My 2004 Clarion friends have tossed around the bone quite a bit as to whether SFWA is still useful to young writers or not. Or if you have qualified for membership, whether your subsequent cover letters should mention that you're a member of SFWA in good standing or not. My feeling is that like all professional groups there is a certain dependency upon the kindness of strangers -- some of the membership has to be active in order for things to get done. One of the things that SFWA has done is provide free and open access to Writers Beware, in the hope that new writers won't fall for the scams and pitfalls that predators (and incompetents) try to foist on them. If I had any complaint about this coverage, it would be that it is probably by necessity general in scope, as opposed to specifically for the prospective SF authors.
Vanity Presses, Or I'm An Author Because I Have Paid For Printing A Book
One of the big battle cries, echoed by all of our 2004 Clarion instructors, is that "money goes TO the author, not FROM the author." Yes, you can become a published SF author any time you want by paying to have your book printed. So can your Aunt Millie. And Sparky, the oddly dysfunctional kid who you hated back in the 8th grade who can't string four grammatically correct sentences together if his life depended on it and plays endless hours of video games simply to generate plots for his so-called SF epic.
Occasionally there are reasons to have something printed up, which means that labeling an operation a vanity press probably doesn't guarantee that they're scamming. I've met a couple of SF authors who've self-published and are hawking their books at SF cons -- one of them was a Clarion graduate from a few years ago -- and mainly having a ball being involved with SF fans. And I know of one U.K. author who printed up his book which kept getting rejected, and has since sold it to a "real" publisher for six figures. But let's say the odds are not in your favor. (grin)
What I found today was that Martha Ivery (plus aliases), one of the predatory scammers that SFWA has been tracking for a long time, pled guilty to a number of charges on Monday. She managed to pretend to be both agent and publisher -- and never printed much of anything to boot. So it's worth it to look at some of the articles that SFWA cites:
-- The news alert on the guilty plea.
-- The actual indictment.
-- A commentary on possible sentences, based on the indictment.
-- Attorney general's press release on the indictment.
Now if you think that this "business model" to defraud, sounds like a good idea -- from either the point of view of the scammer or the victim -- hey, this is America. Go for it. But don't complain to me about (1) the money or (2) the jail time or (3) the complete lack of respect from "real" SF authors.
My Moral High Horse For The Day
Although my Clarion friends and I are still mystified by exactly what any given editor is looking for, when you have sold a work to an editor for publication, there is some validation that whatever that elusive something is, you've achieved it. Hey, if this was easy, we'd have NO chance at all of getting published because all the mags would be backlogged with sales forever! (double grin)
We all wish we could get more feedback on exactly how our deathless prose is lacking, but thems the breaks. Since June 2002, I've sent out 82 submissions with 8 stories out in the wild right now. I have 49 hard rejections and 20 of various kinds of "wins" -- mostly rejections but with some merit, like being a Semi-Finalist in the WOTF contest or getting an encouraging note from an editor -- plus 5 "no-calls" where no verdict was actually rendered due to cancellations of a contest, closing of a publication or in one case a failure to delivery by the USPS. I've had 4 stories be selected for publication -- two have been printed -- one of them was a paid sale, two come out next year.
I think this is pretty good progress -- I've written way more than a million words (Ray Bradbury's definition of where you need to start to become an author) and on my way towards my first hundred rejections (another milestone suggested by some).
If you can't take rejection, then writing for publication isn't for you. (triple-word-score grin)
Speaking Of Deathless Prose...
If you've ever hankered to write an opening to a story with such putrid purple prose that it smells unto the next county, then Gordon Van Gelder's F&SF is having a little competition to complete the opening, "It was a dark and ion-stormy night..." in 100-words or less. You can submit up to six entries, by snail or e-mail.
ps- still don't know who won the Barcelona contest... Can't people update their websites by two weeks after the awards ceremony?