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Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam   The Box: The History of Television

Dr. Andrew Burt for SFWA President

Greetings gentlebeings! As I indicated last year, my hat is in the ring for SFWA President. My vision is for SFWA to be known once again in the industry as pre-eminent in protecting authors' interests. As President I will focus on how SFWA can do the most for working writers. Changing bylaws and committee structures will not consume my time except to the extent they serve the primary mission of helping writers.

SFWA's mission statement, as reflected in the bylaws, lays out an organization that strives to do many things: defend authors' rights, keep members informed about professional matters, help authors with editors and agents, encourage public interest in SF, present awards for excellence and throw great parties. (Okay, er, the bylaws don't specifically call for great parties, but that's a given, right?) SFWA is a multi-headed beast doing much excellent work, but sometimes one head gets overshadowed and needs tending.

What I'll Do...

Currently it's in those realms of protecting authors' interests that I see the need to strengthen SFWA. The recent WGA strike shows the writing world is changing. SFWA needs to be not just at the forefront, but proactively leading the way. I'm optimistic about SFWA and the future; I know we can do this.

My priorities vis-a-vis protecting authors' interests encompass, first, the traditional tasks: the existing critical functions of keeping Griefcom strong, doing more random audits to keep publishers honest, studying and spreading the word on contracts, working closely with other authors' groups, actively watching for and taking positions on proposed legislation, advocating for better laws, enhancing our information collection, and rapidly alerting members on matters of vital interest. My goal is to improve our performance in those core areas. Beyond that there is a new dimension to protecting authors' interests that has arisen with the digital age and in which SFWA is lagging. We need to think ahead of the curve on matters digital, both in protecting authors from accidental or intentional injury resulting from ignorance or inattention, and also in finding innovative ways to exploit digital rights for our profit. We risk losing customers (thus our incomes) to activities that don't profit us -- beer money that's used to buy beer and not books. My background is well situated to understanding these complexities. I have a track record as a problem solver and in handling unexpected situations calmly. The world is changing -- dare I say we're seeing the first portents of the singularity. We need to adapt and jump ahead of that sucker so authors make money and the field remains strong.

We will need structural changes to accomplish this. For example, we may need more staff. These changes won't be haphazard or sudden: we will have in-depth discussion, we'll implement only the best ideas, and only with a sound plan. My style is to generate a lot of ideas and see which survive the crucible. "Idea" doesn't mean "What I'm going to do"; it means, "Hey, here's a thought, is this workable?" I work by trying to gain consensus, not by dictatorial fiat. I make a habit of seeking input from across every spectrum of beliefs. I believe a strong Devil's Advocate is important, and I gladly change my mind about something when presented with sound logic. Ideas that survive many eyeballs of diverse viewpoints are the ones that work best.

I intend to get various stalled projects back on track. I will ensure the handbook is revitalized and produced, with a plan for regularly updating it and using it as a tool to further SFWA's effectiveness. The directory will come out on time. I plan to have an online directory update form that directly updates the membership database, so changes are immediately available to members. Today, fully a third of members fail to receive the Online Update because of email address problems; I will set this right. My history is one of projects that come in on time and on budget so I have no worries in this regard.

One vital aspect of SFWA is its social structure, and I would like to strengthen that. We have an unfortunate reputation as having a toxic culture. We need to cure that ailment, both the reality and the perception, because it diminishes SFWA's effectiveness. We can have deep debate without crossing the line; we can have fun, and no free speech will be stifled. I've accomplished this in other organizations I've run. It's not rocket science, it won't be painful, and the rewards are immense. I've been laying the groundwork the past few years and I'd like the chance to complete the task. Outsiders and potential members will then view SFWA not as Toxic City but as a powerful, well-run organization.

A Brief Note About a Courteous Election, and Miscommunications...

Speaking of the devil, I ask that we all keep things courteous for this election. Any topic can be discussed in a professional manner. That benefits SFWA now and going forward, by showing that volunteering for SFWA can be a pleasant, rewarding experience. Open and honest discussions without rancor are vital, not just for elections but for SFWA's effectiveness. If you hear anything that sounds disquieting -- ask me, I'm happy to answer. Some problems have been caused in the past by incorrect information being spread too rapidly, so if you have questions or concerns, I would suggest asking me about them before posting all over the place; misunderstandings don't help SFWA.

More About What I'll Do...

I will work to ensure the Nebulas are a premier event on my watch as well as our other events. The Executive Director has had additional job requirements unfairly added, many of which deal with time-consuming event management. I would like to explore the possibility of an Events Czar position to remedy this and make our events even better.

I have a good-sized list of other projects I would like to work on, such as: implementing Steve Carper and Sean Fodera's plan to improve our marketing and that of our members; ensuring SFWA is on sound fiscal footing; automating more administrative tasks; getting monthly financial information on the web for all members to see; increasing membership via expanded outreach and referral rewards (which need not be monetary); archiving our critical historical information which is already getting lost; improving our collection and dissemination of important information to members (re contracts, cutting edge of publishing, etc.); increasing SFnal readership via a system similar to the Circulating Book Plan for kids; expanding our readership internationally; a fund like the EMF for non-medical emergencies; and more; I won't overload you with the rest. Know that I'll be busy working for you, as I have been for years.

I will focus on external matters that benefit working writers: I will place matters of internal organization second except where critical. I won't spend my time reorganizing the committee structure yet again; the past three presidents have already done this well enough. We have excellent volunteers -- the most amazing group of any organization I've ever worked with -- so I will ensure they have the tools and personnel to do their jobs well. I'll entertain ways they can do their jobs better; I won't micromanage them. I won't embroil SFWA in a bylaws tar pit. We may need to reincorporate in a different state for legal reasons, but if so we must seek a smooth and efficient transition that doesn't tangle us in endless churning over the minutiae of bylaws. That saps our energy from helping writers. I won't tinker with the Nebulas.

How I'll Operate...

If elected I likely won't have time to post as profusely on as I have in the past (to the relief of some). Rather, I will keep members fully informed of what the Board is doing and solicit your input, because I believe transparency and member input are critical for a healthy organization. I've seen too many boards that are too distant from their membership and the problems this can cause. In that vein I would like to see if we might even conduct some online Board meetings open to members (with rules of decorum to maintain order).

My Positions on Some Key Points...

I know there are questions about my position on electronic copyright infringement. I've read a lot of misunderstandings of my position, so before you decide I'm a copyright monster or friend of the RIAA (I'm not), please read to see where I stand. I think it's fairly reasonable: I think it's essential to protect authors' rights; I'm a big fan of the Creative Commons and using digital rights to increase one's bottom line. I read SF almost entirely on my blackberry, so I'm firmly tuned into the digital reading world. I will not personally be a lone ranger dueling pirates one on one, arrrr. I will follow the recommendations laid out by the exploratory committee for the new copyright committee and do not envision altering those guidelines. (nor being involved in the day-to-day operation of the committee).

About Aburt...

By way of executive experience, over the past twenty years I've been CEO of a number of successful companies and organizations, including many larger than SFWA, and responsible for assets ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars. I have numerous year of comfortable experience as a CEO and dealing with other CEOs, including of Fortune 500 companies. I don't just implement; I also create, communicate, and educate, as exemplified by my years as a professor. My Ph.D. is in Mathematics and Computer Science, with my primary research areas being networking and security. I do a lot of charitable work. As one example, I founded the world's first free Internet service provider many moons ago (; still alive and kicking, though I spun it off as a 501(c)3 non-profit ten years back and don't deal with it these days). I've served on a bunch of boards and dozens of committees, often as chair.

I realize my writing portfolio is not as extensive as Stephen King's, with sales of several dozen short stories and one novel. I take writing seriously and have been writing SF since I twelve. Moreover, I believe my "SFWA credentials" are among the strongest in the organization. I've been VP for three terms under Catherine Asaro and Michael Capobianco. I've chaired and been active on a slew of SFWA committees. I've done over 100 jobs for SFWA, including liaison to Amazon, solving problems and suggesting ideas that they've implemented; developing the online Nebula voting software; negotiating a settlement with and turned them in to an ally; getting the Russian magazine ESLI to compensate members for stories stolen by a prior publisher; worked with the leadership of the AAP, AG, and our peer writers' groups re the Google and Amazon online rights issues; helped plan, establish, and get funding for Jim Gunn et al.'s site to get young people involved in SF; automated tasks for the Online Update; developed a derivative of the Creative Commons license, and am in talks with CC about it becoming an official offering of theirs; created SFWA's online membership application and application-tracking software; put together a list of "100 Reasons to Join SFWA" for outreach purposes; with Sean Fodera, I negotiated an improved contract for Amazon Shorts; and so on. The full list is at for the curious, and contains more biographical information as well.

In Short...

History shows I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is to stand up for your rights. We need to protect your interests better, and I will do that for you. To accomplish some of these things we'll have to be creative -- but that's in our nature. I ask for your vote and the chance to put SFWA on the path to great heights. Thanks for your support!

--Andrew Burt