How Do We Fix SFWA’s Brand Part II: The Four Ps

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Last week I spent some time and identified the public perception problems that the Science Fiction Writers of America has with a large portion of the independent writer and reader demographic  which now comprises more than 50% of the product consumed by Amazon’s metrics, which detracts people from joining their club. I’ve been holding off on writing more on the topic as I’ve attempted to get some data from their president, Cat Rambo. Unfortunately, Ms. Rambo was not forthcoming in earnestly speaking about the club’s current objectives, accusing me of trolling rather than providing information. I asked for demographic information on the club in order to help further dial in what their current membership makeup looks like, potential targets for future members, as well as to see if the perception of exclusionary tactics by the club seems to have basis in reality.  Ms. Rambo has stated that the club does not keep such records—which first and foremost I would highly recommend implementing, so we can do these types of analyses better in the future.

I’m going to make the assumption that asking a direct question about whether the club is attempting to be a minority-only niche and getting a name-calling response rather than an honest one means that the club does have that goal, but they don’t want that to be in the public forefront. However since it is not a stated goal, I can’t focus on that for the time being. My recommendation is either, depending on their goal: 1. make it a stated public goal that this is a minority-centric club with the sole intention of advancing minority interests or 2. making outreach efforts to the white males, conservatives, and Christians in the writing community in order to change the current perception. That will not be the focus of the future of this case study since there is no hard data on them atter, but if there is interest there, you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll have suggestions on how to make that marketing.

Instead we’ll focus on issue #6 in my original post:  The list of benefits aren’t directly tangible or easy to quantify.

A club asking for regular dues must provide some sort of tangible value for that membership. The four points on their website need to be refreshed and updated for the modern market in order to bring in the next generation of members and create a club that has the cache of SFWA past. In order to further delve into how to do this, we’ll have to look at the four principles of marketing, something that is impressed upon students hard in Business 101 classes in colleges. The four Ps:

  1. Product
  2. Placement
  3. Promotion
  4. Price

Product: The issue we’ve identified is a product problem at its core, though tangentially price ends up being a problem because of the product problem.  $100 a year is a lot to ask writers in an industry where even with a couple professional sales on the short story circuit, they may only be making $500-$1000 per year. Most books only sell about 200-300 copies, and if they put out several of those per year, they may be in a range where they’re making a few thousand bucks, but a hundred dollar expenditure at that point would be much better spent on a book cover, editing for the next book, or paid advertisements. The entire low-end of the club falls out at that point, which creates grumbling within the community about it not being worth it. The high end of the club doesn’t need the community benefits quite as much as the low end, and so we’re left with a product that has a very low util to cost ratio.

Price: All things being equal, I’ll presume that SFWA wishes the membership cost to remain at its current rate or even potentially increase to account for inflation. Unless I hear otherwise from Ms. Rambo this post is read.

Placement and Promotion: Placement seems easy as it’s an internet-based organization with a conference per year that rotates cities, I don’t think they have issues there. Promotion, looking at their use of social media could use some further assistance. SFWA should maximize the leverage of their bigger name authors to give, like book blurbs, brief social media worthy quotes about their experiences in the club to make it sound much more appealing to newer, younger authors. Utilize your best capital which is the brand of some of your writers. Right now, the social media account’s first few posts are begging for Amazon smile donations, which doesn’t produce the image of a successful, thriving organization at all. A big benefit of SFWA is the perceived success of the organization, and that needs to be capitalized upon.  I have many other ways in which to utilize this and will happily assist upon request.

We’ll focus this case study on the product, as that requires the most work within the business development. Without an excellent product, the other 3 Ps fall by the wayside, because it doesn’t matter what you do, it will still have a negative perception, especially with a three digit annual price point. When asked about the club’s benefits, referring to a page that has four points of which two are unquantifiable beyond a “you get what you give” and the other two are extremely rare circumstantial situations of which applies to only a very few, it’s easy to see where the perception of low product takes place. The “we give some promotion and a sense of community” can easily be attained on free internet boards, or facebook groups, or mailing lists.  Since all of those can be gained for free and in some cases with equal or greater memberships, SFWA’s four points of why to join have lost nearly all of its value. Those elements need to be dialed into more tangible benefits, and more benefits need to be created in order to help the club in the future.

We’ll focus the next blog on product development and bringing SFWA from a club still in a 20th century mentality in terms of product in a 21st century world.  Please, in the comments, people who are in SFWA and not, what would be something that you would find beneficial in an author’s club that would be worth a premium like that? This is an open brainstorming session and needs your help!


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3 thoughts on “How Do We Fix SFWA’s Brand Part II: The Four Ps

  1. Not in SFWA, but just starting out my writing career, probably won’t be “eligible” for at least another year. Here is what I would be interested in, once I am “Eligible”:

    1) Marketing Assistance. This is a weak point for many authors and publishers– the former because we tend toward introversion and just want to write, work our day jobs, etc., the latter because all their marketing focus goes to a few Big Names, and everyone else is just left to more or less hang. Therefore, there is a HUGE market for marketing assistance for the Non Big Name authors, the very ones that need it the most. This sort of assistance could include (but certainly not be limited to): A) Facilitation in getting advanced reviews on upcoming releases for “blurbs” on the back cover (and, perhaps, a membership discount associated with providing minimum X number of qualifying reviews to other members), B) Facilitation in hooking up authors with Local Conventions, helping arrange book signings at local bookstores, etc., C) Using membership dues (in part) to purchase advertising space in various media, this advertising space then being used to promote books/ stories published in the past 6 (or X) months by *all* active members, D) Perhaps putting together a reader subscription service of some kind (for a small subscription fee) that would provide a monthly or quarterly electronic publication that included the shorter works of any author interested in contributing (there’s numerous ways to do this, but I’m thinking “Provide a product to the general public that both functions as a marketing tool, but also brings in some income of it’s own.” Like the subscription boxes where you get items from various vendors in a theme– the subscription fee is basically paying for marketing.)

    If the SFWA only provided three of these things, I think it would start earning that $100/yr.

    2) Mentoring: I know that eligibility is limited right now, and I understand why. But that’s also part of the problem– when membership is limited only to those who have already established themselves, then it becomes about as useful as a Country Club is for first time entrepreneurs– those who have proven they don’t need help are provided the opportunities, while those who need the opportunities don’t qualify. I think offering some level of mentoring would accomplish the following: A) help bring in new blood, growing and invigorating the membership, B) would enhance the quality of new works as more experienced authors could provide wisdom and helpful tips to n00bs like myself, C) help connect n00bs like myself with publishers we may not have heard of. There are so many things I just don’t know about publishing, editing, etc., and even have the advantage of having grown up with a father who was a published Sci-fi author. There’s a lot of different ways this could work, but I think both newbies and more established authors could find great value in fostering such relationships.

    3) Education, both to the members and the public. Provide guides, or talks, or X to educate writers on not only various aspects of writing and publishing, but also provide (or aggregate) resources relating to these and to history, science, all the things we find at the best conventions, but in permanent, revisit-able fashion. Best thing at a con I ever went to was a 1 person panel on writing action scenes. I filled my notebook with pages of notes from that, but I’d still want to revisit it. This would be the perfect thing for the SFWA to film, put online, and make a “class” out of. Build up a library of such material, and that would absolutely be worth the fee.

    I’ll think about what else I might like to see.

    • They don’t supply any of those things.
      Oh, I understand that they try to, I knew of one person who signed up and was like ‘oh X is doing a workshop on sales and writing!’

      I looked up ‘X’s writing career. Having them teach anything on sales and writing is like having someone who just got their driver’s license teach a course on race car driving. There is a lot of ego at SFWA, but there isn’t a lot of experience being shared.

      What I want to see is basically a guild. You join up, you cab get signed up into a health insurance plan, and if you want, you have access to 401K’s and maybe even a retirement plan. Also, a legal aid group to help with contracts and for those times when you need a lawyer.

      After that, perhaps some sort of incentive plan to get those who are really doing well to do some presentations or workshops?

      But it should avoid all politics (and that would need to be written into the charter and bylaws to keep it that way and keep it from being taken over) and I honestly think it shouldn’t promote any of the member’s writing, because politics and hurt feelings. Last of all, once in, you only retaining voting rights if you’ve published in the last four years. And something more than just a short story here or there.

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