Who knew that one would have to deal with office politics even when one works alone?
Okay, I mean, I know I don’t live in a vacuum, and do still deal with people, so it couldn’t go away completely, but I did hope that the DRAAAAAHMA would be minimal. It trickles in. Last week was more of a deluge. And it was a thousand times worse for some of my friends and fellow writers.
Once I started seriously writing, it didn’t take long for me to realize what a huge place the writing world really is. I decided to join a couple writers’ organizations. At the time, the Mystery Writers’ of America and the Romance Writers’ of America were my two choices (my graduate thesis was a mystery with a bit of romance). I ended up writing horror and mystery, so here I am now… a member of MWA since 2010, Horror Writers’ Association since 2011 (I still have my welcome email from then-president Rocky Wood), and International Thriller Writers since 2014.
I consider the HWA my “home” organization.
I am not going to pretend that I have been around in these organizations as long as many other writers. I started writing later(ish) in life than many writers. There are folks who have been involved for a lot of years. I tip the hat of respect to those who have weathered some of what has come before me.
I’m not sure what I expected when I joined the HWA. There have been some really wonderful opportunities– pitch sessions at HWA-sponsored events, panels and seminars, classes, other programs I have not taken advantage of. However, I see a few things that make me go hmmm.
Two of these hmmmm things share space: exclusivity/non-transparency and conflict of interest. To a lesser degree, availability and dissemination of information is another problem, mostly because the website is such a pain to navigate.
Please don’t accuse me of being merely a hanger-on. I volunteered during one of our conferences. It was not a good experience, which speaks to the exclusivity problem the HWA is facing. I was not made to feel as if I was a part of the organization. I didn’t go into volunteering even expecting a pat on the back (from other volunteering I do, I know that doesn’t happen), but it would have been nice to have questions answered when I asked them.
Before I go any further, I would like to recognize and show appreciation for current HWA president, Lisa Morton. She removed her work from Stoker consideration while she serves. Given the rumors that abound (and as far as I personally know, JUST rumors) regarding nominees and winners relationship with the board, she did the right, if painful, thing.
Many of the processes the HWA uses are not transparent. There was recently a problem with a juror for the Stoker awards. Chaos ensued after this juror himself made public his position. If the jurors were listed on the website, those concerned enough with who makes up those juries could check and then communicate with the board directly and potentially avoid the public flap we just saw. We (“we” in the grand sense of “we”) would have nothing to complain about if we don’t catch it. I understand that the identities of the jurors are kept on the down low in order to help prevent people from harassing them, but I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the organization.
I’m also talking about people in positions of power who could possibly damage, or at least put up some roadblocks to, careers. Being put in infuriating situations that I can do absolutely nothing about without potentially being blacklisted. In the last week, I’ve watched that happen and I’ve watched some of the fallout. It’s not easy being a writer not firmly established in a genre. There’s no room for mistakes or perceived insults. It’s terrifying. And when someone in that position of power takes advantage of their clout… well, it’s a game changer.
More transparency and fewer influential people at levels of authority would go a long way in making the HWA more useful to authors in general.
I know these things are very difficult, given the scarcity of volunteers. Finding new ways to attract volunteers is another issue. I’m not talking about money-oriented things. Something like a pre-registration gathering for volunteers interested in one would be great. It would be a way to get questions answered and familiarize everyone with faces. When I volunteered, I didn’t even know who I could turn to with questions.
HWA is an organization poised to be able to do a lot of good for writers. I think the org needs to decide what the top priority really is and make that clear.
Because I, for one, really hate the office politics.