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On awards eligibility posts

22 Comments

It’s that time of year again when the blogosphere is suddenly full of awards eligibility posts. Some people consider them useful and some people think they’re a bad thing. I used to believe there was something a little bit off about them, and I put that down to being, well, British. Blowing your own trumpet and all that. Bad form, you know. But my opinion on them has hardened of late. Having seen what a mockery the Hugo Awards were last year – which is not to say they haven’t been for many, many years – but in 2014 I was more than just an observer on the sidelines…

In 2014, I joined the Worldcon, which allowed me nominate works for the award. I took my vote seriously. I read novels I believed might be award-worthy, so I could put together a reasonably well-informed ballot. But the way everything worked out only brought home to me quite how corrupt is the culture surrounding the Hugos. And part of that culture is the awards eligibility post.

So why are they bad?

For one thing, awards are not about authors – they’re about what readers think of individual works. When an author enters a conversation about their book, they skew the conversation. We’ve all seen it happen. It usually result in authors bullying fans. When an author does the same with awards, they skew the awards.

It’s not a level playing-field. If Author A lists the eligible works they had published in 2014 and a couple of thousand people see that list, and Author B does the same but hundreds of thousands of people see their list… and if 0.01% of those people then nominate a work, guess who’s more likely to appear on the shortlist? Popular vote awards are by definition a popularity contest, so to make it acceptable for those with the loudest voices to shout across the room just makes a mockery of the whole thing.

Awards are fan spaces. Authors should not invade fan spaces. This is not to say that authors are not fans themselves. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t behave as fans in fan spaces. But an awards eligibility post is an author-thing not a fan-thing. (This leaves posts where authors recommend others’ works in something of a grey area. Big Name Authors have Big Loud Voices, and their endorsement can still skew an award.)

Authors get no say in how their works should be received, and that includes whether it is deserving of an award. (Whatever they might think privately, of course.)

If fans are serious about voting for awards, then they should make an effort to stay informed. They shouldn’t nominate works because they were reminded of that work’s existence by its author. You don’t nominate on a fucking whim. Yes, the field is large, and it’s easy to miss something worthy of an award. But voters have a responsibility to make an informed vote, and while no one expects them to have 100% information – those days are long past – just waiting for their favourite author to provide a list for them to choose from is just plain irresponsible.

And, needing to be reminded of something you consider one of the best pieces of fiction of the year? Seriously? It’s so good, you’ve completely forgotten it a few months later? Awards, as a general rule, are supposed to go to the “best” of something – the Hugo Awards actually include that word in their title. You’d imagine a work which is the best to appear during a year would at least be memorable.

(The above, of course, applies to the nomination process. The actual voting usually settles things out. No matter how bad the shortlist, voters usually pick the right one – as they did last year. But the more shit the shortlist, the more the probability of an unworthy winner approaches one.)

bsfa2012

We’re currently in the middle of the BSFA Award nominating period – it closes on 31 January. This year, they’ve changed the rules. Now, we only get four nominations per category, instead of an unlimited number. It’s going to make for a very interesting award. Will the shortlists skew to popularity much more than they have done in the past? Or will they do the opposite… and end up with such a wide spread of nominations that only a handful are required for a work to be shortlisted? I guess we will find out in the months to come…

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22 thoughts on “On awards eligibility posts

  1. I think I agree? Although (1) if authors aren’t doing it for themselves, there do spring up those informal networks of authors doing it for one another, & & (2) re whose “responsibility” it is to assemble a field, I feel perhaps less prolific authors should be given one free Get Away From Sales card, on the basis that they might somewhat entitled to a little “Whoa! Harper Lee had a trilogy out from Baen this year, how did I miss that, I need to read that”-style last-minute signal boost? & (3) It does get tricky when I think of any really good work which I feel really does have a propensity to fall under the radar; & it’s hard to condemn its author sharpening their elbows, if they’re sharpening from a comparatively doughy & obtuse baseline; although obviously that is also precisely the phenomenology of fannish squee blinkers (i.e. you always think your particular favourite is totally underrated) & (4) there’s also old problem of “everybody’s doing these posts, & the last to stop doing them will be the worst of the lot”?

    I wonder if perhaps there’s something to be said for the brief, discreet, no-primping-&-shilling-permitted style of award eligibility post, as a provisional compromise?

    • I’ll pimp yours if you pimp mine is no different to log-rolling, and will always be weighted in favour of BNAs.

      I have no problem with people recommending works. I just think a) authors should not recommend their own, and b) BNAs should probably stay out of the conversation altogether. For lesser-known aurthors, well, if you read their blog you’ve probably read the work anyway, so pimping it becomes moot.

  2. Yup yup definitely on the BNA distinction … & also inasmuch as it’s about visibility, it’s an area for some basic sensible identity politics calibration!

    Lunch

  3. Way to stick you head above the parapet!

    Which came first, the sub-tweeted accusations of racism or the well-connected white people wringing their hands whilst crowding marginalised voices from the scene with their own finely tuned log-rolling abilities?

  4. In theory, Ian, I mostly agree with you. As an author, there’s a certain amount of self-promotion you have to do to market your book, to raise its profile via social media and personal appearances, etc., but that’s part of the business of selling your work. It goes completely against my personal grain to declare at the start of the year that such and such a thing I wrote is worthy of receiving an award – because, to me, that’s what declaring “eligibility” equates to.

    You’re right when you say that there’s no way that reader’s can read all of what’s out there. And that’s why, of course, that people started doing these things, so that their work didn’t get overlooked in the sheer mass of material and the wash of hype and fan favouritism. Because if they didn’t, who would, right? And actually, I think there *is* a service to be done there. Not all readers manage to read even a small amount of the year’s published fiction during the year. So, it’s not necessarily about needing to be reminded about something you read a while ago. Some people even set aside time to catch up with interesting looking works – either ones of personal interest or works that have had buzz about them – at the start of the calendar year, when they’re thinking about voting for awards. So, it’s helpful to have information to refer to. And when you dot around the websites of authors it can be useful to know that a book has had really good Amazon reviews and might be worth bumping up your reading list , or that the short story you liked technically not only is a novella but was actually published in December of the previous year. So, there’re good reasons for putting the information out there. And an even better reason – and one that has been taken very seriously in recent years – is making sure that potential voters are aware of work by authors they’re not aware of to combat Straight White Western Male-ness.

    The thing I object to is not putting out information, it’s an author saying “in this busy award season, think of me.” But there are ways to broadcast the information people need without going down that road. Firstly – and this may sound disingenuous, but it feels okay to me – I think it’s all right for an author to do a “year in summation” post at the year end: “In 2014 I had a novel, a novella, three original short stories, and a reprint story published.” That sort of thing, but without any link or mention of awards. And secondly I honestly don’t see anything wrong with people punting other authors work. Many writers are fans too and vote in several of the awards. I think “here’s what I’m considering voting for” posts are just as valuable as “year in summation” posts, and neither taints anyone with the vote-for-me tag.

    So while I don’t believe that authors should get involved in discussions about their own work, where I disagree with you slightly is that there’s a problem with other writers promoting them (even big name ones) in award discussions. Does it queer the conversation? Does it matter? Audience voted awards are never going to be anything more than a popularity contest. There’s simply no way they can ever be more than the vaguest indicator of “best” – how would you ever get the voting populace of, the Hugos, say, to agree on the criteria for best anyway (and, no, literary quality is *not* objective, but let’s not open that one again).

    In short I think it’s good to provide information that can be of use to interested parties (not just prospective award voters). I think it’s great to talk about books by other authors at awards time (whether they be by friends or not). But it it’s crass as hell to ask people to consider voting for you.

    • I think you’re slightly missing my main point. Yes, I accept that self-promotion is a reality, and that authors need to indulge in it. But awards eligibility posts aren’t really self-promotion – because the people reading the posts are probably fans and likely already knew of the works. So exactly who are the posts promoting at?

      But my main argument is that awards are fan spaces, and authors do not belong in fan spaces. Not as authors anyway. If an author wants to say, this is what I will be nominating… Fine. While I believe that can skew the award when BNAs indulge in it, it is at least the author behaving as a fan.

      Having said all that, I’m astonished that people refuse to admit the Hugo nominating process has been corrupted after what happened last year.

      • >>because the people reading the posts are probably fans and likely already knew of the works

        No, that’s the point. Many people who want to vote miss a lot of the works that are published throughout the year, and do a lot of their reading in January/February to fill in gaps and catch up with the genre conversation. For this reason it’s vital that they have a chance to know about books/stories by new authors who aren’t on the radar, works by minorities, works published in indie presses, works published abroad. That way they both have a chance to read diversely and to catch up with the genre conversations they’ve missed. The only thing i have a problem with is calling your post an awards eligibility post instead of a year in summation post. One is descriptive, the other is attention-seeking, in the worst way. Many authors *need* attention, but there are better ways of directing it to yourself by declaring that your work is award worthy.

        The Hugos? They are what they are. We all know that.

        • But if you don’t know about the writer, how are you going to know about their eligible works post? I get that there’s a lot of catch-up – I do it myself. But I don’t go randomly searching through blogs and LJs to find out what I’ve missed. I listen to what people are recommending, I try to remember what received buzz throughout the year, I check on Amazon or isfdb if any of my favourite authors produced anything eligible (although chances are I’ll already be aware of it because favourites).

  5. I’m not suggesting randomly searching, but say you read a story by a new writer in January and you thought it was okay, but not necessarily award worth, but, on the cusp? You might go back the next January to see if they’d published anything else, and discover they’d published an absolute gem at a smaller venue later in the year.

    Or…let’s say you’re like me and managed to read practically nothing last year, but still want to contribute to the vote. Then you listen to the scuttlebutt, and if an author is unknown to you (and many are to me) you go check out their year’s tally and see if it tickles your fancy.

    You’re well connected to the genre conversation, Ian. Many voters aren’t. And worse, many voters (especially Hugo voters) are still mentally siloed in the 1990s. There needs to be information out there for those guys should they (God forbid) ever decide they ought to go looking for it.

    • There are other sources, you know. Like isfdb.org. And the BSFA is crowdsourcing a list of eligible works, which I think is an excellent idea. Year’s best anthology editors do something similar.

      The point I don’t get is why, having listened to the scuttlebutt (lovely word), you imagine the only possible source for info on that writer is their list of eligible works. And for those writers not part of the genre conversation, how would they even know about awards eligibility posts?

      I’ve yet to be convinced such posts benefit anyone except the BNAs. We all know of BNAs who have had minor works from obscure venues shortlisted.

      • >There are other sources, you know. Like isfdb.org. And the BSFA is crowdsourcing a list of eligible works, which I think is an excellent idea. Year’s best anthology editors do something similar.

        Heh, I wasn’t aware that isfdb was still going (checks, and is surprised to see my entry updated – still incomplete, but relatively up to date). And the BSFA’s initiative is a good one (although copied from the BFS who’ve been doing it for a few years).

        >The point I don’t get is why, having listened to the scuttlebutt (lovely word), you imagine the only possible source for info on that writer is their list of eligible works.

        I don’t, and I didn’t say that. but if I had discovered that there was chat about a writer whose name I didn’t know, I would certainly check out their own web presence as, presumably, the authority of record on what they’d published. (I did mention that my isfdb page has always been incomplete, the BSFA and BFS lists are necessarily selective and Years Bests depend on someone else’s taste too).

        >And for those writers not part of the genre conversation, how would they even know about awards eligibility posts?

        That’s a good point. Although if you’re half-way serious about promoting your work to genre readers, a cursory search will uncover the book bloggers and all you have to do after that is keep reading and following links to find out what other people are doing.

        >I’ve yet to be convinced such posts benefit anyone except the BNAs. We all know of BNAs who have had minor works from obscure venues shortlisted.

        You don’t think the shift in the make-up of, say the Hugo shortlists (away from the likes of Resnick and Willis and towards the likes Swirsky and Chu) has been influenced by eligibility posts – or at least the redirecting of the conversation towards (via publishers like Clarkesworld, in the first place, I guess) women and POC? And even if there’s no direct evidence of the influence in the shortlists, the fact that the conversation includes minorities writers is important in itself. Maybe it doesn’t influence the shortlists yet, but it very likely will in the future as the conversation broadens.

        I reiterate, I just wish they didn’t call them eligibility posts.

        The only thing I’d add about BNAs is – they’re BNAs because they’re popular, and as I said earlier, public voted awards tend to go to popular awards. If you want books judged on some agreed measure of quality, look to the WFAs, the Clarkes etc.

        • Yes, isfdb.org is still going and is pretty accurate. It misses out some obscure venues for short fiction, and non-genre venues, but otherwise it stays pretty much up to date.

          Checking out an author’s web presence… well, yes, we all do that. But a list of published works by year should tell you all you need to know. There’s no need for a “please consider the following works for the following awards” type post.

          The shift in Hugo shortlists make-up… Actually, I think this may be more of a result of shift in the focus of short fiction from the Big Three to online magazines. The novel Hugo still throws up the usual names.

          I don’t have a problem with magazine editors or publishes posting lists of eligible works. My point is that authors shouldn’t be doing it. From the former, it’s taken as promotion; but for the latter, it’s authors invading a fan space. It’s a fine distinction, perhaps too fine.

          “What I did this year” posts… Well, I’ve posted these myself. But as more of a general sort of thing, not just the fiction I had published, but also the books I reviewed, the magazines I guest-edited, the blogs where I guest-blogged, and so on… A summation of my activity for the year. Arguably it could be considered no different to an awards eligibility post, just less… naked.

          • >But a list of published works by year should tell you all you need to know. There’s no need for a “please consider the following works for the following awards” type post.

            >authors shouldn’t be doing it. From the former, it’s taken as promotion; but for the latter, it’s authors invading a fan space. It’s a fine distinction, perhaps too fine.

            >“What I did this year” posts… Well, I’ve posted these myself. But as more of a general sort of thing, not just the fiction I had published, but also the books I reviewed, the magazines I guest-edited, the blogs where I guest-blogged, and so on… A summation of my activity for the year. Arguably it could be considered no different to an awards eligibility post, just less… naked.

            Yes, this is exactly my only beef with the practice. EXACTLY IT. Awards aren’t a promotional opportunity that should be chased, they are an “extra” given to special works by the community in which the author should have no say or part. If you get a nomination you should be delighted because it’s unexpected. Chasing award nominations by declaring your eligibility, to me, is cynically self-serving and actual devalues the awards themselves.

            To some it might sound disingenuous to list your publications as part of your annual round up (however you do that). They might say “it’s only a disguised award eligibility post”, but I honestly disagree. I do year end roundups. They include my publications, but often also stuff about music and performance if there’s anything relevant to mention there (there wasn’t this year really),and I do it because I think it’s important to look back on the year past and set goals for the year ahead. I’ve been nominated for awards several times, and every time it’s come as a very pleasant shock/surprise. In each case, when I didn’t win, it wasn’t so much of a surprise because there were better works on the respective shortlists. So it goes. If I felt that I’d actively sought consideration for award nominations, though, the whole experience would have felt cheapened. And I’d hate to have missed out on that lovely feeling of…wow, really?

            >The shift in Hugo shortlists make-up… Actually, I think this may be more of a result of shift in the focus of short fiction from the Big Three to online magazines. The novel Hugo still throws up the usual names.

            Maybe. I think time will tell. I expect the novels to shift over the coming years too.

  6. I don’t generally see the argument holding up all that well for eligibility posts when it comes to novels. It isn’t that difficult to look back at what you’ve read over the past year and, if you feel it is award-worthy, to go check the publication date.

    I do believe strongly in Award Eligibility Posts when it comes to the art award categories. I follow artists very closely with my role on the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live committee, but have for many years before that. And it still is not easy to know if various pieces of an artist’s work were either a) first published elsewhere and just happen to be used again on a novel, etc. that just came out and b) to know if the art for that book cover, magazine, etc. is within an eligibility year based on when it was created.

    So I champion artists letting fans know, “hey, these are the things I created this year that are eligible, everything else is not”. That gives me the information I need to judge the works that artist created that year, not my feelings about his/her whole body of work. The Hugo Award for Best Professional Artist should not be based on the person’s current or long-term popularity but on their eligible body of work.

    • An interesting point. I wonder how the art awards skew however, given that it too is a field with a number of big names who seem to win more often than everyone else.

      Having said that, I don’t see why someone can’t create an online gallery of eligible to which artists can post. It would flatten the playing field and put everything in one place.

  7. Pingback: 2014 in review | nmwhitley.com

  8. Popular vote awards are by definition a popularity contest, so to make it acceptable for those with the loudest voices to shout across the room just makes a mockery of the whole thing.

    I think that pointing out that it is indeed simply a “popularity contest” shoots that argument in the foot, the reasoning being that if a couple of thousand people are following author A but a couple hundred thousand are following author B, then author B is de facto more “popular” than author A.

    QED

    • Except that’s not my point. It’s the popularity of the work that is being judged, not the popularity of the author. And when a popular author enters the conversation, whether it is plug their own works or someone else’s, they skew the conversation.

      QED

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