Open Letter to SFWA Upon My Resignation

Ms. Kate Baker
Operations Manager

Dear Ms. Baker,

I’m canceling my SFWA membership.

While it was encouraging to see SFWA edging toward acceptance of the indie publishing model, it’s too little and too late, and offset by an appalling reason behind the change of SFWAs incorporating state.

SFWA moved from Massachusetts to California for the purpose of allowing SFWA to claim tax dollars to offer grants. I’m aware that there were other—good—reasons for the organization’s move, but this particular poison pill in the changes made to SFWA requires me to walk away and never look back.

The only money that can ever be honestly given comes voluntarily from the person who earned it—and taxes are not voluntary. Try not paying them if you doubt this.

Grants donated by SFWA members would have been honest and decent. But that’s not what SFWA wants to do. SFWA (and the members who voted in favor of the change of incorporation—I did not) wants to come out looking heroic for giving money that it did not earn (or receive voluntarily from members) to people who didn’t earn it either.

“Giving” grants taken from tax dollars is nothing less than theft of taxpayer money. This action forces people who have no interest in the careers of writers receiving grants to support those writers’ work, no matter how distasteful, badly written, or objectionable they might find it.

It is institutionalized thuggery, and were I to remain a member, I would brand myself complicit with the thugs.

Anyone who remains in SFWA, knowing what this organization has chosen to do, will be doing the same.

Holly Lisle

CC: My weblog as Open Letter to SFWA Upon My Resignation

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65 responses to “Open Letter to SFWA Upon My Resignation”

  1. Steve Hann Avatar
    Steve Hann

    How many people realize that income tax was only supposed to be a temporary measure? It was such a money maker that
    they kept it going. People have actually fought the income tax in court on legal grounds AND WON!

  2. Steve Hann Avatar
    Steve Hann

    Hi Holly;
    I’ve been reading SF for almost 50 years now, and its great to see writers sticking up for their values. I’ve just applied for Social Security, and have been informed that, even though I was born in September, my payments don’t start till April. When I informed the agent I WORKED for MY money I was told, the government knows what its doing. When somebody takes my money without an explanation, I know what they’re doing too, They go to jail for it. Stick to your guns.

  3. Mark Nelson Avatar
    Mark Nelson

    Easily one of the most intelligent discussion threads I’ve read…maybe ever. Salient! So very salient!

  4. T.L. Knighton Avatar

    As an indie writer, I’d already decided that the SFWA had nothing to offer me despite their plan to open up membership to “my kind”. I saw nothing that really made it worthy my $95 per year to join, especially since they seemed to be doing nothing to help me get to the point I could join.

    If your understanding is correct, and I see no reason it wouldn’t be, then I stand with you a thousand percent. The idea of taking tax dollars and divvying them out to other people who have done nothing to earn them turns my stomach. Seriously.

    As for those parties who continue to go on about tax-free donations, please explain how incorporating in California enables that while incorporation in Massachusetts doesn’t? I’d be fascinated to know.

  5. Jeb Kinnison Avatar

    Very well put and succinct. I eak out enough for a meager existence through my indie books, but still would not qualify under their rules. Grant-based writing tends to be written to the audience of bureaucrats and progressive foundation nomenklatura that run the grantgivers — in the end the subsidized output drives out politically-disapproved works, and you have East Germany. If we read only what NPR approved of, we’d be crippled as a people. Oh, wait…

  6. Jared Anjewierden Avatar
    Jared Anjewierden

    Sigh. The SFWA has now given me no fewer than three crash and burn offenses to choose from to defend my decision to never join them, mostly elaborated on by others here already.

    The fourth reason would simply be that they are largely usless to boot.

    1. Matthew Bowman Avatar

      Yeah, that’s the point I made when they opened up membership to indies. ( They’re a social club. Heck, they’re the American equivalent of the London private club. You join them less for the amenities and more because of status. You’re not allowed to join until you’re successful in their eyes, so they only benefit you get is a group of people affirming that you’re successful (even if hardly anyone has heard of you).

      That, and the con suites. But really, why should I pay $95 per year for con suite access when I rarely go to cons that SFWA has suites at?

  7. Brad R. Torgersen Avatar

    There ought to be an informal ex-SFWAn club. The membership roll would be surprisingly long. Really, SFWA’s problems are legion. For me, the breaking point came when I watched junior SFWAns tar and pillory Resnick, Rabe, and Malzberg. I asked myself, “Why am I spending $90 a year to fund this madness?” So I walked out of the cotillion, and haven’t noticed a thing. My career keeps chugging along. In fact, my editors want *more* material, more quickly. I think SFWA membership is a great box for new SF/F writers to check; simply to say they’ve done it. But after two or three years, there’s no reason to not keep that $90 and spend it in better places.

    1. Holly Avatar

      That was the first issue of SFWA’s magazine I received upon rejoining, as a matter of fact. If it were not for the fact that I had just finished digging myself out of my third round of “being broke as a writer” and was there to get contact information to repay outstanding loans to people who had helped me out when my kids and I were in a bad way, I would have asked for a refund.

      I kept hoping the organization would have gotten better than it was in the eighties and early nineties, when I belonged the first time. The fact that it’s actually gotten worse is, as someone noted, a fine demonstration of Pournelle’s law.

    2. R.M.Meluch Avatar

      Hi Brad.
      I’ve been on the verge of jumping ship for a while now. The only reason I’m still here is that I paid my dues for thirty years, which qualifies me for lifetime associate membership. I don’t give SFWA any more money.
      I’m a tick. Not sure why I’m hanging on.
      Let me know if there’s a place where ex-SFWAns hang out.

    3. SheSellsSeashells Avatar

      Being an avid reader rather than a writer, I’ve never had much to do with SFWA, just been vaguely aware of their existence. But when they dogpiled on Resnick, who’s done more for the field than all those microfans piled together, I was *irate*. (Not to mention the irony of calling the guy who wrote Winnifred Carruthers a misogynist…!)

  8. William Lehman Avatar
    William Lehman

    I haven’t read your stuff before. Obviously I am delinquent in qualifications. I will correct this. WELL DONE!

    1. Holly Avatar

      I came by my loathing for political parties and my support of the rights of the individual the hard way—so you’ll want to steer clear of some of my earliest work. You may like Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood, Warpaint, and the current and upcoming episodes of Tales From The Longview.

  9. A.B Prosper Avatar
    A.B Prosper

    I’ve enjoyed a ton of your work over the years and will enjoy it even more knowing that you are principled and courageous.

    Thanks for this.

  10. Elaine Bedigian Avatar
    Elaine Bedigian

    Great Open Letter!
    Here, I’ve been wallowing in the dumps, waiting to become a published SF author so I could have the “privelege” of possibly being accepted into this “wonderful professional organization.” Now, I think not!
    Sure, I still want to be a published author and I’ll work toward that, but I no longer feel like a step-child of this thinking.
    Thanks for being so on top of things, and for the distinct clarification of just how and what SFWA really is about.

  11. cyr Avatar

    Welp, I think I just found the next author I’ll buy some books from. (also, succinct and astute article describing the nonsensical state SFWA has bound itself in)


  12. John C Wright Avatar


    Your view of the role of government is sound, nor is the use of the word ‘thuggery’ inexact.

    Would that I could shake your hand. You have done well.

    John C. Wright

  13. Alexander Avatar

    I hadn’t read your work before, but you have earned me as a reader now for your principled stand on this issue. We share similar values and I am happy to support that with my dollars: will be buying my first novel by you today.

  14. Curtis Avatar

    Very admirable. I am always delighted and uplifted whenever I run across people of integrity. There are so many and yet sometimes there seems to be too few.

    I’d be interested in Ms Baker’s response if it is not private correspondence. I’ve noticed that SFWA tends to regard what they write as privileged communication.

    1. Holly Lisle Avatar
      Holly Lisle

      There has been no response. But I didn’t expect one.

  15. Chris Gerrib Avatar

    Not a member, but my reading of this article is not that SFWA will ask for grants from government, but that SFWA can accept donations (and give IRS tax write-offs to donors) and offer (presumably privately-funded) grants to members.

    1. Holly Avatar

      I read the proposed changes in the articles of incorporation. They stated that SFWA would be able to apply for grant funds. I was informed the vote to move the corporation to California had passed. Articles of incorporation are not publicly posted, and I am no longer a member, so I have no way of checking to see if, in fact, this was changed between the time I read and voted against the final version.

      I would have no complaint against SFWA being able to ask members for private donations—but SFWA was already able to request private donations for things like the Emergency Fund…and I have been able to GIVE grants to writing student (and did so in the past) without any government intervention. I didn’t deduct them, of course, but I didn’t see a need to.

      1. Chris Gerrib Avatar

        Well, the copy I found (PDF) just says that they are a California non-profit organization.

        I’m active in another non-profit (Rotary) and all a non-profit means is that we can ask for grants / donations and give tax-deductible receipts. Without the non-profit status, any donation is technically not a write-off.

        1. Holly Avatar

          If fact, according to SFWA President Steven Gould:

          We are certainly investigating the possibility of applying for appropriate grants from public and private sources when the purposes of those grants line up with our existing mission programs. But we have yet to do so and I seriously doubt it will ever be a significant portion of SFWA funding.

          My response to that is here.

  16. Salt Avatar

    Guess moving to the left coast was the right move then, for the SFWA.

  17. Ken Barclay Avatar
    Ken Barclay

    Hooray for you, Holly. There are far too few “celebrities” sticking up for individual rights in these collectivist times.

  18. MIke Avatar

    I was never a member of SFWA, but have noted widespread discontent against it. Vox Day is yet another example.

    It seems Pournelle’s Law has been proven once again – every bureaucracy inevitably becomes self-serving and destructive of its original goals.

  19. amias Avatar

    “Thuggery” seems excessive here. If I understand correctly, then you seem to be taking the position that no taxpayer should have to fund grants–or, by extension, government programs of any kind–with which they disagree. A strongly libertarian (bordering on anarchist) stance, in other words. Fair enough. I guess I’m curious, do you feel that any kind of government funding is thuggery, since you could find at least one taxpayer who disagrees with every single government program? Or do you see any acceptable role at all for government?

    1. Holly Avatar

      First, I don’t “feel” anything about this. I have a brain, I use it to think. You can feel happy or sad, you can feel hot or cold, but you cannot “feel” a position on the role of a government.

      The proper role of government is limited but powerful: It is the duty of local, state, and federal government to protect and preserve the rights of citizens, to protect citizens from threats within and without, to make good laws to that end and to administer justice (NOT fairness), to provide basic infrastructure (roads and the maintenance of roads, bridges, sewers, water treatment), and public services to the ends above (police, fire, emergency response), and to collect taxes to support those duties and services.

      The original Constitution was flawed by compromises that permitted slavery, weakened protection of the rights of the individual, and allowed too much leeway into what Congress could do to change it. We have been plagued by Presidential, Congressional, and Judicial over-reaches ever since—including the one in which Congress set itself apart as no longer having to live under the laws it made. This law was the downfall of the Roman Empire, and if not revoked, it will be ours.

      U.S. governments from federal to state to local level initially did not have the right to tax incomes. One of our earlier Socialist presidents pushed this through as a temporary, voluntary war measure. Like all other taxes, it has remained active and is now most assuredly not voluntary. The taxing of income—that money upon which the individual must rely to survive—is a massive assault on individual rights. Taxing of purchases other than food and water is, however, appropriate.

      Finally, “thuggery” was the perfect word. I meant exactly what I said.

      1. Quinn Woodworth Avatar
        Quinn Woodworth

        How lovely!! A person with a brain who can THINK! She thinks so well she is extremely articulate. Warms my heart to read Holly’s words and know someone who gets it.

      2. JT Avatar

        Bravo, Holly. Limited government was the idea that allowed this great nation to evolve into the envy of the world; the government gone wild we have now will undoubtedly destroy it. Government support of the arts has always struck me as particularly obscene. Art always flourished without it–as the free expression and consumption of individuals. As yet another ward of the bureaucracy, it spawns yet another elite to which it confers benefits through oppression (taxation) of the masses.

        1. Holly Avatar

          Nicely said—when art has flourished, it has done so without chains.

          When art was run by patronage, Michelangelo was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel. He loved sculpture and wanted to do sculpture.

          Fans of people held in chains will say, “Yes, he hated painting, but look how pretty the pictures are.”

          I have always wondered what Michelangelo would have created if he had been free to create what he loved, and to sell his work directly to those who loved what HE wanted to make.

          1. Alexandra Erin Avatar

            That is such an amazing sentiment. I like to think about the world where Michelangelo had the leisure to create exactly what he was moved to create, and not what a specific, powerful customer was willing to support him financially in creating.

            Can you imagine that?

            Of course, unfettered creativity does not itself pay the bills, nor are the means for it free. So, in order for this world to come about, we’d have to imagine there is some sort of pool of resources that artists have access to, maybe something created by the collective actions of we the people who make up the society that we’re envisioning…


            If this is how you feel about Michelangelo’s career-that-might-have-been, maybe it’s time to reexamine how you feel about collective action in the form of taxation and public projects.

            1. Holly Avatar

              I’m paying my own way. Writers who choose to do so CAN pay their own way. In THIS world, that’s possible. In Michelangelo’s is wasn’t.

              1. Alexandra Erin Avatar

                You’re paying your own way? That’s remarkable! How many of your own books do you buy, on average? And how much of the money that you spend comes back to you as a royalty?

                But let’s imagine that open market capitalism had replaced the patronage system at the time of Michelangelo. So, now instead of working for the person who wields the political power necessary to furnish him with the expensive apparatus of his art, he works for the person who wields the financial power necessary to do so, yes?

                Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that in most cases, these would be the same people. It wasn’t some quirk of the pope’s tastes that ran to frescoes, it was the general trends of the time. If there had been demand for statues, the pope wouldn’t have wanted statues. Or some prince of the Medicis or similarly august personage would have done so.

                The fact that he couldn’t find a patron who would support him in creating exactly the art he wanted to, free of all fetters, suggests that he would have had a hard time finding customers for such art.

                Sure, if he had the statues ready made and was peddling them, he might have been able to sell them. The trick would be finding a way to live and support himself while he was making them, right? That’s where patronage comes in.

                Incidentally and as a side note, I’m really impressed with this internet you made. It’s astonishing that you’re able to pay your own way. Me? I’m stuck using the one that was built through collective action via taxation and public research projects. I envy your freedom. I truly do. You are an amazing island of a self-made woman. Congratulations.

              2. Alexandra Erin Avatar

                Correction: If there had been demand for statues, the pope WOULD have wanted statues. Small typo.

              3. Holly Avatar

                Alexandra—If I were buying my own work, I wouldn’t have a business.

                I wrote my first work in my spare time for seven years while working as an RN. I finally started selling to commercial publishers, who bought my work because readers liked my work and wanted to read it, and so VOLUNTARILY put their money down to buy it.

                When I went indie, I worked without pay to produce my first product, put it on the open market, and people VOLUNTARILY bought it, allowing me to live on that money while I wrote another book—without pay, to put on the open market.

                And my readers VOLUNTARILY bought that.

                I did not need to have the government take money from taxpayers. I spent a lot of time broke, and a lot of time sweating out whether I would make the water bill that month or not.

                But, sweetie, I most assuredly have paid my way.

                And your astonishing ignorance of how businesses work is yet another demonstration of the power of public education in action.

            2. Matthew Bowman Avatar

              Alexandra, your argument only works if the only way to do art is to be paid for it ahead of time.

      3. Kelly Barnhill Avatar

        It should be noted that using tax moneys to support of arts actually *is* in the Constitution – specifically Article 1 Section 8, when they state the government’s responsibility to levy taxes, and lays out exactly what those taxes should be used for, the text says: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Doesn’t sound like “thuggery” to me.

        Also, the Michealangelo example seems a bit off. He never made anything that wasn’t funded by the municipal powers that be. He was in the pocket of the Medici from day one.

        1. Holly Avatar

          Hi, Kelly,

          The Constitutional article you quoted protects the right of creators to secure patents and copyrights, and funds the offices that protect those rights. It doesn’t say ANYTHING about levying taxes to redistribute money from those who earned it to those who didn’t.

          And with Michelangelo, you are arguing MY point. He was owned by the Catholic government under a patronage system, and he produced religious art. Including a great deal of art that was not in his medium, not to his tast, and that he didn’t want to do. He was the equivalent of artists and writers in the Communist USSR churning out concrete statues of The People and pro-communist propaganda because they did not wish to sit in the gulags rotting, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn did.

          History is clear on this. The more power the government has to fund art and literature, the more that art and literature speaks with the voice of the government. And the more handouts you take from the government, the more they own you.

          Nothing is free.

          1. Matthew Bowman Avatar

            Thank you! I get irritated when people don’t get this point! It’s not like it’s some convoluted topic that can be argued either way. It’s right there in black and white. (Well, black and parchment-color.)

          2. Kelly Barnhill Avatar

            Actually, what it says is “To *promote*” etc, as an enumeration of what taxes may be spent on. This was the basis, it should be noted, for the creation of the National Endowment of the Arts. Promotion here is defined as moneys used to produce. I see no problem with it. At all.

            As for the Medici and Michealangelo – first off, the Medici were the economic foundation of Florence, the early oligarchs, transferring their banking wealth into unmatched power. While they had family members within the Church, they were not the Church (and were often at odds with the Church). And they funded the Renaissance. My point about our Florentine sculptor is that he would not have made a damn thing had it not been for the financial support of the Medici. Now maybe he would have had a happier life, and carved beautiful little wooden toys for his grandchildren or whatever, but he would not have had the access to the time or materials to make the art works that changed the world, that lasted for centuries, that continue to inspire us today. That art exists BECAUSE of outside support, not in spite of it.

            You can still be opposed to it – of course you can. I think it’s pretty ludicrous, though, to assert that he would have been happier. Or more fulfilled. Or would have produced better art. There is no evidence to support that. There IS, however, ample evidence to support that, without the support of the Medici, he and hundred of other Renaissance artists would have produced significantly less. And many would have produced none – none that was survivable anyway. And the world would have been poorer for it.

            1. Synova Avatar

              Is anyone going to bother to mention that “Science and useful Arts” is almost certainly not referring to anything we’d ever call “art”?

              Or do writers not actually deal with language anymore.

              1. Holly Avatar

                Pretty sure someone DID already mention that, but was a bit vague in wording the comment.

              2. Matthew Bowman Avatar

                It’s easier and faster to point out that it only deals with patent and copyright law, rather than to get bogged down in someone’s definition of a “useful” art.

            2. Martin L. Shoemaker Avatar
              Martin L. Shoemaker

              “Actually, what it says is “To *promote*” etc, as an enumeration of what taxes may be spent on.”

              No. You may want it to say that, but no. “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;” is an enumerated power in its own right, and is NOT an excuse to spend money supporting artists. This is the power that leads to the Patent and Trademark Office which “secur[es] for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”.

        2. Patrick Richardson Avatar

          Arts in this context does not mean “art” as we use the term but rather engineering. Language evolves.

          1. Holly Avatar

            I’m missing your meaning here. Can you clarify this for me?

            1. Synova Avatar

              I guess I just made the same point.

              “Science and useful Arts” is fairly clearly talking about applied sciences, technology, tools, mechanisms, etc.


              Not… painting, sculpture, music, poetry, or dance.

      4. Elizabeth R. McClellan Avatar

        Justice (not fairness)…
        I try not to pick on the laypeople too much, but you are aware the earliest formation of our legal system, which continues today, involved equity? Courts of equity? Principles of equity (e.g. “he who seeks equity must do equity,” aka the clean hands doctrine)? We still refer and rule based on our system of equity. That word that’s a direct synonym for fairness. I’d suggest your friend Mr. Wright, given his law degree from William & Mary, might helpfully explain this, except that he is known to make inane argumentss like “law is inherently masculine” that somewhat undermine his credibility in this area.

        1. Holly Avatar

          My friend Mr. Wright? I don’t actually know any Mr. Wright personally.

          I’m aware of the continuing schism in the legal system between justice and fairness, with fairness getting the upper hand.

          Justice means that each person gets what he has earned.

          Fairness means each person gets what everyone else has. The two words could not be more different in meaning or in outcome.

          1. Grumpy Guy Avatar
            Grumpy Guy

            Socialists love equity. Justice, not so much. Can’t make a proletariat omelet without the breaking of the Kulak eggs, after all.

        2. Matthew Bowman Avatar

          One should always judge technical terms using the dictionary of the time, not insisting that the new definition of a word should be applied retroactively and selectively.

        3. Dan Lane Avatar
          Dan Lane

          Equality before the *law,* good lady. That is a very different thing from “fairness.”

          The former concerns itself with setting no classes of privilege- the law remains the same for priest, prince, and pauper. Not that we recognized nobility at all, really. Even we lay people recognize that.

          Taking from the one and giving to the other under the principle of “fairness” via taxation is indeed low thuggery. The coin earned by the sweat of my brow is plucked from my pocket and given (minus the government’s cut) to some one who has not earned it. Theft is another word for it. And it is wrong.

          I have no more right to demand of any one that he subsidize my living for whatever reason. Nor does any have the right to demand such from me. I have the *responsibility* to earn my wage, and to spend it wisely such that I do not become a burden, because I am able to do so.

          Every right in the bill of rights has a responsibility inextricably glued to it. Every law, the threat of violence stands near. It must be thus, else the whole thing falls apart. Miss Lisle has the right of this.

          And I am glad she has written this, too- it makes me smile to see folks who have the moral courage to stand up for personal responsibility in this day and age.

    2. David L. Burkhead Avatar

      Whenever you use the government to do something, you are saying “I am willing to have someone killed to do this or to prevent that.” That’s what government is. That’s what government does. Resist what the government “mandates” and they send Men With Guns(TM) to force you. Resist them and they will use violence. Continue to resist and they will kill you. It has to be that way, otherwise there comes a time where someone can say “no” to your law (or your tax) and you can no longer force compliance. At that point, it’s not a law but a strongly worded suggestion.

      Government is force, pure and simple. It is the sanction to use force.

      This is not to say that government doesn’t have its place. But that place is in things that are important enough to justify use of force including lethal force to obtain compliance.

      1. Holly Avatar

        Agreed. I listed out the things for which government is essential and appropriate earlier in this thread. Giving money to artists, whether first-hand or second-hand, is NOT on the list.

        1. David L. Burkhead Avatar

          On a somewhat different note, do you do cons? If you do, do you have a schedule posted anywhere? I’d really like the opportunity to shake your hand. 😉

          1. Holly Avatar

            I love conventions, but I haven’t done a con in years.

            I developed BPPV some years ago, which means that I can’t fly, and I have a related side issue of migraines.

            The migraines are exacerbated by stress, excitement, overwork, lack of sleep, and or too much activity, which is basically all the best stuff about going to a con.

            I hope at some point to be able to participate in local cons, but the BPPV makes me an unreliable guest. It routinely screws up anything cool and outside of daily activities that I plan.

            1. Rez Avatar

              Have you had a full thyroid workup? Vertigo and headache (especially fatigue related) are both peripheral symptoms of borderline hypothyroidism.

              And don’t do just the TSH test (which is worthless by itself) but also Free T4, Free T3, both types of Hashimoto’s antibodies, and possibly also Reverse T3. About 80% of people over age 50 have reduced T4-T3 conversion, which means tissues are often hypothyroid even if the pituitary is not (the only organ the TSH test measures).

              Oh, and thanks for the info on SFWA doings… I hadn’t heard. Not Pleased at their move.

      2. Chris Gerrib Avatar
        Chris Gerrib

        Whenever you use the government to do something, you are saying “I am willing to have someone killed to do this or to prevent that.”

        Whenever you drive anywhere, you are saying “I’m willing to die trying to get there.” Makes the same amount of sense.

        1. Matthew Bowman Avatar

          Only if you’re trying to get there at all costs. That’s David’s point.

        2. Holly Avatar


          Your argument uses the logical fallacy of “reductio ad absurdum,” and by the rules of the blog, I should delete your post.

          Since Matthew gave an intelligent and measured response rather than flaming you, I’ll let this stay, but only to demonstrate that you’re the sort of person who I DON’T want adding comments to my blog.

          No more of your comments will be permitted here.

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