Skip

Hugo Voters packet: threat or menace?
June 9, 2014 3:48 AM   Subscribe

But from a method of creating a more informed electorate, the voter packet has come to be seen as a goody bag. Does anyone think that the thousand new Worldcon members who joined after the nominations were announced did so because of a genuine interest in the award? A sizable percentage of them, at least, probably did so in order to get free ebook copies of the entire Wheel of Time series for a mere $50.
Science fiction critic Abigail Nussbaum talks about the expectations the Hugo Awards Voters packet sets for the awards themselves (And also why calling people entitled for being disappointed Orbit didn't include its nominations is wrong).
posted by MartinWisse (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
which is better for book sales -- hugo, or nebula?
posted by lodurr at 5:10 AM on June 9


lodurr: jscalzi and cstross both venture opinions in this thread that should be good answers for your question.
posted by biffa at 5:22 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


thanks, biffa. i'm not a real steady mefi reader these days, so I missed that thread. Seems the answer is "both and neither."

... also, scalzi's amusement at naivete over the differences between hugo & nebula struck a chord. A new-ish SFWA member I know found the Nebula campaigning process to be very eye-opening.
posted by lodurr at 5:30 AM on June 9


I seem to remember that the voter packet was intended primarily to get exposure to authors/books that are not well-known already. As in "I've read these 3 already, but didn't know enough about the other 2 to justify spending the $40 it would cost me to go buy them", which allowed for a fully informed electorate. With that line of reasoning, odds are high that if you're a fan you've already read Ancillary Justice or Neptune's Brood. Or taking last year's ballot as an example, being a fan of Scalzi's other work I was already familiar with Redshirts. But I can honestly say I'd never heard of Saladin Ahmed and getting Throne in the packet exposed me to an author I'm not sure I would have picked up in the bookstore and now I wish he'd just get another book done already so I can throw more money at him.

For me at least the big thing about the voter packet is not the novels, but the entries in the other area's. I'm not that big a fan of graphic novels, for example. I read enough of them to have opinions, but I'm not buying enough that the likelihood that I already own all 5 entries is very low. So seeing the all the nominations lets me be a better informed voter and solves the 25% vote issue. That being said, I guess the argument could be made that I don't really need the entire novel to form an opinion of the graphic style and story development.

And seriously, while I do applaud Tor for putting the entire WoT in the packet, we all know it's a gimmick. I do applaud Mr. Correia for throwing in the previous two books in his series. The earlier comment about exposure applies here, since it is so easy to dismiss the last book in a trilogy if you haven't read the first two. I'm not likely to go out and buy an entire series by him, and having the previous two allows me to give him a reasoned vote.
posted by Runes at 5:45 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


At the moment, I'm going with neither threat nor menace, since the nominees link on this page throws a 404, and...actually, nearly all the the links in the right-hand nav bar are 404. Hi?
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Note to self: write a novel titled 404.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:23 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


When it comes to squabbles in science fiction fandom, see Sayre's law.
posted by aught at 6:26 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


actually, nearly all the the links in the right-hand nav bar are 404. Hi?

So some poor volunteer webmaster forgot to tweak the links when they moved the form one level down. Try this page instead.
posted by effbot at 6:28 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


She's probably right, the packet was the driving force for my signing up the past few years. That and I had friends who were nominated and wanted to vote for them. But I'm not sure that's a bad thing. The Hugo's are voted on by fans, and only fans would sign up just for the packet. Is that gaming the system or allowing more people to vote?

I won't complain if they drop the packet, but I probably won't sign up for a Worldcon membership either.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:39 AM on June 9


This part seems important to the field in general:

According to the Hugo rules, to hand out an award in any particular category, it must have received at least 25% of the total number of voting ballots. In other words, if 2000 people send in Hugo ballots, but fewer than 500 of them vote in, say, the fanzine category, no fanzine Hugo will be awarded. This is usually not a problem--last year, even the least popular categories (fanzine, fan writer, and fan artist) came in at well over 40% of ballots. But this year, with the huge influx of supporting memberships, we could very well see a situation where a large number of ballots vote solely in the best novel and other big categories, and where some of the smaller categories are starved out.

We'll see if that happens.
posted by mediareport at 6:57 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


In the thread from April linked by biffa, some folks describe Brandon Sanderson as a class act, and it made me want to comment that a thing my kids and I love about him is that he has status bars for all his works in progress on his website. My older two and I listened to Steelheart on a long car trip recently, and the kids are eagerly awaiting the sequel. So every now and then we pop onto the website and see how it's coming. I see that Sanderson is 17% through the third draft, up from 3% last time we checked.

George RR Martin, he's not.

The conversation about the Hugo packets this spring has tempted me to become a supporting member and vote, not because I have a specific agenda but because I love sci-fi and am really out of touch with current authors and books, having had limited time to read the last couple of years. If I got a membership and a voter packet, I am the kind of person who, having gotten the packet, would feel obligated to do my best to read the works and cast an informed ballot. I know there are good things that didn't get nominated, but spending the next 6 or 7 weeks catching up on some of the year's popular sci-fi—with a deadline to help me do it—sounds like a nice summer project.
posted by not that girl at 7:32 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


I can see the worry that people may just get a membership for some discounted books, but I'm struggling to see how it's a bad thing to offer your voting body an easy way to become familiar with the nominated works.

That always seems to be the biggest challenge with awards -- making sure your voters are making informed choices (rather than just voting for the one thing they've read or have heard of).

Do I think all of these people who registered to just get a packet will vote? Probably not. But I bet a few who didn't think they were going to will end up doing so. That seems like a bonus.

(I don't really know enough about the culture surrounding the Hugos, honestly, so I may be off-base here, but I also wonder if some of the worry has an undercurrent of "These other people are invading our space! They don't care about the work like we do!" And that's never a good thing.)
posted by darksong at 7:45 AM on June 9


I read a good chunk of SF every night from what I always considered to be the mainstream sources - Analog, Asimov's or S&SF magazines - but the only entrants from those sources are ones promoted by the International Lord of Hate. What should I be subscribing to be better read in SF?
posted by 445supermag at 7:53 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


This does sort of make me think of the Veronica Mars movie. The kickstarter funding was a great way to get it done but it also had the result of weakening the box office result on the first weekend because so many of the true fans already had the right to stream the movie (albeit there were issues) and it seems there is a significant horse race reporting style that has an effect on how well movies do domestically.

I could see this kind of thing weakening sales for particular books but making authors who write more than one book better off by broadening their overall exposure even if they don't win. Lose the potential sale on one book but gain potential sales on the rest (just don't keep getting nominated!)
posted by srboisvert at 8:07 AM on June 9


And here I thought a sizeable portion of them was Larry Correia's ballot stuffing campaign to show those libruls what for.

I know my wife was excited to get the entire WoT series in ebook format.
posted by Talez at 8:25 AM on June 9


George RR Martin, he's not.

GRRM often doesn't realize the whole story he wants to tell until he starts telling it. His editors forgive him for this because when he does finish a work, it's ready to go and sells well.

There are people who know the whole scope of a work when they start, and they just write it. There are people who have a start and just let the story happen. There are people who start then have a completely different story jump in and wreck progress on the first one, then have to admit to their editor that, well, this book happened instead, sorry, I promise I'll work on the book I promised you. And then there are people who think they know the scope of the story, and they realize that why *they* know why Character X is a complete jerkwater, the reader doesn't know, so they have to add that to the story.

This doesn't even begin to cover the entire scope of SF&F writers, but it does define some of the major clades.
posted by eriko at 8:33 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


I'm kind of presuming that is why all the supporting memberships, Talez. God knows Correia can probably rustle up plenty of nasties willing to play 50 or whatever bucks to tell women and other than white authors how much they hate them. So I expect the results of the Hugos to look like an endorsement of the vile this year.
posted by tavella at 8:36 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


Note to self: write a novel titled 404.

...the internet becomes self-aware and then years later, after solving most of mankind's problems begins to die from senile dementia. Turmoil ensues...hmm...I would read that.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:38 AM on June 9 [2 favorites]


There are people who know the whole scope of a work when they start, and they just write it. There are people who have a start and just let the story happen.

And sometimes these plans can work really well -- planning for something and then getting there, or seeing what happens and finding the right ending. And sometimes these plans can work terribly -- planning for something and not changing it even when it doesn't work, seeing what happens and misbalancing the plot or not getting to a proper ending that makes sense. (These last are much more obvious problems in trilogies.)
posted by jeather at 8:56 AM on June 9


It says something about the market that a meaningful increase in the chance to win the Hugo isn't worth missing maybe 100 sales on Ancillary Justice (100 being my guesstimate of the number if Hugo voters who haven't already read it who remotely ever would buy it). If I were Leckie I would just have gone ahead and paid the publisher their wholesale margin ($3 ?) on that estimate and gotten the full copy distributed.

Great book bit I do wonder what the Vox Day fans would think about her pervasive and insistent androgyny that makes no difference to the otherwise fanboy ideal plot.
posted by MattD at 8:56 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


A sizable percentage of them, at least, probably did so in order to get free ebook copies of the entire Wheel of Time series for a mere $50.

This sentence doesn't parse.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:04 AM on June 9


I had friends who were nominated and wanted to vote for them.

Laudable in one sense, not so good in another.

Not that I put much stock in awards in general, but, you know - may the best writer win?
posted by IndigoJones at 9:12 AM on June 9


445supermag, I'm a huge fan of Strange Horizons and you don't even need to pay for it. They're funded by an annual funding drive.
posted by joannemerriam at 9:13 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


She's probably right, the packet was the driving force for my signing up the past few years

There's a simple way to tell if this is the general case -- graph the percentage of members who buy a supporting membership post-vote* over time. If it increased in the last 10 years, it would be evidence for, if it hasn't, it's strong evidence against.

Well, by simple, I mean "It would be simple if we had the data." I deeply suspect we don't -- most cons only report total attending vs. total members, which wraps in day members and the like. Some just report one number -- and we don't have the critical breakdown between voting supports (who presumably want to attend because they're voting on the site) and post-voting supports (who either want to attend and will convert if they can, or just want to vote/get packet, who will never convert.)


* All voters get a supporting membership for voting -- the voting fee, in fact, is the cost of that supporting membership, and acts as seed money for the winning bid. Most convert that to an attending soon after the vote, some don't because they're not going to attend.
posted by eriko at 9:18 AM on June 9


Laudable in one sense, not so good in another.

Just to be clear, I did consider them the best in their category not just because they were friends. And I did attempt to read all of the material and vote, not just grab the packet for cheap books.

I'm tempted to register just to vote against Vox Day, then again that might be just as bad as registering to vote for him.
posted by beowulf573 at 9:23 AM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Upon further thought I tend to think the packet is a net win for the authors. Not necessarily for the novels, I most likely will read the majority of them over time. But tracking down the short stories and novellas is difficult and having a single way of obtaining them is convenient and exposed me to some authors I might not have otherwise read.
posted by beowulf573 at 9:26 AM on June 9


A couple of notes I'd like to make here.

1. Orbit's executives found it an easy call to decide to withhold their eligible novels from the voters packet this year because Orbit is the UK publisher for 80% of the novels on the shortlist — barring the Correia title, which is, I hope you'll forgive me for saying, a dark horse in this race.

Tor are the US publisher of WoT, and unilaterally put it in the voters packet: Orbit, am I led to understand, are not happy about this, but aren't about to start World War Three over it either. (As there are to be no more WoT books, Orbit would have precious little leverage over Tor and the Rigny estate/Brandon Sanderson if they wanted to kick up a fuss.) In my case, Ace, my US publisher, conferred with Orbit and agreed to defer to their wishes: as there are going to be more Charles Stross books, they didn't want to rock the boat. (This is me wearing my eye-rolling face.)

2. I am in favour of the Hugo voters packet and have contributed to it in previous years. However, Orbit have reasons -- especially strong in my case -- for wanting to withhold their titles. These are the kind of reasons that make lots of sense on a balance sheet: but not necessarily in terms of fostering long-term author/reader goodwill. I will discuss these reasons on my blog in due course, but only after the Hugo award announcement. Orbit is under extreme pressure (as part of Hachette, Amazon is pissing all over them right now) and this may have influenced their thinking. For now let's just say that I think a certain short-termism is at work.
posted by cstross at 9:40 AM on June 9 [12 favorites]


Figuring out the value of give-aways/discounts/alternate delivery channels is a hard one, and I have some sympathy for Orbit's decisions. I'm not sure I think they're smart but they pay as much attention to my opinion as is appropriate given the percentage of ownership I have in their business.

I think part of my forgiveness is that I'm happier to hear about organizations being careful after the last four years of pissing and crying from businesses who signed up to do internet coupons via Living Social or Groupon or whoever and hadn't through through the implications ahead of time. Wah wah, these people come in and it turns out they're more price conscious than our other customers. Few of them turn into regulars. They use the dealon low-margin items. The ones who do return have had their price expectations set lower than our normal price. Servicing these low-profit or loss-leader items is hard on our cash flow.

Well, yeah. You got yourself some coupon users. They're not the same as people you get from advertising in SkyMall or walk-by drop-ins.

Advertising and outreach has a cost, and smart businesses think in advance about whether the cost is worth it. And cost means more than up-front expense, just as what you're getting is more complicated than that one transaction. I question that Orbit is looking accurately at what they get for their cost, but good on them for thinking it through.

I'm not sure Nussbaum is really fully identifying what the Hugo gets out of the packet either. She identifies a "potential problem" but seems to kind of give short-shrift to the fact that past upticks haven't yielded that issue. The three identified lowest-interest categories of fanzine, fan writer, and fan artist seem to me to be the ones that are most likely to actually get the payoff from packet inclusion.

The novels are highly available for people interested in making a real comparison between several entries. At a reduced cost if they're in the packet, sure, but those are things that even the most naive reader knows how to get to and examine. Zine? Fan writer? These are likely to have WAY more disparate channels of distribution, so putting them in the packet in a low-friction consumption method seems like it's may be a bigger payoff in nomination-related exposure.
posted by phearlez at 10:19 AM on June 9


Note to self: write a novel titled 404.

Which ends mid-sentence on page 403 with a cliffhanger.
posted by cjelli at 10:20 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]


... her pervasive and insistent androgyny that makes no difference to the otherwise fanboy ideal plot.

I read some passages from Ancillary Justice, and wow, that really summarizes it for me. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a tight, clean exemplar -- but it does read like someone time-shifted from 1958 and given a briefing on 2014 gender issues.
posted by lodurr at 11:17 AM on June 9


About Orbit: unless Correia's book wins the Hugo -- which is getting into I'll-eat-my-hat territory in terms of implausibility -- then it will go to one of "Ancillary Justice", "The Wheel of Time", "Neptune's Brood", or "Parasite". Orbit is the UK publisher for all of these.

Ergo: barring a fluke, one Orbit title will get a Hugo-related marketing boost.

The logic of not participating in the voters pack is: why throw potential sales away with a giveaway that basically pits your authors against each other? Orbit doesn't need to give books away in order to gain a Hugo win: it's already pretty much locked-in.

The moral of the story is: if one publisher is too successful the outcome can be bad for the voters packet. (Although in previous years Tor hit 60% of the shortlist, so ... this isn't inevitable.)
posted by cstross at 11:27 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


Q. Difference between the music industry and the publishing industry?

A. The latter took long to make the same mistakes.
posted by Twang at 12:26 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


I admit, I have in part purchased a membership before to get the voter's packet so I can read the short stories and novellas. But, if short-story collection were to be published annually and promoted, I would prefer to buy it instead (as the voter packet has really made it hard to keep my kindle organized).
posted by typecloud at 12:31 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


Orbit doesn't need to give books away in order to gain a Hugo win: it's already pretty much locked-in.

That would be the part where I think they aren't thinking larger returns. Is the Hugo packet just about trying to get a vote result you want? Or is it about putting work into the hands of people that coincides with your target audience? It seems to me that you're more likely, in the novel/novella category, to get some use of it as a way of getting your product under the eyeballs of people with disposable income.

Because despite Nussbaum repeatedly referring to people getting something for free, as cjorgensen points out, they in fact opened their wallets and took out $50. Maybe they only did it because they thought it was a particularly good deal, but I'm highly skeptical that there was a tremendous amount of OMG CHEAP WoT now I'll finally read it thought from people who weren't already somewhat inclined to sign up. Some, sure. But honestly, if you wanted to read WoT you probably did it already. Or you can get used copies of most of them for $0.01 from Amazon, plus shipping. Or go to the library where none of the first umpty-billion in the series are checked out.

You may be getting some folks who wanted WoT in e-form and took this as a chance to get it at a discount, but if that's the case I think I, as a publisher of other books, would end up MORE inclined to put mine in the packet. That means those folks came for something else, so here's a chance to get some other stuff in front of them. Maybe they like cstross' book so they hit my back catalog and get the book before it (or they're kooky completists and buy it to read first even without trying Neptune), maybe they like Parasite so now they're primed to buy the impending follow-up.

To me those are way better reasons than angling for the Hugo win anyway.
posted by phearlez at 12:31 PM on June 9


I think they aren't thinking larger returns. Is the Hugo packet just about trying to get a vote result you want? Or is it about putting work into the hands of people that coincides with your target audience?

Eh, this is likely one of those cases where you and they just believe different things about how marketing works. You seem to think (and if I've got you right I agree) that including the work would be a good market-development strategy; they appear to think that any such market development would be offset by near-term losses. It's a different way of thinking about the accounting. I'd draw an analogy to future-discounting if I didn't feel guilty about the work I'm not getting done.
posted by lodurr at 1:15 PM on June 9


I know I've bought supporting memberships more than once in the past decade for the voter's packet with actual voting rights a happy bonus. And I may well do so again this year even without three of the novels.

(This was already a slate for which it was unlikely I'd read all of the nominated works.)
posted by Zed at 1:34 PM on June 9


What should I be subscribing to be better read in SF?

Lightspeed Magazine, which coincidently just has its women destroying science fiction issue out.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:03 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


Orbit is the UK publisher for all of these.

Aha. I knew that Orbit was rather chapped about Tor putting all of WoT into the packet, and I didn't understand why until just now.
posted by eriko at 3:17 PM on June 9


What should I be subscribing to be better read in SF?

I personally like Escape Pod, and it's sister podcasts Podcastle (fantasy) and Pseudopod (horror). Clarksworld and Starshipsofa are good to listen to as well.
posted by happyroach at 4:36 PM on June 9 [2 favorites]


"This does sort of make me think of the Veronica Mars movie. The kickstarter funding was a great way to get it done but it also had the result of weakening the box office result on the first weekend because so many of the true fans already had the right to stream the movie"

In my case, the nearest movie theater showing the movie was an hour away for the first month of the movie being out. VM eventually played in my town. For a weekend. At the indie movie theater. In its tiniest screen. With ZERO promotion whatsoever that I heard about it including the Kickstarter list, and it was a complete fluke that I heard it was out that weekend at all. So yeah, I had already downloaded it so I didn't have to drive to Manteca(!) to see it because man, I didn't want to go quite that far when I figured it would turn up closer to me later, but that doesn't mean I didn't put some money down at some point either.

If someone's dedicated enough about something, they'll kick money in. Where they don't kick money in is when they don't have a strong preference about something and may want to "give it a try" without paying, i.e. libraries or WHATEVER. In the case of the nominees, free books would have given a boost to the people who weren't already intrigued by those titles enough to buy them on their own. It would have been fishing for the uncommitted voters. It would have been a good move on the part of the publisher because that would have been more likely to get some people interested enough to buy sequels later. But I am not a publisher, and it sounds like Orbit wants the people who were already committed enough to buy instead, or something.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:14 PM on June 9


ChurchHatesTucker: "Note to self: write a novel titled 404."

It can be shelved right after 253 and 334.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:38 AM on June 10 [2 favorites]


445supermag: What should I be subscribing to be better read in SF?

How about Lightspeed Magazine?
posted by fever-trees at 6:20 PM on June 10


« Older For them, every valley and desert was home.   |   Shipwrecked sailors wandering... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post