Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America are all well-established and well-regarded writers' organizations that offer members a sense of community (and networking opportunities) with others in their genre, as well as numerous other benefits. But it’s not so well-known that their membership isn’t merely limited to traditionally published authors—self-published writers are invited to join their ranks, too.
Exploring the Final Frontier
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, based in Enfield, Connecticut, has accepted self-published authors since 2015. The organization’s current president, Cat Rambo, told Kirkus that changes in the industry over the last several years helped drive the decision: “new business models have sprung up for professional writers, including independent publishing, crowdfunding, subscriptions, and other forms,” she said. “Many of our members were already independently publishing, both new works and their backlist. It made sense for SFWA to adapt its qualifications to include the ability to qualify using such models.”
SFWA requires that a self-published writer “demonstrate net income of at least $3,000 over the course of a year” from a single work of at least 40,000 words. Among the many benefits of SFWA membership is the ability to take part in the voting process for the Nebula Award—one of the biggest honors in the genre. SFWA membership provides several useful tools that can particularly help self-published writers, Rambo noted, including the online SFWA discussion forums (“where useful information ranging from finding a good cover artist to how to cook sous-vide can be found”), a Featured Book/Featured Author program on the main page of the SFWA’s website, a curated Kickstarter page for members, and the SFWA’s relationships with publishing partners, such as Amazon, Draft2Digital, Kickstarter, Kobo, and Patreon.
Rambo herself offers an intriguing perspective; she’s self-published (although she prefers the term “independently published,” which she finds more accurate) and has also been traditionally published. Each, she noted, has different plusses. “Traditional publishing continues to have the advantage of being hooked into a major marketing machine, including trade and review magazines, book distribution networks in brick-and-mortar stores, and advertising,” she said. “That’s particularly true in MG [middle-grade] and YA books, where you have ongoing turnover in the readers, and cultivating the curators becomes more important than wooing individual audience members, in my opinion.
“Indie publishing, though, can mean money for the people savvy and organized enough to put together their own business,” she continued, noting that “50 to 70 percent profit versus 5 to 15 percent is not a particularly balanced equation.” She stressed the importance of being prolific and establishing a loyal audience, observing that indie publishing is “significantly more agile,” which enables indie authors to take advantage of new markets and trends.
She also noted that sci-fi indie writers have yet another advantage: “They’re not bound by tradition the way larger houses may be, meaning they can be more experimental, adventurous, and exploratory without worrying about how the marketing department will react. I see some amazing stuff coming out of the indie and small press scene. Their enthusiasm and expertise has enriched SFWA, which helps build the SF genre overall.”
Dues for active SFWA members are currently $100 per year. Affiliate memberships ($115 per year), with fewer benefits, are open to those in related sci-fi/fantasy professions, such as editors and cover artists; and associate memberships ($90 per year) are available for qualifying short story writers.
Mystery Writers of America, based in New York City, changed their policy this past February to open their doors to active membership for self-published authors. Only active MWA members may vote, take part in committees for the organization’s prestigious Edgar Awards, or hold office in the organization. (Thriller author Meg Gardiner is the current MWA president.)
Before February 2017, self-published authors could only apply for affiliate membership, open to “writers of crime/mystery/suspense fiction who are not yet professionally published, and others with an interest in the genre, including unpaid reviewers and fans or publishers not approved by MWA.”
This had been a popular option in the past, according to MWA executive vice president (and prolific mystery author) Donna Andrews: “While we don’t have any data on how many of the affiliate members are self-published writers as opposed to aspiring writers or avid readers, we know anecdotally that we have quite a few—including a growing number of active members who are now self-publishing instead of or in addition to their traditional publishing activity.”
Affiliate members are also eligible for many MWA benefits, including a regular newsletter, access to various databases, and discounts on books and subscriptions—and, of course, the ability to network with other members.
Now, however, a self-published writer may apply to become an active MWA member if he or she has earned $5,000 during one calendar year from their mystery works—defined as fiction or nonfiction in which “a crime is the central element.” What led to this change? Andrews told Kirkus that it was due to “our recognition of changes in the publishing industry. Over the last several years, our board of directors has discussed and studied the issue extensively, and we’ve also polled our existing active members on the issue and received strong support for moving forward with this change in policy.”
MWA dues are $115 annually for all types of memberships. (An MWA Loan Fund offers financial assistance for qualifying members.) Active or affiliate members must be writers of fiction or nonfiction in the crime, mystery, and/or suspense genres; associate memberships are available to professionals in associated fields, such as agents or lawyers who represent mystery authors, editors of their work, or booksellers who sell mysteries; and corresponding memberships cover authors and other professionals who live outside the United States. All members receive a regular newsletter, the ability to attend MWA regional chapter meetings, access to online discussion groups (including one that focuses on self-publishing), and databases of mystery-friendly libraries and bookstores, among other benefits. The MWA also offers members subscription discounts on a number of writing- and mystery-related magazines.
Following Your Passion
Houston-based Romance Writers of America is perhaps the most welcoming to self-published writers. “RWA membership has always been open to any person who writes romance fiction,” said RWA editor and publications manager Erin Fry, “regardless of the format in which they’re published.” Prospective general members (the highest level of membership) do have to submit “Proof of Serious Pursuit” of a career in romance writing. But this only requires a writer to submit a complete work of romance fiction of at least 20,000 words—traditionally published, self-published, or even unpublished.
New York Times–bestselling romance and fantasy author Julie Kenner, who primarily writes under the name J. Kenner, has been both self-published and traditionally published in her career. (Her first Harlequin novel, Nobody Does It Better, was published in 2000.) She told Kirkus that she joined the Austin, Texas, chapter of RWA very early on. “From that first day, I knew I’d found a home,” she said. “Not only for the community of writers, which I craved, but for the amazing resources offered both at the national level and at our local chapter. I needed to soak up the knowledge, and RWA filled a very deep well of ignorance with all sorts of wonderful craft and business knowledge!” Her first two books even got publishing deals as the result of contests run by RWA chapters.
“I’ve met so many people through RWA that have impacted my career in so many positive ways I couldn’t even list them,” she said. “Not only professionally but personally.”
The current president of RWA is author HelenKay Dimon. Annual dues for RWA are $99 (after an initial $25 processing fee), for general and associate members. Only general members may hold office and vote on RWA issues; associate memberships are available to agents, publishers, and others in the romance field. (There are also $10-per-year affiliate memberships for booksellers and librarians.) A financial-assistance fund can help qualified applicants pay dues and other RWA fees.
All members may attend regional, online, and special-interest RWA chapters, use the myRWA online community, and get discounts and subscription offers. General and associate members also receive a monthly trade publication, Romance Writers Report; a weekly email newsletter; and access to RWA conferences and contests.
—David Rapp is Senior Indie Editor at Kirkus Reviews.