The fearful fatted cows

Even if the pinkshirts in the SFWA are too dense and short-sighted to see the truck about to run them over, it appears the Author’s Guild isn’t quite so clueless. In much the same vein as James Patterson’s appeal for federal protection, they’re mooing and seeking safety in numbers. And it’s just delightful to see those who have been protected by the gatekeepers for decades openly fretting about being forced to compete on even terms with those they have so long despised.  This would seem to be just a little strange, in light of how they so often claimed that the reason they were chosen for publication was because their writing was so much better than the writing of those not permitted past the gatekeepers: 

An Open Letter to My Fellow Authors

all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the
writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even
in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to
supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock,
or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades
I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories,
as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the
road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed,
and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children
grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but
it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is
going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers,
especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price
of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.

Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life
has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have
to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t
cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers,
in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do,
that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book
pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by
the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by
spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information
wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and
treated as a commodity, by internet
search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites
that sell pirated (read “stolen”) books, and even by militant librarians
who see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to “lend” our e-books
without restriction. But those of us who are alarmed by these
trends have a duty, I think, to defend and protect the writing life
that’s been good to us, not just on behalf of younger writers who will
not have our advantages if we don’t, but also on behalf of readers,
whose imaginative lives will be diminished if authorship becomes
untenable as a profession.

I know, I know. Some insist that there’s never been a better time to
be an author. Self-publishing has democratized the process, they argue,
and authors can now
earn royalties of up to seventy percent, where once we had to settle for
what traditional publishers told us was our share. Anecdotal evidence
is marshaled in support of this view (statistical evidence to follow).
Those of us who are alarmed, we’re told, are, well, alarmists. Time will
tell who’s right, but surely it can’t be a good idea for writers to
stand on the sidelines while our collective fate is decided by others.
Especially when we consider who those others are. Entities like Google
and Apple and Amazon are rich and powerful enough to influence
governments, and every day they demonstrate their willingness to wield
that enormous power. Books and authors are a tiny but not insignificant
part of the larger battle being waged between these companies, a
that includes the movie, music, and newspaper industries. I think it’s
fair to say that to a greater or lesser degree, those other industries
have all gotten their asses kicked, just as we’re getting ours kicked
now. And not just in the courts. Somehow, we’re even losing the war for
hearts and minds. When we defend copyright, we’re seen as greedy. When
we justly sue, we’re seen as litigious. When we attempt to defend the
physical book and stores that sell them, we’re seen as Luddites. Our
altruism, when we’re able to summon it, is too often seen as

But here’s the thing. What the Apples and Googles and Amazons and
Netflixes of the world all have in common (in addition to their quest
for world domination), is that
they’re all starved for content, and for that they need us. Which means
we have a say in all this. Everything in the digital age may feel new
and may seem to operate under new rules, but the conversation about the
relationship between art and commerce is age-old, and artists must be
part of it. To that end we’d do well to speak with one voice, though
it’s here we demonstrate our greatest weakness. Writers are notoriously
independent cusses, hard to wrangle. We spend our mostly solitary days
filling up blank pieces of paper with words. We must like it that way,
or we wouldn’t do it. But while it’s pretty to think that our odd way of
life will endure, there’s no guarantee. The writing life is ours to
defend. Protecting it also happens to be the mission of
the Authors Guild, which I myself did not join until last year, when the
light switch in my cave finally got tripped. Are you a member? If not,
please consider becoming one. We’re badly outgunned and in need of
reinforcements. If the writing life has done well by you, as it has by
me, here’s your chance to return the favor. Do it now, because there’s
such a thing as being too late.

Oh, boo-freaking-hoo. Just get a real job like everyone else and write when you can. And “altruism” my fourth point of contact. I’ve lived on three continents and the only people I’ve met who are more self-serving than professional writers are international bankers. Although I slipped past the gatekeepers myself and was treated very well by the good people at Simon & Schuster, I very much disliked a lot of what I saw on the other side of the gates. Now I’m happily on the outs, surrounded by a blue-painted gang of Vandals and Visigoths, and very much looking forward to the slaughter of the fatted cows and shambling shoggoths that is about to begin. It does rather look like they’re getting their asses kicked now, and I, for one, expect to do some of the kicking next year.

Now that the playing field is being leveled by technology, it appears they’re suddenly not so confident that they’re markedly better than the competition. Amusing, is it not? In any event, with all due respect, I believe I shall politely decline the author’s invitation to join the Guild, continue to proudly fly the flag of an independent Blue SF/F author, and let my books sink or swim on their own merits.

In case you’re in any doubt about how the fatted cows really thought about the competition before they realized they were about to be overrun by it, here are just a few of their unvarnished thoughts about the unwashed and “unprofessional” masses of independent writers, which I cite here for the purposes of commentary and criticism.

“I don’t think SFWA should extend a full membership option to
self-published writers. It seems to me that the organization cannot
exist as an organization for professional writers if our doors are open
to writers who don’t meet any professional standards.”

“SFWA members cringe a bit at the idea of admitting self-published writers without some form of screening, no matter what we think about the changing realities of publishing.”

“Why would a self-publishing writer want to be a member of SFWA, assuming
they were self-publishing exclusively”

“It seems to me that the SFWA is on solid, rational, defensible ground
when it says that self-published writers are operating outside the world
that the SFWA was created to police, and thus their membership in the
organization doesn’t make sense.”

“I am categorically opposed to accepting self-published writers as SFWA
members at any level IF that is the only cedit(s) they have…. there’s a significant difference between Joe Wannabe offering his
“novel” to potential readers from his website without the benefit of any
professional-level editorial oversight and someone who’s had the chance
to run hers past an established and well-regarded author.”

“the great majority of self-published work is simply bad”

“I do not want to become an organization of aspiring writers”

“I for one am worried that if we follow your suggestion and double,
triple, or quadruple our membership by allowing self-published authors
to join, we’ll wind up with either (1) an organization that’s so divided
it can’t function or (2) two groups of members whose needs and
interests conflict as often as they overlap.”

Needless to say, I opposed this widespread anti-self publishing attitude as a part of my campaign for SFWA president. This was in direct opposition to the vociferously anti-self publishing position taken by the organization’s previous three-term president.