Why I Didn't Renew My Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Membership

by Ron Vitale

SFWA Membership Directories

SFWA Membership Directories

My renewal notice for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America membership came to me in my email and with mixed emotions I decided not to renew. I wanted to explain why I didn't continue being a member and warn other writers so they don't waste their time and money as well.

I Dreamed a Dream

Back in the '80s when I was growing up, I devoured books. I read Tolkien, Asimov, McCaffrey, and Clark (to name a few) and dreamed that one day I would be a writer. I remember writing stories in my grade school copybook and then in my teens I invested in a typewriter. I wrote fantasy stories and Dungeons & Dragons adventures using my Smith Corona typewriter. I even remember using the changeable type keys so that I could use accents and foreign characters. For one of my adventures that I wrote, I even tried, at 15, to have it published in Dragon magazine.

Smith Corona Changeable Type 3 Series

Smith Corona Changeable Type 3 Series

Although Dragon declined to publish my role-playing adventure, I didn't give up and kept writing. I finished high school with a novel under my belt and went on to college, realizing that I needed to find help. I wanted to network with other writers. I needed a mentor. And that's how I discovered SFWA. I stumbled upon the association in a "How to Get Published" book. I struggled for years to become a member and believed that if I could just work hard enough and become a member that doors would open to me.

Growing Up and Facing Reality

After college, I went on to graduate school and kept writing. I studied the qualifying market list and tried and tried to obtain a publishing credit so that I could become a member of SFWA. Many years later I did become an Affiliate member. I received my first members directory and poured through the pages with glee. In my hands, I now had the personal email addresses to some of the most famous writers in the world.

I received the quarterly Bulletin magazine and read all the articles in it and over time even wrote several articles that were published in its pages. But something was missing. I quickly realized that the SFWA membership that I had thought would change my life really made no difference to me. I read about writers dealing with their agents and contracts, but I still had neither. I saw pictures of Worldcon and knew that I didn't have the money to go and would feel out of place even if I could get there.

After more than a decade of trying to become a member, I had to come to terms with what the membership really meant to me: I had access to a subpar website, a directory of members and the Bulletin. My mistaken hope that I could use membership as a means to network with other writers was dashed. I wrote in a vacuum, worked, married and had a family and I became established in my daytime career. I wrote in my spare time and dreamed of becoming a "real" writer and publishing novels.

Social Media and Indie Publishing Saved the Day

With the explosion of indie publishing and social media, I used Twitter to network with fellow writers. Suddenly I had a tool that I could use to more organically interact with people from all careers. Instead of digging through a directory of SFWA members and emailing strangers, asking for advice and help, I could easily listen to the conversation online and more naturally jump into a discussion.

I created a podcast for five years and learned how to edit the audio files from someone I had never met online. And that put me on the path to indie publishing: I learned how to create an ebook by reading Guido Henkel's blog posts, and when I couldn't figure out how to add an image to my book, I wrote to him and he answered. I had spent many years on membership dues for SFWA, and outside of the Bulletin I received, I had little interactions with fellow writers and the business of writing. But when I contacted Guido, he helped. And, over time, other writers on Twitter helped me and I began returning the favor by assisting others.

The simple connections I was making on Twitter made an impression on me because I realized that I could reach out to any person on Twitter and connect. I could offer help, ask a question or just say, "Hang in there, keep on writing!" The interaction and networking that I had always wanted had become a reality and the shocker: It was free.

The New World of Publishing

I continued writing and from 2010-2013 I published two books in my Cinderella's Secret Diaries series, written articles, blog posts and networked with writers from all over the world. In 2012 an interesting opportunity turned up. I learned of a young adult fiction group coming together through SFWA so I applied to join and was told that I couldn't become a member because my books were self-published on Amazon and Amazon wasn't a qualifying market.

I wrote to the organizer, Malindo Lo, contacted then SFWA president, John Scalzi, and nothing: SFWA would not change their rules. I explained that not only was I an author who had published several books, but in my day job I was an Associate Director of Website Communications and had many years of experience implementing social media and website strategies. I had a lot of experience I wanted to share with the group. Unfortunately, I was told that I couldn't become a member of the YA group. It was at this point that I started asking myself: Why am I spending $70 a year on membership dues? What is SFWA really doing for me? I knew the answer, but I hid from the truth.

And here we are in 2013 and there's the Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg fiasco that has blown up all over the web. For those of you unfamiliar with the controversy, fellow members thought the cover of issue 200 of the Bulletin was sexist and dated and I couldn't agree with them more. To make matters worse, Resnick and Malzberg made some rather sexist comments about Bea Mahaffey in the Bulletin, writing: "Anyone who's seen photos of Bea from the 50s knows she was a knockout as a young woman."

What this had to do with Bea Mahaffey's editing ability is beyond me. I took all of this in and finally decided that enough was enough. The truth had risen to the surface: I had held onto my membership because of nostalgia. My SFWA membership represented my hope that one day I would be a successful writer and that I would rub elbows with other great writers. My self-indulgent dream has not come true and worse: I do not wish to be associated with an unhelpful and increasingly troubled organization.

The Future Is Bright so You Better Wear Shades

I am on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, have a blog, and even published a few Vines. You can connect with me and I can connect with you. We can help each other. All we need to do is simply contact each other. From meeting people on Twitter, I've learned more about the business of writing in the last year than I have in all the years I've been a member of SFWA and you don't have to pay a membership fee.

SFWA is an insular group that is supporting its own elites and has not adapted to the changing publishing landscape. There is no value in my spending $70 for my yearly membership--especially since the Bulletin is now on hiatus. Instead I will continue to network with writers and readers on Twitter and on other social media platforms.

Although I would not recommend fellow writers to spend their money on a SFWA membership, I have learned a valuable lesson. I have looked to SFWA to validate my writing instead of forging my own path. SFWA never had the power to make me a successful writer. That power resides only within each of us. And now the hard work of being a writer and on succeeding resides where it always belonged--with me.

Ron Vitale is the author of the dark fantasy series Cinderella's Secret Diaries who hopes that other writers will listen to their own voices and not allow others to dictate who and what they can be.