Thursday, 5 May 2011

This is Why We Fight

Round about the start of the week, I joined the Science Fiction Writers of America as a full-blown - or rather, according to the official terminology, active - member.

When you put it like that it doesn't sound terribly exciting - which, as it turned out, it wasn't.  Truth be told, it was kind of a hassle.  I had to upload my novel contract to the SFWA website, which wouldn't accept .pdf files that were over about 1MB in size - that being pretty much every .pdf file ever - and that meant finding a piece of software that would change it into a more suitable format*, and then the first e-mail they sent me fell foul of googlemail's spam filter and got accidentally deleted, and...

Hold on, I had a point here, didn't I?  Let's start again.

For the last three of four years, my main goal in writing, and therefore, I guess, in life, was to get my SFWA full membership.  In my head, it was like the hand of God reaching down and branding whatever the universal symbol for "professional writer" is deep into my forehead.  Or, perhaps more realistically, getting a neat and wholly unforgeable "professional writer" T-shirt and baseball cap combo.

Which, looking back, is pretty dumb.  But I tend to work off the theory - possibly gleaned from too much time in scuzzy admin jobs - that targets are important, and making those targets achievable is even more important.  I don't doubt that if I'd told myself I was going to win the Booker and Nebula prizes in the same year before I was thirty five, or sell my first novel for a seven figure sum, I wouldn't be here right now.  I've seen people fall by the wayside because their goals were, if not unachievable, then far too distant to drag them through all the obligatory crap on the way.

And SFWA membership was definitely something achievable.  For anyone who doesn't know, the criteria is basically one novel sold for $2000 or more to a qualifying publisher or three eligible sales of short fiction (that being to markets who pay 5 cents plus a word, have a readership over a certain size and have been around for more than a year.)  How hard could that be?

Well, pretty damn hard as it turned out, with short story sale number three turning out to be the kicker.  But I got there, thanks to the wonderful Bull Spec, which gained its SFWA-qualifying status a mere few weeks ago.

Only, by that time I'd already sold Giant Thief and sequels to Angry Robot.  And since then, having happened to lose my regular job at pretty much exactly the same time, I've been working full time on the first of those sequels.  What with all of that, my induction to the Angry Robot family at Eastercon and the realisation that it was actually really happening and not some kind of colossal mix-up, it hasn't seemed quite so important to get someone else's stamp of approval on my professional (or not) status as a writer.  Because, for better or worse, it's pretty much my day job right now.

Honestly, I'm not sure what the point of this post is.  I'm definitely glad to be a member of the SFWA, they're a necessary presence and they do sterling work.  I want to support them, and have them there to support me should I ever need it.  I wish I'd taken up the opportunity to become an associate member, having access to those resources would have been a heck of a help when the book deal was going down.  Goals are necessary, sometimes, but it's a mistake to confuse them with ends.  And I'm still waiting for my T-shirt, with or without baseball cap.  I fear I may end up making it myself.

* Hats off to the wonderful Calibre, a free piece of software for managing e-books that will also convert just about every file format in existence to just about any other file format in existence.

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