June is when I traditionally renew my membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. But this year, for the first time in approximately three decades, I plan to pass.
SFWA is older than the vast majority of its members, and for good reason. For a certain kind of author, the venerable organization has accomplished quite a lot. I'll even say that each newly-minted professional should pony up the dough, feeling proud about his or her inclusion in the club. But for three years only. Of maybe seven years. No investment should turn into an annuity for the organization receiving your money. After the initial honeymoon, the author needs to look hard at benefits and costs, and if the gains are inadequate, then those funds should be shipped somewhere else. To your website, to a new Chromebook. To the rice and beans that you'll need over the next couple weeks.
I'm not using SFWA. And sure, that underscores my limits as a professional. I don't nominate works or vote on the Nebula ballot. I'm miserable at networking, and I certainly don't haunt the websites associated with SFWA. From conversations with colleagues, I imagine that there's quite a lot of chatter going on day and night. Writers are battling over politics and the value of recent works, they make or lose friends with a single posting, and if some of these people spent as much fuel on their own work, they would have quite a bit more work. But I don't involve myself with any of that, because I don't see any way to win at this game.
The SFWA suite at conventions. That's the most tactile benefit accrued from my membership. For years, there was no better place to meet other writers for the first time, and hear rumors, and culture the image that I belonged to a small organization that had some power inside a small corner of the shrinking publishing universe. But the last several conventions have proved less than satisfying. Some of the friends aren't coming to WorldCons anymore, shouting at strangers is less fun than it used to be, and not being involved with the on-line scene puts me at a deep disadvantage. But mostly there's the problem that I don't have plans to attend any future conventions. Which kind of makes the free pop and chips to be less of enticement than it used to be.
Good old days. For me, the glory time in SFWA was in the late '80s, early '90s. News came in the form of small cheap and charming booklets filled with minutes from meetings and letters from disgruntled writers. Harry Harrison was a fountain of angry noise, constantly complaining about how we were idiots to work for so little and we were ruining the business. There were always a few angry letters, and that's what I adored. Drama. The taste of discord. Which is the last thing that the Internet can supply. A taste.
SFWA can help with publisher troubles. But I don't have many publishers, certainly none that my agent isn't suited to handle.
SFWA manages to fill its offices, but those ballots are barely more interesting than the Nebula ballots. One candidate for every post, and maybe the wild card that nobody wants. Which is understandable, since being an officer sounds thankless and occasionally grim.
The Nebula is a major award. Ideally, the best works should be found and every voter should read everything nominated and vote only for the finest reasons. But we don't and don't and don't.
Years ago, I was called by a fellow writer who wanted my vote. It was a pretty ballsy act, I thought at the time. And ever since. I don't remember which way I went with my vote. But the poor fellow didn't win, and I heard that he was furious after the award ceremony, complaining about all the butt-kissing that didn't pay off in the end.
Friends vote for friends, and that means everything in a club with a few hundred avid voters.
If I was Emperor of SFWA, I'd start a 5-year moratorium on the Nebula. Nominate nothing, vote on nothing. Then relaunch the trophy by judging the works still available five years after their first publication. That gives the world time to assess, and what seemed valuable and wise in the past may have vanished altogether. Or it's genius has only grown.
But even if this is a good idea, it won't happen. If any President makes such a creatively radical proposal, he or she will be the first SFWA president to be cooked and served in the suite at the next WorldCon, alongside the chips and dip and little green florets of broccoli.
And maybe that's the best reason to give up on SFWA.
It's not half as creative as it believes itself to be.