Momentary panic – Timeless rant (aka HWA growing pains)

I neglected to mention I had a momentary scare, professionally, the other day.

Apprarently, the Horror Writers Association is cracking down on freeloaders palming themselves off as members. To explain, perhaps a little backstory may help.

The Horror Writers Association (based in America) is the international body for professional writers of horror and dark fiction. I highlight professional because, like their cousins the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, there are stringent requirements in meeting Active member status. For those interested, that usually means selling a novel length manuscript (or a short story collection) for a professional level advance and royalties (usually US$2000 & 2%+), or 7,500+ words (3 stories or more) of short fiction published at professional rates (currently US five cents/word).

Now, I myself have joined their ranks as an Affiliate member, which at the time (last year) meant I had an active interest in the field, but did not qualify for Active membership, based on sales (at that time, I was half way through Harbinger and had not started writing short stories).

The issue is (and I am reading between the lines a little), many can presently pay their membership fees and call themselves ‘members’, rubbing the tarnish from the prestige accorded many commercially successful and dedicated authors. There is, howeever, a world of difference between an Affiliate member and an Active member.

So, the other day, an email came through advising the HWA are applying more stringent guidelines to Affiliate members. From July, all new members must meet the new standards, while all exisiting members have until Feb 2005 to prove their status.

At first I panicked, as I have no sales considered ‘professional’ yet (and no, split profits from anthologies do not count). But then I read the fine print. To maintain/attain Affiliate member status, you need to sell at least one publication, of at least 500 words (they’re ‘Flash’ist – discriminating against micro/flash fiction!), to the value of US$25. The momentary panic returned. Looking at my bibliography, I realised I only have a few paid sales. Fortunately, Sobek’s Tears appearing in Aurealis will certainly net me more than $60, so I am well and truly safe (and then, there are a number of almost-theres that would see me through).

Phew, panic subsided!

So, I am home and hosed – but what of the other 600 odd Affiliates? A single sale for $25 may not seem much, but check the speculative fiction market guides. Only the semi-pro mags pay $25 or more. The vast majority of magazines/webzines are either non-paying (yeah, exposure only gets you so far!) or pay maybe $5 or $10. This led me to do a little research. In Australia, Aurealis is the only magazine that can safely get past the US$25 mark. Shadowed Realms and Borderlands pays A$25 for most stories ($50 for the rare novelette), ASIM pay A$0.0125 – meaning you need to sell them a story of 2500 words or more to qualify (ruling out flash and shorter stories). Dark Animus pay A$0.005 (half a cent) – meaning you need to sell a 6000 word story to qualify.

Thus it all boils down to one good, and fairly lengthy, story, sold to a decently paying semi-pro zine. Call me Nostradamus here, but I can see a fairly major culling of the HWA Affiliate ranks on its way.

I doubt each and every one of those people have sold a story for $25 or more. Hell, I doubt half of those people have. Even judging by the talented authors whose quality stories are being considered for Shadowed Realms (and who have allowed me the privilege of reading their work), few of them have listed a magazine in their credits that pays more than $25. This is in no way an indictment on them. It is a comment on the system.

Magazines and anthologies are not paying writers enough!

I fully support the HWA in their decision to further professionalise their membership. I truly do. It should cull those latte-swilling ‘writers’ out there with pretensions and little else. However, it will also cull talented people whose only fault is finding magazines do not/cannot pay enough for the stories they publish.

I’m doing my bit, as much as I can. Shadowed Realms pays $0.04 per word, but we specialise in flash fiction, thereby having two strikes against us in the stakes for supporting writers claims to HWA membership (our word count may fall under 500, and our max payment is A$25 – about US$18). With the aid of additional funding, we pledge to further increase our rates, but that may be months away (or a pipe dream).

So all you editors out there – what’s it gonna be? A small, elitist Horror Writers Association; or a large HWA, with more, higher paying short fiction markets. I know which option I’d choose.