The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the world’s most well-known union for SF&F professionals, has finally opened up membership to members of indie presses and self-publishing authors. As they acknowledge in their announcement, it’s a decision that took five years to make.

Yep. Five years. Five years in which the publishing world has changed more than in the previous fifty. The writing was on the wall as far back as ten years ago, so this heel-dragging on a membership model designed around 1970s publication standards (updated only to adjust for inflation and canonize or excommunicate certain outlets) has been particularly head-scratch-worthy.

And that’s not even including the fact that membership gives you . . . well, basically nothing. 

As I said, they’re the world’s most well-known SF&F union. I’m not sure they deserve the word “premier,” or “top,” or anything else you can find in the thesaurus entry for “best.” When I mentioned their 1970s standards, I wasn’t just referring to membership qualifications. I was referring to what they offered.

They claim to provide support, negotiation with publishers, catastrophic health coverage, and industry contacts. They really don’t do anything other than the later. I’ve heard from many former SFWA members who have left the organization for both personal and professional reasons, and both tend to be the same tune. The professional is what I’m concerned about, however. We’re now in a world where email lists have been supplanted by social media; where a thirteen-year-old can create and manage an SF&F message board; where direct contact with both publishers and fans can be achieved through a computer keyboard.

To be honest, I can’t find a single reason to join SFWA, other than that they have pretty nice con suites if you happen to be going to one of the conventions they have a presence at.

Okay, there’s one other reason. Validation. Since SFWA is the world’s most well-known SF&F union, being a member might feel like a big deal. It did for me, when I first dreamed of being a published author. Today, though, I have better things to spend $90 a year on than being able to say that SFWA has admitted I’m a professional.

If we were talking about $200 per year in exchange for basic catastrophic health coverage, true legal advice on contracts, help from industry veterans, membership perks with Amazon or B&N or some other distributor . . . then we’re staring to talk about true bargains. As it is, more than most other such situations, you’re only paying for a brand name.