Daily Archives: March 23, 2009

Re: The Hugo eBooks Package: Patience, Please

I normally don’t ask people to forward on the posts I write but I’m doing it in this particular case, so feel free to point to this or repost it as you see fit.

I’m getting reports from various quarters that some folks have started to complain that the “traditional” Hugo Best Novel ebook package wasn’t available when the nominations were announced, like they were every year before, and that this is just another example of inefficiency/authors not caring/the violence inherent in the system/whatever.

My response to this:

Dudes.

This package isn’t “traditional” — it’s not even handled by the Worldcon or the WSFS. It’s been handled by me when I happen to be on the Best Novel ballot, and it’s brought to you not by the Worldcon, or by the publishers of the books, but by the individual authors of the novel, whom I have asked if they want to provide their texts. They are under no obligation by anyone to offer their texts; they do it because they want to make sure Hugo voters have a chance to see their works before voting. That’s it; that’s all.

Because this is organized by me, I tend not to know everyone who is on the ballot before the ballot actually comes out, so the assertion that these packages were available the same time as the nominations came out is just plain false. As it happens, organizing this package is not easy — even when an author wants to participate, they usually have to get the go-ahead of their respective publishers, some of whom are quite understandably twitchy about letting their product roam free in electronic form. Getting this permission is by no means assured, and it might take a little bit of time.

So: Yes, I’m working on putting a package together this year. No, it’s not ready yet. I’m working on putting it together as quickly as I can, with the help of some of the other nominees, but given that the Best Novels are put out by four different publishers, each with their own concerns and expectations, it’s taking a bit of time. Add to that the fact that I’m also trying to interest other participants in other categories aside from Best Novel to pitch in as well (because among other things, I’m nominated in more than one category), and that each of these require negotiations of their own, and you may begin to appreciate the co-ordination this Hugo package requires. It may be a week or two (or, hell, longer) until I get it squared away.

The point is: Please be patient, and please don’t just assume as potential Hugo voters this is something you’re owed; that seems a bit dismissive of the effort we’re making to get the package to you.

Thanks.

Mary Robinette Kowal Interviews the Campbell Nominees

Current Campbell Award tiara wearer Mary Robinette Kowal is interviewing this year’s Campbell nominees, one of whom will take the tiara (and cheeseboard) from her this August at Anticipation, this year’s Worldcon in Montreal. This week it’s David Anthony Durham, whose fantasy novel Acacia I admire quite a bit. Check out the interview, and then tune in to MRK’s blog every monday for the next Campbell nominee. Do it!

Updates on BigIdeaAuthors and Whateveresque

Quick notes on things:

* The publicist guide for BigIdeaAuthors.com is completed and I’ll be sending a URL for it to folks on the site’s mailing list in the next couple of days. If you’re not on the mailing list and would like to be, go to BigIdeaAuthors.com and sign up. We’ll also most likely begin programming the site in the next couple of weeks.

We’re still on track for a late April debut for BigIdeaAuthors.com, but may push back a week or two if we decide to fiddle and tweak more than originally anticipated. Best to get it right the first time. If that happens, we’ll continue to host the Big Idea pieces here and transfer them over later. Whatever does okay with the whole “people visiting” thing, so this should not be a hardship for the authors in question.

* Due to a number of commitments which take up a whole bunch of my time (including the big one noted in the paragraph above), I’m likely to close Whateveresque, or at the very least put it into a state of benign neglect, in which the current members are allowed to post but no new members are added. I’m still thinking about it and will come to a decision about it in the next week. Obviously, Whateveresque-ians are encouraged to post their thoughts on the matter, either here or there.

Correlation is Not Causation, Hugo Division

The entrail reading around the Hugo selections has begun, notably regarding the Best Novel candidates. One of the leading memes about this year’s batch of nominees is how the Internet is a prohibitively influential factor on the ballot. It goes a bit like this: “Look! Four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have significant Internet presences. Therefore, the Internet is fiddling the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is be a big shot on the Internet.”

Perhaps. On the other hand:

* Four out of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have been on the Best Novel ballot before. Therefore the Hugos are fiddling with the Hugos and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to have been on the ballot before.

* Four out of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have won a Hugo before. Therefore the Hugos are fiddling with the Hugos (again!), and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to have won a Hugo before.

* Four out of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have been on a New York Times bestseller list within the last year. Therefore the New York Times is fiddling with the Hugos and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is be on the New York Times bestseller list.

* At least four of the five books on the Best Novel ballot were “lead titles” from their publishers in the months they were published; i.e., they got a significant publicity and media push by their houses. Therefore the publishers are fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to have your publisher buy you a slot.

* Four of the five books on the Best Novel ballot have teenagers as their main protagonists. Therefore teenagers and their inexplicable fondness for hanging out on my lawn are fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to have your lead character be a teenager.

*All of the books on the Best Novel ballot are from white, male authors within fifteen years of age of each other. Therefore the white male extended generational cohort is fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is be a white male within fifteen years of age of the other nominees on the ballot.

* At least four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have been known to rock the facial hair. Therefore scruffy hirsuteness is fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to wear more facial hair than John Waters, but less than Billy Gibbons.

* Four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot are known to have provided genetic material in the furtherance of the species, i.e., are parents. Therefore parenthood is fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is procreate successfully.

* Four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have last names two syllables in length or longer. Therefore multisyllabism is fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is to have ancestors who identified their clan or profession with more than one syllable.

* At least four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have been (or will be) Guests of Honor at a science fiction convention in the last year. Therefore convention attendees are fiddling with the Hugos, and all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is be a GoH and charm the pants off those easily impressionable fans.

What do we learn from the above list? Well, mostly, if you’re looking for patterns of commonality in a grouping, you will find them. Whether those patterns of commonality are significantly causative of that commonality is another matter entirely.

The Internet thing is a fine example of this. Is an author’s internet presence a factor in the presence of a book on the Best Novel ballot? It’s possible, and even probable, I would say (and I am in a position to say). But is it more significant than other factors? I think not, otherwise Cory Doctorow, with easily the largest Internet footprint of any of the Best Novel authors via his participation in Boing Boing, would be on his third Best Novel appearance rather than his first, while Neal Stephenson, whose Internet presence has been bare bones for a decade, wouldn’t be on the ballot at all, despite his previous two appearances (one of which resulted in a win). Likewise, an author’s Web site is not necessarily causative in their popularity; Neil Gaiman, as an example, was wildly popular long before he thought to put up his shingle on the Internet; one rather strongly suspects he would continue to be popular without it.

In point of fact, there is only one specific¬†and verifiable reason that these five authors and their books made the Hugo Best Novel ballot this year: that out of the 639 ballots cast in the category by members of last year’s Worldcon and this year’s Worldcon, these were the five that garnered the most nominations. I suspect that if you were to ask the people who cast those 639 ballots why they chose the books they chose, the answer would not be because they were influenced by the Internet, or because the author made a bestseller list, or because the publisher had it as a lead title, or because the author had a snazzy goatee or whatever. The answer would be because the voter read that book, and liked it enough to say that it was one of the best science fiction novels they read this year.

Which is a point of some significance, and which appears often overlooked in the reading of the Hugo nomination entrails. The Internet might help an author get known, a publisher will strive mightily to get a book into a reader’s consciousness, fans might have favorite authors to read. All of these as well as other factors might put a book into the hands of someone who will nominate for a Hugo. But at the end of the day, it’s that book that has to perform; it has to be good enough relative to everything else that voter reads — and one suspects that Hugo voters, as a class, are heavy readers of the genre — to recommend itself for the ballot. Internet fame, publisher marketing, author popularity, etc may still have some effect, of course. But not nearly as much as the book itself. Suggesting otherwise is to suggest the Hugo voters are easily mislead by inessential trivia. Which, while possible,¬† doesn’t sound much like the people I know who nominate and vote for the Hugos.

None of this is an exact process, and no matter what gets on the ballot, in the Best Novel category or elsewhere, someone somewhere will sigh heavily and complain about the state of science fiction, or at least the state of the fans who nominate for Hugos, and will then search for patterns that explain their dissatisfaction (alternately, someone somewhere will squee happily, exult at the nominations and then search for patterns that explain why their vision of SF/F is now suddenly ascendent). But ultimately it really is simple: certain people make the effort to nominate. They nominate works they like. If enough people who nominate like a work, it gets on the ballot. That’s what’s causative.