A professional guild created in 1965 as Science Fiction Writers of America, to inform sf writers on matters of professional interest, to promote their professional welfare, and to help them deal effectively with publishers, agents, editors and anthologists; in 1992 (see below) it was renamed the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The initial impulse for SFWA came through discussions and activities at the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conferences, founded by Damon Knight and others; in 1965, feeling the need for a formal body to represent sf writers, Knight founded SFWA and served as its first president. A list of SFWA presidents appears at the end of this entry. Full or "active" membership is restricted to professional writers – defined as writers who have sold a minimum of three short stories, one professionally produced script, or one full-length book of fiction (collaborations are counted as half) to a qualifying "professional" market, a criterion which formerly excluded journals of less than 12,000 circulation (an exclusion which nullified work in almost any literary journal) but is more recently based on the word-rates considered appropriate for a Prozine (which see). Under the recently adopted new Bylaws, increased authority to expand membership criteria is given to the Board of Directors/Membership Committee. The qualification is one-off; a writer, once he or she has become a member, need never re-qualify.
In addition to its guild activities, SFWA sponsors the annual Nebula Awards and the annual anthologies resulting from them. There are, in addition, two SFWA journals: The Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (see SFWA Bulletin), which is available to the public; and SFWA Forum, whose circulation is restricted to active and associate members. As well as the Nebula Anthologies, SFWA has been responsible for the SFWA Handbook, a writer's guide which has gone through various editions and formats, a notable incarnation being Science Fiction Writers of America Handbook: The Professional Writer's Guide to Writing Professionally (anth 1990) edited by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, which is packed with information (but lacks an index) and won a Locus Award for nonfiction. The most recent edition, The SFWA Handbook: The Business Side of Writing, By Writers, For Writers (anth 2010) edited by Steve Carper, is only available to members.
Writer Beware [see links below], a public online service, warns of bad and exploitative publishing practices.
The SFWA membership has been given to polemics, and resignations have been moderately commonplace. One major rift occurred in 1976 when Stanisław Lem's honorary membership was cancelled. Another controversy erupted in 1992, a US election year, when outgoing president Ben Bova unilaterally invited the conservative Republican Newt Gingrich to give the keynote address at the annual Nebula banquet. More recently, there were controversies over an allegedly sexist cover and comments in the SFWA Bulletin and the first member expulsion (of Vox Day in 2014) in the history of the organization. All the same, although SFWA has suffered public accusations of parochialism, and although much of its energies sometimes seem to be devoted to internal politics or to increasingly arcane attempts to revise the already labyrinthine rules governing the Nebula Awards, it has played an important role in improving the conditions of the sf writer's life – by, for example, negotiating with publishers to improve the wording of contracts.
The 1980s witnessed a de facto but ex jure increase in the proportion of fantasy and horror writers in SFWA. At the beginning of 1992 a name change was agreed, and SFWA became Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – although the initials SFWA are retained, and the organization never refers to itself as SFFWA. In 2014, after a prolonged process of votes and revotes, SFWA adopted extensively rewritten new Bylaws and was reincorporated in the state of California as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. [PN/JC/DRL]
see also: Paranoia.
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