Presidential Statement on the SFWA Bulletin, June 2, 2013

Below is a note I posted to SFWA members in our private forums this evening. Given the public interest in the topic, I am posting it here as well (it will also be posted on the public-facing SFWA site within a day (update: it’s here)).

As with all SFWA-related topics, I am disabling comments here. SFWA members who wish to comment on it may do so on their own sites or, of course, on the SFWA private boards.

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Dear SFWA Members:

I was on a plane ride home from a three-week book tour when the latest controversy regarding the SFWA Bulletin erupted, and had been largely absent from the day-to-day operations of SFWA while I was out on the road. When the controversy hit, I did two things immediately: One, as the person who by our bylaws is responsible for publications, I took responsibility for events and opened up a channel for people to comment and criticize, via my “president@sfwa.org” address. Two, I authorized a task force, headed up by SFWA Vice President Rachel Swirsky, to look at the role of the Bulletin within the organization moving forward.

Those two things dealt with, I went into SFWA’s private forums and onto the Internet to look at comments and commentary, to better acquaint myself with the scope of the issue, so that I could as comprehensively as possible, within a reasonable scope of time, get up to speed with the concerns of members and of others. I now feel I’m caught up with events, and so, have some things to say, both to the membership and at large. Let me offer these in a numbered list.

1. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is an organization that acts to support, inform, defend, promote and advocate for our members – all of them, not just some of them. When members believe that they or other members are belittled or minimized by our official publications, that’s a problem. Over the last few editions of the Bulletin, this has indeed been a problem, specifically regarding how many in the membership have seen the Bulletin handling issues of gender.

We could spend a long time here discussing whether the offense was intentional or accidental, or whether it is due to a generational, ideological or perceptual schism. It doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, too many of our members have felt their contributions and their place in the industry and within the organization belittled; too many of our members see other members being treated so. If we believe that we represent and serve all our members and not just some of them, then we need to listen and address those member concerns.

That begins with recognizing the problem. And here is the problem: SFWA, through the last few issues of the Bulletin, has offended many of our own members.

As president of the organization, I apologize to those members.

2. By our organization’s current bylaws, the president of SFWA has unilateral control of, and therefore is ultimately responsible for, the organization’s publications. This includes the Bulletin. This means that when all is said and done, I personally am responsible for the Bulletin and what is published between its covers.

I have said this before but it bears repeating: This is on me, and I accept both the responsibility and criticism for it. I have some read criticism of the Bulletin’s editor Jean Rabe, so I want to be clear that Ms. Rabe, in her role as editor of Bulletin, had my full support. She took over the Bulletin at a problematic time in the publication’s history, got it back onto a regular schedule and otherwise righted what was a foundering ship. When previous concerns about sexism regarding the Bulletin were aired, specifically the cover of issue #200, Ms. Rabe listened, understood and was responsive to them and solicited work relevant to the concern, in the hope of furthering discussion. She has always acted in good faith for the organization, and I have valued and continue to value her dedication.

As publisher, I was aware that there would be two articles in Bulletin #202 about the cover of issue #200, one by Jim C. Hines and one by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg. I did not read Mr. Hines’ piece and glanced cursorily at the Resnick/Malzberg piece but did not give it a significant read; I do not as a matter of course closely read the Bulletin before it is published. It’s possible if I had more closely read the article I might have alerted Ms. Rabe to portions that might be an issue. She might then have had the opportunity to take those concerns back to Mr. Resnick and Mr. Malzberg, who I have no reason to believe would not have taken editorial direction.

This did not happen. I as publisher gave the go-ahead – and once again, the responsibility for the event, and the offense it caused, falls on me.

So once again I apologize to the members who we have offended through the last few issues of the Bulletin. It is my place to accept the responsibility, and so my place to offer the apology.

3. It is my belief that SFWA has, under my tenure as president and through the actions of the board as a whole, become an organization with a more diverse membership, and also more useful and helpful to that diverse membership. However, it is also my belief that public perception of the organization matters, not only to the membership that pays its dues, but to those who could become members (and thus strengthen the organization) and to the public who sees the membership comment about the organization in social media. All the positive work the organization does for writers and members means little when things like this blow up.

When they blow up, I believe that we need to respond in two ways. First, own up to and take responsibility for the event. I have done so here. Second, put into motion steps that show immediately and concretely that the organization is committed to not making the same mistakes again.

The task force on the Bulletin is that positive step. It is immediate: It was formed within hours of us hearing our member complaints. It is also concrete: The task force will solicit comment from professionals in publishing both inside and outside SFWA as well as from our members, with the goal of offering to the president direct, actionable steps to make the Bulletin a valuable and useful magazine for our members – one that fulfills SFWA’s mission to inform, promote, defend, support and advocate for all of our members.

SFWA is an organization of 1,800 writers – all of whom with their own points of view and the ability to articulate them. The task force will have its hands full, especially as they do their work in a period in which we are transitioning from one board (and president) to another. Please be patient as they do their work.

4. As noted, much of this latest event began to happen while I was at the very tail end of my book tour. While I jumped in as quickly as I could, I would like to offer public appreciation for SFWA Vice President Rachel Swirsky for being on top of events as they spun up, and to incoming president Steven Gould for offering Rachel advice and support, and for being an active part of events. SFWA is more than one of its parts – and more than the sum of its parts as well.

5. I am aware that my apologies here will be taken any number of ways, depending on who is reading them and their opinion of events. That is the nature of an apology. Be that as it may, I believe that apologies matter, if they are sincere and they are followed up by right action. It’s what we are trying to do.

SFWA is an organization comprised of all its members; it must be seen to work for all its members. When we are both, we are a stronger and better organization.

To all our members, I say: You are welcome, you are valued, you are needed. We need you, and your voice and your willingness to make yourself heard when you feel that we are not the organization we can be. Be part of us, and help us be the organization you need us to be – that all science fiction and fantasy writers need us to be, and can be proud to be a member of.

John Scalzi
President,
The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America