Wednesday, August 18, 2021

The Danger Challenging Professionalism

by Janis Patterson

I make a goodly portion of my income by writing, and I believe a lot of you do too. We are professional writers, and I think most of us are proud to be called ‘professionals.’ Professional has long had a meaning of “behavior, attitude and level of skills” with an ability to demonstrate “a conscientious, courteous and business-oriented manner.” (definition thanks to

I wonder just how long that will last, because the rot is setting in and if we aren't careful it can spread. A large writing organization which has always touted itself as being a professional organization underwent a train wreck in December of 2019, the results of which jangle in the writing world even today. It involved charges and counter-charges of racism, some of the most vicious and vulgar language and name-calling I have ever heard anywhere and, according to some, the exodus of almost half its members and the disaffiliation of a number of its chapters.

When the dust cleared, even the much-respected yearly award program had been scrapped, re-formed and re-named. Torturous and much-publicized reconstruction of the entire organizational structure resulted in a practically new organization to which they happily gave the secondary appellation of 2.0. Some members were ecstatic, some were not.

While such violent and vulgar methods were lamentable, it is not unknown for organizations to reinvent themselves, though usually not in such uncivilized ways.

It is what came next that put the term ‘professional’ at peril. After the new rules and contest requirements were put in place - without any mention of removal for problematic content, note - and heartily trumpeted throughout the genre writing world, the contest was opened. Entries were made and judged and the winner selected.

Then the proverbial noxious substance hit the fan.

Although the winning novel had followed all the rules, had entered with proper protocols and been weighed by a number of trained judges, a smallish but very vocal segment of the membership raised holy hell, sending howling protests resonating through the organization’s forum. Anyone who dared question this recension of the award was immediately labeled a racist and told they weren’t wanted.

The problem? The book - an historical story - started with a (real) tragic event where the US Army waged war on some Indians (Native Americans? Aboriginals? First Nationers?). The hero (fictional) was repulsed by the action, yet as he was a US Army officer he followed orders and did his duty. Fast forward a couple of years; the hero has changed because of what he has seen and is doing good things, meets the heroine and love ensues.

So why the kerfuffle? According to the objectors, the book glorifies the massacre of Indians. Because the hero took part in the action, he cannot be redeemed, he does not deserve a happy ending, he should be damned by God, vilified and tormented forever in this world and the next. Even the idea of God’s love and redemption came under fire from the objectors. (Which, if you think about it, sort of parallels the fate of Confederate soldiers - it makes no difference what good you did in the last 50-60 years of your life, all that is counted and that which damns you forever is that you served 4 years in the army of the Confederacy, a belief which is equally illogical.)

Now I believe in liberty - you should be free to believe what you want to believe, you can read the book or not read that book or any book, you can say what you want to about it, you have the freedom to make your own choices. I have my opinions, you have yours. That’s the way things should be.

Not now. The screams from the objectors became so strident and insistent that IN SPITE of the book having fulfilled every requirement of the contest, IN SPITE of having been judged by a number of trained judges, IN SPITE of the contest rules having been clearly stated when the contest opened, the organization made the decision to ignore their own rules, ignore that the book had fulfilled all mandatory regulations, ignore that it had been judged best by judges trained by them, with the result the award was rescinded and taken away.

Just how professional is it for an organization - which prides itself on calling itself professional - to decertify a book which has fulfilled all the rules they themselves wrote after a long and arduous and very public couple of months? In effect, they wrote a contract and then based just on the feelings of some of the members simply ignored it.

How can anyone ever trust them ever again?

I don’t care about the content of the book, and I don’t care about the feelings - PRO or CON - of the members. What I do care about is the utter disregard for legality and the sanctity of their word. Professionals know once a contract is set, it should be fulfilled. Contest rules are a contract, and to change them after the fact is both dishonest and dishonorable.

Who is to say even if they fix this situation by writing other rules that they will live up to them the next time? Or what is worse, institute a draconian rule of censorship in which only approved subjects can apply? What’s to keep them from simply ignoring the new rules if the resultant winner in the next contest offends someone? If they behave in such a blatantly unprofessional manner this time, there is no guarantee they won’t do it again next time. Or the next time. Or the time after that.

Professional writing organizations should be just that - professional, honest, and true to their contracts. Otherwise they should not be called or regarded as professional.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

What a sad, sad demonstration of a piece of the writing world going totally wacky. Sadly, I think the rest of the world is on the verge of the same.
I belong to the Public Safety Writers Association and so far all has been well with them. The writing contest went off without a hitch--and the conference was great. One big difference, this group is very small compared to the one you described. I know another big writing group has had some problems too, though not the same ones--but problems all the same.

Diana Stout said...

This, this, THIS, plus the wiping away--totally erasing--this group's history on their website, decisions made by Board members only, promises made only to be broken, the bullying I've witnessed in forums, and so much more is why I no longer belong to this organization. As much as I hate losing my chapter, which is THE ONLY reason why I paid national dues in the last two years, I can no longer support the national organization with my money.

Alina K. Field said...

Yes, I left in early 2019 when I realized the group's focus had moved on to things other than business. My local chapter was folding, and I was getting my business news both cost- and BS- free from blogs and FB groups.

Regarding the book in question, I'm a contrary person and it's now holding a place on the Banned Book shelf I started last year. I know, it hasn't been banned, but it's controversial enough for a place there. When I get around to reading it, I'll judge for myself whether it's insidious or not.

Maris said...

I had been a member of the organization for nearly 40 years (1983) I am no longer a member. The minority has taken control. It's scary.

Kara O'Neal said...

You are speaking my language. I completely agree. I stopped being a member in 2017. I do miss my chapter.

Alicia Dean said...

Wow. i didn't know about this ridiculous and shameful event regarding the contest. You perfectly conveyed my sentiment about them. I also left the group after the explosion, which in my opinion, raged way out of control and was completely unwarranted and incited changes that made being in the group no longer tolerable. We folded our local chapter and started a new one under an Oklahoma group. And we are doing just fine without the former parent group, who was already on my bad side for instituing so many ridiculous regulations that it made it nearly impossible for small chapters to function. What was once the largest romance organization in the world will likely fold soon, and they did it to themselves. Just ridiculous.

Diane Garner said...

I left the organization after mob mentality took control in 2019. Mobs are great at destroying things; rarely good at rebuilding them. Case in point.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

It's sad but true that "politically correct" is more important than personal or even group values. IMHO the entire world has lost its mind over this and it's sad and scary.

Great post.
Good luck and God's blessings

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I agree with Pam. It has been declared that everyone must now be "politically correct." But what about freedom of speech?

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Thank you for this post.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's only freedom of speech if you agree with the chosen few. That is not true freedom. We can't give in to their madness. said...

With all the political correctness occurring, I have the impression, some groups want to change history or sweep it under the carpet. To do so, guarantees mistakes will be repeated. We need reminders to remember how terrible some of our histories were.