As the current SFWA fail event continues – tho’ they have, to their credit, formed what appears to be a serious committee to figure out paths forward – you’ve seen some calls about forming a new organisation. Cora Buhlert does so, at the end of a particularly good roundup of links*.
Now, I’m not going to say what a group of writers should and shouldn’t do. But I have a fair bit of organisational experience, some of which is relevant, so am going to provide some council here. There are things any such effort must know and consider.
First, getting a bunch of people together to all sign up for something is fairly easy – particularly if they’re all pissed off at somebody else and want to make that statement.
But getting said pissed off people to do actual work? That’s not easy at all. Most of them won’t, ever. Understand this before you start.
And that’s bad, because building a credible organisation is hard, not-fun work. SFWA’s already having credibility – don’t laugh, okay, laugh, but also cry – is what makes all this insanity over the last six months a serious problem, as opposed to being fan wankery. Were SFWA just a fan club for writers, a lot fewer people would care.
But they’re not just a fan club for writers. For better or for worse, they’re a fairly legitimate professional organisation, which can and has successfully lobbied in the past for the business interests of their members. Consider Harlequin Horizons and Publish America as recent examples, but there are others.
They provide access to legal council, help with contracts, have an established and somewhat-recognised award – the Nebulas – that publishers and fans recognise. They have, as an organisation, helped stop abusive business practices towards writers, and their actions are taken seriously because of the weight of their organisation.
They have a lot of organisational knowledge which would be lost.
Now, that doesn’t mean people can’t go and start a competitor. It doesn’t even mean that you shouldn’t. But anyone starting such an organisation needs to know that it will take many years of hard work by many people to establish the first solid levels of credibility and durability needed by any such organisation.
That might now be necessary. But approach the task knowing this.
The second thing you need to know – or decide – is whether you want a professional organisation that actually is a professional organisation, or a protest/fan club.
The latter is easy, but utterly meaningless in this context. And it’s really easy to fall into that latter category. It’s so tempting to let as many people join as want – you get more names, you get a bigger membership so it looks like you have some clout with writers, you get a funding boost from their membership fees.
Such organisations can be great fan clubs, but are rarely good protectors of business interests. SFWA’s requirements for membership are there for a reason: to insure that only those serious enough and business-savvy enough to get an advance-paying contract with a major publisher are in the organisation.
In other words, pros, or at least, semi-professionals. Why? So it doesn’t turn into a fan club. So that everybody who joins cares about the business side of writing, and doesn’t just LURVE TEH SKIFFIES.
At very least, you’d need to go the Romance Writers of America route. Sure, they let anyone join who says they want to be a romance writer. But they also have their pro-membership inner group, which is a separate membership class. And to join that, you actually have to prove things.
So, were you to go up against SFWA as a competing professional organisation, you’d have to have the same sorts of standards just to be considered at all legitimate. And you’ll have to grow to a reasonable fraction of their size before the sorts of people who talk to professional organisations will also talk to you, and you will long be the, aheh, “weak sister.”
Which defeats the purpose.
And that gets to my third point: to accomplish the real goal, you’d need to supplant SFWA.
Right now, SFWA is the kind of place where vicious and sincere misogynists like Vox “women ruin everything” Day can get 40-ish votes for President. It’s also the leading F&SF English-language writers’ organisation*, and is likely to remain so for some time.
That should not be allowed to stand.
Even were a peer competitor to be successfully launched, SFWA would stay around, and by being first, and by having a track record, and by having durability, would remain by reputation the ‘more important’ version – or worse, the ‘real’ version – for a long time. A successful and sustained launch still does not mean you’ve won.
So to win** here, through competition, what do you need to do?
You need to either replace SFWA outright – drive it into irrelevance – or force it to reform from the outside. Failing to do either means you end up with a likely-even-more-mysognistic SFWA still being the leading writer’s association in F&SF.
So, in the end, you have three options (other than do nothing). One and two are both reform SFWA, just through different paths. The third option is to supplant it, and drive it into irrelevance. The third option is much more difficult.
And given that should either one or two succeed, the need for a competing organisation goes away*** – well, I know what my choice would be.
But I’m not a writer, and it’s not my call.
*: See also Jim Hines’s continuing collection of reactions/Q&A.
**: Note that winning w.r.t SFWA won’t do a lot regarding horrible fan misogyny that Ann Aguirre writes about. That’s a societal issue and has to be fought on a far wider front.
***: The World SF Blog has totally legitimate complaints about SFWA being American-specific. But forming a transnational professional organisation limits that organisation’s scope dramatically. The legal support has to be unique per country, as does the business support, to fit national law; it’s less one organisation and several separate ones with an umbrella group, in practice. To be a truly transnational organisation requires doing either a lot less, or a lot more, and spending a lot more money.</p>
eta: No matter how you slice it, Angela Highland points out certain market realities that say SFWA needs to rethink the specifics of its membership requirements. Maybe they should follow RWA’s lead.