[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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SFWA President's Message

What Crazy Position is SFWA Taking This Time?

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1998 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

Originally published in
Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America,
Fall 1998

SFWA is a democracy, and it practices and promotes free speech. But statements made by SFWA members are not SFWA policy statements. Since taking office as SFWA President, I've managed to woo some ex-members back into the fold, but it's amazing to me how many of them, and even how many current members, have completely false ideas about SFWA's position on various issues. In point of fact, on most issues SFWA has no official opinion whatsoever — and we never take a policy stand on artistic questions.

So, let's say this loudly and clearly: SFWA has never, ever made any policy statement against work-made-for-hire or media tie-ins. Honest to God, the organization never has. And yet the belief is pervasive that SFWA has articulated a position against such works and/or the writers who produce them. No such statement exists: not as a passed motion by the Board of Directors, not as a passed motion at a business meeting of the corporation, not as a President's Statement in either the Forum (our private newsletter) or the Bulletin, not in a SFWA press release. Nowhere.

We've never had a motion made to condemn work-for-hire writers, or to decry their work. Yes, Norman Spinrad did make a motion at the Worldcon in Scotland three years ago proposing that work that was not entirely the author's own creation (such as most work-made-for-hire and all media tie-ins) should not be accepted as a credential for joining SFWA (that was all — never once has any motion been made to bar those who do work for hire from being SFWA members, or to condemn those who do such work; everything you've heard to the contrary is a corruption of Norman's much-narrower motion).

Norman put a lot of thought into his proposal, and he was perfectly within his rights to put it in front of the membership. But a proposal is not a policy; lots of motions are made in SFWA, and this one was withdrawn with good grace by Norman himself after hearing persuasive arguments about why it was not a good idea — it never even went as far as being put to a vote since there was clearly no support whatsoever for it.

And yet leading up to that meeting, and now, still, three years later, we hear how SFWA was against work for hire. No: we simply encourage our members to talk freely and to propose ideas — at our business meetings, in the Forum, online, and elsewhere. But it should always be remembered that none of these statements, unless adopted by the membership or the Board of Directors through a formal process, are SFWA policy.

The damage done to this corporation's credibility by the constant hand-wringing, the constant cries of "who is SFWA trying to kick out this time?" and "SFWA is against media tie-ins" has been incalculable. Next time you hear that SFWA is doing something outrageous, don't believe it. In thirty-three years of effective writers' advocacy, we've never yet taken an outrageous position, and we aren't about to start. As for what positions SFWA is taking, you will hear about them here: in our official public organ, the Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Nebula Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer is President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; he also founded SFWA's Canadian Region. His latest novel is Factoring Humanity from Tor.

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