The voting has ended in January, with the striking count of 6:1, in favor of admitting small press- and self-published authors as full members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). These coveted memberships have previously been open only to traditionally published authors with sales to a particular and rather small list of book and magazine publishers.
By the new rules, the list is far more open, and anyone can be considered for membership with one very big stipulation: this person has to earn $3000 or more per single title within a 12 month period. From what I know, this number is fairly steep for most small presses and self-published authors. Still, this is a huge step in the recognition of the current publishing trends.
I have seen many discussions about the exclusiveness of SFWA. Unlike the Romance Writers of America, who accept everyone interested in the genre and willing to pay the membership fee, SFWA membership has been considered a badge of honor by some, and a controversy by others. I know that I was happy to earn my full membership last year when my novels came out from Angry Robot. I also know authors who made a professional sale but chose not to join. And, I cannot help questioning the wisdom of excluding so many potential members from the pool.
SFWA’s value, to me, is primarily in its networking options, even though, being somewhat Internet-challenged, I have not even scratched the surface of what this organization can offer to its members. I guess for a professional network there could be an advantage in exclusivity and in making sure that the people you mingle with represent the top of the field. But this culture of exclusivity also has a flip side, and, in my observation, tends to create an informal rank structure even among the members themselves. At the same time, RWA, to my knowledge, does very well without imposing any restrictions, and I know RWA has been very supportive to all members and great in helping new authors achieve professional publications.
By my calculation, the new SFWA membership rule would benefit less than 1% of self-published authors and very few small presses that could not qualify their authors for membership before. To earn $3000 from a small press, one must sell at least 3,000 print books or a similar number of e-books priced at $2.99 or more within 12 months. Cut the number in half for self publications. To my knowledge, while some authors do earn as much, and more, over time, very few authors outside traditional publishing can report this kind of yearly sales. My prediction is that, based on these estimates, we will see very few people joining SFWA as a part of this change — but in the end, time will tell. I, for one, am happy that this is at least a step in the right direction.
And yes, here is the official text of the announcement. Yay!