On Eligibility Reminders

There’s been debate (as there seems to be every year at this time) over whether writers should post lists of the work they’ve published in the previous year to jog readers’ memories as they mull over their nominations for 2014 awards.

Starter reading: Amal El-Mohtar and John Scalzi pretty much say the things I’m thinking as a writer. (Especially as one who will be preparing her own eligibility post this time next year.)

I would like to toss out my two cents as a reader, with the understanding and acknowledgement that I am both things at once: pro and fan, writer and reader, the two are not mutually exclusive.

However.

/dons reader hat, sits atop pile of books

Let’s talk about some of the concern I’ve seen expressed about eligibility posts’ affects on readers:

“If you really loved a story, you’d remember it without prompting.”

I read a whole lot of stories in a year. Mostly books, but short stories and novellas as well.

My day job, as a sales rep for a publisher, means a good chunk of what I’m reading is six to nine months ahead of what’s in stores. I recognize that this isn’t going to be the case for the majority of people, but I want you to have a sense of how unstuck in time I can occasionally feel, seeing a book out in hardcover in meatspace and thinking “Yes, but hasn’t that been out for years?” when in fact it only pubbed the month before.

With that out of the way, like many other fans, I read a whole lot of stories in a year.

Twelve months is a long damned time. While I’m sure there are people out there organized enough to keep lists of what they read and when they read it, I am not one of those people. So when the following January rolls around, it is entirely possible — even likely! — that the books I read in November/December will be fresher in my mind than what I read the previous February. Even if I loved that February book. Even if I pressed it into all my friends’ hands and said you must read this.

Can I give an example? I’m going to give you an example. A big one.

I did not remember that the final book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was published in January 2013 until I saw this post by Leigh Butler on Tor.com.

Shall I repeat that? Put it in bold?

I did not remember that one of the most-anticipated books in one of the best-selling fantasy series of all time was published last year, and is therefore eligible for a Hugo in 2014, until someone reminded me.

Even if my favorites do spring immediately to mind, Hugo voters are able to nominate up to five titles per category. I might know my top three books of 2013, but seeing those eligibility posts can jog an oh hey, I really liked that, too. It might not be my #1 book of the year, but I’m allowed to put multiple books on my ballot. My runners-up might be someone else’s favorite, and I’ll be happy to see that title get the recognition.

I do not read new fiction exclusively. Let’s say I wander into a bookstore and head straight for their sf/f section, bypassing the wall o’ new fiction. The books will be a mix of frontlist (new titles) and backlist (older titles). If a store has enough copies, a new book will be shelved both with new releases and in its eventual home category. So it’s entirely possible the book I’m scooping up is hot off the presses, and I have no idea.

It’s a rare occasion for me to check the copyright date — when a book came out is never a factor in whether or not it comes home with me from the store. I read the back cover. I read the employee shelf-talkers. I read the first page or two. If it’s part of a series, I might return the next week and buy the rest. Maybe the last book in there is only two months old. I do not know unless I look, and chances are, it’s not at the front of my brain to do so.

One more before we move on:

Sometimes I missed it when it was first published. This happens all the damned time. My to-read pile is taller than I am, by a lot. Your book might be sitting in it, waiting for me to finish work reading, or held for when I am free of deadlines, or when I have a weekend to myself to really savor it. Or I intended to buy it when it came out, and I forgot.

Saying “these are my eligible works” lets me bump anything I missed to the top of that stack, so I know to get it read by the time nominations close on March 31st. It doesn’t guarantee I’ll vote for it, but it’d be awfully sad if April 1st rolled around and I fell in love with your book too late to get it on my ballot.

“Posting your eligibility results in legions of fans stuffing the ballot boxes.”

Oh come the hell on, with this one.

That’s an insult to me as a reader, suggesting that because an author I like says “this work of mine is eligible,” I will rush to vote for them. To what end? To curry favor? A pat on the head?

Forgive me for breaking into anecdata again, but: let’s look at last year’s Best Novel nominees, shall we:

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed
Blackout, Mira Grant

Out of those five, I am a big fan of Saladin Ahmed, John Scalzi, and Mira Grant/Seanan McGuire. I dig their writing, I pay attention their tweets and their blog posts, and have immense respect for them all.

If Kim Stanley Robinson has a social media presence I’m not aware of it. My #1 spot on my Hugo ballot for Best Novel went to 2312. Because I loved that book. Loved, loved, loved it.

In 2012, my #1 vote for Best Related Work went to Seanan McGuire for Wicked Girls. Not because I wanted to earn her adoration, but because I played that CD over and over and over. Because I loved it, and felt it deserved recognition.

Fans are capable of making decisions about what they liked, and to suggest we vote only out of sycophantic loyalty is insulting.

Also, shall we talk about how you get to vote in the Hugos in the first place?

Participating in the Hugo nominating and voting costs money.

The 2014 guidelines are here.

To nominate for the Hugos, you have to be at minimum a supporting member of one of three Worldcons, 2013, 2014, or 2015. To vote for the final ballot, you must be a member of this year’s Worldcon. That requires at least a $40 commitment.

I dunno, I admit I haven’t taken a poll of past years’ voters, but this is me casting a dubious glance at the suggestion fans will buy supporting memberships so their favorites will win an award.

“Categories like Best Editor are too much work for readers to research / Readers don’t care about “industry” awards.”

I’ve seen it kicked out that readers don’t know who edited the books they like, and it’s too much hard work for them to find out.

Bullshit.

You know how to find out who edited your favorite eligible work, if you think they deserve recognition for their job?

Open a book you liked.

Find the acknowledgements page. It’s a pretty safe bet the writer thanked their editor.

Or, if the author’s up on twitter/tumblr/blogspace, ask them.

If you read a lot of short stories, is there a particular venue you get them from? As in, do you have a subscription to Lightspeed because you enjoy the quality of the work there? Hint: you can find the list of editors on that publication’s website.

This stuff isn’t tough, in the age of Google.

So yes, please, tell me what you’ve put out this past year. I want to know. I want to hear, and be reminded.

Not so I can rig an election, but so I can make an informed choice when I vote.

 

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One Response to On Eligibility Reminders

  1. Yes yes yes. A thousand times.

    I read slowly, and sometimes my tastes are out of step with current publications in the genre, so for instance last year I read only one book which had been published in the current year, and the same the year before. It’s all those damned eligibility posts which have informed me that I’ve read enough books written this year that nominating for Best Novel might actually be something I feel comfortable doing.

    Authors: please, please, continue doing them.

    (Of course, I don’t think the argument is really about the utility of the posts. The fact that unsuitable work gets nominated and wins means that unsuitable people nominated and voted for it, and they can only have done so through some flaw in the system, such as having a blog. It reads the same as the argument for the damned Voter ID laws. So the argument isn’t really going to go away just because readers seem overwhelmingly to like the posts — but it’s nevertheless good to falsify that excuse.)

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