Another Would-be SFWA Rival

Craig Martelle, cofounder of the 20Booksto50k® Facebook group with 39,000 members, has launched a website for the Independent Alliance of Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors (IASFA) with the following Mission Statement:

To support the professional development of SFF authors through shared opportunities, camaraderie, and targeted philanthropy. To build an organization with a focus on bringing stories to an SFF loving readership through improved business practices.

To anyone who asks “Isn’t there already a group doing this?” Martelle is ready with an answer:

Why did I start this organization, buying a domain and building a web presence? For the simple reason that in my opinion, professional organizations were hurting their members more than helping them. My idea of a professional is one who sells stories, whether short or long, and that they can repeat that process. I wanted an organization that was focused on helping science fiction and fantasy authors reach more fans. Period. Since one of those didn’t exist, I started my own.

The 20Booksto50k® Facebook group is described as a “Safe place to discuss how to ethically make money as authors.” They run an annual event — this year’s 20Books Vegas Conference will be held in Las Vegas in November. Of interest is that among the first five guest speakers listed are three sff authors, Kevin J. Anderson, David Farland, and David Weber.

Jon Del Arroz, who attended the past two 20Booksto50K conferences, publicized the new group in a YouTube video: “INSTANT REGRET: SFWA’s War On Indie Authors Creates New Rival Guild!” While reviewing Martelle’s message JDA said, “Craig’s being very cautious about not pointing fingers here,” a display of subtlety that went over JDA’s head given the title of his video. On the other hand, when Martelle says, “in my opinion, professional organizations were hurting their members more than helping them,” it’s not as if the sff field has many others.

Also, SFWA and 20Booksto50K have had some friction in the recent past. In 2019 Jonathan Brazee stirred up a hornets nest by calling on SFWA members in 20Booksto50K to support a slate of works for the Nebula Awards, for which he subsequently apologized. The intense criticism of the slate rankled Martelle, who said at the time: “It’s hard not take negative comments about 20Booksto50k® personally since I run that group, but taking a step back, we did nothing untoward. Indies read indies. We support each other by reading and buying each other’s stuff, often promoting it as well with our own hard-acquired email lists. The ignorance is appalling about what we do. I think ethically making money isn’t dirty and that’s part of the allusions.” 

At present the IASFA is not a nonprofit organization, as the ”Support the IASFA” page explains. It is controlled by Craig Martelle and funds intended for it will flow through his business LLC.

At present IASFA is completely privately funded, but that limits our reach. If you could make a donation, we can improve our engagement and provide more benefits for our author members to include an expanded reach to touch the lives of more readers.

Funds will be collected by Craig Martelle, LLC who will immediately transfer all donations to the IASFA.

And from the “Join IASFA” page:

The Indie Alliance may eventually become a 501(c)(3) charity (where donations are tax deductible) but that isn’t for right now. We want to make sure this is a viable alternative to other professional organizations. There will be no Indie Alliance awards, but there could be grants to help offset certain author-related costs to hopefully help the next great science fiction author get their legs beneath them.

Eventually, we hope to have a legal defense fund which is probably the most important thing that a professional organization can provide. Until then, we’ll settle for growing a science fiction and fantasy fan base and interdependent place for professionals to hang out and talk shop – mainly how to sell more books. Nothing other than that belongs in here. No drama. No distractions. Focus.

The internet has many communities where people trade information about markets and promote their books, and there’s more forming all the time. Talk is free. Will IASFA go to bat for writers victimized by copyright violations, raise issues with exploitive companies, or have tools to cope with Amazon’s next idea for squeezing indies?

Others have tried to found the anti-SFWA before. Richard Paolinelli started the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Creators Guild” — its last blog post was dated February 14, 2018, and they never evolved beyond a Facebook discussion group with 270 members (and one that is no longer very active, only 4 posts in the last month).

Lou Antonelli, Michael Burstein, and Brad Torgersen tried to start the Society for the Advancement of Speculative Storytelling (SASS) and reported when they reached 19 dues-paying members in 2013. But there hadn’t been a new post on the SASS blog in six years before Antonelli recently published an appeal there to vote for him as a SFWA director-at-large in the current election.   

A lovely logo only takes you so far.

32 thoughts on “Another Would-be SFWA Rival

  1. It is kind of hard to land a spacecraft in an atmosphere with only the starboard wing. I predict it will burn up on re-entry.

  2. He’s got as much of a chance of success as JdA does of starting and sustaining a website that’s a Hugo winning alternative to this site. SFWA may not be perfect but it’s damn close to being so in terms of what its members expect to it to do for them.

  3. Disclaimer: I’m a member of both SFWA and the 20books Group.

    I think JDA poisons everything he touches, and I wish he would shut up about this group rather than subverting it to support his own trolling. (I was also pissed about his article in the Federalist that equated 20books with conservatism or whatever. I know you’ll read this comment, Jon, so please f#$k off and stop using your trolling as marketing.) The group helps writers market their books to people who will buy them. I wish publishers knew what the group knows.

    I often reflect on the fact that membership in 20books has made me more money in the last four years than SFWA, but joining SFWA was a goal since I began writing.

    While SFWA has many amazing services, I think they are not transitioning well to the new reality of publishing. Many of the writers active in their forums, which aren’t many, were traditionally published in the past, and don’t offer useful advice about selling today. The authors active in their indie forums are formerly trad published authors who are trying to figure things out without getting good advice. That’s no one’s fault, it’s just the authors that do sell have no reason to interact there.

    While I don’t think sales equals award quality necessarily, they do pay my mortgage and made it possible for me to write full time. When I first joined my local writers group, the only path anyone knew about was trad. Kboards and then 20Books opened my eyes, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without the knowledge I gained from that group.

    Now, if I want to learn what’s working for other SF authors, that sharing is happening in private groups. If you were a new author who wants to learn what’s working in indie or hybrid, I think an org like this could be a good thing. I wish SFWA was providing that service to new writers.

    So I guess my beef is with the use of the word “Rival” or “Anti-SFWA.” Why not both? Everywhere you look, our world is about niches that serve specific tastes, even among readers. More power to anyone that wants to help writers be successful. This doesn’t have to be a competition, just like you aren’t really “indie” or “trad” or “hybrid” anymore. You’re a writer with different projects in different markets/audiences.

  4. Douglas Berry says That. . . is a very busy logo.

    I think Richard E. Geis might’ve said that he’d read too many Illuminati related works.

  5. I think Martelle has a better chance of making this stick than the previous attempts at groups. Firstly 20booksto50K has clearly prospered as a group and maintains conferences and a broad following. secondly, this new group has a remit that is different from the SFWA (although with overlaps) — it will be more accessible and attractive to authors who don’t meet the SFWA’s income thresholds. Having said that, a better chance doesn’t mean a good chance.

  6. Well he’s certainly not going to get members from his blog. He’s gotten one comment so far for Gloria Oliver, a self-published author (Smashwords mainly), in the two weeks since it went up.

  7. I can see a place for an indie focused organization that would concentrate on indie related issues. Not making it an independent organization seems like a huge red flag to me though – why can’t you send money to them directly?

  8. bookworm1398: Money sent directly to an organization would be taxable income, unless the organization has taken the necessary steps to qualify as a tax-exempt entity. In the meantime, money sent to an indie writer’s LLC would be taxable, but perhaps could be offset by deducting as an expense the amount used to pay IASFA’s costs. (Although not necessarily — there might be a question of whether those expenses are from the LLC’s own trade or business.)

  9. This seems like a good idea. SFWA is an American organization and as an indie author from Australia, I’ve found that it doesn’t offer much for me. I would happily check out an alternative if it was web-based, inclusive and catered for everyone publishing in the industry.

  10. I like “No drama. No distractions.” (for certain values of “like”…). Does that mean that somebody calling out somebody else’s abuses gets ignored or quashed?

    I had no idea Burstein (who I’ve known for decades) had gotten involved with CUL and Brad — maybe their reputation wasn’t quite so ripe at the time?

  11. Chip Hitchcock: maybe their reputation wasn’t quite so ripe at the time?

    Quite right, it wasn’t. I reported SASS as a straight news story back then.

  12. They say “no drama,” and yet Jon del Arroz is involved, as an early joiner if nothing else.

  13. Martelle’s “why am I doing this?” statement includes the sentence “My idea of a professional is one who sells stories, whether short or long, and that they can repeat that process.” A sentence of this quality in a prepared statement tells me all I want to know about the would-be founder of a writers’ organization.

  14. B. Cahill: This seems like a good idea. SFWA is an American organization and as an indie author from Australia, I’ve found that it doesn’t offer much for me. I would happily check out an alternative if it was web-based, inclusive and catered for everyone publishing in the industry.

    Have you checked out the Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association? They seem to be doing some good work for authors in your neck of the world, including coordinating writers’ events for the now-virtual CoNZealand Worldcon.

  15. Too funny, JDA is on Twitter complaining that the link in this post only gave him 10 clicks, and obviously it must be because no one reads File 770 — because of course he’s such a narcissist that it never occurs to him that a lot of the people who read File 770, including me, will deliberately never click on a link to anything he has posted. 😀

  16. Having recently re-read Florence King’s “WASP, Where is Thy Sting?” my immediate thought after seeing the name was that when they have the inevitable split, the next group will be the Independent Alliance of Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors, Reformed.

  17. I think the world has room for any number of professional organizations that focus on different aspects of the field. If this new organization clearly identifies the benefits it will provide to members and demonstrates that it can carry through on those benefits, then it will be a benefit to the field as a whole. No one organization can be all things to all writers. Diversity is good. If IASFA gets bogged down in focusing on “we’re not like X” or “we’re better than X” I suspect that will detract from their central mission, as stated. I discount JdA’s attempt to turn it to his own promotional uses. He does that to everyone and shouldn’t be counted agains the people he tries to co-opt.

    And I rather like the logo, though it is a bit on the busy side. The graphic element of the keyboard is a particularly nice touch.

  18. As a former SCA shire herald and heraldic dilletente, I would not pass this design as a device. Some of the elements are good, but what really irks my sense of design is the stars and crossed pens flanking the center. That’s what the Society heralds would term “slot machine heraldry”. They’re not balanced, and they’re not aligned (horizontally). It might pass if the stars were the same level as the crossed pens, if we consider the center as a division line.

  19. @Heather Rose Jones: I think the world has room for any number of professional organizations that focus on different aspects of the field. What different aspect(s) (from SFWA) do you see this group focusing on? Contrariwise, how much benefit is there to genre authors being represented by a united organization? (I don’t see any such organization having much effect as a traditional union, but ISTM they could have more money- and people-points to put into high-profile cases that could set precedent.) I’m not a writer, so I’m looking at this from the outside, but I don’t see how this organization will benefit anyone.

  20. @Chip Hitchcock

    Like you, I’m on the outside looking in. I am on a couple of indy author mailing lists and know* a couple via FB.

    Indy authors have to handle the entire publishing process on their own. They are pretty good about sharing information about what works to develop a business that publishes works that readers will purchase.

    Small groups of indy authors have evolved. They cross-promote one another’s work. They will co-write in one another’s creative playgrounds. Long term co-authoring relationships can develop. It’s a different eco-system of publishing.

    The general criticism of the SFWA is that it is more generally oriented towards authors that are connected to the traditional arrangement of having an agent and a publisher (or two or more).

    Could SFWA become a reliable source of information about self-publishing? Sure. IIRC, I’ve heard they have some useful resources on those topics.

    At the same time, the impression that I get from indy authors is, given the hurdles for membership in SFWA and the relative dearth of resources supporting indy publishing or in recognition for excellence, the benefit of membership (beyond personal prestige) isn’t worth the cost.

    I agree that a larger organization should have more resources to apply. But if those resources aren’t going to be aimed at the specific interests of indy authors, why should indy authors join?

    *We chat a bit here and there. On this topic, I’m just reading their exchanges with other authors.

    Tronatology 101 – Never let the smoke out.

  21. @HoosierDragon That’s what bothered me as well. I also would get rid of the sunburst. Leave the image of the keyboard supporting the rise to the apex and the surrounding name. Simpler, cleaner.

  22. @Chip Hitchcock

    What different aspect(s) (from SFWA) do you see this group focusing on? Contrariwise, how much benefit is there to genre authors being represented by a united organization?

    Since they’re just barely starting out, and since I know nothing much about the group than posted in this article, your first question isn’t really one I”m in a position to answer. I simply maintain that it is a good thing to have different organizations that focus on different aspects of a field. It makes the field stronger because it is more diverse.

    How much benefit is there to genre authors being represented by a united (single) organization? I write queer romantic historical fantasy. There is no single organization that centers the genre of literature I write. There never will be a single organization that centers my genre. It would be impractical. But while I feel the strongest affinity with SFF, and feel most aligned with my SFWA membership, there are ways in which SFWA doesn’t give me the tools I need for the specific niche I’m published in, because SFWA’s tools assume a set of communal practices that my publisher doesn’t share. I’m also a member of the Golden Crown Literary Society (focusing on queer women’s literature, but with little focused interest in SFF). And if a more palatable organization rises from the ashes of the Romance Writers of America, I will probably at some point join it to support the romance aspects of my work (even though SFF is marginal to that field, and the RWA itself was fairly hostile to f/f romances). I’ve seriously considered joining a writers’ organization centering on historical fiction but haven’t gotten past inertia (and a fear of stretching myself too thin), because there are aspects of my writing that the aforementioned groups are weak on.

    There is no such thing as a single genre-fiction authors group that can equally be all things to all writers. It needn’t be as obvious as my broad cross-genre interests. Even within the “narrow” (hah!) field of SFF, there are different communities of practice that approach the business in different ways. Ideally, different professional organizations will see that as a strength and come together at points of common interest while not expecting to align on other points.

  23. Ethically? I’m not sure the words means what the think it means. The whole 20BooksTo50K thing is responsible for unleashing a torrent of complete crap on the world, making it that much harder to dig out the decent ones.

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