Having a book published is a milestone for every author, no matter who does the printing and selling. But not all publishers are equal in the eyes of the professional writing guilds. I started to look into membership in the Science Fiction Writers of America. SFWA is a lot like the other pro writing associations: The Author’s Guild, or the Writer’s Guild of America (for film). These groups take you in, but only after you’re published or produced.

If that sounds like chicken and egg thinking, it might be, until you land your first sale. But not just a sale to anybody, for the SFWA. The group’s Web site lists specific publishers which do not qualify a writer to gain entry into SFWA. The list as of this year:

The following markets may not currently be used for membership purposes. If/when any of these are determined to meet the applicable criteria, they will be moved to the list of qualifying markets. No judgment as to the quality of these markets as publishing venues is in any way expressed or implied by their inclusion on this list.

  • American Book Publishing
  • Armitage House
  • Barbour Publishing
  • Creeping Hemlock Press
  • Crossquarter Publishing Group
  • Embiid Publishing
  • Fairwood Press / ElectricStory.com
  • Fictionwise.com
  • Gardenia Press
  • Great Plains Publications
  • Golden Gryphon
  • Gothic.net (for dates after 2/2003)
  • ImaJinn
  • iUniverse
  • Medallion Press
  • Oak Tree Press
  • Oceans of the Mind
  • OnSpec
  • Paradox
  • PublishAmerica
  • Silver Lake Publishing
  • Small Beer Press
  • Spectrum SF
  • Unbelievable Stories (Quill-Pen Press)
  • The Urbanite
  • Vestal Review
  • Wheatland Press (e.g. Polyphony anthology series)
  • Wildside Press
  • Xlibris.com
  • Zumaya Press

There’s not much explanation about why these presses don’t earn a writer entry into SFWA — but seeing Xlibris and iUniverse among them indicates a bias against the self-publisher or cooperative publisher. (That latter one is a house where you bring money to invest, in addition to your well-polished MS.)

There’s even a method to submit a publisher for consideration by the SFWA, to be added to its next “membership-earning” list. Noteable for the Austin-based writer: The SFWA gave its 2008 awards, the coveted Nebulas, at the Omni Hotel here in the spring. A fellow named Michael Chabon walked off with the Novel prize for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, a great SF novel hiding out as an alternative history. Chabon, of course, took the Pulitzer home for The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

Why care about SFWA membership, or membership in the Romance Writers of America? This kind of credit gets you extra attention and perhaps a pass upward to the next level at the Kristen Nelson Literary Agency. Probably plenty of other agents, too. Since you need a sold book, or a few sold short stories, this might be a Catch-22 unless you’re submitting to the short story markets. The SFWA site has a list of qualifying book publishers, too.

Membership in things like the RWA and SFWA is not a requirement to be considered for this agent. But it’s among a list of things to put into a query to the agency. What’s more, the list is something to consider when engaging an agent, like “can you get me into a publishing house that’s on the SFWA list?” This is the big-time tent, if you’re aiming for that.

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