Howard V. Hendrix of SFWA: Give up writing and sell firewood.

Go read this and then come back here.

Not that I’m a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or given the publication requirements and the bizarre and anachronistic requirements that the qualifying publications themselves have to have, not that I ever feel I will be allowed to join should I ever get past the fact that SFWA comes across as an old gentlemen’s club that is proud to defend the borders of the literary ghetto in which they have been corralled, and certainly should I ever get past the fact that none of their head-scratching requirements involve having produced works of literary merit versus having repeatedly met some qualifying publication’s need to have some pages filled with text in order to try to meet some year’s stockholders’ demand for a profit margin, I have this to say to SFWA’s Vice President, Howard V. Hendrix:

If anyone feels that his or her career is threatened because some people are giving away reading entertainment for free on the Internet, I propose the following tips: Learn to write better. Make sure your name is known.

I’m sure the old Renaissance-era painters started freaking out when people started manufacturing pigments and paints and brushes, too. “Anyone will be able to paint now,” I’m sure they cried. “The markets will be so flooded with oil paintings that anyone with two farthings to rub together will be able to hang one in his hovel!” The answer then was, as now is, to work harder to produce something of such quality that people will look for something specifically with your name on it and pay you a few farthings extra for it.

God forbid an old boy’s network turn into an actual meritocracy.

Here’s another metaphor: back in Napoleon’s day, aluminum was a precious metal. It was tremendously hard to come by in an unoxidized state, expensive to refine, yet it was a beautiful silver color, strong enough with the right alloying material, and amazingly, magically lightweight. (Mithril, for you Tolkien geeks.) I mention Napoleon because he went to the expense of having aluminum tableware made. Anyway, thanks to clay sources and borax mines, aluminum is common as dirt now. But it’s frighteningly useful as well as ubiquitous. Large numbers of people owe their wages to the aluminum industry–probably more than make their living as writers. Or metalsmith craftspeople. And Napoleon’s tableware isn’t exactly merely worth its weight as scrap metal. If anyone needs a bigger clue, I have a hefty wooden bat with several spikes in it somewhere around here.

What amuses me much, much more is the ghetto part. Science fiction and fantasy and horror and romance and mystery get their own special sections in the bookstores. I don’t know whether this is pandering to shoppers who don’t want to risk getting any real literature on them, people who are perhaps, for some reason, less intimidated by Jordan’s Wheel of Time than Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, or … I admit it. I’m at a loss here. Literature is literature on its own merits, not on the merits of motif or subject matter or, for that matter, the author’s previous works. Bookstores find it in their cold corporate hearts to rescue authors from the ghetto should they achieve enormous popular appeal, like Ann Rice and Christopher Moore have been rescued, but … I just don’t get it. SFWA isn’t the NAACP or the Jewish Antidefamation League. SFWA gets a genealogical record and a blood test from you before letting the old boy’s network decide whether to admit you into the ghetto. Where everyone there is finally entitled to complain about how people look down their noses at the residents and hardly ever give them an even break. And no one ever does anything about it.

I understand there’s a difference between art and business. But this is only usually the case where there are large organizations at work trying to preserve the business against the invasion of true artists and innovators. Think about that for a little while, Hendrix.


April 16, 2007 · by xalieri · Posted in Everything Else  


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