SFWA endorses Douglas Preston’s open letter without consulting its membership

Two “open letters” came out yesterday, one berating Amazon and another praising it. Now it turns out that SFWA has emailed its membership endorsing one of those letters, and it should be pretty easy to guess which one.

Author Don Sakers has posted an essay to his blog complaining that the SFWA has endorsed Douglas Preston’s letter. Sakers, an independent author who makes most of his sales through Amazon, is annoyed that SFWA’s leadership did not make any attempt to consult or discuss the matter with its members before acting, and points out that this comes only a week after SFWA asked its members to comment on a proposal for allowing self-published authors to join.

For years, SFWA has been castigated in the self-publishing community, particularly by authors who support themselves and their families entirely on income from their self-publishing efforts, yet are unable to join an organization of professional writers. The public acknowledgment that SFWA was considering a change helped to smooth some feathers.

So what does SFWA do? It publicly and officially takes the side of traditional publishing, thereby signaling to independent and self-published writers that SFWA doesn’t understand or care to understand their concerns. it’s about as clear a message of "You don’t belong and aren’t welcome" as I’ve ever seen.

Sakers wants to make it clear that SFWA does not speak for him in this matter.

It’s disappointing, but not really surprising I suppose. I’m personally in the awkward position of being friends with a number of trad-published authors I’ve met at cons and such, and they’re more inclined to see reason in Preston’s letter than Howey’s. All they seem to see is that Amazon is doing things that hurt authors, and they don’t seem willing to consider that there aren’t that many things Amazon can do to put pressure on Hachette without also hurting the authors, since after all Hachette pays the authors. (When I asked one such author of my acquaintance what alternative Amazon had, she actually said point blank she didn’t care, and that Amazon and Hachette could send ninja assassins against each other for all she cared. So there you have it.)

For all that SFWA is being overrun by John Scalzi’s “insect army,” it remains at heart an old-school organization full of hidebound traditionally-published authors who see things in very clear shades of black and white. (Amazon is black, and Hachette is white.) That might change if it is able to come to terms for admitting self-publishers, but on the other hand I wonder just how many of its members will see it in their best interest to do so? If the old guard thought Scalzi’s “insect army” was bad, they could be quite overrun (and outnumbered, and outvoted) by successful indie authors if enough such wished to join.

It will be interesting to see if they’re serious about letting self-pubbers in, and how that will change the organization if so. But for now, it’s painfully clear where its leadership’s allegiance lies—even if not all its members necessarily agree.

8 Comments on SFWA endorses Douglas Preston’s open letter without consulting its membership

  1. This doesn’t surprise me, sadly. SFWA, like the Authors Guild, Douglas Preston, et al, believes its best interests are served by establishment publishing. I don’t think this is going to change, and although I was a SFWA member for many years, I see it growing increasingly irrelevant. If I were a member today, I’d quit them cold.

  2. SFWA is so antiquated it’s in the last century. I’m letting my membership lapse as it’s a shadow of the Authors Guild, aka The Publishers Guild. It seems the main point of these organizations is to support publishing as it is, not authors.

    Good luck.

  3. How would an independent author benefit from joining the SFWA?

  4. My question is the same as Bill’s above–what does SFWA have to offer the indie writer?

  5. I was hoping someone from SFWA might jump in here and produce some benefit I’m not aware of. I haven’t been a SFWA member in quite a few years, and when I was independent authors didn’t exist. Here’s what I think, however: Geared as they are toward the needs of authors contracted to traditional publishing, I’m not sure they have anything to offer indies except the implied cachet of membership. Indie don’t require help with publishing contracts, the threat of publisher audits, or the hope of getting to the top of publishers’ slush piles by putting “Member SFWA” on submissions.

    Since SFWA is contemplating allowing indies inside the garden walls, perhaps they know and would be willing to share some other benefits. I really don’t know.

  6. Thanks, Bridget. That’s kind of been my sense too. They have programs/info on how to get an agent, cover letters and so on. I think there is a wealth of knowledge there and I never mind learning, but to pay for a membership there would have to be a compelling amount of information that is useful to me now. I’m not looking for a publisher or agent and at the moment contracts aren’t of interest (other than I’m interested in industry trends and how things are going for trad authors — the direction and that sort of thing.)

    Perhaps when/if they decide to allow it, they can come up with a list of the benefits for all writers.

  7. I gather they have an emergency medical fund, too. Some of the book-related Humble Bundles include it as one of their charity options.

  8. That is truly a boon, although probably not a reason to join in and of itself. And I’m sure there is valuable networking to be had, but I’m not sure that joining in necessary for such networking. As a way to gain respect…well, it’s nice to accepted by other writers, but again, I’m not sure joining is really a good mechanism for that.

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