The 2015 Hugo Awards: Thoughts on Nominating
Is it just me, or does it seem as if Hugo season gets longer and longer every year? The first few months of the year are taken up with nominating. The spring is dedicated to arguing about the nominees. The summer is spent anticipating the winners and then--which is really much more fun--obsessively analyzing the nominating and voting statistics. It's only in the fall that we have a brief reprieve, and then the whole thing starts all over again. Which it has--at the end of this month the Hugo nominating period will begin, and in anticipation of that, I have a few thoughts for people who are, or are considering becoming, Hugo nominators.
- Because it seems that every year there are more people coming in who find the Hugo rules baffling (which they are, I'm not judging here), let's get the boilerplate out of the way. You are eligible to nominate for the 2015 Hugo awards if you are:
- An attending or supporting member of LonCon 3, the 2014 Worldcon.
- An attending or supporting member of Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon, and you purchased your membership before January 31st, 2015.
- An attending or supporting member of MidAmeriCon II, the 2016 Worldcon, and you purchased your membership before January 31st 2015.
If you're a member of any of these groups, you should receive an email from the Sasquan awards administrator informing you of your eligibility to nominate some time around the end of the month. Note that members of LonCon and MidAmeriCon can only nominate for the 2015 Hugos, not vote for the winners--to do that, you need to be a member (attending or supporting) of Sasquan itself (but that's further done the line).
- It's become traditional for authors to greet the new year by posting "award eligibility posts" listing their Hugo-eligible work from the previous year. And it's become equally traditional for fans, critics, and other authors to criticize this custom on the grounds that it's pushy and creates a culture in which authors feel obliged to campaign for awards. At which point the authors and fans who are pro-eligibility posts weight in and, well, the last two weeks on twitter happen. I said my piece on the subject last year (and if you're looking for a 2015 variant, Ian Sales has the goods), and I pretty much stand by that except for two additional comments.
First, though I haven't changed my mind about the central point of my post last year--that awards, and the Hugo award in particular, are not for authors, and that to treat them as yet another means for self-promotion is to distort and pervert them--that argument feels a lot less urgent this year. In fact, the entire eligibility post discussion is starting to feel like a distraction, because if the evidence of the last few years--and the 2014 awards in particular--tells us anything, it's that award eligibility posts, in themselves, don't actually do anything. If you're a new author who published a few short stories in 2014 and you put up an eligibility post which you publicize to your 500 twitter followers, it's really not going to have any effect on whether or not you get a Hugo nomination. If, on the other hand, you're someone with a blog that gets thousands or tens of thousands of hits a day, or if you get linked to by someone like that, then your chances of a nomination are pretty high whether or not you "informed" anyone of your eligibility.
For better and worse--and there are ample examples of both cases--we have created a situation where the Hugo nominees are determined primarily through campaigning. Last year when the nominees were announced there were several attempts to distinguish between "good" and "bad" campaigning--to argue, for example, that Larry Correia's Sad Puppies ballot (which gave us Vox Day, Hugo nominee), and the campaign to get all fourteen Wheel of Time novels nominated for Best Novel, were substantively different from, say, my posting my Hugo recommendations on this blog, or John Scalzi recommending me for the Best Fan Writer Hugo. I don't believe that's true. I think that in all four cases you have people recognizing that the system operates in a certain way and working within it to achieve their goals. I would love to have a conversation about whether that's a good thing, and what--if anything--we should do about it, but before that can happen there needs to be an acknowledgment of this new (which is to say, at least five years old) reality. And part of that means getting over the reflexive defensiveness of authors who won't admit that they've chosen to prioritize their own career over the Hugos as an institution (which, you know, is a perfectly defensible choice), and the reflexive snobbishness of fans who pretend that the Hugos were ever free of manipulation and logrolling.
- The second comment I'd like to add to last year's thoughts about award eligibility posts is this: if you're an author who, some time in early January, put up a post on your blog listing the work you published in 2014, and you do not also have on your website an easily-found, up-to-date bibliography, then I honestly have no idea what to do with you. One of the ways in which we can tell that award eligibility posts do nothing in themselves is that, for their stated purpose, they are fucking useless--if I show up on your blog in March, I'm not going to dig through your archives to find out when exactly you posted about your eligibility. I'm going to look for a bibliography--preferably one with links, and sorted by publication date--and if I don't find one, I'll probably just move along to the site of another author who actually wants me to nominate them for a Hugo. So many authors refer to eligibility posts as a service to their readers, and yet they forget to perform this most basic service--and, to my mind, a far more fundamental act of self-promotion.
- To get back to the issue of campaigning, ever since I got my hands on the 2014 nominations breakdown (which is to say, within minutes of the end of the ceremony--the Hugo administrators know their people), I've been haunted by one particular couterfactual. If Larry Correia's Warbound and The Wheel of Time hadn't been nominated--in other words, if there hadn't been concerted campaigns to get those specific works on the ballot--the next two nominees were Lauren Beukes's The Shining Girls (two votes from tying for fifth place) and Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria (six votes from tying for fifth place). In other words, if the Sad Puppies and Wheel of Time fans hadn't done their thing, we would have had, for only the second time in the award's history, a best novel ballot where four out of the five nominated works were by women.
Now, I can only assume that as far as the majority of the Sad Puppy voters are concerned, preventing this result is merely icing on the cake. But I hope that at least some of the Wheel of Time voters consider it a loss, which brings me to my next point: if you are someone with a big megaphone (or even a mid-sized or small one) and you decide to use it to campaign for the Hugos, take a moment to consider the consequences of your actions. If you succeed, what kind of award will you be helping to create? What picture of the field will it reflect? In ten or twenty or thirty years, when future fans look at the ballot you helped shape, what will they think of you?
- The flip side of this, of course, is that each of us, no matter how big or small our megaphone, has a vote. None of us, individually, can counteract a campaign like Sad Puppies, but it would have taken just two more of us voting for Lauren Beukes, or six more for Sofia Samatar, to have taken away a bit of their accomplishment. And the good news is, one of the consequences of the new, campaign-oriented Hugos is that it has never been easier to find interesting, worthwhile work to nominate. Many authors have begun supplementing their award eligibility posts with recommendations for other nominees. Many fans are doing the same--I'll be posting my nominees, as I did last year, closer to the nomination deadline. Last year, Aidan Moher performed a useful service by collating many of these recommendations posts into a master list; he informs me that he plans to do so again this year, so watch his blog or twitter feed. Resources like Hugo Award Eligible Art(ists) and Writertopia's John W. Campbell Award Eligibility Page can help to find nominees in categories that have historically been neglected. As much as they are politicized and easy to manipulate, the Hugos are an award where every vote really does matter--especially in the nominating phase. So if you're eligible to nominate, do take the time to study the field and make your voice heard.