The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has long had certain requirements for membership: You have to publish a few short stories or one novel, with a publisher paying "professional" rates. But what about self-published authors, who are making a decent living off their writing?
SFWA has invited comment on how to include self-published and indie authors in its membership, in preparation for the big business meeting in November. And already, the issue is looking thorny — on both sides. Judging from the comments on the site and elsewhere, self-published authors aren't happy about being asked to "prove" their financial success to meet some standard of eligibility. And they wonder what, exactly, SFWA can do for them. On the other side, people who qualified under the old rules want some kind of objective yardstick for financial success in self-publishing.
Given that a lot of what SFWA does involves going to bat for authors with the traditional publishing industry, it seems like a fair question to ask what the organization could do for authors who've chosen to avoid that industry altogether. Is SFWA membership just a badge of legitimacy, or does it come with other tangible benefits that aren't related to publishing contracts and such?
Probably, the answer is that the shape of publishing is changing too quickly right now to know what the book world is going to look like in another 20 years. Electronic self-publishing is still relatively new in its ascendancy, and we haven't yet seen some of the many and varied ways that self-published authors can get screwed over. As the market matures, we'll probably see more authors getting abused in new and creative fashions on the self-publishing side, and there will be a need for an organization to combat that. But that's just my guess.
Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what SFWA decides this fall.