[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
ROBERT J. SAWYER
Hugo and Nebula Winner


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SFWA President's Message

Referendum Results

by Robert J. Sawyer

One of the key elements of my campaign platform for the Presidency of SFWA was the speedy issuing of a referendum ballot on a number thorny issues that had vexed SFWA for years. That referendum was put before the membership in September 1998.

Here's the report I issued to the membership with the results of the referendum:


Welcome to the revitalized SFWA for the new millennium! The referendum had an overwhelming response rate — almost 70% of our active members returned ballots — resulting in some major, substantive changes (and, I believe, real improvements) to SFWA. As noted above, elsewhere in this issue of Forum, Secretary Michael A. Burstein presents the actual voting results.

Of the ten propositions on the referendum ballot, five passed — including two major changes to the bylaws governing who can be a SFWA member and one very significant revision to the Nebula rules. Some have vocally argued over the years that no modifications to either membership criteria or Nebula rules should ever be made. But the huge numbers of positive votes for each of these changes underscores, I believe, the appropriateness of dealing with such matters from time to time.

Let's take a moment to look at the propositions that passed.

Proposition 1 — accepting professional English-language sales anywhere in the world as membership credentials — passed overwhelmingly, with 73% of those who cast ballots favoring it. Suitable British sales, Australian sales, and so on, now count for SFWA membership. For instance, effective immediately, sales to such magazines as Interzone, which met all our previous criteria for professional status except for being published in the Americas, are now acceptable credentials for joining SFWA; likewise, book sales to such publishers as HarperCollins UK and New English Library now count, as well.

In this era of multinational publishers, I believe this change was the right thing to do. The membership agreed, apparently: this proposition was favored not just by enough members to change a bylaw (a majority of those voting, said majority to be no less than one-third of the active membership), but was actually endorsed by an absolute majority of all active members.

Proposition 2 — accepting electronic publications as membership credentials — also passed overwhelmingly. It seems absolutely right that SFWA should be on the forefront of embracing new technologies. Ian Randal Strock chairs SFWA's standing membership committee, which will ultimately determine what constitutes a professional electronic publication; if you'd like the committee to hear your suggestions, please contact Ian at irs@panix.com; please also send a courtesy copy to vice-president Paul Levinson, who chairs our committee on electronic publications, at 72517.3107@compuserve.com.

Proposition 4 — establishing a Nebula Award for Best Script — passed overwhelmingly (by a 2-to-1 margin). The ballot promised, "If the membership approves in principle the idea of a Dramatic Nebula, a special committee consisting mostly of scriptwriting active members will be struck to work out appropriate procedures." Vice-president Paul Levinson, Secretary Michael Burstein, Michael Cassutt, Melinda Snodgrass, and others are now serving on that committee. If you'd like to have your views heard by them, please contact Paul at 72517.3107@compuserve.com.

Please note that this was a change to the Nebula rules, and, as such, only required a simple majority of those voting. However, support for this was so great that even had it been subject to the more rigorous test required of a bylaw amendment (a majority of those voting, said majority to be at least one-third of the total active membership), the Dramatic Nebula would still have passed — with more than 100 affirmative votes to spare.

Collectively Proposition 3 and Proposition 4 — electronic publications and dramatic Nebula — now mean that there is no longer any form of publication or type of work that we accept as an active membership credential but don't consider eligible for a Nebula, or vice versa.

Proposition 7 — the Senior Membership Benefit — passed, with 78% in favor. This change had the most support of any of the propositions, and, since it was my idea, I'm thrilled; like Proposition 1, this change was also affirmed by an absolute majority of all active members. After thirty years of continuous membership, at least twenty-five of which have been active, each member so requesting on an annual membership-renewal notice will henceforth be granted free associate (non-voting) membership for the rest of his or her life. I first proposed this benefit over five years ago, in the August 1993 Forum, and I'm delighted that it has finally come to pass.

Beside providing a real boon for our retired members (by letting them keep in touch with their field), this also provides a genuine incentive for people to actually stay in SFWA on an ongoing basis, instead of periodically drifting out then back in as many members have done in the past.

(Although we will mostly administer this on the honor system, we are seeking copies of old SFWA membership directories, either to be donated to the organization or loaned to us for copying. If you have old directories — particularly from SFWA's first decade of existence — please contact Executive Director Sharon Lee at execdir@sfwa.org.)

Proposition 10 — reducing the quorum required for future bylaw changes to a simple majority of those active members responding to a by-mail ballot — passed, as well. Although the current referendum got a staggeringly high response rate, this change will ensure that future ballots on drier, more technical (but still necessary) bylaw changes will have a chance of being passed. Indeed, a technical revision to the entire bylaws document will be put in front of the entire active membership before the end of this fiscal year; thanks to this amendment, that document now has a better chance of passing.

The net effect of these changes are a substantial modernization of SFWA, including:

  • recognition of the worldwide nature of publishing;
  • recognition of the importance of online publications;
  • recognition of the importance of media SF, and, hopefully, a strengthening of our ties with Hollywood.

I'd like to say a couple of words about two of the propositions that did not pass. Certainly, the proposal for periodic requalification was the most controversial one on the ballot. Some of its critics suggested that practically no one desired this. The voting statistics disprove that. Fully 30% of those voting favored requalification: over two hundred members of SFWA voted for it. (Indeed, requal was not the least-popular proposition: both propositions 3 — accepting gaming publications — and 9 — abolishing the Nebula juries — had much less support than did requalification.)


Not part of Sawyer's original report on the referendum 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:

Article II
Membership

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:

  1. 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;

  2. Had a science fiction novel published, for the first time, by an American trade publisher within the last five calendar years;

  3. Written an original science fiction radio play or teleplay broadcast, for the first time, in America during the previous calendar year; or

  4. 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 America.


My goal has always been to put as much major decision-making power as practical directly in the hands of the membership. That's why, as I noted above, even though other members of the current Board of Directors made and seconded a legal motion to abolish the Nebula juries, and even though that motion passed unanimously, I nonetheless asked the member who had made the motion to withdraw it, in favor of putting the question to the entire active membership; the membership has now spoken, and the Nebula juries will be retained. If you would like to volunteer to be a Nebula juror next year, please contact Nebula Awards Report editor Brook West at nar@sfwa.org.

Nonetheless, it's worth noting that 23% of the voters abstained on the question of Nebula juries — far more than abstained on any other issue. Because of this, I do think it's appropriate to refer this issue for further discussion in the Forum, and I believe we should revisit this issue with another full vote of the membership at some future point. But there absolutely will be Nebula juries for the 1999 calendar year.

Some have argued that issues voted on once by the membership should never be revisited. But four of the ten questions on the present referendum had close counterparts on the referendum issued seven years previously by Ben Bova's administration — and the results of two of those four were reversed by the present referendum. The Bova referendum reported only yes or no votes but not abstentions, so to make a valid comparison I've recalculated percentages in the present referendum based solely on yeas vs. nays. Here are the percentages of those who favored allowing the specified types of sales to count for membership, and who favored requalification:

                                1991   1998    change   status
      Overseas Sales             46%    75%      +29%   reversed
      Electronic Publications    49%    64%      +15%   reversed
      Gaming                     26%    29%       +3%   same
      Requalification            28%    32%       +4%   same 

As you can see, all of the comparable propositions gained support over the past seven years (two quite dramatically), and even the propositions that were not reversed are now favored by close to a third of those who have opinions. The views of SFWA members clearly do evolve and change over time, and, I firmly believe, should be periodically put to a vote. I hope future presidents will follow what was clearly a successful model here: explain plainly in an election platform what internal issues you will explore if elected, let the campaign period be the time for debate on these issues, then get the actual voting by the full active membership taken care of as expeditiously as possible, so that the organization's attention can then be turned fully to more important external matters.

Many thanks to all the SFWAns who voted — and to secretary Michael A. Burstein, who did the hard work of tallying up the seven thousand individual votes cast during this historic referendum, and who had the results ready by the close of business on the last day by which ballots could be received. And now, to the future!

For the permanent record, what follows is the full text of the referendum as issued, with appropriate voting tallies and percentages inserted.


Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

September 1998 Referendum

Presented to the Entire Active Membership in Good Standing

(ballots mailed to members by Sepember 1, 1998)

Ballots must be postmarked by October 7, 1998, and received by
October 23, 1998.  Please return this ballot AND your separate
"Eligibility to Vote" sheet in the accompanying envelope (or
another envelope, if you've misplaced the one provided), and mail
both to:

                       Michael A. Burstein
                         SFWA Secretary
                           PO Box 1713
                    Brookline, MA  USA  02446

This referendum is issued on the following basis:

* The current SFWA President promised in his election platform to
  put propositions 1-2 and 4-8 to a vote of the active membership
  during the first 90 days of his mandate.

* The 1998-1999 SFWA Board of Directors voted 7-to-1 in favor of
  proceeding to put this referendum in front of the membership.

* At the SFWA Business meeting held at the 56th World Science
  Fiction Convention in Baltimore on Saturday, August 8, 1998, a
  motion to table part of this referendum until a future date was
  defeated.

Additional issues that the Board of Directors feel should be put
to a vote of the membership are presented as propositions 3, 9,
and 10.

This is your chance to help shape SFWA's future.  Please consider
each proposition carefully, and then vote as you see fit.

The by-law wording presented in the following proposals comes
from the by-laws as ratified in November 1989 during President
Greg Bear's administration (the version of the by-laws published
in the beige-covered Pulphouse edition of The SFWA Handbook).
This was the last legally ratified set of SFWA by-laws.

Please note that changes in the Nebula rules will pass if they
are affirmed by a simple majority of those returning ballots, but
changes to the corporation's by-laws must be affirmed by a
majority of those returning ballots, said majority to be no fewer
than one-third of the total active membership.  Each proposition
is clearly identified below as being either a Nebula-rule change
or a by-law change.

Finally, please also note that later on in this fiscal year, the
active membership will be asked to vote on a "technical revision"
to the entire by-laws document.  This revision was prepared with
great care by the previous administration, and will shortly be
reviewed by the current administration and the interested Past
Presidents of SFWA.  At the SFWA Board of Directors meeting held
at the Worldcon in August 1998, a motion passed unanimously to
present the technical revision to the active membership for
ratification.  Any by-law changes passed in this referendum will
be included in that technical revision.

1.  Membership Credentials: English Language
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

This change would allow professional English-language fiction
sales anywhere in the world to be acceptable credentials for SFWA
membership.

Proposed amendment to by-law IV(2)(a), adding and deleting the
indicated words:  "Publication in the United States
ENGLISH LANGUAGE of literary or artistic works acceptable to the
Membership Committee shall be required for qualification as an
active member."

     [] I favor this change: 515 (72.6%)
     [] I oppose this change: 173 (24.4%)
     [] I abstain: 21 (3.0%)      

2.  Membership Credentials: Electronic Sales
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

Should we accept electronic sales as membership credentials for
joining SFWA?  (We already allow electronic publications to
compete for the Nebula award.)

"Electronic sales" are text-based sales to publications based on
the Internet or World Wide Web, or published on CD-ROM,
computer-readable diskette, or similar media.

Proposed amendment to by-law IV(2)(a), adding the indicated
words:  "PRINT OR ELECTRONIC publication in the United States of
literary or artistic works acceptable to the Membership Committee
shall be required for qualification an active member."

     [] I favor this change: 416 (58.7%)
     [] I oppose this change: 236 (33.3%)
     [] I abstain: 57 (8.0%)

Note: A vote in favor of this change pertains only to electronic
publication.  If you also favor publication in the English
language, instead of publication the United States, you should
also vote in favor of Proposition 1.

3.  Membership Credentials: Gaming
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

Should we accept gaming sales as membership credentials for
joining SFWA?

For the purposes of this proposal, "games" are either (1)
entertainment-based computer programs with a science fiction or
fantasy theme that may consist of text, images, and sounds,
published on CD-ROM, computer-readable diskette, or similar
media; or (2) role-playing, board, or card games with a narrative
or plot component and a science fiction or fantasy theme.

Proposed amendment to by-law IV(2)(a), adding the indicated
words:  "Publication in the United States of literary, artistic,
OR GAMING works acceptable to the Membership Committee shall be
required for qualification an active member."

     [] I favor this change: 186 (26.2%)
     [] I oppose this change: 460 (64.9%)
     [] I abstain: 63 (8.9%)

Note: A vote in favor of this change pertains only to gaming
publication.  If you also favor publication in the English
language, instead of publication the United States, you should
also vote in favor of Proposition 1.  If you also favor the
acceptance of electronically published text as a criterion for
membership, you should also vote in favor of Proposition 2.

4.  Dramatic Nebula
    (a proposed change to the Nebula rules)

Should we begin to present an annual Nebula Award for Best
Script?

If passed, Nebula Rule 2, which enumerates the categories "for
which awards will be presented," would have this new clause,
2(e), added:

    Script:  a professionally produced audio, radio,
    television, motion picture, multimedia, or theatrical
    script

If the membership approves in principle the idea of a Dramatic
Nebula, a special committee consisting mostly of scriptwriting
active members will be struck to work out appropriate procedures.

     [] I favor this change: 450 (63.5%)
     [] I oppose this change: 227 (32.0%)
     [] I abstain: 32 (4.5%)

5.  Nebula Eligibility
    (a proposed change to the Nebula rules)

Should we allow first publication in English anywhere in the
world to count for Nebula eligibility?  Currently, Nebula
eligibility begins upon first publication in the United States,
so works published only, for instance, in the United Kingdom or
Canada, are not eligible for Nebula Awards.  On the other hand,
should this proposition pass, works published in the U.K. well in
advance of their American release might exhaust their Nebula
eligibility before they are widely available in the U.S.

If passed, Nebula Rule 3(a) would be amended as follows, adding
and deleting the indicated words:

    A work's eligibility period begins on the first day of
    the month of its first publication in the ENGLISH
    LANGUAGE ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD United States of America.

     [] I favor this change: 290 (40.9%)
     [] I oppose this change: 344 (48.5%)
     [] I abstain: 75 (10.6%)

6.  Requalification
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

The proposal as presented in the elected President's platform:

    "This change would cause SFWA to adopt 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 by-law change were approved, only those who
    passed requalification would be voting members."

Corporate legal counsel has pointed out that, since we currently
accept professionally produced scripts as a membership
credential, we should also allow such credentials to count for
requalification; this addition is reflected in the wording below.
In addition, should the by-law changes proposed in this
referendum to accept as membership credentials electronic sales,
non-American English-language sales, or gaming sales also pass,
those criteria will also be acceptable for requalification.

A new paragraph would be added to the by-laws, immediately after
Article IV, Section 1:

    Beginning with the membership renewal notice for
    SFWA's 1999-2000 fiscal year, and every five years
    thereafter, each active member is required to submit
    evidence satisfactory to the membership committee that
    he or she has, in the preceding five years, made one
    science fiction or fantasy sale (short work or novel)
    to a professional market; or that he or she has, in
    the preceding five years, had one science fiction or
    fantasy script professionally produced; or that he or
    she has a science fiction or fantasy book in print; or
    that he or she has a science fiction or fantasy book
    under contract with a delivery date specified in the
    contract no more than three years in the future.
    Anyone failing to provide such evidence will be
    reclassified from active to associate status.  A
    member may regain active status at any time by
    furnishing satisfactory proof that he or she has met
    one or more of the above criteria.

     [] I favor this change: 214 (30.2%)
     [] I oppose this change: 463 (65.3%)
     [] I abstain: 32 (4.5%)

7.  Senior Membership Benefit
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

The proposal as presented in the elected President's platform:

    "This change would ensconce the Senior Membership
    Benefit — first proposed by me in the August 1993
    Forum — in the by-laws: 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."

Proposed Bylaw Change:  the following paragraph would be added to
Article IV, Section 1:

    "After thirty years of continuous membership, at least
    twenty-five of which have been active, each member so
    requesting on an annual membership-renewal notice,
    will be granted free associate (non-voting) membership
    for the rest of his or her life.  If the member wishes
    to return to active status, he or she may do so at any
    time by recommencing to pay dues, provided he or she
    qualifies for active status under the then-current
    membership rules."

     [] I favor this change: 522 (73.6%)
     [] I oppose this change: 136 (19.2%)
     [] I abstain: 51 (7.2%)

8.  Location of the Nebula Banquet
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

As you may recall, there was an uncontested bid to hold the 1999
Nebula Awards Ceremony in Toronto, Canada.  This bid was
withdrawn a little over a year in advance of the planned date
because a change was required in SFWA's by-laws to allow the
Nebulas to be held outside the U.S., and no vote on such a change
seemed to be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, others have argued that just as the Academy Awards are
always given in Los Angeles, the capital of the film industry,
so, too, should the Nebula Awards always be given in New York,
the capital of the publishing industry, or maybe, from time to
time, also in Los Angeles, to strengthen our ties with Hollywood.

Do we want to widen our focus for the Nebula weekend to include
the entire world?  Keep things as they are?  Or narrow our focus
to just New York and L.A.?  Please choose one of the options
below:

[]  Any major world city option.  Article XI, Section 2, will
    be amended as follows, adding and deleting the indicated
    words: "The awards shall be presented at a ceremony to be
    held in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or another 
    major city within the United States, A MAJOR CITY ANYWHERE 
    IN THE WORLD, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, 
    on a date to be chosen by the President consulting with the 
    Board of Directors."  115 (16.2%)

[]  Any major US city option.  Article XI, Section 2, will be
    left as is:  "The awards shall be presented at a ceremony to
    be held in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or another
    major city within the United States, at the discretion of the
    Board of Directors, on a date to be chosen by the President
    consulting with the Board of Directors."  372 (52.5%)

[]  The New York City or L.A. option.  Article XI, Section 2, will
    be amended as follows, adding and deleting the indicated words:
    "The awards shall be presented at a ceremony to be held in New
    York OR Los Angeles, San Francisco, or another major city within 
    the United States, at the discretion of the Board of Directors, 
    on a date to be chosen by the President consulting with 
    the Board of Directors."  143 (20.2%)

[]  I abstain:  79 (11.1%)

9.  Should we abolish the Nebula juries after their work for the 1998
    calendar year is completed?
    (a proposed change to the Nebula rules)

Background:  Nebula Award Rules 18(a), 18(b), 18(c), 18(d), and
19 establish novel and short-fiction juries, and allow for the
novel jury to add one work to the novel category and the
short-fiction jury to add one work to each of the novella,
novelette, and short-story categories.  Deleting these rules will
abolish the novel and short-fiction juries.

     [] I favor this change: 169 (23.8%)
     [] I oppose this change: 380 (53.6%)
     [] I abstain: 160 (22.6%)

10. Reducing Quorum
    (a proposed change to the by-laws)

SFWA has had a real problem in the past getting by-law changes
passed, because our by-laws require 33.3% of the active
membership to vote in favor of any change.  Rarely do we get a
33% voter turnout, and, even if we did, we would need every
single one of those voters to agree on a by-law change before it
could pass.  The following change, if passed, will not be
applicable to this current referendum, but will be applicable to
all subsequent ones.

Proposed amendment to Article X, Section 1, deleting the
indicated words: "These by-laws may be amended, repealed or
altered in whole or in part by a majority of those active members
voting IN RESPONSE TO A BY-MAIL BALLOTING OF THE ENTIRE ACTIVE
MEMBERSHIP IN GOOD STANDING, said majority to be not less than 
one third of the active members in good standing on the date of 
the vote."

     [] I favor this change: 407 (57.4%)
     [] I oppose this change: 262 (37.0%)
     [] I abstain: 40 (5.6%)

Many thanks for your participation!


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