What I want in a writer’s organization

There has been much debate of late about SFWA and how relevant to the needs of professional writers it may or may not be.

I write Science Fiction and Fantasy (mostly) and, as you might imagine, have an opinion on the matter.

So, let’s look at what I want in a writer’s organization.  I’m kind of working this out as I go along so it’s going to ramble.

Writers, by and large, are freelancers.  They may hold down a more conventional job at the same time, but as writers they are freelancers.  And a lot of writers who hold other jobs dream of being able to quit those other jobs and making their living from writing.  To do that, they would have to provide for themselves many of the benefits normally provided by their employer.

A key benefit of interest to writers is health insurance.  SFWA has its Emergency Medical Fund (EMF) which provides zero interest loans to members to help cover large medical expenses.  That’s great.  That’s wonderful  I don’t want to dispute its value.  But it’s not insurance.  For the folk who’ve qualified for and received payments from the EMF, it’s been a godsend.  For the rest of us, who just want insurance to cover that ER visit from when their child fell of the swing and split his head open, or the gall bladder surgery, or the MRI on that medial cruciate ligament injury, or the sleep study to find out why you can’t seem to stay awake during the day.  And that’s just health insurance.  There’s also life (if something happens to me, what about my family), disability, and others.

So, one thing I want from a professional organization is access to insurance.  As just one example of insurance via a professional organization, I present the American Chemical Society.

Another benefit from professional organizations is “professional education”.  Science related professional organizations share information on science, information that helps members become better scientists.  Medical organizations share information that helps physicians become better doctors.  And so on.

So one thing I want from a professional information is for it to be a source of information that can help me be a better writer, better able to craft stories, market them, and sell them.

Since writing is largely a freelance activity, aspects of importance to professionals include contracts, particularly Intellectual Property contracts, rights, royalties and payments.  Assistance in navigating this maze, in getting better terms, in making sure you’re actually paid what you are owed, when you are owed it, would be most welcome.

Speaking of payments, what’s up with pay rates?  Twenty years ago “pro rates” for short fiction were $0.05 per word (longer than that, actually–a lot longer–but that’s when I entered the business). Last year SFWA raised the qualifying rate, to $0.06 per word.

Now, maybe that’s all the field can support.  Maybe there isn’t enough readership to support paying more.  Which brings up another issue.  The science related professional organizations all have a strong “how to get people involved in…” which goes looking for ways to interest people in the field, to ensure the next crop of scientists will be out there but also to make sure that there are “consumers” willing and able to buy what they’re selling.  So the question that must be answered is “why aren’t people buying and how can we change that?”

So, I’d kind of like a professional organization that is looking out for the professional future, exploring new avenues, and working to ensure that there is a professional future.

And the field is changing.  Indy and self-publishing are becoming viable avenues for people to sell their work.  Some people doing those sell more than some following the “traditional” route.  Yet they don’t qualify for the “professional organization” because, well, tradition.

I’d like to see a professional organization that was at the forefront of new trends in the field and not dragging its heels against them.

As a writer, the ability to express ideas is my stock in trade.  All writers share that.  We may have different ideas to express but expressing our ideas is what we do.  When someone says “this idea you must not share” or “that idea you may not have” they hurt all of us.  Now, a private organization, which professional organizations like SFWA is, can choose to limit its membership however it wants within certain broad limits set by law.  But when an organization devoted to writing, to communication, decides to limit that membership based on the ideas some people express, however distasteful one finds those ideas to be, then that organization undercuts its very reason for being.  The question is, do you want to be an organization that promotes writing and the interests of writers, or do you want to be an organization that promotes certain political and social agendas only tangentially related (if that) to writing?  You can’t have it both ways because the latter undercuts the former.  If you are going to throw some writers “under the bus” because you don’t like their views, then you have no room to complain when others do the same to you.

So I’d like a professional organization that promotes the interests of writers and writing, regardless of the political or social positions of those writers and that writing.

So, if somebody could let me know where I might find such an organization, I would greatly appreciate it.


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