Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Delayed Response

To the kerfuffle between Random House’s new imprint (of sorts) Hydra and The Science Fiction Writer’s of America. 

What is interesting is that I do think that Random House is getting a bit greedy on its terms, but that SFWA is so completely out of touch with the modern world. I find it funny and ironic that a association of SCIENCE FICTION writers so completely refuses to acknowledge self publishing.

Self-publishing, for better or worse, is the twenty-first century. SFWA seems stuck in the twentieth. Hydra, for better or worse, is trying to capitalize on self-publishing, but put it under an imprint and give it some professionalism. And, at this point, it is also a filter, not accepting absolutely every person with an open checkbook. Should SFWA examine both the motives and the consequences of this new model from Random House? Sure, but it should simultaneously examine its own antiquated prejudices against self-publishing.

I am not advocating that EVERY self-published science fiction and fantasy author automatically be acknowledged as a potential member, but under SFWA’s by-laws, you could sell a million copies of a novel and not qualify as a SF writer. In other words the editors at a single publisher know more as to what is good science fiction and fantasy than any number of readers.

The Hydra imprint is, no doubt, flawed. The nickname for the merged Random House and Penguin is “Random Penguin” which may be an indicator on their actions this year. They are trying a random variety of things. The proof, as the cliché goes, will be in the pudding.

What is even more surprising is that SFWA has not responded—beyond a blog post—to the fact that Hydra HAS modified its contract options to include a more “traditional” model:

Under the advance plus royalty model, authors are offered a more traditional publishing arrangement, with Random House’s standard eBook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts. These authors will be paid an agreed-upon advance against royalties, and Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.

So what part of this refined model (in response to SFWA and authors) does not meet the guidelines and bylaws of SFWA? Are they just pissed at Random House after a few letters went back and forth?

SFWA’s blog post was a response, sort of, to the changes Hydra has made. Fundamentally it says, “ok, better, glad to see you are listening to us.” But, it is still not clear that Hydra is ever going to be considered legit in SFWA eyes, and it still begs the question as to when SFWA is going to embrace self-publishing. One concern might be that Hydra is eBook only. Yet, Angry Robot (a great little UK publisher) publishes eBook only also, so that can’t be it, can it?

The aegis that SFWA likes to project is one of protecting the author. I completely support that, but in the age of self-publishing and digital, are you protecting the author, or trying to force them into a 1950s model?

Stanislaw Lem famously disdained membership with SFWA, “describing it as: describing it as ill thought-out, poorly written, and interested more in making money than in ideas or new literary forms.” This was in 1973. It would seem that perhaps things have not changed much since then.

It’s as if SFWA is in a bad science fiction story, where nothing changes and time stands still. 

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