HWA: Breaking up is surprisingly hard to do

I’m leaving the HWA (Horror Writer’s Association). I’d been a member for the past decade: essentially the entire length of my writing career.  I joined the HWA in 2000. I knew of the organization for a few years before that but–even though I could join by simply demonstrating an interest in horror fiction–I told myself I wouldn’t join until I had actually sold a story. Sold meaning getting paid real money for a story. I didn’t want to join as a fan or as the org’s money-maker, I wanted to join as a writer, with the hope that the HWA would help me. And the HWA did help me.

I eavesdropped on message board conversations about the market, agents, publishers, and the like. I knew enough to listen to who had actual experience. I didn’t complain that the actives were holding me down (a common refrain!). Through HWA I met so many other writers that I admired, many of whom I consider close friends now. The HWA had a mentoring program, where an active (or professional) member would mentor affiliate members (those who had yet to achieve active status).  Steve Eller was assigned to be my mentor, and soon after became a great friend. I owe almost everything (writing-wise) to Steve.

I’m trying to remain objective and not allow the lens of nostalgia distort my views of the organization as it currently exists. But the HWA no longer represents what it should, or what it could be. I probably should’ve left the HWA years ago (to my eternal shame, I should’ve left when a friend was banned from the message board for a dubious reason at best). I think I stayed because of a sense of loyalty to the place that had helped the newbie-me so much. I might’ve stayed because I liked the idea of the HWA, but not what it really was.

The HWA used to have a vibrant message board where real pros would exchange ideas and yeah, they’d argue, and express dissent with the administration, which was great. One particularly  memorable board battle: It may seem like small potatoes, but accepted “pro” rate for short fiction was 3 cents per word for more than a decade. A bunch of us battled almost daily on that board, trying to convince the members that it was time to vote for a pay raise. It passed, and after the HWA annouced its new professional rate for short fiction was 5 cents per word, SFWA followed suit and yeah, the pro genre markets actually followed suit too. 

Within last three years or so, almost all those pros (many of whom, like me, had been there for years and years) have left. They’re gone and the board is a ghost town. There’s no dissent or questioning of the administration (which is currently hand-picking a president). If there is dissent or disagreement with a decision, it’s treated as a personal insult and usually responded to with a passive aggressive complaints come from people who do nothing for the organization. I’m small enough to admit that that really bothers me.

The biggest problem remains the Stoker award, in my opinion. It effects everything the HWA does and represents. The Stokers were always voted on by the membership, with an additions jury that could on occasion add to the final ballot. The Stoker is the grease in the crazy wheel. The rampant spamming has chased off more than a few professional writers. And I say all this having had to monitor the “available stoker works” message board area for three years. Yes, we had to create an area of the board where people could offer their work for “consideration” only once, and not fight to repost or to bump their threads over other threads, and repeatedly spam the message board. So yeah, I had to lock  the adults’ threads to prevent the invariable stoker bickering and back-biting and spamming, which didn’t totally work. There are people join the HWA only after they find out their work is getting recommendations. Or they join precisely because they have work X now published and they want a stoker. People send blind mass emails promoting their work to the members, they mail postcards, hardcopies, or they just ask to swap pdfs and votes. It’s embarrassing.  

During the years 2008-2009, only 18 (out of 7o spots roughly) non-members were on the final ballots. Of those 18, 8 noms were due to jury addition (so the members didn’t vote them on). Of the other 10 non-member noms, 2 went to Joe Hill, 3 to Stephen King, 1 to Dan simmons, and to 2 anthology editors who weren’t members but did publish quite a few members.

This year’s stoker ballot saw only 2 non members on the ballot. Two!  And there were no jury additions. 

The numbers comparing majorly published works and small press works is similarly slanted toward the small press (though you don’t see Night Shade or Subterranean or Ash Tree). Slanted to the small presses who publish the membership. During the last three years you were most likely to win only if you were a member and was published by one of the same presses publishing your fellow members.

To the HWA’s credit, they are trying to address the discrepancies with the award outlined above, and are adding a much larger role to an additions jury. But, the popularity (most votes from the membership component) aspect still exists, as does the ability for officers to win the award. I do hope their changes work and that next year’s ballot more reflects the best horror fiction being published.

I’m serious when I say that. I hope I can come back to the HWA again. I miss what it meant to me.  I am saddened by leaving.

I used to think about leaving the HWA and leaving quietly, without some fist-shaking, dying swan post (like this!) in my blog or on the message board. But, screw it, I’ve been there ten years, and I think I’ve earned the right to be a dying swan if I want to .

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “HWA: Breaking up is surprisingly hard to do

  1. Dude, it’s folks like you we need to keep *in* the HWA. I hope you’ll rethink leaving and help change the place from the inside out. A lot of good changes have happened in the last few years, and I hope to see even more, but without guys like you, it ain’t gonna happen. Sorry to see you go, man.

  2. thelittlesleep

    I appreciate that, Mark. And I’ve always appreciated your hard work with the compiling. I do hope to return to the HWA someday.

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