Thursday, May 9, 2013

Personal Rant #2: Organizations

Reaching back to when I was still convinced that my future in writing hinged on my attempts to find an agent and get discovered. I dreamed of being able to become an actual member of the HWA. The Horror Writer's Association. Having my name on a roster which also includes the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

I used to look at all the organizations and associations with awe and respect. Like a goal to be reached.

Truth be told, I'm seeing them more and more now for the obsolete markers of an era past its prime that they are.

Decades ago, everything was getting together. Unions, Organizations, Associations. Back then they were sorely needed. There wasn't an internet like there is today and it was much harder for people to stay in touch and to talk about things that were going on across long distances. All these organizations allowed people in different areas a focal point, where news regarding a specific subject would radiate out from. It also gave them a rallying point in case public opinion needed to be mobilized for one reason or another.

These days, any idiot can start a blog to throw his opinions to the world. Facebook allows people to share family news and groups to gain members from around the globe at the click of a button. Email can be sent to a thousand people at once in just a few seconds. To put it bluntly, all these groups which have spent years building themselves up are just about useless now.

Some of them are even worse than useless, offering nothing new than they have since the 1980's and still charging membership fees. Some have even turned on the people they were built to support and sided with corporations and the groups they used to fight against.

These groups, despite the knowledge and resources at their disposal, can't (or won't) update themselves to the new technology. They spout the same rhetoric they always have about why they're needed as a group, even though all their reasons have fallen to the side. They're trying to convince people nothing has actually changed, and the main reason that is, is because the people at the top, who run these organizations, don't want to let go of the cash cow they've built up over the years. Even if these groups WERE originally for the people that joined it, a lot of them have become nothing more than a financial siphon into their leader's pocketbooks. It's not about the people, it's about the paycheck of the people running it.

The bottom line is that we don't need any of these organizations anymore. The HWA, the SFWA, none of it. Why should we pay membership dues and sign-up fees when there are thousands of free groups on the internet dedicated to doing what the associations used to do, which is help its members succeed?

My name is Shaun Horton. I'm a self-published author and I'm not a member of any writing organization.

For those of you curious as to what started this rant. I recently found the HWA's facebook page and requested an invite to join, which I received. Now that I had a forum on which to ask this question, I posted it. I asked whether the HWA had changed any of it's policies for joining with an eye to including self-published authors. Their list of joining requirements on their website currently reads thusly:

Professional writers of Horror and Dark Fantasy. There are a number of ways to qualify as an Active member. (Only works of Horror or Dark Fantasy can be used as qualifying materials.)

Sell three or more short stories, articles, or reviews totalling 7,500 words or more, for payment of at least 5¢ per word.

Sell one book-length manuscript for a minimum advance and/or royalties of $2,000.

Sell a 90-minute TV movie, or two 30-minute teleplays for at least WGA minimum rates.

Sell one theatrical film script for at least $5,000.

Sell three full-length comic book scripts at professional rates and/or with professional print-run and distribution levels.

Sell three 10,000 word Role-playing Game project or one 40,000 word project for a payment of at least 5 ¢ per word.

Sell a script for a computer game or a single work of interactive fiction intended for electronic media for at least $2,000.

Sell a computer game for a minimum payment of $2,000, regardless of length or memory usage, or create a piece of shareware or other work produced without payment in advance, with a paid circulation exceeding 1,000 copies.

Sell 10 poems at 25 ¢ per line or $5 each, or sell a poetry collection for an honorarium of at least $50.

As you can see, there's requirements to allow novelists, poets, screen-writers, RPG writers, video game writers and graphic novelists. I'll be honest, I haven't looked around, but something tells me most other writing associations have similar lists of what they deem acceptable work for active members.

Now, I was curious, because sometimes, it takes a while for websites to be updated with new information. The policy could have changed with an added line which sets a marker for a self-published author to reach and it simply not been added onto the website yet. Which is why I asked the question on HWA's facebook.

The answer I received, I actually found rather insulting. Now. You might think, there are different levels of membership, to which you are correct. You might think, "ehh, maybe they don't consider self-published authors to be at the level of Active member, but maybe they bring them in just a little under that, like an intern-level or something. Something like this:

Beginning horror writers with a demonstrated intention of establishing a professional writing career. Minimal publication is required, and only works of Horror or Dark Fantasy can be used as qualifying material.

Sell one short story of at least 500 words, for payment of at least $25.

Sell one non-fiction article, role-playing supplement, comic book script, computer gaming script, or theatrical play for payment of at least $50.

Sell one book-length manuscript (40,000 words or more) for payment of at least $200.

Sell a screenplay or an option on your existing screenplay for payment of at least $200.

Sell three poems for total payment of at least $15.

Again. No mention of self-published authors. Though there are bullet points for five different types of writers again. No. The answer I received to my question of what does the HWA think of self-published authors? Was this:

Anyone with an interest in horror may join as a Supporting member. There are no requirements for this level.

We're down there, shoved into a barrel with everyone else. We might as well be posting fan fiction on our personal blogs. Nevermind the fact we're actually working harder than these so-called "Professional Writers". Finding our own editors, doing all our own marketing, commissioning our own cover art. Doing all the things the publishing houses do for a lot of the writers they pick up. No, we're down at the bottom of the pile. I didn't do all that work to be treated the same as Joe Schmo who jacked off to an Elvira movie once and now counts himself a fan of Horror.

On top of that, I was told this has actually been their policy for the past 18 months. Which means at some point in the past, they sat down and discussed an option of bringing in self-published writers, and this is what they contented themselves the correct answer was. That just goes to show that this is the same backwards thinking currently dragging down the traditional publishing companies. That self-publishing is a fad which will quickly fade into the background until it finally dies with a soft little squeak.

I will say this once to the traditional publishers and the groups which support it. Accept self-publishing now while you still can, because the old way of doing things is already dying and if you're not careful, you're going to go down with it.

~ Shaun


  1. Love your post. Reminds me of what Groucho Marx said (and I paraphrase) I would never want to be a member of any group who would have me.


  2. I'm an SF writer with two published novels to date and a third in the works; but I have the very same problem with the SFWA. I don't qualify for any meaningful level of membership because I haven't "sold" anything to a traditional publisher. The SFWA goes one step further, in that they actually specify WHICH "professional markets" (Tor, Baen, Del Rey, etc.) they will accept as being "qualified sales."

    But as you note, the SFWA is an obsolete organization, which has little to offer me in any case -- other than my name on a list that is of little interest to anyone other than members of the list.

  3. It's really sad that these organizations offer so little for the requirements and membership fees that they charge. The only thing the HWA really offers that I would be interested in, might be their mentor program. Although, to be honest, by the time I fulfill their requirements to be an Active member, most of what an established writer could tell me, I've already learned.

    They just don't understand that the internet offers for free all the information, hints, and tips that they think they hold under lock and key.