seawasp (seawasp) wrote,

Webscabs Unite! Destroy the Hard Working Writers!!! MUAAAHAHAHAH!

In case anyone reading this doesn't understand the title, it refers to a post by Howard Hendrix (VP of the Science Fiction Writers of America -- SFWA), as posted on the SFWA community (

I am going to quote the relevant portion, to which I am responding, below. It's one of the most ludicrously silly things I've seen posted by a supposedly intelligent person in quite a while. In a sense, it's the polar opposite of "General Zod"'s speech, which was a stream-of-consciousness web-fiction that must have required extensive thought and effort just to craft. This is a supposedly factual evaluation of a situation that shows absolutely no understanding or real thought at all.

Mr. Hendrix Says:

In another way too, though, I feel that the organization and I are moving apart at the moment. More and more of SFWA's business is internet mediated. I've spent several thousands of hours doing SFWA business online during my Western Regional Director and Vice President years. As a result I've developed an almost allergic aversion toward all things nettish, including what I'm doing right now.

I think the ongoing and increasing sublimation of the private space of consciousness into public netspace is profoundly pernicious. For that reason I don't much like to blog, wiki, chat, post, LiveJournal, or lounge in A problem with the whole wikicliki, sick-o-fancy, jerque-du-cercle of a networking and connection-based order is that, if you "go along to get along" for too long, there's a danger you'll no longer remember how to go it alone when the ethics of the situation demand it.

I'm not even quite sure what Mr. Hendrix MEANS here. Is he saying that people who form a community that supports their work and helps each other, that they are less effective outside of it? Yeah, I guess. And your point is...? In case Mr. Hendrix is unaware of it -- though, as a published author, it would be hard to believe that he is -- just such a community has existed for many years in the publishing world. It's easier for those already published and respected within the publishing community to GET published. If these people move outside of the area in which they are familiar faces, they find it is more difficult to get work. As a published SF author, I have a better chance of, say, interesting Tor in a new book than I would before I was published. If I try to get a new book published outside of that context -- say, mailing out all my queries under another name, or trying to write a book entirely outside the genre -- I have no special advantage.

The SFWA is, itself, sort of a similar "jerque-du-cercle", with its own preferred group that will be able to get things done better in their area than those outside.

What I suspect he meant is that somehow the internet communities knit people together in self-promoting cliques which allow the members to sacrifice some vague set of principles to "get ahead". Well, "Go along to get along" is a truth in every single industry on the planet.. It's true in politics, it's true in Hollywood, it's true in publishing, it's true in R&D contracting, it's true in education, and in every single bloody industry, or even HOBBY, I have ever seen in my life. If you don't know people who know people, you have a harder time getting into the industry. If you don't do things the way "They" do, you have a hard time of it. That's the way it is. It's ALWAYS been that way. And in every industry people have to judge how far to "Go along" before they have to stop and say "no, I don't do that".

Of course, the GENERALITY of Mr. Hendrix' pronouncement protects it from any direct response. He gives no examples of the "going along to get along" or of the "ethics" that people are sacrificing. He mentions no organizations, names, etc., just makes a general indictment of all online "wikiclicki" stuff.

Mr. Hendrix says:
I'm also opposed to the increasing presence in our organization of webscabs, who post their creations on the net for free. A scab is someone who works for less than union wages or on non-union terms; more broadly, a scab is someone who feathers his own nest and advances his own career by undercutting the efforts of his fellow workers to gain better pay and working conditions for all. Webscabs claim they're just posting their books for free in an attempt to market and publicize them, but to my mind they're undercutting those of us who aren't giving it away for free and are trying to get publishers to pay a better wage for our hard work.

Here Mr. Hendrix is, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete idiot.

Firstly: I'm a member of the SFWA. I'm a writer. I have BEEN paid for my books, and I'm BEING paid for my books. They're published by a well-known SF publishing house.

But the SFWA ain't a union. It doesn't exert that kind of force to "get publishers to pay a better wage". *IF* anyone does that, it's the agents -- who may police each other to some extent, but certainly ain't a union either.

I am -- and EVERY author is -- a completely free agent.

Secondly: The single largest source of free SF books on the Net -- dwarfing all the independents -- is ONE OF THOSE PUBLISHERS.

Baen Books.

And what, you ask, is the result of this Terrible Undercutting of the Market?


Yes, they really do. One of the most popular Baen books was "On Basilisk Station", the first Honor Harrington book. But after several years, obviously, it declined in sales.

Then the book was made available for free.

It became Baen's bestselling title. Again.

Smaller titles also benefit.

The simple truth is that the biggest enemy of ALL authors -- except, possibly, J.K. Rowling -- is that people haven't heard of them. I'm quite sure that there's several thousands, maybe several tens of thousands, of people out there who would buy Digital Knight in a flash... if they knew it existed and had any idea what it was about.

But publicity is EXPENSIVE. At least, the standard kind is. And no publisher on EARTH can afford to give every single book -- especially from lesser-known authors -- the kind of publicity blitz that it needs to even vaguely approach saturation of the market (and even if they did, the constant blare of publicity would desensitize people to the point that it wouldn't work).

Web-based publicity can be targeted, selective, and -- done right -- not even particularly obtrusive. You CAN build a publicity network and promote yourself without being a spamming bastard. And no publisher can really help you with that kind of stuff.

This kind of thing has NO negative effect on the authors. I'm wondering where Mr. Hendrix thinks the damage would come from.

His use of union-like terminology simply doesn't work. AUTHORS ARE NOT FUNGIBLE. Maybe in some VERY limited sub-genres, like the maligned Harlequin Romances, yeah, to some extent. But not even in our limited genres. A Vernor Vinge is not threatened by, say, a Doug Bell ("VAN GOGH IN SPACE!!!") whether Mr. Bell posts his stuff for free or tries to flog it on the web. Modessitt isn't threatened by the seventy thousand fantasy blog-writers. Lawrence Watt-Evans, noted print author, isn't threatened by ... Lawrence Watt-Evans, noted web-serial publisher. Hell, Digital Knight is a living counterexample. The first two parts written (Gone in a Flash and Photo Finish) were available FOR FREE, ONLINE, all the way back in the early 1990s. After that, the first THREE parts were available from Hyperbooks for a small fee. Despite that, I sold it to Baen for first-print rights and for a first novel it's done pretty good.

So Mr. Hendrix is simply talking through his hat here.

Since more and more of SFWA is built around such electronically mediated networking and connection based venues, and more and more of our membership at least tacitly blesses the webscabs (despite the fact that they are rotting our organization from within) -- given my happily retrograde opinions, I felt I was not the president who would provide SFWAns the "net time" they seemed to want at this point in the organization's development, or who would bless the contraction of our industry toward monopoly, or who would give imprimatur to the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.

Will I answer your emails? Sure, if you look up my contact info in the SFWA Directory. But I won't blog, wiki, chat, post, LiveJournal, lounge or lurk -- and I'll be the happier for it. Writing this now, I'm well aware of the irony that zealot Ted the Unabomber Kzin-ski got the biggest audience for his antitech manifesto /on the internet/, but I persist in insisting that people have a right to push back against technology they perceive to be destructive to their ways of life and their beliefs.

Here he devolves into net.kookery, basically, in a neo-luddite screed that makes almost no sense at all. Complete with Periodic Important Capital Letters, as pointed out in the Tough Guide to Fantasyland. I'm particularly amused with "... converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch". What the HELL does that mean? Does anyone KNOW? I doubt even HE knows, except in some vague sense of imagery contrasting the Classic Starving Noble Artist in the Garret with the Faceless Drone of the Corporation, even though this has less than nothing to do with the actual situation -- or if it DOES, he's failed utterly to explain how or why. Does he think that the Writer is a Noble Artist, rather than -- as RAH put it -- a guy who's avoiding doing Real Work by competing for people's beer money? I hate to break it to him, but most writers are not Noble Artists. They're women and men who like to write stuff, and have found that sometimes people will actually PAY them to do this, and that's cool.

And now, let the Wounded Artistes come. I smell their blood, and I will finish them off with my 133+ \/\/1kibl0ggi|\|g 5kilZ!
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened