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Blogging for Rockets

The Sad Puppies and their supporters have argued that they are not the first to campaign for awards in our (not so) little genre.

They're right about that, of course.

I've been around a long time. So has campaigning, by one means or another.

The Nebulas were even more vulnerable to this than the Hugos, because the pool of voters is so much smaller. Once upon a time, you could see the log-rolling clearly, because the Nebula Awards Reports published the names of the members recommending a story beside the recommendation. You only had to look at the latest NAR to note, "oh, Bill has nominated Ted, and Ted and nominated Bill, and both of them have nominated Alice," or, "hmmmm, gee, all these guys from Alabama, they're in the same writer's group and they are all nominating each other."

Thing is, though, it didn't really hurt. It all balanced out. And besides, it might have been above board. It's only human for friends to read the work of friends and be predisposed to like it. Maybe there was vote-swapping going on and maybe there wasn't. No way to prove it. It did bother me, however, when a certain segment of the membership demanded that the NAR stop listing the names. I suspect the same thing went on as before, only now it was hidden from sight.

(Oh, and lest I be accused of hypocrisy, my own stories were often recommended during those years, and sometimes by friends. And sometimes I recommended their stories. As I said, it's normal and human to read and enjoy the work of people you know and like).

If the campaigning had ended there, it might have been fine. But things got worse. One year, there was a certain well regarded new writer who had a big novella in one of the magazines. He had never done a book before... but a major publisher had just signed him to a multi-book contract that would include his first novel. Well, the magazine and the book publisher got together for a mass "for your consideration" mailing. The magazine supplied copies, the book publisher mailed them out, and every member of SFWA got a copy of his novella. Needless to say, he won the Nebula in a walk... and when that first novel came out, it had NEBULA AWARD WINNER proudly displayed across its covers.

Only one writer has ever refused a Nebula. That was my friend and sometime collaborator Lisa Tuttle, who won the 1982 Nebula for her story "The Bone Flute," and declined it... to protest the rising tide of Nebula campaigning. I love Lisa and I love her writing, but I said then and I say now, that was an odd decision. After all, it wasn't Lisa who'd been campaigning. In fact, her story had WON over the guy who did the campaign (he had mailed out copies of his own story to the Nebula voters). Last I heard, Lisa's Nebula was in David Hartwell's house, serving as a bookend. She still doesn't want it. I wish I could say that her grand gesture did some good, and shamed the members of SFWA to stop campaigning... but alas, nothing of the sort.

And what about the Hugos, you ask?

Yeah, there too. In the ongoing discussion of Puppygate, numerous people have cited one instance, wherein a stack of identical nominating ballots arrived with the same postmark, paid for by consecutive money orders. Those were disallowed. In 1987, members of the Church of Scientology campaigned successfully to place L. Ron Hubbard's BLACK GENESIS on the Best Novel ballot. That was not disallowed -- the Scientologists had done nothing illegal, after all, all they'd done is buy supporting memberships to a convention that they had no intention of attending, for the sole purpose of nominating LRH for a Hugo (hmmm, why does that tactic sound familiar?) -- but their campaign created a huge backlash. Hubbard's name was booed lustily at the Hugo ceremony in Brighton, and his book finished last in the final balloting, behind No Award. (The winner that year was Orson Scott Card, with SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, for those who are counting).

Of course, there were also recommended reading lists. That wasn't campaigning, not strictly, but certain lists could have huge influence on the final ballot. The annual LOCUS Recommended Reading List, compiled by Charles Brown and his staff and reviewers, was the most influential. If your book or story made that list... well, it did not guarantee you a place on the ballot, but it sure improved your chances. NESFA (the New England fan club) had an annual list as well, and LASFS might have done the same, not sure. And of course the Nebulas, which came before the Hugos, carried a lot of weight too. Win a Nebula, and the chances were good that you'd be a Hugo nominee as well. Again, no guarantee, some years the shortlists diverged sharply... but more often than not, there was a lot of overlap.

So there were always these factors in play. Cliques, I can hear the Sad Puppies saying. Yeah, maybe. Thing is, they were COMPETING cliques. The NESFA list and the Nebula list were not the same, and the LOCUS list... the LOCUS list was always very long. Five spots on the Hugo ballot, and LOCUS would recommend twenty books, or thirty... sometimes more, when they started putting SF and fantasy in separate categories.

Bottom line, lots of people influenced the Hugos (or tried to), but no one ever successfully controlled the Hugos.

That became even more true when we entered the age of the internet. Suddenly blogs and bulletin boards and listservs were everywhere, and there were DOZENS of people drawing up recommended reading lists and suggesting books and writers and stories. Sweet chaos. It was glorious. So many people talking about books, arguing about books, reading books.

That was also when the practice of writers blogging about their own eligible books and stories took root. "Say, the Hugo nominations are coming up, and I had a few things out last year. Hey, check them out." Some people were deeply offended by this practice. (Some still are. Check out the blogs of Peter Watts and Adam Roberts on the subject, for instance). Others, especially newer writers and those hungry for attention, seized on it at once as a way of getting their name out there. Publishers and editors began to encourage it. Publicity and advertising budgets being what they were (non-existent in many cases), new writers and midlist writers soon realized that if they did not publicize their books, no one would.

And once it really got rolling, there was no stopping it. "Everyone else is doing it," you heard writers say. "I have to do it, in self-defense." They were not wrong. Sometimes the difference between making the Hugo ballot and falling short is a single vote. The writer who refused to self-promote and then fell a few votes short... ouch.

[And yes, I have done all this myself. Mentioned my own work, drawn up recommended reading lists, blogged passionately about people I thought deserved a nomination. I am not condemning the practice, just reporting on it. It always made me feel awkward, but like many of my friends, I knew that if I refrained and then missed the ballot by a few votes, I would be kicking myself. I'd sooner see the practice die out. But until it does, you have to play the game.]

Of course, not everyone was equally good at self-promotion. Certain subfandoms were better organized than others (the DOCTOR WHO fans, for instance). Certain writers were more skilled at social media than others, and built up huge personal followings on Twitter and Facebook, or through their blogs... numbers that soon translated to multiple Hugo nominations.

And that was pretty much where we stood, until the Sad Puppies came along.

I have very mixed feelings about campaigning for awards. Part of me agrees with my friend Lisa Tuttle. Wouldn't it be great if each reader could make his own nominations, without being influenced by slates or lists or mass mailings? It would also be great if all the children of the world could get together and sing in perfect harmony, but that's not going to happen either. Like it or not, campaigning is here to stay.

I can see where this is going. I am a Worldcon member and a SFWA member, but I am also a member of the Writer's Guild of America and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which means I vote on the WGA awards and the Emmys... and so the flood comes in, DVDs and Blu-Rays and screeners and links to lockboxes, all full of TV shows and movies "for my consideration." Way too many to watch. Way too many to count. Are there studios and directors and networks that don't play the game, that don't send out screeners and run ads in VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Sure there are. They are easy to recognize. They're the studios and directors and networks who don't win any awards.

Once you let the genie out of the bottle, he doesn't go back in.

The Sad Puppies did not invent Hugo campaigning, by any means. But they escalated it, just as that magazine/publisher partnership did way back when. They turned it up to eleven. Their slate was more effective that anyone could ever have dreamed, so effective that they drowned out pretty much all the other voices. They ran the best organized, most focused, and most effective awards campaign in the history of our genre, and showed everyone else how it's done.

The lesson will be learned. The Sad Puppies have already announced that they intend to do it again next year. Which means that other factions in fandom will have to do it as well. Just as happened with the "let me tell you about my eligible works," the rest of the field is going to need to field slates of their own in self-defense.

I don't look forward to that. It cheapens the Hugos. Will future winners actually be the best books or stories? Or only the books and stories that ran the best campaigns?

Can all the king's horses and all the king's men put the Hugos back together again?

I don't see how. And that makes me sadder than all those puppies put together.


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Apr. 9th, 2015 09:11 am (UTC)
There is something I've been wondering about with respect to Hugo voting this year. Since "no award" is an option on the ballot, what would you think about voting "no award" for every single award, whether there are SP candidates in the category or not? There could be no Hugos given out at all this year. It'd be harsh for those whose works were nominated in the usual way, but it would send a message. I'm not sure it would be effective, but it might.
Apr. 9th, 2015 09:31 am (UTC)
I would be against that.

No Award is the nuclear option. I am not willing to drop the bomb yet. Too many innocents would be hurt, and the Hugos would be destroyed.

I will expand on my feelings about the No Award option in a later post.
(no subject) - kattullus - Apr. 9th, 2015 10:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - grrm - Apr. 9th, 2015 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ciaracat - Apr. 9th, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kevin_standlee - Apr. 9th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - grrm - Apr. 9th, 2015 06:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - arwel_p - Apr. 9th, 2015 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
no award & slates - amazingstoriesm - Apr. 9th, 2015 12:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - scottedelman - Apr. 9th, 2015 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Thanks for the clarification - chris23235 - Apr. 9th, 2015 05:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - xiphias - Apr. 9th, 2015 11:43 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2015 09:35 am (UTC)
I wonder how many non-readers nominated this year and will vote this year.

I see that campaigning was a thing before puppygate, but aside from the Scientology campaign no campaign seemed to be so obviously driven by politics instead of real fandom.

I tend to think, that the "no award" option could be used to send a signal, that this kind of campaigning is not wanted at the Hugos.
Apr. 9th, 2015 10:05 am (UTC)
Right. But how does that solve the problem?

Whatever else one might say about them, the Puppies voters don't seem to me to be the sort of people who will politely go away if they think they're not wanted. Indeed, the impetus behind the slate (if a single root cause can be identified) appears to be resentment at exactly that perception, that they and the stuff they like aren't welcome in the Hugos.

So voting 'No Award' might send a message, but doesn't solve the problem. In fact, it might make it worse.
(no subject) - javaed_ggz - Apr. 9th, 2015 11:43 am (UTC) - Expand
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content of ... ah, whatever. - hydar - Apr. 10th, 2015 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
Excellent - TheRedViper - Apr. 9th, 2015 05:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
response - therealone88 - Apr. 9th, 2015 07:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Martin Seeger
Apr. 9th, 2015 09:38 am (UTC)

the people organizing the Sad Puppy list were not stupid. As I see it, they very well knew they might successfully attack the nomination process, but that they would not win the grand prize they wanted. What they are doing is poisoning the wells. "If I cannot have it, it shall burn."

Knowing this, they did another move that (in my book) is even worse than the gaming of the process. They tapped not just into the pool of their fans, but into the pool of resentment as well. If one looks into the SP/RP setup, it becomes obvious that this is not an accident. That is, where they crossed a boundary that cannot be uncrossed. That is, where the damage is worst.

Yours, Martin
Apr. 9th, 2015 09:49 am (UTC)
The lesson will be learned. The Sad Puppies have already announced that they intend to do it again next year. Which means that other factions in fandom will have to do it as well.

I think that you hit the nail on the head here. Unfortunately I also think that the political nature of this campaign will also make very difficult for opposing campaigns to stay completely unpolitical and that saddens me incredibly.

I really liked Jim Butcher's "Skin Game", even if I'd not regard it as Hugo worthy. But now I would not want to vote for it at all because it was on that list.

I really would have liked to keep my politics out of my fandom affiliations and I find that this whole ugly mess has made it almost impossible to do so.

Apr. 9th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC)
Maybe I'm being too idealistic here, but the answer, it seems to me, would be to try and avoid reading who is on these lists and slates. Just vote for the books you liked. =P
Apr. 9th, 2015 09:52 am (UTC)
Awards are all the same now, regardless of what's winning
I've been a casual reader of your blog for quite a few years now, my interest stemming from reading ASOIAF, but I find your personal posts quite entertaining (and educational, I think i'm the most informed Irish person on matters of American Football by now)

I have a lot of interests, ranging from Literary of many genres, to musicals, to film. There's a running trend particularly noticable in the Oscars, of the whole "campaigning" aspect. I watch the Oscars ceremony every year, last year I had even managed to see all the best picture nominees on the big screen. I agreed with some wins, objected to some omissions and had a grand discussion of the same with my flatmate afterwards. While I love having the discussion about noiminees and winners every year, I hold very little regard for the process for picking the best exampels for each category, because in the back of my head I believe they only won because they campaigned the most, or most effectively.

I love the idea that the Hugos were founded on, it seemed to be a great format for a popular vote by real fans for the works they thought were most deserving. As you pointed out, those were the days you had to post around copies of your work to get it considered, and the idea of "slates" like the sad puppies campaign were still possible, but much more difficult to implement. I also believe that the widespread idea of "trolling" or excessive political or ideological stances in a decidedly non-political arena such as some SF Literary awards would have been laughable or considered appalling by many. I don't see anyway around these, in the age of the internet, and I don't know if it would even be possible to attempt a fair awards system that is exclusive to the "real" fans.

I feel sad for you (and many other writers and SF fans), as I know from the last few years and your post yesterday that the Hugos mean so very much to you and are a great part of your life as a young author, but perhaps you and many of your peers may have to start preparing to let go of those hopes for a return to the old days. It is not a positive outlook, but I feel it may be the most realistic, and perhaps you may be able to form your own awards, with your own screening criteria and rules about campaigning. I'd certainly respect the results from that, if I felt it was managed correctly.
Apr. 9th, 2015 10:10 am (UTC)
Thanks for doing these posts, it is very informative. And I agree that retaliating with No Award will only result in mutually assured destruction.
Apr. 9th, 2015 10:29 am (UTC)
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Peter Card
Apr. 9th, 2015 10:53 am (UTC)
Historically,the number of people nominating has been small,but the actual vote is something else. It's probably impossible for an organised campaign to control the Hugo ballots unless they pushed everything else off the shortlists.
Oh, wait...
I think the best novel and other widely read or viewed categories will still take care of themselves.Shorter form fiction not so much. No Award may be the nuclear option,but every Hugo voter has nukes available.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 9th, 2015 02:08 pm (UTC)
I would enjoy seeing you on anyone's slate, so I would find it easier to be aware of your works.

Greatness and lauds don't seek you out. You must seek them.
Your books speak for themselves - mb_s - Apr. 9th, 2015 02:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2015 12:08 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this long perspective, George.

The Genie is, as you say, out of the bottle.

A dedicated campaign is going to win out over non-ballots unless there are so many ballots that the campaign's numbers get swamped. That's the problem with the SP approach.

Those who do not agree with the Sad Puppies have to create slates of their own and promote them heavily (which I do NOT want) or face, with the electorate at hand, always having the slate dominate the nominations. A particularly powerful book or story might get on the ballot by acclaim, but an energized slate vote is otherwise going to put on what they want.

Apr. 9th, 2015 12:09 pm (UTC)
One thing that I've read in a few places is that the number of people that nominate are of an order of magnitude lower than the number of members that vote. So yes, the lists are already skewed in the Sad/Rabid Puppies' favor, but it's still possible to affect the winners. I don't believe that a majority of people will opt for the nuclear option, but I can only hope that a majority actually take the time to, you know, actually read the nominated books and stories. Surely there will be some hierarchy that can be imposed, and if the voter truly believes there is a more deserving (and I know this is strictly subjective) but un-nominated tale, then the No Award should be used.

George mentioned sour grapes before, and for the most part, that's the situation now. The Puppies played the system, thereby showing its weakness. Plenty of people don't agree with how this year's nominations came about, but it is now locked in. Perhaps in the future write-in votes would be accepted to counterbalance nominations dominated by any group's slate. Until then, we must make the best of it, in the most forthright way possible. Read the works. Vote appropriately. Hopefully there are some treasures to be found.
Ronald Grimsson
Apr. 9th, 2015 12:21 pm (UTC)
There are some fish (usually the father) that protects their eggs from being eating at all costs. But once the attackers are too many and the father realize there is no way he can save his still unborn offspring, he joins the egg thieves and tries to eat as many of his own eggs as fast as he can. If you can't win, you either join them or you don't. The same thing happened with the passenger pigeon. Once the populations had become so small that the hunters understood there was a risk that the bird could be gone forever, the hunting intensified more than ever, turning the worries into a self fulfilling prophesy. It's the same in the stock market and business in general, or award procedures. When everybody else is doing it one is often forced to join them, and the only was for them to stop is that someone on the outside with some influence put their foot down. Who knows, maybe most of those involved are actually grateful for it.

Orson Scott Card was once a Hugo winner. Would he be a winner today? I suspect a nomination would have resulted in a similar campaign as with the Ender's Game movie. Geeks OUT! and petition and bloggers and forum trolls all worked together to prevent people from seeing the movie. Because they did not agree with the writer's personal opinions, and came up with all kinds of stories they hoped would convince people. This would not have been possible without internet. And the movie was not a success, which did not hurt the author so much but did hurt the producers and others who had invested a lot of money in a movie that had nothing to do with gay people at all. It's hard to say if it was because of the campaign or for some other reason. But all the trouble around it could have made theatre owners nervous and forced them to play safe. Where I live the movie was only shown a single week, practically no promotion, once a day at 21.00 in the evening and on the smallest screen in the theatre. Of course if wouldn't make much money that way. In comparison other potentially big movies are shown for weeks, many times a day on several different screens.

If the future of the Hugo is not about which book is the best, but which books the most fanatic online activists feels deserve or not deserve to win, it's not good news for talented writers that are newcomers and still relatively unknown.
Apr. 9th, 2015 07:16 pm (UTC)
I didn't the movie very much at all.

On the other hand, I have bought several copies of the book and given them as gifts.

So why would I want to award a Hugo to the movie?

It's not ideology, it's quality. Isn't that the issue here?

Re: But... - Ronald Grimsson - Apr. 9th, 2015 11:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: But... - Ronald Grimsson - Apr. 10th, 2015 02:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2015 12:23 pm (UTC)
Change the rules to ban slates?
Thanks for this series of comments, George. We're lucky that you're both a trufan :-) and have a big megaphone. Thanks for taking a risk.

I hope you'll consider commenting on the various proposals to respond to the SP slate. You've briefly mentioned the no award option. Another proposal would be to amend the WSFS constitution (a multi-year process, of course) to disqualify any ballot that shows significant congruity in with any other ballot. It's a tempting "fix," but I worry a bit about some future year in which the next "new wave" of geniuses crashes upon the SF shores and attracts a bunch of very similar, but uncoordinated, nominations.
Apr. 9th, 2015 04:02 pm (UTC)
Re: Change the rules to ban slates?
I think that's a terrible idea.
Re: Change the rules to ban slates? - bovil - Apr. 9th, 2015 04:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Change the rules to ban slates? - chris_gerrib - Apr. 9th, 2015 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 9th, 2015 12:36 pm (UTC)
I've been wondering this morning whether the way forward is for the Hugos to actively encourage slates. Let any group of five people with Worldcon attending memberships announce their slate on thehugoawards.org while nominations are open, but limit them to three picks per category. Let any other member who wants to sign on as a supporter publicly do so.

If there were 5-10 popular slates representing different parts of SF/F fandom, their impact is spread out and no slate is likely to take the entire ballot. Voters who wanted to influence the process without adopting one slate could pick from the best of several.

We could end up with a ballot that contains some picks from slates, some works with crossover appeal to multiple slates and others that got there from individual support. This wouldn't require any rules changes, though I think it would help to also expand the nominees per category from 5 to 10.
Jordan Ray
Apr. 9th, 2015 12:55 pm (UTC)
While I don't agree with the Sad Puppies politically, I do heartily agree that a lot of the recognized works in the field aren't fun anymore. I'd go so far to as to say they're dreadfully dull. There's nothing wrong with literary fiction or incorporating a message, but it doesn't always make for very exciting reading. I got into speculative fiction as a kid because it was, pure and simple, awesome. I'm in academia, so I get all the boring stuff at work.

It also kind of irks me when commentators praise works, or slates of works, for the authors' perceived diversity (or damn slates for a lack thereof). It's probably just me, but I don't often go to the bookstore looking for a book based on the author's race, gender, or class. "Ah, yes," said the prospective patron, "today I'm really in the mood for something written by an Asian man over forty. I want something about dragons, but if I'm going to enjoy the book, the author needs to publically support the US ratifying the Kyoto Protocol."
Apr. 9th, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
The problem with that is that, as so many others have accurately detailed, if you go into the average bookshop choosing to deliberately ignore the author's biographical details, you will inevitably buy a disproportionate number of books by white male authors from English-speaking countries, because the shelves contain a disproportionate number of such writers. And that will not change as long as you keep buying them.

This is why people draw attention to works by authors that don't have those characteristics: because they're not as visible to start with, and they need the boost.

And I've got to say, the Hugo nominees I've read recently have been anything but boring.
(no subject) - nenya_kanadka - Apr. 10th, 2015 09:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lydy - Apr. 11th, 2015 05:26 am (UTC) - Expand
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