Griefcom and You

by John E. Johnston III, Chairman, Griefcom

As a SFWA member, what can Griefcom do for you? We can usually get you paid all or some of whatever monies are legitimately owed to you. We can usually help with clearly onerous contracts (example of an onerous contract: a recent case involved a famous SF series where the rights to edit and rewrite the entire series were granted to a publisher courtesy of a contract that was signed without being completely read). We can usually successfully mediate non-monetary, non-contractual disputes with publishers. We can usually get people to respect copyrights. We can usually get even Hollywood studios to pay up. We can usually get even non-publishers in the SF&F world to pay monies legitimately owed to authors. And we do it all with the utmost discretion. (If you encounter anyone who says something like “Griefcom never does anything because I never hear about anything Griefcom does,” point out to him that this is because he’s not supposed to ever hear about anything Griefcom does. We do a lot, and we do it well, and if you doubt that, speak to the current or a former SFWA president when you have the opportunity. Griefcom is widely referred to as the most important committee in SFWA for a reason.)

Besides the cases Griefcom won’t take, what else won’t Griefcom do? We won’t try to get your contract renegotiated, and we won’t try to get you out of a contract that isn’t clearly onerous. If you signed a legal contract that wasn’t onerous on the face of it and you were legally competent when you did so, then you’re stuck with it and Griefcom will simply not help you try to get better contract terms. Again, be sure to read and understand every word of every contract before you sign it.

If you do have a real complaint, contact Griefcom. If the case is a legitimate one for Griefcom and if it looks like anything can be done about it, the Chairman of Griefcom will then assign the case to one of the Griefcom staffers. This is usually based on the type of work involved (novel, short story, television/movie, etc.), but cases that appear to require three types of special handling are assigned differently. Unusual or strange cases – those that don’t readily fit any existing pigeonhole – are usually assigned to Griefcom’s Special Projects officer. Those cases appearing to require an unusually high degree of tact and diplomatic skills are assigned to the Griefcom Mediation specialist. Those cases appearing to require a very large hammer are handled by the Chair.

Grievances are handled by the Griefer in charge contacting both the author and whomever the author has filed their grievance on and making attempts to obtain a just resolution. Given that there exists a legitimate and valid case and that proper documentation has been provided, our success rate in resolving grievances in the author’s favor is quite high. This resolution can take many forms: cash payments, reversion of rights, recognition of copyright, withdrawal of items from sale, or even simply a fresh start between author and publisher. Occasionally this will involve a formal or an informal confidentiality agreement. Whether it does or not, Griefcom will behave with absolute discretion and we will do everything in our power to see that our side of what happened never, ever sees the light of day.

If reasonable attempts to obtain a just resolution somehow don’t work out – and there are unreasonable villains out there, believe me – then we have to abandon discretion and pull out another tool: the court of public opinion. Deadbeat publishing firms, for example, generally don’t want to appear on Writer Beware (which does marvelous work, by the way), don’t like having their other authors contacted and asked if they have been paid for their works or not, and don’t want to have any author they have stiffed following them around the web, posting that “X still owes me Y dollars for work Z,” on various forums or social networking sites as these things have the potential to be bad for business. They also don’t like receiving negative feedback from other writers, fans, and cons regarding their actions. Occasionally when it is pointed out to them that their transgressions are about to become public knowledge, some villains will suddenly become very amenable to compromise. Others miraculously become so when the consequences of public awareness of their actions first become apparent.

What happens if all our efforts fail? While we have yet to fail on my watch, in that situation Griefcom will recommend either just moving on or proceeding onward to legal action as appropriate. If the circumstances warrant, Griefcom will pass the grievance on to the SFWA attorney, the SFWA Legal Fund, and/or the President and Board of Directors, again as appropriate.