If you are an Active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) here in the Western Region, or indeed in any of SFWA's defined regions, your ballot should have reached you by now. The deadline to vote is April 26. Please do so.
Here's one reason why (in case you need one more).
SFWA acts in many ways as a watchdog organization, not just for the benefit of members but for all writers. One way they do that is to define in clear terms what constitutes an acceptable, professional contract. They do this in their membership requirements. To be a member, you must have made qualifying sales: a short story must earn at least 5 cents a word, a novel must earn at least a $2000 advance, a market must honor its contracts. When they let it be known that they've delisted a market as qualifying for SFWA membership, as they did recently with Random House ebook imprint Hydra (and subsequently with sibling ebook imprint Alibi), it isn't to make it harder for writers to join SFWA. It isn't to spit on writers who've published with that market. It's simply to say, "This market does not meet our particular definition of professional."
Now, some of that definition is debatable. John Scalzi (current and outgoing SFWA President, full-time writer, and blogger) asserts unequivocally that a non-advance-paying contract is always unacceptable. Many authors disagree.
But some of what will cause SWFA to delist a market is objectively bad. A publisher will get delisted for nonpayment of royalties. A magazine will get delisted if authors consistently have to pull teeth and jump through hoops to get their contracted payments. And Random House's Hydra and Alibi imprints do worse than simply not offer an advance; their contracts shift a significant portion of the costs of doing business as a publisher onto the author. As SFWA says in its response to Random House's letter, this is unacceptable.
When SFWA delists a market and makes a public show of doing so, it isn't just administrative. It's a warning. The market is put on notice: "We see what you're doing, and it isn't good. We are on to you." And authors everywhere -- not just SFWA members, but everyone -- are also on alert: "This market's contract is not in your best interests."
New writers are vulnerable. They're still learning how the publishing industry works, which makes them particularly susceptible to content-free, deceptive statements like this one: "a different -- but potentially -- lucrative publishing model: a profit share." New writers may be afraid to negotiate a boilerplate contract, afraid that if they cross out the bit about "the exclusive right to print, publish, sell and license the contracted work, in every possible format, in whole or in part, in every language, in the entire world" and replace it with "North American English Language rights," their would-be publisher will drop them like a hot coal and they'll never get their book published. And even an experienced writer can have trouble parsing a publishing contract and picking out the pitfalls.
So you've got SFWA delisting markets. You have Victoria Strauss and Writer Beware. You've got Strauss again at Absolute Write's Bewares, Recommendations & Background Checks forum (which is really awesome, by the way, although I do wish certain forum participants weren't so quick to yank in the prostitution metaphor; sex workers have a difficult enough time without also serving as your favorite go-to example for All Things Bad). And, of course, you have Scalzi blogging the case unapologetically with a side of snark and a sprinkling of well-place F-bombs.
Now, watchdogs boosting the signal may disagree amongst themselves in good faith. Scalzi thinks the Random House Hydra contract is the worst ever; Strauss disagrees, and reminds us that it's not the life-of-copyright clause that's the problem (in fact, such clauses are standard) but rather the lack of an adequate reversion clause, especially when coupled with an all-rights grab.
But none of them seem to disagree that boosting the signal is a good idea. A predatory boilerplate contract is bad enough, but one using the respected name Random House as camouflage is worse. Writers need to be warned. Also, if the internet had not been dropped on Random House's head, would they have bothered engaging their critics? It's an open question.
However, at least one voice is expressing regret that SFWA made their objection public. One voice is suggesting that SFWA should have simply picked up the phone and talked with a Random House about their horrible contract. Diplomatically. Politely asking them to change it. Privately. One voice seems oddly preoccupied with monitoring Scalzi's blog and expressing distaste for his intemperate tone. That voice, of course, belongs to Theodore Beale, candidate for SFWA President.
Beale's opinion about Scalzi's word-choice and tone aside (shiny and distracting though it be), the take-away is this: Beale is a candidate for SFWA President... who believes that a SFWA President should raise issues with publishers "privately" rather than "shriek[ing] from the mountaintops." As one of Scalzi's regular blog commenters puts it,
Apparently, John has been just a little bit too loud in talking back to his betters, and should establish a more proper tone. A quite tone, and a respectful one. So as to not alert to many people to the scam.
So. If you think that SFWA should not be in the business of warning authors about predatory contracts, but should instead negotiate privately, quietly with publishers who misbehave, I guess Beale is your candidate. Otherwise, you should know that the current SFWA president endorses Gould. (As always, Jim C. Hines's thoughts on the matter are worthwhile. He endorses Gould too.)
Who endorses Beale? Well, interestingly, The Write Agenda appear to, in a sort of between-the-lines way. You may know The Write Agenda as that website with an unhealthy, obsessive and long-running grudge against Writer Beware. No doubt people who run publishing scams have feelings too, especially the person who runs both The Write Agenda and known scam American Book Publishing. They think Scalzi's been terrible for SFWA and that negativity directed towards Theodore "Disenfranchise Women NOW" Beale is disproportionate and also that everything relates to the terrible injustice of Barbara Bauer Literary Agency's being on Writer Beware's "20 Worst Agents" list. (Also, they seem to think this picture and the way they choose to interpret it constitutes a credible character smear, which is bizarre on at least two counts. See if you can spot one of them here.)
Things to consider while you're voting on that SFWA Presidential race. Which you're going to do, right? By April 26th. Don't forget!