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.

75 thoughts on “Correlation is Not Causation, Hugo Division

  1. What percent of the eligible participants vote? 639 is a depressingly small number, even though, I’d agree that we are talking about 639 very motivated readers.

    I’ve gotten the impression– from previous posts of yours–that once the ballots are up, people vote their party, whether they have read the book or not–so having John Scalzi say vote for my friend can easily sway results. This isn’t true at the nomination stage?

  2. Hope:

    I’m not sure that I’ve suggested that people “vote their party.” I do think it’s true that mentioning work to people might get them to check it out, but whether it works for them or not is really up to personal taste.

    I think it’s possible that sometimes people will vote for someone they think is “due” an award — this happens whether it’s a Hugo or an Oscar — but I also think that in order to rationalize such a “career” vote, the work in that year has to be good in itself.

  3. I am sorry that I don’t have the internet-fu to relocate the thread. As I remember, you recommended that people vote for someone nominated in the . . . locus? . . . awards ballot. A discussion developed about whether people should vote for the book if they hadn’t read it and I believe the upshot of the conversation was . . . it happens, deal with it. I don’t think you were talking about the Hugo then, but I swear, every time you talk about these prizes, you erode my childish faith in their infallibility. You’re a mean man.

  4. I do think it is sort of pathetic that of the thousands of folks who were able to nominate a piece of work for a Hugo only 639 bothered to do it. These folks care enough to shell out the bucks to go to Worldcon or at least support it with a non attending membership, I would think more of them would care enough to nominate works they liked. Sure, not voting is human nature, but not voting when you paid to be able to vote sort of surprises me.

    Do all the rest of these folks think their nomination don’t matter?

    Could the low number of nominations be part of the reasons that there are a small number writers who win again, and again, despite there being a much larger pool of people writing SF?

    What impact would it have on SF if there was more effort made to get everyone eligible to nominate a something for a huge to nominate at something in at least one area?

    Would that help some more “outsider” writers get recognition? Would that help solve some of the old-white-guy image issues SF has?

    Not expecting John to answer all these questions but I’m be interested in discussion on some of them.

  5. Mary Fitz@ 8

    Even if I’d gone to Worldcon, I doubt I would have voted. I haven’t read anything like enough books to feel informed, and I don’t feel comfortable reading five books out of such an enormous field and then nominating one of them as “the best.” Maybe if I had read one that totally knocked my socks off, I might, but I haven’t. Maybe that’s why the numbers are so low.

  6. First: congratulations on the nom. (Nom nom?)

    It’s pretty obvious that profile and lead-titleship are causative *factors* here, in the sense that most folks will only have read the books which were successfully marketed (or already of interest) to them. Small press novels simply don’t get much play in Hugo-town.

    But, fair or no, that’s always been the case. It’s inherent in the pseudo-democratic format. If someone want to regard the Hugo as some sort of authoritative, comprehensive judgment on SF-dom, well, yeah, those facts on the ground are going to seem pretty unfair.

    Even if publicity and/or profile are *necessary* conditions for nomination, however, and I think they are, they’re not *sufficient.* Nor do authors tend to cultivate reputation or command PR-muscle without doing some strong work. Of course there are “profane” external forces at play in the awards, but that doesn’t render the whole shebang meaningless.

  7. Eric:

    “It’s pretty obvious that profile and lead-titleship are causative *factors* here, in the sense that most folks will only have read the books which were successfully marketed (or already of interest) to them.”

    That said, sometimes less-known works hit the ballot. Blindsight was not a lead title for Tor, so far as I remember. Nor for that matter was OMW. In both cases other factors came into play — which is sort of to the point that no one factor is likely to be causative.

  8. The more I think about this, the more I think you are just trying to distract us from guessing at the dark Satanic sacrifices you make to the Bacon God in order to get on the ballet.

  9. “Look! Look! It’s the facial hair, really! And the New York Times bestseller list! It has nothing to do with the life-sized cow shaped out of bacon in the backyard. Honest!”

  10. Hope @10

    I wonder if the length of the ballot and the implication that you need to nominate five pieces in each area does not keep some people away.

    I’ve was super busy with a home re-do last year so I only read about a quarter of the number of books I usually would have, but I still thought there were a couple that belonged on the ballot, so I nominated them. I didn’t really care that I didn’t have five books to put on the list I thought the two I did nominated were good.

    My husband wasn’t going to vote because he didn’t want to skip catagories, but didn’t feel he was qualified to vote in everything. I don’t read short fiction so I just skipped all those areas. He thiought it should be an all or nothing issue.

  11. Hope @10: When you refrain from nominating works that you like and that you think would be worthy of an award because you haven’t “read enough,” then you let the other members who do vote have the influence. The field is too large for anyone to read everything, nor do the Hugo Awards assume that everyone must have read everything. Nominate the things you like and that you think would be worthy of an award. Assume that everyone else is doing the same thing. The more people do that, the more robust the sample.

    Mary @17: The ballot says on it (as I recall) that you’re not required to vote in every category, nor to fill in every blank. Heck, I’m an active voter and haven’t missed an election in over twenty years, and I know that I left blanks on my ballot. I know people who filled is only a tiny handful of things on their ballot because they read/saw so little new material last year. (Not because they didn’t think they’d read enough; they hadn’t read ANYTHING.) But in the small number of categories where they had seen works, they nominated things they thought worthy of an award.

    Of course, you can tell people this, but getting them to believe it is more challenging. It is not an “all or nothing” ballot, any more than your ballot in a mundane election is voided if you don’t vote in every single race.

  12. Five out of the five people on the Best Novel ballot actually wrote a novel. That’s probably the most important factor.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to shave my facial hair, change my surname to something like Smith or Jones, and stop hanging out with teenagers. However, there’s nothing I can do about being a middle-aged, white, male, parent.

  13. I find it suspicious that only 639 people decided the fate of the noms for the year for an entire planet. Clearly there is a bias in terms of WorldCon members who also bother to vote. A tragic flaw in their methodology!

    Dr. Phil

  14. I love it when people get upset when popular authors are nominated for awards. Apparently it’s all the more suspect when the authors are popular on the Internet.

  15. I’ve been working on a project lately that involves interviewing bloggers big and small. It’s been very enlightening, and when the project is done, I’ll stop by the next pimp thread and share. But some fascinating preliminary results are these:

    1. A popular blog may not pay directly, but the visibility will boost your other pursuits in life, no matter what they are. Are you a plumber with a popular blog? Then you will get more plumbing business because of the blog. Do you do traditional Irish stepdancing? Your stepdancing bookings will go through the roof when you get up into the high-ten-thousands of hits per day category. It’s really interesting.

    2. Having a popular blog is a lot of work. Many hours per week of hot, sweaty work at the keyboard, and the universal motivation for doing it seems to be “I don’t know.” People who want to promote their plumbing business with a high-traffic blog will fail miserably unless they’ve got that irrational desire to blog without any direct measurable rewards.

    If having a “significant internet presence” helped four out of five authors get their books in front of enough eyeballs to get a Hugo nomination, go them! What’s the problem with that?

  16. If you look at the vote totals for the various categories, it’s clear that most people do not nominate for the entire ballot, but only for categories in which they have some interest or comfort level. I know I sure nominated fewer than five in some categories, and none at all in a couple.

    There were 799 total nominating ballots. The top category for nominations was Best Novel at 639. The lowest was Best Fan Artist at 187. Note that these are actual ballots counted in that category–the actual number of nominations is higher, as each nominator can list up to five works/people in each category.

    I am personally supporting the teenagers-hanging-out-on-lawns theory, as there are often teenagers hanging out on my lawn. I suspect that having teenagers living in my household may be both correlative and causative in this regard.

  17. I am sure your long post there was really informative but all I got out of it was.

    One of these things,
    is not like the other things.

    One of these things,
    just doesn’t belong.

    Can you guess which thing,
    is not like the other thing,
    before I finish my song?

  18. I might believe in the Internet thing if these authors were the only ones with both a strong Internet presence and a book publisbed in the last year, but somehow, I don’t think that’s so. I am a little suspicious of the Neal/Neil thing, though.

  19. I suspect that some of that is SF authors and artists nowadays are a lot more comfortable with the internet in general. So, if 4 out of 5 authors up for the Hugo for Best Novel have a strong internet presence, how does that compare with other authors in the genre, may of whom also have blogs?

  20. Kevin #19

    However, there’s nothing I can do about being a middle-aged, white, male, parent.

    Step 1: Pigment injections
    Step 2: Kill your kids, or, if you prefer, put ‘em up for adoption.
    Step 3: Sex change
    Step 4: Wait a decade.

    You will no longer be a middle-aged, white, male, parent.

  21. You know, if the internet meme were something like “having an active and popular internet presence gets an author’s books noticed; a book getting noticed often gets said book read; and a read book of sufficient quality may then become a Hugo-nominated read book” . . . I could maybe buy the logic. Sort of.

    But people are really saying just “to become a Hugo-nominated author, get on the internet”? That’s a magical leap.

  22. 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.

    Actually, this is the one that makes the most sense to me. Worldcon members, at least the ones motivated enough to nominate and then vote the final ballot, are generally the type of people who attend a lot of other cons as well. For one thing, works by a GoH are more likely to show up on a Hugo voter’s radar, and for another, I think it’s only natural for such voters to favor works by authors whom they’ve met and formed some sort of a personal connection with.

    What I find fun about your “4 out of 5″ excercises is figuring out who the “1 of 5″ odd man out is. :)

  23. Hope @ 14

    “The more I think about this, the more I think you are just trying to distract us from guessing at the dark Satanic sacrifices you make to the Bacon God in order to get on the BALLET.”
    (emphasis mine)

    ________________

    This is one misspelling that makes the post even funnier than intended. I am imagining our host making sacrifices to a bacon god in order to be able to get on stage in a tutu. Get that picture in your head (hum “swan lake” if it helps).

    Recall that our host has studied dance in high school.

    cheers
    Andrew

  24. John ,
    I think you are underestimating the power that this site has.
    If we look at your other two nominations , we see two nominations that (at least for 2008) either exist only on the internet , or are intrinsically linked.
    Do you think hate mail would have made it without this post ?
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/01/05/the-2009-award-pimpage-post/

    An interesting statistic would be to know what percentage of the people voting for ZT voted for hate mail and metatropolis as well.

    anyway 649 is a depressingly low number

  25. Yuval:

    “Do you think hate mail would have made it without this post?”

    As I note in the entry, the Internet is useful in letting people know what work is out there. But it’s also up to the work to recommend itself. You’ll note, for example, that none of my short work, listed in the same entry, is on the ballot.

    Letting people know your work exists is only part of what it takes to get on the ballot.

  26. *All of the books on the Best Novel ballot are from white, male authors within fifteen years of age of each other.

    * At least four of the five authors on the Best Novel ballot have been known to rock the facial hair.

    Thank you, sir, you have given me hope for future rocketship goodness.

  27. I’m unlikely ever to attend a Worldcon but have been aware of the Hugos since around 1971, although I could name very few works that have won since then. The one indisputable thing that can be said about the most recent group of “Hugo voters, as a class” is that this is a small group (799 as noted above, with 639 offering one or more nominations for best novel). Someone above suggested that potentially there were “thousands” of voters (already self-selected by Worldcon registration) but only 799 turned in a ballot. Probably each best-novel nominee was nominated by no more than 200 voters.

    These are tiny numbers; I’m no statistician but I know something about reliability and validity, and when numbers are this small, it seems likely that personal knowledge of authors (meeting them at conventions or at their own sites online, etc.) can’t help but have an effect on nominations, even if the work remains central to voters’ decisions to nominate.

    Whether an author can be reclusive (if that’s the nature of his or her personality) and still get nominated is an interesting question in this light. Stephenson may fit this category in sone ways, but he has been well-known since Snow Crash (as indeed he should be) and doesn’t have to be out there. But perhaps some authors with potentially nominatable works remain obscure because they are simply uncomfortable with maintaining a public presence.

  28. I think rather too much is made about “smallness” of the Hugo nomination group. A relatively small number of people making relatively informed nominations to my mind is better than thousands of people nominating a bunch of crap. It’s the difference between the Academy Awards and the People’s Choice Awards, basically.

  29. I think it’s shockingly unfair that you, Doctorow, Stross and Gaiman have built up web-presences, and enticed innocent people to repeatedly visit simply by consistently publishing entertaining and informative comment.

    It is shocking and disgusting, and obviously unfair. Down with this sort of thing!

    (This post contains 240% of your recommended daily sarcasm allowance).

  30. I think it would be crazy to think that a strong web presence doesn’t have anything to do with the Hugo nominations. But it’s also completely unclear to me why that’s a bad thing. “Fan award nominations go disproportionately to authors who engage fans in entertaining ways.” The horror!

    In the years before the Internet, I have no doubt that authors who were more active on the convention circuit sold more books and probably got more nominations that they would have otherwise. And why shouldn’t they? Doing extra work to make your readers connect with your work is a good thing!

    As John points out, the work he (and Neil, and Cory, etc.) have produced has to stand on its own merit. The people here, or who follow Neil’s blog, or whatever, aren’t sheep. What’s more, Hugo nominations aren’t an online poll that’s going to be overwhelmed with a simple click-thru barrage. To the extent their sites help get nominations, it’s because it inspires more people to read and like their work, and makes their readers aware of the nominating process, driving membership, which again is a good thing.

    The only reason I’d see to be concerned is if someone could point to a way in which all the authors with a strong online presence produce the same kind of work, and that their ability to publicize the nominating process over time leads to a narrowing of works that are recognized. Even then, I only think it’s a problem if the way awards are given winds up changing what people write and constricts the field, and I don’t see that happening.

  31. 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… Suggesting otherwise is to suggest the Hugo voters are easily mislead by inessential trivia.

    I refute you thus: HOMINIDS, by Canadian author Robert Sawyer. Winner of the Best Novel Hugo at TorCon 3 in Toronto. Anyone want to argue that HOMINIDS would have won the Best Novel Hugo if WorldCon had been in, say, Houston? Or London? Or Perth?

    I wouldn’t call it misled, I’d call it influenced by factors other than quality of the work itself. I think that is undeniable.

  32. I knew it was just a matter of time before someone pulled Hominids out of the hat, as there seems to be some Sawya hatas out there who don’t miss a chance to whip it out and piss on his win. However, leaving aside the fact we’re talking that about Hugo nominations here, not wins, both of which which have their own dynamic and logic, we certainly could argue your “undeniable” point, given:

    * The number of nominations Sawyer had received before;
    * The generally positive reviews the book received;
    * The bestselling nature of the book;
    * The gregarious nature of Sawyer himself and his known ability to network;
    * The fact he’d previously won other awards for his work;
    * The fact that what people think makes for a good science fiction novel varies, and given the continuing popularity of Sawyer, in sales, reviews and Hugo nominations, it’s clear a substantial number of people — and not just Canadians — see him as doing quality work, and consistently so.

    We could also note that at Torcon II, no Canadian was nominated for Best Novel, And the Canadian nominated for Best Novel at ConAdian didn’t win, so claims of a “home field advantage” for Canadians aren’t especially borne out historically.

    I’m not saying Sawyer didn’t get some boost from the Worldcon being in Toronto; but I am saying that it is not in evidence that Hominids would not have won had the convention been elsewhere.

    So, overall, I don’t think your refutation is nearly as strong as you believe it is.

  33. I’m not saying Sawyer didn’t get some boost from the Worldcon being in Toronto; but I am saying that it is not in evidence that Hominids would not have won had the convention been elsewhere.

    We hashed this out on RASFW some time ago; the numbers were crunched rather thoroughly and it was rather conclusively shown that the home town advantage put him over the top. I’ll see if I can dig it up.

  34. Hashing anything out at RASFW doesn’t mean much, I’m afraid. It just means you kicked him around enough to your mutual satisfaction there.

    Moreover, crunching the numbers at Torcon shows only what the numbers at Torcon were; they don’t show — nor is it possible to show — how the novel would have done had the Worldcon been anywhere else, and your implication is that it couldn’t have won anywhere else. That’s alternate history, which means it’s fiction.

    Also, unless you are crunching stats that show definitively the identities of each Hugo voter, you can’t show that it was a hometown advantage; that’s speculation at best. If you do have the identities of each Hugo voter, then Torcon 3 apparently had a serious security breach.

    I think we’re done with attempts to trash Robert J. Sawyer here. You may or may not like his Hugo win, but it’s a win, and I think pissing on it at this point is more than a little tacky. So don’t bother to post your stats, please.

  35. I apologize John. You are probably more in the know than I am about these things.

    In my defense though, I wouldn’t have said it if I thought it was purely speculation. On the 19th, Neil Gaiman had a a twitter that said:

    “Remember in 1987 my then-wife and I took Gene Wolfe to see HIGH SOCIETY musical http://bit.ly/Wx5K starring the young Natasha Richardson. Ah”

    Up until that point, his wikipedia (I know, not always the most reliable place) had said that he was married. When I went back and checked it after this twitter, the mention of his wife had been taken off.

    So, maybe I misunderstood and he had another wife earlier in life; if so, I’m sorry. But I thought it was an all right thing to say considering he posted the words “my then-wife.”

    Anyways, love the blog and the books and hope I didn’t cause any problems.

  36. Moreover, crunching the numbers at Torcon shows only what the numbers at Torcon were; they don’t show — nor is it possible to show — how the novel would have done had the Worldcon been anywhere else. That’s alternate history, which means it’s fiction.

    Well, no, it’s statistics. It had to do with determining what percentage of ballots were cast by hometown people compared to how many are cast by hometown people at other Worldcons, and whether those votes skewed more towards HOMINIDS than would normally be expected.

    Also, I think we’re done with attempts to trash Robert J. Sawyer here. You may or may not like his Hugo win, but it’s a win, and I think pissing on it at this point is more than a little tacky.

    Certainly I don’t think an on-topic example of Hugo voters casting votes on the basis of information other than what was in a novel, which was the subject of your post, is “pissing” on anything. Even if it were, I’m guessing Sawyer would cry all the way to the bank, given his sales figures. But I definitely won’t dig up the evidence since all it would do is annoy you!

    Hashing anything out at RASFW doesn’t mean much, I’m afraid. It just means you kicked him around enough to your mutual satisfaction there.

    Yeah, dang RASFW people, always agreeing about everything and caring strongly about science fiction and stuff.

  37. “Well, no, it’s statistics. It had to do with determining what percentage of ballots were cast by hometown people compared to how many are cast by hometown people at other Worldcons, and whether those votes skewed more towards HOMINIDS than would normally be expected.”

    This assumes a reliable statistical model, which is not in evidence that you have, because you are highly unlikely to have data on the voters that will allow you to accurately model, either in Toronto or in any other theoretical place you might choose, not in the least because the data that are released from Worldcons regarding voting are not detailed enough for anything other than newsgroup spitballing. So once again, out it goes.

    “Certainly I don’t think an on-topic example of Hugo voters casting votes on the basis of information other than what was in a novel, which was the subject of your post, is ‘pissing’ on anything.”

    It was off topic from the start, actually, because the entry was about nominations, not wins, and this was something pointed out to you in my first response. So, yes, what you’re doing constitutes pissing on someone.

    We’re done with this now.

  38. A relatively small number of people making relatively informed nominations to my mind is better than thousands of people nominating a bunch of crap

    Hear hear!

    And unless the vote reporting was seriously leaked in a way not supposed to occur with an anonymous ballot, there is no way one can determine what the “hometown swing” was, or what vote could “normally have been expected.” Period. Calls for info not in evidence unless that security breach occured, and for assumptions above and beyond what can be supported.

  39. Sorry, missed the closer. Insert generic rant about treating dubious assumptions as facts when misusing statistics.

  40. You don’t mean “phoneme”. I think the only surname I’ve seen that has only one phoneme is “Ng”. Stephenson has nine; Gaiman has five (possibly four, if the last syllable has syllabic /n/ instead of a schwa); Doctorow has seven; Stross has five; and Scalzi has six.

  41. “…all you need to do to get on the Best Novel ballot is be a big shot on the Internet.”

    Is that all? That’s easy! ;)

  42. I wonder if, perhaps, the entrail readers have it backwards. Perhaps being a good writer (in the sense of being likely to get Hugo nominations) causes one to create a significant presence on the interent.

    Or, perhaps being on the interent a lot – interacting with fans a lot, getting feedback a lot, both good and uninhibited bad, improves one’s skills as a writer.

    You’ve been online a long time, John. Would you say that having been pummelled and praised directly by lots of fans who don’t have to look you in the eye have improved your writing (or marketing) skills?

  43. TBB:

    I don’t know about improving my writing skills, other than practicing every day makes perfect. I would say it’s made me generally aware of when I’m going too far in tooting my own horn, etc.

  44. I don’t know…I know a lot of writers that have shockingly boring blogs. I don’t think being a good writer always makes you good at the internet thing. For that you have to have special kinds of toes.

    Also, when worldcon comes to Bowling Green, Ohio, Scalzi is going to win the Hugo in *every* category. Mark my words!

  45. It seems to me that the only way to know for sure who is correct (I obviously tend to the side that believes exposure is the biggest factor in making the ballot) would be for Charlie Stross, Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi etc to deliberately write a mediocre book.

    Since I suspect that no-one who is capable of writing a Hugo level work is going to deliberately write a mediocre book for any reason whatsoever, this is academic and we
    re never going to know for sure one way or the other. But bottom line is that I don’t think it is fair to claim that things like author popularity or other factors are “inessential trivia”.

    The Oscars are similar to the Hugo in this regard; All we know is who wins. But certainly it is generally believed about the Oscars that actors or works are nominated for a wide variety of reasons. Ditto with the Hugos. That said, I agree it is usually impossible to identify why any particular work made the ballot in a given year besides the tautological “it got a lot of votes”.

    Still, I’m definitely up for Charlie and Mr. Scalzi secretly writing a mediocre book to see what happens.

  46. Tully:

    Well, see. A Campbell is not a Hugo.

    David Bilek:

    “I don’t think it is fair to claim that things like author popularity or other factors are ‘inessential trivia’.”

    Fair enough, David. And as noted I don’t think these factors are entirely absent in consideration. I just think they’re generally and significantly trumped by the work itself when it comes time to consider whether to put something on a ballot. Could they be something that convinces someone to put a work on the ballot? If the work itself was on the bubble, sure, it could be something that tips it over. But I don’t know if that’s something that you can rely on.

    “Since I suspect that no-one who is capable of writing a Hugo level work is going to deliberately write a mediocre book for any reason whatsoever”

    Heh. Such faith! It is appreciated. Although this does bring to mind the fact that what an author believes is his or her better work and what the Hugo nominators decide is might be two separate things. We’re no more reliable about these things than anyone else.

  47. A relatively small number of people making relatively informed nominations to my mind is better than thousands of people nominating a bunch of crap

    So true, O Great Scalzi!

    In fact, I was thinking the same thing.

    I, for example, only nominate in categories where either (1) I have read/seen what feels to me to be a good fraction of the possible nominees, or (2) I have read/seen a work that is so outstanding in my mind that I feel I can honorably nominate it without having read/seen much of its competition.

    Oh, and you forgot to add to your list:

    A disproportionate percentage of the authors (3/5) nominated for novel this year (and also last year) have last names which begin with the same letter. So…I’m waiting for the expose on the Sesame Street Conspiracy, brought to you by the letter S…

    Cara

  48. #64: True, and there’s more than one Campbell Award, so you could actually win another Campbell.

  49. Great explanation of correlation vs. causation. Teachers should reference the example list you came up with, because god knows too few people understand the difference.

  50. Heh. I’ve fairly recently decided I’d better just accept the fact that a couple of my favorite bloggers write books I don’t much care for (not you, FYI).

    Blogs aren’t novels, and vice versa, and that’s a good thing. I’m a lot more likely to *read* a book by a favorite blogger, but no way I’d nominate it unless I liked it.

  51. John Scalzi @40: This raises — I think it even possibly begs — the question, is there an award in SF that is the equivalent of the People’s Choice award? Because I find myself annoyed that I’m not eligible to vote for the Hugos, but going to Worldcon is a huge time- and money-sink that I just can’t pull off right now, and I’m not going to buy a membership just so I can vote for the Hugos. And most of my friends, who are all well-read in SF, but who are also broke college students or broke just-out-of-college folk, are going either. And I rather think our opinions should count. I don’t have anything against the current Hugo voters and nominators — I expect that they do know the genre and the works well, and they do seem to have chosen well this year. I would just like to be included in the process somehow. :-)

  52. You’re definitely onto something with the idea of an assortment of coincidences being at work in the Hugo nomination process, even if the actual examples were facetious.

    The nominated works went beyond being read, or enjoyed, or talked about, they got Worldcon members to put their titles on a ballot. And there’s no reason to think that happens solely because a people have dispassionately sifted through the year’s crop of novels. Even if they HAVE done that step, there’s always more involved.

    Getting nominated is like recruiting a Rennaissance army of condottiere, collecting a few votes here for this reason, and a few more there for that reason.

  53. Mike Glyer understands this process better than I do, so his endorsement of the Scalzi Hugo Correlations and Analysis of Variations Hypothesis is supported by expertise.

    If I may be allowed to excerpt a cross-post from Charlie’s [Stross] Diary:

    As first published about the Tony Awards (for Broadway shows):

    First, if you’re nominated, you vote for yourself.

    Second, you vote against your enemies.

    Third, you vote for your friends.

    Last, if you have any votes left, you vote on merit.

This is the place where you leave the things you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s