On Award Pimpage

Jeff VanderMeer mentioned this on Facebook and it got me thinking about it. This is the season when speculative fiction writers (and other genres as well, I believe) start thinking about awards. Nominations for the Hugo and Nebula Awards are coming up. There will be others, such as the Locus and World Fantasy Awards, but for most it’s the Hugo and Nebula, with a small group thinking about the Campbell Best New Writer Award and trying to figure out how to make the most of their two year period of eligibility for it.

Complicating this is the fact that neither award is really very democratic. You can only make Hugo nominations if you’re a member of either last year’s WorldCon or this one. Nebula nominations are made by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, many of whom are hoping to make it onto the nomination ballot itself. In either case you could love the book and want to vote for it, but unless you’ve paid the dough for either a WorldCon or SFWA membership, you’re not going to be able to.

One of the words that gets mentioned around this time is “log-rolling,” the act of exchanging favors, along the lines of “You nominate my novella for a Hugo and I’ll nominate your short story for a Nebula.” Recent changes, such as no longer being able to see who nominated something for a Nebula, are encouraging, but the awards still sometimes seem less about the merit of the work than about the popularity of their author.

Beyond that, people use the power of the Internet as much as possible: blog posts, Facebook mentions, tweets, and so forth, sometimes gracefully, sometimes not so much. Why? Because it works. If it didn’t work, there’d be a lot fewer people doing it, and (imo) the award lists from the past decade would be significantly different. Does that make the award process something you should just opt out of and hope for the best? Well, certainly people have done that in the past (and saved themselves some work in the process), but I’d rather have as a take-away the idea that one shouldn’t despair if you don’t win.

Awards are shiny. Most of us like shiny things. And more importantly, they’re testimony to what we really want: affirmation that someone read and liked our work. That’s the real pellet that keeps us pressing the button marked “Pimp my work”.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line. Factor in, also, that what one person considers acceptable, the next may perceive as a gross breach of etiquette. I like the approach the Codex writers have taken: there’s a discussion thread where people can opt in and say they’re willing to read for the awards as well as a place where people can post pieces for consideration. I appreciate this because it helps me discover some writing that I might not otherwise have found. Here’s what I said on Codex in a discussion about it:

I think it’s certainly possible to go too far in pimping your work, but in my experience, that line is farther out than one might think. This is an area where the bolder people have a definite advantage, and sometimes you have to force yourself to be bold about it. You are the best champion your work has, and you might as well do your duty by it.

It would be lovely if all one had to do was write a good story, but the nature of things is that those who are good about promoting their work go farther than those who aren’t. Promotion’s not a substitute for good writing (in most cases), but it sure helps. My collection wouldn’t have gotten nominated for the Endeavor Award if I hadn’t sent them copies of the book, for example, and while I thought at the time it was a pretty long shot, it ended up being quite worthwhile.

To me the most important point is this – don’t just throw your work out there. If you’re going to be sending people your stuff to read, then do some reading and recommending yourself, and do it based on what you like, what you think is good, or ground-breaking, or worthy of recommendation. In that spirit, I’ll be posting some recommendations in the next few weeks, and hopefully guiding y’all to some excellent fiction that you might not have read otherwise. Please feel free to make recommendations to me in return, either on this post or upcoming ones!

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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