A Gut Check Moment for SFWA

(Note: this is a long rant about SFWA. If you don’t care about SFWA, you can skip it. If you do care, get a snack.)

A question from the peanut gallery:

Since you’re not running for SFWA president, do you mind sharing your thoughts about that race this year?

Not at all. Basically, this is the year SFWA decides whether it has a future or not.

(For those of you who don’t know, SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; I’m a member and last year I ran a write-in campaign for the president’s seat. I lost.)

There are two people running for SFWA President this year: Russell Davis, SFWA’s current Western Regional Director, and Andrew Burt, who is the current vice-president. Davis has posted his qualifications and platform here, and I think both are more than satisfactory; Davis has worked at nearly every level of SF/F publishing as a writer and editor, which gives him needed insight into the industry, and his platform is eminently sensible and says a number of the things I think are right about SFWA, particularly the part about it needing to get its own house in order on a nuts-and-bolts level. He’ll be getting my vote this year.

As for Andrew Burt, I think he would be a fine president too, as long as what SFWA members want to do is publicly and enthusiastically cut the organization’s throat.

Some of this estimation, you can be assured, is personal, and it does me no good to pretend it’s not, so take that for what it is. I’ve had the misfortune of dealing with Burt in one form or another for a few years now in his capacity as a SFWA official or functionary; in my opinion it might be possible to find a better example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but if there is one you’d better hope they don’t work with anything critical to the public, like nuclear power or immunizations. The best I can say about Burt is that he falls into the “means well” category of unintentional menace, although in my experience the petulance and pettiness he indulges in after people are inexplicably unappreciative of his latest well-intentioned disaster don’t recommend him to sympathy; he’s the sort of person who is under the impression that passive-aggressive lashing out can be hidden or mitigated with a smiley-face emoticon at the end of a sentence.

However, independent of my personal feelings about the man, SFWAns electing Burt as president would still be a bloodletting event for the organization. Why? Because of what Burt brings to the table, and how it all combines for disaster. To wit:

1. Burt’s publishing record, or lack thereof. By his own admission, in Burt’s writing career, which goes back into the last century, he’s produced five short stories that would be SFWA qualifying. His one novel was self-published (publisher: Techsoft. CEO of Techsoft: Andrew Burt) and has more Amazon reviews (seven) than sales registered by BookScan (five). In contrast, Russell Davis has published close to twenty novels and was editor of two book lines at Five Star Publishing, including their SF/F line; his book sales figures dwarf Burt’s by a few orders of magnitude. Davis wrote science fiction for a living; Burt writes science fiction, it seems, largely as an affectation.

Burt would make a virtue of necessity by suggesting he’s not running on his publishing record, because, after all, why would one’s career as a writer be at all relevant to someone who’s running to be president of a major writer’s organization? But of course it does matter, and it should matter. Active professional experience matters to other creative organizations: The president of the Screen Actor’s Guild is not a guy who qualified on a commercial a decade ago and has then spent the intervening time in community theater; the president of the Writers Guild of America (West) isn’t a guy who squeaked into the Guild on a technicality and has since mostly just given workshops at the Learning Annex. And it’s certainly mattered to SFWA in the past: unless my research is wildly off, all of the past presidents of SFWA save one had published novels prior to their presidential tenure; the one exception had his published while he was president and was a multiple Nebula nominee for his short stories before that.

And it matters (or damn well should) to other SFWAns, the ones who have sold books and more than a bare handful of qualifying short stories, to have someone heading their organization who understands the concerns of actual, working writers because they themselves are (or have been) a working writer. Why would you, as a writer, trust someone who has never signed a book contract with a science fiction publisher to engage in fruitful discussion with science fiction publishers about your professional concerns as a writer? Why would you, as a writer, trust someone who has barely any experience as a writer to move the organization in a direction that is relevant to your professional career? Equally importantly, if you were a brand-spanking-new science fiction writer, with your very first book contract in hand, why on earth would you join a professional writer’s organization whose president has less personal experience with book contracts than you do?

Without an actual writing career to recommend him, Burt needs to let his previous experience as an officer of SFWA recommend him for advancement. And this is where we run into an interesting snag:

2. Andrew Burt’s Disastrous Tenure as SFWA Vice President. Consider, if you will, that the major policy achievement of the current Capobianco administration has been the adoption of a series of recommendations on SFWA’s role on copyright, as provided by an exploratory committee (disclosure: I chaired this committee). The proximate cause of the creation of this committee? Andrew Burt, acting for SFWA, munging a DMCA takedown notice and as a result carelessly violating the copyright of a SFWA member, who, as it happened, had one of the most popular blogs on the Internet and a willingness to use it. Both of these caused a major embarrassment for SFWA, the dissolution of the ePiracy committee of which Burt was the head, and a top-to-bottom review of how SFWA handles helping its members police their copyrights.

When the exploratory committee recommended the creation of a new committee to handle copyright complaints, did Burt wisely avoid seeking a seat on this committee and, because he was the central player in the fracas, recuse himself from any board votes on the exploratory recommendations? Indeed not: Burt lobbied to have himself installed as chair of the new copyright committee, and as a board member (and in my opinion, in a clear and obvious conflict of interest) voted for himself as that chair, and regrettably succeeded at both. This naturally resulted in white-hot anger from a number of prominent SFWAns, yet another major public embarrassment for the organization, and such a backlash from inside SFWA that Burt was obliged to step down from his position as chair of the copyright committee.

Which is to say that to a very large extent, SFWA’s entire last year has been spent dealing with the problems that Andrew Burt, during his tenure as SFWA vice president, has personally created. To be sure, he had help for at least part of it (he couldn’t have been elected onto the newly-formed copyright committee on his board vote alone), but at the end of the day, his bad actions were the ones that damaged public perception of SFWA, tore at the unity of the organization, and caused it to invest significant time and resources repairing the wounds Burt inflicted with his initial lack of care, and his subsequent, entirely self-serving drive to install himself into a chairmanship he had no business seeking.

The fact Burt wants to be president of SFWA after jamming the organization into a wall twice in the last year suggests to my mind either an Aspergian lack of cluefulness, or a grim, committed drive to prove that the Peter Principle is wrong, and that, indeed, one can rise beyond one’s level of incompetence, perchance to explore heretofore unknown, virgin realms of incompetence none have ever seen before. Alas toward the latter, SFWA would be chained to him and dragged along as he frisked about these new lands.

Burt’s lack of writing career and penchant for publicly immolating himself and SFWA have not gone unnoticed, which presents a third issue:

3. Andrew Burt’s Reputation in the Professional SF/F Community. Simply put: It’s bad.

How bad?

So bad that some of the most successful current science fiction writers have his e-mail address in a killfile.

So bad that a publisher whose company brought out dozens of books last year, including ones from Hugo, Nebula and Campbell Award-winning authors, said this of him to me, and I quote: “if approached by him for anything, my response would be that he not email me for any reason and that I’d consider any further emails to be harassment.”

So bad that one of the first e-mails to me after Burt declared he was running for SFWA president was from someone who wondered how many SFWAns would resign from the organization if he were elected. Not if SFWAns would resign, mind you, but how many. That some number would resign was taken as a given.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. If Burt’s reputation is so bad that there are key SF/F professionals who go out of their way to avoid contact with him, what is that going to mean for SFWA if he becomes president? SFWA’s president is SFWA’s public face, and this case, SFWA’s public face will find doors being slammed in it. Repeatedly. With gusto. If SFWAns think this is something that can be gotten around, they need to think again: Ultimately, everything SFWA does goes through its president; it rots from the head. If people in the professional SF/F community can’t or won’t work with SFWA’s president, they can’t or won’t work with SFWA. If SFWA can’t help its members because key people in the SF/F professional community can’t or won’t work with it, what purpose does SFWA serve?

In an era of multinational corporations running the major SF/F imprints, SFWA can’t hope to slug it out with publishers toe-to-toe; some of these companies probably have more lawyers than SFWA has members. Personal contact and relationships need to be there if SFWA wants to be heard and to be effective for its members. Personal contact and relationships are precisely what Burt doesn’t have — and what, thanks to his public reputation, particularly in the last year, it seems unlikely he will develop at this point. If Burt is elected, it will be the year Science Fiction Doesn’t Return SFWA’s Calls. Not exactly the path for organizational effectiveness, or for rehabilitating the organization’s image after an especially bad year.

And that, my friends, is a real problem. Whether SFWA wants to admit it to itself or not, thanks to the massive public debacles of the last year, its reputation is in the dirt, and not just with people already active in the field. I go to a fair number of science fiction conventions, you know; I’ve met a lot of the neo-pros and the under-30 writers who are (or should be) SWFA’s natural new membership. They see SFWA as either useless, or actively hostile to them. The events of the last year didn’t help, because among other things, who do you think these neo-pros look up to? People like Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross or Tobias Buckell (who SFWA has already lost, in no small part because of the events of the last year)? Or Andrew Burt?

Look: SFWA is in the hole, people. Not just in a general sense, but to the people who SFWA needs if it wants to survive: New writers. How do we get out of the hole? Here’s a hint: it’s not by rewarding through election as our president the guy who dug the hole and then walked SFWA over to the edge and pushed it in. Think about what that would say about the organization. Think about what it says to the people thinking of joining.

Now, I can’t blame Andrew Burt for running for SFWA president, since in my opinion he’s pretty clearly shown he’s absolutely and utterly incapable of recognizing his own incompetence, or the damage he’s done to the organization; really, what would have surprised me is if he hadn’t run. However, I can and will blame my fellow SFWAns if the man is actually elected president. Because I assume, hope and pray they are not as incompetent as he.

But if they do elect him president, then what the majority of SFWAns will have said (or, in any event, what the majority of the chunk of SFWAns who could be roused to vote will have said) is that SFWA really isn’t an organization that’s focused on the needs of active and working writers. Rather, it’s a nice little club where fringe types can marinate and pretend they matter to science fiction, and that they are actually useful to active science fiction writers, even if they don’t and aren’t. And you know what, that’s fine, but I don’t actually need to be in that club. I could find me some hangers-on on my own, without paying the $70 annual fee, and without making one of them president of the club. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this opinion.

And that’s what will spell the end of SFWA: the organization reaching a point where active, working writers look around, see who’s running the place and decide that it’s just not worth the time or money, and then they just go. SFWA doesn’t just lose those writers, you know. They also lose the writers they influence. Have that happen long enough, the clubhouse will empty right out.

Not to worry, though. Andrew Burt or someone like him will be there to turn off the lights. That much, he can handle.

Update, 8pm, 2/20/08: For those of you interested, Andrew Burt’s SFWA presidential platform. You’ll note his estimation of his competence and personal skills are at a substantial variance to my own estimation of the same.

298 thoughts on “A Gut Check Moment for SFWA

  1. Wait…he’s running for President? …really? Are you certain? I mean, did you double-triple-quadruple check? I mean, I’m not a member of SFWA (I’d like to be some day, but I have to sell some stuff first…), but I’m not blind to how this guy has handled things either. Now, let’s just say, just for the heck of it, that Mr. Burt isn’t in the wrong on anything he’s done and he’s really the greatest thing since sliced bread for SFWA: None of that would even matter because he’s tainted. People have been up in arms about this guy for a long while and already he has hurt SFWA’s ability to work with other organizations. It doesn’t matter at this point whether he will do a good job, because his reputation is tainted.
    And I fully agree that SFWA needs a President with a good writing/editing track record. It needs someone that has a good idea how things work out in the world of publishing. It’s sort of like the elections going on for the U.S. Presidency: we need a change from things…

  2. What kind of a maroon puts “Ph.D.” after his name on a work of fiction? I think it looks silly on non-fiction books also, but on a fiction book it’s ten times sillier.

  3. I an mot a member of the SFWA, so take my opinion for what it’s worth, but I think it’s nuts for this guy to become president.

    Even if he was completely innocent in all of the tribulatuions of the last year, people should recognize that he’d be too much of a controversy in of himself to do well as president.

    Add his almost total lack of experience as a writer-I mean if this was an association of dentists they wouldn’t want a president that had no experience as one. Even if he had all the requisite skills to be president (which Burt obviously doesn’t), he still wouldn’t be able to do the job because he wouldn’t have any understanding of what the members needs are.

  4. Thank you. Thank you so very much for saying this. I hope so very much that every voting member of SFWA will read this, regiment their last few braincells, and vote for someone who can turn the organization from a dog-and-pony show into *at least* a three-ring-circus during his tenure, if not an actual professional organization. Because, you know, I’m tired of resigning.

  5. No particular opinions on SFWA, being (a) not American and (b) not a writer – but damn, Scalzi, that’s a top rant. A proper attack piece – fully deserved, by all reports – by someone who can actually write well is a rare treat.

  6. Not all Aspergerians are clueless. Some of them are among the most well informed people I’ve met.

  7. Disturbing LJ comments aren’t exactly unusual. However, I remember one where someone said that, for him, one of the greatest benefits of SFWA was that he could join as a voting member, while not everyone else could. Now, I haven’t yet managed a sale, much less any qualifying sales. I know qualifying to become a voting member of SFWA isn’t easy. But the accomplishment of selling regularly is worthy, in and of itself, right? That’s not merely a means of getting into SFWA. More importantly, who wants to stop selling after three qualifying short fiction sales, or one qualifying novel sale?

    The comment made SFWA sound like a Sekrit Clubhouze, and made SFWA less appealing to me in the process.

    Now, this was just an LJ comment. I think I may have read it during the previous Andrew Burt debacle. It may not be representative of the SFWA membership. None of the SFWAns I personally know think of their memberships in such a defining way. None of that made it any less disturbing. But John is right. This vote will tell the world how the majority of SFWAns view their organization: Sekrit Clubhouze, or professional organization dedicated to the needs of professional writers. (Yes, I do think they’re mutually exclusive.)

    BTW, Mary Robinette Kowal is running for SFWA Secretary. Her blog post about her candidacy outlines her great plans for making SFWA a more efficient and effective organization. (I have no idea who’s running against her. Her opponent may be wonderful too, for all I know.) I don’t know how John feels about links. However, if you search in Google for “Mary”, “Robinette”, “Kowal”, “SFWA”, and “secretary”, her candidacy announcement is the top link.

  8. Mary Robinette Kowal’s opponent is Lee Martindale. I’ll be voting for Mary, personally, because I like her platform and because she’s a friend. That said, I met Lee at the Heinlein Centennial, and she’s just wonderful. I have no doubt she’d be a great Secretary. SFWAns have two good choices there.

  9. Just in case anyone was wondering, and because I believe in transparency in most instances, I’ll out myself as the publisher John quoted in his entry.

    Sincerely,

    Bill Schafer
    Subterranean Press

  10. Thank you for posting this. I am a minor SFWA member with only short story credentials but I’ve been seriously contemplating turning in my lifetime membership if Burt wins.

    If those of us who feel this way all vote in the next election, Russell Davis will win by a landslide.

  11. I haven’t met Mr. Burt and probably never will, but this passage you wrote about him is so poetic it deserves to be read out loud:

    “The fact Burt wants to be president of SFWA after jamming the organization into a wall twice in the last year suggests to my mind either an Aspergian lack of cluefulness, or a grim, committed drive to prove that the Peter Principle is wrong, and that, indeed, one can rise beyond one’s level of incompetence, perchance to explore heretofore unknown, virgin realms of incompetence none have ever seen before.”

    Sublime.

  12. To the best of my understanding, every word of John’s post above is true, accurate, and merited by the extremity of the situation.

    There will inevitably be defenses of Burt. Some of them will come from people of generally good reputation. However the SFWA election plays out, a lot of people will wind up with the vague impression that John is a hothead whose position defines one extreme of a controversy. Whereas, in fact, on the substantive issues that have recently roiled the organization, John is very much a moderate. (Ask any of the members of the digital-issues committee he recently chaired.)

    This will be unfair to John, but it can’t be helped. Someone had to say these things, and John is to be commended for stepping up to take the inevitable hits.

  13. Well, well, well…

    I have only one thing to say: Mr Scalzi, if you ever should find yourself unable to conjure up new and imaginative science fiction stories, you could easily make a better living as a professional ranter on behalf of the highest bidder.

  14. I agree with John completely and am relieved that I will have Russell Davis to vote -for-, not just against Andrew Burt. As we say in the financial industry, Andrew can’t -execute,- regardless of how successful he says he is and how often (and for all I know, he may well be).

    I do know that there was a very dubious loan made to him for the abortive Shades of Gray project, in which he was backed by the then SFWA president while he was vice president. This was at the very least an implied conflict of interest. When I pointed this out and asked, in the interests of due diligence (which SOMEONE’s got to do, even if it wasn’t SFWA), Andrew got petulant. Ultimately, he paid back the loan. Shades of Gray went under, and for all I know, it’s still SFWA’s fault for not being nice.

    Andrew likes running things. He likes talking about how he runs things. He talks too much, and he doesn’t run things well.

  15. As someone who originally looked forward to joining SFWA, I’ve felt that interest wane over the past year or so. An Andrew Burt presidency would have a strong negative influence on my desire to join (when and if I am eligible).

  16. 1. As an interested bystander but non-SFWA member, I found this factually absorbing. As a conoisseur of three-Michelin-stars-grade rant, I found it . . . delectable. Bravo, sir.

    2. Thanks, in particular, for putting a name to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which I read about years ago but lacked the proper term for. I’ll be working that into my conversations, oh yes.

  17. Really well-said. I let my membership lapse this year because it just seemed like the organization wasn’t functional– and maybe didn’t want to be functional. There are great people inside the org, but often, it seemed like those same great people were being routinely side-lined. It just felt like petty warfare.

    In any case, continuing as a member seemed like an enabling behavior, so I decided to sit out a few rounds and see if the organization can clean itself up.

  18. Note to self – never let Scalzi know of my incompetence…

    A fine rant, Mr S. And I agree with Tim on working Dunning-Kruger into routine conversations. Do you think you could stop by the next faculty meeting I have to attend? Your keen skills could come in handy.

  19. I’ve been watching this broil for a couple of days, and waiting for Burt to announce his candidacy in public. To my knowledge, he hasn’t done so, leaving some SFWA members dance lightly around the issue lest they be Molesed for talking out of school. That Burt hasn’t mentioned his candidacy anywhere where non-SFWA members can see (while candidates for the presidency and other offices have), and that the office of the president is the public face of SFWA, speaks volumes.

  20. Re. 13: Jonathan, I guess I’m willing to give E.E. the benefit of the doubt, considering that he came from a completely different era with probably a different set of cultural and social norms.

    Maybe I’m being unfair here, but I’m also a little bit turned off by his claim of being a CS professor. Technically, it might be true, but it appears that he was either a research professor, adjunct, or lecturer, rather than a tenured or tenure-track professor. It probably doesn’t make much difference to those outside of academia, but the difference is very significant to those of us in academia.

    Anyway, this is of course a bit of a digression, since it doesn’t really directly relate to his fitness as SWFA president, except perhaps in his ability to turn off people who have never even met him.

    Anon, Ph.D.

  21. Not to worry, though. Andrew Burt or someone like him will be there to turn off the lights. That much, he can handle.

    Really? I’d mark him as a “stay in the building with the lights burning when everyone else has left” kind of guy.

    Hell, I reckon he’d install more lights.

  22. What worries me is the number of aging SFWAns who don’t spend enough time online to be acquainted with the events of the last year. If the Bulletin is a primary source of info, one will inevitably remain uninformed.

  23. Lights for Industry, I say.

    Might be time to check out those Romance Writer people. They seem to have things more together these days (although that just may be in comparison), and they’re recognizing many good SF works with their awards.

  24. Wasn’t quite sure what to expect of the comments when I read this off the feed. Glad to see it’s supportive, though. My first thought was “damn! Courageous” and my second thought was “this is why it’s worth building up a good reputation so that you can put it on the line sometimes, sound credible and surive.”

    My hat is off, Mr Scalzi. That’s quite a picture you painted, won’t be universally loved, but I’m glad you took the time to write it. At least this side of the story won’t go unheard. (Note to self: don’t annoy Scalzi on matters relating to his livelihood. He gets angry.)

  25. But if they do elect him president, then what the majority of SFWAns will have said (or, in any event, what the majority of the chunk of SFWAns who could be roused to vote will have said) is that SFWA really isn’t an organization that’s focused on the needs of active and working writers.

    That and the rest of that paragraph is more or less what I said to Jim Hines when I found out.

    This one is going to be interesting to watch . . . .

  26. Re: #16. I absolutely agree. That passage reminded me somewhat of your past “I don’t care if you are a better writer” rant: Golden prose falling from the heavens, landing with a distinctive thud on the head of the target. If you ever decide to give up SF and enter the political writing arena, you can use that paragraph as a resume.

  27. Mr Scalzi:

    While I can’t say the rant’s quite up there with such famous historical rants as Marcus Portius Cato’s diatribe on Pompey Magnus, I do believe it’s a pretty top-notch example of the sort of thing it is.

    Re SFWA Presidential elections:

    I think it’s inevitable that Andrew Burt place his name in candidacy for next year’s president of SFWA. From his point of view, he did nothing wrong, but was instead wronged mightily and dastardly by the hot-head wing-nut element of the organization over a minor incident blown all out of proportion. By running, he seeks vindication of his actions. OF COURSE he’ll run for SFWA President. He can’t not. To not run is to admit error or wrong on his part, whether intentional or by misadventure. To not run is to accept defeat and disgrace (and eventual relegance to a state of ignominious irrelevancy) without “making a fight of it”, and to admit de facto that perhaps, maybe, perchance one’s actions were ill-advised, poorly planned, and poorly executed.

    What the poor man will do if/when he’s defeated is, I fear, a speculative exercise for the student of abberent psychology.

  28. JJS @39: Well, it’s almost up there with Bevin’s “If the honourable gentleman is honestly putting this forward as his opinion… and who knows? He may be!… then he is too stupid to be Prime Minister.”

    Which is, I guess, another neat encapsulation of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  29. Lee S, @40: What the poor man will do if/when he’s defeated is, I fear, a speculative exercise for the student of abberent psychology.

    I’d lay good money it would involve the words “hijack” and “pixel stained technopeasantry”. Mssrs Scalzi and Doctorow would be revealed as masters of the conspiracy. Toys would be thrown from prams. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took critters down as well.

  30. Thanks, John.

    The only disagreement I have with your assessment is that SFWA has already cut its throat. Electing Russell Davis will stop the bleeding long enough to stabilize the organization, but it will take a lot more than that to turn it around; electing Burt will be like tilting the head back to watch the arterial spray.

  31. I appreciate the forthright talk on this topic, Mr. Scalzi. Great writing, too.

    However, might I suggest you be a bit careful when referencing Asperger’s in your rhetoric? My 14 year old son reads all your books and your blog and thinks you are the greatest thing since the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet and, yanno, he has AS. He’s a good guy, my kid, smart and sincere and open, you would probably like him. And he is nothing like Andrew Burt.

    Yeah there are a lot of people on the AS scale in SFF circles. I see them. So do you. But most of them are not participating in the macro-level idiocy of Burt.

    A “lack of cluefulness” is not exclusive to the AS crowd. I don’t think referencing them while taking shots at the deserving Mr. Burt is necessary.

    One last thing: When someone with few qualifications and few social skills rises to leadership in an organization, that usually happens because the organization is full of people with questionable qualifications and crappy social skills, or because those with qualifications and social skills don’t want to be bothered to run things, or both. So, in some sense, isn’t the SFWA getting exactly what it deserves/wants? Not being nasty here, just curious.

  32. Hideous arse candle! That was worth the reading right there.

    Well-said, John.

    I can’t imagine he will win, because Russell’s candidacy is well-thought-out, not last-minute, and coming from the right place.

    However, as I suggested the other day, there could be hundreds of Burt supporters nobody online knows about because they only read paper mail. It’s possible.

    In which case, there will be no treasurer until Mr. Burt appoints one. I guess.

  33. Karen:

    Indeed, Asperger’s is all over SF, nor did I use the term facetiously in this case, since I suspect (albeit only from a remove, and based only on my interactions with him) that Burt may have some variation of Asperger’s, which would explain (although not necessarily excuse) some of his truculent behavior and inability to process why others might have objections to his actions. Indeed, my Asperger suspicions are because Burt is (tangentially, at least) in SF, and also in tech, which is another field with a high Asperger population.

    Certainly those with Aspergers exhibit a wide spectrum of behaviors and socialization, as you know. My suspicion of this particular set of Aspergian behaviors regarding Burt should not imply criticism of others.

    To be blunt, I would prefer to think Burt is Aspergian to some extent, because the other option (a mild and mostly harmless antisocial personality disorder) is not as sympathetic.

  34. John, it’s seems that you’re missing something. Andrew Burt is a uniter, not a divider. You should welcome his desire to become the decider.

    Seriously, I have absolutely no stake in any of this, but having followed the saga, this guy seems to have a severe case of cranio-rectal displacement, and putting him in charge would cause the organization to effectively come to an end.

  35. Karen @44 wrote: “One last thing: When someone with few qualifications and few social skills rises to leadership in an organization, that usually happens because the organization is full of people with questionable qualifications and crappy social skills, or because those with qualifications and social skills don’t want to be bothered to run things, or both. So, in some sense, isn’t the SFWA getting exactly what it deserves/wants?”

    This is known to baseball fans as “Bud Selig Syndrome.”

  36. Tim – what you say would certainly seem to have been the case when so few candidates could be “scared up” that there were no unopposed offices last year, when John ran as a write-in candidate.

    I think there’s a much broader spectrum of people willing to step up to the plate this time. A more qualified candidate (Russell Davis) planned ahead, made the choice with family and friends, and so-on. Somebody who’d been asked twice before and declined stepped up – namely me – and I didn’t talk to family/friends ahead of time because I knew they’d say, “f-NO!” It’s not like I haven’t been trying to spend every available minute finishing my current novel, soon-to-be-published by TechSoft.

    It’s not that bad. It will probably work out okay. Most of all, the world isn’t going to stop turning no matter what.

  37. Charlie, you know I think you’re an amazing writer and a positive presence in the writing world.

    I think the jury is still out on what will happen with SFWA, and I’d suggest one thing – talking about how it’s dying and so-on when so many of the problems can be laid at the feet of one individual (as John sets forth above) – is giving an awful lot of power (albeit negative) to somebody who’s just a head-shaking flaming arse-candle.

  38. Very well said and I will be linking it later today. Russell Davis has my vote for SFWA president. If Andrew Burt gets in I will have to decide if a life membership bought years ago would be better resigned, suspended, or simply treated as an embarrassment going forward. It was, at the time, a significant expense and a sign of my commitment to making a career in the field. That I might be brought to a place where that membership becomes a burden both psychologically and professionally rather than the sign of accomplishment it once was is something that deeply saddens me.

  39. I was hoping at first that everyone would just pretend never to have seen Andrew’s announcement. Complete, eloquent, elegant silence. But that clearly can’t happen, and that’s just as well, because elegant rants like this are even more satisfying.

  40. John Scalzi said right here on this blog he won’t run for SFWA President. Actually, what I think he _really_ said is Krissy will dis-masculate him if he runs for SFWA President. :)

    Being merely a fanboy I don’t recognize the name or work of Russell Davis, at least, not off the top of my head.

    If fanboys could vote, and were Mr. Davis not running, I know who I’d vote for: Tom Purdom ! Founding member, past VP, etc., etc., been working as a writer and as an in-genre writer for something like 50 years, and from all accounts I have read, a true gentleman. He’d respectfully decline, I’m sure, but one could dream, could one not ?

  41. “Burt writes science fiction, it seems, largely as an affectation.”

    This made me snarf my coffee.

    Thank you for this. I linked to it because it saved me the trouble of having to say why Andrew Burt as SFWA President would mean the terrorists have won….

  42. Wow, this kinda reminded me of the scene in the film of “Sweeney Todd” where Johnny Depp finally has at Alan Rickman’s neck. Not at all pretty, but you can understand what drives the guy.

  43. Pete Darby @42

    I wouldn’t be surprised if he took critters down as well.

    Nah. Critters would be his one remaining source of validation. I remember when I was a Critter. I looked up to him. I desperately needed and wanted what Critters was supplying, and it was all because of him! And he gives it out for free!

    At the time, I thought it was because of a basic, generous impulse, but these days I see it more as an act of self-interest on his part.

  44. Sigh. This sort of thing is why it used to be one of my career goals to join SFWA, but not any more. Now I’m a lot more enthusiastic about the idea of people writing slash fiction in one of my universes. Because then I’ll know I’ve made it.

    The last year has been instrumental in pushing me into the pixel-stained side of the fence. Thanks, SFWA!

  45. Amy Sterling Casil said: “Charlie, you know I think you’re an amazing writer and a positive presence in the writing world. I think the jury is still out on what will happen with SFWA, and I’d suggest one thing – talking about how it’s dying and so-on when so many of the problems can be laid at the feet of one individual (as John sets forth above) – is giving an awful lot of power (albeit negative) to somebody who’s just a head-shaking flaming arse-candle.”

    Amy: Where did I ever suggest that? Burt is a symptom of the problems in SFWA, not the cause. Members voting for him… again!.. is just proof that the active participating body of the organization wishes to continue on its present course toward irrelevance.

    Many of the problems with SFWA are structural. The organization lacks leadership continuity, with a public agenda that changes from year to year, election to election. Mary Robinette Kowal’s platform for organizing SFWA’s volunteers is the sort of change that would provide for more continuity and better communication. But SFWA needs to let it executive director direct, becoming the face and voice of the organization, expressing a continuity of purpose and mission over time. The clerical role that overwhelms the director’s position now needs to be shifted to clerical staff.

    Publishing is an international business now, and the community of readers and writers is an international community. For SFWA to continue to be relevant, it needs to acknowledge this when it reorganizes. While its membership may continue to have a geographic concentration in North America, SFWA needs to eliminate the geographic restrictions it has on membership and awards. It needs to live in the modern world.

    Finally, writers are meaningless without readers. SFWA’s main interaction with readers is through the Nebula Awards, the organization’s way of saying to the world that “Here, these are the best of the best, the books and stories you should be paying attention to.” If SFWA managed the Nebulas properly, publishers would have far more reason to pay attention to the organization. Recent leadership’s continued refusal to acknowledge or address problems with the Nebula reflects a fundamental failure of understanding the purpose of a *writers* organization.

    The Nebulas need several reforms. First, the Nebula awards and banquet must be become financially self-sufficient within the organization, so that membership dues and other income can support and expand the other non-renumerative work of the organization (leadership staff, audits, griefcom, etc.). Second, the Nebulas need to be switched to a calendar year award that makes intuitive sense to readers. The current 2008 Nebula Award preliminary ballot contains eligible works that were published between January 2006 and January 2008, an “annual” award period encompassing 761 days. This process has to be explained repeatedly to members of the organization, who still fail to consistently understand it; explaining it in a convincing way to non-members has been, in my experience, even less successful. Changing the award eligibility period to a calendar year will have problems, but fewer problems than the current system; more importantly, it means that the Nebula Award winners will no longer lag a year behind the other genre awards the way they currently do, and it may make the annual Nebula Awards anthology a viable commercial product again instead of a thin book of three-year old stories that have already been reprinted a half dozen other places. With the online Nebula Awards Report and the posting of fiction in the private areas of the SFWA website, there is also no reason for the Nebulas to continue to be an America-only award. SFWA needs to more actively embrace the international nature of speculative writing here too.

    In my mind, any SFWA candidate who doesn’t see the Nebulas as the primary method of connecting writers to readers is someone who fails the leadership test. They don’t understand that the mission of a writers organization is to help writers and expand readership.

    Once you get past these structural issues, there are areas of policy and practice where SFWA does essential work and could do it better. These policy issues often become the focus of election debates, and give the organization its trademark leadership whiplash effect as we shift from president to president. Addressing the structural problems first would allow the organization to tackle these policy issues more effectively.

    So, it’s not a Burt problem. It’s an organization problem, and the problem is members who, after all this time, think he has anything valuable left to offer the organization beyond holding the tant? while they commit seppuku.

  46. I am not a writer, nor do I have any pretensions to talent in that area. But I am a convention-attending SF fan, and therefore have a lot of writers as friends and acquaintances, and I’ve been following the saga of Mr. Burt with as much interest as is applicable to someone outside the ranks of the affected. And I have to say:

    1) Damn, that is one FINE rant!

    2) Another thank-you for providing the name of the Dunning-Kruger effect. It came up in conversation just yesterday, and I had to go thru a long circumlocution to describe it. Knowing what it’s called will be extremely useful.

    3) I agree that the Dunning-Kruger effect probably goes a long way toward explaining Andrew Burt, and I think Lee S has nailed the reasoning behind his candidacy at #40.

    4) “Writing as an affectation” is about to become part of my vocabulary. I’ve known a number of examples, but had never come up with such a concisely elegant description. (See also: The fact that no one understands you does NOT make you an Artist.)

    I wish Mr. Davis the best of luck with his candidacy.

  47. All I can say is well put, John. And yet again since I am not even remotely eligible for SFWA membership, I shall sit on the sidelines and watch while it seems to shit itself into oblivion. A very sad thing to watch, really.

  48. Letting Andrew Burt head SFWA is like letting Jeffrey Dahmer manage a vegan restaurant. What blows me away isn’t that he’s arrogant enough to run: I’ve seen any number of dingbats such as him run conventions and magazines into the ground, absolutely certain that God Himself appointed the precious little snowflake as a standard for all things SF. What gets me is that the basic response is to leave SFWA, rather than kick his grimy Cat Piss Man ass out of the organization and tell him “You’re more of a liability than an asset, and we really don’t need you.” Instead, we’re going to get another demonstration of the Five Geek Social Fallacies by letting him destroy SFWA from within because nobody wants to exclude him, and SFWA will have all of the relevance and professionalism of the Society for Technical Communication. And lower than that I cannot get.

    I have to admit that I’ve been a very vocal critic of SFWA over the years, but I don’t get any joy out of watching the organization go under. At this point, if SFWA lets this dweeb run the organization, then I walk away knowing that my quitting writing for genre publications was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

  49. Charlie, indeed you point up the elephant in the room. Those are all extremely cogent points.

    I think it’s all important stuff that should be considered/done. I think it can work . . . maybe not perfectly, but certainly better than in the past. To work together means putting aside personal concerns and looking toward the best for everyone.

    I feel most comfortable working with money and so-on at this time, because I think it’s been one of the biggest weak points so far. Not only have some treasurers been weak over time, there have been some who were actively destructive. As one example, making the Nebulas financially self-supporting really starts with the treasurer, making an accounting that makes sense. The Nebulas that ran $30,000 over budget represented 20% of the whole organization’s case that year. Should obviously be a bad idea.

    Incorporation status is another issue. The current status doesn’t serve the organization very well. Moving into the 21st century would.

    And you’re talking to somebody who Burt stated was a crappy writer and unqualified to serve on that committee due to those issues. The fannish tendency to say such things does speak volumes. It is about pro v. nonpro. The fannish tendency to wander around message boards insulting top editors in an apparent attempt to curry favor with vocal opponents of whom one seems to be a fan? John enumerated this very well in his statement.

    You’ve given it all a great deal of thought. Well-said.

  50. Buck:
    “Andrew Burt is a uniter, not a divider. ”

    After a few minutes of nodding vigorously while reading John’s rant and other’s response, that was the point where I would have lost my Diet Coke through my nose if I’d been drinking anything.

    I’m in essential agreement with John, but would like to make one point – much as being a currently-published writer should be an important component of any SFWA president, being a competent manager, is, frankly, more important. That’s been one of SFWA’s largest problems over the years – the lack of forward-looking, professional management.

    As I noted in suricattus’s LJ this morning: “There are times, when SFWA is more “fannish” than any fan organization, in terms of letting petty bickering and egos overrun the organization to the detriment of all.”

    The last few years have been an on-going period of “one of those times.”

  51. What an odd imbroglio. The minarchist hermit in me says “Ha! This is what you get for joining an organization!” while the Scalzi fan is sympathetic but worries that this is a distraction from the creation of more sci-fi (and looks mournfully at the snow, cursed cold reminder of the chronological abyss between now and the Aug release of Zoe’s Tale).

    I don’t know anything about Burt, but that DMCA incident is pretty damning. Lawsuits and search engines make a poor mix, and doubly so when incompetence and petty powertripping bureaucrats are thrown into the mix.

    Sure, intellectual property is important, but adopting the RIAA sue-everyone-in-sight approach seems an ill-considered course of action. If I were in the SFWA, I would spend more time wondering why a casual sci-fan myself only seems to find good new authors via Glenn Reynolds.

  52. Burt also fails on the SF consumer front. As a marketing exercise he has made the SFWA look lame to all the potential readers of SF work. We have seen that SF fans like to hold personal grudges against authors even really good ones for a whole host of reasons. Street cred is hard to rebuild once tarnished.

  53. TallDave:

    “the Scalzi fan is sympathetic but worries that this is a distraction from the creation of more sci-fi (and looks mournfully at the snow, cursed cold reminder of the chronological abyss between now and the Aug release of Zoe’s Tale).”

    Just be glad I’m not running.

    Also, between now and the release of ZT, I have some goodies planned for y’all.

  54. (a) One fine rant.
    (b) A great disappointment that this is happening, especially as I am not quite eligible to make a difference.
    (c) I sign my name Dr. Philip Edward Kaldon on my SF. My interest in science literacy and physics teaching is one of the things which drives the geeky end of my hard SF stories. (And it amuses me to harken back to E.E. “Doc” Smith.)
    (d) I choose to be a part-time, adjunct physics teacher rather than a full-time, tenure-track/tenured research professor because…
    (e) I choose to write SF stories. The time has got to come from somewhere.

    Dr. Phil
    “If nominated, I shall not run, if elected I shall not serve.”

  55. Good job, John–a most excellent and well-crafted rant. You were a great chair on that committee last fall, and I wish you were running for office this year as well.

    Burt did finally announce his candidacy on two SFWA newsgroups, including a demand that we all stay courteous and leaning heavily on what he has done “for” SFWA. I think he picked the wrong preposition…”to” would be more accurate, as you have so eloquently described. The two largest problems, the “Shades of Gray” matter and last year’s erroneous takedown notice, are symptomatic of smaller ones and of the attitude that “My heart’s in the right place, so whatever I do is right, too…” He is unable to think strategically about the organization, to anticipate the foreseeable (to others) consequences to SFWA or his actions, though it’s clear he has a personal strategy.

    On the topic of SFWA’s relevance to younger writers…it’s relevant if they want it to be. I didn’t get into SFWA as a young writer (if you don’t get your fiction published until you’re middle-aged you have no chance to be a new! hot! young! genius. But as someone I don’t remember–I’m old, you see–said one time, “At least late-bloomers aren’t morning glories.”), but I got into it the same as anyone else–with a few qualifying publications, as a novice pro. I had had no mentor in SF; I didn’t know anyone personally, didn’t have any contacts…and then, there I was in the same room with people who did. Who shared them. Who still share them. I found out about agents, editors, markets (good, bad, indifferent, dying) and also about how to run a writing business.

    There’ve always been people who made it outside SFWA. There’ve always been people who didn’t make it inside SFWA. But for me, the balance has always come up on the plus side overall, through presidents I liked and some I wasn’t so fond of. SFWA doesn’t suit everyone–never, at any stage of its existence, suited everyone. If I didn’t think it had some workhorse utility left, I wouldn’t be running for office.

    I agree that if Burt is elected president, things may go downhill in a hurry. Some of the other officers might then choose to resign, which would allow him to appoint replacements, cronies who were not the choice of the membership. Or, the officers might simply wrangle for a year, getting nothing done–equally bad for SFWA. There’s very little chance that Burt will decide to pull out of the race, so you’re right–electing Davis instead is a necessity if we’re to avoid a crash of some kind.

  56. Elizabeth Moon, incidentally, running for SFWA VP this year. What people don’t generally know is this year I was thinking of running not for president, but for VP. What even fewer people know is that if I had run, and found myself up against Ms. Moon, I would have told people to vote for her instead of me. And then would have voted for her myself (which I still plan on doing).

  57. “Technically, it might be true, but it appears that he was either a research professor, adjunct, or lecturer, rather than a tenured or tenure-track professor.”

    Odd that you single out research professor, as the academic institution I used to work for was making a big thing in creating research professors and super-research professors that would be granted tenture (automatically, in some cases, when they were super-duper-stars). This, alas, at the cost of teaching. Those that taught, and taught well, always seemed to get screwed, because they didn’t “do enough research”.

    I have to laugh at that. I guess the administration types at my former academic institution would have have problems with Richard Feynman. Won a prize for his research, but thought teaching, especially teaching the basics, was just a dang important.

    But this has nothing to do with the SFWA. Which is amusing to watch, from the outside. Ah well, and to think I once thought it was a worthy institution.

  58. Is someone like Justine Larbalestier or Scott Westerfield eligible for SFWA? I know Larbalestier won the Norton last year, but I don’t know if that means she could choose to join, or even if she is a member already. Can anyone with any tilt towards the fantastic, or towards science, claim their publications with say, Random House or S&S make them eligible? Stephen King? Diane Gabaldon?

    I, for one, am very glad to hear the Burt is running.

    If Burt weren’t running, I wouldn’t know how most of the organization felt about him. This way, if Davis wins by a landslide, he should have a clear anti-Burt mandate. And if Burt wins. Well, yeah, that will tell me something, too.

  59. The Dark Tower was originally published as a series of shorts in F&SF (and they’ve published a number of other King stories over the years), so there’s no question that he’d be eligible (as would the publication of Eyes of the Dragon, the Dark Tower books, and The Tommyknockers).

  60. Well, when the last debacle related to Dr. Burt came up I prefaced my comments by writing that my opinion is irrelevant because I’m not a professional writer and probably never will be, so what the SFWA does is really academic to me. That’s still true, but an irrelevant opinion has never stopped me from sharing anyway and it won’t this time, either.

    As a total outsider, who has no dog in this fight whatsoever, it seems to me that the problem is not that Dr. Burt has made mistakes carrying out what he seems to think was the mandate of the membership, but that he kept doing so in the face of evidence strongly opposed to that assumption. In spite of repeated problems and repeated mistakes and multiple “rants” against his position, he still seems to labor under the misapprehension that he’s doing some good somewhere.
    Perhaps voting for someone else would finally get the point across that he’s not performing as the majority of the SFWA membership seems to prefer.

    I do NOT, however, agree with the position that has been put forth claiming that the SFWA is totally irrelevant to the publishing or writing world. If nothing else, the emergency medical fund is a worthy endeavor, not to mention the grievance committees that I’ve read about in the distant past. The problem, however, is that things seem to be moving backward, not forward, and as a result of public relations issues, younger authors are not willing to add their own time and effort to improve things, both for themselves and future generations.
    Even in the various volunteer organizations that I’ve been a part of, both as a member and a leader, I only get out what I put in. In fact, I generally found that I had to add quite a bit more than I got to keep things going. But, as long as someone benefited, that was okay with me. I’m not so sure everyone from my generation and younger feels the same way.

    In any case, good luck to you all SFWAns. I hope the elections turn out the way you want so you all can concentrate on writing the things I like to read.

  61. Yes, of course Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier would be eligible to join SFWA. Why wouldn’t they be?

    The comparisons of SFWA to fannish organizations, above, are seriously unfair. Most long-established fannish organizations are much better-run than SFWA.

  62. STRONGLY agree with Mr. Scalzi and Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

    Want Scalzi to get an honorary PhD which requires him to put “PhD” after his name on all books and blog postings.

    Elizabeth Moon rocks!

    Wish I could vote, but President Capobianco has failed in years to lift a finger to grant me the Lifetime Active membership in SFWA to which I am formally qualified, and paid in advance $1,000.00 for at the request of SFWA’s Executive Director. So I’m a nobody. An unperson. No PhD (only a PhD All But Degree for quantifying Feynman’s proposal for nanotechnology in several refereed international conference publications) and no SFWA membership, but only my co-authorships, co-editorships, and co-broadcasts with Asimov, Bone, Bradbury, Bester, Bretnor, Brin, Busby, Clarke, Coney, de Camp, Delaney, Forward, Gauger, Gilden, Gunn, Guthridge, Harper, Heinlein, Ing, Landis, McIntyre, Novitski, Perry, Peterson, Pohl, Reynolds, Sohl, Sturgeon, Vinicoff, et al.

    Apologies to anyone whose name I did not drop.

    SFWA members: please vote, and vote as often as necessary.

  63. Given Charlie Finlay’s #62, I wish he were running! This is not anything negative about Russell Davis, but that comment would make a heck of a campaign platform. I hope Russell will take some of Charlie’s ideas and move forward with them.

    To riff on one of those ideas a bit, SFWA could become the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association” without needing to alter (or retcon) the acronym; that would be a clear statement that the organization wants to be less parochial and more international.

  64. Oh, I forgot to add that in support of the emergency medical fund, I did, in fact, buy a “farting rainbows” t-shirt and fully intend to buy a “squid happens” t-shirt, also in support of the SFWA emergency medical fund.

    Oh, and “Right on!” to Mr. Davis in #83.

  65. Technically, it might be true, but it appears that he was either a research professor, adjunct, or lecturer, rather than a tenured or tenure-track professor.

    Odd that you single out research professor, as the academic institution I used to work for was making a big thing in creating research professors and super-research professors that would be granted tenture (automatically, in some cases, when they were super-duper-stars).

    I didn’t intend to single it out, but was just putting down all the categories I could think of, outside of tenure-track, that could be considered “professor”.

    In most CS departments, research professors are black sheep, to some degree. Research professors are usually on what we call soft money, which means that their salary is paid for entirely through grants that they bring in. If they stop bringing in money, they are out of a job. Some are quite good, and successfully transition to a tenured position (or could if they wanted to). Others are there simply because the department sees no real reason to get rid of them. The definition of research professor is not that well-defined, though, so there can be a lot of variation between universities.

    It does seem that Andrew Burt was a research professor, based on some Googling, but he has almost no publication record (you can search Google Scholar for that), which suggests that he was not given the position based on a track record of bringing in research grants.

    Anon

  66. As one of those aging SFWA members, I will add: not voting for Burt. Not nohow. Nope. Nuh-uh. Pass. Not gonna happen.

    Now it’s time for my nap.

  67. “SFWA could become the “Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association””

    Didn’t it, at one point? I thought I remembered reading about it back when I had an Associate membership.

  68. Anon – in Chemistry, the title of Research Prof. carries an even worse connotation. Most are glorified Post- Docs who do the day-to-day running of a lab of a famous professor who is too busy schmoozing, serving in professional organizations, and giving lectures to actually advise grad students. Such “profs” don’t even get their own grants, they are paid on soft money from the grants of the famous prof.

  69. Jonathan Vos Post, interesting, you developed a parallel prover back in the 70s? What kind of parallel hardware did you use, and what kind of speedup did you get?

  70. 82: The comparisons of SFWA to fannish organizations, above, are seriously unfair. Most long-established fannish organizations are much better-run than SFWA.

    Imagine if they ran the SFWA like LASFS…

  71. I’ve been saying all along that last year’s election wasn’t good enough a test for folks unhappy with the organization to decide to turn in their ballots, because the write-in candidacies were declared after many members had turned in their ballots, so the results couldn’t be taken as indicative of anything one way or the other.

    This is the election that members should be hanging onto their memberships (or even joining) to vote in.

    And this is the one after which you all get to consider giving up on the organization if you don’t like the results. (As I myself just might do depending what happens, though Writer Beware is still a pretty strong pull for me.)

  72. I hope the SFWA members are at least as smart as the Republican Party. When Richard Nixon offered to help in the 1976 elections, his party replied, “Thank you, we think you’ve done enough already.”

    (Anecdote from Miss Manners.)

  73. In spite of repeated problems and repeated mistakes and multiple “rants” against his position, he still seems to labor under the misapprehension that he’s doing some good somewhere.

    Indeed, Burt even has a canned response to this. He likes to cite an article he read in which it is claimed that rumors and lies are more often believed than facts and reason.

    The very existence of frequent criticisms of his behavior and attitudes are PROOF that he is being factual and reasonable, as increasingly few people believe what he says.

  74. @Network Geek #81 – There is the Haven fund.

    SFWA has apparently traditionally served in contract negotiations and all sorts of other useful stuff in the past. Nowadays it appears to mostly stumble in the darkness, about to become grue-food. If the SFWA loses all street cred with publishers, media, and everybody else, then it cannot do most of the things on this list of what it should be doing—and what SFWA could do even if it shot off all its limbs is already being taken care of on other sites and in other organizations.

  75. As a neophyte of the rankest order, I don’t even qualify for SFWA yet, and I’ve been a little less enamoured of it in the last few years, but Elizabeth Moon makes some good points about what we can make of the organisation. I do wish SFWA would consider the RWA idea of different membership types, for general membership, associates, affiliates, etc, because that seems to foster support from and for all types of writers.

    I think it’s really too bad of Mr. Burt to continue on this way. I remember the time I spent in Critters some time back (about five or six years ago) fondly. But his recent contributions to SFWA in general, ie. the takedown notice and the inability to recuse himself from the investigatory committee, have somewhat tarnished his reputation. (I sometimes wonder if he’s thinking frantically “But I can fix it, if you’ll only let me.” When I was a little kid and tripped over my dad’s computer cord and shorted out his computer, I was literally and figuratively falling over myself to win my father’s approval on something and instead succeeded more in pissing him off. That’s kind of the feeling I get about this situation. Not that it excuses incompetence, mind you, nor do I think SFWAns should put up with it. But it’s my kindest mental reading of the subject.)

  76. To Christopher at #84: Obviously, I hope to influence the debate on the direction of SFWA by raising these issues. I think it’s make-or-break time for the future of the organization, and I hope that writers like Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, Paolo Bacigalupi, Sarah Prineas and myself, among many others, by leaving the organization, have helped draw attention to the urgent need for change. I think it’s important to do it from outside the organization, because inside it’s a structural mess supported by entrenched members who are resistant to any significant change. I believe that things like Scalzi’s write-in campaign last year, the public debate that followed the copyright committee cockup, or this blog discussion are ways to help members within the organization who are trying to create effective change by firmly establishing the perception that change is necessary. When you have a number of highly visible members — the next generation of SFWA — leaving for substantive reasons, it ought to be harder to keep doing business as usual. Though that won’t stop some people from trying, I’m sure.

    That said, Russell Davis is a great candidate for president of SFWA, because of his broad publication experience, his volunteer experience within SFWA, and his connections throughout the business. I hope the current members will vote for him. And then I hope that he and the other officers will consider the bigger issues.

  77. Great Thread!

    Computer Science Geek Warning: skip the following unless you are sufficiently geekular.

    Re: #90 “Jonathan Vos Post, interesting, you developed a parallel prover back in the 70s? What kind of parallel hardware did you use, and what kind of speedup did you get?”

    I stand by what it says in my (somewhat obsolete) on-line CV:

    UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, Amherst, MA 1975-1977
    Ph.D. (Doctoral Candidacy; All But Degree) Molecular Cybernetics
    * Wrote world’s first doctoral dissertation on Nanotechnology

    UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS, Amherst, MA 1973-1975
    M.S., Computers and Information Science (Artificial Intelligence)
    * Designed and coded parallel automated theorem prover (see formal methods)

    CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, Pasadena, CA 1968-1973
    B.S., Mathematics (Advanced Logic)
    B.S. English Literature

    The parallel Theorem Prover story is ahead of its time and subtle.

    I took Parallel Processing in grad school, 1973 or 1974, from Prof. Caxton Foster, who alleges that he was the first person in the world to teach such a course, and that his original course notes are in the Smithsonian. My M.S. thesis was on Automated Theorem Proving with a clever parallelized algorithm and database, which ran great on simulations, because we had none of what came to be called Massively Parallel Processors. Thinking Machines, Inc., was aware, via Feynman, of my parallelized implementation in 1974-1976 of the Genetic Algorithm for successfully evolving working source code. Mine [the GA] was in APL (the evolved code, I mean), Danny Hillis’ Thinking Machines was in LISP.

    Our brains are dual-processors at the hemispheric level of resolution, as reflected by the intent of Mauchley and Eckert in building the first dual processor computer, BINAC, in
    a secret project for the U.S. Air Force circa 1949, as Mauchly explained to me at some length (when we worked with Ted Nelson in first implementing Hypertext, circa 1976), and is now declassified.

    Anyway, my algorithm and database, which I referred to as “Pi-Thrower” was a deep extension of Resolution Theorem Proving. My M.S. Thesis Advisor, Prof. Dan Fishman, had in his PhD dissertation and existence proof that such an algorithm and data structure should exist. I developed it, and a team of about a dozen undergrads and grad students inefficiently coded a part of it, running on a DEC-10. Xerox stole the source code and released a commercial product slightly tweaked from Fishman’s work and mine, which annoyed Fishman so much that, along with the department and division and campus-wide chaos at UMass/Amherst, caused him and 1/3 of the COINS (Computer and Information Science) Department to flee the university for greener pastures; which contributed to my PhD being “All But Degree” (not All But Thesis; there was a thesis, much of which has been subsequently published in peer reviewed venues). They just refused to turn the ad hoc dissertation committee into a formal dissertation committee, and turned the PhD Dissertation credit that I performed and paid for into an “incomplete” still on my official transcript.

    The simulations suggested that, if there had been an adequate MPP available, “Pi-Thrower” would have run roughly 100 times faster than any other theorem prover in the world.

    I’m now primarily engaged in research in the Biomedical subset of my PhD research, only this time focused on a paper in preparation with Dr. Thomas L. Vander Laan, M.D., F.A.C.S, aimed at “Nature”, a simulation package being written in the open-source SMBL (Systems Biology Markup Language), planned clinical testing at USC Med School, and a research scientist position for me at Caltech’s Beckman Institute.

    I still kind of sort of believe in Automated Theorem Proving, but have degraded from a faith in Strong AI to an agnosticism in Weak AI, combined with loving the fiction of Iain Banks, Greg Egan, Charles Stross, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Ian Stewart, Marvin Minsky (novel collaboration with Harry Harrison), and others who really Get It.

  78. I do wish SFWA would consider the RWA idea of different membership types, for general membership, associates, affiliates, etc, because that seems to foster support from and for all types of writers.

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it could revitalize the organization. On the other hand, it could make it more like, say, SCBWI, which is almost entirely about supporting new writers–not a bad thing in itself, but there really are few resources there for the rest of us.

    And when I hear friends in RWA talk about things like how the organization has a feel-good category of membership to acknowledge those who manage to do things so basic as to send manuscripts out (which it seems to me anyone serious about writing ought to be doing as a matter of course), I wonder. Though RWA does seem toi serve its professional members well.

    RWA also offers a lot of local-level professional development, which I think is one huge thing SFWA doesn’t do. Don’t know how they could, being smaller, but the existence of local chapters and meetings are one of the things that both RWA and SCBWI have going for them.

  79. I know phuquawl about the SFWA, and had forgotten its existence until this reminder. But a good rant can be cherished on its own merits. Bravo.

  80. Janni (#100): Though RWA does seem to serve its professional members well.

    I don’t know how well it’s doing now, but a few years ago, PAN and Novelists Inc spun off from RWA because many pros felt that the mother organization was concentrating too much on writer development/the pre-published. If a group pays a greater proportion of the dues, and pre-pubs apparently did, it’s difficult for the organization to ignore them when they maintain they aren’t receiving anything in exchange.

  81. Not to be snarky but has the SFWA been helpful to writers or readers? It’s fine to worry about it’s future, but has it ever had a past?

  82. Jonathan, just curious, who is funding the clinical trial? Is there an government/philanthropic agency funding Vander Laan and you, or are you just doing it on your own time?

    And, to keep this slightly on topic……well…actually….I can’t think of any way to keep this on topic. Maybe we can think of story where it turns out that Burt is actually an AI that arose out of a theorem prover. Yeah, that’s it.

  83. Kristine (#102) I don’t know how well it’s doing now, but a few years ago, PAN and Novelists Inc spun off from RWA because many pros felt that the mother organization was concentrating too much on writer development/the pre-published. If a group pays a greater proportion of the dues, and pre-pubs apparently did, it’s difficult for the organization to ignore them when they maintain they aren’t receiving anything in exchange.

    And that’s where the challenge comes in, because there will always be more unpublished than published writers. And it’s important to serve those writers (I think most of us try to pay forward wherever we can), but one of the things I like about SFWA is that it actually is designed to focus on the issues facing published writers.

    It’s hard to explain, without sounding horribly elitist, just how valuable this is.

    (And yet, no one thinks the American Medical Association elitist because it’s an organization for trained doctors, or because my basic First Aid training isn’t enough to get me in. Or the American Bar Association elitist because it’s only for those who’ve gone through law school and passed their bar exams. Why is it considered less appropriate for writers to do the same?)

  84. One of the things I find fascinating about RWA and to some extent SCWBI – is the addition of the ‘unpublished’ into their ranks also makes up a large part of their marketing for their established members – since (most) writers tend to also be readers and somewhat loud ones at that…

    But bringing ‘fans’ into a ‘professional’ organization would be a bad idea.

  85. Janni, # 100, the RWA, of which I am a member, recognizes the FIRST STEP is sending out the manuscript.

    There are designations for published authors. At the conventions, the name tags identify general members from published members.

    There is an AMAZING amount of support in the local RWA chapters. That’s why I joined, even though what I’m writing is not a traditional romance.

    I looked for a SF writers’ group in my area and came up empty. The local RWA group has been wonderful. The local published authors are generous with their time, and those of us “beginners” get the benefit of their experience.

  86. AT the RWA conventions, there are classes and breakout meetings ONLY for published authors. It isn’t one big mix of published , wannabes & fans.

  87. I also have no dog in this fight, but I am involved in or familiar with a number of volunteer organizations, all with one-year terms of office for leadership. (American Legion, Elks and Rotary, specifically.) In all three cases, the plan is for a succession of officers.

    In other words, 2nd VP becomes 1st VP becomes President, or whatever the appropriate titles are. These organizations also make some provision for past Presidents to be involved, if only on an advisory basis.

    The advantage is that one gets some continuity of effort, and hopefully your leadership is experienced when they get in. Also, should you find one of the subordinate officers is, shall we say, “ineffective,” you can identify it before a crisis occurs.

    Submitted for your consideration.

  88. Comparing SFWA and SCBWI is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. SCBWI is huge: it’s an international organization with local and regional chapters on almost every continent. It encompasses illustrators as well as writers. And it’s privately run–there are no election fiascos because, well, the leaders aren’t elected by the membership. I’m not saying this is better, just different.

    As for having non-published members: distinctions in SCBWI are made between associate (unpublished) and full members (published), but only in the paperwork. As a result a large focus of the organization has been for those starting out. That said, because the membership is so large and diverse, there is lots of room for connections and support to be made among full members, and conferences will cater to both–with some panels only making sense to published authors and illustrators. (And many panels dealing exclusively with the illustration end of things.) Conferences exclusively for published members exist, but these are organized by individual groups–many of which have formed thanks to having met through SCBWI.

  89. Janni @#105 — Exactly. I don’t know what it is about publishing in general or spec fic in a particular, but there should be nothing wrong with saying that the organization exists to serve the needs of working professionals in the field, and then defining a minimum baseline for what constitutes “professional work.” I thought that before I was SFWA-eligible, and I think that now. It isn’t elitist. It’s practical.

    (Or, to be more precise, it’s elitist in a practical and non-perjorative sense.)

    Hell, I’d love to see SFWA institute an Inactive category so people like Andrew Burt, who aren’t working professionals anymore (granting for the moment that he ever was), can’t steer the organization. But it’ll never happen, because a) none of those people would vote for a move that would disenfranchise them and b) SFWA probably doesn’t want to lose their membership fees. (But if most of them are lifetime members . . . yeah, yeah, I know. Wasn’t this one of the things that sank Rob Sawyer’s administration?)

    Anyway. I have nothing against an organization helping the unpublished hopefuls; maybe SFWA could counterbalance the loss from the Inactives by instituting a category for the pre-published, that lets them partake of some services but not have a controlling vote. (Of course, first it would have to provide some services for them.) But I don’t consider that morally better than being an organization of working professionals, for working professionals, however much warmer and fuzzier it may be.

  90. Not a member; in my only attempt, I wrote a science-fiction screen play for a high-school English class in the 1960’s. I don’t have a copy and hope no one else does. The only good thing about it was that the science was correct (even though the teacher wouldn’t believe it) and it was turned in on time. I’m not a writer.

    Wow! Most very well ranted, Mr. Scalzi.

    There are other organizations, too, that have the structure Future President, Current President, and Emeritus President (and the same with the other offices, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary.) Makes it easy to both arrange for an absence and to get advice, as you can call on your predecessor and your assistant. The newcomer “hits the ground running” because they’ve been watching for a year, and there is ample mentorship available.

  91. No. But as I said, Writer = Reader tends to be fair.
    And reader = word of mouth. Not sure how much time you spend around RWA aspiring writers, but they surely promote the writers that are helping them or given presentations they have seen .

    And the opposition I have heard is that ‘professional’ published writers get no benefit out of having a large unpublished base such as RWA has.

    Everyone says that the Nebulas are the marketing arm of SFWA. I can tell you it really isn’t doing much for the average reader and that helps the very limited few who make the ballot, whatever amount that it does help.

    I’m sure in RWA, some of the ‘aspiring writers’ are more ‘fans’ than ‘writers’.

    But as an aspiring writer myself, I will say that I have picked up a book from pretty much any author that I have heard the advice of, whether it was Scalzi, Sawyer, RWA-Jennie Crusie, etc. A. it seems fair. B. It gives perspective on what their experience is.

    So, I personally think there is a HUGE benefit to ‘professional’ writers having the unpublished around. Marketing. AND dues to have money to actually do something rather than everyone complain about how the lifetime membership limits SFWA income…

    And honestly, even if it opened up, I probably WOULDN’T get a membership until I was published. I haven’t signed up for RWA either, for the same reason. As it stands, once published, I will join AG, RWA, and SCWBI once I am published, probably a few others too. SFWA is on the maybe list.

  92. Marie, you can’t expect all of those longtime SFWA members to go “inactive”. They worked hard to jam their tongues up…er, get enough stories published in Pulphouse to gain that SFWA membership, and Kris Rusch still has the calluses on the backs of her eyeballs as proof.

  93. Janni@#105:(And yet, no one thinks the American Medical Association elitist because it’s an organization for trained doctors, or because my basic First Aid training isn’t enough to get me in. Or the American Bar Association elitist because it’s only for those who’ve gone through law school and passed their bar exams. Why is it considered less appropriate for writers to do the same?)

    I don’t know I think it’s the personal nature of the journey, for want of a better term. No certification or licensing, unless you count getting published…which leads to the eternal question of what constitutes “pro” publication.

    Thing is, I never even thought of joining SFWA until after I’d sold my first books and could join as a pro. I networked at cons without being a member, learned to write without being a member, and met pros and learned about markets and agents and publishers without being a member. I joined SFWA for the same reason I joined Authors Guild and Novelists Inc, to harvest info that benefits people who have already gotten over the getting-published hill.

  94. Once upon a time, I was a member of the Authors Guild (based on the non-fiction books I have had published). It is an organization for professional writers only. Or was last I checked. And while it certainly didn’t have the silliness of SFWA, it also didn’t seem to do much for me that I can tell. Involved in a couple lawsuits for the betterment of writers, to be sure, but rarely contacted except asking for payment.

    I finally couldn’t figure out why I was still a member. I joined originally, as John would say, as an affectation. There are some very cool writer-members. I would consider renewing if they would consider convincing me that it would be a good idea.

    A cursory look at their website makes me think that they are now keeping it up-to-date, something that hasn’t always happened in the past.

  95. SFWA could emulate RWA’s nurturing atmosphere without necessarily allowing unpublished writers to join. The things RWA teaches its newbies — how to get an agent, how contracts work, what rejection letters mean, and how much money you can expect from a first sale — are all handled by generous individuals in SF, without SFWA’s support, and in an irregular fashion. Imagine how easy it would be for SFWA to gather data on first sales by adding a couple of (optional) fields to its membership application, and then taking the trouble to publish the results on the website once a year or so.

    The differences between the Bulletin and the RWR are also illuminating. Among other things, the RWR includes at least one interview with a working editor or agent in every issue.

  96. I’d love to see SFWA institute an Inactive category

    LASFS has a category called ‘voluntary active membership’ – you pay a small fee as dues, even though you don’t show up, and you get the newsletter like everyone else.

  97. So, I personally think there is a HUGE benefit to ‘professional’ writers having the unpublished around. Marketing. AND dues to have money to actually do something rather than everyone complain about how the lifetime membership limits SFWA income…

    This, btw, is based on absolutely zero information or experience with professional associations who have had the unpublished around, and should thus be entirely ignored.

  98. Re: #122: Newsletter? Despite doing over 25 panels (many as moderator) at LASFS-run LOSCONs, and more at Westercons and an LA Worldcon, before I beat LASFS Big Name Eph Konigsburg in court and collected $7,000 back pay per employment contract on which he wouldn’t pay because of his contention that “tenure” in the contract meant that he could unilaterally fire me without cause but I could not voluntarily take the MUCH higher-paying first job offer From Rockwell International; and the scandal of repeated plagiarism by LASFS Big Name Paul C. Turner and his psycho sidekick and fellow Defendant Ronald M. Jones I never got any newsletter…

    Why on Earth would anyone at LASFS hold a grudge against me, when the Judges twice declared that I was right and the LASFS big names had violated the law? I mean, is this a Rule by Law country, or a My Thug is Stronger than Your Thug nation? Me, old fashioned politically Conservative me, I believe in Rule of Law. You know, Constitution, Contract Law? But then, as PNH correctly observed, “Fan” =/= “aspiring writer.”

    Although I have plenty of friends in LASFS and in SFWA alike, both organizations do have plenty of puffed-up pimped-out fan members who disdain learning from actual professional writers, and assert that they are qualified to Rule the Galaxy, as soon as they can self-publish some more and run unopposed again and move out of their mother’s basement.

  99. Actually, Nick, I’d say it’s based on less than zero – annecdotal observations of myself and other aspiring writers reading habits, mostly.

    That doesn’t make it either right or wrong.

    And you’re certainly within your space to think it should be ignored. I understand you were around HWA when they fucked up the org by letting in the unpublished members – you have biases. That’s fine. I’m not claiming it’s a magic cure-all. I’m just making an observation, albiet from the way back.

    That someone did it WRONG, doesn’t make the premise wrong.

    To be clear, you aren’t suggesting that RWA DOESN’T receive benefit from the money it takes from the unpublished members and the unpublished members DON’T buy books, right?

    And this is sliding from the original post of A.Burt shouldn’t be allowed to lead. I put a post on my on site, if anyone cares. Says basically the same thing… Feel free to go yell at me over there. Or here. I don’t care.

    But I’d love to hear a candidate post on how they plan to promote the members, both previously and currently published. Because that’s what an organization for professional writers should do.

  100. The only part I disagree with is “means well” — except in the sense that everyone means well — and limiting the description of Burt’s behavior toward his critics to mere petulance and pettiness. You are too generous. Burt has repeatedly demonstrated calculated rhetorical dishonesty , behind-the-scenes nastiness, and manipulation of uninvolved parties against his critics. Fortunately, he’s not as good at it as he imagines — at least, not in this arena.

  101. I don’t have biases, Patrick, I have information and experience. I also have the experience of others, as they have shared with me, and information from other sources.

    That does in fact give my opinion far more credibility than yours.

    PS: I’m tempted to ask why you think it is the role of a professional association to promote the work of its members, but then I might have to read nearly half the answer before deciding to do something more fulfilling, like throwing rocks at small children.

  102. To be clear, you aren’t suggesting that RWA DOESN’T receive benefit from the money it takes from the unpublished members and the unpublished members DON’T buy books, right?

    This is such a hideously tortured summary of what you wish I said that I can see why you are an aspiring writer with no real credits to show for your efforts Pat.

    You cannot read.

  103. Fair enough. What should a professional organization do? Generally it has to do with certification and salaries, right? Not sure, personally.

    But if you agree that they should be involved in salaries, wouldn’t you consider helping more books get sold a means of increasing wages?

    And I’m better looking than you, so regardless of credibility, more people will listen to me. ;) – Scalzi, The smiley faces HAVE to work.

  104. What? Quadruple negatives are a problem for you?

    And I start every sentence with ‘And’, Which means’, ‘But’, etc.

    Sure. So? What if I am one of the multitudes who would pay to be a member, yet never reach the lofty rank of ‘published’?

    Should I note here that I’ve never bothered to buy one of your books? ;)

  105. Professional associations for writers are generally involved activities such as defending the rights of writers against the chicanery of publishers.

    Why you think professional associations would even be good at selling books to readers is pretty clear: you have no idea what you are talking about. So, tell me, why do you continue talking?

  106. What? Quadruple negatives are a problem for you?

    Nope, you just either went out of your way to misinterpret what I said, or were too unfamiliar with the language to actually figure out what I said.

    I was being kind in suggesting it was the latter.

    What if I am one of the multitudes who would pay to be a member, yet never reach the lofty rank of ‘published’?

    Then I am sure you would spend a lot of time on whatever venues SFWA provides for internal communication displaying the same bizarre relationships with logic and English you do here and elsewhere, which is a pretty good reason, I think, to keep the bar a bit higher than “Can write …his name on a check.”

  107. Yes, that was a horrible sentence. I’d rewrite it now, but why?

    Yes, I’m sure people, like me right now, take up valuable time in flame wars on stupid things. Fortunately that doesn’t happen when there are only published writers.

    I find SFWA amusing and amazingly incompetent and doubt they COULD take proper advantage of unpublished members, given their current level of disorganization. It’d take years before they would be prepared to take on that burden, from what I guess.

    Again, my opinion is just that – a guess. Maybe they are incredibly organized. Maybe Burt IS a genius. Maybe it IS just a few disgruntled loud mouths like Scalzi and Stross, with much larger public forums than Burt.

  108. Nick: why do you think that professional organizations have no role in promoting the work of their members? I look at something like the Motion Picture Academy, for example, and the Oscar nominees generally tend to get a boost after the ballot is announced (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/oscar/bestpichist.htm?view=byyear&p=.htm). A movie like this year’s “There Will Be Blood” was stagnant until the nominations were announced; since then it’s done something like 75% of it’s box office. In all, the effect amounts to millions of dollars because movie viewers believe, rightly or wrongly, that the Oscar voters generally get it right. It seems to me that this is the Motion Picture Academy drawing attention to work by its members in a manner that has positive commercial impact.

    To come back to SFWA: in one of the early Nebula anthologies, Damon Knight states that the whole idea of the award grew out of a desire to publish an annual anthology of the best fiction. This seems to be a commercial notion aimed at readers. Now if one wants to argue that the time has passed for this, or that there is no similar Nebula boost in genre fiction sales, I might believe it, depending on the evidence. But I notice that publishers put “Nebula Award winner” on the covers of books that win, so they must feel that it has some positive effect in promoting the genre or in promoting specific books. As long as SFWA maintains the Nebula Awards, and as long as they continue to be one of the bigger expense items in the organization’s budget, it appears to me that the organization is trying to have an effect on readers.

    If I’m wrong about that, I would love to have a clearer understanding.

  109. I gotta say — and perhaps this is “old school” — but if there are folks putting this guy in their killfile and he’s this much of a putz — doesn’t it make sense for those who want SFWA to recover/continue to be worthwhile to VOTE against this guy? It might mean re-joining, but wouldn’t it be worth it?
    Believe me, if I could join just to vote, I would — still working on that “getting published” thing ;>

  110. Yes, that was a horrible sentence. I’d rewrite it now, but why?

    I wasn’t complaining about the sentence, I was complaining about the strawman argument it contained. (The sentence was also awful, yes.)

    Yes, I’m sure people, like me right now, take up valuable time in flame wars on stupid things. Fortunately that doesn’t happen when there are only published writers.

    Actually, there’s a pretty strong correlation between publication and failing to have time or inclination to participate in either flame wars or other attention-getting techniques. There are outliers of course, but it’s pretty easy to guess how someone will act.

    Fans/unpublished writers want attention and validation, and will act out to get it at any opportunity.

    Very minorly published writers will do the same. Indeed, Burt is in this category. No, he cannot write very well, and doesn’t bother writing all that much, but he wants to be validated somehow by the writing community, so he created Critters, joined SFWA and took organizational responsibility for anything he could, etc. If he cannot be a successful writer, he’ll be the next best thing: the guy the successful writers turn to whenever they have a problem. There are a few others like this in SFWA, often fan writers who got a few pro sales and qualify for membership and then essentially stop writing, except for fanac, lame “histories” of this or that, etc.

    Failed writers tend to overidentify with the organization, as it allows them to pretend to still be in the business. The folks who were able to sell novels in the 1970s and 1980s (and a few who crawled into the 1990s), who went from selling short stories to selling capsule reviews of short stories, and who then declare themselves “semi-retired.” They tend to play the put-upon victim in such flame wars, and are passive-aggressive rather than aggressive. They may have a prize anecdote or two that “explains” their failures and will repeat them endlessly.

    Related to the last group is the failed novelist: these writers sell short stories fairly handily, thanks partially to a long history of licking the asses of second-tier editors, but have never managed to sell a novel despite heroic efforts to do so. (Note, dedicated short story writers are not members of this group; we’re talking only of would-be novelists who have never sold a novel, or even a collection of their short fiction to a small press.) This last bunch has all sorts of theories about the genre and the conspiracies that moved so effectively against them, and tend to reenact these psychodramas over and over again. They are generally not quite so bad as the prior groups, if only because their long histories of hand-jobs-for-story-slots have taught them a sort of primitive cunning. They know when to finally shut up, rather than be made to look so bad that they may get knocked off a solicitation list.

    Then there are the actually working writers. Again, there are plenty of nuts out there (especially when it comes to political topics or other pet topics), but the inverse correlation between publishing success and psychopathological expressions of dopery within pro orgs is pretty solid.

  111. Fiona (#109): The huge amount of support RWA gives its members is one of the wonderful things about it–I see it among the local friends who are members.

    The “pro” designation (for sending out your manuscript) still does make me uneasy as a place for an organization to focus its energies. I guess I feel like support is crucial, but that maybe the job of a professional organization isn’t so much to support that first step as to support the day to day business of being a writer. Which isn’t expressing it well. It’s almost like–to take analogies from other fields–I don’t expect an organization of professionals in any field to be so much about “yaaay! you applied for a job” as to assume we’ve all of course applied for jobs, and to focus on “here’s how to apply for better jobs” and “here’s how to be more effective on the job.”

  112. You keep abusing that sentence, I don’t think it means what we think it means.

    Looking forward to your response to Charlie’s well thought out question. Oh look, I have his book on my shelf.

  113. Kristine (120): I networked at cons without being a member, learned to write without being a member, and met pros and learned about markets and agents and publishers without being a member.

    And this is an important point that constantly gets overlooked–not letting not-yet-professionals into an organization doesn’t mean the membership doesn’t support them. This is a hugely supportive community.

    In much the way doctors aren’t unsupportive of medical students because they don’t let them into the AMA–it’s more that the concerns of a medical student and a doctor (and someone like me, who keeps her first aid certification up to date but has no desire to be a doctor) are all different–but that doesn’t mean at least some doctors aren’t supportive of medical students.

    Most SF/fantasy writers I know have reached out and offered support to unpublished writers, one way or another.

  114. @138 Nick

    Fans/unpublished writers want attention and validation, and will act out to get it at any opportunity.

    …. or, you know, the unpublished writers might actually be busy trying to get published.

    Or at least I spend most of my time that way.

    On the other hand, I really don’t want to get supported by a pro org until I am, you know, a professional. Some barriers you just have to pass.

  115. Nick: why do you think that professional organizations have no role in promoting the work of their members? I look at something like the Motion Picture Academy, for example, and the Oscar nominees

    What do the Oscars do for films such as, oh, I dunno, Talladega Nights? The academy doesn’t promote the work of its 6000 members — which surely include the above-the-line personnel of Talladega Nights — via the Oscars, it promotes Oscar-worthy films via the Oscars.

    While the Nebulas can be used to promote SF/F in broad strokes, or members who are nominated, clearly it would only actually serve the nominees (who may not be members) and not the non-nominees (many of whom sell much better than many of the nominees would anyway).

    Also, sticking “Nebula Award Winner” on the cover of a book is trivially easy and inexpensive. If that’s the extent of “promoting” we’re talking about, then we hardly even need SFWA to do that, neh?

    Pro orgs are not good at promoting the work of its members for a few reasons:

    1. even within a genre, the work of members will vary widely in quality and potential audience

    2. the pro orgs are not generally set up to do things like improve cover art, appeal to the marketing departments and the sales forces of various publishers, write tip sheets, make regular sales calls, get books reviewed in the trade journals or the major book pages, and do all those other things that actually promote the work of members. (Pro orgs can attend trade shows and such, but that isn’t going to do much for any particular members, ultimately.)

    3. The best promotion is promotion to the trade, not to the public. You can hype whatever you like with websites or whatnot, but if a book is not in a bookstore when someone goes to buy it, the hype is generally without value.

    4. As pro orgs have a watchdog function, they cannot get too buddy-buddy with their “class enemy”, the trade apparatus described above, without rendering themselves either fangless or useless. (Note that the Oscars avoid this because the Academy is the trade apparatus!)

  116. http://www.rwanational.org/cs/booksellers_and_librarians

    Is this what you mean by promotion? If I had joined a professional organization because it offered promotion of member work and this page was what the org’s promises consisted of, I’d quit.

    Really, look closely at the link and the related pages you sent.

    Is a bookseller or a librarian really in need of a tutorial on the popularity of romance or the number of romance genres out there? Not any bookseller or librarian who actually buys romance.

    Is a list of RWA members whose books have made the New York Times bestsellers list really going to promote anyone? Not anyone who isn’t on the list, and, well, the people on the list are already NY Times bestsellers.

    Then there is the list of monthly releases. How much promotion is actually realized by putting up a list of over 200 names and titles and subgenres (no cover art, no cover copy, no blurbs) each month? None.

    Or how about those stats? Are booksellers and librarians really going to buy more RWA member books if they suddenly find out that (shock!) romance sells well at Target and Wal-Mart?

    Seriously, engage the brain for two seconds here. Clearly, if that page is the promotion RWA does then clearly RWA doesn’t see promotion as central to its mission. (RWA does attend BEA and other trade shows, mostly promoting itself as an organization.)

  117. Talkie – I’m trying to figure out why Nick is still talking here if he isn’t as pretty as I am. I offered another location. I’d like to get back to the negative qualities of Burt.

    Nick is easy to enrage though and it is a fun sport. You should try it some time. He’s naturally pessimistic, so it’s easy to get him on a rant and frothing at the mouth. Really, I tried to quit three or four posts ago, but man, it’s too easy. I like his rant on what he interprets I’m thinking that link means. It’s wrong(his interpretation of what I was implying by adding the link), but cute.

    Don’t you think he’s all cute when he’s frothing at my idiocy like that?

  118. Toaster: Hush. There’s nothing on the teevee tonight, so this is it for me.

    Gentlemen … please proceed.

  119. Fair enough. I rarely know when to quit. Was I at any point winning or even holding my own? Does it really just come down to Nick and I have different opinions of what a ‘professional writer’s organization’ is for and that’s probably related to the core problem within SFWA? Volunteers can’t really steer the boat?

  120. “Does it really just come down to Nick and I have different opinions of what a ‘professional writer’s organization’ is for”

    Well, that and the fact that Nick has a pretty good idea of what he’s talking about, and you couldn’t have less of a clue if you painted yourself from head to toe with clue repellent.

  121. “Was I at any point winning or even holding my own?”

    No, not really. Nick really does know what he’s talking about on this subject — as, for that matter, do Jannie, Charlie, and Amy, all of whom had interesting things to say, which I appreciate having read.

  122. I like the fact that the paper James references correlates the use of “Ph.D.” with health department restaurant grading systems.

    I was further stunned to learn this evening that another of Mr. Burt’s (Dr. Burt’s) enthusiasms has been an insistence upon serving upon every committee, and his effort to correct me in my thinking that “ex-officio” meant a member who sat on a committee, but who didn’t vote. OH YES, he said – they VOTE. So basically his understanding of the Vice President position was: voting member of every committee (notwithstanding it really only says of two committees, and seems to have meant – advisory, non-voting member). He obviously spent a lot of time on that and was eager to correct me.

    AND THAT SAID – look at the pirate valentine created by My Favorite Artist Fourteen and her friend Candy:

    http://asterling.typepad.com/incipit_vita_nova/2008/02/a-valentine-cla.html

    I think it would be good for Talk Like a Pirate Day. Or Piramania.

  123. Scalzi, I can’t say that I agree with everything you say, but I admit you do craft one hell of an argument and I think your outrage in this case is well justified. This might even make a decent roman à clef novel. Or at least a week or so of Dilbert cartoons.

    Maybe Burt can find another position where such “talents” would be more appreciated–commissioner of Major League Baseball perhaps.

  124. If it were a non-fiction book on computers, I could kind of understand putting “Ph.D.” after his name. But a work of fiction? Who cares?

    BTW, it’s definitely true that in academia, putting “Ph.D.” after your name is a sign that you are “low-quality”. It’s not that we don’t have ways of signaling status, just that having a Ph.D. is not one of them. It’s partly because everyone has one, and partly because we know that it doesn’t mean much, except that you were dumb enough to waste 5-10 years of your life.

    Anon, but with a Ph.D., so neener-neener!

  125. I’m a life member of SFWA. I’ll be voting for Russell Davis and Elizabeth Moon, and encouraging all the members I know to do likewise. Andrew Burt needs to be stopped and stopped decisively.

    I tend to stay out of SFWA stuff, other than to vote in the elections(life is too short and there is too much to write) . But there comes a time when you have to pick up a musket and climb the barricade.

    Thanks for the eloquent call to arms, Mr Scalzi.

  126. Since I know people are reading here, and John put forth his thoughts very specifically about Andrew Burt – I’ve been thinking a bit about the most recent situation where he commented. Briefly, he was referring to his ideas of how to handle SFWA’s relationship with a paid executive director (the Executive Director right now is Jane Jewell). I commented that there was no problem whatsoever with having an ED serve on a board as an ex-officio member, who would participate, but not actually vote.

    Andrew immediately corrected me by quoting Roberts’ Rules of Order, which say that ex-officio members do vote (with some big exceptions). So the difference was, this is common usage for people being on something, but not voting – although it isn’t technically correct.

    Point being, he already knew this and was quick and smug in his answer – and then there was a report from Lee Martindale that he’d tried to force his way on a previous committee she was on, the same as he did with the Process and Incorporation Committee. He used his reading of the by-laws and this rule I just referred to. The intent of the by-laws wasn’t ever to have the Vice President be a voting member of EVERY committee. You don’t have to be an expert in anything to see what a mess that would be – and also that nobody would want to be Vice President if that were truly the case. But Andrew obviously spent a lot of time selectively reading all this material so he could be on every committee and be a part of every thing.

    I’ve been thinking. Previously, he was also suggesting that writers should not have to pay taxes on money contributed by readers to online “tip jars” that he was promoting. This was because these “tips” were covered under the GIFT TAX. Obviously, as any other tips – of course they’re taxable and only a . . . Burt . . . would suggest otherwise.

    Then there’s the loan thing, and the behavior/correspondence over the Scribd situation, and the lying in wait for Cory Doctorow or whatever that plotted out circumstance was.

    I don’t think it is Aspergers. That is unfair to people with any issue related to that.

    Obviously, he thinks if he can fly far enough under the rader, he’ll pull this off. He will get those people who don’t go online. He probably has memory of previous elections and the people who always vote with paper ballots but are never otherwise seen.

    This is clearly actively destructive, in my opinion. It isn’t bumbling, insensitive, but well-meaning. It might seem “bumbling” but if you assume a reversal of what everybody else would do – it’s quite deliberate, methodical and thought-out. He says that he means well, but he also seems to be thoroughly enjoying this.

    It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time he’s run. And he didn’t make it that time.

  127. I forgot. A big one was pushing his way back as chairman of the Copyright Committee after the other committee did its work. I have no idea what he said or did. I only know that Russell was the only one who wouldn’t go along with it.

    People shouldn’t forget that the previously-elected secretary AND Western Regional Director stepped down when Andrew was elected VP last year. Already they did. Who cares about those women, anyway. Andrew can do all the work.

    It’s like he gets a charge out of putting one over on others. And this would be a big one, too (for him). With what is left of the organization pays the price and a lot of work will be created for others in the future.

    I ask myself, is this what Damon worked so hard for? I know it’s not.

  128. Thank you, John.

    I was delighted to see that Russell Davis is running, and disheartened when A. Burt issued a pre-emptive me-too. My first thought, like Connie Wilkins’s above (@53), was a wish that his candidacy be greeted with a stupendous silence. I truly do not want him taking any more of my time and attention. But I also don’t want him to be President of SFWA. That would be a disaster for the organization.

    Your analysis of the situation is accurate and even generous. I hope it will be useful to SFWA voters. Thank you for writing it.

    Eileen Gunn

  129. May I add the Late Prof. John Pierce, Ph.D.; the late Prof. Olaf Stapledon, Ph.D.; the Late Prof. Isaac Asimov, Ph.D.; The Late Prof. Eric Temple Bell, Ph.D.; Duncan Lunan; Prof. Christine Carmichael, Ph.D.; Prof. Vernor Vinge, Ph.D.; Prof. Tim Poston, Ph.D.; Jerry Pournelle, Ph.D.; Prof. Kip Thorne, Ph.D. (with or without the Late Prof. Carl Sagan, Ph.D.); Prof. Geoffrey Landis, Ph.D.; and Prof. Rudy Rucker, Ph.D.; to that [#99] list of Iain Banks; Greg Egan; Charles Stross; John Scalzi; Cory Doctorow; Prof. Ian Stewart, Ph.D.; Prof. Marvin Minsky, Ph.D. (novel collaboration with Harry Harrison), and others who really Get It, Computer-Science-wise? Andrew Burt, Ph.D. is not qualified to clean the shoes of anyone on the above list, IMHO.

  130. Dang! I forgot [#165] Catherine Asaro, Ph.D., whom I so much admire; you think that Physics is a Man’s game? Hah! She and Prof. Christine M. Carmichael, Ph.D., prove otherwise. And, need I say, “Dr.” A. Burt, these ladies’ kind of Physics has real Math in it, not Fuzzy Math where zero votes = 1 vote? I wish she’d comment on this blog thread…

  131. Let me preface this by saying I’m not yet a member of SFWA

    This has been tangentially mentioned higher up on the thread, but how about making SFWA more international? As in, removing the last A? Like it or not, English is the new lingua franca and there’s a ton of people writing science fiction and fantasy outside of the USA. Some of us have American passports. Some are US expats (not the same as having American passports). Some are Australian or English and some come from countries in which English is really taught in school (Netherlands, Finland, Sweden etc)

    SFWA seems engineered to provide services to American writers. For example, the medical loans. Which aren’t any good to people who live in civilized countries with health care and stuff. To be frank, I’m thrilled that cash from memberships goes to keeping American writer’s healthy, and I would never begrudge them that, but there needs to be an awareness of which services are centered on American writers and which ones are useful to everyone else. Because I’m sure there’s other stuff that, like the medical fund, is only useful to American writers but that, unlike the medical fund, isn’t such a high humanitarian priority.

    For most of us, the Internet compensates for the geographical barriers. It’s time SFWA realized this and came on board.

  132. PNH – Well, that and the fact that Nick has a pretty good idea of what he’s talking about, and you couldn’t have less of a clue if you painted yourself from head to toe with clue repellent.

    Thank you. I needed that.

    Maybe.

  133. BTW, it’s definitely true that in academia, putting “Ph.D.” after your name is a sign that you are “low-quality”.

    That definitely depends on where you are. I am a medical school faculty member, and here putting “Ph.D.” in my .sig file and after my professional signature provides useful information – it distinguishes me from faculty members who have an M.D.

    Similarly, I like to see “Ph.D.” or “M.D.” on conference namebadges and publications in my field, because the field is mixed and it’s useful to know which background researchers are coming from.

    Of course, I would never put “Ph.D.” on my social correspondence, or on a novel. That’s just silly and pretentious.

  134. Fascinating stuff. Got here via a link from the Ansible Links page. After 40+ years as an affiliate member of SFWA I finally dropped out as of this year, as I got less and less out of the org. Also, many people I’ve known in SFWA are no longer either involved or alive, sigh….

    SFWA refused to come to my aid when I was broadsided by Warren Lapine. He went on to stiff many Active SFWA members.

  135. OK, I just checked – of course I knew about Sheila because she is my friend.

    People should remember that last year, when Andrew Burt was elected Vice President when the write-in candidacies weren’t enough — not just one, but three others who were elected resigned because they didn’t want to be on the board with Andrew Burt due to his previous activities.

    So John, you correctly point out the fact that young writers are negative about SFWA:

    SWFA’s natural new membership. They see SFWA as either useless, or actively hostile to them. The events of the last year didn’t help, because among other things, who do you think these neo-pros look up to? People like Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross or Tobias Buckell (who SFWA has already lost, in no small part because of the events of the last year)? Or Andrew Burt?

    It isn’t just them. It’s global. People at all stages of their careers. I don’t think it’s coincidental all three of the resignees were female. I was flamed for pointing up his willingness to continuously go after females or those he sees as “weak” while going behind the backs of, or remaining silent in the face of criticism by those who are males, or he sees as “strong,” such as you or Cory Doctorow. I just learned from Lee Martindale that she’d had the exact same experience a few years ago that we struggled with most recently with the Incorporation Committee (Andrew wanted badly to be on it and direct its activities). He continues to insist that he works well with others. I know I’ve been allayed this a.m. by the promise that Russell will likely get more votes now that Andrew is running, than by running unopposed, but it’s actively nauseous to me. It makes me regret having paid dues.

    No wonder so many new writers are disgusted. He represents just about every single thing one could imagine as “bad” or retro.

  136. Sara Genge (#169) For most of us, the Internet compensates for the geographical barriers. It’s time SFWA realized this and came on board.

    You know, starting an organization for SF/fantasy writers that at once crosses geographic borders (isn’t just based in the U.S.) and genre ones (considers fantasy writers writing romance, YA, mystery, etc. still to be fantasy writers, and has an understanding of electronic publication issues) would be a good way to launch a new writers’ organization.

    Depending on the results of this election, if anyone’s game, I’d sign up. :-)

  137. There are non-American writers in SFWA, by the by. Quite a few Canadians and some UK folks and others.

  138. 173 That might be overstating Andrew’s efforts to deal with the I&P Committee. Of course, since I come off like King Kong — not just another silverback, nosireee — in disputes about “process issues,” my firm rejoinder as the I&P Committee’s chair (that because individual status, power, and authority as a Board member may be affected by this committee’s work, this committee will report to the Board as a whole and will not include any Board member in its deliberations) may have been sufficient. Unlike any current member of the SFWA Board, for two-thirds of my life I’ve been in professions that (at least formally) emphasize “thou shalt not tolerate conflicts of interest.” It’s not a bad rule in general, but it’s even better when backed up with some teeth. And, as a cartliganious ichthyoid, I’ve got a few teeth.

  139. There are non-American writers in SFWA, by the by. Quite a few Canadians and some UK folks and others.

    Oh, I know that there are quite a few non-American writers in SFWA, but the organization doesn’t seem to engage them in any meaningful way. There are also lots of American writers in SFWA who don’t live in the US (I know a couple here in Spain). Just acknowledging that, hello, these people exist, would go a long way in my book.

  140. I don’t think Andrew Burt has Asperger’s, and to say so may indeed be an insult to Asperger’s those with the disease. His behavior is perfectly normal. If you assume that he has some large and powerful supporters who are urging him on and telling him that what he is doing is right,. I am not saying that he’s a dupe or a puppet, but I do think that to understand the situation, we need to ask who Andrew’s friends are and why they are supporting him. He believes he is a Don Quixote, and perhaps that he is speaking aloud things which others are afraid to say. Also, much of the membership may be ignorant of the scandals which have been played out in the SFWA lounge and elsewhere on the internet, and so Burt may be getting votes based only on his platform and what little else goes out by mail to members. It’s no secret that a large part of the membership, especially older, more established authors, have a deep fear of “internet piracy” and want Andrew to be their warrior against it and its nefarious apologists.

    I don’t know if he’ll win, but if he does, it may indicate that SFWA is, ironically, experiencing too much future shock to be of real help to science fiction writers in the 21st century. If so, maybe I can save $70 this summer when dues renewals come up.

  141. It’s not me you would have had to convince this year, Sheila. It would have been my wife. She was having nothing doing.

  142. I do not want Elizabeth for VP. For purely selfish reasons.

    1) Vatta Series (picking up Victory Conditions that should be released today!)

    2) I just read that she just signed a 3 book deal for 3 new Paksenarrion books. woo hoo!

    Soo um Elizabeth? No SWFA BS. Write books!

  143. Sadly for you, Tom (but not for SFWA), Ms. Moon is running unopposed, If only one person votes for her, she still wins! And I suspect more than one person will.

  144. When I asked what should entice me to join the SFWA once I become eligible, the last time I got the answer of ‘you can use the green room at conventions; there are always great parties going on’.

    For a professional organisation, I thought that was a little thin. Even if I had known nothing at all about Andrew Burt, the very act of resolving a comittee and reinstalling it *with exactly the same members* would have felt highly suspicious to me.

    _Please_ don’t vote him back.

  145. Tangential, but the contempt of the published for the unpublished is striking. Considering the size of the stakes, as I glean from writers’ blogs, the hostility reminds me of Henry Kissinger’s remark about academic conflicts.

  146. I don’t the slightest problem with the unpublished; I was unpublished myself once, and I know a number of very good writers who have not been professionally published yet. However, I would not recommend that any of them become president of SFWA.

  147. Sara Genge — Just a few points of information. First, no portion of SFWA dues go to support the Emergency Medical Fund. Those monies come from other sources — from members’ voluntary contributions; from a portion of the Authors’ Coalition proceeds; from special efforts like Mary Kowal’s tee shirt sales and the SFWA Musketeers, as well as auctions held at conventions. But again, SFWA dues do -not- go into the EMF.

    Secondly, we do what we can to help our overseas members, but it’s hard to do a lot when publishing law varies so much from country to country. Harder, too, when you don’t have face-to-face involvement with foreign publishers even to “lean” on them. But we do what we can. Overseas members have their own representative on the Board of Directors. We went after a German agent some years ago, working with German authorities and publishers to shut him down. And during my presidential term we made the Norton Award an international award;, and certainly overseas writers have been eligible for all our awards. A decade ago, we opened membership in the organization to any writer writing and publishing in the English language, instead of just America. One of our members (sorry, but I’m forgetting his name) maintains a website listing foreign markets.

    I’m not sure how much more you think SFWA could do for foreign members, but I’d be interested to hear your ideas. Thanks.

    Best,
    Robin

  148. @189 Flippanter

    I think most of the published don’t have problems with the unpublished. They just conclude (and rightfully so) that when it comes to being published and all the rest of the problems that come after being published, we-the-unpublished have no clue. Which is, you know, true.

    Yeah, bugs me too, that I can’t really be part of a meaningful conversation about the deeper aspects of all this. I’ve been doing research apart from reading the clueful posts in this thread (Nick, Amy, Elizabeth, etc), but I don’t think any amount of research can equal actually being at that point in your career.

    My feelings of inadequacy are thus heightened but in a sense deserved. Now I will just funnel all that shame into effort to get published even more (instead of, say, bothering people here). I wouldn’t have signed up with SF online writing workshop if it weren’t for my inferiority complex raging up.

    I will cheer on Burt getting squished from the peanut gallery. And I will gasp in horror if somehow he is *not*. And that’s about all I can do for now.

  149. How on Earth does this guy stay in power? What makes him think he can succeed in a run for President? I see two options: 1. he actually does have some autism-spectrum traits and is completely oblivious to how much everyone hates him 2. He has lots of supporters, but none of them have websites. Wait, someone mentioned a third above: someone he trusts is telling him he has lots of supporters and all those people with pitchforks and torches are here to clean his barn. In which case, I want to know what the puppet master is getting out of this.

  150. Patrick M: At this point I know a few things about you.

    1: You aren’t as clever as you think you are.

    2: Nick Mamatas knows whereof he speaks, which skill you’ve not demonstrated, and so is wiping the floor with you.

    3: The link you provide to your webpage makes the comment PNH made about your lack of clue so self-evidently true that I, a fairly mild mannered person, might have made it (really… flying into LA, when you were going to a suburb of San Francisco?).

  151. Okay, enough beating on Patrick M. Let’s move on to something more useful.

    Patrick M, you move on too.

  152. Terry – I go there about once every decade and the last time I went, I was there for the same customer, just happens to be a different branch this time.

    Admittedly, I don’t recognize California suburbs very well. I am not embarrassed by this fact. Actually, I’m rather amused. Glad I caught it, too. It also amused my co-workers, who travel as much as I do, because that drive would have sucked…

  153. Superb rant, Scalzi.

    Someone suggested though that if Burt looses that will force him into introspection. It won’t.

    He’ll simply decide that the evil lunatic fringe will have overwhelmed rationality and feel persecuted. He’ll likely try again next year.

    I’ve dealt with people like him before in my rather short existence.

  154. RobinBailey,

    Thanks for taking the time to explain. As I said, I’m not a member of SFWA and not privy to the structure.

    As I said, I’d be perfectly ok with the Emergency Medical fund coming out of the dues of members. Because it’s important dammit, to have good health care.

    I do know that some British mags complain that it’s almost impossible for them to meet SFWA pro standards because the readership in Britain is so much smaller and they’re never going to get the required circulation.

    I didn’t know you’d worked with a German agent. Kudos on that.

    I did know about the Foreign Market List. I really like the concept behind it and appreciate the effort Doug puts into keeping it updated. The Foreign Market List supports the idea that there is life beyond US markets. It may be smallish reprint life, but it’s life nonetheless, with readers, checks in euros and everything.

    At this point, I can’t offer concrete suggestions because a) I still don’t have a clear idea what SFWA does and b) I’ve only been writing for a couple of years and I lack the experience both with novel contracts and copyright to know what’s needed. I guess my post was simply a big “Hello, we’re here!” to see if anyone could hear us. Thanks for listening.

  155. Wonderful post, John. You are so right. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments and seeing how many high-powered, eloquently-spoken people agree with you.
    I run Alpha, the SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers (now in its seventh year). My teenage students look forward to becoming members of SFWA when they get published. I want this organization around to welcome them when their time comes.
    I have a lifetime membership in SFWA and I’m glad I can vote. Russell Davis is the man.
    What can I tell you of my time on the Board of Directors under Catherine Asaro when Andrew Burt was Vice President? It was torture. He wore us down with his towering columns of lengthy emails, facts that twisted like twine and downright nasty, threatening emails to various board members, for which, when called on them, he’d sweetly apologize. :)
    Under Robin, we had a SFWA Board that worked smoothly together.
    When Burt was elected last year, I knew I could not work with him again and I quit the Eastern Regional Director position. Other issues were also involved (my private life got complicated), but the thought of going back to the way things used to be on the Board _without_ Catherine around to try to keep him in check–ugh–seriously, it made me nauseous.
    I’ve done plenty of volunteer work for SFWA, for example, I ran the Nebula Awards Weekend this year.
    If you are able to vote in the upcoming election, please don’t be duped. Listen to me and these other people in the know who are speaking out against Andrew Burt holding an office in SFWA.

  156. @198 Great Scalzi of Much Wisdom

    Thanks. For a moment I thought I would spend a precious morning not writing.

    (For the record, I really do worship at the feet of Scalzi. No sarcasm here.)

    I have reversed my cynicism. There is no way Burt can get voted into office.

  157. Let me get this straight: SFWA dues *don’t* go to the Emergency Medical Fund?

    When SFWA-eligible non-members like me have asked, over the last N years, what SFWA does that makes it worth our time and money, the Emergency Medical Fund is the first thing people mention. It appears to be the shining star in the SFWA crown, the committee whose good deeds are least likely to be hidden under a bushel. And now Robin Bailey, whom one presumes would be in a position to know, is telling us that dues don’t support it?

    Wow.

  158. “Fans/unpublished writers want attention and validation, and will act out to get it at any opportunity.”

    So Nick’s characterization of the unpublished writer is not the community standard? I think it probably is, although most writers might not say it so with such contempt. To use Janni’s AMA analogy, once you are a doctor and can say you are a licensed one, nobody thinks you are a weirdo living in your mother’s basement. Of course, you could still be one, but people will usually assume you aren’t. When you tell people that you are a writer, they can’t tell if you write Ghost Brigades or Tarnsman of Gor, and they usually assume you are a writing something only your mother and your psychiatrist will read. You can’t walk around with a sticker that says “I r real Writr, not Luzr,” so you want a professional organization like SFWA to at a minimum, confer the “professional” part of the reputation.

  159. John — Just curious whether you’ve gotten any direct push-back from Burt (or from those who support him) since you posted this.

    Or would he just try to avoid you?

  160. Re hope at 206: “So Nick’s characterization of the unpublished writer is not the community standard? I think it probably is, although most writers might not say it so with such contempt.”

    It really isn’t. Every published author was once unpublished. Of all the published writers I know personally, none hold unpublished writers with that kind of contempt, because it’d be holding themselves in that kind of contempt. My reading of what Nick said is that some unpublished authors are looking for validation or attention in ways other than simply working hard to get better at that craft. There definitely are some. And there may be more, proportionally than published authors–I don’t really know. But overall they’re a minute proportion of working writers (pub and unpub) altogether.

    What being part of an organization like SCBWI has shown me, where unpublished and published writers are constantly mingling, is that most unpublished authors take the job seriously. Those that don’t, stay unpublished (which is not the same as acting out). And on the flip side, published authors like to help those that are working at getting published.

    My knowledge of the SF/F community is from the outside looking in, but from what I’ve seen, that attitude seems to translate.

  161. While I have “no dog in this fight”, I’m impressed how well you (John) managed to shred the fellow so completely, without once resorting to profanity or even ad hominem attacks!

  162. Mris: While SFWA doesn’t siphon members’ dues into the EMF, it does organize, fundraise and administer the fund.

    SFWA also has a legal defence fund that operates similarly, to help members who find themselves being sued (for literary reasons, not auto accidents!)

    Those two funds, and the other good deeds Robin referred to, as well as the companionship and mentorship I’ve found in SFWA over my quarter century as a member (yikes!) are what have me worrying about what I’d do in the — I hope unlikely — event of a Burt presidency. I took out a lifetime membership after being flush with money from a book contract early on in my career, which complicates matters.

    Please, if you’re a member, vote for Russell.

  163. …the neo-pros and the under-30 writers who are (or should be) SWFA’s natural new membership. They see SFWA as either useless, or actively hostile to them.

    As someone working on getting my first novel published, I wish I had some way to even more emphatically agree with this statement. For most of my life I’ve wanted to be a published author and join the SFWA. But events of the last two years have given me second and third and, quite possibly, fourth thoughts on the matter. Though I do have to say that Burt being elected would at least save me the problem of having to make that decision.

  164. Just out of curiosity, how much is writing seen as a zero-sum game? In other words, do writers in a genre compete against each other? I would think think that the market size is somewhat elastic, but I’m curious as to how much it is.

    (For what it’s worth, I’m not a writer, nor an aspiring, prespiring, respiring, or expiring one.)

  165. It’s not zero sum in the slightest, and there are benefits to promoting the work and careers of your fellow writers. Also, there’s the karma.

  166. So Nick’s characterization of the unpublished writer is not the community standard? I think it probably is, although most writers might not say it so with such contempt.

    Speaking of contempt, do you just not believe in reading for context (the context being the possibility of flame wars within a writer’s org, with my demographical list descriving their behavior within.) or were you so eager to find some way to play the cherished role of Put-Upon Victim that you just refused to read for context?

    Btw, there is no third option.

  167. @215 Nick

    Speaking as one of the unpublished who acknowledges that she is a stupid git where being a professional writer is concerned, I think people think you mean that most/all unpublished writers act like that. Blanket statement type thing, even if the only context you meant was “starts/engages in flamewars”.

    I hang out on AbsoluteWrite, and as far as I can recall, it’s usually just a few rotten apples that do it. Loud rotten apples. Everyone else tends to be more serious. (Though there are more trolls than usual. Sigh.) And I suppose AW is, technically speaking, one of those gutters where the unpublished roam.

    Yes, I suppose I am playing “put-upon victim”, but sometimes you are a put-upon victim and not just playing, and if it’s truth, so be it.

  168. And for any powers that be that might be reading, my reading tends to be impulsive, and I usually can’t wait, due to scheduling. So what I really want is e-books.

    As an example, I read the free samples of Elantris, and got hooked (albeit lightly–I think a few more chapters would be needed to really sink the hook in deep). Unfortunately, the local Barnes and Noble didn’t have it. It’s not available in electronic form. I’m not going to order it from Amazon, because by the time it arrives, I probably won’t have time to read it, even if I ordered it next-day (which I probably wouldn’t want to pay for anyway, so it’s moot).

    I don’t like reading off the screen, though, so what I’d really like is e-books in a form that will print very densely on a laser printer.

    Just presenting a data point.

  169. re #194 — John, thanks for mentioning my Foreign Market List
    re #202 — Sara, glad you’ve found the FML to be of use
    re #191 — Robin, just to clarify, my FML has nothing to do with SFWA. That I’m a SFWA member and maintain this site are in no way related. I will say that SFWA’s Griefcom has assisted me multiple times in the past in extracting payment from foreign publishers for translated short fiction sales.

    Doug

  170. Yes, I suppose I am playing “put-upon victim”, but sometimes you are a put-upon victim and not just playing

    Not this time.

  171. Beautiful, brilliant rant. Darn it! Now I can’t scold you for being so diplomatic on the older blog post about the controversy!
    ————————
    PNH @ #26: Don’t worry. Most sane people know that Jon is being far, far nicer than Andrew Burt deserves.
    ————————

    Incidentally, I’m one of those “pre-published writers” who once pined to join the SFWA. Now it seems like it’s going to be another casualty of technology and the generational gap. Why bother?

    OT: I tried to explain culture convergence, file-sharing, the piracy wars and such to my mom a couple of weeks ago. I think I made progress, but I think she still suspects me of advocating that artists should make no money. -.-

    The digital revolution shouldn’t effect writing agents as severely as it will music agents; the MPAA and RIAA are desperate because they’ve rarely given the artists or consumers fair deals, and only with the conflicts over DRM and the costs of downloads has that discussion become public.

  172. How do we get out of the hole? Here’s a hint: it’s not by rewarding through election as our president the guy who dug the hole and then walked SFWA over to the edge and pushed it in.

    I can’t believe I’m the first person to jump on this turn of phrase.

    *LOLSFWA*

    Ooh, I have one of those

  173. OMG, my two favorite fantasy writers posting in the same Whatever thread! The confluence of Spherical Time fan obsession is begging to overwhelm my rational mind!

    At least all three of you have upcoming books (Jhegaala, Hidden City, and Zoe’s Tale). Although, I’m hoping Michelle is already most of the way through her next text.

  174. Sigh. As my interest in any point of fandom goes up my ability to form understandable English sentences goes down. I meant to say “beginning” instead of “begging” and the terminal sentence of my previous post should read “Although I am hoping that Michelle is already most of the way through her next book by now.”

  175. Just dropping by to say thanks to John, as well as those in this topic, for the kind words of support. I am deeply appreciative.

    Obviously, I’m responding to questions on SFF.Net, and my own (western literature related) blog isn’t really an appropriate place for SFWA-related discussion, so I’ll check back here regularly and if people have questions, I’d be happy to answer them. OTOH, I don’t want to appropriate John’s blog, so if he says no-go, then I’ll try to figure out something else within the next couple of days.

    Thanks again for the support!

  176. Feel free, Russell. I’ll also mention on the front page (probably tomorrow) that you’re happy to answer questions.

  177. Why does Burt keep dropping the m, or alternately the ml, off his page addresses? Surely he must know that .ht is going to make people think the URL isn’t correct?

    Can anyone explain this? HTML left me behind about six years ago, unfortunately, so I am completely not up with it.

  178. Mr. Davis, if you are elected, what do you think your chances are of turning SFWA around? Do you think it is revivable in your term of office, or will it need years of careful management to overcome some of the past blunders and the entrenched culture of flame wars?

  179. Hi Hope @ 236,

    Russell is just fine. I don’t stand too much on formalities. And thank you for asking these questions.

    To address your first question, about my chances of turning the organization around… the answer lies in large part on the membership itself. If the members are willing to face and participate in the process of change, then I think the chances of change are very, very good. If apathy and dissension rule the day, then I suspect I’ll have a very tough year.

    SFWA is a really interesting organization that does a lot of things right – GriefCom, the Legal Fund, the Medical Fund, Writer Beware and so on. The challenges the organization faces lie more in the realm of corporate governance (including public relations), structure, and streamlining member services. (That’s not to suggest that those are the only areas that need attention or the only things SFWA does well.)

    Of course, if I didn’t think it was possible to right the ship, I wouldn’t be running for the office. Now, to stretch the ship analogy like carnival taffy… imagine trying to turn around a massive cruise liner that’s built up some speed. You can’t do it on a dime. Course correcting an organization is much the same. It takes a series of steps to make it happen.

    I have a rather aggressive series of objectives I’d like to accomplish during my first term, and if steady progress is made, then I think the first steps of righting the ship will have been taken. Beyond that point, like any organization, it will absolutely require careful management, regular “course correction” (and boy, haven’t I taken that one far enough), and attention/adherence to successful business practices.

    So, in short, yes – it is “revivable” (though I’d rather think of it in terms a little less like trying to bring back the dead) and it will need years of careful management. This latter is true of all businesses.

    Thanks again for the question.

  180. Well, Burt’s platform is well worth a look. Right from the first words (“Greetings, gentlebeings!”) you know you’re in for an interesting read.

    Consider this metaphor:

    “SFWA is a multi-headed beast doing much excellent work, but sometimes one head gets overshadowed and needs tending.”

    Or this paragraph:

    “Currently it’s in those realms of protecting authors’ interests that I see the need to strengthen SFWA. The recent WGA strike shows the writing world is changing. SFWA needs to be not just at the forefront, but proactively leading the way. I’m optimistic about SFWA and the future; I know we can do this.”

    “Those realms” doesn’t refer to anything that comes before, which moves the first sentence from clunky to clunky and confusing. The second sentence about the WGA strike could be the start of an interesting idea, but it’s never developed — he never mentions the strike, or how the world is changing, again. The last two sentences are corporate bafflegab. (What /is/ the difference between being in the forefront and “proactively leading the way”?) Pointing out incorrect semicolon use would be petty, so I won’t do that.

    Then there are sentences like this: “Beyond that there is a new dimension to protecting authors’ interests that has arisen with the digital age and in which SFWA is lagging.” Take a moment and /parse/ that. A new dimension… has arisen… in which SFWA is lagging. How does a dimension arise? How do you lag in a dimension?

    Here’s my favorite: “The world is changing — dare I say we’re seeing the first portents of the singularity. We need to adapt and jump ahead of that sucker so authors make money and the field remains strong.”

    I like the sudden disconcerting shift in language — ‘jump ahead of that sucker’ — but what makes it really wonderful is the idea of jumping ahead of the Singularity. Yes, SFWA must become incomprehensibly posthuman before anyone else does, so that authors make money and the field remains strong!

    I’ll leave the field open to others who may be interested. It’s a rich field, and a deep one.

    Doug M.

  181. good morning, Mr. Scalzi. as a total bystander, i have no real commentary to add, just wanted to tell you that this was totally entertaining, as always.

    -bs, with a BS, MS, and a wanna-be Ph.D.

  182. Russell,

    Thank you. If you could just miss the iceburt, it would be encouraging. And maybe remove some of the barnacles. New paint! There’s no boat metaphor that I can think of for “greater transparency.” Unless, it is that maybe you could upgrade the PA system? All I know about Griefcom, for instance, is that it exists, and even that, I know from Scalzi’s site and the Nielson Hadyns’, not from SFWA directly. It’s very hard to know what SFWA is from the outside. One can always join, then quit, the dues aren’t that high. But I know that I get emotionally involved with debacles very quickly. I don’t want to join just so I can watch some good people going down for the third time.

  183. You know, last time this all came up over the scribd takedown (bless you Mr Doctorow, you certainly had your xkcd cape on that day) I considered boycotting books by SFWA members. That’s probably because I am a reactionary hothead though. :)

    That said, for the web-aware youth of which I guess i am still just young enough to qualify, this made a big stink. Boing Boing made this all VERY public, and to be honest as a Brittish SF reader I hadnt heard of SFWA before, and my thoughts about it at the time were all negative.

    Lots of authors blog now and lots of us readers hang out at places like Whatever a lot, so all this discussion affects my reading habits. Younger people who will keep SF sales up in the next few decades are often even more web addicted than me, and belive me i am a web-geek. I buy perhaps 6 books a month on average, I’m sure others do the same, and if this continues to be the PR disaster it has been, it could affect sales in the end.

    I know it should be all about the quality of the work but it’s not any more. We all get to have personal interaction with authours, such as the numerous big and small authors commenting here, and so our opinion of them will inevitably affect what we buy. Case in point, I loved Enders game but Card wont be gettign another penny off me after some truly shocking comments about homosexuality. On the positive side, it was this blog that introduced Old Man War to me, and I became a Tobias Bucknell reader solely because of his blog.

    In summation, sort it out! Get SFWA out of the news! At least until the news can be positive in some way.

    @Russel, excellent that you are answering questions here by the way. I would be interested on your thoughts on what I mentioned above, the impact of the web and author blogs on reader perception of authors and so their buying habits.

  184. Russell,

    I commend your openness in approach here!

    I’m not an SFWA member, nor do I expect I ever will be. But there is one important activity of SFWA which affects the way the rest of the world regards the whole genre: the Nebula Awards. There are a couple of big problems with the awards at present. The first is the “rolling eligibility” criterion, which means that almost a third of the preliminary nominations ballot for the 2007 awards was actually published in 2006 (and believe it or not one in 2005 and one in 2008)! The term “2007” in the title of this year’s awards is confusing and possibly meaningless, given that the awards will be physically made in 2008 and may well go to works published in 2006.

    That’s an objective issue, and which people may disagree on the importance of the problem I doubt if anyone will challenge the facts. There is a more subjective issue as well, and I am aware that a lot of people will disagree with my assessment, but here goes anyway: the Nebula preliminary and final ballots often feature more dross than one would expect for an award of this level of prestige. It’s thankfully rare for a genuinely awful book or story to actually win (the most recent example I can identify is Catherine Asaro’s The Quantum Rose), but Rich Horton has been quite eloquent on the weaknesses of this year’s preliminary ballot.

    Do you agree that either of these is, in fact, a problem? Do you think that anything can or should be done about either issue?

  185. Russell: first of all, thanks for taking questions. Here’s mine:

    As someone who is looking to start a small SF press, can you tell me your position on working with small presses to get their works as SFWA-eligible publications? I understand track records are important, but I was shocked to find out that publishing with, say, Small Beer can’t count towards one’s SFWA eligibility.

  186. Russell,

    I am an aspiring SF author who’s been watching the events at SFWA with great interest. Frankly, I find it disconcerting that the professional body of SF writers is looking less and less forward thinking and more and more reactionary. In all honesty, while the Medical Fund, Writers Beware and other programs are encouraging, it doesn’t really entice to become part of SFWA. So I am asking what, should I be so lucky to become eligible for membership, are the reason why I should join?

    Thanks in advance!

  187. <delurk>
    240 Hope, the reason that you don’t hear much about GriefCom is that it’s supposed to work that way. GriefCom is not so much confidential as a last-chance-before-the-lawyers way to try to resolve individual issues involving authors and publishing-industry figures through a combination of mediation and persuasion. To be effective, it’s going to remain very much mysterious… particularly since some affiliate members of SFWA are not authors, but editors, agents, and other publishing-industry figures who are potentially the subject of the GriefCom process!

    I am answering the question implied in post 240 because I think it would put a candidate for President in the tough position of having to say “It’s a seeeeecret”… or worse. As a lowly affiliate member, though — I’ll tell you the story of that phrase over a tasty beverage at a convention some time — I can say that sort of thing without causing shame and disgrace upon SFWA for generations to come. (SFWA’s leadership manages that on a regular basis anyway, or at least has for the last couple of decades.)

    N.B. I am not SFWA’s counsel. I have been consulted by GriefCom on several occasions; I have assisted SFWA members before, during, and after GriefCom proceedings on several occasions; I have even sort-of-defended a complicated GriefCom matter.
    <lurk>

  188. As a writer who just made his first pro sale and has just recently joined SFWA (I was on the fence, but my wife convinced me) I was wondering-

    What will you do (if anything) about the abysmal pay rates currently for professional SF/F magazines (compared to non-genre markets), and do you have any plan on trying to get said magazine’s current downward spiral back upwards? I know the SFWA doesn’t have a hand directly in these sort of things, but I’m sure there are ways they can influence the market, and maybe even come up with a plan to help push these magazines forward.

  189. Hi Owen @ 241,

    You asked about my thoughts on the impact of the web, author blogs and reader perception/buying habits.

    Let me caveat my answer by saying that I’m pretty well convinced that it’s a continually evolving process. I do think the web has a fairly significant impact now and that impact will continue to grow as more and more people become used to getting their information and entertainment that way.

    A great many authors have blogs and I believe it’s a fairly simple tool that can be used to reach your current and potential readers. That said, in many ways, a blog isn’t that much different than an appearance at a convention. I think that an author blog can give readers a negative perception if it isn’t handled correctly – the author is giving the reader (or potential reader) a peek at the person, not just the name.

    Readers choose what they are going to read based on a great many reasons. If an author belongs to a given organization, and a reader is offended by the actions of the organization, that person may choose to stop reading that particular author. BUT… in general, I don’t think this happens very often. There were some rumblings in a couple of places about the notion of boycotting SFWA-member author titles during the Scrib’d incident. The problem with that notion, as I see it, is that as a reader you’re not just punishing one author who did something you strongly disagree with, but many, who likely had little or nothing to do with what happened. Beyond that, you’re punishing yourself.

    There are authors out there who have said/done things that I personally find so distasteful that I have trouble reading their work. So I don’t. But that doesn’t prevent me from reading someone else’s, even if they both happen to be members of the same organization.

    Thanks for the question.

  190. Hi Nicholas @ 242,

    You’ve asked two questions here, both in regards to the Nebula’s. This was actually brought up on the SFF.Net newsgroup, too, especially in regards to the rules.

    I’m actually going to copy a pretty significant portion of my response to the rules question here. I recognize that there are a lot of people who can see a variety of ways to “fix” problems they or others perceive with the existing Nebula rules. In all honesty, I’d like to address Nebula rules concerns – I have some of my own, in point of fact – but even opening up the debate can cause a flame war that would distract a significant portion of the membership from accomplishing what the initial debate was trying to answer. That doesn’t mean there aren’t valid opinions within the flames, it just means that, in my opinion, what SFWA doesn’t need right now is another massive internal debate over what are essentially procedural rules.

    Understand that the Nebula rules aren’t part of our bylaws – though they’ve been treated as such. They are, however, part of the operating procedures of the organization. From a business perspective, I think we need to work from the center of the organization (bylaws, corporate governance) outward. Addressing the operating procedures will come, but it’s going to be a longer, more intensive process.

    As I noted in my platform, there are a number of things on an internal level that we need to address – reincorporation in another state, the necessary bylaws to go with such a move, streamlining the committee process, etc. – before we can tackle a project like this in a productive way.

    So, in short, while looking at the Nebula rules is something that probably does need to be done, it won’t be something I plan on addressing in the immediate future.

    Your second question, primarily in regards to the quality of the work on the preliminary ballot is a tough one to answer. People made their recommendations for whatever reason and it’s difficult for me to try and second guess them. Rich is a smart guy and a solid reviewer, and I know some people share his opinion. Others don’t.

    I think the best hope for getting great work on the preliminary and final ballot is to ensure that SFWA does all it can to promote the eligible work of all SF/F writers and to encourage our members to communicate about work they enjoyed.

    Thanks for the question.

  191. Hi Chryss @ 243,

    You’ve asked a really important question here and it is something I hope to address with the membership, the Membership Committee and the Board.

    At present, the way the situation works is that the Membership Committee is required to make a judgment about the business model of a given publisher to determine eligibility. This is something of a problem in that I feel that the business model of publishing *is* changing, particularly in the small press. The consolidation of many SF/F houses under the banner of large conglomerates has meant that a great many “name” authors are now publishing with small houses.

    What I’d ultimately like to see happen is a scenario where a publishing house is looked at using a set of criteria, including payment, etc., but can also be deemed as eligible by track record with established authors in the field. I’ll use Five Star as an example. They’ve published Brian Herbert, Jack Dann, Esther Friesner, etc. – but they aren’t eligible because of their payment level. Alas, they are principally a library publisher, with very small print runs, so what is a success for them and for the author involved, doesn’t meet the eligibility criteria of SFWA at present. This needs to be examined, as more and more quality SF/F small houses are coming onto the scene.

    All that said, this can’t be done by declaration, and is an issue that must be addressed by the membership as a whole. Publisher and member eligibility is a “hot-button” topic within SFWA, so consensus will be the key to success.

    Thanks for the question.

  192. Hi Chang @ 244,

    This is an important question. Above and beyond the usual answers to this question – GriefCom, the Legal Fund, the Emergency Medical Fund, etc. – I’ll toss out one more:

    Networking, networking, networking. SFWA offers members a great many opportunities to meet and interact with professional authors, editors, agents and publishers. There is some truth to the idiom “It’s not what you write, it’s who you know.” If for no other reason than access to the Directory, I’d be a member of SFWA.

    As an aspiring writer, you’re going to face many challenges just climbing the mountain. One of the rewards of reaching the top – i.e., getting published – is better access to information and people that can help your career. SFWA offers that opportunity in SF/F perhaps better than any other single organization out there.

    Thanks for the question and best of luck on your endeavors.

  193. Hi Paul @ 246,

    Wow. You’ve asked a tough question. The magazine market as a whole is in terrible shape due to a variety of circumstances, including the advent and continued rise of Internet-based publications, poor distribution models, and a change in readership demographics.

    Historically, SFWA has been able to work with magazines to encourage better pay and contracts – and certainly we’ll continue to do that when possible. That said, what I hope to do is to work with F&SF, Asimov’s, etc. to develop some cooperative efforts to get both the magazine and SFWA wider recognition and, ultimately, readership.

    The downward spiral cannot be stopped unless we all work together to change it. And much like I mentioned earlier… it’s a process that will take time, patience, and fortitude to get accomplished.

    Thanks for the question.

  194. I find it fascinating that folks are both concerned about the low pay rate for fiction, but also about the fact that SFWA doesn’t recognize markets with low pay rates (for membership purposes, anyway). There’s a tension between those two positions, yet somehow addressing them both, maybe even reconciling them, may be at the heart of keeping/making the organization relevant.

  195. Russell,

    As much or more SF/fantasy these days is published under other marketing categories and imprints (romance, YA, mystery, even mainstream) than is published by SF/fantasy imprints.

    What do you see as the role of “non-genre” SF/fantasy writers in SFWA, and what do you think SFWA can or should be doing to work with these writers, if anything?

    Thanks for answering questions here!

    Janni

  196. Russell:

    The last time I was at a SFWA party, I was cornered by a few official types about including/reaching out to comics writers who write SF. Your thoughts on the matter, if any?

  197. Hi Janni @ 256,

    This is such an important issue. People like to talk about the death of the SF/F marketplace, but the reality is that no small amount of it has simply moved to the house next door. Another reality is this: mixed-genre (a term I prefer over non-genre, because the vast, vast majority of all fiction can be genre categorized) books (romantic fantasy/sf, the Y/A crossover titles, etc.) are written by people who love both genres and we need to be reaching out to them.

    RWA has a specific chapter, for example, dedicated to members who write mixed-genre titles. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it’s called – sorry. But the point is that SFWA shouldn’t ignore these writers and should, in fact, be encouraging them to join.

    The other part of your question – how to do that – is by working to form better, stronger alliances with other writing organizations and by making sure that those writers know about us.

    Thanks for the question.

  198. Hi Glenn @ 257:

    Actually, this topic has come up over on SFF.Net as well. I’m really torn about the subject.

    The comic book medium is an altogether different form than regular prose. This is true because without the illustrations and the artwork, the story would be incomplete. (This is also true in the case of some, but not all graphic novels.)

    Another issue is that the publishing industry for comic books is absolutely not the same one as it is for books. I’m not sure that SFWA could – at least initially – be as effective for comic book authors as it can for prose authors.

    The short answer is that I think this is a question we would have to put before the membership as a whole. It was done a number of years ago, with both comic books and graphic novels being rejected as acceptable membership credentials, but I suspect the outcome now might well be different.

    Thanks for the question.

  199. I’m happy to report that, for the first time since my major emergency surgery for a life-threatening condition, on 9 January 2008, I felt well enough to teach a full day (Honors English) of public high school. The text today, already arranged by the teacher for whom I substituted, was the DVD of “The Incredibles.” For the students, this came between “The Parable of the Cave” last week and DVD of “The Matrix” next week. Science fiction has made its way to the core of the curriculum in some schools.

    When I got home, my wife, the aforementioned Professor Christine M. Carmichael, who had been teaching in her university’s Physics lab until after 9:00 p.m., asked about our status as Members or not of SFWA, which status has been in limbo for about 3 years, despite my repeated requests to resolve the matter, and my having sent a couple of years ago a never-cashed $1,000.00 check to pay for the 2 upgrades.

    I tried to explain that SFWA was tearing itself apart, and that the faction that did NOT want us to be members (let alone Life Active Members) was trying to consolidate control of the rump state remaining after they’d driven off big name members and officers of the sane faction.

    She, quite wisely, decided that the whole thing was too disgusting to talk about any more this evening.

    Tomorrow I’ll teach English in a local Middle school. Luck of the draw. I also teach Mathematics, Computer Science, Physics, and other subjects in the same urban school district. But it was sweet indeed to be teaching Science Fiction after more than 6 weeks of surgery, postsurgical complications, 9 days hospitalization, and infected wound out-patient complications.

    I can hear Andrew Burt, Ph.D. in Syndrome’s line: “You’re weak… and I’ve outgrown you.”

    I also detected a hint of Andrew Burt, Ph.D. in Syndrome’s line: “I’ll give them heroics. I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics they’ve ever seen! And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so everyone can be superheroes! Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… [laughs maniacally]… no one will be.”

    Except that part of the point was that Syndrome became more than a fan boy who wanted to be a pro; he ended up actually competent, albeit evil. In my opinion, Andrew Burt, Ph.D., as a hypothetical character, falls short of cartoon plausibility, and is just too stupid to be dangerous — were it not that he does indeed have powerful backers, who remain perfectly willing to throw the ABurt Syndrome to the Omnidroid 8000. And as they do, one will say to him, the King quote-within-a-quote: “I’m your biggest fan!”

  200. Russell:

    “The comic book medium is an altogether different form than regular prose. This is true because without the illustrations and the artwork, the story would be incomplete. (This is also true in the case of some, but not all graphic novels.)

    Another issue is that the publishing industry for comic books is absolutely not the same one as it is for books. I’m not sure that SFWA could – at least initially – be as effective for comic book authors as it can for prose authors.”

    The same argument could easily be made about work for television and movies, yet screenplays and teleplays are accepted criteria for SFWA membership.

  201. Thanks, Russell.

    People like to talk about the death of the SF/F marketplace, but the reality is that no small amount of it has simply moved to the house next door.

    The fact that you’re going into this with an understanding of that is particularly heartening to me. Because I agree that SF/F is far from dead, for all that it certainly is changing!

  202. Also, this rings very, very true to me:

    mixed-genre (a term I prefer over non-genre, because the vast, vast majority of all fiction can be genre categorized) books (romantic fantasy/sf, the Y/A crossover titles, etc.) are written by people who love both genres and we need to be reaching out to them.

    Thanks, Russell, for taking the time here.

  203. Russell
    If for no other reason than access to the Directory, I’d be a member of SFWA.

    A couple of thoughts on this response. a. $70 for the privilege of arguing with Jerry Pournelle could maybe be charged at an hourly or monthly rate. I may not want to argue with him all year.

    Might part of the problem bringing the newer writers in be, if they have already published a novel, they’ve (hopefully) already learned to network and made contact with agents and publishers. This seems like only a benefit to someone making it in on the short story side, wanting to get into novels.

    Clearly, I have shown MY ability to make friends and influence people on this thread. I’m sure if I had a MS in to PNH he’d go diving into the slush pile just because he wants to see it. All without the benefit of membership. ;)

    At this point, I have a hard time viewing SFWA as anything other than a status symbol for short fiction writers – and I think that is very far from what Damon Knight’s vision of SFWA was.

  204. PatrickM @ 265, there are at least two learning curves. The first is how to become a published writer. The second is how to be a successful published writer. These are different skills, and finding people to learn from is really useful.

  205. AliceB – No doubt. I suspect there’s ALWAYS something to learn and having a network of resources is a good thing. My point is, by the time you figure out how to get published, most will have a usable network by then.

    SFF writers tend to give back to upcoming writers through the workshops – clarion/VP/Odyssey/OSC’s boot camp – I would say are the big ones. This is usually one of the things SFWA points to when talking about unpublished. Well, assuming one DOES have the ability(skill, money, and time) to attend a workshop, they’ve already started to build those relationships.

    Sure, SFWA is larger than what you meet through those workshops, but really, you can do well with just those.

    What I am saying is there are other, probably better, ways of meeting professional writers than SFWA membership -which comes with Nebulas and Burt baggage – from what it sounds like.

    Yeah networking is good, but that as a selling point for SFWA sure sounds like they are telling me that there’s a secret handshake. Is there a secret handshake?

  206. Damn! I haven’t been paying any attention to SFWA except for a little Nebual Novel Jury business – ye cats, there were some truly bad novels published this year, I can only assume there were some very interesting photographs of certain editors floating around out there – so seems I’ve missed the annual opportunity to sell a vision of renewal for SFWA. I’d be disappointed, except that I am so genuinely excited to hear about Andrew Burt’s candidacy. This promises to be even more entertaining than the ongoing train wreck of the U.S. presidential campaign!

    How can one fail to be amused by the blithe social autism of Burt’s campaign, or not be certain that he would utterly destroy the organization in his bumbling, passive-aggressive manner. I just wish I could put my arms around each and every one of you, hold you tight, and whisper, “it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.”

  207. Hi Glenn @ 262:

    You said: The same argument could easily be made about work for television and movies, yet screenplays and teleplays are accepted criteria for SFWA membership.

    And you are absolutely correct. The same argument not only could be made, but in fact, has been made by many people. There was no small amount of debate surrounding the inclusion of those mediums.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  208. Hi Patrick @ 265/267:

    Yes, there is a secret handshake. And a decoder ring. Sorry about that, but when people say it’s a tough business to break into, they really mean it.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  209. Hi, John and all –

    John, I saw upstream where you said you’d be voting for Mary for Secretary, so I hope you don’t mind my stopping by. Been reading your take on things – well said, indeed – and some truly fine and salient input that it’s generated. Taking notes like crazy, ohboyhowdyyoubetcha.

    Lee – The Other Candidate For SFWA Secretary

  210. Lee Martindale:

    You are, in fact, tremendously welcome. And although I pledged my vote to Mary early, if you were to win, I think that would be great for SFWA, too. Really, it’s a race where either outcome would please me. And how many races can you say that about?

  211. Thank you, sir. As I said, I’m enjoying the discussion here tremendously.

    A race where either outcome benefits the organization? Gee, let me think. Uh… one? I’ve got fingers, toes, and any other available crossable appendages crossed that, if Mary wins, so does Russell. Because the thought of Andrew Burt being able to appoint people to all those offices makes me *real* uneasy. Talk about your nightmare scenario!

    Thanks again for the warm welcome.

  212. Wow…. Andrew Burt(s) do similiar things in different organizations!
    You see, an Andrew Burt- I don’t yet know if it is the same one- is the Director responsible for international liaison for the Federation of British Historical Vehicle Clubs. In addition to that high profile and very busy position, he also hoards positions on the FBHVC legislation and technical committees AND is an official of FIVA, Federation Internationale Des Vehicules Anciens, the international organisation through which FBHVC is represented to the EU.
    Is grasping for power in wee organisations and dominating minor committeeships all in a name?

  213. Hey, I’m just amused that a movie based on a comic book can be nominated for a Nebula, but the comic book on which it’s based isn’t considered enough for the author to join SFWA. (See this year’s example, V For Vendetta.)

  214. 139 (reading my way through the thread): Nick’s comments gibe exactly with what I’ve seen from the hoi polloi wannabes on the message boards. Crap like “selling” a story to Achmed’s “anthology. Scare quotes used on mother fucking purpose. (I’m just a garden variety troller/flamer…but at least I don’t claim to be a writer. I get my rocks off chatting on the net and admit it.)

  215. Overall: you know, I think I’ve seen this movie before. Wannabes coming in and talking about SFWA policy, siding with their bud Scalzi but not quite noting how he wants to keep the org professional in difference to many of them. The RWA diversion. The life membership thing. Continuing requirements. I mean, I SAW THE MOVIE!

  216. 261: That sounds like a miserable use of an honors education class. Whether or not it is SF or Romance or what have you. Watching movies like that is not a good use of class time. Let them do that on the outside. Stretch the little turds. Make them read the classics. Make them write literary analyses.

  217. TCO:

    Try to put every thing into one post, rather than a whole bunch of little posts. You’re triggering my OCD, here.

  218. Nice rant!

    Chryss — if you are serious about starting a small press I hope you are aware of the wonderful Council of Lit Mags and Presses, clmp.org.

    If the SFWA wants to work out a way to have small press work “count” working with the CLMP would probably help a LOT. They Get Stuff Done.

  219. I don’t qualify yet for SFWA, so this may be a stupid question*, but –

    It’s been mentioned a few times that many of the SFWA voters are not on-line, and therefore may not know of the issues surrounding Mr. Burt.

    Would it be possible to send this editorial, along with one from Mr. Burt, on paper to the membership? As editorials in the Bulletin, perhaps? Of courses both ‘sides’ of this issue would need to have equal time, but I’m sure that’s do-able.

    (*)It’s probably also obvious that I’m only up to about comment #100, so my apologies if this has been suggested before.

  220. “…who do you think these neo-pros look up to? People like Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross or Tobias Buckell…”

    Not role models?

    #$&@!

    I say Doctorow, Stross and Buckell start their own organization, elect John as president and Nick Mamatas as their trusted Tyler.

    Hell yeah, secret handshakes for all.

  221. I am not involved in the SFWA – and confess I never even read SF – but the rant was so compelling that I went over to read Mr. Burt’s website. Here is one excerpt:

    “About Aburt…

    By way of executive experience, over the past twenty years I’ve been CEO of . . .”

    Either he is in the habit of referring to himself as Aburt or he, perhaps, should not be promoting himself as a “writer.”

  222. John,

    First: Thanks for the really interesting discussion. :D I gave up most of my ambitions on writing after the weight of rejection notices snapped the mailbox post in half, but I love reading about how things tend to work, and I’ve been very interested in what’s going on with SFWA since Burt first reared his head at the internets last year.

    Second: Finally managed to find a copy of Old Man’s War in Columbus (surprisingly hard to do! You’d think they’d give you better stock rates in your home state…), and it was intensely awesome. I hope my $7 contributes to a cheeseburger in your near future.

    Third: As ZT approaches, are you planning to do any readings or suchlike around the state, either pre or post release?

  223. I’ve tossed my hat into the ring as a protest candidate. http://mzmadmike.livejournal.com/48285.html

    Ordinarily, protest candidates siphon votes away from (semi-)legitimate candidates. I don’t think that will be a problem this time. The legitimate candidate or candidates will get enough votes to win anyway.

    I’d make an honest run, but the massive load of assorted stuff I have to do this year, most of which I can’t talk about and would be boring if I did, preclude that. Since I can’t promise to do a good job, I’m promising not to do the job at all. Quoting Rodney Dangerfield, “Kids! They don’t know how to delegate!” Vote for me and learn what delegation really means, if you dare.

    And don’t forget my real campaign for the Highest Office: http://www.MadMikeIn08.com

    Because voting for the lesser evil has FAILED.

  224. My main complaint about SFWA structurally is that it only takes 3 shorts, one time, to qualify for life. It’s worse than John noted regarding Mister Doctor Burt. Someone can publish 3 shorts, then gets to vote forever on policy for those of us who are still working, and producing novels, screenplays, whatever. There are writers who’s last professional output was decades ago. What can they offer of substance about the current state of publishing?

    I have no problem letting someone join after 3 shorts, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require a minimal level of continuing sales, say, one story every five years.

    There’s enough three-short dorks however, that no proposal of such will ever get enough votes to become policy.

  225. I find this an excellent candidacy, Mike. I think I would like you to come to my neighborhood too and do something about those yapping dogs and the throng that parks next door.

    I just wanted to say that I, personally, think things are getting more active and vibrant again in the field in general. In addition to Russell’s commentary about “the house next door,” which is absolutely true, the traditional aspects seem on the rise again also, and it’s really from last fall to now, and I see no signs of abatement.

    That’s the most important thing to me. If I’m going to try to do my part, I want to be part of something real. That’s the core reason why I didn’t really want to get involved in recent years (after my initial time after joining). It seemed removed from reality. Now, the gap is so big everyone can see it. If Russell is elected, we have a chance to close that gap and be close to the real situation for real writers, of all stages of their careers.

  226. Disclaimer: Not an SFWA member, have published poetry
    but not for $$, have read SF&F forever, and have sold
    books for about 10 months.

    Wow, where was I when this was happening last year?
    (Oh, yeah, getting the bookstore up and running.) I wish
    all the SFWA members good luck in the election!

    Someone asked above about Russell Davis’s books – the
    latest one I have is the anthology “If I Were an Evil
    Overlord,” edited by Martin Greenberg and Russell Davis.
    Hey, *I* liked it. Maybe it’s my Inner Evil Overlord
    coming out.

    Speaking as a board member of a local service org, I hope
    one of the things y’all do first is FIX that Conflict of
    Interest issue where the VP can become chair of the
    committees. However you choose to fix it – it’s a loaded
    gun.

    Nice job, Mr. Scalzi – very well executed, and thanks
    for offering a locale where everyone can comment.
    Lauretta
    Constellation Books, Reisterstown, MD

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