Many of you may be aware of the recent kerfuffle in the SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) re: gender issues. If you’re not familiar, here’s an article that will give you the gist:
I am an SFWA member, and until this blew up on the internet, I was blissfully unaware of the issue. Why? Because I’ve been tossing my SFWA Bulletins into a pile, unread. The organization simply isn’t very relevant. It’s the most regressive and behind-the-times of all the writing organizations. I am also a member of the RWA, so I’m in a position to compare the two organizations. The RWA is superior in every way. Not just a little bit, but by orders of magnitude.
When I compare what each organization has done for my writing career, here’s what I come up with:
RWA: I owe them pretty much my whole career.
The problem is that the SFWA doesn’t admit unpublished writers. Strange as it may seem, unpublished writers are the lifeblood of the RWA. Why? Because published writers don’t have the spare time needed to run the organization. They have tight deadlines and often are working an additional job or raising kids. The RWA and its individual chapters are run almost entirely by unpublished or lightly published writers. These are the people who organize meetings, put on conferences, run the contests, and set up the classes.
The RWA offers a free online class every month. I take all of them. This month we’re learning about computer-based tools for writing (e.g. backup systems, Scrivener, tools for temporarily shutting off your internet so you’re not distracted). Last month we learned how to develop a marketing plan. In previous months, we covered craft topics like internal conflict and dialogue. The SFWA has never offered me an online class, free or otherwise. They offer no local workshops or lectures, whereas my local RWA chapter has brought in speakers such as representatives from Amazon and intellectual property lawyers. And the SFWA has no equivalent to the highly prestigious Golden Heart contest for unpublished novelists. SFF has the WOTF contest for short story writers (which is not affiliated with the SFWA), but nothing for novelists. It’s no wonder SFF isn’t doing so well as a genre when new writers have so few ways of getting their work in front of agents and editors.
Another problem with the SFWA not admitting unpublished writers is that since publishers are offering fewer and fewer contracts to new SFF writers, the organization skews old. Many of the young new writers are self-published, or still querying, and are either way ineligible to join. Thus you end up with problems like this mess with the Bulletin. The more the organization excludes the new voices of the genre, the less representative of the genre it becomes, and the less relevant.
The SFWA is behind technologically. They still communicate via forums, when everybody else has switched to email loops. I would like to follow SFWA discussions, but I don’t have time to pore over forums, looking for the new posts. We’re past the Usenet days, but the SFWA seems to be still stuck there. The RWA is in my email inbox every day, informing me of industry happenings as they occur. The SFWA sends me an email maybe once every few months, usually to inform me of some business meeting happening thousands of miles away.
The sexism kerfuffle in the Bulletin is a symptom of a larger problem, namely that the SFWA has made itself too exclusive by denying membership to unpublished and self-published SFF authors. By freezing out so many voices, especially the younger voices, the SFWA is making itself irrelevant. That doesn’t just hurt the SFWA; it hurts the whole genre.