Let Not the Good that SFWA Does Be Interred With its (Proverbial) Bones

logoFor those who haven’t been following the hijinx going on at the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA) regarding issues of race and sex, here’s a timeline (http://www.slhuang.com/blog/2013/07/02/a-timeline-of-the-2013-sfwa-controversies/) of past events.

The most current event involves the SFWA Bulletin, which was suspended after an uproar within the SFWA community over an article involving Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg speaking on the subject of women editors, referencing how hot they looked in swim wear and not their adroit use of semicolons.

After reading the job duties of the new Bulletin editor, a non-SFWA member, Dave Truesdale, petitioned SFWA president, Steven Gould, to reconsider said duties, in particular the following:

  • Solicit topics and columnists that fit within the vision of the Bulletin
  • Choose cover art for each issue that is in line with SFWA standards
  • Participate in a proofing and review process with select volunteer and board members

The reason for the objection to the above was that participating in a review process that conformed to SFWA standards was censorship that infringed on the First Amendment rights of Bulletin writers. (Here is a copy of the first petition and here is a copy of the revised one. You can read C. C. Finlay’s common sense response, “Editing is not Censorship,” here.

Given the trials that SFWA has undergone the past year, it would be easy to pile on more criticism and disdain. Therefore, in order to balance out the vitriol, I will focus on what activities SFWA conducts to which no one should take offense: representing writers.

Night Shade Books

In 2010, SFWA “became aware of three recent instances of Night Shade Books acting against the contractual and legal interest of authors, specifically by not reporting royalties when contractually specified or reporting them inaccurately and/or distributing books in a medium for which it had not legally secured rights.”

Shortly after, Night Shade apologized to the affected authors and worked with SFWA to address the issues. SFWA placed Night Shade on probation as a qualified market for one year, during which time they were to be examined according to the following:

“1. That it fulfills its contractual and financial obligations to the authors it has already published, including full and accurate accounting of royalties per contract, with payment of any royalties outstanding;

2. That it examine its catalogue to ensure it is no longer offering fiction in formats for which it has no rights, and makes whole those authors whose rights it has violated;

3. That it institutes procedures and hires sufficient staff to ensure accurate record keeping for contracts and payments, both for previously published and future authors;

4. That there are no instances of contractual violations on the part of Night Shade Books against authors signed to publishing deals after the start of the probationary period.”

Night Shade subsequently met the terms of its probation and SFWA lifted the probation in 2011. However, the following year, additional complaints were filed and Night Shade indicated it was going bankrupt. SFWA delisted the publisher and worked with Skyhorse Publications in buying out the writers’ contracts to ensure their books would not remain in limbo during this process, and that their royalty terms in their author agreements were in line with industry standards for science fiction and fantasy.

SFWA Emergency Medical Fund

Full-time writers have to pay full price for a health plan, or use their spouse’s. In cases of severe illnesses, they usually do not have the cushion of a large company health plan to help absorb unexpected medical bills. This is where the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund comes in. It offers interest-free loans to members facing unexpected medical expenses. This type of plan can make a big difference to someone who may find themselves burdened with costs they had no idea would be coming down the pike.

Google Books

In 2004, Google announced plans to scan/digitize 15 million books through its Google Print Library Project, which later became the Google Books Library Project. Author groups objected, as not only books in the public domain would be digitized, but also books under copyright. The Author’s Guild brought a class action suit against Google in 2005, and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) joined five other publishers in filing a civil suit against Google.

In October 2013, Google and AAP announced a settlement agreement, with undisclosed terms, which meant that the publishers were no longer litigants. The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the National Writers Union, and SFWA opposed two attempts to settle the suit.

The three organizations believe that publishers that did not have electronic rights sold them to Google, and believe the industry needs to establish a process where authors can defend their copyright and challenge ownership. SFWA and the other two organizations are petitioning the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.

So, all ranting and politicking aside, SFWA is working behind the scenes on behalf of authors to provide a benefit. You just have to decide whether the cost of the membership fee and dealing with certain personalities are worth that benefit.

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