SFWRITER.COM > About Rob > Rob's SFWA Presidential Platform
Platform for the Position of President of
by Robert J. Sawyer
February 26, 1998
Copyright © 1998 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
On May 4, 1998, Robert J. Sawyer was elected President of
the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, defeating
his closest competitor in the four-way race by a 3:2 margin.
What follows is Rob's election platform statement.
I was the first to throw his hat into the ring for SFWA
president. I did it because months after the call for candidates
had gone out, no one was running for the position, and there was
concern voiced that indeed no one would step forward. So I
volunteered; I care too much about this organization to let if
After I announced my candidacy, other very worthy individuals
made known their willingness to serve; if any of them had come
forward earlier, I wouldn't be running. Indeed, on the day he
put forth his name, I told Norman Spinrad that I would gladly
step aside. But Norman urged me to continue to run, in part
because he believes that a platform as militant as his requires
the real mandate that goes with being chosen by the membership
over other options.
So, to contrast my platform with Norman's, I think there are
things SFWA can and should be doing related to the publishing of
science fiction and fantasy. However, I don't think that on its
own SFWA can tackle the matters Norman is concerned about such
as Thor Power Tool (which SFWA's own special committee determined
had negligible impact on SF publishing anyway) or possible
antitrust violations by bookstore chains. These aren't SF/F
issues per se.
Still, I would like to considerably strengthen SFWA's role in
dealing with such issues as part of a concerted effort in
conjunction with other writers' groups. Toward that end, I would
eliminate the current position of "SFWA Writers' Organizations
Liaison" and instead make that part of the President's or
Even so, my presidency would concentrate mostly on the things
that specifically and uniquely affect SF/F writers. A bad
contract from one of the genre magazines? I'll be all over it.
The banning of books in our field? You bet. No royalties for SF
media tie-ins? I'll continue the fight. SF being dissed in the
press? I'll address that, too.
I'm prepared to spend money; SFWA is rolling in dough, and
there's no reason we shouldn't put some of our surplus to good
use. I proposed what became SFWA's Random Audit Program in
letters to Forum (October 1991, during the Bova administration,
and August 1992, at the beginning of the Haldeman
administration). These audits have been tremendously
educational. I'd increase their frequency from once a year to
three times a year (which would also substantially enhance their
value as deterrents to publisher dishonesty). Three of the four
issues of the Bulletin would contain random-audit reports (the
fourth, the Nebula issue, is already full to bursting).
I'd also devolve significantly more power to regional directors,
including letting them accept membership applications in person
from those who have sold to approved markets (I agree strongly
with secretarial candidate
Michael A. Burstein whose
candidacy I wholeheartedly endorse that bringing qualified
writers into SFWA should be a top priority).
And I'd designate up to ten percent of each member's dues for
activities within that member's own region (that is, each region
would have a budget equal to five dollars times the number of
members in that region). This money could be spent at the
discretion of the regional director on specific approved
activities such as regional newsletters and SFWA suites at major
conventions within the region.
I'd also try to establish two new original annual anthologies
one fantasy, the other SF open exclusively to SFWA members,
published by a major house, and edited (at least as far as making
the final choices is concerned) by our biggest, most-bankable
names. This approach has been successful as a moneymaker and
profile-raiser for the Horror Writers Association (working with
Pocket Books). I'd also have the SFWA Handbook completely
redone, and try to sell it to Writer's Digest Books (which is
what the Mystery Writers of America and the Horror Writers
Association have done with their handbooks). And I'd look into
renaming the Bulletin something like SF&F Author, in hopes of
increasing its newsstand and subscription circulation beyond the
current few hundred copies.
Speaking of publications, I think we have an obligation to
educate aspirant writers part of Heinlein's paying-forward.
I'd have us create a SFWA booklet that would be freely and widely
distributed to writers' groups and at conventions: a guide to
the realities of SF/F publishing (don't pay reading fees, the
truth about vanity press, etc.). Wannabe writers are getting
ripped off, and we should do something to educate them.
And on the topic of ripoffs, I'd end one of SFWA's own. We have
many writing couples in our organization. I'd institute a family
membership rate: two members, in the same membership class, at
the same address, receiving one set of publications between them,
would pay only $10 a year for the second membership.
I have no interest in tying up SFWA's energies with internal
matters, but there are a number of issues that still fester and
can only be dealt with at the bylaw level; other candidates wish
simply to ignore them or to set up an elaborate online
infrastructure that, I fear, will allow them to be debated
forever. My belief is that we should quickly settle them, then
move on to other, more important things. Therefore, I would send
out a binding bylaw-changing ballot within the first ninety days
of my mandate. None of these issues are new; we've all already
had time to think about them. So let's vote on them and then
move on. The issues include:
- Allowing professional English-language fiction sales anywhere
in the world to count for membership (currently, we allow sales
in North, Central, and South America, so a sale to Guatemala
counts but one to Great Britain doesn't).
- Accepting electronic sales as membership credentials.
- Establishing a Nebula Award for Best Script.
- Allowing first publication in English anywhere in the world to
count for Nebula eligibility.
- Allowing a SFWA Grand Master to be named every year (instead
of only in six years out of every ten).
- Adopting a mild requalification scenario, requiring one sale
(short work or novel) to a professional market every five years,
OR one book in print, OR one book under contract with a delivery
date specified in the contract no more than three years in the
future. The book-in-print clause would keep all the future
Asimovs seminal names who take long breaks from actually
writing SF continuously eligible for active membership, and
the five-year window should ensure that our part-timers aren't
unfairly discriminated against. Of course, no one would be
kicked out of the organization but, if such a bylaw change
were approved, only those who passed requalification would be
Not part of Sawyer's original platform statement but
well worth noting: ongoing membership requalification was one of the core
values intended by SFWA's founder Damon Knight. In the
original draft bylaws sent to the 72 charter
members of SFWA on February 28, 1965, Knight proposed:
Section 1. Any person is eligible to become or remain an active member of the
Science Fiction Writers of America who has done any of the following:
- Had a science fiction story published, for the first time, in an American
magazine of general circulation, or in a collection or anthology published by
an American trade publisher, within the previous two calendar years;
- Had a science fiction novel published, for the first time, by an American
trade publisher within the last five calendar years;
- Written an original science fiction radio play or teleplay broadcast, for the
first time, in America during the previous calendar year; or
- Written a screenplay for a science fiction motion picture released, for the
first time, in America during the last two calendar years.
Any person who has done any of the things listed in Section 1, but not
within the time restrictions set forth in Section 1, is eligible to
become or remain an inactive member of the Science Fiction Writers of
- Ensconcing the Senior Membership Benefit first proposed by
me in the August 1993 Forum in the bylaws: after thirty
years of continuous membership, at least twenty-five of which
have been active, a member would be entitled to free associate
(non-voting) membership for the rest of his or her life, allowing
our retired (and, sad to say, often impecunious) elder members to
keep in touch with their field.
Every active member would have a chance to vote separately for or
against each of the above propositions. Of course I have
personal opinions on all these issues who among us does not?
But my goal is simply to determine and enact the will of the
And, yes, I'd even do some things with the Nebulas. For
starters, I'd shift all Nebula Awards Report tasks onto the
paid Executive Director, rather than having a volunteer do this
onerous, time-consuming job.
I'd also set up a centralized system for members to distribute
hardcopies of their short fiction for Nebula consideration,
subsidized by SFWA to the tune of $1,500 annually (one dollar per
member per year), with the shortfall to be made up by the writers
who choose to participate. I proposed such a system four years
ago for Canada's Aurora Awards through the
Canadian writers' group SF Canada, and it has been very effective.
Members could submit photocopying masters for stories they wished included in
an annual mailing along with a check for a per-page share of the
unsubsidized portion of the copying and mailing costs. The
mailing would only go to active members who have chosen, via a
check-box on the annual dues notice, to receive it. This would
do something to level the playing field in the short-fiction
categories. And for those members who prefer to do their own
separate mailings, instead of taking advantage of the economies
of scale inherent in a group mailing, I'd cut the cost of SFWA
mailing labels sold to members from the current $130 per set to a
cost-recovery rate of $20 per set.
In addition, I'd have SFWA set up a password-protected web site,
open only to SFWA members, on which members could post for free
stories that have made it to the preliminary ballot, if they
wished; this seems preferable to the spate of e-mail spam, both
from writers and publishers, that went out in January 1998.
Finally, one of the things I managed easily as Canadian Regional
Director of SFWA was negotiating twenty-percent discounts for
SFWAns at some of Canada's SF specialty stores; surely something
similar could be done in the States, and would clearly be of
benefit to most members.
A bit about me: I've been a SFWA member for fifteen years. I
Canadian Region of SFWA, and served on SFWA's Board
of Directors from 1992 to 1995; you can read about all the things
I did during that time in the August 1995 Forum. I won the
Nebula Award for Best Novel of 1995
(for The Terminal Experiment), and I've sold
eleven other novels. I've been
published by Ace, HarperPrism, Tor, and Warner, and I've been
represented by two of the field's top agents Richard Curtis
and Ralph Vicinanza so I've got a fairly broad background in
the standards of this industry. Although I'm usually thought of
as an SF writer, I also proudly write fantasy: my short fiction
has appeared in such anthologies as
100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories and
Dante's Disciples, plus the lead stories in
Dark Destiny III: Children of Dracula and
I'm not a big name but I do make my living solely by writing SF,
and I am early enough in my career (my first novel came out in
1990) to understand just how tough the current marketplace is,
something (if they will forgive me for saying so) that some of
our superstar presidents have perhaps been somewhat out of touch
So, there you have it. If elected I will do the job . . . and I
think I will do it well.
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