Horror Writers Association Blog

HWA Here and Now 2014

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by Rocky Wood

(Rocky Wood is HWA’s fifteenth President. He took office in 2010. He passed away in office in 2014.)

The last few years have been a particularly challenging and interesting period for the publishing industry, for the horror genre and for our members, and have seen the opening of doors that lead to as yet undiscovered countries.

The explosion of the eBook has apparently freed authors from the previously limited range of publishing choices—mainstream publishing, small press and magazines—and allowed an almost infinite series of publishing models. Which of these will prove to be a success in terms of garnering readers, and more importantly, income for our members will play out over the remainder of this decade. And, considering the constant innovation in technology, probably for the foreseeable future. It seems to me that the opportunities far outweigh the challenges but we do owe it to ourselves as an Association and as a genre to be constantly debating the merits of each change, if for no other reason than to ensure we are well informed as to our options.

A debate that is about to explode is how publishers and particularly resellers (not just Amazon and bookshops now but Kobo, Sony, et al) justify their margins; and how accurately and quickly they report sales to their contracted partners—those of who create their content, in industry parlance—authors! And of course how accurately and quickly they pay us. There is no excuse in the modern digital world for sales channels and the publishers not reporting digitally, almost instantaneously and providing auditable royalty and sales statements to authors. And there is even less excuse for publishers not to pay regularly—no worse than quarterly, and preferably monthly. And by pay, I mean actually fork over our hard-earned dollars by the contracted time, not months or years later, if ever. On time, every time should be the minimum acceptable standard. Resale channels and publishers who fail to do so will soon be, and should be, bypassed by our members and authors in general. And information about who pays accurately and on time, and who doesn’t, is likely to become public and transparent in the near future.

In content terms, the genre is as strong as ever—the variety and quality of horror writing is outstanding and apart from genre giants who continue to write compelling tales; there are many new names coming to the fore with outstanding new writing that will serve our readers and our genre well for decades to come.

Moving to the HWA, I am proud to report the Association is in the best state it has been in for many years. Fortunately, that opinion is widespread. When I became President eighteen months ago I continued to build on the legacy of my predecessor, Deb LeBlanc and her Officers and Trustees. I was fortunate to serve two years on the Board before taking over, as this allowed me to observe both the good and the need to improve areas of HWA and to understand the inner workings—what worked, what didn’t and why. And to build relationships. It’s often forgotten that HWA is entirely built on the work of volunteers—we only have three paid part-time workers, who deliver in specific roles. All the other work, the drive and the leadership has to come from individual members who give up their time to serve us all.

One thing I observed was that we had to spread the load more widely, delegate more, and allow more people their opportunity to contribute. I am proud to report that around 150 (yes, that’s right— 150!) members are involved in volunteering at any one time. That’s probably an increase from about 50 or so two or three years ago. That spreads the load, allows a lot more work to be done, allows us to innovate and add value, and get more than just process done. Yes, sometimes we creak—but the creaking now comes from trying to do too much, not from trying to deliver the bare minimum.

Among Deb’s innovations in the last two years of her Presidency was a full review of the ByLaws, a major result of which was the introduction of the Supporting Membership category. We’ve found these members to be particularly eager to learn and to contribute. As of February there were 95 Supporting Members and a healthy percentage of them were actively volunteering and working towards an upgrade in status.

The Bram Stoker Award® Rules were also revamped and a half Juried system was proposed to the membership by referenda. That system was accepted by a vast majority and came into place in 2011—in time for the Awards ceremony this book celebrates. We successfully added three new (or renewed) categories—Screenplay, Graphic Novel and Young Adult Novel.

My personal observations of the new system are very positive indeed—we eliminated publishing the names of those who ‘Recommended’ works and this dealt a fatal blow to both any reality and the perception of widespread trading of Recommendations. In 2011 the more popular works on the Rec lists received far less Recs than had been the case in recent years, and a much wider spread of works appeared in each category. The introduction of the Juries meant a number of things—we had 50 or so Active members directly involved in widespread reading in their category; we got a diverse, interesting and representative set of choices from those Juries, a vast majority of which would not have appeared on the Ballots under the Recommendation process alone. Many works were sought by the Jurors or submitted to the Juries by authors or publishers who were not normally involved with HWA and this will serve to our benefit, that of the Awards and the genre in general as each year passes. We significantly improved the perception and the reputation of our iconic Awards. That can only increase further in future years.

All of the many claims of bias for or indeed against mainstream publishers, small presses, name authors, lesser known authors, etc. are effectively dealt with by this multi-pronged approached to presenting works for consideration and on the Ballot. A process where 750 members can ‘Recommend’ works to make the Preliminary Ballot; where 50-55 independent Jurors separately seek out, read and present selections to the Preliminary Ballot; and where nearly 400 voting members are able to participate in the Ballots is one that, in reality, is above any claim of bias or manipulation. It is likely to be one where the best works rise to the surface. Our Award is for ‘Superior Achievement’ and while everyone will never agree on each winner, there is no doubt each winner does merit the Superior Achievement tag.

Of course, there will never be a system that everyone likes for any Award, as there is rightly a diversity of opinion. But I feel we have it pretty much right in 2012, where we have made further tweaks to the 2011 system to better define categories, to present Juried and Recommended Works on the same Preliminary Ballots, etc. We will never be perfect, but our philosophy is to be the best we can and to improve every year.

So, thanks to Deb and her Board for giving me a solid foundation to work with. My overarching philosophy as President is to be as transparent as possible, to expand our membership, to involve our membership as much as possible, to deliver outstanding customer service, and to support the genre we all love.

Apart from successfully implementing the Membership changes; and the revised Bram Stoker Award process, we can proudly point to the following improvements, implemented by all those many people who work hard for our membership every day.

  • All our processes have been carefully tested and documented and are now stored in a central digital document repository for easy access by authorized volunteers and members of the Board. This means if a volunteer has to step back, unlike in the past that we do not lose the “intellectual capital” they had built up. It is all documented and can easily be learned and used by their replacement.
  • The Web team has been expanded and tasked with a series of innovations under the awesome guidance of our new Webmaster, Angel Leigh McCoy. We introduced the public “Dark Whispers” blog and the “Halloween Haunts” innovation—both of which are hugely successful with fans of the genre. We have documented processes, introduced new methods to capture Bram Stoker Award Recommendations, a new way of presenting the Bram Stoker Award Ballots and of capturing those votes in an easily auditable manner. We are in the process of redesigning the whole site to make it much more user friendly, to change the look and feel, to allow authorized users to edit the content online (which will make updates much more frequent and immediate), and we have changed our service providers to both save money and improve technical efficiency. The website is already much more stable and useful.
  • Both the Newsletter and the Internet Mailer have gone from strength to strength, particularly in terms of content. Of course, we know we can do even better, and intend to. I would like to acknowledge here Kathy Ptacek, who has been editor of the Newsletter for longer than she probably cares to admit, and delivers a classy and informative publication every month.
  • The Membership Committee has been entirely revamped and professional processes put in place. Not so long ago it took months for a new member to be approved and communication was sometimes lacking. At lot of that was due to not enough volunteers on the Committee. Jim Chambers has proven to be an outstanding Membership Committee Chairman. Writers applying to join get an answer within 24-48 hours (which is a good thing considering the flood of new members we have seen in the past two years), they get welcome emails both from the Committee and the President, with email addresses they can contact about their initial queries. This year we will expand that service with a new member pack that will further explain the nooks and crannies of HWA membership—how to participate in the Bram Stoker Award process, how to access the Message Board, how to find the many other member benefits and so on. Jim is supported by an excellent Committee who actively participate in the process every week, and cover for each other during those inevitable times when personal issues supersede HWA’s! All processes are documented and more and more are becoming automated every day.
  • The Bram Stoker Awards Committee has been entirely revamped. Instead of a handful of people carrying the entire load we now have a dozen or so. And each of the processes is clearly documented, often automated, and supported by two or three volunteers who can cover for each other when one person is unavailable. Norm Rubenstein and Ron Breznay are doing an outstanding job as Co-Chairs, as are Chris Abbey as Compiler and Eric Christ as Verifier. We will shortly appoint Assistant Verifiers to cover the increased workload that has come as a result of the Jury system.
  • We have had a new focus on ensuring that the spirit and the letter of the Bram Stoker Award Rules are adhered to, and we have been open and transparent about mistakes or errors of judgment made both in the past and in the present, and the likely impact of Rule changes.
  • We trademarked the term Bram Stoker Award and Bram Stoker Awards, to protect it from unauthorized use, particularly of a commercial nature
  • We established and run a very successful Facebook page, as well as involvement in other social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • We established an Italian beachhead with full website presence and great membership growth, under the leadership of Alessandro Manzetti.
  • We have continued our successful publishing program with Blood Lite II and Blood Lite III.
  • We continue to deliver a very successful presence at BEA, delivered by Vince Liaguno (2012 will be our fifth year there).
  • Our most recent stand-alone Bram Stoker Awards Weekend (Long Island, 2011), delivered by Vince Liaguno and Nanci Kalanta, with a slew of outstanding Guests. Many attendees described this as the best horror writing convention they had been to in many years.
  • And of course ‘Celebrate HWA Day’ and this Bram Stoker Awards Banquet here in Salt Lake City, graced as it is by our Founders.
  • The one-off Bram Stoker Award for Vampire Novel of the Century, in conjunction with the Stoker Family Estate and the Rosenbach Museum, which garnered a lot of interest and publicity. And it’s been great being involved with Dacre Stoker, representing the family, over these past two years.
  • We’ve revamped our Mentoring program that is now serving nearly two dozen mentorees.
  • We publicly stood up on certain industry-wide issues, particularly the shameful behavior of Dorchester.
  • We undertook the first ever full scale clean-up of the Membership Database, chasing members whose email addresses were out of date, to ensure they receive the Internet Mailers, Newsletters and where appropriate, Ballot papers.
  • For the first time ever we sought and received sponsorship for the Bram Stoker Award events. The Sponsors were a large part of the reason we were able to webcast the Awards Banquet for the first time in 2011, and again this year.
  • We’ve funded HWA’s presence at wider events, such as WHC 2011 (where we didn’t have a Bram Stoker Awards Banquet); and Word on the Street (Toronto).
  • We funded ‘scholarships’ to Mort Castle’s writing workshop at this very convention.

And don’t forget that we have always had a Hardship Fund that assists with loans for certain members who need them, and funds Dues Renewals for others. Donations for that Fund are always gratefully accepted and are tax deductible to US taxpayers.

All these innovations and improvements have paid off in a very measurable way. Here are our membership numbers at the end of February 2012:

    Total Members: 781
    Active: 345
    Affiliate: 261
    Lifetime: 35
    Associate: 45
    Supporting: 95

This speaks volumes when compared with a membership of 240 or so four years ago, and 400 one year ago. And numbers generate numbers—the more members we have the more services and the better quality customer service we can provide; the more and better service we provide the more our reputation grows and the more new members want to join and the more current members renew. Simply really. Well, apart from all the work!

I want to mention the loss of Mark Worthen, who served the Association for many years as both Webmaster and Bram Stoker Awards Co-Chair. Mark passed in September 2011 and is sorely missed, our condolences were passed to Jeannie and his family and friends and a special tribute is part of this Convention. I would also like to thank long-time Bram Stoker Awards Co-Chair Hank Schwaeble—Hank worked tirelessly in the years when he, Mark and Eric Christ carried the entire load for the Awards. I am sure he is enjoying a rest!

In 2012/3 we plan even more innovations, including:

  • Relaunching our Chapters (a lost strength with massive potential)
  • Re-energizing our Publications Committee and publications program
  • A total relaunch of the website, including new design, new content management and new member benefits, including yet more interaction with the broader reading public
  • A new ‘Horror Round-Table’ interactive blog
  • Our third stand-alone Bram Stoker Awards Weekend (New Orleans, June 2013)
  • An expansion of the Mentoring Program
  • The possibility of more Scholarships funded by HWA
  • We’re adding a presence at new events, including the Printers Row Lit Fest (Chicago, this June), and looking for more opportunities that our members can man and we can fund

Which leads me to my final comments—this Association is the sum of its parts, and its parts are our Members. Last year the aforementioned 150 members gave up their time to assist us all, this year it will be something like 160, of which probably 30-40 are new to volunteering for us. Without our leaders—people like Lisa Morton, Les Klinger, Vince Liaguno, Marge Simon, Ellen Datlow, Norm Rubenstein, Ron Breznay, Jim Chambers, Angel Leigh McCoy, Kathy Ptacek and Derek Clendening and the other 140 people I haven’t listed here—whatever I might try to do as President would fail to blossom. I thank them all for their continued service and encourage you to do whatever you can for your Association—volunteer, promote and encourage friends and colleagues to join. Our strength is yours.

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