How Do We Fix SFWA’s Brand – Part I: Identifying the Issues

From my poll the other day about whether I should join SFWA. It was a good sample size for my audience, which I estimate to be at about 4,000 people overall based on blog clicks/book sales. It’s no bestseller status (yet) but no chump change either in the science fiction and fantasy community, which has decreased over the years to alarming levels, which is partially due to the branding of the genre as a whole, but there is a perception out there for SFWA proper, and it’s a negative one. A full 80% of those who voted told me I should not join. That can’t be good for a business to have that large of a segment even of a niche of the audience so hostile toward it.

As I’m accutely interested in marketing & business development, I’m going to run this as a case study for my own and hopefully for SFWA’s edification.

Most writers aren’t business folk, but I come from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, one of the top business schools in the country, and have studied economics under nobel-laureates through that program. On top of that, I’ve had a fair amount of business success myself in other fields which we don’t need to mix with this writing game. That’s my background, aside from the way I’ve quickly risen in the SF/F field through my debut novel and second release, to where all of the top players know my name at the very least.

Those are my credentials to be going over this.

A lot of people are probably asking, what is SFWA? Great question. It’s the Science Fiction Writers of America. It’s a guild/association/club and it used to represent a large portion of the top talent of the field. In the modern independent era, where indies are now outselling traditional publishing, that doesn’t hold to be true. Several of the best authors out there suare not members of this club and have no desire to be. Why? That certainly changed since the club’s prominence in the late 1970s-1980s.

Our first step will be to identify the problem. As this is a brainstorming session, please leave your own reasons as to why you feel strongly about this club in the comments. It will be helpful for identifying the core issues, and how to resolve them. From what I understand so far:

  1. The club has a perception as being anti-Christian
  2. The club has a perception as being  anti-Conservative
  3. The club has a perception as being anti-Male
  4. The club has a perception as being anti-White
  5. The club has a perception as being anti-Independent Author
  6. The list of benefits aren’t directly tangible or easy to quantify — the ask is big for a possibly low return from a business/financial perspective

Did I miss anything in this? What are your perceptions? This will help us for the next part of this case study. If you are interested in the process of how business-minded people work to identify and pinpoint/solve problems, this is a great example for you!

33 thoughts on “How Do We Fix SFWA’s Brand – Part I: Identifying the Issues

  1. You left out one element: like many problem drinkers, SFWA has no interest in changing the behaviors that produce the negative perceptions people have of it. The self-destructive rush of its illusory power and the thrill its “leading” elements get from “dominating” an institution they are strangling far outweigh the desire to change. They have already rendered the Nebula, a once-influential award in our field, irrelevant as a judge of quality writing; they’re ability to influence the conduct of publishers is equally waning, but by God, it will wane with their names on it.

  2. “…I’ve quickly risen in the SF/F field through my debut novel and second release, to where all of the top players know my name at the very least.”

    Hahahahaha. Um, no. If anyone knows you, it’s because you’re the clown that insulted Marvel and stalked it’s writers, and then awkwardly and laughably wrote them an open letter asking for a gig.

    Trust me, mate. You’re a laughing stock in the real publishing world.

    And that has nothing to do with your politics. It has everything to do with the fact that you’re a liar and a total creep.

      • I understand how you threatened real writers–including my friends–by cyber stalking them, and “exposing” them for expressing their beliefs. That’s why no legit publisher will ever hire you.

          • The biggest problem with your argument and data–as it pertains to Jon–is that I would pretty much guarantee that none of Jon’s books have sold more than 1,000 ebook units.

      • “Mr. Midnight
        on July 11, 2017 at 12:09 pm said:
        The biggest problem with your argument and data–as it pertains to Jon–is that I would pretty much guarantee that none of Jon’s books have sold more than 1,000 ebook units.?

        Deliver on your guarantee, “No Data Man”. “Pretty much”. Lamer.

        What a maroon!

        • Yup. I’m just a maroon with know knowledge of the publishing industry who just happens to have Bookscan data, which shows that Jon’s print sales are low enough that I can’t imagine he’d be selling more that 1,000 ebook units per book. Jon knows what I’m saying is true, and that’s all that matters to me!

        • Look, I’ll give you a LOT of credit for allowing your detractors to post on your boards. Most people, myself included, would probably just delete such posts.

          But, man, I can’t stand how you claim to be a warrior for Christ and then constantly lie to either puff yourself up or to make yourself look like a martyr for “persecuted” conservatives in the publishing industry, all while creepily cyber stalking other writers and “exposing” views that are different than yours. You are a sanctimonious jerk.

          If I’m so very incorrect, prove it. Post a screen grab from Author Central and let’s see if your kindle e-book sales for your Star Realms book exceeds 1K units.

          • Both my current books are through publishers. I don’t have access to that, didn’t self-pub it and haven’t received most recent royalty statements yet since kinda making a name for myself. I can confirm that . Might self-pub my next novella I’m looking at doing though cuz it’s a bit esoteric so when that hits I’ll share the data.

            Look I’m here to sell books, I also am interested in Christian philosophy on a personal level. That I share my personal interests is probably detrimental to part one but it’s something I feel compelled about as necessary. Calling me names doesn’t do anything but make you look bad, bro.

            If you’re truly interested, best thing to do is just check out my books. Easy links at the top of the page here. I’d be happy to know what you think about them since you seem to do a lot of armchair quarterbacking about what I should do with my life.

          • I’ll also note that I post a couple thousand words a day of free content that you read regularly judging from your postings, so it’d be nice to get some support on that front. Thank you 🙂

  3. I’d agree with your sentiments about what people “in the industry” seem to think oif SFWA from our side of the fence. AFAICS the perception is more or less true and the organization is largely SJW converged.

    There is probably no point trying to save it if the perception is accurate because it takes a lot of work to get a group into the position it is currently in. Those who have driven it in that direction are not going to go without a fight.

    My guess is that is cannot be rehabilitated because too many people on the inside of the club with influence will resist such changes. Better to start something new, structure it specifically to exclude the sort of person that pushes for SJW convergence (make requesting a code of conduct in any form grounds for automatic expulsion and a permanent ban for example).

    Do such groups even really have much value anymore? Trad pub seems to be circling the drain and self/small pub doesn’t need a professional in club does it? What tangible benefits would any such new club provide? SFWA was by all accounts useless at representing the interests of members against large publishers and indie/small press doesn’t need that do they?

    SFWA at this point seems to exist largely as a point of prestige for some people that signals them as a “real” SF writer. Do you care about that?

    • From a branding analysis standpoint, I care about it. It’s fascinating and I think it’s recoverable with some effort put into it.

  4. The problem with SFWA is that they took away the requirement for you to have published something in the last 5 years. Therefore, once you’re in, you’re in for life. This means that the majority of members meet the bare minimum. Look at the President of SFWA. What have they done? Very damn little. They have written what, one book and a couple of dozen short stories? Any of the books that I’ve released in the last three years have outsold their total career, and they’re the president of a the biggest Science Fiction and Fantasy writers association in the world?

    They know damn near nothing about the business! But they know a lot about politics, and are very politically active and use SFWA to advance their agenda. Not the agenda of the writers. I mean they teache workshops!! About WHAT? Can’t be about writing, because they don’t know all that much about it, if their sales are any indication.

    Honestly, SFWA is really nothing more than a garden club. They stand around and talk, but they don’t do anything for the members. It’s run by a small group of very loud people who will gang up on and destroy anyone they don’t like, and all of those folks who barely qualified (and really should no longer be members), are more than happy to pile more fuel on the fire, as they really do want to attack those more successful than they are (because it’s not fair that they aren’t best sellers too!).

    Look at the Vice President who recently resigned, without explanation, and rather suddenly. Why did that happen? It’s obvious that there was a lot of politics going on. I suspect they got in trouble with the ‘people in charge’ because they were an indy author, and (I believe) somewhat right of center. Because their sudden leaving just screams ‘Forced Out’.

    But even in it’s less leftwing full of hate days, SFWA had become useless. SFWA almost ALWAYS sided with the publisher (and still does) NEVER sides with the author. I’ve only heard of one cause, back when Jerry was President that they went after a publisher. I’ve heard of many times where they’ve sided with the publisher against the author (and now? Now they always side with the publisher – look at the whole Hatchett deal) So what service do they provide? Really, what services does SFWA provide to its members to make it worth the money?

    I honestly can’t think of a single one. For years they wouldn’t let me join (because I was an indy, even though I was meeting the sales requirements easily), and I stopped one day and wondered why I was bothering. So I talked to my friends who were in it, and they only reason they joined was ‘to be in it, like all those other famous authors’. Well hell, I’m in the phone book with a lot of other famous people, and I don’t even have to pay for that! And I get as much from being in the phone book as I would get from being in SFWA.

    So the question is: Even if SFWA became apolitical what do you get for joining them?

    Nothing. You get nothing. So why waste the money?

    • I think that’s part of #6 there as most the complaint. I’m going to split the blog into a 2-fold analysis and see where we can go from there.

  5. Reading through some stuff by the big-name SFWA people, it looks like the four big things they tout as membership benefits are the grievance committee, the healthcare fund, the community, and what are basically ‘fraud’ or ‘bad practices’ alerts.

    The grievance committee sounds good in theory. The basic idea is that if a writer gets screwed by someone, then SFWA will fight back. So if you have a publisher who refuses to pay royalties, or an agent who tricks writers into signing really bad contracts, SFWA says they will try to intervene. But I think there’s a few problems. First, it’s hard to think of many notable times of them actually doing this–I can’t think of any recent examples. Second, ranking members of SFWA have attacked authors and tried to destroy them (look up Justina Ireland if you haven’t already–she used to be a SFWA officer, and she’s a big name in the ‘gin up twitter mobs to run authors with ‘bad representation’ out of the community bookclub. She was one of the principles behind getting “The Last Continent” pulled, and IIRC she went after The Black Witch as well). I have trouble believing Ireland or the people that elected and worked with her would really fight hard to defend the rights of, say, a white male author–especially if the author claimed to be being mistreated on diversity grounds. (E.g., suppose an author signs a contract allowing a publisher to make minor copyedits, but the publishers use ambiguous language to force more significant edits for the sake of ‘representation’ or ‘diversity.’ I doubt SFWA would defend that author.) So they can say the grievance committee is great, but they don’t really have credibility.

    Second, there’s the emergency medical fund. That’s more obviously useful, but again, it’s unclear how often it actually gets invoked. There was also a recent screw-up in which author Tristina Wright got a message saying she’d qualified for the fund, then another message saying she actually didn’t and the first message was sent erroneously. (That incident was why Ireland resigned from SFWA in the first place; she wanted Wright to get the funds because the first message said she should even though the email was just a mistake). And it’s not clear why SFWA is more reliable for that kind of thing than a crowdfunding site. If SFWA has large cash reserves for the fund such that the money is more reliably available than, say, donately, it’s not at all clear.

    Third, there’s the community, but the days are long gone when the SFWA forum was the only or best place to meet other authors in the field. Now we have gab, twitter and other forums. So what’s the point?

    SFWA also occasionally complains about some industry practice–in January, for instance, they posted an article protesting the rise of magazines monetizing writers (e.g., a magazine saying they’ll be more likely to accept stories or essays from people who have donated to or bought a paid subscription to the magazine). But again, SFWA really shouldn’t be needed for that.

    —-

    I like the idea of a replacement SFWA-type organization. SFWA does two main categories of things, and I think both can be replicated.

    The first are basically ‘community’ things. This would include the forum, the newsletter/magazine, the healthcare fund, etc. But anyone can do that. There’d be nothing at all stop other prominent authors from setting up their own community with a forum, a group blog, and even a common fund for emergencies.

    The second are ‘industry watchdog’ things, like the grievance committee. That would be harder to replicate because the new group would need to be able to meaningfully influence the industry, but it’s by no means impossible. There are people in the Pulp Revolution or the Puppies with just as much, if not more, influence as the big name SFWA people like Cat Rambo and John Scalzi. So the big names in the new group would be able to use the threat of public shame just as effectively. And while the new group likely wouldn’t include the industry bigwigs who can cut backroom deals, I think it would still be able to find ways to stand up to bullying agents, editors, publishers, or whoever else might try to screw authors.

    • On those two fronts it wouldn’t be hard to replicate, but would people pay money for a new brand that does those things? You can get that accomplished with just a forum on the internet just as easily I’d think.

      • True, although some actions that a writer’s guild could take would require money. If they were going to sue a publisher for nonpayment of royalties for instance, or if they wanted to stage a social meetup and so wanted to rent out a room, order food, etc. I could see people being willing to pay to an organization which can credibly state they plan to actually use the money for those things, as opposed to publishing a magazine and then booting the magazine’s mainstays for being too politically incorrect. (The Mike Resnick scandal was probably the beginning of the end for SFWA, I think–it showed the organization cares more about politics than supporting its authors).

  6. Pingback: How Do We Fix SFWA’s Brand Part II: The Four Ps | The Writings of Jon Del Arroz

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