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15 November 2012 @ 10:40 am
Clubs within Clubs  
Hmmmm, I'm having very mixed feelings about SFWA's announcement today about their new SFWA Middle Grade and Young Adult Writers group-within-the-group. Essentially, it's a list-serv for those who have published or who are about to publish (ie, have a contract) in the middle grade or YA markets. Back when this was first floated, I sent an e-mail to the SFWA President expressing my surprise, and asking if SFWA had ever had other offical groups-within-the-group that had additional membership requirements. I said I would have thought qualifying for the organization in general and a stated interest in the special topic would be enough, and that there could be authors who have not published or contracted such a work but who may have written one, for whom this group might be useful. I also said I'd like to know how and why the decision was made to limit the group. John Scalzi's response said he would take my comments to the board. I did not hear back again, although to be fair, the announcement today does include this addendum from John:

"For now, the SFWA YA/MG list is open to SFWA members whose published credits in young adult and middle grade fiction mirror the membership requirements for SFWA. This means that not all members of SFWA will be able to be part of the list. This is an experiment on our part to offer those members of SFWA with a YA/MG focus a laboratory to discuss issues and concerns specific to their field."

However, for me that does not really provide a rationale. I don't understand how, for instance, allowing a SFWA member who has written a YA book but has not yet managed to sell it (*) to participate would be counter to the goal of offering a "laboratory to discuss issues and concerns specific to [the YA/MG] field." My hypothetical SFWA member has a great deal of interest in those issues and concerns, and having been recognized as a professional, hopefully can be relied upon to behave appropriately.

The online announcement (http://www.sfwa.org/2012/11/sfwa-middle-grade-and-young-adult-writers-membership-now-open/) also states that "The primary purpose of this group is to create an integral community within SFWA that is comprised of MG and YA SFWA authors for mutual support and knowledge sharing, recognizing that MG and YA SFWA authors work in markets with demands that are different from adult SF/F/H. Secondarily, this group aims to provide information to the broader SFWA membership about MG and YA via educational outreach on the SFWA blog, the SFWA discussion forums, the SFWA Bulletin, and at SF/F conventions."

On the one hand, I don't want to go with my gut reaction because it's a gut reaction, which means I'm not entirely sure it's as rational as it can be, or that I've managed to find and examine all the angles. On the other hand, my reaction hasn't changed in the months since I first became aware of this. It feels to me that perhaps the board thinks there are fully qualified SFWA members who cannot be relied upon to keep the list-serve on-topic, or who would somehow dilute or pollute the discussion. It also feels slightly wrong that the organization is taking whatever minuscule (I know it costs next to nothing to run a list-serv) percentage of members' dues and applying it to a restricted activity in which not all members can partake. And I find the [paraphrased] concept of "it's OK, we'll share information with the rest of you occasionally" kind of condescending.

Thoughts? I really want to know what other people think. What angle am I not considering? I'm usually a fairly go-with-the-flow type person. I attend all the SFWA business meetings that I can. I don't constantly demand "what can SFWA do for me" -- I've always seen the value in this type of organization and have defended it to those who say SFWA is useless or irrelevant to them. But wow, I did not get much of a response to my concerns on this.

[* I am not this hypothetical member. I have not written a young adult or middle grade novel. And besides, I think I could qualify for this sub-group under the affiliate membership option. So my objections here are not purely selfish.]
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( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Affinity8affinity8 on November 15th, 2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
My gut reaction is that SFWA is trying to -- well, I'm not sure what.

I agree that if you are in SFWA, and you have an interest in YA or MG, you should have access to a listserv on that topic as part of your dues.

By creating a restricted listserv, SFWA is just erecting more walls within itself.

I let my membership lapse two years ago, and haven't missed it at all.
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 15th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the input! The responses I'm getting so far from members, former members, and non-members have at least made me feel like I'm not crazy. :-)
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 16th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
Just in case you care to know, I just posted this comment on my earlier Facebook status on the same topic:

UPDATE again: I'm not comfortable quoting directly from the group or from the SFWA forum as they're both protected, so I will paraphrase instead. The majority of this group of YA/MG authors (by which they mean already-specifically-published-or-at-least-contracted-by-professional-publishers YA/MG authors) wants a safe and supportive discussion space where they will not have to answer questions from newcomers.

I wish they had included that information in the announcement that was just posted on the SFWA website, or that I had received a response from the president or the board or a representative of the group directing me to that place. Since I was waiting for a response or announcement, I did not know where or to whom to express my concerns in more detail and was too late to the discussion, not that it would have made a difference. To be fair, I was never promised a response, just that my comments would be passed on to the board. I shouldn't have assumed anything further.
sandramcdonald: sunflowersandramcdonald on November 16th, 2012 11:30 pm (UTC)
"wants a safe and supportive discussion space where they will not have to answer questions from newcomers."

Oh my! Wouldn't want to bother them with questions from people who are in SFWA but haven't published YA/MG yet.

Walls within walls.
Chris McKitterick: robot travelermckitterick on November 17th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC)
My feelings on this, too. If you don't want to interact with people, why be part o the club? Start a YAMG Authors of America.
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 17th, 2012 08:10 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Chris. Perhaps it would be too much work to do so. Oh, and THEN they would have to deal with all those horrible YA authors who don't write genre, and answer THEIR dumb questions. Besides, that would require resources they would have to come up with. This way, they can just use SFWA resources, including my dues.

(Sorry, since I'm refraining from using sarcasm in their forums, it got away from me here.)
Oz Whiston writing as Oz Drummondbirdhousefrog on November 15th, 2012 06:12 pm (UTC)
your gut reaction is my gut reaction. It feels "wrong" as if SFWA had a "fantasy only" area or a "hard science only" or "mundanes only" area.

Oz
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 15th, 2012 07:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Oz!
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 16th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
Just in case you care to know, I just posted this comment on my earlier Facebook status on the same topic:

UPDATE again: I'm not comfortable quoting directly from the group or from the SFWA forum as they're both protected, so I will paraphrase instead. The majority of this group of YA/MG authors (by which they mean already-specifically-published-or-at-least-contracted-by-professional-publishers YA/MG authors) wants a safe and supportive discussion space where they will not have to answer questions from newcomers.

I wish they had included that information in the announcement that was just posted on the SFWA website, or that I had received a response from the president or the board or a representative of the group directing me to that place. Since I was waiting for a response or announcement, I did not know where or to whom to express my concerns in more detail and was too late to the discussion, not that it would have made a difference. To be fair, I was never promised a response, just that my comments would be passed on to the board. I shouldn't have assumed anything further.
asakiyume: wandererasakiyume on November 15th, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
Yep, echoing the other commenters here. If anything, input from people with diverse experiences can sometimes be helpful. I can't think of the advantages the restriction offers, at all. If they're worried about people derailing the listserv with irrelevant material, you can just make rules about topics and responses. (Those might not always be followed, but frankly, even if you limit the membership, people will wander off topic.) I'm having a hard time imagining the person who's saying, "Please, please, don't let this be open to non-YA authors"

Edited at 2012-11-15 07:26 pm (UTC)
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 15th, 2012 08:45 pm (UTC)
And really, it's "non-professionally-published-genre-YA-authors-who-are-otherwise-professionally-published-genre-authors."
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 16th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC)
Just in case you care to know, I just posted this comment on my earlier Facebook status on the same topic:

UPDATE again: I'm not comfortable quoting directly from the group or from the SFWA forum as they're both protected, so I will paraphrase instead. The majority of this group of YA/MG authors (by which they mean already-specifically-published-or-at-least-contracted-by-professional-publishers YA/MG authors) wants a safe and supportive discussion space where they will not have to answer questions from newcomers.

I wish they had included that information in the announcement that was just posted on the SFWA website, or that I had received a response from the president or the board or a representative of the group directing me to that place. Since I was waiting for a response or announcement, I did not know where or to whom to express my concerns in more detail and was too late to the discussion, not that it would have made a difference. To be fair, I was never promised a response, just that my comments would be passed on to the board. I shouldn't have assumed anything further.
asakiyume: wandererasakiyume on November 16th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I can see you feel chagrined, but I really don't think you need to. Your reaction, given the information you had, seems completely understandable. But now we know why it's a closed group; that's fine too.
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 16th, 2012 10:02 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Chagrined definitely fits, but maybe I did not convey enough just now that I'm also very disappointed and more than a little angry. I asked about this months ago, got no reply beyond "yeah, got it", and I don't feel the general membership was actually invited to participate in any discussion before or during the time the decision to restrict the group was being made. I also believe they did not post the specific rationale on the public website announcement because they knew it wouldn't be popular.

For the first time ever, I am questioning the value of being in SFWA. I do not understand how the board could decide to set a precedent of "restricted internal groups are OK" without explicitly inviting the membership to discuss it first. To me, they just came out with a strong "some SFWA members are more equal than others" statement.

Thanks for your response.
asakiyume: wandererasakiyume on November 16th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
*nods*

And I was circumspect in my own reply. The turn of phrase "safe and supportive space" irritates me, as it implies that the rest of the community is threatening to the group. I really know nothing about the SFWA, or almost nothing, so for all I know the conversations within the organization are horrible and attack-y, but if *that'* the case, then addressing that problem seems better than building a little walled enclave within it that is "safe." If people want to have an exclusionary group, wouldn't it be better to have it outside of this larger organization? But I realize I know nothing of the workings of the the organization or what might have necessitated this group.
Amy Sisson: SerenityCatamysisson on November 17th, 2012 08:08 pm (UTC)
I was irritated by that phrase as well. I do not believe these is any hostility within the organization that necessitated a safe space, but the word "pushback" was used -- i.e. those of us who object to the exclusions are "pushing back" by expressing our opinions. I guess that's the part considered hostile, and it wouldn't have arisen had the group not arisen in the first place. But I would object to an exclusionary sub-group no matter what the topic, so that has nothing to do with YA.

One person did mention that at a convention panel, an ignorant remark was made indicating that the SF&F community needs to get young people to stop reading that garbage YA literature and start reading adult books. To me, that says that there are people very ignorant about YA literature. It does NOT say that SFWA members in particular are so uninformed about YA lit that not only is a special group needed, but an exclusionary special group is needed.

Thanks again for your input. Things got worse today, as I got some very nasty remarks from a long-time person in the SF&F field. Fortunately he has a reputation as a jerk, so I know enough not to spend too much time worrying about him. But it's clear that by speaking out about this, I have brought negative attention upon myself. I have learned a lot that's negative about a number of individuals as well. It's all too bad, but not the end of the world.
asakiyume: wandererasakiyume on November 17th, 2012 09:38 pm (UTC)
I'm working up the nerve to express myself when I have an opinion. It was hard for me even to leave the comment about the phrase "safe and supportive space," because I know very well that any criticism of wording like that brings all kinds of hostile responses. So, I'm not surprised at all, sadly, at the negative attention you've received -_-
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )