Self-publishing was a hot topic at the 2012 Nebula Awards weekend, which took place May 17–20 in Arlington, Va. The event is put on by, and for, members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA); to qualify for full membership an author must have sold work to qualifying markets, such as established publishers and magazines. This firm grounding in traditional publishing hasn't stopped SFWA's members from exploring all aspects of publishing and promoting their own work, a focus reflected in program items on designing e-books, creating websites, and exploiting audio rights.
In this crowd of established pros, it's no surprise that the emphasis was on self-publishers being in the business of publishing, and needing to treat it as a business complete with business plans and budgets. During a panel on digital self-publishing, James Patrick Kelly, an author who's self-publishing magazines that include his backlist stories as well as new short works, emphasized the costs involved. "I pay a designer," he said. "I pay to license art for the covers. You have to budget for things like that if you're going to do it properly."
An audience member suggested that most authors should budget between $4000 and $6000 per book for professional-level editing, design, artwork, production, and promotion. These numbers were greeted with gasps and murmurs from the audience and concurring nods from most of the panelists. The only dissenter was panelist Brenda W. Clough, who belongs to writers' cooperative Book View Café; she explained that the members of the co-op share their skills at a discount or even free of charge, so their out-of-pocket costs for self-publishing are lower than those facing writers who go it alone.
At a later round-table discussion among SFWA members about whether and how self-publishers might qualify for membership, Gordon Van Gelder, the editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, proposed that rather than focusing on self-publishers qualifying as authors, they should instead be asked to qualify as markets. At present, qualifying novel markets need to pay authors at least $2000 per book or 5 cents a word, have been in business for at least one year, and have a print run or circulation of at least 1000 copies. "Someone pointed out that it's probably going to be unwieldy if we have a hundred people trying to qualify that way," Van Gelder said after the discussion, "but no one screamed in horror at the idea."
Returning to the theme of treating self-publishing as a business, SFWA president John Scalzi noted that even if SFWA removed the rule banning any "self-publication, vanity press, or other type of author-paid or fee-charging press" from qualifying—a change that has not been formally proposed—self-publishers trying to qualify would need to have clear and auditable records.
The weekend did bring some good news for those wary of changing times: all three of the Nebula Awards for short fiction (short story, novelette, and novella) went to works first published in print magazines.
The Nebula winners are Jo Walton for the novel Among Others (Tor), Kij Johnson for the novella "The Man Who Bridged the Mist" (Asimov's Science Fiction), Geoff Ryman for the novelette "What We Found" (F&SF), and Ken Liu for the short story "The Paper Menagerie" (F&SF). Delia Sherman took home the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy for her novel The Freedom Maze (Big Mouth), and the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife," written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Richard Clark, won the Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation.