Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fight the Good Fight

Throughout my life, I’ve had this drive, this need, for things to be fair. I can’t say why. Although part of me thinks that it comes from growing up in Utah. Among Latter-day Saints, I believe there can be a prevailing feeling of being the victim. After all, people of the LDS faith (the Mormons) had to leave what was then the United States of America to find religious freedom, and I believe some of that bitterness has been passed down through the generations. For example, I’ve noticed as a fan of BYU’s football team there is a sense of trying to be taken seriously on the national stage—and being outraged when that isn’t the case.
Regardless of the reasons for my feelings that things need to be fair, I also find that I’m not afraid to stand up for things that I believe to be right. The challenge with that, as I’ve grown to understand, is that I’m an extremely sensitive person. Generally, I’ve learned that I don’t have a problem when people disagree with my opinions. After all, I do believe everyone has a right to choose. What I really struggle with is when I feel like me as a person, my character and integrity, are being attacked because I don’t agree with someone.
A few years ago, I attended the LDStorymakers conference in Provo. I was a newly published author. Because I had published through a “traditional” publisher, I was allowed to join the LDStorymakers as a member, and therefore get a discount to this awesome conference which I had heard so many good things about.
And it was amazing. I met a lot of really nice people. One of these wonderful authors was serving on the Board of Directors for LDStorymakers. After we chatted for a bit, she asked if I’d like to become involved. The idea was rather exciting.
Time passed and I learned that there was an “At-Large” position opening soon. This person would be voted in by the membership, and their primary responsibility was to represent the membership and bring issues or concerns to the board.
At first, everything was going great. I contributed by helping with the scholarship fund to help people attend the conference. I attended the monthly meetings via phone and voted on things that needed to be voted upon.
Not long after, I had some serious issues with my publisher. Suffice it to say, I was able to get my rights back to the two books they published. I looked at different options, and elected to pursue this new avenue opening to authors commonly referred to as “indie publishing.” I would bypass the traditional publisher and work directly with the printer and distributor. I got to choose my own covers. I was able to hire my own editor. My old publisher required that I do a lot of promotion, so I was already doing that.
After “going indie,” I discovered two things. First, I loved the creative freedom AND I was making more money. Second, there were certain traditionally published authors who looked down their nose at indie publishing.
Now it wasn’t everyone, or even close to the majority. But there were a number of people who openly criticized indies as inferior. In addition, (and I think this ties back to the whole “victim mentality” of a lot of LDS folks) several indie authors were quite offended.
In my ignorance, I didn’t realize that when I first joined LDStorymakers that indie authors were not allowed to join. After all, my first book was traditionally published, so I hadn’t given it a second thought. When I asked about indies joining, three main reasons from several members of the LDStorymakers came up. First, LDStorymakers is a guild for traditionally published authors. That’s what they do. Second, there really isn’t a gatekeeper on indie work to ensure its quality. Third, LDStorymakers couldn’t really handle taking on a whole lot of new members without more people helping out (commonly referred to as “infrastructure”).
All these answers made sense to me. After all, LDStorymakers had been around for a long time and it was working.
However, now that I was aware of these two different types of authors (traditional and indie), I became more aware of LDStorymakers members asking the same questions. After all, the publishing world was changing dramatically. Indie publishing was taking off (as I experienced firsthand).
Over time, I also realized I had an ethical dilemma. I was voted by the membership to represent them, yet if LDStorymakers was truly only for traditionally published authors, I didn’t really represent them. I had switched to the indie path. I carefully considered my options, and in doing so, re-read my responsibilities. I even mentioned to the Board of Directors that since I was no longer affiliated with traditional publishing that perhaps I should resign. I was encouraged to stay. I even stayed on for an additional year. 
During the next few months, it occurred to me that there was enough concern among the members of the LDStorymakers around membership requirements that it was my responsibility to bring it to the attention of the board. When I did so, I was a bit shocked to hear that it was something brought up often, every year or so. Yet, as far as I could tell, the members hadn’t been allowed to vote on possible changes—for various reasons, some of them logical and noble.
I urged the board to at least ask the members if they wanted to look at different membership options. Specifically, put it to a vote. I’ll be honest here when I say I had to really push to get a vote to happen. But it did.
The results? By an overwhelming margin, the members who voted said they wanted to look at different options.
At this point, the BOD decided to form a committee to look at various options. I declined to participate for two main reasons. First, I will openly admit I thought that indie authors should be allowed to join. I didn’t want it to come across that I was trying to force my personal opinion into the mix. Second, I was finishing my Master’s degree at the time and was swamped with school work.
The committee that was formed worked their tails off, looking at different options. The most controversial of the options was around indie authors. Some were convinced it would never pass. At the very least, I wanted the members to have the option to vote on it.
Several months passed while it was debated. I’ll state that one reason it needed to be pushed to the back burner for a bit was because of the annual conference which took place in April. That event is by far the biggest event in which the LDStorymakers are involved—and a valid reason for a delay.
With that completed, I once again began to push for a vote. I was met with a lot of resistance. And some of it started to turn personal. One person even said I had threatened to quit if I didn’t get my way—that was based on my comment that perhaps I should resign if I didn’t truly represent the members. I’ll openly confess that the sensitive part of me started to get outraged. I was trying to do my job, and yet somehow my motives and character were being called into question.
I honestly thought about quitting because the stress was starting to impact other parts of my life—stress caused from a volunteer position in which I was trying to do what I had been voted in to do.
But the other part of me, the fighter, hung on. As of this moment, the LDStorymakers members are voting on three possible options for opening up more membership, including allowing indie authors.
During this process, I have received emails from five different people accusing me of various things (abusing power, falsifying information, and trying to advance my personal agenda) and attacking my character—all because I pushed for the vote to happen.
The one thing that I reminded all of them is that I gain nothing, personally, from the results of the vote either way, aside from knowing that I did what I was elected to do.
And now the good news. For every bad email, I received at least two positive emails thanking me for making a stand and speaking out for the membership. One person even admitted that they wanted to speak up, but felt like if they did they would receive the same treatment I did from the few who were brash enough to make accusations.
In the end, have I taken offense when people have disagreed with me? I’d like to believe that wasn’t the case at first, but I will admit that once the comments became personal, that clouded my reaction when people were offering different opinions. I wish I had been better than that. At the same time, I honestly believe I’ve tried to do what I thought was right.
At the very least, the members have been allowed to vote on choices for changing membership options—options which I feel will only make LDStorymakers stronger and better, and able to serve a larger group of people. Chances are good that at least one of the proposed options will pass, if not more. Even if none pass, at least the members were the ones to make the choice—the people I was voted in to represent. 

UPDATE: all three options presented to the members passed.

1 comment:

  1. ((HUGS)) Jason, I'm so sorry you've been put through the meat grinder. I am proud of you for standing for your beliefs. You and I are cut from the same cloth! I am sensitive in the same ways as you and stubborn to stand for my very beliefs as well!

    I have a friend who was ousted from this scene and as it goes--sadly enough--many Utah LDSers are cliquish and it is bleeding into the Storymaker scenario.

    You are indubitably my hero friend, my hero author.