On Inexperience (A SFWA – Related Post)

Over at the SFWA’s ElectionBlog (actually a newsgroup), things are beginning to get interesting; VP Candidate Andrew Burt has shown up and decided that he’s going to make an issue of highlighting the fact that I am rather inexperienced in the ways of SFWA. He’s asking me if I’m aware of the work of this committee or that committee, or if I know that particulars of certain documents relating to SFWA’s governance. It’s a bit like he’s Alex Trebek, offering up the “SFWA Inner Workings” category of Jeopardy! to me. I will note I am not running the category.

There are a number of reasons why Mr. Burt is choosing to do this, but whatever the reasons, let me note that he is absolutely right to do this. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know all the inner workings of SFWA; I can’t name all the committees, I certainly can’t name all the people who are on the committees, and there’s no doubt that if I win, I’ll be spending much of my time from the announcement of my election until the advent of my tenure catching up on everything SFWA — what it does, how it does it, its financials and so on. I am every bit as inexperienced as Mr. Burt wishes to suggest I am; denying this would be foolish.

Naturally, I don’t plan to deny it. If you vote for me, you are getting an inexperienced president, period, end of sentence. You accept this fact the moment you write in my name and send in your ballot. What you have to hope for is that I’m a fast study (and I am) and that I will be competent from the start (which I sincerely hope I will be).

What is going to make a great difference here is whether, if I win, people help me out. One of the great theories I have regarding SFWA is that more members want to do more — SFWA clearly has a great core of volunteers (and I would be remiss in not noting that, despite my philosophical issues with their potential governance, Mr. Capobianco, the other presidential candidate, and Mr. Burt are among them) — but there should be more of us pitching in. This is why on my platform I make explicit a call to service. One of the joys of being a candidate so far is hearing from so many folks who have said “count me in.” I am counting you in, you know. If I win, my next stop is your doorstep.

I am going to need help. I am going to need old SFWA hands to catch me up on history and mechanics and to give me wise counsel (which may include an occasional slap across the head). I am going to need current SFWA hands to exercise generosity with my learning curve while I learn to respond effectively to their needs. I am going to need new members — I hope to God we get them — to bring their enthusiasm into SFWA so we can tap their energy and suck them totally dry in an orgy of initiatives. I want to be as good a leader to SFWA as I hope I can be.

I am going to need help. I hope you will give it to me, and in return I will give you the service I believe SFWA deserves.

As I said, Mr. Burt is entirely correct to point out that I don’t know what what’s going on with many of the committees. But here is a question for you SFWAns: Do you? I at least have the excuse, as I’ve noted a number of times, of having my SFWA membership as an affectation to this point, and not expecting or wanting anything from it. But I know many of you do expect things from SFWA. Has the organization made you feel like it is doing things you need to know? Has it been doing things you feel like you need to be engaged with? Do you feel like SFWA makes a difference to you and wants you to make a difference to it?

To my mind, this is one of the critical things concerning this election. I could name to you every committee that SFWA has and what it’s doing and how, but if you feel like it’s not material to you — and to your career as a speculative fiction writer — then there’s a big problem. And, I believe, this is the situation which faces SFWA today. Some of this has been because of past policy decisions that are at odds with how working writers get things done today; some of it has been that SFWA is opaque and sequesters so much of itself behind a private wall; some of it is because for a volunteer organization, it doesn’t seem to go out of its way to enthuse it members toward service. I do not wish to belittle the good and excellent service SFWAs volunteers give to the organization. They rock. That said, look: the fact that all five positions on the SFWA ballot were uncontested is a symptom of a larger problem.

Mr. Burt is pointing out that many aspects of my platform are not new; this is correct, they’re not. They are what I think SFWA should be doing. Mr. Burt is also pointing out that initiatives similar to what I suggest are underway at SFWA now. I think that’s wonderful; if they are indeed similar to what’s on my platform, than it’ll be less work for me to ramp things up. I didn’t know about a lot of these initiatives. Did you? Do you think that it’s a problem if you didn’t?

I am an inexperienced candidate for president of SFWA. There’s no getting around that. You need to consider that when you vote for me. What I promise to you is this: that should I be elected, I won’t be inexperienced for long. My delightfully obsessive-compulsive ways — the same ones that allow me to tell you the domestic box office of every Hollywood film made since 1991 (residue of my movie critic days) — will force me to learn every nook and cranny of SFWA. I will soon know everything there is to know about SFWA. And be assured I am going to tell you all about it.

Also be assured that I am going to make you part of it. Remember that I said that a vote for me is a vote for an obligation from you to SFWA. I will be on your doorstep.

I am going to need help. If I get it, I think I can be a good president.

104 thoughts on “On Inexperience (A SFWA – Related Post)

  1. I think with any organization like SFWA, the general membership doesn’t have much of a clue about the inner workings. I don’t know if this is true of SFWA or not, but some are very close-lipped about such things.

    It could be argued that inexperience is a drawback, but there isn’t much of a way to get experience except by doing it. IMO, the organization needs someone new. The impression I’ve gotten from the other platforms essentially involves SFWA staying the same. Frankly, it needs a change.

    As for the current initiatives similar to your own, I can’t say I’ve heard anything about it. I’m not a SFWA member, but I would think that if it were something being seriously pushed, there would be some amount of rumorage around the blogosphere about it.

  2. I applaud your push for transparency. Many of our worst problems would disappear if we would insist on transparency.

  3. Very well, John, if you’re in this to win this, you have my vote. I assume that with your inexperience, your election will only make my inevitable coup that much easier.

    But given the very serious problem that the SFWA Forum recently revealed an epidemic of Inappropriate Hugging from which our membership is suffering, I was wondering if you had given my proposal for an official SFWA Do Not Hug Registry much consideration.

    In the event you do decide to implement this Registry as conceived, I should like to volunteer for the position of Grievance Committee chair pro tem, as I don’t believe John Barnes possesses the physical strength required to administer the minimum statutory sentence, let alone the maximum one.

    I admit, I have no special qualifications in this regard myself except for a pair of 19-inch pythons. But that should suffice, don’t you think.

  4. If they’re doing all these great things, it’d be nice for the rest of us to hear about it.

    Cf. the apparent fact that, actually, some writers can get health insurance through SFWA, even if it is limited and expensive — vs. what we’re always told, which is “Can’t do it, too small, too expensive, ask us again two (US) presidential elections from now.”

    Give ‘em hell, John. (And if you hadn’t already, put my volunteer draft card in the deck — although if you put me on a project with Ms. Sterling Casil there will probably be bloodshed.)

  5. Even though I’m not a SFWA member, I have been on fannish boards. My recommendation to you is to start the education process *now*. Ask Mr. Burt just what all those committees are, and who is on them, and what they’re doing *now*. Contact the people involved, and tell them that you’re trying to figure out what you’re getting yourself into.

    The more information you get under the guise of them trying to talk you out of the job, the harder it will be for them to stonewall you later.

    How open is the SFWA leadership? Are there new leaders on the committee on a regular basis, or is it the same twelve people trading titles around? Is the sole candidate essentially a consensus pick, and the membership is just ratifying that?

    I’d be asking a lot more questions *now* if I were you. (Of course, I’d try to get on the board for a couple of years, before running for president, but that’s just me.)

  6. Come on, SFWA is not exactly the Federal Government. How many people belong to it, and how many different boxes can there possibly be on the wiring diagram?

    We routinely elect people to run the Federal Government who have never before run the Federal Government. Some of them even do OK at it! =)

  7. So, whose the President of Pakistan?

    It’s sand in your eyes. Yes, you’ll need to know those committees, but it’s not like you’ve got someone walking behind you with the nuclear football.

  8. President Musharaff. When he was just an unelected general and Pakistan was nukeless, the president was Benazir Bhutto. A Trivial Pursuit card informs me that she was the first head of state to get pregnant while in office.

    Wait, I think I missed your larger point, Steve. :)

  9. I think the proposal that bothered me the most is the wish to promote s.f. amongst the young through the school system. My own 19 year old students thought this would actually force the kids who did read s.f. to give it up because their peers would rag on them for doing something dorky. Fantasy is selling very well. The teachers evidently don’t approve of it because I find my students whose writing shows fantasy influenced descriptive prose are reluctant to admit it.

    If we want to be popular among high school students, we need to stop 40 somethings from doing Powerpoint presentations on our novels to the sophmores (in my particular case, it’s to the college sophmores but I have seen a copy of of the structural analysis of the Alien Trilogy that makes sure that nobody would have to actually read it). We should hire teachers to grab kids who are reading s.f. and tell them what junk it is.

    I remember PNH trying to sell my Alien Trilogy as YA despite a study done by a local bookstore in a college community that showed most of the buyers were over 40 and that when the book was assigned to a class, the kids dumped it in the local used bookstores (amost none of the first 90 copies sold to adults showed up in the local used bookstores).

    One of my present students bought my novel for her parents.

    I don’t think we can solve this problem without publishers hiring some 21 year old acquisition editors who actually know that fandom isn’t typical of s.f. readers, hasn’t been for decades, and particularly wasn’t when SF was really selling well.

    Perhaps you and the Killer Bees were the kinds of people who cared what the teachers recommended and don’t remember being the kids who didn’t want adults to get their world (I remember a son of a poet friend who refused to explain Traveler to us because we were his mom’s age and we couldn’t possibly understand).

    I saw a recent interview of PNH where he was coming to understand that most young readers read maybe five to seven s.f. novels a year. Most readers I’ve talked to in the wild (outside s.f. cons) have been reading s.f. this way for several decades. I’d say that anyone who read much more than this was either very bored, socially isolated, or was planning to become an s.f. professional. I never met a con-going s.f. fan in the wild except once, and that was after I’d sold a couple of novels. The field lost track of its real readers when it decided that fans were the model readers. Our sales reflect that. We’re, on average, doing less well than Billy Collins.

    We’re not part of adolescent culture in the way that fantasy is. We’re shelved in the same shelves in the book stores as the books they do buy, so they can at least see the book jackets. Whatever we’re putting on the book jackets isn’t making us part of their culture.

    The last person I’ve seen reading Asimovs was a guy in his forties at Susan Howe’s poety reading at UPenn’s Kelly Writers House.

    I personally would love to get back the 40 to 60 year olds who made s.f. such a powerful genre in the 60s and 70s, the folks who used to read s.f. I suspect the way to do that is to sell to the New Yorker or McSweeney’s, and to write more sophisticated s.f. like Richard Powers does.

  10. I’m confused. What’s the purpose of the YA committee? Is there a problem getting kids to read YA SF&F?

  11. Rebecca Ore: As I’ve already said to John, it’s not a problem. YA sf and fantasy are absolutely huge right now. Selling gangbusters. Manga—a large chunk of which is sf and fantasy—is doing even better. Genre is not in trouble with folks under 18—it’s the adults that are the problem.

  12. I really wish I could vote for you because I appreciate the honesty in your campaign. You make excellent points, and concede when others have made them before.

    Also, the subtext of “PLEASE GOD DON’T LET ME WIN!” shows through nicely as a sign of honesty.

  13. Wrong-headed experience does not trump inexperience, especially inexperience with an ability to learn (in my everyday job, I’m constantly hiring exactly this–inexperience with an ability to learn–and tho I don’t know you, it’s pretty clear to me that you’ve got it).

    I see reference (from Michael Capobianco specifically, I think) about convincing newer writers to join SFWA despite what they’ve heard. It is much more significant that people are *leaving* SFWA because of what they’ve seen/heard for themselves. People who are active, selling writers who are saying ‘I don’t need this’. I’m a very slow-writing/selling active selling writer and I’ve been contemplating this myself. I don’t think the ability to say ‘hey, I served on a couple of committees’ is what’s needed right now for SFWA to stop being seriouly broken.

  14. Thanks! I thought I had pulled a TCO or something.

    Justine just made the comment that I was basically saying.

  15. I try to stay out of SFWA business, what with my not being a writer, but this whole thing has been fascinating, largely because it’s revealed what appears to be a Standard Format For SFWA Discussions. I think it goes something like this:

    “Hey, here’s something we could try.”

    “Yeah, we talked about trying that, once, back in 1943? And, well, it seemed like a lot of work, and one of our big-name guys got kind of irritated, and then we couldn’t get anyone who wanted to do the work, and, yeah. There’s no point in trying that.”

    “But, uh, the situation may have changed since 1943, it might be worth at least talking about.”

    “Yeah, that’s a nice thought, but you just don’t understand how this organization really works.”

    What I find most striking about this whole “Scalzi for President” thing isn’t that it’s getting attention–John has a billion readers, some kick-ass graphic design, and an adorable daughter. Of course this is going to get attention. No, what I find striking is how many writers (either former members, lapsed/passive members, or eligible non-members) are saying that they’d written SFWA off as a useless organization, but that this write-in campaign would, if successful, bring them back into the fold. If John doesn’t win, I hope for SFWA’s sake that the group finds some other way to use all of this potential energy.

  16. Why Deb, you have a blog! I must add it to my reading list.

    I teach science fiction and fantasy to 18-22 year olds now, and I taught it as part of a program to get writers into the high schools a few years ago.

    In a random sophomore high school classroom, plenty of the 16 year olds were reading fantasy and science fiction. They don’t know the people we think are great; they know other writers. They like Laurel K. Hamilton and Mercedes Lackey and Douglas Adams (well, okay, I do think he’s great) and Robert Jordan. The college students like Charles deLint and Terry Pratchett and Chuck Pahlaniuk (very fabulist, in my opinion).

    Yes, in the classroom of 16 year olds, out of any given 30 students, only 3-4 were fantasy readers, and maybe 15 would have burned the books on the most convenient pyre. But that’s still an interested 10% of the population.

    These kids are *really* excited to talk to anyone else who reads the way they do. They want to talk about this stuff. They want reassurance and they want reading suggestions and they want to be taken seriously by real writers. (In my experience, anyone who walks into a classroom to teach creative writing and who has a few publication credits is an Instant Celebrity with a hefty portion of the class. If you’re lucky enough to be hot, too, you’re an instant object of worship, or so I’m told.)

    I mean, granted, I was only 21/22 when I taught the high school students, and I’m 24 teaching the college students now. So you may have a point in suggesting that actual practical outreach is best done by younger members of SFWA (I am not a member), or at least members who are loose enough to participate in youth culture.

    But my experience doesn’t lead me to believe that fantasy & science fiction are out of tune with high school students. Some of them don’t think it’s cool. But the ones who are reading a bit are hungry for more, and I would imagine that those are the ones best targetted with outreach. They hunger for community.

  17. Having looked over at the newsgroup, I have to say that if I didn’t know better, I would guess that Andrew Burt’s postings were being ghost-written by John’s campaign staff, as part of a subtle strategy to boost his candidacy by making the SFWA establishment seem less appealing. Because, wow. Susan’s got it about right.

  18. “Djscman | March 21, 2007 08:25 AM

    President Musharaff. When he was just an unelected general and Pakistan was nukeless, the president was Benazir Bhutto. A Trivial Pursuit card informs me that she was the first head of state to get pregnant while in office.”

    That will come as something of a surprise to Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, among others.

  19. I guess I should add that it is true, in my experience, that the magazines are not getting to college and high school students.

    The college students know what Asimovs is. Barely.

    On the other hand, they read Strange Horizons. One of my students shows up to class regularly in an SH t-shirt.

  20. “…making the SFWA establishment seem less appealing.”

    I agree with Chad about some of the reactionary comments from Andrew Burt. Many of his posts border on the petulant. And the whole ‘You aren’t ready to be King, but please be a pissboy!’ argument is insulting.

  21. Oh my god, Rachel, seriously? Your students read SH? You have just made me the happiest magazine editor in all of magazine-land.

  22. “Oh my god, Rachel, seriously? Your students read SH? You have just made me the happiest magazine editor in all of magazine-land.”

    Happy to pass on good news. :)

  23. Slightly off-topic, but SFWA related:

    I’m looking at the SFWA qualifying market requirements, with specific regard to Subterranean magazine. It looks like, if I want to suggest that it might qualify, I have to do the evidenciary legwork myself.

    The requirements are:

    5 cents a word, which as I recall it met.

    Publication of one year, at least, which it seems to meet, as a quarterly magazine which is on issue #7.

    Must have a print run or circulation of at least 1000 copies, or equivalent in other media — so this is my question. I have no idea what the circulation is, though I suppose I could ask Schaefer, and I guess I will. I’d also like to ask you, Mr. Scalzi — what’s the download on the issue of Sub#4 that you’re hosting?

    The fourth point seems to apply more to book than magazine publishers — by having published at least ten distinct works by different natural persons during the date range — as I imagine there were more than ten distinct works by different natural persons in any given issue of the magazine.

    Also, does anyone know what counts as evidence? The guidelines state that “Any party may request a venue be evaluated (an applicant, the publisher, another author, etc.) but must submit proof that the market meets the criteria.”

    I have to say “prove your point to me” is kind of daunting for an author with no history of interaction with the organization. How am I supposed to understand the workings of the place well enough to know what they want?

  24. Susan, you characterization covers many longstanding groups from political parties to condo boards. Those at the top have become lazy and resistant to change – many others have gotten frustrated and left.

  25. Rachel:

    “I’d also like to ask you, Mr. Scalzi — what’s the download on the issue of Sub#4 that you’re hosting?”

    I stopped tracking it at about 25K downloads.

  26. ROFL at Steve Buchheit

    I’m not a member of SFWA, never ever thought about it, actually. But it’s fascinating reading all the posts here and discussion on the other site.

    Any yeah, that SFWA site needs a serious overhaul.

  27. Rachel, you wrote:

    I guess I should add that it is true, in my experience, that the magazines are not getting to college and high school students.

    The college students know what Asimovs is. Barely.

    I’m 32, a SF&F fan of long standing, and I totally didn’t know that Asimov’s or any of the other magazines still existed. Until my buddy started writing SF, and needed publication credits, and started chatting with me about his search for qualifying markets. I wasn’t surprised to find out that people still wrote short stories, I just didn’t think anyone published them.

    So if I didn’t know those existed, what chance do YA & college audiences have?

  28. Man, what a pleasure watching this is.

    What about SMOFs? Anyone have the scoop on them? What are they and how do they figure into all of this?

  29. Apparently, you are a rash boy. A rash, rash boy. Oh yeah, and a vote for John Scalzi means that SFWA is going to get sued.

    Reason #12 for why SFWA as an organization will die: “We value no experience other than our own.”

    Good luck with that.

  30. I only learned about the entire realm of fiction magazines when I started submitting. I had one copy of Cricket that I loved, but it never entered my head that there was more than one or that they were for anyone but children. It’s hard to find magazines if you don’t know where to look. They may not last long in bookstores, and they’re hidden away in the periodical section anyway.

  31. As if I didn’thave enough to do over in the election blog, I thought I’d pop over here and note that, if I win th election, I hope that you all will still feel like volunteering to help. I’ll need you, too.

  32. I think the lack of candidate competition in organizations is widespread. I read somewhere that 2% of the people in an organization do 90% of the work. I know that’s true in the organizations I belong to. If more people don’t get involved, burnout becomes a serious factor – people soldier on because they feel obligated, not because of passion. Inexperience can be overcome, apathy usually can’t.

  33. “I hope that you all will still feel like volunteering to help. I’ll need you, too. ”

    Hi, I’m not a member.

    If I qualify, I will probably volunteer.

    But I do sort of want to say that I feel like your requesting that, and Mr. Burt’s requesting that seems a little off-centered, to me. What if people want to volunteer specifically because they support John’s agenda?

  34. Rachel:

    “What if people want to volunteer specifically because they support John’s agenda?”

    If I’m not elected and you still want to support my agenda, one solution is to volunteer to build out whatever aspect of my agenda you are most interested in.

    I’ve noted before that my platform is meant to be open source; to be delightfully melodramatic about it, if I fall feel free to pick up the flag.

    (Mind you, I think my platform will be even better with me the helm; even so.)

  35. Related to Rachel’s point, what about people who have been inactive in SFWA (or actively avoiding SFWA) because of the policies and attitudes of people like Mr. Capobianco and Mr. Burt? I haven’t seen either of those candidates address that angle, or even really acknowledge that it might be a problem. Burt, on the contrary, seems to think that people support Scalzi because they’re like small children, easily led astray by novelty and surprise. Y’all can encourage involvement all you want, but I’m not seeing anyone address the root causes of the current lack of involvement.

  36. “I’ve noted before that my platform is meant to be open source; to be delightfully melodramatic about it, if I fall feel free to pick up the flag.”

    True.

    Although that won’t help with the feeling of disenfranchisement from the organization. Which, you know, I don’t feel, because I’m not a member. But which I hear people talk about feeling.

    “what about people who have been inactive in SFWA (or actively avoiding SFWA) because of the policies and attitudes of people like Mr. Capobianco and Mr. Burt?”

    Yeah, that’s what I was trying to get at.

  37. “What about SMOFs? Anyone have the scoop on them? What are they and how do they figure into all of this?”

    SMOFs is an internet mailing list for discussions among people involved in organizing and running SF conventions. It has no particular connection to SFWA.

  38. With inexperience comes running headlong into a wall. With experience comes habits and ruts.
    So, the devil you know or the one you don’t?

  39. Well, if you run into a wall, at least there are now bacon band-aids – No kidding!

    But this is great news – The SFWA leadership sounds much like a Con Committee that feels the Con would be better if it didn’t have all those looser sci-fi fans coming in to wreck the panels.

  40. I suspect John Scalzi’s fervent hope that anyone like-minded who was willing to run as a write-in candidate for VP “please please please be competent”–because he’ll need the help, presumably–has sparked Andrew Burt’s constant use of the word “competent” on the newsgroup (great good entertainment; perfect for distracting me from a long proofread). Burt thinks it implies that he is INcompetent. That’s not what Scalzi said. Maybe somebody could point that out to Mr. Burt? (Or DID Scalzi call him incompetent somewhere? I’ve been looking, but I can’t find any such statement.)

  41. Joy Freeman:

    I do not believe that I have called Mr. Burt incompetent in a SFWA/SFF.net public forum. Nor do I intend to.

  42. Sorry my last post was garbled. I’m used to a system where you can go back and correct errors after the message has been posted, and I do that frequently.

    Susan, if you don’t mind, could you let me know which of my policies and attitudes you dislike so much? And I’m a bit curious about your use of the phrase “people like Mr. Capobianco,” since, as far as I know, there is no one quite like me. Do I fall into a category that I’m unaware of?

    I think anyone who wants to volunteer for a SFWA led by Mr. Scalzi should also consider volunteering for one led by me. Why? Because I can tell from reading John’s comments that he and I have very similar goals and aspirations for the organization; only the priorities are different.

  43. “I’m not saying you’re a bad person; I rather like you.”
    Wow. What would be saying about you if he didn’t like you?

  44. Michael– I don’t personally have an opinion on your professional attitudes and policies. I’m not a SFWA member, and I have no intention of ever being a SFWA member. As I said earlier in this thread, I’m not even a writer. I have an interest in SFWA because it has some peripheral effect on my work as an editor, but SFWA business is not my business.

    That said, I tend to assume that if people are opposing your bid for the presidency, they probably have some reason for doing so. Spectating from out here in the cheap seats, I haven’t seen you address those reasons. What I -have- seen is a lot of people who have up until now considered SFWA to be (at best) irrelevant starting to come forward and saying that something about a Scalzi presidency would change their mind. If you want to actually bring those same people on board during a Capobianco presidency, you’d be well served trying to figure out what they’re seeing in John that they aren’t seeing in you.

    Like I said, SFWA business isn’t really my business. I can’t tell you what those people’s reasons are, because I don’t know. But I think it might be in your best interest, or at least in SFWA’s best interest, to really try and figure it out.

  45. (trolling on, let it through the filter, damnit) Who cares about how much you know about SFWA, or how dedicated you’ve been? You have a funny website and cute wife and kid, and are all hip with the Stross/Gaiman crowd. Isn’t that what’s important? (/trolling on, let it through the filter, damnit)

    Maybe it would be better and mean more if you slogged a bit in the salt mines of a committee before going for the big job? If you don’t get the title, will you be head-down, butt-up working hard on a committee?

  46. TCO:

    Oddly enough, Mr. Burt feels the same thing. However, there’s not much point toiling in the boiler room if you feel the ship is heading for the rocks.

    You may be assured that should I not win the election I will choose be engaged in SFWA in some way.

  47. I’m not a SFWA member but I did want to weigh in on the issue of YA Sci Fi and Fantasy. I review YA titles for Bookslut every month and get a ridiculous amount of books a year from publishers both large and small. Very very few of them are Sci Fi titles written for teens. There is a lot of fantasy (obviously) but Sci Fi – not so much, at least not that I’m seeing. I reviewed Ann Halam’s Siberia last year and I was pretty much the only person talking about it. Life as We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer did very well, but that’s about the only other SF title I can think of off the top of my head. (I’m sure there are more and they will come to me later.)

    There are a crazy amount of YA reviewing blogs out there in the kidlitosphere but I hardly ever hear about a SF title on any of them. It’s not that I don’t want to review YA SF (and I’m sure they feel the same way) – it’s that I can’t seem to find it. (One I am happy with is Connie Willis’ new novella D.A. – I’m reviewing it in my June column as perfect for teens. But that’s from Subterranean Press and they are very good about staying in touch with reviewers.)

    I don’t know what needs to be done about this – or how SFWA could do something, but I did want to let you know, John. I want to review new YA SF, but even from Tor, I’m not seeing a lot of it. It might be helpful if the YA Committee could find a way to get to people like me, so I could spread the word even more. (As you know, Bookslut gets a crazy amount of visitors.)

  48. Well, Mr. Capobianco,

    I’d start with your apparent support of Andrew Burt as one policy that I find disturbing.

    You appear very much the status quo with the “we’ve already done that” and “we lack the institutional memory for long term projects”

    You seem to think there is a problem with young adults getting into Sf&F, I think Rowling proved you just have to write a book that they like. It’s a novel idea…

    What I don’t understand is how is SFWA helping YOU and Burt be more successful as professional SF Writers? It seems that you both are doing it for a sense of power and ego.

    And the condescension is just DRIPPING all over that forum from the two of you. More from Burt, admittedly.

    I know your question wasn’t directed at me, but I thought I would answer anyway.

    And this doesn’t mean I think either of you are bad people. I’m just not sure I could follow you or Burt. And I would never volunteer for an organization where I don’t have faith in the leadership.

  49. Colleen: Is that supply-side issue or demand-side (do teens buy SF books anymore, or especially new SF)?

    John: first and second paras don’t gibe.

  50. Pat: Don’t make me get stern with you. You are a wannabe and an obstreperous one.

    Mike: Watch out. Pat is a slippery one. Don’t fall for his tricks. Let me hug-defend you.

  51. I’m reading about this election thing with interest. I’m not a member of sfwa. I don’t actually qualify to be a member of sfwa – i need one more short story sale to do that. or a novel sale, but let’s talk about something I could actually accomplish in this calendar year.

    but up until very recently I didn’t give a hoot. It wasn’t like I was going to join sfwa anyway. once I got a better look at what the organization is actually like, I realized that I would be giving away perfectly good money that could actually do something useful for me instead. like new shoes. i’m rather fond of shoes.

    it’s only this announcement that has gotten me interested. because the platform presented actually shows evidence of being useful. I’m interested because mr. scalzi here has said that this is what he wants to do.

    the responders who said, “well you’re not bringing up anything new, so that’s not a good enough reason to elect you” don’t see my perspective – if you already thought of it, why isn’t it done? and why should I trust *you* to do it this time? hmm?

  52. TCO – Did you just call me FAT? You’re the one who’s going to need a good hug defense. I’ll hug you sweetly until you bawl like a little girl.

    And I have no shame in my wanna-be status. Although, I prefer to think of it as gonna-be.

    I also have higher personal standards of what makes someone “Professional” as a writer than the SFWA requirements.

  53. Pat: It’s sad, but I can’t tell if you are joking about the FAT remark, or honestly don’t know the word. But if we talk any more, we will need a room.

    Chelsea: Aren’t you awash in money? I thought all wannabes were rolling in it?

    John: I’m starting to eat food. Let it go…

  54. Colleen: Is that supply-side issue or demand-side (do teens buy SF books anymore, or especially new SF)?

    Tao:
    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it is supply side. This is just my opinion (and I don’t have access to publishing figures) but I don’t see the SF titles in the catalogs like I see Fantasy, Horror (We are crazy with vampires), Romance, Mystery, Coming-0f-Age, “struggling to deal with dead parent”, etc. It is really hard for me to believe there is not a market for it when it was so many teenagers who bought tickets to the recent Star Wars movies, War of the Worlds, I, Robot etc. And teenagers are reading Y, the Last Man and other comic book titles that would have to be classified as SF.

    I might be missing it but every major publisher sends catalogs my way (Random House, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Harcourt, Houghton Mifflin, FS&G, Tor, Bloomsbury, Candlewick, Henry Holt, etc.) and I don’t see hardly any SF at all. Even graphic novels are starting to show up more and more but not much SF. I have the Nebula Awards Showcase anthology and plan to include that in a column later this year (with other anthologies), and also Philip Reeve’s Larklight which will be reviewed this summer. My review of Rebecca Rupp’s middle grade SF adventure, Journey to the Blue Moon, will also be up shortly.

    (I requested Eoin Mcnamee’s Navigator but never received a copy – it sounds great though.)

    If the books were out there I think they would be read, so I wonder just how SFWA could persuade YAs to read more SF, if there isn’t a lot of SF to choose from.

  55. Colleen: I’m concerned that you are not thinking with depth or curiousity about the problem. Is it not at least possible, that the reason that there is little YA SF, has to do with supply side? THat the reason for you not seeing much product from publishers, is that they are responding to the market. Theoretical efficient markets economics would go this way. (And sure markets may not be perfectly efficient, but it is often the case that they are rather so…) Seconadarily, given the overall drop in SF in market demand, isn’t it possible/likely that youngsters are dropping of more than oldsters? That oldsters are following a different, older zeitgeist? LAstly, media SF is contracting from what it was 10-20 years ago as well. In addition, tie-ins are a whole different (lesser) ball of wax.

  56. TCO:

    Well obviously it is possibly a demand issue and yes, I have thought about that. But I don’t believe that teens who will watch SF movies or read SF comics will not also read SF books. (And I do get your tie-in argument.)

    Could there be tons of SF books for YA audiences making their way to agents and editors every year only to be turned back? It’s possible. But I read about literally thousands of books a year across the publishing spectrum, and the number of SF titles for YAs is very small in comparison to all other genres and categories for that age group. If it is indeed because of perceived low demand and not supply, then I would suggest that SFWA try in some way to combat that. I do not belong to the group and could not offer up suggestions as to what SFWA could do as they may reflect a lack of knowledge as to how the organization works and thus be poorly received. However as several people have mentioned on this site and others that getting teens to read SF is a priority, I’m just saying that as a reviewer who specifically looks for SF for young adults (middle grade age and older) I don’t see much of it at all out there.

    I’d love to know why that’s the case.

  57. Colleen, thanks for hanging through my pugnacious style. I prefer to teach by pain. That said, you still don’t really get it. Yuou don’t need thousands of novels being turned back to prove it is a demand effect (although it helps). As I said before, the supply can adjust to the demand. Capisce?

  58. Dude you are not going to get me to agree that there are practically no YA SF novels (or anthologies or collections) being published solely because of demand.

    I reviewed a YA western last year. How many readers do you think there are for those books?

    (And I’m okay with your style – I don’t take it personally!)

  59. I’m not trying to get you to agree with me. I’m trying to get you to be a sophisticated thinker. It’s ok. at least you are not sensative, like Nick-wimp.

  60. Cassie, “ROFL at Steve Buchheit”

    Well, I hope you’re laughing *with* me. But I can deal with the other. My jester’s hat is on the coat rack by the door.

  61. LAstly, media SF is contracting from what it was 10-20 years ago as well. In addition, tie-ins are a whole different (lesser) ball of wax.

    BTW – Where’s your proof of that?

  62. It seems like this thread is starting to degenerate, but I did want to address Susan and Patrick’s comments. First, I have to say it would be difficult for me to address unvoiced reasons why people are opposing my election. I do have a sense that John and I have different opinions of the future of publishing, and I welcome getting into a discussion about that, hopefully over on the election blog. My sense is that the main reason people are opposing me at the moment is that they like John, and, obviously, there’s not much I can say about that. It’s difficult not to like John.

    To Patrick: I support Andrew for two main reasons. First, he knows computers and will be invaluable in bringing SFWA and the webpage further into the 21st century, and second, he has accomplished a lot of very specific things for SFWA over the last five years. Derryl Murphy has been an invaluable member of the Board who has also put a great deal of work into the organization, and I would be happy to have him as my VP, but I feel that Andrew would help me get more things done. I’ve worked with them both over the years, and I like them both.

    I’m not arbitrarily saying that SFWA has problems with institutional memory that hamper its ability to do large projects. I’ve been studying it for fifteen years, ever since I became Treasurer in 1992. There have been problems in the past, serious problems, caused by this lack of memory. We lost our Trademarks, for one, because they were not renewed in a timely fashion, and had to spend a lot of money and time getting them back. I could go on for hours.

    More later. Lost has finished recording, and it’s time to go watch.

  63. Michael Capobianco:

    “It seems like this thread is starting to degenerate”

    Heh. Don’t confuse a couple of folks farting around with degenerating; it’s just late night around here.

    I do appreciate you taking the time to come over and discuss things, Michael. Thank you.

  64. I can voice some concerns, but I’m still not a member. :)

    It seems to me, watching this debate, that Scalzi is coming to this discussion from the perspective that there’s something SFWA is doing wrong, that it’s not living up to its potential as a professional organization, that it isn’t doing things that are useful for professional writers, and that it could do those things, but has lacked the will to do so. Perhaps I am misrepresenting his position, certainly in details, but that is the overarching sense I have gotten from his posts here and on the election blog.

    It seems to me, watching this debate and reading your platform, that you, Michael, are happy with what SFWA has been and currently is.

    That’s a big difference. Again, I’m not a member, but I frequently hear people voice the issues that John has brought up — that SFWA is not useful, that it moves exceedingly slowly, and that it runs itself based on an outdated paradigm.

    From my limited knowledge of Scalzi, I see him possessing the knowledge and savvy about the electronic age to begin updating that paradigm.

    Again, as an outsider, basing my feelings on what I’m hearing second-hand and reading in the public forums, it seems to me that it’s not that you couldn’t update to a new paradigm, but that you have been content as part of the old guard to maintain the paradigm as it currently exists. (I have now used up my quota of the word paradigm for the day.)

    You say that your platform is similar to John’s, but they didn’t read similarly to me at all – again as an outsider. Also, you say that you want the same things for the organization, but you are saying that within (it seems to me) the framework that SFWA is working, while John seems to be making his suggestions with the assumption that SFWA isn’t.

    When other people say they have reservations about you or “your kind of candidacy” or whatever it was, that’s what I’m hearing. Maybe I’m totally misinterpreting. But it seemed to me that you said specifically that you wanted the reservations voiced, so I’m giving voice to what I’m seeing, again as an observer. Perhaps I’m entirely wrong.

  65. I can voice some concerns, but I’m still not a member. :)

    It seems to me, watching this debate, that Scalzi is coming to this discussion from the perspective that there’s something SFWA is doing wrong, that it’s not living up to its potential as a professional organization, that it isn’t doing things that are useful for professional writers, and that it could do those things, but has lacked the will to do so. Perhaps I am misrepresenting his position, certainly in details, but that is the overarching sense I have gotten from his posts here and on the election blog.

    It seems to me, watching this debate and reading your platform, that you, Michael, are happy with what SFWA has been and currently is.

    That’s a big difference. Again, I’m not a member, but I frequently hear people voice the issues that John has brought up — that SFWA is not useful, that it moves exceedingly slowly, and that it runs itself based on an outdated paradigm.

    From my limited knowledge of Scalzi, I see him possessing the knowledge and savvy about the electronic age to begin updating that paradigm.

    Again, as an outsider, basing my feelings on what I’m hearing second-hand and reading in the public forums, it seems to me that it’s not that you couldn’t update to a new paradigm, but that you have been content as part of the old guard to maintain the paradigm as it currently exists. (I have now used up my quota of the word paradigm for the day.)

    You say that your platform is similar to John’s, but they didn’t read similarly to me at all – again as an outsider. Also, you say that you want the same things for the organization, but you are saying that within (it seems to me) the framework that SFWA is working, while John seems to be making his suggestions with the assumption that SFWA isn’t.

    When other people say they have reservations about you or “your kind of candidacy” or whatever it was, that’s what I’m hearing. Maybe I’m totally misinterpreting. But it seemed to me that you said specifically that you wanted the reservations voiced, so I’m giving voice to what I’m seeing, again as an observer. Perhaps I’m entirely wrong.

  66. Colleen-I agree thath there isn’t much YA sf-I used to literacy tutor,and YA f&SF books are great for adults learning to read(if you really want my spiel email me) but mostly I’ve seen fantasy and not much SF-thought if you haven’t looked at Scott Westerfeld you ought too.

  67. Back again. Lost is getting pretty freaky.

    I’m not sure where Patrick got the idea that I’m against young adults getting into sf&f. Although I was initially reluctant to support the creation of the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF&F, mainly because I think giving awards is secondary to the main purpose of SFWA, I am now a full supporter, and I really want Life As We Knew It, which is on the ballot for the award this year, to win. I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Gods of Mars in my elementary school library when I was in the fourth grade, and it changed my life. I would love it if SFWA could facilitate that kind of discovery in elementary and high schools today, but that’s a very large order. Mystery Writers of America has a wonderful program called Kids love a Mystery, that is exactly the kind of thing SFWA can do if we can put together a small cadre of dedicated volunteers.

    You ask what SFWA does for me, and if I’m running for office for reasons of power and ego. I’m not a member of SFWA to get things from it, I’m a member of SFWA so I can contribute to it. Think of it sort of like the Sierra Club for author advocacy; I want to help the ecology. And the idea that becoming President will give a person power is an old, old joke in SFWA. You herd cats, you don’t give orders.

    It doesn’t appear that John thinks I’m condescending to him, but sometimes I do get carried away trying to explain things, and I can see how it might seem that way. Sorry.

  68. TCO asked: Aren’t you awash in money? I thought all wannabes were rolling in it?

    I *would be* rolling in it if the darned bank would release the darned funds from the darn cheque that I got from selling a story to Baen’s Universe, darn it…

    I hope they release it soon. I rashly asked somebody out on a dinner date to help me celebrate, and I’m going to look awfully dumb if the cheque hasn’t cleared by the time I have to make good.

  69. I think I’d agree that Rachel’s assessment looks like a good characterization of the debate/campaign from outside of SFWA. And that prompts me to weigh in with my own take. Background first: I’ve been in SFWA since its official online community was on GEnie (yikes!), initially as an affiliate [I was reviewing SF/F for DragonĀ® Magazine at the time] and then as an active member.

    Michael can certainly be seen as an “old guard” Presidential candidate; he’s held the position before, oversaw an important Bylaws codification project in the late 1990s, and has been an active voice in SFWA policy circles for many years. His leadership style tends toward that of a facilitator and consensus-builder, and can also be characterized as meticulous.

    John can certainly be seen as an “outsider” candidate; he’s been involved with very few SFWA ventures in any formal way, although I believe he’s taken part at least intermittently in some of the online discussions SFWA members have had of Internet-driven changes in publishing and the attendant issues of copyright doctrine raised thereby. I have little personal basis for evaluating John’s leadership style save his campaign posts, but from what I’ve seen I’d expect it to be “activist” and slanted toward a front-line, action-oriented working style.

    To frame it via analogy, if SFWA were Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, I’d cast John Scalzi as Ty Pennington, and Michael Capobianco as the foreman of the weekly homebuilder’s construction crew.

    In recent years, SFWA’s experiences with “activist” Presidents have on the whole been difficult and often contentious. By contrast, its experiences with “facilitator” Presidents have been calmer, and to my mind at least, have resulted in more overall productivity.

    As to their issue-oriented positions, I don’t think they’re nearly as far apart as the meta-discussion makes them appear — in large part because I think the perception that SFWA is ignoring the evolving 21st-century publishing landscape is inaccurate.

    In fact, over the last couple of years, SFWA has very definitely been wrestling with various of the rights and copyright issues raised by the forces of ‘Net-driven publishing and information-sharing. There have been initiatives to address proposed copyright law changes (specifically vis-a-vis orphan copyrights), to evaluate and respond to Amazon content initiatives (Search Inside the Book, Amazon Shorts), and to act more strongly against instances of electronic piracy.

    But “wrestling” is all too apt a term, because among our large and diverse membership we’ve got folks with sharply divergent opinions on just what SFWA ought to be doing and how we should reinvent ourselves to deal with new publishing paradigms — and we’ve not yet reached anything like consensus on many of the more complex questions. That will take time no matter who’s in charge, and actually implementing any such re-invention will take more time and effort.

    My conclusion? I think this election is really more about style than it is about substance; it may also be that we’re about due for an “activist” President, having had mostly facilitators in the last two or three administrations. We shall see….

  70. Michael,

    The more I reflect, I realize that my opposition* of you is really more against Andrew. I can understand that his computer knowledge seems vast, but having been in the industry for over a decade myself as product and project manager among other titles, I am not impressed. In fact, I often spend more time with *his kind* explaining that the engine is not NEARLY as important as the interface.

    See, Andrew is an engine designer. Often you end up with a phenomenal engine and tires, but a bucket and five sticks to drive with.

    And because he understands engines, he beats people up who understand drivers and basic car functionality, but not the details of engines. And he’s VERY impressive to people who don’t know anything about cars, but want to buy one.

    Honestly, I started out mentally supporting you over John. That’s changed. Mostly because of Andrew. Partly because John describes himself as a fireman. A problem solver. That’s basically my role, too. And it’s probably why I am so interested in this election. Problems and ineffectiveness drive me insane.

    And I love the herding cats analogy. If John truly is a fireman, he knows that most of the time, the problem is a social one. Not a technical one. Herding cats are easy. Bring in a BIG DOG. Most of the time, you find out you really have a few Big Cats and a lot of puppies behaving as cats. A Big Dog searches for the other dogs or brings in other dogs until the big cats get into line or wander off.

    Herding cats is easy. Just find the puppies.

    So, some of my perception of you is a reflection of my perception of Andrew. I apologize for that.

    (*I’m not a member, so I technically can’t oppose you.)

    (**And I say that from a few simple observations in the electionblog, I may be wrong, but I can usually peg people in a few interactions)

  71. Steve, of course I’m laughing with you. The “president of Pakistan” question had me snickering for a good hour.

  72. Colleen –
    I’d love to get into a detailed discussion with you about the current status of YA in SF/Fantasy. I’ve been covering it for years, and I don’t have too much trouble finding it on the shelves when I peruse the bookstores, in the regular SF section, the Young Adult section and the Young Reader (or whatever they call it) section. The trick isn’t finding it… it’s finding time to read everything that interests me, and even then, despite the catalogues and in-person searching, I find I’ve missed out on a lot of things. (Oh, scrolling back up, I see where you were specifically addressing the -science fiction- aspect, and not, say, the fantasy, romance, etc. I agree. Looking at my current stacks, SF is rather lacking. Hmmm.)

    But rather than divert the trail of this discussion even more, mind if I email you to talk shop sometime? Always nice to meet someone else interested in the YA angle of things. :>

  73. “In recent years, SFWA’s experiences with “activist” Presidents have on the whole been difficult and often contentious. By contrast, its experiences with “facilitator” Presidents have been calmer, and to my mind at least, have resulted in more overall productivity.”

    Heya,

    Thanks for taking the time to address my post.

    To clarify: I am basing my comments not just on reading these posts, but also on listening to various professionals with whom I have come in contact talk about SFWA, over the period of a couple years.

    Almost every person I’d met talked about SFWA as an affectation — or, frequently, as an affectation that had become useless enough that the speaker had dropped the affiliation.

    From that, it seems easy to conclude that something is off-kilter. I would rather trust someone who believes something is wrong than someone who believes everything is honky dory. And that’s what I have heard a bit from current SFWA members outside the halls of the blogs. Their analyses, frankly, do not match yours. So while I’m sure there are many pieces of information I’m missing, I don’t think that the insider view necessarily leads to your conclusions.

    Although I’m not a SFWA pro, I am in an exclusive community of writers through my MFA program, which is prestigious and has a vested interest in maintaining exclusivity. Some of the games and arguments feel familiar.

    And while I am not a SFWA pro, I do expect I will be one within the next couple years. Therefore, I consider it to be in my best interests for SFWA to be a viable organization that can address my needs as a writer. If it manages to get that way before the ink is dry on the check from my third pro sale – so much the better.

    I’m sure many of your points stand, and I do appreciate your taking the time to clarify. I understand your position better now than I did before.

  74. ….it seems easy to conclude that something is off-kilter. I would rather trust someone who believes something is wrong than someone who believes everything is honky dory.

    I wouldn’t for a moment argue that SFWA is problem-free; indeed, it’s an organization facing serious challenges — some of which have been identified and discussed in the present campaign, both within and outside SFWA proper.

    So while I’m sure there are many pieces of information I’m missing, I don’t think that the insider view necessarily leads to your conclusions.

    As indeed it doesn’t, since there really isn’t anything resembling a unified “insider view” of SFWA. I merely offered a counterpoint and alternate perspective, which isn’t any more authoritative than anyone else’s.

    I will make one observation: it isn’t necessary, to be an “Active” member of SFWA to derive benefit from the membership (or contribute to the organization’s growth and development). I joined initially as an affiliate, and my third pro sale was a direct result of my SFWA membership and the online networking access it enabled.

  75. “I will make one observation: it isn’t necessary, to be an “Active” member of SFWA to derive benefit from the membership (or contribute to the organization’s growth and development). I joined initially as an affiliate, and my third pro sale was a direct result of my SFWA membership and the online networking access it enabled.”

    Absolutely.

    However, who can claim associate status is related to the bones of contention in the election.

    To take me personally, I have a sale to an anthology coming out from Night Shade Books. If the LMP thing gets stricken, then I believe I can claim this as a pro sale. If it doesn’t, I can’t.

    Both candidates have spoken in support of striking the LMP thing. But it was John’s candidacy which seems to have made it a matter of public debate. Various posters on the election blog say that striking the LMP qualification has been something that the board has been meaning to put up for vote for a while — but it hasn’t been done. Maybe with people stirred up about it, something will happen that will facilitate the measure getting on the ballot. Otherwise, the status quo seems to suggest inertia.

    Or that’s how it seems from here, given that the former president of SFWA didn’t know what Subterranean Press was or that it was the LMP requirement which was the only thing preventing some of the “small presses” from gaining recognition.

    Frankly, I have to admit, the conversation on that other thread shocked me. I’d known SFWA wasn’t totally teh awesome, but I was really surprised to see the level of ignorance about the landscape of science fiction publishing. When I’ve in the past gone to look at the SFWA list of markets, I assumed that there was some… systemic process which suggested which markets were pro and which weren’t. I never dreamed the issue was just that *no one was paying attention.*

    On the election blog, someone pointed out that they thought it should be SFWA’s job to actively keep abreast of the landscape of scienec fiction publishing. Someone else replied that “the system was working.”

    And maybe it is; I guess that depends on your goals. If you agree with PNH that part of SFWA’s job is to be aware of the lanscape of SF publishing, then maybe the system isn’t working.

  76. Michael:

    Of course you can email me – colleenatchasingraydotcom.

    You can also visit the site (chasingray.com) where I actually talk about this very subject today. I did some looking at YA SF on publishers’ sites last night and found that most are tagged any number of things other SF (adventure, thriller, gothic horror, etc.) I thought that was fairly interesting.

    But please don’t let me get things off track around here – email when you have a chance.

  77. See, Andrew is an engine designer. Often you end up with a phenomenal engine and tires, but a bucket and five sticks to drive with.

    And because he understands engines, he beats people up who understand drivers and basic car functionality, but not the details of engines. And he’s VERY impressive to people who don’t know anything about cars, but want to buy one.

    That is an excellent analogy to sum up the many reasons Andrew is not the person to bring SFWA’s web presence into the 21st century.

  78. In response to Susan’s comment about the “Standard Format For SFWA Discussions”: I think this is a tricky issue.

    Because, yeah, it’s true that in any organization that’s been around for a while there’ll be some institutional inertia, and some old-guard people saying “We can’t change X because that’s that way it’s always been done.”

    But on the other hand, in any organization that’s been around for a while there’ll be some new people coming in and saying “OMG I don’t like X, so it must be wrong and evil and bad, and obviously it can’t be hard to change it because I, having thought about it for ten seconds, see no obstacles; therefore, the fact that you people haven’t changed it yet means that you’re slow-moving and incompetent and irrelevant, so get out of my way!”

    And fairly often, by a couple of years later, the firebrand new people are joining the old guard in telling the new new people “Well, we tried to change X, but it turns out to be a lot harder to change than we thought, and the issue is a lot more complicated than we thought, and we couldn’t all decide on what the right solution was, so maybe it’s best to leave it alone for now.” (And the new new people say “OMG get out of my way you slow-moving dinosaurs!” and the cycle continues.)

    This happens in politics all the time, of course: the outsider campaign, talking about all the horrible things that go on in Washington and how what’s needed is new blood to go in and wipe out the corruption and Get Things Done. And sometimes those energetic outsiders do get some things done, but often what they learn is just how hard it is to get things done.

    In SFWA, from my intermittent observations [1], I think that a lot (though not all) of the slowness to change comes from a mix of the following items:

    What John C. Bunnell said: “we’ve got folks with sharply divergent opinions on just what SFWA ought to be doing [...] and we’ve not yet reached anything like consensus on many of the more complex questions.” This may be one of the biggest, and most easily underestimated, factors.

    Relatedly, “sharply divergent opinions” is an understatement. It seems to me that a fair number of members appear, at any given time, to be engaged in serious feuds of various sorts with other members.

    Relatedly, some people (including, yes, some who’ve been around for a while) like things the way they are and don’t want them to change. In some cases that’s comfort with the status quo; in some cases it may be general dislike of change, or fear of technology they don’t understand, or worry about what’s going to happen to their livelihoods, or plenty of other factors.

    The bylaws are (or at least were until recently) extremely difficult to change, due to the requirements for numbers of voters.

    Relatedly, a fair number of members don’t participate in the votes — perhaps due to apathy, perhaps due to busyness, perhaps for other reasons.

    The organization does have a history, and many of the people who’ve been heavily involved in that history (and remember it) are still in the organization, and if you want to do X, chances are that someone will remember why the organization originally chose not to do X, and will also remember that the last five times anyone tried to do X, it didn’t work, for all sorts of reasons, some of which are still true.

    And that last bullet point seems to me to be mostly what you’re talking about, but I think you’re oversimplifying. In some cases it’s not so much “We tried that in 1943,” but rather “We tried that in 2003, and the scars are still fresh.” And in some cases a significant reason why changing X still won’t work is that half of the organization still isn’t speaking to the other half because of how badly the last attempt went. As for the sense (I think you were indicating this, though I’m not sure) that the old guard is being dismissive without explaining why: trying to carefully explain why you think the conditions that prevented X from changing before still apply can get tiring after a while, especially when you have to tell the same thing to every group of new people who come in all fired up about changing X.

    I’m sort of flailing here, but one of the important things that I’m trying to get at is that internal politics appears to me to be a huge factor in getting things done in SFWA. If a new person comes along and manages to sufficiently alienate enough of the membership that they can’t do anything without facing huge opposition, you end up with gridlock, just like in politics.

    Now, I’m not saying that Scalzi is alienating too many of the SFWA old guard to achieve anything; and Scalzi has said from the start that he doesn’t necessarily expect to be able to achieve everything on his platform. So I don’t intend the above as a complaint about Scalzi, nor as a reason not to vote for him.

    And it’s true that sometimes (in any organization) new people do bring fresh perspectives and new ways of doing things, and sometimes they’re very successful in implementing cool new changes. And they’re probably more likely to implement changes than are the people who are sure the changes can’t work.

    But I do think (and I’ve seen this countless times, from both sides, in all sorts of organizations) that it’s easy to underestimate the difficulty of changing things, and that it’s very easy to assume that there can’t possibly be any good reason for things being the way they are; and that sometimes that resistance to change is not just an imaginary roadblock thrown up by people who’ve been around for a while. Sometimes there really are good reasons that X is hard to change, and sometimes people who’ve been around for a while and know those reasons get impatient with having to explain the reasons over and over to new people.

    I’m not saying there isn’t any resistance-for-its-own-sake to change in SFWA. I’m just saying that I don’t think that’s the only thing that’s going on.

     

    [1] I confess that I haven’t read much SFWA internal discussion lately; some of the ones I’ve read in the past were so full of vituperation that they reminded me of the worst of Usenet. So my observations are largely based on a few brief forays into the online forums now and then over the past five or six years, and occasional perusal of the paper Forum.

  79. It occurred to me only after posting all of that that a fair bit of what I wanted to say could have been summed up by a brief response to Patrick:

    I agree that the problem is often a social one. But I very much doubt that you’re going to find a dog big enough to herd the cats of SFWA.

    In fact, unless I’m seriously misunderstanding your metaphor (which is entirely possible), I don’t agree that a big dog is the right way to herd cats at all. I think it tends to result either in all the cats leaving (in which case it’s rather a Pyrrhic victory–you’ve won, but there’s nobody left in the organization), or in the cats temporarily teaming up to drive off the dog.

  80. Jed – I could go on with that metaphor. I suspect Rob Sawyer was a Big Dog and got run off. I don’t know what happened there. The thing I see in John isn’t barking. He’s saying I need help. He’s calling to his pack, some of which has already been alienated, some of which is behaving like cats. Yeah, he may chase some off, but I suspect he’ll make up for that in new pack members.

    There are certainly more dynamics here than I am aware of. I understand that. And John might not be a big enough dog or have a big enough pack.

    Sure there are some fanatics(Big Cats) that you may lose. And I’m sure they are of the caliber that you don’t want to lose. But you are faced with adapt or die. Many recognize that. Sometimes addition by subtraction is necessary.

    My original fear was that John was going to come in and stomp around and then get run off. But what I have seen of his approach makes me change my mind. John’s not pretending to have all the answers. He just knows there need to be answers. I don’t have that concern anymore.

    Seeing how John moderates his own endeavors, it’s pretty clear he can handle the job he is applying for.

    From the outside it seems the biggest gap tends to be in the copyright infringement debate and electronic rights.

    This isn’t as hard to solve as many see it.

    Lost revenue to e-piracy is a myth perpetuated by fearmongers who want to sell you technology to combat it, thus protecting your revenue.

    Microsoft would not exist today without “e-piracy”. Microsoft!

    Someone needs to have a rational non-inflammatory discussion and allay the fears.

    No?

  81. I think probably one of the least mentioned things that John Scalzi would (and obviously already has) bring to SWFA is a much higher public profile. What Scalzi contends, in part, SFWA needs is a higher public profile. Scalzi is clearly web and blob savvy, having made some of his non-fiction income from solely on-line endeavours in the past. People are perking up with interest because Scalzi already has a public profile, and people in general feel comfortable with, or confident in, his projected public voice.

    Whatever else you can say for Scalzi, if he’s at the helm, low profile or invisibility is likely to be much less of a problem.

    Okay, I’m reading page proofs now. Honest.

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