Passive Guy over at The Passive Voice reports receiving an email from SFWA headed “SFWA doubling down,” clarifying its position on signing onto Douglas Preston’s open letter decrying Amazon’s hardball tactics in its negotiation with Hachette. (Odd that they didn’t also send it to me, given that TPV carried the story I posted about it in the first place.)
The letter reads as follows:
SFWA’s support of Douglas Preston’s open letter reflects our concern about Amazon’s tactics in their dispute with Hachette and the way those tactics are impacting writers and their careers. We are, unfortunately, aware that this is not the first time Amazon has used negotiating tactics that have injured writers. To be clear, we are doing this in support of writers (members and otherwise) not, as some have suggested, to support Hachette Book Group and “Big” publishing over self-published and small press authors.
SFWA is a _writers_ organization and we have fought against practices that harm writers, no matter what the source, including “Big” publishing, scam agents, vanity presses, etc. If we are unwilling to weigh in on behalf of traditionally-published authors in disputes with online distributors like Amazon, Nook, and Kobo, what chance do we have of supporting other writers in the same arena?
Even as we are signing on to Mr. Preston’s letter, we have not called for boycotts of Amazon, we have not called for members to stop publishing with Amazon, and we have left our Amazon links up on the SFWA website. We recognize that suppliers and distributors negotiate the terms of their relationship but we hope that both parties can conduct this business in ways that do not punish _the very people who provide the products they both sell._ This is not about a conflict between traditional and independent models of publishing and efforts to frame it as such do more to harm than help the lives of _all_ working writers.
For the Board
As might be expected, there was much discussion on The Passive Voice. Dan Meadows (no relation) points out there was no discussion of Hachette rejecting Amazon’s offer to compensate authors for their losses during the negotiation. Laura Resnick notes that that it really doesn’t matter that much for the moment, as authors and Hachette will only start to feel those losses come November.
Resnick also points out that if the SFWA board had consulted its members before signing on, it would probably still be consulting them by the time the Amazon/Hachette dispute was over—organizations with that many members tend to make for terribly long discussions. She adds:
That said, I think the decision to endorse the Preston letter was silly, short-sighted, lazy, and a decision that makes me glad, once again, that I’m not a SFWA member. But not because they didn’t take the pulse of the membership first–and, indeed, I strongly suspect that if they HAD asked for membership discussion on this, it would have lasted until after the Amazon-Hachette situation was resolve and would STILL not have given the BoD a clear direction for representing the views of the overall membership on this matter.
I also think that if SFWA wanted to make a statement about the Am-Hach dispute, it should have bothered to research and write its own statement, as someone above has already noted, rather than signing that reality-free, logic-deficient letter by Preston. If you want to take a side in public, you should do it intelligently. If you’re not prepared to make the effort, then don’t embarrass your organization by lazily signing off on a piece of nonsense like that.
Perhaps the most interesting response comes from “space marine” M.C.A. Hogarth, a traditional-published-turned-self-published author who has tirelessly advocated for SFWA to admit self-published authors. Hogarth writes:
I just want to reiterate I had nothing to do with this, it came out of complete left field, and I protested vociferously once I knew about it. I didn’t have anything to do with the Board’s second statement either, and they didn’t consult with me or talk to the self-publishing committee at all before issuing it–at least, not the three members I’ve talked to recently.
This does not represent my interests.
That’s all I’ve got.
Further down the thread, Hogarth adds:
At this point, I am no longer comfortable encouraging indies or hybrids to join the organization. Maybe at some point in the future, SFWA will be the right organization for all of us. It’s not today, and I don’t see that changing. Despite the efforts of the self-pub committee and the hybrid authors in the organization, and mine.
The thread is replete with independent authors shaking their heads, shrugging, and expressing relief that they were just saved $90 yearly dues from signing up with an organization that will apparently never be inclined to advocate for their interests where they might conflict with those of traditionally-published authors. It looks like SFWA may have found a solution to the problem of being overrun by self-publishing writers if it allows them in: just make itself so unattractive that they decide not to bother.
It’s also worth noting that neither Preston nor SFWA addressed the fact that Hachette is also showing unwillingness to compromise and drawing out these negotiations longer than might be prudent. It takes two sides to have an argument, and in siding against Amazon, SFWA is also siding against the consumer in the long run.
I’ve said it before: it seems like the only time we hear anything about SFWA is when it or its members do something monumentally stupid. Sad but not exactly unexpected that the trend is continuing.