posted by Doranna Durgin

The writing world...especially the genre writing's a small community. It's also a community of intensely creative people...and those who are successful have generally become that way because they're also passionate people. They believe in what they're doing.

We are also, I think, a fairly idiosyncratic group. Not to mention a wee bit professionally incestuous. Put those things together, and it would be easy to think casual. To think family. But sometimes...I think Miss Manners is more important for us than ever.


Not so very long ago, I posted about a big dust-up between SFWA and scribd, which had pirated approximately one bazillion works. In effecting a take-down of the work, SFWA erred; works that had specifically and deliberately been placed there were also removed. Apprised of the error, SFWA's president acted swiftly to rectify the mistake, and issued an immediate apology. Nonetheless, one of the affected authors saw to it that the world knew of his outrage, and of SFWA's vile behavior. Hoo boy, did SFWA suck that week.

He had other ways to deal with the situation, of course. He simply opted to take the one that would make the most splash for his own agenda. No graciousness there; no taking the high road with an organization of which he's a member. No quarter given. All in all, it worked out pretty well for him.

So it is with extreme irony that this week, the following open letter was issued:

SFWA, Piracy, and Serious Literature -- An Open Letter (excerpted with permission, with the entire letter at this link)

I originally sent the piece to David Langford for Ansible, because that's where I first saw the quote from Ruth Franklin that the piece riffs on. I also put it on my web site. (It's still there.) ... I then discovered that Doctorow had put it on his web site, without asking permission and without observing copyright, misrepresenting its purpose, and falsely claiming that it was under license by "Creative Commons" so that anyone could copy it.

My agent and I had just decided to ask the e-piracy committe of SFWA, which I had come to count on in similar situations, to intervene on my behalf -- when we found that the committee had suddenly been dissolved, following complaints about unauthorized interference, issuing from Cory Doctorow.

The irony of this situation is fairly visible. While Doctorow was making a huge fuss over an honest mistake, which when discovered was immediately redressed, he was publishing another writer's work without asking permission and in clear violation of copyright. ...

-- Ursula K. Le Guin October 12 2007


Okay, so that'll get your attention, right? I mean, Ursula Le Guin...oh yeah.

So...this had been going on for months, Cory wasn't responding to her requests via an intermediary, and when he did finally notice there was a problem, he took half-steps toward resolving it. Eventually, SFWA's ever-cool-headed president intervened and got action, and eventually, Cory posted what he's calling an apology, which seems to spend a lot of time defending his actions and taking potshots at others for an apology. (you can read for yourself). But it's not going down well, not even necessarily in his own community. (It would certainly be pretty bad news for him if we judged him by the standards he used on SFWA.)

So here we are. Because in the publishing industry, you really never know. You might think you've got it made over here in this niche, or you might think you'll never have any use for this person over there in that niche, but just never know.

For instance, that young new writer I was once recommending to my friends? Someone I knew online, exchanged comments with, cheered her growing and notable success and the awards she won or aspired to? Right. Her. But then, when we were at the same major con in the same invite-only publisher event, she dumped multiple arrogant rudeness on me. You know, the kind where you blink and think to yourself, "She did NOT say that--!"

Except...she had. And I began to hear similar experiences from other pros, some with much more chops in the field than I could ever carry. And so she became someone I do not read, I do not talk to, I do not recommend (or, frankly, discuss at all). She has fallen into my personal null filter. And I notice...she's quite suddenly not as visible as she was.

I am not, I suspect, the only writer with a personal null filter.

And so you treat others with professional respect, and you strive for a gracious response to what comes your way. You sit on your temper, you bite your tongue, and by golly you rewrite that email! If you think editors don't swap prima dona stories, you'd be wrong. If you think other writers won't fail to include you in networking and opportunities, you'd also be wrong.

So take the high road--it'll pay off in the long run. Or don't, and see how long you can outrun your luck. If you're really lucky, you won't become a public object lesson. And if you're not...

Well, Cory Doctorow can tell you. It sucks to be an object lesson.

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Comment by Barbara Fister on October 18, 2007 at 8:36am
I'd actually linked to the BoingBoing post here on my member blog because I thought what she said was quite funny (and very, very slight - a few paragraphs of satire, not War and Peace). It's gone now.

I'm not included to say one word further about her, ever, because it all seemed pretty bizarre and unpleasant and not really conducive to readers wanting to read more.

It's kind of like the writer who said, on Jim Huang's blog, that she wished her books were printed on paper that self-destructed after three reads so she could sell more copies. Well, I understand the frustration with second-hand copies, but I wouldn't buy a book under those terms.

There is a problem with not feeling appreciated (though I'm surprised a big name like LeGuin would feel that way) but there's also the problem of biting the hand that feeds you when you think it's not shaking the kibble out of the bag fast enough.... No more kibble for you!
Comment by Sandra Ruttan on October 18, 2007 at 8:22am
Holy crap. Not being in SFWA, this is all news to me.

But the object lesson is well noted. I think it can be a delicate balancing act, because the fear of being considered difficult sometimes keeps people from speaking up about legitimate industry issues. However, extreme behaviour does have consequences.

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