Greater participation of the Society’s membership is essential if the Society is to act effectively in defence of author’s interests. That requires fewer posts nominated, more posts elected. To achieve this, a thorough-going review of the Society’s constitution is required.
The professional situation of authors has so evolved that it is inconceivable that a late nineteenth-century establishment can be relevant to a twenty-first century situation. Before the First World War most publishers were small family affairs, the editor developed a personal interest in the author, who was left alone to pursue his interests and his passions. Publishing today is no longer such a gentlemanly affair. The creative process has probably not changed much since Homer. But the structure of publishing is no longer recognizable. The constitution of the Society of Authors must reflect these changes and the considerable threat they pose to the creative process.
The details of such a review must be hammered out in committee. Any decision to reform the Society’s constitution must be collective and should be debated by the entire Society. All reforms should respect both the traditions of the Society and the radical new professional situation faced by authors today. This will be a difficult balance to achieve. But with strong leadership it should be possible.
Strong leadership is the key to constitutional reform. It will not be found in an administration that nominates itself. The principal posts of the Society have to be elected.
The Management Committee is, effectively, the executive of the Society of Authors. This needs to be made a reality — and the membership of the Society needs to be made aware that this is where authority resides.
The head of the Management Committee is the Chairman. Authors, publishers, booksellers and agents should know that this is a national figure who will resist commercial abuse and will defend the integrity and quality of authorship.
These two requirements — the authority of the Management Committee and the effective leadership of its Chairman — lead me to propose a revision in both the length of the term of office of committee members, and of the terms of renewal. Again, the details should be decided collectively.
The purpose of the reforms must be to give teeth to both the Committee and the Chairman in a commercial climate that is very unfavourable to authors.
I have other constitutional revisions in mind. For example, we have Regional Committees. They correspond to our own Society of Authors, France, (SOAF) which is based in Paris. These committees should play a much more active role in the national organization, so that they have a participating membership from the grassroots up. A programme should be devised to assure this.