Some Notes on Being Elected President of SFWA

So, as most of you are aware of by now, I was elected to be the incoming president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and will ascend to the organization’s board of directors on July 1, along with new officers Vice President Mary Robinette Kowal (who moves over from her current role as the organization’s Secretary), Secretary Bob Howe, South/Central regional director Lee Martindale and Overseas regional director Sean Williams. Continuing on the board are Treasurer Amy Sterling Casil (who was re-elected to the post), Eastern regional director Bud Sparhawk and Western regional director Jim Fiscus.

In one sense it’s no surprise I was elected, as I was running unopposed for the position, and therefore was elected with the very large majority of votes. I was made aware that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen also garnered at least one vote, so make of that what you will. In another sense, of course, it’s deeply surprising, especially to me, who up until just a few years ago was not at all involved with the workings of the organization and was happy to be a rank-and-file member. I am not generally instilled with a deep desire to run anything other than my own career, so the path of getting to the point where I’ll soon be handed the keys to the spaceship, as it were, was not a path I would have naturally expected myself to be on.

A couple of things happened to get me to that point. The first was that through various events, I became aware that, in fact, the health and well-being of SFWA was important to me, in no small part because I think that at its best, the organization is and can be important and useful to science fiction and fantasy writers. If I really do want SFWA to be at its best, I should be willing to back up that desire with action. In the last couple of years I did my part to back up that belief when past president (now current VP) Michael Capobianco and current president Russell Davis asked me to serve SFWA in various capacities.

Through their work, and the work of the current board of directors, SFWA is implementing changes which I think will lead to the long-term health of the organization — and thus, by extension, will benefit its members. Some of the work will need to be completed in the term of the next administration, and I believed that it was important for someone who was philosophically aligned with those goals be in the office of President. As I was, I decided this was one of those “put up or shut up” moments.

Be that as it may, I know myself well enough to know that I would not be a good or effective president if I ran in isolation. I am not good at everything; as far as organizations are concerned I have some specific useful skills, but there are other skills the organization requires which I do not have, or which I can perform poorly at best. I wanted and frankly needed other people with complementary and reinforcing skills in order to be effective, and for whom my skills would be a benefit to as well.

And so the second thing that happened was that I was extraordinarily fortunate to run with a slate of potential candidates whom I believe formed a complete set of talents and skills necessary to run our organization. First among these is Mary Robinette Kowal, who will be SFWA’s Vice President, and with whom I held a number of long discussions prior to deciding to run. Mary and I are good friends, but this is not necessarily a plus when it comes to working together — indeed, I try to avoid working with genuinely close friends because I often find the work dynamic puts strains on the friendship. But in Mary’s case, I knew she had done invaluable work with the current board and with other creative organizations like SFWA, and had long admired her ability with process, her grace with working with others, and her overall knowledge, skill and intelligence. To say that I was eager to work with her even though she is a close friend is my testament to my belief in her skills. I would not have run for office if she had not run with me.

Likewise the other members of our slate who were elected. Secretary Bob Howe comes in with invaluable experience in public relations and a sharp understanding of organizations; Amy Sterling Casil brings her experience as treasurer and a knowledge of SFWA as deep as any on the board. Sean Williams is smart as they come and brings an understanding of the needs of building a writing career. Each of these is a great addition to the board — as is Lee Martindale, who did not run on our slate but whose commitment to SFWA’s membership is amply demonstrated by her previously serving as our organization’s ombudsman, and whose compassion and intelligence is a big plus for the board.

All of which is to say that as President, I’m going to get a lot of help from a lot of really smart and capable people (whose number also includes continuing board members Bud Sparhawk and Jim Fiscus). I’m glad I have it and I’m going to make sure I return the favor to them as well, so we all work to make SFWA everything it can be for our members.

If you’re wondering about what my plans are as president, the best thing to do is read my candidacy announcement from January. My plans haven’t changed since then. Most of these plans involve internal issues, which are really important to the organization but dead boring for the rest of you. I’m fine with this; I would be extraordinarily happy for SFWA not to have any major public drama during my administration, and to stick to what we know best and what we’re supposed to do: be an organization that benefits science fiction and fantasy writers.

Which tangentially brings me to my next point. As most of you know, I’m a pretty public person and also a very opinionated one, and a lot of what I opine on are subjects which relate to science fiction and to publishing and other media in which science fiction happens — all of which is in the bailiwick of SFWA. Or, to put it another way, I’m a big fat loudmouth who is used to saying whatever he likes. Because of that there’s some possibility of me causing a major public drama for SFWA simply by doing what I do around here.

So, to help minimize this potentiality:

  1. I’ll not be discussing active SFWA business here, particularly as it relates to issues currently under discussion by the board. I do imagine I’ll occasionally make SFWA-related announcements here (for example, to remind folks to do Nebula nominations, etc), but that’s not the same thing.
  2. I do believe in SFWA being open as possible about its work and its policy. It’s good for SFWA and it’s good for the public. But there are going to be things that a) will benefit no one in discussing too early and/or b) will need to be kept confidential for legal or other genuinely compelling reasons. “Open” does not mean “foolish.” Sometimes there will simply be things involving SFWA I can’t discuss publicly, and won’t.
  3. When I do have specific, SFWA-related business to discuss publicly in my role as President of SFWA, I am likely to post it on the SFWA blog rather than here. I may link to it from here, but I think it will be useful to make the distinction between me talking as SFWA President, and me talking as me, John Scalzi, freelance troublemaker.
  4. Conversely, when I am writing here on a subject related to science fiction, publishing or anything else that touches on SFWA’s mission — and even (or perhaps especially) when it’s on a subject not related to SFWA’s mission — I am writing as a private individual, not as the President of SFWA. My opinions here should not be taken to be the official view of the organization, nor a reflection of that organization’s policies.
  5. Furthermore, to avoid confusion, my own personal opinions I have, here or in person, may or may not ultimately align with official SFWA policy on any or all topics relating to writing, publishing, science fiction and so on. This is because “SFWA” and “John Scalzi” are not synonymous entities — one is me, and the other is an organization of science fiction writers from all around the world. The first of these does not run the second by fiat; additionally I will be serving SFWA and its members, not the other way around.
  6. Alternately, and to be more blunt about it, it’s one thing for me to blather on a blog; it’s another thing to craft policy for a writer’s organization, with the goal of that policy being to help the largest number of those writers build, maintain and grow their careers. Certainly as SFWA president my opinions will have an influence on policy, but there’s more than one voice on the board, and these voices belong to smart people invested in SFWA succeeding in its mission. These voices will not always agree with mine, because it’s entirely possible that, from the point of view of the benefit of SFWA members, I’ll be wrong. I know! Hard to believe. And yet it happens, from time to time.

To be clear I do expect to continue writing here on publishing, writing, science fiction, as well as other subjects which touch on SFWA’s mission, and I suspect I’ll continue to be me when I write about them. But you will understand when I tell you that from now until the end of my tenure how I write about them will be run through the filter of how what I write reflects on SFWA, and I’ll calibrate accordingly. If you can’t understand that, you’ll just have to accept it, because that’s how it’s going to work.

Some of you have expressed concern as to how my becoming president of SFWA will have an impact on my output as a writer. It’s entirely possible that it will, since being on the board of SFWA is a lot of work. However, in the short term you, the consumer of fine Scalzi product, will be unlikely to see much change. First, I’ll continue to write here, and expect to continue writing my column for Second, the next novel, Fuzzy Nation, is already written and scheduled for next May. Third, my work on Stargate: Universe will continue through mid-2011 at the very least. Fourth, there are other things in process which should keep you all happy between now and July 1, 2011, when my tenure as president comes to an end. Fifth, hey, I don’t become president for six weeks yet. Could squeeze some stuff in there, you know?

Beyond that, for the last several months I’ve been retooling my personal work schedule to make sure I always have some time for creative writing, if only to keep myself from going completely insane. I’m optimistic it will work, although of course I’ll have to be in the thick of things to find out. But at the very least I’ve done what I can to make sure that I’ll continue to be a working writer even as a president of an organization of writers.

So, there you have it. Questions?

64 Comments on “Some Notes on Being Elected President of SFWA”

  1. So, for those things you can’t discuss in public, will you start a SFWA-President-Anonymous blog where we won’t know which SFWA-President you actually are and we can learn the inner workings and maintain your anonimousness?

    That would be so cool and I would never guess that it is you!

  2. Are we required to address you as El Presidente or should we use your full title “El Presidente Scalzi, portador gloriosa de tocino en el gato.”?

  3. Well said, Mr. Scalzi. I know you’ll treat the office, your fans, and the reading public with the respect they deserve.

    If your official duties and personal writing schedule become too difficult, I’m available to be your personal ghost writer / astrologer / body double / court jester. I also speak the prevalent language of Ohio fluently – English is my second language.

  4. “Conversely, when I am writing here on a subject related to science fiction, publishing or anything else that touches on SFWA’s mission — and even (or perhaps especially) when it’s on a subject not related to SFWA’s mission — I am writing as a private individual, not as the President of SFWA. My opinions here should not be taken to be the official view of the organization, nor a reflection of that organization’s policies.”

    Lotsa of luck with that one. When I was president of Novelists, Inc., I couldn’t open my mouth to say “gezeundheit” without people, both inside and outside the org (but especially INside it) assuming that I was speaking officially for Ninc. Actually, even AFTER finishing my term and leaving office, there were still some problems with this. (In fact, there were problems with this even though, post-presidency, I wrote an article for Ninc in which I officially declared I was once again a strictly-private, ordinary member again, was going to go back to saying whatever I damn well pleased, and people should recognize that from that moment on, I was never speaking with ANY OFFICIAL Ninc standing =whatsoever=, and was only speaking for me, me, ME! …And it turned out that that still didn’t adequately clarify the situation for everyone.)

    Nonetheless–glad you ran for office, and looking forward to your SFWA presidency!

  5. Congratulations on your election, sir. I’m sure you’ll a great.

    I, for one, welcome our bacon taping on cat TV consultant overlord.

  6. Laura Resnick:

    “Lotsa of luck with that one.”

    Yes, well. I know. But that’s one reason I’m writing this now rather than after the fact — I’ll have something to point people to when they complain.

    That said, it’s on me to be careful.

  7. O “President” Scalzi, once again voter fraud has robbed Her Most Glorious Shimmering Radiant Perfection, the Beauteous Ghlaghghee, of Her Electoral Bid.

    This year She hedged Her Bets by permitting you to run for the office.

    You will make a fine figurehead for Magnificent She as She sets things right. Just make sure you don’t start to think that you’re actually in charge.

    The Official Ghlaghghee Fan Club

    PS – Is it not time for a perfectly executed image of Her? Perhaps Her Official Presidential Portrait would be in order. The Executive Committee hereby tasks Athena with taking this picture. Making sure this gets done is your first official “presidential” duty – so hop to it.

  8. This is probably a bit of a Dorothy Dixer, but will you be vigourously protecting the copyrights of SWFA authors? You know, with or without their consent.

    Not that I’ve ever had to make a living from my writing (of prose at least), but right or wrong, the costs of pursuing infringement have always (it seems to me) outweighed the benefits.

    What’s your position?

    (PS: I’ve found so many wonderful authors via The Big Idea, and read some books I thought were absolute crap, but in either case, I learned something. So thanks for that)

  9. So do you have any cool powers? Can you issue pardons for writers of bad science fiction? Declare war on the Romance Writers of America?

  10. Fraser:

    “but will you be vigorously protecting the copyrights of SWFA authors? You know, with or without their consent.”

    I’m not sure of the benefit of doing things for specific people without their consent. That’s where trouble starts. With their consent, SFWA has a number of options to help its members, including a Grievance Committee. We also help members help themselves via education and information.

  11. I have a question, based on this line:

    This is because “SFWA” and “John Scalzi” are not synonymous entities — one is me, and the other is an organization of science fiction writers from all around the world. The first of these does not run the second by fiat.

    By what means, then, does the SFWA run John Scalzi? And does it involve brain implants in any interesting way?

  12. I guess my question is, do you believe that authors are disadvantaged by the availability of downloads of their work, and is it worth pursuing this?

    Personally, I’m a big fan of words, and of hard covers, but where do you see the balance between free downloads and physical copies ending up? Is there a role for the SFWA here?

    I’m glad to hear about education and information.

    What do you think about the current death + 90 copyright situation?

    For me, this is mostly theoretical. I love having books in my bookshelf, and as much as I want an iPad, I don’t think such a device can ever replace the feel and the smell of an actual book in my hands. So you know, sample chapters. I’m happy. There is a rose that is famous in the High North (this is not a digression).

  13. Damn. I was hoping for a whole year of John Scalzi: When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong.

  14. Congratulations, since it seems it’s something you wanted, and good luck with implementing the changes.

    Just make sure Anderson doesn’t get that Nebula he’s gagging for and you’ll do fine. LOL.

  15. congratulations sir. i very much admire people who understand, and heed the call of, “put up or shut up” when it comes knocking on their door.

    can i help you with the war on the romance writers of america? please? i’ll bring cake. and pie. and bacon. :)

  16. Sounds like you’ve thought this out. As your exchange with Laura pointed out, I hope your plan sees fit to survive first contact with the enemy. Where the enemy is defined as everyone not the president.

    I for one will assume that every statement from both The John Scalzi and The SFWA President should be combed over for hidden messages in order to fully divine the one true message of The SFWA Super Scalzi.

  17. My only questions are, is your wife taking the constable role, and does Athena get to bring along her two Obin attendants to the new colony?

    Sorry, I was just reading that part of TLC and sensed a few parallels with Perry’s predicament. :)

  18. Fraser:

    “where do you see the balance between free downloads and physical copies ending up?”

    As someone who sells lots of downloads, I’m not sure you’re painting a complete picture there. I think there is now and will likely to continue to be a profitable ebook market.


    You’re aware Anderson and I are friends, right?

    In any event the president of SFWA doesn’t select the Nebula nominees, the members do.

  19. “Quality Scalzi Product” ™. Branching out into energy drinks? Fruit bars? Gum? Can we expect to acquire QSP(c) by the crate, in attractive designer colors?


    PS: Grats on the win. I think you’ve unlocked an Achievement. Ding!

  20. I have to say as an avid supporter of the wonderfully pustulent and corpulent Baron Harkonnen… we wuz robbed!

    But not for long! The Ixian assassin drone shall activate as soon as House Scalzi occupies the presidential office.. whoops, sorry Baron! erkk! gurgle! *thump*

  21. If you get a can of tuna in the mail from me (my KC address, it will be a street address on Cherry St. rather than my SFWA PO Box address) it is an Emergency Supply.

    it is to be used when you Really Really need to Herd Cats. (or conversely, just use it as a cat treat). I find that herding cats works really well when you open a can of tuna.

    seriously, I think it looks like you have a good plan and I will do my best to do what I can.

    I likes changes as long as it is in a forward direction!

  22. Laura Resnick beat me to my immediate reaction to your posting.

    Good luck. There will probably some amount of drama, but that’s the nature of the beast (like, well, being on a Worldcon committee). But dealing with it directly is generally better than pretending the drama isn’t happening.

  23. Fraser, Scalzi’s had a lot of his own work available for free download at various times (for which I am eternally grateful because when you have to write 2,000 words about women as a symbol of death in mythic and modern literature and you have access to a copy of The Sagan Diary, I know from personal experience that you have about the easiest A+ that ever a bull****er has achieved).

    You might want to check out some of his older posts, specifically those regarding his opinion of the SFWA copyright kerfuffle you referenced above.

    Which is not me trying to be a “let me google that for you” pain in the ***, honest. I actually mean you might want to check them out, because I recall them being a pretty good read.

  24. A well-thought-out and well-stated policy. As a member of an (admittedly much humbler) organization which also deals with such administrative and ethical issues, I think you’ll do just fine in balancing the rights of your constituency with the needs of the office. All hail President Scalzi!

  25. Dear El Presidente Scalzi, portador gloriosa de tocino en el gato,

    I move to make the ‘Scalzi Flag’ (pictured above this post) the official flag of the SFWA. Do I hear a second?

  26. oooh ooh, I have a question! If a train is headed toward Philadelphia going 75 mph and another is headed to Topeka going 6500 mph, is the SFWA going to have a dance party?

  27. I’m trying to think of a bon mot tying all of this in to bacon somehow, but the old cortex is failing me. All I can really think to ask is how you plan to deal with DADT.

  28. I assume that the flag means that Ghlaghghee is now the official SFWA mascot?

  29. It occurs to me that I’ve yet to congratulate you on your win. So, congratulations.

    I know you’ll get complaints – running a small (and aging) fan group has taught me that much – but I believe you’ll weather the storm quite effectively.

  30. I am assuming there are internal sfwa forums where most of the sfwa stuff is discussed. I don’t think this kind of thing is relative to people who just want to read your novels. I guess some people just like any and all gossip from and about public figures.

    I didn’t know the sfwa existed until recently and I really don’t know much about it. I just want to read some good novels. Most people are like this.

    This internal stuff is only relavent to professional writers or people trying to become professional writers.

    Good luck with it. This sounds like alot of work and it sounds like very few members of SFWA want to get that involved since they have businesses to run. If I was a professional SFWA member, I would probably join, but not get involved.

  31. Well, over the next year I’ll miss the picturesque photos of rural Ohio. But on the other hand, I hear the view from the Presidential Space Station is fabulous!

    The White House IN SPAAAAAACE!!

  32. Any thoughts on how self/e publishing is slowly changing the playing field in terms of being a profitable professional writer while being self published, and how this might relate to future changes in standards for SFWA membership?

  33. Congrats!

    I figure, even if Major Drama does start, it will be a whole lot more entertaining with you in this role, whether that entertainment is watching you crack heads, or watching you restrain yourself from cracking heads. (Because you know you’ll want to. Figuratively speaking, of course.)

    May I respectfully suggest that if/when you link to the SFWA blog, you do as you do with your AMC posts, and deactivate commenting here.

  34. –E:

    Yes, if I do link to the SFWA blog I will turn off comments here.

    Josh Jasper:

    That question is indeed being considered right now. No solid answers to that question yet.

  35. If I really do want SFWA to be at its best, I should be willing to back up that desire with action.

    I wish far more people felt that way. (Not about SFWA specifically, but things in general.)

    I consider kvetching to be a basic human right, but if you’re not willing to step up and do something, I’m less inclined to take your kvetching seriously.

    Fourth, there are other things in process which should keep you all happy between now and July 1, 2011 …

    My nosiness curiosity has been duly invoked. Presumably you will enlighten us when it amuses you as soon as it makes sense to do so.

  36. Congrats and good luck. Leadership is a scary thing when you’re in it.

    Does this change any of your plans for the year, specifically your October 3rd – 10th teaching committment? :)

  37. “And Scalzi Makes Three”

    Are you actually claiming, John, that you and the other elected officers form a Sturgeonesque gestalt intelligence? If so, which one of you has the telekinesis powers?

    All success for your new position!

  38. Congratulations, John. I’ve been a president (of something much, much smaller and less interesting than SWFA) before. It was an enlightening experience, in both good and not-so-good ways. I hope all of your experiences are the good kind.

  39. Congrats!

    On first reading of this passage:

    “I am not generally instilled with a deep desire to run anything other than my own career…”

    I read:

    “I am not generally instilled with a deep desire to ruin anything other than my own career…”

    Needless to say, I enjoyed the phantom snark.

  40. I’m astounded that the lone voter would think that the Magnificent Baron Harkonnen would ever be associated with anything so degrading as a democratic institution. I certainly hope someone would teach that scoundrel a lesson he or she will never forget… assuming we can figure out which of the secret ballots belongs to that person.

  41. Congratulations!

    You talk about July 1, 2011 as if it is a very definitive end-date. Does that mean you’ve already decided not to run for re-election?

  42. Andy @ 54 “You talk about July 1, 2011 as if it is a very definitive end-date. Does that mean you’ve already decided not to run for re-election?”

    Doesn’t SFWA practice king sacrifice at the end of a reign?

  43. And now, a preview of John taking the oath from outgoing president Russell Davis:

    RD: Repeat after me. “I…”
    JS: “I…”
    RD: “John Scalzi…”
    JS: “…your name,”
    RD: “…do solemnly swear…”
    JS: “…do pledge allegiance…”
    RD: “…to uphold and defend…”
    JS: “…to Heddy Lamar…”
    RD: “…the mission and by-laws…”
    JS: “That’s ‘Hedley!'”
    RD: “…of the Science Fiction Writers of America.”
    JS: “…and to the evil for which he stands.”
    RD: “Now go do that voodoo that you do so welllll!!!”
    JS: “Anyone got a shit load of dimes?”

  44. Doesn’t SFWA practice king sacrifice at the end of a reign?

    Yes, and it’s SUPPOSED to be a SURPRISE. Nice going.

  45. Does being SFWA prez automatically make you the Vicar of Cthulhu on Earth? If so, there should be something about a doctrine of infallibility that goes with the position. You might want to check the fine print.

  46. The Vicar of Cthulhu is only infallible insofar as you can’t get much lower than that.

    But the perks are good.

    Both positions do have thousands of screaming insane fans adoringly attempting to “help”, though.

  47. My only question, Mr. President, is if you will be providing entertainment in the form of a shuttle launch at the next Nebula Awards.

  48. Congrats on your election.

    If you, however, can’t stop the SFWA members from offering Anderson the “pity” award he has been craving for his entire dicta(wri)ting life it will mean the final end of the Nebula award as an award of any true value for the genre.

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