Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Here are my eligible works
So it's that time of year again - the SF award season is upon us, and writers are scrambling to get their eligible works before the right pairs of eyes, in the hopes of being nominated. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that the SF season has returned after a short lull, since it seems to be an almost year-round conversation piece these days. First we have the opening of the nomination process for each award (of which there are many), then the announcements of the long and short lists, then the run up to the big result itself, then the aftermath - at which point, and with so many different awards now active, we're almost back to square one. Some awards are decided by juries, other by voters, but it doesn't really matter, and there's not a huge difference in the perceived reliability of one over the other. Juries get it tragically wrong sometimes, but so do voters.
I've been broadly aware of the existence of SF awards for most of my life. but for much of that time they were distant, theoretical things. I remember seeing a paperback that had won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards - surely a barometer of excellence, for those were the two only two such awards I had ever heard of. I had no idea how they were decided, and indeed no interest beyond the fact that the book was presumably well regarded by those in the know. (I think it may have been "A Mote in God's Eye").
Later, as I began to take a more professional interest in SF, I was able to track the awards through the pages of magazines such as Interzone. But, the lead times being what they were, I would not usually be aware of the existence of a shortlist until long after the announcement of the winning title. Even then, the awards were of no direct interest to me, other than a way of determining what was currently popular - who was in, who was out, and so on. Even then, there were not that many awards.
Things are different now, obviously. Awards do matter, and there are a lot more of them. They may not make a huge difference in sales or visibility, but they are a form of recognition, an indicator that the community recognises the value of your work. One or two awards have some money attached to them, but most don't. Within genre circles, even the monied awards can't be said to involve life-changing amounts, as welcome as they might be.
I don't know who was the first author to declare the particular eligibility of their works in a given year. When I first encountered this trend, I remember being a bit puzzled by it. It seemed to be an attempt to import the promotional habits of the film or television industry into the small, unglamorous, cottage-like world of SF publishing. Trade magazines in the visual media carry adverts for titles that are up for serious, career-changing awards such as the Oscar or the Emmy. Members of the relevant bodies, who have a vote, are bombarded with lavish DVDs containing clips and episodes of the eligible works - "for your consideration". A friend of mine works in television and he can't move for these things come award season.
As naff as these arm-twisting gambits are in the visual media, they seem - to me - to be even less defensible within the SF genre. Suppose you have an interest in voting for award X. You are, at this point, presumably well invested in the field - someone who reads widely, has an opinion, knows what is happening. If you're not that bothered, why are you voting, anyway? Do you really need to be reminded of what else might be eligible? Haven't you already, in your normal year-round enthusiastic SF reading, picked up on the stories and books you found most impressive? Would you really need a late prod to read a story you hadn't already looked at? Why would you need to be reminded that a story you already read is eligible? If you need to be reminded, it presumably wasn't that memorable a story to begin with.
The thing is, it can seem as if everyone is at it now. (Fortunately, that's not yet the case). And, if I'm going to be honest, you can't blame any one writer for getting in on the game. It's a sort of arms race. If everyone else is promoting their eligible stories, jogging the memories of the voters and juries, you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not pushing your own works just as strongly - wouldn't you? But it seems to me that the field has now reached the state of a crowded room where everyone is having to talk just a bit louder than the person next to them, for fear of being drowned out.
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Nicely put. Thing is, though, the field is so broad now, and publication venues so diverse and widely distributed, that nominators may easily not be aware of eligible works, works they would perhaps enjoy if they found them. Timing is important as well. Possibilities appearling early or late in a year will probably evade notice. In my eye, these two factors pardon the scenario.ReplyDelete
Hi Nisi - you're quite right of course, and I'd also say that there is a utility in anthologists listing stories they may have edited - that, after all, is also doing a favour to other writers. My grumble is probably symptomatic of a wider disenchantment with the broad culture of self promotion which seems to have taken a grip on the community in recent years.Delete
Of course any public utterance could be construed as a form of self promotion, whether it's hosting a blog, website, being on twitter or just popping up on convention panels. I do all that myself, and I do it primarily to reach new readers and to provide information for my existing readership. But there's a line that I personally feel uncomfortable crossing, and lot of that centers around the current fixation with awards and shortlists.
I don't know. The common wisdom I've heard that, apart from the Hugo for best novel, awards don't actually translate into greater sales. I'm all for celebrating the best work in the field, but I also have the sense that if I have to remind folks of it, it may not have been the best work. :)ReplyDelete
My guess is that as authors we're probably better served by trying to write a better story next time than promoting the ones we've already done. At least, that's the arms race I'd prefer to run in.
My understanding is also that the majority of genre awards have little impact on sales, although my evidence is anecdotal.Delete
I have to say that there's one important thing that I think you're missing, and that's that as a reader I have little idea often when a novel was published and therefore for what it is eligible. That's especially true of novel's published in the UK and separately in the US, for things like the Hugos (whichever date came first), or novels published only in one territory; thus, I find it useful of authors whose blogs I read - therefore, almost of necessity, authors whose works I enjoy - to tell me what of their works are eligible that year, so I know whether the book I'm considering is, or is not.ReplyDelete
I don't really get that, though. If I'd read a book and thought it might be eligible for an award, it would be the work of seconds to look up the pub date. Even if I couldn't bring myself to do that, I could always nominate it anyway and let the award adjudication process sort out the eligibility.ReplyDelete
This has nothing to do with the award process, which I know little about anyway. I was terribly disappointed that "House of Suns" was not recognized with a Hugo. IMHO it was the best SF published that year. I will go to the Hugo and Nebula nominations page and make a note of the works being considered and try to read most of them. Rarely do I - as a reader - think they are award-worthy. (To mention names: Connie Willis wrote and was awarded properly for her brilliant "To Say Nothing of the Dog" several years ago. But "Blackout" and "All Clear" were just 1,000 pages of the same scene written over and over again. Yet, they won consecutive Hugo's. Go figure!) However, whether you are nominated or not, you are always on my must-read list. Just so you don't think I'm a total kiss-up, I think "House of Suns" crossed into new territory for you: it was a romantic love story and, while much of your previous work "felt" monochromatic, it was in vivid color. Regardless, from RS on I have been hooked. Thanks, and keep doing what you do whether there are awards coming or not. Long ramble, irrelevant to topic, sorry.ReplyDelete
Mr Reynolds, certainly the perhaps humble, perhaps unpretentious, sentiment I'm getting from you is appreciated in these quarters. Yet as someone who doesn't read enough in the field at least in any one year to be a knowledgeable voter anyway, I will say that as I travel the blogs of those writers I do read, it bothers me not at all if a writer collects a list of eligible works for people who you would think are already his (or her) fans.ReplyDelete
Sometimes something like that will point me in the direction of something I'd missed, which is all to the good, and sometimes, it doesn't, which doesn't harm me at all.
So, again, the sentiment is appreciated; it makes me think of you as a regular unflashy bloke, much as your mostly excellent taste in music does. But maybe you're beng a little timid? You do, after all, produce excellent work.
As an avid SF reader, I look to the nomination lists as a source of new material and new authors. That being said, they frequently cover a wider range of material than I choose to read, so they have a smaller impact on my purchasing decision than you might otherwise think.ReplyDelete
Of far greater influence on me are the anthologies like Year's Best; I've found quite a few new authors in those pages that I then went on to read full novels from. The short story format gets me reading new material that I may not otherwise choose due to style or subject. But that's a different discussion. Anyway, this reader says the nominations lists are useful, but only a little bit.
The problem with awards, is that it is only somebodys opinion (as with critical reviews). Just because we enjoy a body of work , it doesnt mean that it is award-worthy. As always, sales are a normally a precursor for success, but all best sellers arent necessarily any good - just popular and (sometimes) over-hyped (Dan Brown to name but one).ReplyDelete
I always enjoy your books and found them all to be award-worthy - and that is just my opinion (for what it's worth!)
slightly off topic but.. but is there any we can donate to mr reynolds? paypal etc...ReplyDelete
Hi Anon - no need, kind as your suggestion is - I make a decent living from my writing (touch wood, as they say) and the website, blog etc don't cost much to maintain. If anyone has ever felt motivated to push some money somewhere, I'd suggest donating to a cancer or Alzheimer's research charity.ReplyDelete