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Cool Fun Club?

papersky said:

I've never joined SFWA, though I am qualified. Useful reasons for supporting it aside, I'm sure I would have joined if it had felt as if it were a cool fun club to be in -- but instead it has always felt like a claustrophobic toxic club that's better avoided.

If Scalzi could change that perception, that would be great. His initial post filled me with enthusiasm. That election blog, however, though it has a certain train wreck fascination, reminds me that I might need a bargepole

And I started to answer in the thread, and, of course, ran out of room. So I moved it up here, because I think it makes a strong point, and I want to mull it over.

One of the things Scalzi talks about is making SFWA more relevant to writers who are working in the field today. This, coupled with papersky's comment made me think about the reasons I joined SFWA back in, ummm, 1989 or 1990.

When I joined, I joined because of the SFWA GEnie deal for the SFRTs. The closest thing I've found on-line in tone, with its mulitple small communities, is Livejournal. I wasn't enormously active in most of the GEnie topics (but adored a half dozen of them beyond reason) -- but at the time, joining SFWA meant full access, for free, to all of them, including the chat rooms. The various topics were very like the individual LJs here, and the topic host -- frequently these were author-based -- kept the tone of the conversation in lines with what they wanted to see; as you can imagine, the tone varied widely from author to author and topic to topic. But there were always places that were open to new people, and ways in which experiences outside of SF could be relevant.

It was, in papersky's words "a cool fun club to be in".

Ray Feist was still posting frequently in those days; Mike Resnick was very active -- and although I'd worked for years in bookstores by that time, the publishing aspects of the business from the perspective of a writer was new to me. They were perfectly happy to answer questions, they certainly had their own take on the business, and for me, it was a wider window into a world I didn't really understand. I understood what happened to the books once they were published, how they were sold, etc., but that wasn't as balanced a view as I felt I needed at the time.

The web was in its infancy, then. I think it was harder to find information than it is now. So the perceived value, for me as a writer, was access to people who simply knew more than I did, and who were willing to hold forth.

Fast forward to 2007, when you can google almost anything and many, many more people are active on-line. GEnie is long gone. Blogs are everywhere, and easily accessible; time is the constraint. The business has changed enormously since 1990, and conventional wisdom from that time is often no longer relevant.

What, then, does SFWA have to offer writers who do qualify to join, but simply can't see a pressing reason to do so? How does SFWA become a cool fun place to be? I think Scalzi's entry, and the enthusiasm it's generated, even if he does not win his write-in campaign, offers a partial answer to that: Scalzi's Whatever is a fun place to be. Does he hold forth? At length. Not all of his blogs are about the business or the state of the industry – but enough of them are relevant to writers to give them a sense of what some aspects of the business are like, and the rest is the social glue that can hold a community together. But the point is: he has a public face (I know I'm dwelling on that part, but I do think it's important), developed over literally years of almost daily posts. It's not hard to find him. It's not hard to read him. It's not possible to agree with him 100% of the time, but even the disagreements do not tend to tear apart the community there.

He is plugged in. He appears to say pretty much whatever he feels like saying, and he has a very evident sense of humour. On its own, this probably couldn't carry an entire organization. But without something as easily accessible and as apparently open, I'm not sure our organization, with so many on-line members, is ever going to seen to be as relevant as it was when information was so much harder to come by.

And yes, the ire in the ElectionBlog certainly doesn't radiate "cool fun club" either – but I think I expect less from Elections in general.

So: a question. I babbled at length a couple of years back about what various retail elements of this business meant, and I posted a first-book contract because in total, it seemed fairly consistent with what I know of first book contracts now. If more people were willing to do this, on a closed board, would this be some incentive to join in? If there were SFWA guest blogs that were about things that the membership as a whole wanted to know more about – on-line publishing comes instantly to mind – would this be a way of making things more relevant?

I think Griefcom, the EMF, and the legal fund are all good reasons to join – but I think to many people who are considering it, they're also invisible. What visible elements would make things that much more interesting?


Mar. 29th, 2007 01:24 am (UTC)
Hrmmm.... I don't like the fan club aspect, actually. It turned me off to SWFA. In that instead of feeling like the sales were there to make sure you were pro before being accepted (which is fine) that they were there to keep the young whippersnappers out. As with some of the changing rules and ignoring of online that was going on when I was seriously looking.

I should break this out into its own post, because your reaction is pretty much exactly the reaction that's so much of a problem, imho, for SFWA.

I was probably a young whippersnapper at the time that I joined SFWA (I had nothing published, but did have a contract for my first novel, when I applied). Possibly because the on-line venues didn't exist at the time, I didn't have any sense of exclusion when I joined. But I didn't join as part of an already flourishing community; I really didn't have much expectation. I knew that people who knew the ropes were in SFWA, and were willing to answer questions, or just hold forth, in long posts on GEnie, and I really, really wanted access to those. At the time, everything (CompuServe, GEnie, non-faculty/student usenet access) cost an arm and a leg (like, say, 75.00 a connect hour) so the perception that the SFWA membership was of value for the services that it (indirectly) provided was high.

A lot of the people that I met through GEnie, I still socialize with now, where possible. SFWA at the time was a way of meeting people who were dealing with the same issues I was dealing with, often at the same stage in their careers. Much of the core SFWA sff.net group (certainly not all) was active on GEnie at the time; I was quiet there, except in kateelliott's topic, and janni's topic. I'm sure it was a shock to them to meet me in person, where I was, well, me. I tend to be a lot more careful with words that are not guaranteed to convey my tone of voice or my facial expression because I don't know who's reading them, and what expectations they bring to the words themselves.

But a better way of putting it would be this: LJ is the closest I've seen to the GEnie environment since GEnie went away. If you couldn't access LJ, except at per-connect-hour pay, unless you joined SFWA, would SFWA then be of value? Or would it seem as exclusionary as it does to you now? There were always, and probably will always be, groups within those groups, where interests or career paths converge and where conversational styles mesh rather than clash. There probably still are.

But if you've found a community that speaks to your needs in your current situation, and in the future career path you hope to follow, how would SFWA even be relevant, or make itself relevant?

Mar. 29th, 2007 02:18 am (UTC)
Umm, I meant all those questions seriously and not argumentatively, just in case it's not tonally conveyed. Probably because of the way I joined SFWA and the things I took out of it I never had the impression that it was an old boys club (well, old persons club, which doesn't quite work, but you know what I mean), and possibly because of the old boards, there are people that are constant white noise to me (in the don't feed the trolls sense of white noise).

I understand why there's a minimum level for pro access -- because in theory the organization is supposed to help professional writers who want to make money and possibly a living writing genre fiction. So in theory they're not going to be of use to people who aren't trying to do that. But possibly because I was published when things were much more static, I never ran up against that particular wall.
Mar. 29th, 2007 11:57 pm (UTC)
I didn't take any as argumentative, just mulling my responses, btw.

I completely like the mini level for pro access. 100%. I support that. I do think it should be a pro organization and offer services to pros.

But the bit about helping newbies get to be pro, that I don't think should be locked down. Because they can't get that via SFWA, and yet the members of SWFA have (or should have) that information availible to give.
Mar. 30th, 2007 12:06 am (UTC)
If I couldn't access LJ (or the author blogs & several non-LJ author/editor/publisher/agent blogs) that I do read without costing me an arm and leg unless I joined SFWA, SFWA would certainly be of value. Because it would be the only option for very valuable info. IT would seem somewhat exclusionary, but meh.

But that isn't the case, because you can't control what people say and it is their right to post things in public. Tobias Buckwell's Author Advance Survey was not SFWA instigated, and has been a great help. If SFWA did their own for members only with more respondants & info, that would be of value and maybe they could get more because it wouldn't be public versus Tobias' informal. ACS did a survey every year of the thousands of chemical professionals to get salary info and release it to all members so that you knew if you were competitive or not. It was good.

To me, SFWA can't be about the community of allowing fans/amatuers access to the pros. The pros are out there, on their own, and they talk. So SFWA shouldn't try to recreate GEnie or LJ as a way of gathering new members. SFWA should offer things that aren't that. Like a better Advance/First Novel survey with more respondants in the industry. Maybe work out a deal with Locus to get a reduced subscription rate if you are a member of SFWA [because while Locus isn't for SWFA, I can't imagaine many in SFWA don't read or shouldn't read it]. (Disclaimer: I worked for Locus for a while a couple years back). The availability of the Bulletin and the member's list is of interest to me and is probably the one thing that would make me auto-join if I ever qualify. Because I plan on doing it via short stories, I damn well want that list for the Agents info for when I would try to sell a novel. I can get that elsewhere, but I've heard the SFWA version is more easily read and collected into one place.

Anyway, I just don't like SFWA being seen as an elite fan club. I think it should be seen as what it purports to be: An organization for Professional SF/F writers. And serving them by being professional, not a bunch of in-fighting twits & self-serving old farts (I know it is all of them, and I do know quite a few people of SFWA who are awesome, but that is the general vibe I get whenever I read about a SFWA tempest and the vibe I got when I was guested into the SFWA suite from many of the members).

Mar. 30th, 2007 12:47 am (UTC)
And serving them by being professional, not a bunch of in-fighting twits & self-serving old farts (I know it is all of them, and I do know quite a few people of SFWA who are awesome, but that is the general vibe I get whenever I read about a SFWA tempest and the vibe I got when I was guested into the SFWA suite from many of the members).

Agreed. The one caveat I will offer is this: I think -all- people are, when they gather together and work around one another, prone to be argumentative. I have never worked anywhere, in any venue, or volunteered anywhere, where this type of personality conflict fails to occur (actually, it's often much worse in volunteer organizations). People are often political if they're not extremely careful. In short bursts, things are good -- in the long haul, not so much.