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April 14, 2007

Yeah, I Couldn't Just Leave It Alone

I posted a response to SWFA VP Howard Hendrix's ignorant outburst here.

Posted by john at April 14, 2007 01:46 AM

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PixelFish | April 14, 2007 02:09 AM

I'm just generally opposed to the idea that you can't make your art free if you so choose. I mean, it's your art, your voice, your vision. It's not a labour commodity precisely.....if somebody else does the work and you get a completely different result. And it's not reducing the artistic opportunities for those who come after.

Heather Doan | April 14, 2007 03:25 AM

Good for you John!You still took the high road.

SFC SKI | April 14, 2007 03:29 AM

I too generally agree it's better to ignore disparaging remarks, especially if they are posted online, because life is too shortto waste in pissing contests.

In this instance, I think you provided very clear refutations to each point made, and in my opinion, the sitting VP currently looks even less qualified, or at least more out of touch and ill informed than he did before. Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

Martyn Taylor | April 14, 2007 06:41 AM

Putting my lawyer's hat on here, it looks to me as though you have been libelled - ie, untruths have been published about you as a readily recognisable individual. Even in an arena so often lit by the sparks coming off clashing egos, that is pretty unpleasant. Your response has been cogent, dignified and restrained. You could be excused for taking that buggywhip and using it as it was not intended.

It also seems as though Dr Hendrix's understanding of economics is positively Malthusian.

Kate | April 14, 2007 08:53 AM

While not a member of SWFA, I've been following the election and the statements closely. Have any past election issues/comments been publicized like this before?

If anything, what may have been a quiet 'slip in during the middle of the night' election, has now actually brought some of the issues that have seemed to plague the stagnant organization out into the open.

While I'm fearful that John may not win only because of his timing, I'm even more fearful that the organization will lose whatever credibility they had left when the dust settles. Sadly the only thing that will be left is the out of date leadership ideals that seem to be filling the SWFA blogs now.

The bitter taste of foot-in-mouth will not go away for some, while the being punted up the ass feeling will be just beginning for many.

Here's hoping you win, John. If not, I would highly consider running again next year if no other worthy candidate steps up to the plate.

While it may be to late for you, (here's hoping its not)throwing your hat into the ring has publicized the faults of an organization to not only it's membership, but to future members as well.

To take a link directly from the outdated site, writer beware.

Annalee Flower Horne | April 14, 2007 09:09 AM

If writers who post there work for free on the internet are 'scabs,' then so are musicians whose songs appear on the radio or on sites like Myspace.

And I don't see where you've stepped off the high road. There's nothing wrong with correcting misinformation. Good luck with the SFWA elections-- if the current VP is really this ignorant about promotion, it seems like they could really use someone who actually knows a cat from a keyboard.

Jeff K | April 14, 2007 09:16 AM

I find the current SFWA VP's luddite rant to be highly amusing, in a train wreck sort of way.

And pro bono work is what brings in the paying clients in many professions. I've recruited new clients in my (former) counseling practice with free seminars on parenting at schools and daycare facilities. It's just good marketing technique.

Stephen Granade | April 14, 2007 09:55 AM

Heh, some of us were taking bets on whether you'd kick the idiot ball down the field. Nice refutation. I'm interested to see how approaches like what you've done will scale; I've some guesses, but as always, the future will trump those handily.

Sally Lou Liz | April 14, 2007 10:23 AM

Good job John, you are very well spoken.

I have one thing to say in favour of the web stuff: I work in a library, as I know I've mentioned before. I'm a book junkie in many ways, and I focus on SF/F. My point: I see a lot of things on the web that I then recommend for purchase for our library system. It is incredibly backwards, to my way of thinking, to be against authors having a presence on the web. Many great authors just starting out are not featured in the ordering catalogues that the librarians receive from the publishers. This way, I see things they haven't heard of, and our collection of SF/F is slowly growing and becoming very interesting. And this is happening because of what I find on the web. I check out links from one author to another, and generally enjoy the whole process. Whether Hendrix likes it or not, he has to look ahead, not backwards.

Luddite anyone??

Joyce Reynolds-Ward | April 14, 2007 10:55 AM

Thanks for contributing to the discussion in a very classy way, John.

Nathan | April 14, 2007 11:30 AM

This brouhaha has inspired a ficlet.
And it's free! On the Internet!

I'm scum.

Soren | April 14, 2007 11:41 AM

"I've got mine, pull up the ladder" is a depressingly common sentiment in creative professions.

Steve Buchheit | April 14, 2007 12:01 PM

Annalee Flower Horne, "then so are musicians whose songs appear on the radio"

Well, technically, Annalee, the artists do get royalties for songs that play on the radio. After the payola (if you don't think it's still there you haven't been paying attention), the processing fees by ASCAP (and the other one, can't remember it's name right off the bat), the RIAA, the publisher, etc it comes to less than pennies per play, but it's still there.

I also think it's somewhat funny that the leadership of an Organization that was fairly instrumental in fighting for having electronic publishing rights as a separate line in contracts (and paid for separately) holds those rights in such contempt.

Metal Fatigue | April 14, 2007 01:18 PM

I concur with Kate on all points.

I think, John, that if you lose this election, it will be necessary for you—for someone—to start breaking ground for SFWA's successor organization. As Kate said, its credibility, already decaying, will evaporate completely.

John Scalzi | April 14, 2007 01:25 PM

Metal Fatigue:

Well, remember that it's entirely possible for me to lose the election for no other reason than because I entered it late, and as a write-in candidate. So if I lose, it doesn't necessarily means SFWA is doomed; it could just mean I personally left it too long.

Steve Buchheit | April 14, 2007 01:29 PM

Then that means you need to get nominated and on the ballot next year, John.

mythago | April 14, 2007 01:34 PM

Putting my lawyer's hat on here, it looks to me as though you have been libelled - ie, untruths have been published about you as a readily recognisable individual.

How so?

John Scalzi | April 14, 2007 01:38 PM

Mythago, if I'm correct Martyn is in the UK, where the libel standards are different.

By US standards, at least, I don't think I've been libeled.

Jonathan Vos Post | April 14, 2007 02:17 PM

John Scalzi is correct.

IANAL, but have worked part-time as a paralegal for over 15 years. In the USA, to prevail in a Libel suit (or Slander, or Slander Per Se) you must prove 3 things:

(1) That the publication was false, or with a reckless disregard for the truth;

(2) That the publication was taken as fact, and not mere opinion, by someone in the audience;

(3) There were actual dollar damages -- not just hurt feelings. A smoking gun would be: "I, eyewitness [insert name] hereby testify under penalty of perjury that I was about to give a $1 million 3-book contract to Plaintiff Scalzi, until I read this blog comment, at which point I ripped up the contract."

(4) If you're a Public Figure (celebrity or elected official, for instance) then you must additionally prove Malice.

Things are very different in the UK.

The 3.5 +/- 0.5 rules are clear enough, although each phrase is a term of art (what is "publication", "opinion", "malice" would baffle many educated humans). Yet writers and attorneys can miss the forest for the trees.

I once counseled the Mayor of Pasadena, an attorney, at the courthouse in the middle of his unsuccessful Slader suit against an exclusive club which had allegedly defamed him when they revoked his membership. Problem was, their stated reason (he was way behind in paying dues) may have been a pretext, but withstood cross-examination. More important, he could not prove damages.

Since the Mayor was, by definition, a public figure, he would also have needed to prove Malice. "Everybody knew" that the Old Boy Network was angry at him for being a minority (Armenian), denouncing corruption, meeting with Fidel Castro and bringing home cigars, and wearing an obscene tee-shirt in the Rose Bowl parade. But this fell short of Proof. Really. I can't make up stuff as silly as what I see all the time in my own community. Or the SFWA Forum.

John H | April 14, 2007 02:24 PM

Sounds to me like he's just got it in for you personally, John.

And who can blame him -- because of your actions his kids don't have any shoes on their feet and are forced to eat paste since he can't afford to feed them real food...

Jacob | April 14, 2007 02:27 PM

There's actually a really awesome post on this very blog on whether something's slander.

Jonathan Vos Post | April 14, 2007 03:28 PM

Also, "slander per se" is easier to prove. The classic example is when party A falsely accuses party B of having "a loathesome disease."

Whether e-mail constitutes "publication" seems to vary from state to state, or lawyer to lawyer, or something.

And for anonymous blog comments, proving that the defendant was the actual source is tricky. Anonymizers. Spoofing. Chain of Evidence.

Suppose Karl Rove defamed someone, say a Federal Attorney, on an email from a RNC laptop, and all copies of the email were deleted from the RNC server. Hypothetically, of course.

Given that Newt Gingrich is nominally a Science Fiction novelist (Jim Baen introduced the two us us), maybe we should dissuade him from a USA Presidential Bid, and draft him to assist your regime at SFWA?

Oh, and there's the issue of Respondeat Superior, giving a manager responsibility for a defamation not being removed from premises. The precedent is a man who saw his wife defamed on a men's room wall at a pub, saying what she did, and giving her home phone number. The husband complained to the bartender, who promised to paint over the graffiti, but failed to do so. The husband and wife collected big bucks in trial.

Lugo | April 14, 2007 06:09 PM

Libel, slander, whatever, either way the only ones who will get rich from any legal action will be the lawyers. Just ain't worth it.

Greg | April 14, 2007 07:53 PM


I agree with everything you wrote. I bought Old Man's War because I was familiar with your column and other online works---which I read for free for several years.

I would like to know the official Scalzi stance on a related topic: the "Digital Maoism" concept proposed by Jaron Lanier.

His metaphor is a bit overblown; but he does have a point. I understand why you do what you do. I cannot, however, understand why any sane person with a life would spend hours slaving away as a writer at Wikipedia.

When I came across the Lanier article, I thought: "I wonder what Scalzi's take on this matter is."

Andy H. | April 14, 2007 09:19 PM

I cannot, however, understand why any sane person with a life would spend hours slaving away as a writer at Wikipedia.

Judging from the wikipedia-users I know, it's for about the same reason some sane people with lives spend hours playing through video games, or constructing model trains -- it entertains them and gives them a sense of accomplishment.

John Scalzi | April 14, 2007 09:30 PM

Indeed. Everyone needs a hobby. This site is mine.

Michael Griffiths | April 15, 2007 12:54 AM


But your post is a trifle harsh, and takes his comment out of context.

This greatly mitigated (for me) his comment:

Since more and more of SFWA is built around such electronically mediated networking and connection based venues, and more and more of our membership at least tacitly blesses the webscabs (despite the fact that they are rotting our organization from within) -- given my happily retrograde opinions, I felt I was not the president who would provide SFWAns the "net time" they seemed to want at this point in the organization's development, or who would bless the contraction of our industry toward monopoly, or who would give imprimatur to the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.

[...] but I persist in insisting that people have a right to push back against technology they perceive to be destructive to their ways of life and their beliefs.

This is my pushback. I'd rather be chopping wood for my woodstove, maintaining my own well, and working endlessly on our twelve acres of pines, oaks, and cedars than futzing with these electrons. And that, if you'll excuse me, is exactly the hands-on work I'll be doing after my term as SFWA vice president ends

Give him credit for knowing that he's an exception. And give him credit for supporting SFWA through being Vice President. He may be wrong - and THAT is PURELY a matter of opinion - but he's done his best to help SFWA through two terms.

Saying that:

You know, I was going to take the high road and leave this alone, but the more I look at this post from current VP Howard Hendrix, the more it just really pisses me off:

...is patently unfair to him.


It's one thing to take a malicious or informed article whose author firmly believes he is right and complain about it; but it's something else to take an explanatory - if controversial - post and object to one small portion.

Where, for example, is your comment applauding the fact that he's withdrawing?

Instead you post this rather insulting comment:

But the fact that he is not only ignorant of how this online promotion works, but is actively hostile to the people in SFWA who use it to expand their careers and the genre because of this ignorance, is ridiculous.

....which gives him no credit at all.

It's faintly ridiculous: normally, you're quite fair.

This isn't fair.

Another Steve | April 15, 2007 01:41 AM

I really have a problem with this whole concept. Jim Baen started a free library at Baen Books, before he died. Are new writers, posting a first book in a three book arc hoping to have the remaining two accepted, scabs? I understand Eric Flint has much to do with the free library. Does that make him a scab-master?

I hate to say it, but many books will be made without paper or ink in the very near future. That is what we have to plan or transition toward. The ones who can understand that concept will develop the future and not be left holding a buggy whip.

That is more seriousness than I like to display. Did I mention I liked the spider monkey picture?

John Scalzi | April 15, 2007 01:46 AM

Michael Griffiths:

You need to read this, regarding my opinion about being "fair."

Having said that, I don't believe I've said anywhere that Dr. Hendrix has not been a useful officer of SFWA, nor that he's done his job poorly or without distinction; this is not about his tenure as VP, it's about the fact that he doesn't appear to understand how people are promoting themselves online, and that he appears to hold in contempt the people who do it.

I'm not sure why I would want to give him too much credit for determining he's an exception regarding technology, because in doing so he explicitly denigrates others. Now, maybe you're willing to overlook Dr. Hendrix spewing in those mitigating paragraphs you highlight about "webscabs" and "technopeasant wretches" who are "rotting the organization from within," but to me it's clear that at least part of the reason he chose not to run for president of SFWA is that he decided the people in it are not worth his time -- or, more accurately, his conception of who the people in SFWA are now means they are not worth his time. The additional context you provide, which you suggest I've taken his statements out of, only further indicate what I see as his contempt and ignorance.

I would suggest to you that I am giving him as much credit as he has indicated he deserves in this respect, and that I am being at least as fair to him as he is being to those he's labeled as scabs and peasants.

I certainly thank Dr. Hendrix for his service to SFWA, and I would agree that it's just as well he's choosing to withdraw as an officer after this election, and letting others take up the reins.

A.R.Yngve | April 15, 2007 06:29 AM

This just in:

Archaeologists working in Egypt have uncovered papyrus scrolls dating from circa 1200 B.C., and have now translated some of the ancient writing:

"And Anck-Tep-Henderix said:
The new class of poets use writing instead of their voices to tell stories. They steal the bread from myself and other good oral tellers. Their writing can be read many times after the poet is paid. Truly, these new poets are writer-peasant wretches."

Laurie Mann | April 15, 2007 10:02 AM

Jo Walton has announced:

Monday 23rd April is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day


will shetterly | April 15, 2007 11:00 AM

To the folks who worry about SFWA should John lose, I'd like to say I see many signs for hope. The Old Guard now knows things they had not, and I see them working to catch up. I voted for John and Derryl, but if Michael and Andrew win, good changes will still come*. Michael and Andrew are not Howard, and they're learning that things outside sfwa's doors are not what they had assumed. Though the Board can be a great damper on SFWA, SFWAns can drive their Board members to change--or, as has happened in the past, resign.

* I dunno if John or Derryl have realized this, but having stepped forward to help change SFWA, they're a bit obliged to work for change within SFWA now even if they lose. So SFWA wins no matter how the election goes.

John Scalzi | April 15, 2007 11:32 AM

Will Shetterly:

"I dunno if John or Derryl have realized this, but having stepped forward to help change SFWA, they're a bit obliged to work for change within SFWA now even if they lose."

What?!? If I lose, I'm taking my bat and ball and going home.

An Eric | April 15, 2007 12:08 PM

If writers who post there work for free on the internet are 'scabs,' then so are musicians whose songs appear on the radio or on sites like Myspace.


Open mic night at the bar down the street is communism! It's communism! The Reds are here! Call the National Guard! Help! Help!

But seriously: the complaint that giving a product away is sabotaging an industry isn't new. Specifically, I've heard it said about musicians who give songs away online, webcomic artists who have free sites, and open source software. The reality is that people will pay for something even if they can get something similar for free, and that people will find other ways to pay for something they think is worth supporting (e.g. buying t-shirts or purchasing other creations by an artist or writer). Many of those who complain about free material also seem to be under the delusion that there is a zero-sum game involved, and that if free materials were unavailable the public would be obligated to purchase their product instead: it doesn't occur to them that the alternative might be that the public might simply choose to go without.

Ultimately, what the complaints really reveal is deep insecurity: the complainant doesn't really believe his product can compete. This belief may be based on "evidence" in the form of low sales, especially compared to use of free "alternatives." What the complainant doesn't want to consider is that this evidence might also be explained by lack of appeal, public indifference, public unawareness or even an actual lack of quality, and that they might have low sales even if the free "competition" didn't exist.

Ann L. | April 15, 2007 01:19 PM

"And Anck-Tep-Henderix said:
The new class of poets use writing instead of their voices to tell stories. They steal the bread from myself and other good oral tellers. Their writing can be read many times after the poet is paid. Truly, these new poets are writer-peasant wretches."

Or ink-stained papyrus-peasant wretches.

I've been reading the whole thing with appalled fascination. No vote yet! I'm only eligible for an associate membership. But I think that even if Scalzi doesn't win this time out, the debate itself has already led to some positive changes, even if small, and the issues raised aren't going to just disappear.

Also? I'm boggled that in anyone's mind it's fair for Dr. Hendrix to call lots of people (Scalzi included) scabs and wretches (and I grew up in a pro-union household--that "scabs" is fighting words) and say the online community is just a bunch of sycophants, but Scalzi pointing out that his understanding of how web promotion works--something on which Dr. Hendrix has based his judgement--is No Fair. I kind of want to know what the rest of the world looks like on that drug.

No, wait, I don't.

Ann L. | April 15, 2007 01:22 PM

Damn it, left out part of a sentence.

"Scalzi pointing out that his understanding of how web promotion works is hopelessly wrong"

Lost in the parenthetical remark, sorry.

Old Jarhead | April 15, 2007 06:33 PM

Well John, as I read your response to Dr. Hendrix's jeremiad I was disappointed to see that you among others had already jumped on the point that came to me in a BFO upon reading. That is, the idea that this is a zero sum system. I'm sure that the availability of L. Ron Hubbard stories on line would completely quench my desire to purchase Scalzi work!!

I suspect that at the advent of the typewriter the Luddites wailed that the nobility of the profession was fading because the authors were no longer sitting on high stools in green eyeshades scribbling on parchment.

i'm afraid that Dr. Hendrix's extensive education may have infected him with some of the less admirable characteristics of the Academy - among them being the tendency to look down with hauteur and disdain upon the proles.

A.J. Luxton | April 15, 2007 07:10 PM

Steve Buchheit, upthread, says:

Well, technically, Annalee, the artists do get royalties for songs that play on the radio. After the payola (if you don't think it's still there you haven't been paying attention), the processing fees by ASCAP (and the other one, can't remember it's name right off the bat), the RIAA, the publisher, etc it comes to less than pennies per play, but it's still there.

True, true: but this leaves the question of whether Hendrix meant to fire his ammunition solely at authors who were putting their work on the web without getting paid for it, or whether the category of "Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch" also is supposed to include those whose work is available on the web free of charge to the reader.

The second category includes anyone who's published in a number of reputable online markets which pay more than the big print zines. His wording, "post their creations on the net for free", leaves some room for interpretation. "For free" does not mean the same necessarily as "without being paid."

Steve Buchheit | April 15, 2007 10:00 PM

A.J. Luxton, true as well. My reading of Dr. Hendrix's screed was he holds the thought that any writing which the end user (aka the readers) pays nothing to view constitutes a membership in the ranks of "scabs" and the "pixel stained." Which is such a wrong headed view of markets (and the internet) that I'm glad John responded because I just wouldn't know where to begin with that (also, as a non-member it wouldn't be my place to respond).

If it gives joy to the writer to post professional works for free on the web, I can find no fault. It's their work, they have control, it's their baby. Ranting against that would be like shouting at the rain. Unless Mr. Hendrix wishes to make SFWA a full union (BTW, I am in a service union) that's fine. But from the outside, I don't think SFWA gets to say squat about what it's members do with their rights. I am perfectly willing to be corrected on this point if the bylaws allow SFWA to direct members in the exercise of their rights.

Chang, for rizzle. | April 16, 2007 01:34 PM

Well stated.

Hendrix is a dink. A dinosaur. A j-hole.

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