What do we Want from Awards?

Aug 21, 19:55 by John Frost
Just in time for World Con... your comments on the state of awards...
Aug 21, 22:04 by David Bratman
This former Hugo Awards administrator would like to add a couple observations of practical experience to supplement Cheryl's points:

1) That nothing in Hugo administration requires the administrator to over-ride nominators' intent so often as the judging of the eligibility of nominees for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

2) That since the lamented "Best Original Artwork" category was eliminated, there has been no good spot for graphic novels. The fiction categories are dubious, because if the art makes an essential contribution to the story, how should its length be judged? By the old formula "a picture is worth a thousand words"? That seems silly. But "Best Related Book" is also dubious, as it's a catch-all and not a place for narrative fiction.

3) Although I was not actively involved in the decision, I supported the splitting of Best Dramatic Presentation. Not because it would bring greater publicity to the Hugos, but simply because the quantity of good media SF has increased so hugely since the days when the category was regularly won by No Award, it is as just to have at least two length categories for it as it is to have four length categories for written SF.
Aug 21, 22:17 by Michael Capobianco
The name of the organization is Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

And the rules on eligibility for the Nebula Awards may be counterintuitive and counterproductive, but they're not that difficult to understand once you see the process in action.
Aug 21, 23:20 by Jim Van Pelt
Hi, Cheryl. Interesting points in your article. However, I don't see the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer being a minefield, particularly, since the eligibility rule is so straightforward. As far as I can tell, from its inception the only qualifying rule is that the writer's two-year eligibility starts the first time she/he has a story appear in a print venue with 10,000 or more copies.

What this means is that it is possible for a writer to have quite a few publications, maybe to have won other awards (like a Hugo or a World Fantasy award), and still not be eligible for consideration if their work appeared in small print runs. It also means that there are long-time SFWA members who qualified for their SFWA membership (the printrun portion of the membership requirements for SFWA is only 2,000 copies), who could still become eligible for the JWC.

The problem with the JWC is that it is a popular award voted on by the WorldCon membership, but because of the nature of award, it is difficult for potential voters to tell if a "new" writer they have found has been around for a while, or genuinely new by JWC standards. That's one of the reasons the award so often goes to novelists. A new novelist is often trumpeted as being a debut author, so the best publicity goes to them. Plus, well, novels are big so the achievement seems big.

Because of those problems, I started the JWC website in 1999 that lists as many of the eligible writers as I can confirm, along with their qualifying publication and any sales or appearances they made afterwards. The website for that is http://www.sff.net/campbell-awards

The giving of awards is a tricky business, and the debate about their fairness can be endless, but, for most of the writers who receive them, they are a big deal. Writing is not lucrative for most authors, particularly the short story specialists, so the best they can hope for might be the recognition of an award. I know that if I won one I would feel pretty darned good about it.
Aug 22, 09:21 by Janine Stinson
Having checked both of Michael Capobianco's assertions (it's that old-school reporter's training, y'know), I have to say both his points are valid.

As I recall, there was some fussing about SFWA's changing the breakout of its acronym some years back (adding another F, wasn't it?), but that was resolved with the reversion to the standard four letters and adding Fantasy as a "silent" word. But that's another can of worms.

I read the Nebula Award rules a few minutes ago, for the first time, and I had no problem understanding them. I've also read several articles which discuss how they operate, though, so perhaps I had an advantage going in. <g> Still, they seem fairly straightforward to me.

Jan S.
Aug 22, 09:33 by Janine Stinson
Thanks to Cheryl Morgan for writing this article; I'm sure there are many who considered writing something similar (I sure did), but just never got up enough steam to do so.

While awards are indeed important for writers, they are also marketing chips for publishers. I still have a problem with an award being given based on the popular opinion of less than 10,000 people. That number is miniscule when compared to the total human population; how can it possibly represent a significant cross-section of readers? The Hugos are still not well-known outside of the SF field/genre, and until they are, they won't mean much to me -- even if a writer I really like gets one.

As for the fan awards, it's not hard to feel conflicted about the repeat winners. When one looks at consistency of content and adherence to publication schedule, most fanzine readers will point to one or two fanzines as prime examples. But at least one of the two I'd name has no art in its electronic form, an element that is, I would argue, inherent in the description of a fanzine. How a fanzine is defined in the digital age may well become a hot topic in the next few years.

Jan S.

Aug 22, 09:39 by John Frost
I disagree about the sampling, Jan: 10,000, or 1,000, or even 100 might be a perfectly valid number if it is appropriately representative. With regard to the Hugos, we might not agree that the body of people attending World Con are perfectly representative of the fan base at large, but it's pretty hard to imagine a better representative body.

On the other hand, I agree about some of the other issues pertaining to awards. After all, what award can we possibly win? I don't think there is one!
Aug 22, 16:50 by Richard Horton
Thanks to Cheryl Morgaon for a very interesting article.

A few comments on word count (an issue close to my anal-retentive heart). I counted "A Study in Emerald", at 7800 words, and the anthology's co-editor, John Pelan, told me that his electronic count was 7832 (my count is not usually so close!) So it is surely "officially" a novelette, but well within the margin for the administrators to move it to short story.

Another short story, by the way, was on the border. Michael A. Burstein's "Paying it Forward" was actually listed as a novelette in <I>Analog</I>. However, I counted it at only 7300 words -- so clearly I support the administrator's placement of it in the short story category.

As for <I>Coraline</I>, I counted it at 34,000 words. This is within 20% of 40,000, but the administrators are only allowed to move a story if it is within the lesser of 20% of the length limit and 5000 words. In other words, for novel the lower limit for moving a story is 35,000 words.

--
Rich Horton
Aug 22, 19:36 by glenda larke
Thanks for an interesting look at the minefield...

As an Oz novelist , I know that statistically I have a better chance at an award because of Ditmar/Aurealis rules! One small point - a non-Australian can be eligible for the Aurealis and Ditmars - as long as they are resident in Australia. Another good reason to live downunder??

Glenda Larke
Aug 22, 20:48 by Mike Brotherton
Jim Van Pelt and I had some discussion about the Campbell requirements earlier this year since by the requirements, my first novel STAR DRAGON (Tor, Oct 2003) doesn't qualify. First novelists in hardback don't necessarily get a print run of 10k, even from Tor. I won't qualify this year either, since STAR DRAGON will come out as a mass market in January 2005. As I understand it, that's when my Campbell eligibility begins. I'll still be eligible when my SECOND novel, which I just submitted last month, comes out in late 2005 or early 2006. By that time people may forget to nominate me since I for sure couldn't be "new," but that's the rules.
Aug 23, 10:26 by Lois Tilton
Always eager to see the opinions of the estimable Cheryl Morgan!


A minor clarification. You write:

What if you got paid professional rates (e.g. rates that would qualify you for SFWA membership) but the sale was to a small press magazine in Australia with a circulation of 250?



But in fact, a sale to such a small-circulation magazine would not qualify the author for SFWA membership. The rules for membership in the org specifically exclude small press sales, so that periodicals must have a circulation of at least 1000 in order to qualify.

Lois Tilton
SFWA Membership Committee
Aug 23, 12:53 by Cheryl Morgan
Couple of quick points:

Glenda: I'm not sure about the Aurealis but last time I looked at the Ditmar rules you were supposed to be a permanent resident, not just resident. OTOH they very kindly allowed me to be nominated when I lived there, even though I only had a temporary residency visa.

Lois: Sorry, wasn't clear there. What I was referring to was the level of pay that SFWA rules require. Nothing to do with circulation. If you ask someone what "professional rates" means they will quite often cite the SFWA payment rates as an example.
   

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