherwise helping writers. They also maintain a list of professional markets, and to be a full Active member you must have sold three pieces, of at least $50 each, at the rate of .05/word or more. Or have sold a novel/novelette for at least $2000.

Further professional qualifications include that the publisher/magazine must have been in existence and publishing regularly for at least a year, pay the above professional rates or more, and have a distribution of at least 1000 copies. It used to be that this was 10,000 copies, if memory serves correctly, but I imagine it’s a sign of the times that not even mass market publishing houses print 10,000 copies of most books anymore. When the Canadian dollar was .50 to the US dollar there was never any consideration for the difference in rates, although it’s called SFWA and not SFWUSA. Five cents a word might have counted but when you can put the population of Canada into the state of California, it was pretty hard to hit those early distribution rates of 10,000 copies in Canada.

While SFWA does a lot of good, it’s also the old boys’ club and resistant to some change. The advent of small presses and POD (print on demand) has upset the apple cart in many areas. Costs of printing have gone up, readership of paper books is going down, and the economy is floundering. The dinosaurs need to evolve or they’ll be nothing but sludge. SFWA still cannot accept that flash fiction exists, or tweet markets. Instead of finding some in-between ground, they decided that a sale must be .05/word to be professional but if your story is 900 words or less, it won’t count. They could fix this and say at least four (or some number) sales of flash fiction or a combo of short and flash, etc. would be equivalent.

writing, publishing, writers organizations, contracts, membership, SFWA, HWA

Mary Beth Griffo Rigby, Flickr

Some change has happened, but last year, after nearly 20 years as an Associate member (having one professional sale based on the above criteria) I ended my membership and joined HWA (Horror Writers of America) instead. There are several reasons I did this. When I first joined SFWA they invited me, on the basis of selling a poem to Amazing Stories. At $36 that wasn’t bad money for a poem, even now, and I think that was around 1986. When I sent a copy of a contract for a story sale that met the requirements (and that after a year of my letters being completely ignored) I was told that my poem didn’t count and that I now had a 1/3 Associate membership, again. One step forward, one step back.

So not only did SFWA decide that poetry was no longer a valid art form nor worthy of notice, but they’d ungrandfathered me. I wonder if they would have booted me out if I didn’t have that second “pro” sale, except they probably wanted my money. Then I sold an erotic fairy tale to a Harlequin anthology. There was my third sale. (You can vote when you’re a full member.)  But guess what? Harlequin decided to do a vanity press line and SFWA disapproved (and rightly so), but instead of banning or disqualifying that particular imprint, SFWA disqualified Harlequin and all its imprints. Now Harlequin is one of the biggest publishers in the world. They’re rolling in the dough and not hurting, so why they thought they had to lure in hapless newbies with a vanity line, I’m not sure, and they should have their wrists slapped for that. But SFWA’s ban really only affected writers. Harlequin doesn’t care. I’d actually sold the story before the ban but was paid after.

books, pubiishing, writing, HWA, SFWA

Will SFWA embrace the digital age? Creative Commons: Tony Hutchings/Getty Images

SFWA has helped me in the past with an iffy contract and they do at least have some standards but they need to evolve a bit more. I also joined HWA this year because I wanted to see what they’re like. While I haven’t even had time to look at the benefits yet I can tell you that I’m full-fledged voting member, and I did this on my credentials as a poet alone. I could have probably done it with fiction credits but the contracts I could find were for the poems. In HWA’s case their pro rate is the same for fiction but for poetry you must have had at least 10 poems published for at least $5/poem or .25/line. In fact, their definitions are more detailed but also more extensive than SFWA’s.

Arguments can be made that if I was a better writer I’d have been a full member long ago, and that of course holds water, but I’ve sold mostly to Canadian markets and even good writers sometimes can’t get their feet in the door of a tight market when a known name will sell more magazines. It will be interesting to see if HWA serves me better of if SFWA did. I could go back to SFWA at any time if I wish.

I’m a very strong advocate for poetry and anyone that’s worked on a poem can tell you it takes as long to write a poem as to write a story in many cases. Some poems take me years to perfect. I truly detest when someone pooh poohs a form of writing because it isn’t as long as a novel or a story. It’s a snobbery that not even the literary world aspires to. They have their own as many literary writers turn up their noses at “genre” writing. Half the time Margaret Atwood swears she does not write science fiction.

But any organization that recognizes poetry will probably get my vote over ones that ban it.

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, erotica, fantasy, horror, poetry, Publishing, science fiction, Writing

Writing: The Sad State of Poetry in Speculative Fiction

Waaay back, when I first started to get serious about writing, I wrote poetry. Okay I started writing poetry at the angst-ridden edge of twelve, and shelved much of it until my twenties. Eventually though, my poetry grew up and ventured into the world.

My first professional sale was for a whole $1.45 and yes it was a science fiction poem to Star*line. I continued to sell a poem here and there for usually five bucks and a copy of the magazine/book. Then I hit it big and sold a poem to Amazing Stories; $36 USD. Wow! And from that, I was invited (they actually contacted me) to join the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), THE professional organization for science fiction writers throughout North America. (I  don’t think I’d ever heard of SF Canada way back then.)

Thirty-six dollars and SFWA membership. SFWA works on a third of the pie idea. Three pro sales makes you a real writer. One or two-thirds makes you an Associate. You still pay the same amount but you get fewer privileges and can’t vote for the board or the Nebulas. What does it get you? That may be a different post but there is a wee bit of prestige, a very wee bit if you stay Associate forever.

I’ve sold more poems and stories since then, but everything must be speculative obviously for SFWA’s requirements. The publication that your piece appears in must meet the demands of a high production number, be a long running publication, pay pro rates, be American (and a few, very few Canadian magazines), etc. for membership qualification. Oh and poetry, well SFWA decided to drop it like a hot potato. No longer can you become a member on poetry alone. Not even if you’re the best poet in the world. Bruce Boston is probably the best Speculative poet out there. Certainly the most well-known. Canada’s own Sandra Kasturi is no pale shadow either. And there are numerous more.

But here’ is thesad state of the beleaguered poem. Someone got it in their head that because a poem is a hundred words or a hundred lines then why, it’s gotta be easy and fast to write. I’ve spent days, even months writing a poem (in some cases, years, but not constantly). I doubt it was any poet who said, scrap the poems from SFWA. And if three measly poems were just too few for a full membership, then why not make it six or nine or a dozen? Nope, SFWA allows stories, novellas, novelettes, books, even flash fiction in the right circumstances (though I hear that’s iffy) but poetry. Ick. That stuff is for intellectuals pontificating down their noses. Who reads it?

And really, that is part of the problem, isn’t it? Who reads poetry? There is a small point here that I believe poetry is part of the old bardic tradition and really is meant to be heard and seen. Look at poetry slams (a discussion for another day). Many people read it…sometimes, for it to still be bought in some places. But enough? And poetry, well it’s unfathomable, bizarre, esoteric. And spec poetry has just gotta be worse. Doesn’t it? I mean aliens in a story gives you time to paint an elaborate picture, but a vignette? Well, we don’t have time to look at that.

Sigh, there was an era where everyone was taught to read poetry. And what is “The Cremation of Sam McGee” if not speculative poetry? Poetry doesn’t have to be unfathomable or above people’s heads though I’ve had the most straightforward poems rejected by editors who said their audience wouldn’t understand them. Say the poem is confusing but don’t lower the intelligence of your readers, please.

Oh and did I mention that speculative fiction is the worst paid genre out there (except, would you believe, erotic fiction)? Yes, I can write a poem and receive $100 for it from Descant, or a story for a lit mag and get anywhere from $100-$1000, or I can write an article for anywhere from thirty cents a word to a dollar and more. Sure ,there’s a range but if you’re writing poetry and speculative poetry, well you really are the dregs of society. Not even as good as the tentacle waving scum of speculative story writers. No sirree. You’re filler on those pages that don’t have a story long enough.

That is the sad sate of speculative poetry. Alas. And this attitude is often held by those who have never written it or tried to understand it. SFWA has some pretty old-fashioned ideas that makes me wonder on the value of continuing to be a member when I’m a small time Canadian writer.

6 Comments

Filed under art, Culture, entertainment, erotica, fantasy, horror, people, poetry, politics, Publishing, science fiction, Writing