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HWA in the 21st Century


by Lisa Morton

(Lisa Morton took the mantle of President in 2014. She also served over a decade as HWA’s Treasurer through October 2011, and then Vice President until 2014.)

To paraphrase (appropriately, perhaps!) the Grateful Dead, the 21st century thus far has been a long, strange trip for HWA, but one which overall has seen the organization continue to grow in size and reputation.

Certainly no development has had such an impact on the organization as the growth of the internet and e-mail. At the turn of the millennium, most of HWA’s communications with its members—whether it was monthly newsletters or voting ballots—was still conducted via snail-mail (in fact, a significant portion of each year’s expenditures went to mailing). Presidents, meanwhile, were racking up huge phone bills trying to coordinate the organization’s ever-expanding operations.

For one thing, HWA’s anthologies became almost yearly undertakings. That first one from 1991—Under the Fang, edited by Robert R. McCammon—inaugurated a string of themed anthologies featuring well-known writers as editors. In 1997, HWA released its first (and to date only) non-fiction anthology, Writing Horror, edited by Mort Castle; the book is now widely considered the definitive guide to the art of horror literature. A revised edition, On Writing Horror, was released in 2006, and continues to pay royalties to its contributors every year.

In 2008, HWA’s anthologies struck gold with Blood Lite, a compendium of humorous horror stories edited by Kevin J. Anderson. The first volume included work by such luminaries as Kelley Armstrong, Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, and Joe R. Lansdale, and led to two follow-ups, Blood Lite II: Overbite (2010) and Blood Lite III: Aftertaste (2012).

As the landscape of publishing in general and horror in particular changed throughout the first decade of the 21st century, HWA strove to adapt. New categories for the Bram Stoker Awards were voted in and out…and sometimes back in again, as with the Young Adult, Graphic Novel, and Screenplay categories (which were reinstituted in 2011). Perhaps the biggest change regarding the awards, however, involved moving to a partial juried system; as of 2011, the list of final nominees was determined half by the organization’s membership, and half by juries made up of volunteer Active members.

The presentation of the awards occasionally caused as much debate as the awards themselves. Sometimes the awards were held in conjunction with the yearly World Horror Convention (which began in 1991), while in other years the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend was a stand-alone event, organized solely by volunteers from within HWA. After an extremely successful weekend in 2009 in Burbank, California (which included Guests of Honor John Farris, Mick Garris, David Hartwell, Richard Matheson, Richard Christian Matheson, and Harry O. Morris), HWA officially adopted the position of holding solo events in odd-numbered years, and joining with WHC in even-numbered years.

Another topic that HWA has wrestled with over the last dozen years is the definition of “professional writer”. In the mid-2000s, the organization moved to define itself more clearly in professional terms by requiring all members to have attained at least one sale. However, recently a “Supporting” membership level was added, allowing fans of the genre and new writers to interact with their favorite authors. HWA continues to offer a Mentorship Program, which connects writers who are just starting out with more experienced authors, and recently offered five scholarships to Mort Castle’s acclaimed writing workshop.

HWA also redefined its image in the 21st century, first by creating a new, professional logo, and then—under the guidance of our long-time webmaster, the late Mark Worthen—by extensively remodeling our website. Under the new aegis of webmistress Angel Leigh McCoy, the website continues to improve in functionality and timeliness.

As has been the case with all major professional writing organizations, HWA has also fought to keep up with the monumental changes occurring almost daily in the realm of digital publishing. The days when writers could count on publishers to handle all the promotion of their books are now all but gone, and HWA’s has offered everything from newsletter articles to a Facebook group to its widely-read “Dark Whispers” blog to assist authors in promoting their work. Perhaps most importantly, in 2008 HWA finally exhibited at BookExpo America, the nation’s largest book fair. That first year saw us with a tiny table buried in the depths of “Printer’s Row”, but by 2011 we were firmly seated on the main floor, and participating authors found themselves with long lines of happy booksellers during signings.

By the time of the millennium’s second decade, HWA had instituted major changes to its basic operations as well, changes that soon led to an explosive growth in membership numbers. A permanent New York mailing address alleviated the confusing problem of new addresses with the election of each new treasurer, and paid administrators and webmasters quickly brought the organization up to a high standard of daily operation. Increased expense on salaries more than paid off in increased revenues from membership dues, and HWA soon boasted over 700 members. A change in our tax status finally gave HWA tax-exempt status, and allowed us to increase sponsorship opportunities.

HWA has also sought to expand its presence globally over the last decade. In 2007, for the first time the Bram Stoker Awards presentation was held outside the U.S. (in Toronto, Canada); and in 2010, the awards were presented outside of North America (in Brighton, U.K.). More recently Alessandro Manzetti has had great success with an Italian arm of the organization and HWA also continues to have a strong Canadian presence, largely under the leadership of Sephera Giron.

HWA now looks forward to a strong future, and one with a few specific goals: We hope to have firmly established chapters soon, with budgets to pursue activities such as book fairs and workshops; we plan to continue expanding around the world; we’d like to increase our ties with other major organizations; and of course we aim to see our membership numbers continue to grow.

We hope you’ll grow with us. The future looks bright…in a dark, horrifying way, of course.

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