On Being on the Nebula Short Fiction Jury

Since I mentioned I was on this year’s Nebula Short Fiction Jury, I’ve been hit with e-mail from people asking me what it’s about and what they need to do to bribe me to consider their stuff. In the interest of clarity (and so I can henceforth refer people to this document rather than spelling it out each and every time), here are some things you need to know about the Nebula Short Fiction Jury, my involvement, and whether or not I’m going to read your stuff.

What The Nebula Short Fiction Jury Is: As many of you know, the Nebula is one of the big annual awards for the science fiction literary genre, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, which is — as you may be able to guess from the name — the major association of SF/F writers here in the US (although SF/F writers from other places on the globe seem not to have a problem joining, since there are numerous Canadians, Brits and other folks of varying nationalities). The Nebulas are given in several categories, including Novel, Novella, Novelette and Short Story. By and large, the works are nominated by the membership of SFWA, and then there’s a winnowing process by which the finalists are determined.

However, in addition to the usual “determined by the membership” nominations, SFWA also impanels small juries of its members who may, at their discretion, add a nominee in each category to the final list of nominees. The reasons to do this are numerous, including the fact that there’s a lot of work out there, and some deserving but obscure work can slip through the cracks.

There’s also the fact that the Nebula selection process can be rife with genre and personal politics — SFWA is a relatively small community, and there’s a lot of psychohistory going on underneath the surface from what I understand, some of which may have have an influence on what gets nominated and why(none of which I know about except as a bystander, since I’m a relatively new member, and also I think having pissy little literary feuds and cabals are a waste of time). The Nebula juries, I suspect, act as a corrective to this as well; they provide a second chance for a good work from unknown or unpopular writers to get a shot at what is supposed to be a literary award.

(Note that this is not to say that unknown and/or unpopular writers can’t get onto the ballot through the usual means; this is why I say “second chance.” Also, for all I know, the works that may appeal to juries may come from well-known, popular folks. Frankly, outside my own small circle of writer friends, I don’t know and don’t care about anyone else’s personal or professional reputation — my concern as a jury member is and should be good stories.)

So: The juries look at work — including stuff not published in the obvious places. If they decide that a particularly compelling piece of work has been overlooked, they can vote to have it added. If they fell the SFWA members have generally picked the stories that best deserve consideration, they can decide not to nominate anything at all.

The particular jury I’m on has six members: Myself and five others whom I will not name at this point, on the possibility they might prefer not to be bothered. Each of us is reading stuff; at some point in the next few months we’ll start talking about the stories we’ve liked and see if there is any consensus in adding stories to the nominee list.

How I Find Stuff to Read: Well, two ways: I go out looking for it, and it comes to me. In terms of going out looking for it, I’m currently largely ignoring the major SF magazines like Asimov’s and F&SF, on the thinking that many if not most SFWA members are aware of these outlets and subscribe or otherwise have ready access. I’m looking at some of the qualifying Web-based magazines, like SciFiction and Strange Horizons among others. I’m also reading Nebula-qualifying work that authors have put up on their own sites.

In terms of what’s coming in to me, I’m getting some short story collections and anthologies, primarily from Tor Books — who in the spirit of disclosure I must note is my own publisher, although as far as I understand it my getting these books has rather little to do with my being a Tor author and rather more to do with Tor actually tracking who is on the Nebula Juries and sending materials to them. Likewise, I note that I have not received much in the way of short story collections and anthologies from other publishers. I don’t know why, except to suggest that perhaps Tor makes these things more of a priority than other publishers.

Since I’m not especially likely to start shelling out tons of money to buy these collections/anthologies myself, if you’re a writer whose work has been collected or anthologized this year (or are an editor of such a tome), if you want me to see it, either you need to have Tor be your publisher, or bug your publisher to send me stuff (my address and the addresses of other Short Fiction Jury members can be found in the August 2004 Nebula Awards Report, at the SFWA site or in that month’s SWFA Forum mailing). You’ll also find another option immediately below.

If You’re a Nebula-Qualifying Short Story Writer and You Want to Make Sure I’m Aware of Your Story: E-Mail it to me. Simple.

BUT!!!! Follow these simple guidelines, and follow all of them, or I’m likely to trash the e-mail:

1. The first three words in your e-mail subject header should be “NEBULA JURY SUBMISSION:” followed by whatever you like (the story name and your name would be nice, though).

2. Before the story, include your name, title of the story, name of the publication it’s in (or will be in), the date the story was published (or will be published), and word count, so I can know whether it’s a short story, novelette or novella.

3. Put the story into the text of the e-mail, not as an attached file. If you think I’m going to open an attached file from someone I don’t know, you’re just plain silly.

4. One story per e-mail.

5. This is MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t send me stories that don’t qualify for the 2004 Nebula Awards. Not sure if your story qualifies? Read the rules. Still not sure? Don’t send it until you are.

Once I receive the e-mail from you, I’ll try to send you a quick return note to let you know I’ve gotten it. However, if I don’t, please don’t freak out. I may just be busy, lazy, or trapped by bears and unable to get to the computer. If after a week you don’t hear from me and you’re truly concerned, go ahead and send again (follow the suggestions above, please). Sending twice will be fine; please don’t send again after that. Note also that by sending me a story, you’re giving me permission to share the story with other jury members.

Please don’t send me follow-up e-mails asking me how I liked the story, or if I’ve recommended the story to the other jury members, or if we’ve decided to place your story on the Nebula ballot. The last of these I suppose you’ll learn when the final ballot is set, but otherwise the proceedings and determinations (at least from my end) will be opaque to outsiders. Call it Schroedinger’s Nebula Jury: Until the final Nebula ballot, all jury-considered works exist in an indeterminate state, neither chosen nor unchosen.

Also, just in case you were considering doing so, which I very much doubt: I can’t be bribed. I already have enough money and sex. But thanks for considering either (or both!). I appreciate the thought. Anyway, I’m just one of six people on the jury. Unless you’re willing to offer money and/or sex to all of us, bribing one of us won’t do you much good.

How I Read Stories I’m Considering for the Jury: This is simple: I read until I get bored and/or disgusted with the story. And then I stop. Any story where “bored and/or disgusted” happens before the end of the story is automatically disqualified from further consideration. If I get to the end of a story without being bored and/or disgusted, then I’ll consider whether I like the story enough to recommend that the other jury members take a look. If I do, then I will.

Let me clarify that I don’t start with the assumption I will be bored and/or disgusted with your work. Indeed, I hope to be enthralled and/or delighted. Your work has already cleared at least one editor’s “bored and/or disgusted” hurdle, otherwise it wouldn’t be eligible for consideration at all. So I have high hopes for each piece that I read.

That said, I expect that I will suggest no more than nine stories to the other jury members, or ideally three stories in each category we’re considering (short story, novelette, novella). In fact, I’m going to aim to suggest no more than six (that’s two in each category), but I keep myself open to the possibility that there will be more than nine truly excellent stories in 2004, or that one category length may have more good stories while another may have fewer. If I find myself with more than nine stories total to pass along, I’m going to force myself to make some hard choices, since I’m sure my fellow jury members will have their own selections to promote, and I don’t want to get us bogged down on my account.

I think that’s it. If you have any questions about the Nebula Short Story Jury and my role on it that I haven’t answered here, go ahead and leave them in the comment thread.

3 thoughts on “On Being on the Nebula Short Fiction Jury

  1. Oh John… only the fact that a story must have been published to be eligible is going to save you from peeling your own eyes out of your head. You’re a brave, brave, brave man.

  2. Heh! Well, we’ll see how it goes. I do start witht he hope each story will be excellent, but I’m very, very, very easily bored. If you only make yourself read to the point in a story where you don’t *want* to read anymore, things go quicker.

  3. I hope the detailed rules spells out what counts as published. As both you and the great Haydens have written there are plenty of clueless in another reality called “alternative, or non-traditional publishing”. Just the thought of what could be sent to you under such an illusion makes the blood curdle.
    On an up note.Happy reading in the big reclining chair and the comfy sweater.Cocoa dear?

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