Adam Roberts on SF/F Award Awareness Posts
Posted on January 8, 2014 Posted by John Scalzi 80 Comments
He explains why he’s not fond of them, here. It’s worth the read, and offers a relevant counterpoint to someone like, well, me, who obviously has no problem letting people know which works of his are eligible for awards consideration. Adam Roberts, incidentally, the winner last year of the BSFA and Campbell (not the Campbell I won, the other Campbell) for his novel Jack Glass, so well done him. He’s also deeply amusing on Twitter.
Roberts and I, I suspect, agree on a number of basic principles regarding nominating for awards. People should read as widely in the field as they can before nominating. They should not just nominate “the usual suspects” (or their “usual suspects” as the case may be). They should privilege quality over familiarity, and (unless the award is “best author,” which it never is) they should focus on the work, not the author, and whether it is the best in the field, for whatever metric they use for “best”. Please, yes, this.
What I’m not in love with about the piece is Roberts’ conceptualization of what it means to be a “fan” in the context of science fiction fandom. I think he gets it largely wrong, and because he does — nor is he the only one — it leads him to think about voters (specifically Hugo voters, let’s go ahead and get that out of the way) in a way that’s erroneous on the inside, and thus looks more than a little smug and dismissive from the outside.
Roberts writes, regarding the flaws of SF Awards:
“One is the loyalty implied in the descriptor ‘fan’, in which a shitty work by an author of whom (or a shitty episode of a show of which) one is a fan gets your vote because that’s what being a fan means — it means sticking with your team.”
Well, maybe it does, but the “team” in this case is usually the genres of science fiction and fantasy, not a single, specific author. The person in fandom who reads John Scalzi is highly unlikely to only read John Scalzi, or to consider it treasonous to also read, say, Adam Roberts, in the same manner that a Yankees fan would duck to avoid a Red Sox cap being placed on their head, or a fan of Manchester United would consider it treasonous to harbor kind thoughts about Liverpool.
I don’t think it’s impossible that there are SF/F fans so deeply in the tank for a single author they cannot abide another, but I have to say I don’t know of any, and I’ve been around a lot of fans. The sort of person who only reads one author also correlates highly with the sort of person who reads only one book a year, i.e, the Dan Brown brigade (not all people who read Dan Brown only read one book a year, but many of the people who only read one book a year read Dan Brown). These people aren’t voting on genre awards.
(Also, let me say: If you’re a fan of mine and you only read me in the genre? Please go and read other people in the genre. Really, it’ll make me happy. You want to make me happy, right?)
Last year with the Hugos, in the Best Novel category, there were 1,113 nominating ballots, and 3,837 individual entries, which means the average Best Novel nominator nominated 3.45 novels per ballot. There are relatively few authors in sf/f who manage more than 3.45 novels a year. This does suggest that generally speaking, people who nominate for Hugos (at least in this category) are nominating beyond a single author, i.e., that their fandom is not so exclusive as to deny other writers and their works their votes (there were also 475 individual novels with at least one nomination, which is a pretty wide spread).
Are the Hugo slots (and wins) going only to inveterate self-promoters with piles of slavering minions? Meh. The last five Best Novel winners are me, Jo Walton, Connie Willis, China Mieville and Paolo Bacigalupi. Connie and China are hardly online at all; Jo and Paolo haven’t, as far as I can tell, made much of an effort to self-promote their works. Likewise, of last year’s nominees, I don’t really recall either Lois Bujold or Kim Stanley Robinson doing a lot of drum beating, and Saladin was on the ballot as a debut novelist — most of the drum beating for his novel came from other quarters (i.e., the way Roberts would prefer).
The best you can say looking at the recent list is that Hugo Awards for Best Novels tend to go to popular writers who have a number of previous nominations or wins, and, well. Yeah. Welcome to the Hugos. But this does not imply that the voting process was unduly skewed, either in the nominating or voting process, by writers informing the public about their eligible work, or that fans, however one wants to slice and dice the term, rush to value affiliation with an author to the exclusion of critical consideration of work — if not for specific titles, then over the universe of their nomination choices.
It might mean that the nominators of the Hugos in aggregate have reading tastes that differ from Roberts’ (or any other observer of the award). But, you know. That’s life. I admit to getting a little tetchy about what I think is a lazy characterization of science fiction fandom by people who wish they read different things and voted different ways than they do. It’s easier to think of “fandom” as a bunch of uncritical, affiliation-affirming team boosters than, say, reasonably intelligent people who decide, with adequate critical discernment, to like what they like, and what they like is different than what you like. I think it’s excellent and laudable to encourage (and, sure, occasionally hector) people to read more widely and more deeply in the genre, and to be open to new and manifestly different writers, and to nominate their work for the genre’s prominent awards. You can do that without also implying fandom is the literary equivalent of football hooligans.
At a later point in the essay, Roberts picks apart what bothers him about authors mentioning their eligible work and notes:
“I’m not especially enamoured of the third option, a kind of compromise where Author A pimps his/her (by and large it’s his) eligible titles, and then leaves the comments-thread open for others to nominate other people. I’ll confess I find that just jarring. The first part of the strategy tugs wheedlingly at your lapel like Muttley desperate for medals; the second part has a seigneurial ‘see how graciously I permit the lower orders a few small parps on my megaphone’ aspect to it.”
Well, I let people know about what work of mine is eligible and I also set aside space for other writers to do the same, so let me address these directly. With regard to the first, there’s a difference between “If you’re going to nominate and you’re interested in what I have, here’s what it is,” and “OH GOD OH GOD PLEASE NOMINATE ME PLEASE GOD PLEASE.” I’m doing the first. I recognize that depending who you are, and for your own reasons, it will look more like the second. However, that is your karmic burden to haul, not mine.
Do I like being nominated for stuff? Yeah, I do. Then again, the reason I like being nominated for stuff is because I make the assumption that the nomination came with a critical judgement attached. It’s what the nomination represents, in other words, not the nomination itself.
Toward the second, let me blunt: Why yes, in fact, in the field of science fiction and fantasy literature, I have a big damn platform, visited rather frequently by the sort of folks who then go on to nominate for things like Hugos. And yes, I let other authors use it, if they like, to let people know about their work. I do it because a) it’s a nice thing to do, b) it conforms to the “pay it forward” ethos that science fiction likes to say it has and that I actually think it should have, c) I believe pretty strongly that the field of science fiction and fantasy is improved when folks who nominate for its awards have as wide a knowledge as possible of the works available for consideration. And an excellent way to do that might be to have one of the most widely read blogs in the genre set aside space for authors to talk about their eligible work.
It’s not the only way to do that — Roberts suggests people recommend work, and that’s something I encourage as well; indeed, every year I leave open a thread for folks to offer their suggestions for nominations, where one can’t suggest one’s own work. I’ll do that again in early February, most likely. But I also see no harm, and much good, in letting authors themselves have a chance to note their own work if they want, someplace with a decent amount of traffic, in a location that’s easily findable when it comes time to fill out ballots. As I’ve noted before, authors actually do want people to know about their work. Informing is not wheedling.
Again, I am aware that depending on who you are and for your own reasons, I can appear to be doing this out of some sort of head-patting noblesse oblige and/or as a way to assert my own status in the field on others while making it look like I’m doing them a favor. But, once more: Not my karmic load to bear.
At the end of things, this really comes down to: some people feel squidgy talking about their work, some people don’t. If you do feel squidgy about it, then don’t talk about it — let other people do it for you, or just let the work stand on its own. If you fine talking about it, then go ahead and do that — don’t be obnoxious about it, and don’t run down others to elevate yourself, just let people know what you’ve got. What’s going to happen is people will nominate what they think deserves to be nominated. Not because they are on “Team [Whomever]” but because they know what they like and what they think should be honored.
(Incidentally: Adam Roberts has a non-fiction book and a collection of short stories eligible for awards this year. Because I know he’s shy about letting you know.)
Because it would be really ironic if all y’all uncritically started slagging on Roberts after me after writing about how authors’ fans are not slavering minions, let me say that I like Adam and enjoy his work, and I really do think his perspective on the matter is worth considering, even if I fundamentally disagree with it. So please don’t take it on yourself to thump on him for my sake. That would annoy me deeply. Rather, address his points (or mine, really). That would be lovely.
Mr. Roberts had a habit of roundly criticizing the results of the Hugo Award voting for a few years, a few years back, and it was always amusing to see how little taste and range “fandom” exhibited from year to year.
Now he goes after the fans themselves – displaying a degree of ignorance of his own audience that it quite shocking to me – especially for someone who teaches and writes this stuff.
How can he be where he is today and not have realized that fans – in the aggregate – are loathe to jump on any bandwagon they didn’t create themselves? I mean, where does he think the expression “like herding cats” came from?
While I don’t doubt for a moment fandom’s ability to contort itself brilliantly to explain why non-fans don’t get the genius of a particular work/author, I also know those fans are the last ones to tout said work/author in spite of it’s shittiness. I mean, people love Joss Whedon, but I’d be shocked to see his fans make a big push for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. just for the opportunity to get him another award.
I don’t think Mr. Roberts meant that fans like only one author to the exclusion of other authors, and, at least to me, it seems like a straw-man argument to use against him. I do think that he meant that if I really, really like Scalzi, and I read every one of his works beside the other works of authors that I don’t like as much, I’m likely to nominate Scalzi. And statistically, I wouldn’t be surprised if authors like yourself or those who have been nominated many times before are the same ones who have armies of fans to help them.
I like that bit of Mr. Roberts’s criticism.
However, an exhortation to get more educated about the genre becomes a dictate to the plebs because of his opening paragraph and his snide comments about people who he mentions without mentioning. That tactic made me feel like he was being a bit of an ass.
I think his perspective provides food for thought for an individual voter. It is useful to consider why you think of the works you do, wonder what you missed reading, and try to read more broadly. I think he’s missing the part where the genre is both so wide and so deep that there’s no way to get to everything out there. I get recommendations from friends, hooked by Big Idea posts, glance at what Amazon thinks I might like, etc. Self-pimping and other-pimping/open threads let me see what I’ve been missing.
I also wonder to what extent there is a cultural explanation for the different perspectives on informing others about your work. In particular, his piece feels to me like it is promoting discretion and propriety as values for authors to prize. I find your approach to value transparency and practicality for authors. How I respond as a reader depends on what resonates with my values.
Far more often than sf/f fans reading only a single author, I hear from fans that they avoid a single or certain author. E.g., they won’t read anything by L. Ron Hubbard.
“I do think that he meant that if I really, really like Scalzi, and I read every one of his works beside the other works of authors that I don’t like as much, I’m likely to nominate Scalzi.”
I’m not sure I got that from him. But I think that’s also addressed in the nomination process itself, in that there’s more than one nomination slot (for the Hugo, at least, which has five). So even if you tend to nominate me (or whomever), there are still several chances to nominate other works. So a bias toward any one author is mediated by those other options. In theory, anyway.
I mean, I don’t doubt that my being well known helps me in terms of consideration, because I’m more likely to be read and thus considered. But on the other hand, I have at this point a couple dozen short works, and only two short fiction Hugo nominations. People seem to freely ignore for awards the work they don’t feel makes the cut.
@Mike75, having seen the “Browncoats” in action, I’ll be very surprised if AoS doesn’t scoop various “best new series” awards around the world, or at least strongly place. Same for any other award category it finds itself even tangentially technically qualified to be entered in.
I appreciate the heads-up both on award nomination windows and on books that are eligible for the award that I may not have heard of. Those posts make excellent starting places when I’m looking to try an author unfamiliar to me.
I think Mr. Roberts is conflating “fan” with “obsessed fan” (yeah, yeah, I know the origins of “fan = fanatic”, but there is a difference). A fan can enjoy the works of a particular author, but if a particular book doesn’t strike their fancy, they can admit that without turning in their “fan card”. An obsessed fan is more of the, “my author right or wrong!!!1!” sort.
Add to that that people will (generally) only nominate books they’ve read (I hope). If I’m looking to nominate a book, it’ll be by an author I’ve read. Obvious, I know, but if I’ve read a book by, say, Seanan McGuire and enjoyed it as much as I usually do, I’d nominate it in spite of there being an equally splendiferous work by someone I don’t know about and haven’t read. Sucks, I know, but I can’t read everything, damn it!
On the upside, I will now check out Adam Roberts books. :)
There is a good SF/F fantasy review site called ‘Elitist Book Reviews’ and they made a good point about this. It does seem like there are a small number of authors who get nominated almost every time they publish a book. Its not really practical for every book these people publish to be among the top 5 books of the year. There are hundreds if not 1000s of SF/F books published every year. There appears to be a bit of a clique at the Hugos. The people who attend the Hugos tend to favor certain authors.
I’d like to see the Hugos or possibly a new SF/F award broaded to somehow allow alot more people to vote. Not sure how to do it and avoid people stuffing the ballot. I would also like to see SF and Fantasy divided into 2 categories. I personally enjoy them for different reasons and things I like in an SF book are different than things I like in a Fantasy book.
I have posted this before… I have trouble understanding how people nominate best editor. First off the books that editor edited are not listed in the nomination, so how does a typical fan vote? I don’t know who edited what. I also don’t understand how you can tell that an editor did a good job. I can see how its possible in the Nebulas because they is voted on by professional writers and I would think that you guys talk about editors so names get around. However, to a fan, just because a book is good, how do I know if its because of the editor? If that is the case than the editor of the Best Novel award should by default with Best Editor.
As you wish, sir! Scalzi ftagn!
I’m going to declare myself an expert fan, because that is pretty much all I am. I have no other connection to any of these awards, things literary, or writing in general other than my internal fantasy about writing that great American novel. I buy books and I love to read.
So, here it is, from an expert fan. Roberts’ views on what it means to be a fan is not well matured, and I mean that quite literally. The idea of being a “fan of an author” is really incomplete. I am not so much a fan of John Scalzi as I am a fan of John Scalzi’s fictional characters, stories, scenarios, and plots. For the record, I’m not so much a fan of his non-fiction stuff. I can also say the same of Kim Stanley Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Charles Bukowski, William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and a whole host of other really talented writers that I will never, ever, know outside of their work. I don’t know these people. I know the worlds they built, and that is where my “fandom” lies.
Contrast that with the attitudes of a child, which are generally “team” oriented. When my middle daughter was about 8, she fell ill and I bought her the entire “Harry Potter” series. She absolutely devoured those books, multiple times. I was thrilled with that, and gave many thanks to JK Rowling. But because she was 8 years old, she wouldn’t read anything else. I’d buy her Piers Anthony and Suzanne Collins and Scott Westerfield, and her only response to that was “Nope. Not Harry Potter.” That is where her fandom lied.
She’s past that now, as she has matured quite a bit since. I’m sure she would even enjoy Adam Roberts’ work.
I am a Scalzi fan. That doesn’t mean I breathlessly read every book he writes, and would gladly fight for it’s election as Best Novel of the year. I would never nominate Zoe’s Tale, for instance. I think it was rather lazy to just retell a story from a different viewpoint rather than spending that time writing something new. I didn’t like The God Engines. Although it had a new idea I had never encountered (gods as slaves to mortals) it was not a pleasant or enjoyable story.
This has nothing to do with knowing him personally, which I don’t. I have encountered him briefly twice, I could pass him on the street without noticing.
But in addition to the books I didn’t like much, he has written some wonderful stuff. Not “great literature that will still be discussed 200 years from now in philosophy class” stuff, but very enjoyable books for regular people to enjoy reading. Would I vote for one of his novels if I ever find myself a worldcon member again? Depends. Something else like Agent to the Stars, or The Android’s Dream, or Old Man’s War, or Redshirts, yes. Something else like The God Engines, no. In between, it would depend on what I thought of the competition. It is highly possible to like an author without being a fanatic.
The same thing could be said about Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and others. Some of there stuff was wonderful and deserved lots of honors. Some was not so good, and some was downright crap. That’s how most writers are. And most fans accept that.
This attitude that “The nominating/voting process is fundamentally flawed” usually seems to come from people who are convinced that they should have won. I wonder if this attitude comes from listening to praise from family and close friends, and believing what they say, rather than considering input from more disinterested sources.
I nope Mr Roberts can look at us fans in this light.
Meh. To me, Mr Roberts’ comments stink of Entitlement Syndrome: i.e. I deserved to be nominated/win/worshipped as a God, and didn’t, therefore Vast Conspiracy, alligator tears, and boohoo.
Just for the record, while I am a regular here at Whatever, I have never nominated, nor voted for, any work of Scalzi’s, for any award, ever. I’ve read everything except The God Engines, and IMO, Scalzi’s works are entertaining, but not particularly original. But I enjoy the blog, immensely.
I’m not going to offer 20 years of anecdote to assert that all/most/some fans are equally removed from partisanship, but I will remark that I think it interesting that Roberts is basically projecting a media-driven political split onto an obscure, literary genre award. Because, let’s face it, most of the world doesn’t know SF/F and our silly hats from Adam.
There’s also a three nations divided by the same language element to this; Adam Roberts teaches at a University in London, England, got his first degree at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and his PHd at a college in Cambridge University, England.
The use of the word ‘pimp’ for anything other than someone involved in sex work is not exactly commonplace for a British career academic; I found myself murmuring ‘I don’t think that means what you think it means’ as I read through his piece. John has already noted that his use of ‘fan’ is also heavily skewed; Adam probably got his notions of pimp from an imported tv programme called ‘Pimp my Ride’.
For that matter there is a tension between his job as a career academic and his existence as a writer for pay. Assiduous self-promotion is, of course, a necessary component of ascending the greasy pole of academia, but it is supposed to be invisible; lobbying for one’s works, academic or otherwise, offends against the status quo and thus must be deprecated, at least in public.
And then there’s the fact that he is not dependent on his writing to pay the mortgage; it’s a very different world view to that of a professional writer whose life does depend on selling books, articles, stories etc…
Perhaps I’m too cynical, but how is an essay looking down on the practice of self-promotion during award season, by an author qualified for said awards writing said essay *during* award season, *not* a practice of self-promotion? Wouldn’t it be far more… “ethical” is too strong a word… “appropriate” to write and release such an essay during a time when no awards are being considered, and close that essay with “when it’s time to vote next time, I’m not going to talk about the awards at all?”
Apparently I’m doing the “fan” thing wrong. I rated one of my favorite author’s books at two stars last year.
I’m so deeply ashamed of myself.
Just read the beginning of Roberts’ article, skimmed a bit. (Note: his use of “pimping” seems pretty reasonable as current usage. I admit it took me awhile to get used to said usage, five or ten years ago.)
Anyway, I hit this:
“that most oppressed and put-upon minority group — writers compelled to grow enormous neckbeards in an attempt to stem the crippling self-esteem collapse caused by their male-pattern baldness”
And went, whaa??? This guy just lost any cred whatsoever.
I’ve noticed that a lot of academics and fans of literary fiction (not all, to be sure) think that the only books worth talking about are books that fit the literary mold. An example: When Gene Wolfe’s The Shadow of the Torturer came out, I was told by a PhD genre critic that the science fiction professors were thrilled – something new that their students could actually analyze was available! I once took a mystery fiction course, and we spent one day on Agatha Christie and three days on a Joseph Conrad novel that had nothing to do with the genre. It’s not that they don’t enjoy a light read, some do; but they don’t see anything worthy of literary discussion in the bulk of genre fiction. And yeah, the Conrad had more literary stuff, but Christie is quite possibly the biggest name IN the genre!
I have a friend who consistently complains when something wins the Hugo that doesn’t meet his idea of what defines a Hugo winner. Sorry, Charlie. A Hugo winner isn’t a type, it’s a “This was voted on by the Hugo voters” award. (Okay, except for when the Hugo committee does something weird like disallow an audiobook nom that’s clearly part of a *book*.)
If you don’t like awards being won for books that you don’t value, don’t assume it’s because the people who vote for the books don’t value the books. I, for one, *do* vote for books I value. I won’t say I’ve never let my opinion of an author influence my vote, but it’s always been away from voting for the work, not toward. (Not talking about the usual suspect, here.)
Right! And Rashomon could have been a LOT shorter if they’d just told the story right the first time.
Far from being a “lazy” choice, I think it was probably harder for John to make The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale consistent with each other while telling Zoe’s story in her own voice than it would have been for him just to write a new book. It’s not correct to say that Zoe’s Tale just retells the same story — Zoe’s story is different, and while she experiences some of the same events, her perspective on them is unique. And, of course, she has her own adventures that we couldn’t have seen as part of The Last Colony, because that book wasn’t telling her story.
I’m not saying you have to like Zoe’s Tale, but criticize it for what it actually is, not what you would like to dismiss it as.
Adam Roberts writes:
Ah, so all I have to do before nominating is research the full gamut of possibilities? That isn’t going to happen without the use of a time machine.
I think it probably is true that many worthy works aren’t getting nominated, but it’s not because of John Scalzi’s unfairly large megaphone. I didn’t read every book that came out in 2013. It’s January and I’m reading my second novel from 2013 now. It shouldn’t be a great surprise that the authors are two of my usual suspects, who are known to have a better than average chance of writing things that I will like. One of them is the Human Division. This isn’t because John told me to, but because I have learned that I like most of his work. There are Scalzi works that I wouldn’t nominate, but because he has built his brand with me, he is going to get a shot at consideration.
It shouldn’t be any great surprise that the next couple of 2013 works in my queue are also by authors who have written works that I like. For me, the key to considering work by someone new is to getting recommendations from friends, and my SF-friends don’t generally spend very much time discussing SF, particularly new SF. There are a few other possibilities. I sometimes attend “what you should consider reading this year” program items at cons and the Big Idea and Goodreads also sometimes suggest things that I might try.
It’s unfortunate, but I don’t nominate from as large a pool as I would like. I think Roberts has a point there. My usual suspects have a huge advantage when I consider work for nomination, but I only read blogs by a couple of them.
Shorter fiction is even harder for me. I don’t usually read shorter fiction unless it’s by an author I already read. I think I nominated exactly one work shorter than a novel for 2012. Nearly all of the shorter work that I read for 2012 was on the Hugo ballot.
For me, the most significant part of John’s announcement of eligible works is that he told us which of his shorter works go in which size category. Incidentally, I do wish that work sold electronically had a word count in the description.
I haven’t yet decided on Worldcon so can’t nominate for Hugos yet. But I follow many author blogs, read more than I cba to blog about myself and were I to be nominating I would be grateful for a reminder as to which books I read and loved (enough to follow the author on a blog/twitter) last year are eligible for awards. Because I don’t keep track of when works are published, and might not realise that book I picked up on a whim is eligible.
While I thank you for the defense, I will note a discussion of Zoe’s Tale is off topic for the thread.
Gods, I hope you’re right, Mikes75! If I were Joss (or even Jed or Maurissa) Wheden, I’d be embarrassed to have my name on MARVEL AGENTS OF SHIELD! I think the only people who aren’t are Clark Gregg, who’s grateful to finally have a lead role in a television series, even if it stinks – and former CASTLE Story Editor Shalisha Francis, who doesn’t know any better because…she used to write for CASTLE….
Ell, it’s not just academics – THE ONION’s A/V Club television reviewers have a marked tendency to write about serialized shows (BREAKING BAD, REVENGE, ONCE UPON A TIME) over what they sneeringly refer to as “Procedurals” (basically Crime/Problem/Victim of the Week shows like the LAW & ORDER, NCIS and CSI franchises). Occasionally they will admit that a lot of serialized series stink once you realize the creators/showrunners had no ideas how to end the series, and just kept piling contrivances on top of plot twists until the entire edifice is so unwieldy that no satisfactory culmination is even remotely possible (see CASTLE’s “Who Killed Beckett’s Mother?” arc) – but the serialization arcs give them something to analyze, as opposed to just “This week Gibbs’s Fourth Ex-Wife comes back when her current Navy Commander husband is suspected of killing a female subordinate, DiNozzo makes some lame jokes, Abby crops up with a new kink which weirds McGee out, whoever’s replacing Ziva annoys everybody, and Ducky basically solves the crime.”
I suppose I’d be more sympathetic if I didn’t feel that the best shows start out looking like procedurals only to develop serialized elements once you get comfortable with the characters and setting – like PERSON OF INTEREST, which really should be in contention for Best SF Series, but probably won’t even be under consideration because it’s on CBS, and marketed as a cop drama rather than a sneaky way to introduce your parents to pretty intelligent ideas about artificial intelligence and the surveillance state!
@John “While I thank you for the defense, I will note a discussion of Zoe’s Tale is off topic for the thread.”
Might I get one question in before the deadline, because this has been killing me since I read it, and well, there it is.
How is “Zoe” pronounced? Is it “Zoh” or “Zohee?”
I will not be hurt if you delete this as off topic or otherwise wield the HoLC.
I love going to a bookstore and prowling the “new fiction” section for SF/F, hefting a book with an eye-catching cover or title or familiar author, reading a couple of pages and making the value judgment as to whether or not it is worth the investment. This is a lot easier in bookstores than it is on the web and much less satisfying on the web in any case. But it is getting harder and harder to find a bricks and mortar bookstore so I am very grateful to have my attention directed to new books. Far from obsessing over a single author (sorry, John) I am positively gleeful when I discover a new author who has written a book I enjoy because unless it is a first novel I have received a gift of the entire backlist to devour. If I had not read of someone pimping Pat Rothfuss’s “Name of the Wind” I would not be even now muttering arcane rituals designed to bring forth the third book in that series. I love that Amazon and Goodreads fill my screen with suggestions enough that my “to read” list slowly but surely outpaces my “have read” list. Loyal “fans” or readers though they may be I don’t think that John’s readers are mindless drones limiting their nominations to his books. This is a huge field and on my “Top Ten List” for why i want to be immortal the number one item is that i would then be able to read all the books.
Roberts’s logic doesn’t make much sense to me. If I were an ardent obsessive fan (Scalzi for everything!!1!) I’d already be nominating and voting for his work anyway. The FYI-type posts are more useful for things I like but may have needed some jogging on (especially with 5 nom slots and the potential for eligibility confusion) or to broaden out my perspective. It’s particularly useful for short fiction since there’s still plenty of time to read them. There’s even time to recommend them to others.
Turning one’s nose up at self-promotion would give even more weight to those who are popular (visible anyway) and their favorites (who they will talk about). And there certainly seems to be an elitism inherent in the notion that we rank-and-file readers shouldn’t nominate unless we do comprehensive research (which might also be limited to popular publication venues). It’s a fan-voted award, not a juried prize.
“Then again, the reason I like being nominated for stuff is because I make the assumption that the nomination came with a critical judgement attached.”
I have to say that the “critical judgment” you assume isn’t something I see overwhelming evidence for. (In the SF field in general, not specifically in regard to your work. I don’t think you’ve written a “classic” book yet, but you’re one of the most consistently *enjoyable* writers in the field.)
I’ve been reading a fair number of self-published books this past year, and some of them have been, putting it bluntly, horribly written. Leaving aside a too-common lack of copyediting for typos, misspellings and poor grammar, some of them have had gaping, abysmal flaws in characterization, plotting and continuity.
(In one, two characters are having a fight, and the scene ends with the villain pulling out a gun. The narrative then switches briefly to another character’s actions elsewhere. When we return to the two original characters, they’re just finishing a swordfight.)
But when I look at reviews for these books on Amazon and Goodreads, they’re almost always ranked 4 or 5 stars, and get gushing praise in actual comments.
The only way I can account for this practice is to assume that most people feel giving a book a middling or poor rating, even if deserved, is being *mean* to the author of the book. And nobody wants to be a meanie. So they set their critical judgment aside and rate a book higher, sometimes much higher, than it deserves.
I wish people would be a little more critical, more demanding, about what they read. Maybe even a little meaner. (Back in the early 1990’s, I was in an online writing group with a guy named Arnold Federbush. Interesting fellow, with several published SF novels on his resume. Arnold practiced a “toughlove” model of critiquing, and could be very, umm, *blunt* in his comments on other member’s writing. But he had one heck of a critical eye, and he was almost always *right* about what was wrong with members’ work. He died of cancer in 1993; I still miss his input.)
I’ve read Hugo and Nebula winners where my thought is “Are you kidding me? THIS won an award?” So I tend to suspect that it’s something other than the story itself that earned the author an award.
For the record: Most Hugo and Nebula nominees and winners are stories I consider “good”. But I want to see awards given to *great* stories, not just good ones. And certainly not to, umm, less-than-good stories.
Also for the record: I haven’t voted in the Hugos for about the last thirty years. I figure I can post my grumpy opinions online, and have just about as much effect on the SF field as if I voted in the Hugos. As in, virtually none.
There are some authors who have a noticeably > 50% chance of any given work being nominated for a Hugo. Some of whom for who that is true going back 10, 20, 30 years.
Their tendency to WIN those Hugos seems to have dropped off over time.
I don’t know that there’s a problem here.
“You want to make me happy, right?”
*huff* What ? NO. It’s just a random involuntary by-product, that’s all. Why do you always have to make this about you ?! *puff*
*goes to read more stuff by Not Scalzi*
*more involuntary random scalzi happiness is born into the world*
*goes braiding elves, or something*
The first example I thought of when I read Adam’s post was The Doctor’s Wife. It was (IMHO) neither Doctor Who’s best work nor Neil Gaiman’s — the idea was great, but the execution was iffy, especially the Amy/Rory subplot. But when two fan bases of that size join forces, nobody else really stands a chance.
The sniffy “O, the unwashed masses are voting for awards for undeserving work that I would never vote for and they wouldn’t either if they were as refined as I” argument is awfully tired. Having read a bunch of the recommended lists from people who espouse that view, they often contain books that the list compilers considered “literary” and that I consider to be “boring.”
It may indeed be true that I would find lots of incredible work if I were to read SF more widely than I do. But I also have a real life, which takes up an inordinate amount of my time. I’ve been tracking how many books I read for the past few years, and it’s just not that large a number. 2013: 38 books. 2012: 22 books (the shame!). 2011: 45 books. And some of those, every year, are re-reads of old books.
Given the amount of time I have, I naturally gravitate to authors I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. Sometimes I like their new stuff, sometimes not, even from authors I think are reliably good reads (loved Redshirts; The Human Division, not so much). Every year I read authors new to me. I simply don’t have the time to take a chance on tons of new authors, some of which I will just not like, and others that are just meh. In 2013, I took a chance on Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I just didn’t see as the work of staggering brilliance other folks did. On the other hand, I loved Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh.
To the direct subject of the post: as a professional writer myself (nonfiction division), I’ve published more than 40 books. Self-promotion of your work is part of the job. If you want to be successful, you can’t just throw the book out there and hope it sticks; you need to let your readers know it’s there. Pro authors who think self-promotion is icky and distasteful may feel more pure, but generally, at the end of the day, they will not be more successful.
Though I should also note that I have no idea whether either Doctor Who or Neil Gaiman made award awareness posts that year.
I’m amused by the notion a creator who profits from their works being sold should NOT promote themselves and their work – awards help sell books, I’m guessing, so promoting oneself for nominations, etc, is as much a part of a business plan as book tours, con appearances, murder-for-hire, etc… Anyone expect an author to say ‘ Oh, hey, don’t vote for my book, it’s crap.’? The manner of self promotion is certainly up for critique, but promotion is really a given.
Honestly, in order to accept some of Roberts’ arguments, I think you have to also accept a not-especially-accurate view of fandom, especially the kind of fandom that spends money for the privilege of voting on the Hugos. It’s not all that logical to operate on the assumption that people with that level of commitment place so little value on the process and their vote to give it away on their favorite author’s say-so. It’s also not all that logical to figure there are that many fans so committed to a single author or book that they’ll spend WorldCon membership kind of money to win them an award when they hear they can.
I’ve had similar discussions about self-promotion all year because I am a Seanan McGuire reader. There is this bizarre sense out there that she has legions of mindless fans that she is unleashing to sully The Process one blog post at a time. Which makes no sense at all, and isn’t an especially flattering view of the critical thinking skills of her readers.
Putting aside the way I feel about the word “pimp”, and the overwhelming assumptions of bad faith in the linked post: I find the awareness posts of various authors and publishers very useful on a practical level. Not just for memory-jogging and raising awareness of things I haven’t read yet, but just in order to know what’s a novella, what’s a novelette, what’s a short, and what was published in the right year in the right format. Saving every fan looking up word counts and qualification rules for themselves is a useful service.
(And of course, I meant that the linked post by Roberts contains all sorts of assumptions of bad faith on the part of those who do awareness posts. Not that your post or the above comments contain assumptions of bad faith on the part of Roberts. Ambiguous grammar for the win^H^H^H lose.)
In my opinion, by being a blogger and ‘deeply amusing’ user of Twitter, Adam Roberts is self-promoting. The argument that the act of self-promotion becomes wrong when it’s labeled as such seems specious at best.
Oh my stars, he is such a British professor of literature on this one. But fans are not students who need to be instructed on how to go about looking for worth. Nor is an author who says, this award is up; if you think my book this year was good and you are one of the people who are paying to be able to vote for this award, please consider nominating the book, doing something in the least pushy or dirtying his hands with “trade.”
The people who nominate and vote for the Hugo pay for the privilege and they are part of the society and core fans, meaning they read widely and are dedicated to the genre field, not the authors. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have their preferences. I know of several secondary world fantasy authors who have been told that writing in that sub-category greatly limits their chances to get nominated for the major awards, for instance, because those stories are looked down on as un-literary. That isn’t necessarily true, but it does indicate an awareness that people aren’t coming in purely unbiased. Some fans will hate steampunk, some will love first contact fiction, and so on. And Roberts is right to point out that it’s worth looking to see if you are unintentionally biased towards white males and missing out on some good authors who aren’t those things. But bias occurs in juried awards too. It’s not the People’s Choice Awards where it’s being thrown open to twelve year olds who will vote for One Direction.
I don’t like award season either, not because of the awards, nominations, or interesting discussion of books that made the list or didn’t. It’s the angst of fans, authors and sometimes publishing folk about the existence of awards that we have annually that drives me crazy. Should we have these awards? Are juried awards horrible? Are non-juried awards horrible? Do fans really read enough to know what’s good? Must we really promote ourselves? Why do other people make dumb choices I don’t like? (I.e. the phenomena studied by sociologists that we always think that most other people are not as perceptive as ourselves.) There are some issues in there — like inclusion, etc. that are worth discussing, but most of it seems to be a cross between free-floating anxiety and the weird delight in predicting civilization’s decline.
If you don’t want to talk about awards and your work as an author, don’t talk about them. (Your publisher can’t make you, no matter what they say.) If you aren’t sure an award should exist, don’t vote in it. And if you really think it’s your job to educate thousands, millions of SFFH readers about how to validate your own evaluations of other’s people’s work, good luck with that. The idea of herding cats doesn’t even begin to cover it. The Hugo award is no longer as financially valuable in the field as it once was (which is ironic as the big general fiction awards have gotten more financially valuable.) But they still have some value for thousands of people, they still help get the word out about interesting books (both nominated and not.) They are still going to exist for now and people are going to nominate authors for them. Given that the process will occur, all you can control is your part in it or not in it, and to talk about what books you like.
But for the record, it is a fact that fiction readers care very little about authors, and only care about the stories they create. It’s why they are very difficult to sell to. If they think a liked author wrote a crappy book they didn’t like, they will give the author unholy hell about failing them, not nominate the author for an award. And they won’t have one love, they have dozens.
brucearthurs: I don’t think that not every book which wins a Hugo is a classic is a problem in itself. There are not vast arrays of books (along with all the other categories) of classic quantity being published every year and the awards only claim to identify the best works of the previous year, not only the stuff which people will still be claiming is classic in 20 years time.
Your mileage may vary of course, but for me it just highlights works I might otherwise have missed.
I quite like to be provided with a list of the books and stories eligible for an award. When I’m confronted with nominations for the Hugo, my experience has been that I think of several things I read and loved recently, and then struggle to figure out it they’re eligible. (I usually find that I read them about 2 years after they were published, naturally.)
BTW, I share lauredhel’s dislike of the word “pimp” used to refer to an author promoting their work. When I see it used, it’s often by the creator listing their own work. I guess it’s meant to be self-deprecating, but it’s just unpleasant.
I considered leaving a comment on Roberts’ blog, but thought better of it, after seeing how he’s responded to other commenters on the post. I find his generalizations problematic, and his writing style a little prickly for my taste. He has good points about diversity in the field and voter awareness, but they get smothered under remarks like this:
“So, yes, I know: there isn’t a way I can make that perfectly sane point without sounding condescending, or smugly PC. It’s worth making, though.”
Which sounds an awful lot like the “I Fully Expect Abuse” Gambit to me.
Hmm, that piece reminds me that I find Roberts difficult to deal with; previous examples have included him simply misunderstanding and lacking depth of knowledge with regards to SF in the context of a certain book which came out a couple of years ago and involved lots of complex tech.
It’s only a blogpost, but it seemed designed to show off the authors skills a bit more than make a good point, and whilst he has several useful points in it, the critiques above on this Scalzi thread are accurate enough I feel.
So more evidence for my general critique of Roberts, formulated after reading his first two novels and some of his book reviews – he’s come into the field as an adult outsider, and whilst he’s competent enough with mcguffins and the structure, ultimately he misses the soul of SF and thus after reading two of his books (both of which I struggled to finish due to not feeling engaged with what was happening) I have no desire to read any more. I expressed this to a friend once who was reading ‘Jack Glass’ at the time, and he objected, but once he’d finished the book he still couldn’t come up with any sort of come back.
Perhaps he simply doesn’t understand the transatlantic nature of SF and F, which wouldn’t surprise me; I don’t exactly understand it well enough and I’m younger and therefore probably more hip and savvy than he is, and certainly I hang out on enough American blogs.
As for his suggestion (in the comments) of Darwinian analogies being jock not geek, that shows the most appaling lack of understanding of geekiness and nerdiness and evolution; geeks and nerds do evolutionary biology and anyone who’s spent any time reading up on evolutionary biology knows that there’s more ways to success than just hitting other people with a big hammer.
Like most things, I think there’s a little truth in there. Unfortunately, the none of us are entirely objective – there’s a very real chance that Roberts is entirely correct, and at the same time JS is. Why? Because is extrapolation of experience. There is a slim possibility that Roberts’ interactions with fans nomination methods were 100% “I Love this author; I’m going help them win something even if their last work was a bit naff”. Probably closer to reality is that there was an incident, or incidents, that carried a weight of memory greater than more moderate interactions.
I suspect there’s a spectrum involved here, sometimes within individual voters themselves (Well, if I can make 5 votes I’ll fanboy up on Brandon Sanderson, even though his last book is 3 books down in my to read pile….now, I’ve 4 choices for who else I REALLY loved!). Ripping into the figures I suspect might raise a lot of chicken and egg issues – Has writer X been nominated because he’s got a big blog following, and people buy his books because they like him? Has writer X been nominated because those who buy his books all think he’s the best writer EVEH? Has Writer X been nominated because he writes good books, so people follow his blog, so people know where and how to vote? Again I suspect it’s a little from columns A, B and C, not helped by the fact each column itself is a spectrum, and all three can be true of one writer’s nomination. (I say three; there could be any number of reasons for nominations).
I think Roberts may have articulated a more general feeling though, that people as much as products are become brand-ised (Yes, I made it up, I like it). Facebook and Twitter have commoditised personality and identity into things to be marketed (even if it’s just your social circle). People now have an online personality, albeit often just a more idealised, stripped down version of themselves – I ain’t talking schizophrenia here. Plug all this into the developing aggressive marketing strategies where brands are equated to lifestyle, status, and self worth…well, yeah I can picture a dystopic outlook on the world where nike and adidas fanboys wage gang wars across a broken landscape of empty reebok factories.
Ok – I’m stretching a lot of meaning out of his words. But I DO think that there is an element that idolises brand to the exclusion of critical thought. Is it wise to treat your existing fanbase as though they *might* be one of these? Hell, No. I DO think that while we as a society are still coming to grips with the freedoms allowed by the internet, the line between critical decision and marketing chicanery is still in flux – i.e. exactly how freely are we making our decisions. Is this knowingly being used as a trick for garnering notoriety, or is it just a newer facet to popular culture whereby Personality is now another factor of success? Probably a bit of both.
Importantly, I DO think the concept of “fan” is changing. Modern society allows for overexposure as much as diversity. Marketing has developed (both conscious and sub-conscious) to deal with a broader range of people, bigger whales and more minnows. Hell, the Google and Amazon algorithms alone have changed the entire flow of information (Not necessarily always in good ways either, IMO).
“Fan” is now a broad term with multiple facets – and generally speaking I think treating anyone as objectively true is conflating the some with the all. Probably not deliberately, but certainly subjectively.
“he’s come into the field as an adult outsider, and whilst he’s competent enough with mcguffins and the structure, ultimately he misses the soul of SF”
Heh. Well, you know. I went to my very first science fiction convention when I was thirty four, after I got a two book deal from Tor, so I came into the field as an adult outsider too (I was previously in journalism and tech). Just as a data point for consideration.
I tend to think that you need to look at all the nominees for various awards, not just the ones that won, to get a good feel for the best works from that year. Looking back at the Hugo lists, it is often that the winner for a year may no longer be as well known as one of the other nominees. There was a look at this, year by year, of Hugo award winners and nominees (I think at Tor dot com?) last year which addressed this.
That being said, in my many years as a SF/F fan (since the 1970s) I can only remember one incidence of an author – or at least his ‘fans’ – being rumored to have ‘stuffed the voting box’ by having folks buy Hugo memberships for the only purpose of voting for said authors work that year. I have no idea how much truth was in that rumor. Said author was the founder of a certain pseudo-religion (and had been a SF author before he founded said religion. Shame, as I rather enjoyed some of his early novels – not great fiction, but lots of fun.) other than that, I find the idea of any sf/f fans en mass voting for one aurhor’s work in lockstep to be amusing at best, and – as a fan – rather dismissive and irritating. It also makes me Think that this author has not had a lot of contact with fandom in general, but instead mostly been exposed to some of the more focused areas of fandom… Perhaps he’s been to a Who con? Or he has mostly just read media coverage of such events, which tend to focus on the outliers and so-called fringe fans, rather than the more ‘normal’ majority?
I’m a first-time Hugo nominator this year, and I found the Whatever awareness post very valuable, not so much for awareness of particular works, but for making me aware of more *places that I might want to look for works*. I read Strange Horizons and Tor.com and Lightspeed and Subterranean Online and DailySF but I had never heard of Futures Exchange, Electric Velocipede, Apex, etc. Maybe there are some real gems there, it’s exciting to have more magazines to check out!
There was a case in 1989 where a novel was removed from the Hugo ballot because of apparent nomination irregularities (The Guardsman, by P.J. Beese and Todd Cameron Hamilton), but the authors were apparently later cleared of any wrongdoing.
I incident you’re thinking of was in 1987 when L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Black Genesis got onto the Best Novel ballot, substantially on a number of supporting member ballots. It didn’t fare particularly well in the final voting, placing below “no award.” Which is very unusual, and one can rightly assume an editorial comment by fandom.
bristolbookworm and others: You do not have to attend Worldcon in order to nominate and vote for the Hugo Awards. A WSFS supporting membership, which includes the nominating and voting rights (and also the right to nominate next year), is only £25.
Aside to anyone who says prices always go up and that the Secret Masters of Fandom want to keep raising them to prevent the Great Unwashed from participating: WSFS changed its rules three years ago in a way that allowed Worldcons from 2014 onward to lower their supporting membership prices. Loncon 3 took advantage of that rules change, lowering the price to participate in the voting by one-third compared to the previous Worldcon.
John – that one is hard to answer except to say that you are an individual, with different experiences (e.g. a tech background surely made you more internet and ‘future’ savvy than might otherwise be the case, and a journalism background better at identifying your audience, research, and market etc) and ultimately I think different aims in your SF writing.
IIRC, Roberts is very definitely trying for the more ‘literary’ end of the market, which doesn’t mean that literary SF can’t be good SF or popular, but the connotations here in the UK are definitely towards the niche market; indeed that is my experience of Robert’s books and discussing them online, with the majority of the (obviously non-representative) sample saying they didn’t see what the fuss was about and not indending to read any more by him.
Actually, your journey into authorhood would be interesting to read about, but you did read SF and F as a child did you not? I didn’t attend my one and only conference until I was about 31 or so, but I’ve been reading SF& a little F since I was maybe 6 or 7. What I don’t know is whether Roberts himself read much SFF when he was young; my memory suggests he didn’t, rather discovering the field as an adult, but I have been known to be wrong.
Quoting George William Herbert:
There are some authors who have a noticeably > 50% chance of any given work being nominated for a Hugo. Some of whom for who that is true going back 10, 20, 30 years.
Their tendency to WIN those Hugos seems to have dropped off over time.
I don’t know that there’s a problem here.
Assuming that it really is an honor just to be nominated, I see a problem here.
I disagree that there is a problem. For the Best Novel Hugo, despite the “usual suspects” being repeat nominees, only two people have had repeat wins since 2000 (Vernor Vinge, 2000 and 2007; Neil Gaiman, 2002 and 2009). Every year, there are lesser-known authors on the final ballot, and sometimes they win. I think it was our host who began the effort to get all finalist works out to voters, which levels the playing field somewhat. No one (ethically) votes for something they haven’t read.
It’s natural that a fan-voted award would lean towards the popular, because that’s what most people have read. At the same time, I find that SF/F readers tend to be very willing to seek out new things, to share those things they find extraordinary, and in general to demand quality work.
If you’re referring to the “Hugo nominee” cover blurb – well, the usual suspects will move reams without it, and the unknowns benefit.
I think the problem here is that Roberts understands the point of the awards (Hugo specifically, but others on which sf/f fans vote) to be to select the “best” novel of the year according to some objective idea of quality. As you’ve pointed out before, writing isn’t really a competition, and being the “best”, or picking the “best” is kind of silly. To the extent that we try, on some level or another, with or without pimping, it’s always going to be a popularity contest.
On the other hand, other creative fields have, in addition to broad awards which are voted on by large groups of people, narrower awards selected by recognized experts. The Oscars largely recognize popularity, but festivals like Sundance and Toronto do a better job of recognizing quality (to the extent that quality can be recognized distinctly from popularity). The visual arts world has juried shows etc. Does fiction, and more specifically, SF/F have an equivalent? I’m not aware of one. I use the Hugo award list as a proxy for that, and make an effort to read short-list nominees as well as award winners, but my reading time is limited, and my looking-for-reading time more so, so sometimes shortcuts are necessary.
I agree with Roberts in that I think the Best Novel Hugo doesn’t usually go to a great novel, but rather to a pretty good one that’s popular. But that’s a consequence of any award where there’s a pretty low barrier to who can vote on it, and it’s been true since long before authors started promoting what eligible works they’d written.
Compare the Printz award in Young Adult literature, which is voted on by a tiny committee — all the members of which commit to reading ravenously and debating vigorously throughout the year. I don’t always agree with their choices, but they’re really good at finding small-press books, off-kilter books, books that have almost no mainstream appeal but are deserving of more attention. You can call me an elitist, but I love that it exists.
So, okay: there’s no similar committee in adult SF, not even when it comes to the Nebula (I think few groups of people can approach the hard-core-ness of the American Library Association award committees). It’s up to individual voters to make an effort to read widely and seek out more obscure stuff. I don’t think it really has anything to do with self-promotional folks.
“So, okay: there’s no similar committee in adult SF”
Well, there’s the Campbell (not the Campbell I won, the other Campbell) over here in US and the Clarke over in the UK.
So why is that? How many books are there that are recognized as classics? There have been about 60 Hugo awards since 1953, aren’t there that many SF classics? Of course classics aren’t guaranteed to be published at a uniform rate. They will bunch up and some years will be for written SF like 1939 was for film; but surely there ought to be a Hugo winner become a classic every two or three years.
Are any of the following reasons why not?
1. Is it a consenquence of run-off voting? Perhaps the classics speak strongly to a few people at the expense of being satisfactory to everyone.
2. The classics aren’t popular in their own time? I have doubts about this; it’s true of JS Bach, but not of Twain and Dickens.
3. When there were fewer books being published, people didn’t stick as much to favored sub-genere? I’ve heard it suggested that before popular music subdivided, that the top 40 list was shared by a lot more people as part of the common culture.
I did indeed totally forget about the Campbell and the Clarke. Mea culpa!
Roberts is NOT an outsider, is NOT unknowledgeable about science fiction and fantasy and genre fiction in general, is very much involved in the SFFH community, and despite having every reason to distance himself from the perception of being a “genre” writer, particularly as a British academic, has not done so in the least. He has instead published with “genre” category publishers with category style covers, instead of sticking to general fiction, and has defended against claims by others that there is nothing of literary value in category SFFH and if it is, it can’t be “real” SFFH. So let’s please drop the crap of claiming that if he brings up how an award is being valued by voters, he must be a no-nothing, snobby alien from planet uppity fiction, okay? It is as unattractive a sort of tribalism as the one that declares genre publishers to be quality-free plague zones. Roberts is “one of us” if we’re going to go that way, but how about we stop being exclusionary and not go that way any more.
Nonetheless, the concerns with authors as brands makes me laugh. Authors only started being talked about as “brands” in the media when some authors did very well as phenoms and got film deals, and other companies were buying up publishers in the 1980’s and 1990’s and tried hopelessly to make them “efficient,” and then the e-print market which lead with e-books, thanks to Amazon. The marketing/ad folk scented money (though soon learned that there was none,) the tech folk were trying to sell tech products, and the media has no clue how to talk about fiction publishing, borrows terminology from other industries, and so tries to treat authors as some sort of a bizarre cross between English teachers and fashion designers. I well remember the article a few years ago when the Wall Street Journal claimed that debuting “literary” contemporary fiction authors used to get $50K-100K advances as an average, but now weren’t, so horrible things had happened. Debut “serious fiction” authors were lucky if they got a $5K advance in the past. But you can’t say a market is collapsing if you don’t pretend it was a giant before, so we get these apocalyptic pronouncements in media and then wonder if they are true.
No author is a brand. Some of them stick to one type of story, but most of them wander to one extent or another. They will drop a series lots love to write a new one, or keep writing a series even as others urge them to develop a new series “product” for the sake of their “brand.” Nobody cares who they are or that celebrities read their books. They do not put out their own perfumes (although if Scalzi wanted to put down a “challenge accepted” to that one, this would be hilarious.) They don’t have logos. They don’t get to charge $100 for just their autograph on a program flier at a convention. They are not brands. (Publishers can be a little bit of a brand with imprints, but readers seldom notice who publishes what.)
Likewise, nobody pays $25 or L25 or whatever it is just to give Brandon Sanderson a little PR boost in voting. They pay it because there are books they love that they want other people to love too, and because they believe the Hugo is worth keeping going. They’re subjective because fiction is subjective. They may be somewhat insular, because they’re paying to join a club that mostly only they value. But they are certainly not tainted with commercialism and deceived by sports team pride. People who are into commercialism and team championed cheering are only interested in film/tv adaptations and bestseller lists — hard, consumer, status victory flags. Sure, the Hugo has some status within a very narrow group of people who are aware of it in the SFFH community that has managed to keep itself intact, but its commercial value has again greatly decreased. I’m not even sure the general media usually reports who wins (though I think that they still do it for the Nebula sometimes.)
That doesn’t mean that the Hugo doesn’t have value. It just means that fears it will be taken over by Nike sponsorship are poorly founded.
I remain completely baffled by the fact that Zelazny’s ‘Lord of Light’ won the Hugo but not the Nebula; on the other hand my personal ‘is it good enough for a Hugo’ barometer does tend to approximate to both ‘is the writer in the same league as Zelazny’, as well as ‘is it as good as ‘Lord of Light’, which is probably expecting too much in an imperfect world.
It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that English academics have changed SFF almost beyond recognition; Adam Roberts is never going to be able to compete with Tolkien since he lacks China Mieville’s ability to use fantasy structures whilst simultaneously deploring Tolkien’s role in the creation thereof.
Zelazny’s Amber series reflected his own thesis on Jacobean theatre; I suspect that one of the reasons I found Jo Walton’s lengthy reading list of SF disguised as a novel so disappointing is that she didn’t do anything interesting with her material. Zelazny did…
I think it’s possible to make too much out of Adam Roberts’ being an academic, with regard to his “ear on the ground” ability (or cluelessness) regarding science fiction. For one thing, you know, the dude teaches the stuff and is an active writer, so I think he’s probably got a reasonably good grip on the field from both a historical and current publishing perspective. I think he fumbles the fandom aspect of it a bit, but he wouldn’t be the first.
I’d also caution people who would suggest that Roberts’ being an academic means he’s cushioned from the vagaries of the field to remember that a) a rather considerable number of sf/f writers have day jobs, and b) quite a few of them who have day jobs are academics. So, let’s examine some of our assumptions here, please.
I think when people start talking about spherical fans of uniform density, their models reflect their assumptions and simplifications more than reality. When looking at actual fans, and actual authors, I think it gets quite a bit more complicated, resulting in both sides being partly correct, and even partly incorrect.
Scalzi: Because it would be really ironic if all y’all uncritically started slagging on Roberts after me after writing about how authors’ fans are not slavering minions,
I believe this actually points to the notion that Adam Roberts is at least partly correct that some fans are readily willing to operate as minions of their favorite author.
Roberts: As for Atkinson, I held off reading Life After Life until I’d read a couple of her prior novels. They won me over (Case Histories especially) and may have predisposed me to like her most recent book.
This, on the other hand, seems to point to the notion that the thing Roberts is complaining about is something Roberts just confessed to doing himself. He liked a book more not because of its own inherent, standalone quality, but because of his familiarity with the author’s other works.
Kat Goodwin writes:
There are certain authors whose books I am very likely to buy sight unseen without waiting for a review, or a recommendation from a friend, or any other bit of data other than the fact that the book exists. In some cases, this might apply to all of his or her work; in others it might only apply to certain series. If one of these authors starts a new series, I’ll at least give it more consideration than I would a book by someone with whom I’m not familiar. I do this because there are far more books out there than I have time to read. For authors who I haven’t tried, I’m much more likely to look for a favorable review or a recommendation from a friend before I jump in.
Surely I’m not the only one who does this. Why is it wrong to think about such things in terms of the author having a brand?
One particular case really emphasizes this for me. When I heard that Mira Grant had the Parasitology series coming out, I pretty much decided to buy the first volume right then. On the other hand, my reading for the last Hugo awards pretty much taught me that Seanan McGuire’s work really isn’t quite my cup of tea. It looks to me like Seanan anticipated that this might happen and she created Mira as a brand from the outset.
I believe this actually points to the notion that Adam Roberts is at least partly correct that some fans are readily willing to operate as minions of their favorite author.
In some things. Perhaps not in others. The same fan that is willing to post a hostile Internet comment is, I would guess (as you are doing), much less likely to vote Scalzi a Hugo simply because.
Indeed. Among other things, being grumpy on the Internet is free, whereas nominating/voting on Hugos costs money.
Yes, there are authors whose new books I will seek out, because I liked the last few of their books I read. That’s not any weirder than going to a restaurant I know is good, rather than trying a new one each time. (I hope we all agree that it’s reasonable for me to avoid the one that I know is mediocre, unless someone I trust comes back and says “hey, they got a new chef, and she’s really good, give it another try.”)
Given that, if my previously favored writer’s new book isn’t as good as the one before, I’ll take that into account when deciding whether/how soon to buy the book after that. And I certainly wouldn’t nominate someone’s mediocre new book for an award because I liked one of their previous works.
Mike: “There are certain authors whose books I am very likely to buy sight unseen without waiting for a review, or a recommendation from a friend, or any other bit of data other than the fact that the book exists.”
That’s not being a brand, though. That’s word of mouth — your own. Because you have loved books by the author before, you are willing to try books from that author again because you are pretty sure (but not certain) that you’ll like them. But if you don’t like the next one from the author, you don’t resent giving the author you like some more money probably, but you don’t necessarily go around championing it, paying more money to vote it for an award, etc. You are more likely to say that, say, Agent to the Stars was okay, but you much prefer Old Man’s War universe books, or you found Red Shirts’ codas an annoying device. You will not judge all of Scalzi’s books as the same brand, but instead different from one another from the mind of the same author. And if Scalzi does come out with a perfume, you are not necessarily going to buy it just because you liked Old Man’s War.
To be a brand, the author becomes the product. Neil Gaiman, for instance, because of his work in multiple mediums as producer, etc., and not just fiction writer, is sort of a brand. If he gives a talk event, people come out. But Gaiman doesn’t cultivate one train of art, one style. He went off and wrote children’s books, radio plays, Doctor Who. The reality is that readers just aren’t interested in authors themselves as brands/products but simply as providers. They don’t worship George Martin, they worship A Song of Ice and Fire. (And now there is a t.v. show of it, which is a brand, and I can get Game of Thrones shot glasses.) They may try other things that Martin wrote, but they won’t do so as a lifestyle brand that must be propped up. The entire brand system of marketing that is used elsewhere doesn’t work in fiction publishing.
In McGuire’s case, she didn’t use the Mira Grant name to create a new “brand” technically. She did it to fool the computers that the big booksellers like to use. That way the McGuire’ sales records didn’t effect the selling and launch of Feed, the first Mira Grant book, because the computers give debut authors a pass. Everybody but the computers knows she writes as both author names, but for some reason, we have to fool the computers now because our unthinking tools are our overlords. Other authors, though, don’t use a second name and just do both SF and fantasy, YA and adult, horror, suspense, etc. Some fans only like her SF, some her fantasy, some both — their decisions of what is good are based on what individual books they like, not on just that she wrote them. They might try something of hers because she pleased them before, (although many fans won’t automatically buy books from authors they like,) but they won’t champion something just because she wrote it. They have to decide that they like it.
Whereas Prada is a brand. If you are getting Prada shoes or handbags, it doesn’t matter which ones you get, just that they are the latest and they are Prada. Owning it not only gives you something that you find nice and reliable as a brand, but has status to it. Whereas owning a book by Seanan McGuire, John Scalzi, or J.K. Rowling gets you no status whatsoever. So authors will take what status they can get and a Hugo award for SFFH authors does give some status. But they still are going to get it based on people liking the individual book, not the author. Fans are utterly unreliable.
That’s why the argument that Scalzi is trying to butter us up politically for votes and sales is silly. If everyone who regularly reads this blog bought every book Scalzi put out and talked them up to everyone around them, Scalzi would be a phenom or near phenom author in sales. We would truly be his minions. But we don’t. Instead, we tell him we liked this book and not that one so much. We tell him we want another comic satire like Red Shirts, or get back to the military space opera of Old Man’s War, and why in the world is he rewriting some old classic, etc. Scalzi’s rep and Internet presence get him name awareness that he is there, which can lead to people then trying his stuff out. But if they don’t like the book that much, they don’t do much word of mouth, however much they may like him as a person.
Things would be much easier for fiction authors if they could be brands, but the best they tend to get is being well-known. A few authors who are phenoms and/or heavily involved in film are sort of brands, like Stephen King, but even there, he has widely varying novels and his fans will not champion them all just because they are King’s. An author can market themselves and try to have a “signature” style and whatnot, but it always comes down to the books, and not if the author has a wonderful beard like Patrick Rothfuss. :)
KatG: No author is a brand.
Again, statements about spherical authors of uniform density reveals your assumptions more than it reveals reality.
If you want a reliable tractor, you buy a John Deere. If you want a good horror story, you buy a Stephen King novel. Both are brands. Is John Deere the “best” tractor? Not neccessarily. Kubota’s good too. But “brand” isn’t the same as “best”. Brand comes from branding cattle and it simply means you know where it came from.
Some brands really care about their brand’s reputation. (John Deere). Some dont. (Ronco). Having a brand doesn’t mean you’re the best or perfect. It just means people know where the product comes from and what they can likely expect in manufacturing and quality.
You have a good chance of knowing what you’re going to get in terms of quality when you buy a Stephen King novel. And if the last Stephen King novel suited you, the next one probably will too. That assumption is the point of branding.
It’s not bad. Which is where Roberts makes his main mistake. He takes a statement of the natural process of human behavior, and adds an exclamation point at the end.
The book “Thinner” by Richard Bachman sold 28,000 copies. The book then sold ten times as many copies when it was revealed that Richard Bachman was a pseudonym for Stephen King. All of those things are effects of branding.
To be a brand, the author becomes the product.
Good grief, no. A brand, again, tells you where the product came from. The product is a tractor. The brand might be John Deere or Kobuta or Case. The brand isn’t the product. The brand is the source.
A book about magic is the product. Where it came from, the brand, might be Tolkien or Rowling or some other author.
It does not shock me that Blind Sight did not win the Hugo or that Gene Wolfe has never won a Hugo. Frankly, I tend to assume that classics will not win Hugos. Case in point, are people going to remember Redshirts or OMW as John’s classic? Or parallel, is The Untouchables really the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Sean Connery? (Even for “serious” acting, that’s not Connery’s best.)
The Hugo is what it is.
Wandering a bit off topic, I think.
Indeed. Among other things, being grumpy on the Internet is free, whereas nominating/voting on Hugos costs money
“Grumpy on the Internet” is the name of my next band, I think.
Scalzi: nominating/voting on Hugos costs money.
Struggling authors have been known to make appeals to their fans asking
for monetery donations to help cover some medical expense or some such,
and many of those raise a decent chunk of money.
She: What kind of fan do you think I am?
He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.
“No author is a brand”–but books are certainly packaged in ways that look like branding (e.g., Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton, or Carl Hiaasen mass-market paperbacks), and writers become factory-like in their production models and consistency of output (Tom Clancy, James Patterson, right back to Erle Stanley Gardner). It may be significant that the first examples I think of come from the mystery/suspense field, but certainly in the area of package design there are similar examples in SF. In fact, any blurb or promo copy that uses the “in the grand tradition of —-” is implicit branding, though the rise of “brand” as a verb and as a general indicator of identity (“Chris Christie is tarnishing the GOP brand”) is relatively new.
Which is a bit of a of diversion from the main line of this thread. Closer to that line: If one wants an annotated map of what’s been going on in the field (whether to guide awards nominations or just for read-this-next), there’s always Locus, which compiles a recommended-reading list (in February every year) compiled by the staff plus a bunch of other experienced readers from the UK, Canada, Australia–the e-mail distribution list ran to 18 names. Or one could just read our reviews, which I like to think are pretty broad-church.
Am I pimping the magazine I write for? I suppose so. (“We’ve determined what you are and are now arguing over price.”)
Hah–I see that while I was composing that post, someone else remembered the same old joke. Great minds, etc. (And even mine.)
@kastandlee – I was one of those that mentioned “WorldCon membership kind of money” and I’m perfectly aware what it costs. It’s still not an amount I’m going to spend on anything just because one of several authors I like asks me to do it on their behalf. $40 isn’t meaningless pocket change, especially if you’re younger.
My point was that when money is involved, cost-benefit thresholds come into play, and I just don’t know that many fans who would say a WorldCon membership meets theirs unless they actually care about the genre and the process. They may still vote for the author who self-promoted, but then authors who self-promote don’t universally write dreadful books.
That’s always part of my problem with these sorts of analyses of fandom – there is an underlying assumption behind them that if an author deserved an award, he wouldn’t need to self-promote because the Grand Panjandrum of Excellence or whoever would see to that sort of thing for him. Therefore anyone who votes for a self-promoter must be doing it because they were swayed by the self-promotion, not because they made a legitimate and considered choice.
And that really says a couple of pretty horribly elitist things about fans. One, that their taste in books is suspect, and two, that they have no critical discernment, or respect for the process and meaning of an award. And in the case of the Hugos that they’re mindless enough followers to spend money for the privilege not of participating, but of supporting a complete stranger ad nauseum. Neither kind nor accurate.
It would have made my day if the final two sentences read:
‘What’s going to happen is people will nominate what they think deserves to be nominated. Not because they are on “Team [Whatever]” but because they know what they like and what they think should be honored.’
Russell Letson — Bestsellers have name recognition so their names are made large on covers to make them easily locatable. Bestsellers get close to being brands, but they can’t properly leverage it. The fiction books they produce are the brands, not the authors. The Hunger Games is a brand, especially now that they are a movie brand. If you ask most people who wrote The Hunger Games, however, they’ll say, “Uh, some woman.” People will try other stuff that Collins cares to write and some will know her name but the majority will not automatically embrace her as a brand. Nor will she necessarily stick to writing only one type of story. (Or maybe no stories — she’s a screenwriter, they pay better.)
Stephen King is a semi-brand because he is a phenom author and largely because he sold film rights to young directors who put his name on the films. But he writes more than horror and large segments of fans of his dark fantasy Dark Tower books won’t read his horror stories and vice versa. James Patterson made himself a brand not as an author but as a book packager, acting like a publisher which can be a brand (Baen does military SF, etc.) He writes some books but then hires different authors to write different kinds of books with his name slapped on. Readers who buy his cozy mysteries don’t usually buy his YA science fiction, readers who buy his thrillers don’t buy his romances, etc. Scalzi again, has a popular blog, but thousands of his blog readers don’t buy his books.
A key component of brands in advertising is the status of them as lifestyle image. People don’t buy a Jaguar because it’s a high quality car as it apparently isn’t; they buy it for what owning it says about them. Michael Jordan doesn’t know how to design sports shoes, but he put his name on them for shoe firms and they sold because they were the Jordan line of shoes because he was (is) a brand. People will buy things because celebrities endorse them — except novels — and they won’t automatically buy something because an author endorsed them. They won’t buy other things that the author puts out besides the books in question. Brands are supposed to be sold through marketing and advertising and status, creating brand loyalty.
Books have a hard time doing this. Non-fiction can do it the best. If a celebrity, who is a brand, writes a novel, then that’s part of his brand and fans will buy it as such. (However, it may still flop.) Tie-in novels are part of a brand, but different books by different tie-in authors will sell at different rates — the brand of the game or show doesn’t automatically gain full audience support for fiction. A runaway bestseller much talked about like 50 Shades will get people trying it (often by borrowing from friend or library,) so that they can be in the loop of discussions (status.) But if they don’t like it, they won’t keep buying from the author — not enough status to keep a brand.
So we tell an author that he has to market himself as a brand. He decides, okay I’ll be known as the author of vampire goat alien novels, that will be my distinctive brand. And he goes out there and no one is really interested in him or talking with him. But a few may try the books, spread word of mouth and he gets more readers. Those at conventions are now happy to talk to him and hear him on panels, but they aren’t interested in buying his vampire goat alien spin-off chocolates, and readers in bookstores still remember the books more than his name. He gets more readers and now he has some name recognition — for the vampire goat alien books, and his publisher will now advertise those books because advertising has a better effect for bestsellers, and not enough effect for other less selling books because readers aren’t interested in advertising — the first part of building a brand. More people are interested in hearing him talk — but then don’t buy his books because there’s not enough of a discount on price, especially for the e-book. They are willing to pay $50 for a game and then another $50 for the same game, new edition, when they buy the new game console, because that’s a brand they’ve pledged loyalty to, but they have no brand loyalty to paying a few more bucks for a book they want. They may go out and just take the e-book, even though it gets the author no money — they do not automatically support the author.
Sales of the vampire goat alien books are levelling off and he’s bored, so he starts a new werewolf sheep alien series — still in the brand direction. And he gets new readers — but a lot of them only read the werewolf sheep alien books, not the vampire goat alien books, and the vampire goat alien fans, a lot of them won’t read the werewolf sheep alien series and want him to write more vampire goat alien books. Each series is its own brand. And if they think any of the books are not on par with previous ones, they will let him know, loudly and vigorously, and not buy books just because he puts them out. They are not his loyal minions; many have no interest in knowing anything about him at all.
Roberts and the douchebros and others are taking a position that again sociologists have studied — we assume we ourselves are super perceptive and that most other people aren’t and are easily misled. This is the first rule of brands and advertising — that you can lead people into buying with advertising and status and they will have brand loyalty and in the case of artists, support them like sports teams and support books they don’t like much just because it’s from that author as if he was Michael Jordan with shoes and those Michael Jordan shoes are part of their life image. But historically, presently and in the foreseeable future, written fiction fans don’t do this. They don’t care about advertising versus word of mouth, they don’t have loyalty to authors and they don’t support and do massive word of mouth on books they don’t like, even if by authors they like. It’s one of the most frustrating things about fiction publishing for publishers, etc. It’s why authors will often make separate websites and forums for each series — the series is as much brand as they’re going to get.
So the scenario that Roberts is worrying about — that popular authors will plead and fans will rally to them and pay the money and hold their nose and vote for a book they don’t really like — isn’t going to happen. For the reasons that ERose stated and many more. Because outside of awards, authors don’t compete with each other like rival brands. The fiction market is symbiotic and authors help each other sell. The better Scalzi does, the more he helps Roberts sell and vice versa. And part of the awards as well is symbiotic — it brings attention to the near-nominees, nominees and winners. Fiction readers don’t treat authors like sports teams that are trying to beat each other in sales and recognition. They treat them like treasure maps — to the books they write and to, in the talking about them and other fiction, finding other authors who have books they will also like. But they won’t do what the author says, buy everything the author puts out, never be critical, or have loyalty to the author if the books aren’t treasure to them.
So authors self-promoting for awards are A) simply reminding fans that awards exist, B) reminding fans and letting other people in general know that their books and stories exist; C) hoping that this reminding will have the core, well-read fans who are willing to pony up the fee and vote considering if they liked the book enough to nominate and vote for it. Which is worth a shot. But fiction readers could largely care less if you advertise at them and helping you out gets them no status, and if you wrote a book that they think is sub-par, no matter how much they respect you or how popular the book is, they won’t consistently help you. So it’s a non-starter. And even more so for short fiction, which is read by only a tiny percentage of the market and gets nearly no advertising whatsoever.
I suppose this is not really on-topic re: self-promotion in the awards game, and I’m not trying to be argumentative, but I did notice a while back that, for example, the UK editions of Iain M. Banks and Neal Asher had their names in very large fonts, with the titles quite a bit smaller. That says “brand” to me*–package design and logo-like labeling of the product. I take it that such packaging decisions (along with the design formulas of, say, Evanovich or Hiaasen paperbacks) are meant to make the books easily identifiable on the shelves. At least that’s how I use the cues provided by typeface and cover palette when I’m scanning shelves of unsorted books for my favorite writers. Go to Asher’s Blogspot site, Theskinner, and look at the photo of book covers at the top–if that’s not brand-style packaging, I don’t know what to call it. It’s not lifestyle-marker branding (though I suppose displaying a book cover at the coffeehouse might signal “I’m a SF/mystery/Patrick O’Brian/whatever fan,” for whatever that’s worth) but the kind that aims at making a particular product immediately identifiable.
* It also said to me, “These guys are selling well enough in their home markets to merit writer-specific packaging, so where are the US editions?” That writer’s-name-big/title-small design was the tell.
Yes, it is. The booksellers want the author name large for special displays in the stores. Bestsellers get close to being a brand. They have a certain amount of name recognition. A certain percentage of their fans will try the new frontlist title — if it’s priced low enough. But it depends on what the book is. And what area, also. (For instance, in general fiction, readers are more likely to remember titles than author names. In SFF, they are actually more likely to remember the author’s name or the series name because of the SFFH community infrastructure and the heavy use of series with many titles. SFF books will also have cover art because it’s a long tradition and identifier and so the author names are often smaller than in other types of fiction top sellers.) Bestsellers don’t move consistent numbers for each offering. They cannot get brand loyalty based around themselves, only the books. Even though they sell at the top, they can’t produce the effect that Roberts is worried about. Additionally, a lot of authors, including bestselling ones, don’t stick with one style and type of book — one “brand” identity, so their audience is segmented — they don’t necessarily buy across the brands of the books.
This has caused a lot of havoc with the use of Bookscan in the last ten years or so by the large vendors, which crunch the sales numbers of the authors’ past books to determine orders of the authors’ new books. Because one book may not sell so well for an author, but the next one could, but booksellers are going on the flop. So many authors have had to use a penname for a new series. The booksellers know they are using a pen name, but it lets them circumvent the ordering system policy, which allows for debut authors. (Rather than just accept that you can’t get a workable algorithm off of a fiction author for ordering.) So you could say that booksellers do treat authors as brands, kind of, and not efficiently.
But readers don’t trust authors to deliver automatically, they’ll try stuff but not support stuff if they don’t like It, and they won’t buy products and books in enough numbers from the author consistently to work as a brand of the author himself just because the author did them. In other words, again, authors don’t really have loyal minions who would blindly vote for their book. An author who is persuasive at public speaking still can’t get lots of fans to go pay and vote for him.
I was trying to find some reviews of Adam Robert’s work when I stumbled upon this blogpost which makes a good point which I think is relevant:
“I suspect this, then, is the tension, the problematic, the inherent core of Roberts’ writing. He is not so much a science fiction writer as a writer engaging with – and skewering – science fiction as a mode, as a construct. In that he is both brave and, no doubt, from a commercial perspective, foolish.”
Thus his comments about fans/ fandom fit with that approach.
Kat: The Hunger Games is a brand, especially now that they are a movie brand. If you ask most people who wrote The Hunger Games, however, they’ll say, “Uh, some woman.”
“brand” is not the same as “universally known”.
But readers don’t trust authors to deliver automatically, they’ll try stuff but not support stuff if they don’t like It, and they won’t buy products and books in enough numbers from the author consistently to work as a brand of the author himself just because the author did them.
A nonscientific poll directly contradicts that:
57% – word of mouth
40% – reviews
32% – browsing
26% – cover
23% – familiarity with author
This correlates with information I’ve heard repeatedly over the years as well.
Some readers do indeed show author loyalty, buying a book with no knowledge fo the book but that a favorite author of theirs wrote it.
The whole “Enders Game” boycott/no boycott discussion only existed because loyalty to Card of some fans directly conflicted with the people who didn’t like Card because of his political posisitons. Poeple didn’t like Card’s politics enough to want to make the movie go bankrupt. You think it would be impossible that some people might like an author enough to support their work to succeed regardless of quality of work?