Early in 2015, a random comment one of us at Fantasy Literature made in an e-mail conversation sparked a serious discussion about awards, and specifically the Hugos.
Did we want to win awards? Generally, yes. Awards usually mean that people in the community see value in what you do. Did we specifically want a Hugo? Well, despite all the limp propaganda attempts to declare the Hugos dead, they are still the highest-profile award in the field. Why wouldn’t we want one?
Were we willing to do more things, or different things, to try to win one? Basically, our approach had been, “write excellent columns, provide excellent content and be seen as an amazing resource for the community.” Somehow we thought, “If we write it, they will come (and vote us a Hugo).” It turned out the reality was more complicated than that. It turned out that we were seen by some people as a little aloof. They weren’t sure we even wanted a Hugo nomination.
Were we willing to do some marketing and social media outreach? Well, the answer to that seemed to be, “kinda.”
Our Fearless Leader Kat looked as some ways we could expand our reach with Twitter and other Social Media. Not completely coincidentally, we added some formats to our reviews; specifically, films and TV series. Kate Lechler’s Expanded Universe column brought new voices, and exciting new concepts, to the mix. On our Google Docs work page, Kat added a red banner, “Let’s Win a Hugo this Year!”
Okay. To be honest, I didn’t think we’d win. I think in the category of “fanzine,” winning a Hugo is a multi-year process, maybe a bit like building your pro sports team up to take the championship. Throughout the year, though, I did occasionally allow myself to fantasize that we might make the finalist list. That seemed feasible. It was my personal goal, and I did a lot this year to help raise our profile. I pushed beyond my own personal comfort level to utilize Twitter in a positive way and to land interesting interviews, to review some of the categories of fiction that might otherwise get overlooked.
In doing that, I forgot something.
I forgot the splinter-group-of-the-splinter-group that calls itself the
Rapid Rabid Puppies, whose leader is That Guy Who Hates John Scalzi, and who for the duration of this post will be called That Guy Who Hates the Hugos, (TGWHTH).
Remember back in 2015, when, while no one was looking, this group of hoodlums sneaked in and trashed the Hugo nominations? They counted on the fact that far fewer people nominate than vote (think primary election versus a general one). This act of trashery drew lots of outrage, anger, discussion and attention. Since TGWHTH craves attention and is adept at using the internet to feed his need, he felt successful last year and so he tried the same routine this year.
This year he was far less successful, managing to slag only a few categories; Short Story, Novelette, Related Works and Fanzine.
Unfortunately, Fantasy Literature in in the Fanzine category.
TGWHTH’s slate of fanzines was nominated 100%, choice for choice.
That Guy trumpets the fact that he has waves of followers who vote exactly as he directs them. There is a dispute over numbers – his debunkers state he probably has about 250 of these folks, and he claims at least 500. When you look at the information provided with the Hugo short list, you notice immediately (of course) that where the pool of nominations is large, TGWHTH was less successful. Novel, for instance, had 3000+ nominators.
Fanzine had about 1400. With a pool that size, where most people are nominating their favorite review sites (because that’s what you are supposed to do) a bloc of 250 would definitely make a difference, especially because every site they nominated would also have some people who I will call real nominators; those who actually read and love those sites; rather than people who were voting a list that someone gave them. For instance, File 770 was on That Guy’s list as a malice-nom, and I also nominated it, because it’s so helpful.
I also remind myself that there is an aspect of good-natured – or not so good-natured—mischief in this whole process. I mean, citizens of Britain voted recently to name a scientific research ship Boaty McBoatface. That was funny; people who nominated and voted for names that had meaning were probably annoyed.
And there is good news in the future. WorldCon is voting to make changes to the nomination process, effective 2017, that will make it harder for a minority to force a slate onto the short list. Also, in general, people did wise-up to these shenanigans, and more people purchased memberships and nominated this year than any previous year.
Also in the still-looking-for-the-silver-lining category is a bit of personal development. My sympathy for people who wrote truly epic short fiction this year and got locked out of a Short Story of Novelette nomination is no longer an abstraction. It’s no longer sympathy, it’s empathy. It’s to a different degree, but I now know exactly what it feels like to work really hard on something for months, only to be shut out of a chance for recognition as a result of someone’s spiteful trick.
But I’m disappointed. And angry.
I wanted to know if we made a good showing. And — I know this sounds stupid—if I was going to fail, I wanted to fail on my own merits.
After the Hugos are awarded, MidAmeriCon will put out some analytical data that will show us how many nominations we got. (I nominated us, and a reader contacted us to say she nominated us. So that’s two, for sure.) We’ll be able to recalibrate. Did we miss the mark completely? Are we out of touch? Were we somewhere in the pack; in the top fifteen? The top ten? Right now, we cannot know if our whole campaign, to the extent it was one, missed the mark, or if we just got trashed by slate-minions.
I’ll get over it. And I won’t feed TGWHTH by getting all indignant on Twitter or anyplace other than here, because that’s what he likes.
Here is my goal; I will go one reading thoughtfully and carefully, and writing reviews and columns that provide value and entertainment. I will reach out to writers and ask them thoughtful interview questions, so that readers get to know them better.
And when I can I will raise the profile of short fiction I find, so that at least the categories of Short Story and Novelette can strengthen their immune systems.
That’s what I can do. And I’ll stay quietly angry just little bit longer.