More on the Hugos from a Dark, Dark Place

In light of the discussion that’s ensued here and elsewhere in response to my essay on the current situation with the Hugo awards (see below), I decided to make a few more comments.
There are two points I want to make, the first in the way of a clarification.

The following statement of mine in the initial essay has been somewhat misinterpreted, I think:

“What’s involved here is essentially a literary analog to genetic drift. Biologists have long known that the role played by pure chance in evolution is greater in a small population than a larger one. The same thing happens in the arts, especially those arts which have a huge mass audience. The attitudes of the much smaller group or groups of in-crowds who hand out awards or do critical reviews are mostly influenced by other members of their in-crowd, not by the tastes of the mass audience. Over time, just by happenstance if nothing else, their views start drifting apart from those of the mass audience.”

Some people have interpreted this as a sarcastic remark, in which they seem to think I am deriding the tastes of what I called the “much smaller group or groups of in-crowds.”

But that wasn’t my point. What I was trying to explain, perhaps not clearly enough, was that once science fiction and fantasy became the enormously popular genre of fiction that it is today, the critical attitudes of any group of fans or aficionados will inevitably diverge over time from those of the mass audience as a whole.

The problem, I think, lies in a misunderstanding of the term “popular” when it is used to refer to a “popular author.” What happens is that people start thinking that a “popular” author somehow represents or reflects the mass audience—as opposed to the oft-derided “literary author” who only appeals to a small subset of the mass audience.
But that’s nonsense. All authors only appeal to a small subset of the mass audience, once that mass audience becomes huge enough. The difference between a “popular” author and a “literary” author (or “niche author” or “cult author”—pick whatever term you choose) may loom large when you measure one directly against the other. But if you measure either one of them against the mass audience itself, you will suddenly realize that you are trying to parse the difference between “tiny” and “itty-bitty” and “teeny-weeny” and “miniscule.”

Let’s take me for an example. I’m using myself because I know my own situation well. I am without a doubt one of the popular authors in science fiction. In a career spanning eighteen years I have published 47 or 48 novels (I can’t remember exactly and it’s not worth the trouble to count them up again), all of which are still in print. I’ve been on the New York Times bestseller list six times, and I have an income as a writer that is roughly three times the median household income in the United States.

I’m not the most popular science fiction author in the U.S., by any means, but I’m probably in the top twenty.

I estimate that I have a solid fan base of around 50,000 people—i.e., people who look for my titles and will usually buy one or another edition of them. There are probably five times that many people—call it a quarter of a million—who will buy one of my books on occasion, and there are probably a total of (very roughly) half a million people who know who I am and have read something of mine.

Sounds splendid—until you measure it against the mass audience. The best estimate that you will usually encounter of how many people in the U.S. regularly read science fiction and fantasy is five million. There are probably three or four times that many who read F&SF occasionally, and there are certainly fifty or sixty million who enjoy science fiction and fantasy in the dramatic form of movies or television.

So. My solid fan base consists of about one percent—that’s right, ONE percent—of the solid mass audience for F&SF. It rises to perhaps two percent—yeah, that’s right, TWO percent—if we measure everyone who’s occasionally read something of mine against the occasional audience for science fiction and fantasy. And it falls back closer to one percent if we measure my name recognition against the entire audience (including movie-goers and TV-watchers) for our genre.

In other words, the difference between Resplendent Popular Author Me and Pitiful Literary Auteur Whazzername is the difference between tiny (one percent) and miniscule (one-tenth of one percent).

Yes, that’s what all the ruckus is about. The Sad Puppies feel that they have been wronged because Their Tininess has been downtrodden by the minions of the miniscule.

Give me a break. No matter who gets selected for awards by the comparatively tiny crowd of a few thousand people who show up at Worldcons and nominate writers for Hugo awards, they will always—and inevitably—diverge from the broad preferences of the mass audience.

Let’s do a mental experiment. Suppose, for a moment, that the Hugo voters experienced a sudden change of heart/attitude/tastes and decide that the slate of the Sad Puppies is indeed the best F&SF has to offer and unanimously and enthusiastically votes for them to win the Hugos.

And does so the next year, and the next year, and the year after that.

At which point, the Disconsolate Puppies will rise up in indignation and outrage and denounce the Hugo crowd as a bunch of insular and incestuous fans bound up in esoteric literary fetishism and put forward their own slate, which advances the claims of that group of writers who are far more popular than such literary dabblers as Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (and Eric Flint, for that matter), namely, the almost-entirely female authors who practice the sub-genre known as paranormal romance.

Sherrilyn Kenyon, for instance, outsells Larry Correia (and me) by a country mile. She’s placed dozens of novels on the NYT bestseller list, including many at the #1 position.

So why didn’t the Sad Puppies nominate her?

Or Laurell K. Hamilton, who has also had many novels on the NYT bestseller list?

Or Patricia Briggs, who’s done the same?

Or Nalini Singh? Or Kelley Armstrong? Or Kim Harrison?

Not one of these extraordinarily popular authors has ever been nominated for a Hugo award. Yet I don’t see the Sad Puppies expressing any indignation over that. In fact, I’m willing to bet they didn’t even consider them when they decided who they wanted to include in their slate.

Why? Because they don’t consider paranormal romance to be “part of the good stuff.”

Mind you, they have every right to feel that way and they are committing no injustice to anyone by failing to nominate any of major practitioner of that sub-genre for an award.

Just as . . .

Other voters for the Hugo award have every right not to consider the work produced by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen—or me, for that matter—“part of the good stuff” either. Without being denounced by them as “Social Justice Warriors” engaged in a dark conspiracy to deny popular authors their just due.

Harrumph. Well, I hereby and herewith name Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen and their followers to be “Romance Irrelevance Warriors” and denounce them for engaging in a dark conspiracy to deny authors who are way more popular than they are of their just due.

J’Accuse! dammit.

All of this is just silly and reflects an inability to do simple arithmetic. Any awards given by a relatively small pool of voters will fail to properly track the mass audience—once a mass audience gets big enough. Instead of whining over that fact, authors who can make a living at it should be glad that the audience has grown big enough that dozens of us can now do so.

And if one of the inevitable side effects of that explosive growth is that some—even plenty—of good authors get overlooked for awards, so it goes. In the immortal words of Liberace, I console myself by crying all the way to the bank.

Okay, now I’ll make my second point, which is briefer. There is one way we could at least improve the situation, and that would be to have the awards track reality instead of trying to cram reality into the Procrustean bed of the existing awards structure. Having both of science fiction’s major awards, the Hugos and the Nebulas, devote three out of four literary awards to short fiction and lump everything else into the category of “novel” is simply ridiculous. Fifty years ago, it made sense. Today, it would be as if the Oscar Awards insisted on handing out 75% of their awards to silent black-and-white films less than twenty minutes long.

(Which is not a sneer at silent black-and-white films less than twenty minutes long, by the way. I am a devoted fan of Buster Keaton, who made many silent black-and-white films less than twenty minutes long that are way, way better than 95% of the comedy films made today.)

I don’t propose to eliminate any of the existing awards for short fiction. I have no objection to them, in and of themselves, and I have no desire to make those writers who concentrate on short fiction feel slighted in our genre. I simply think that the category of “novels” needs to be expanded into at least three and preferably four award categories. My own preference would be for awards given in these four categories:

Short novel (40,000 to either 80,000 or 90,000 words)

Novel

Complete multi-volume novels (often called trilogies, quartets, quintets—but which have a definite ending)
Series

I could live with combining multi-volume novels and series into one award category, but it would be a mistake. Inevitably, it would tend to elevate huge, sprawling—and sometimes wildly popular—series over the more compact works preferred by authors who like to work in trilogies or quartets. They really are two quite different literary forms—I know; I’ve worked in both—and should be treated separately. There is at least as much difference between them in terms of the skills involved as the difference between a novelette and a novella.

As far as the length of the short novel category is concerned, I think that should also be decided by tracking reality instead of using pre-determined criteria. This is the length of story preferred by young adult and indie authors, who otherwise tend to get lost in the shuffle when it comes to awards. We should find out what the usual upper limit is in terms of word count for such stories and use that to set the word count limits for this category of award.

And… enough. I’m off for a two-week trip to the eastern Mediterranean, partly because that’s where my wife wanted to vacation and partly so I could examine Dubrovnik and Athens for myself so I could figure out where and how I might want to destroy portions of them in a couple of upcoming novels. (The brain of an author can be a dark, dark place. Muahahaha . . .)

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
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26 Responses to More on the Hugos from a Dark, Dark Place

  1. Pingback: A few More Comments |

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  4. Lindsey says:

    The Hugos definitely need some overhaul–some defense from slate-voting for sure, like allowing three nominations per category instead of five. Splitting up the categories also seems like an important step. The old ‘novel’ length is clearly inadequate for a changing marketplace and really I’ve met a lot of works that could’ve done with paring back down to that size if only it would have been possible for them to sell.

    Having a ‘series’ Hugo would likewise allow very long works a shot without muscling weirdly into the novel category as with Wheel of Time. Even though I don’t care for a lot of the big huge epic series out there, certainly a lot of readers do. However, I’m not sure if ‘complete multi-volumes’ would be able to generate a full slate each year. Maybe so. Some authors write several stand alones that end up forming a larger work but can be viewed on their own–I am not sure if that category would confuse those. It’s worth examination.

    I think the biggest barrier to splitting some of those categories up is the expense to the Worldcon in question, as each of those rockets runs a few hundred dollars, plus bringing all the extra nominees. Still, if the current surge of interest in the Hugos continues, they can probably afford it.

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  6. DarylS says:

    Eric, spend as much time in Dubrovnik as you can, while doing only the obligatory bucket list day checking out the Parthenon in Athens. Croatia is magical while Athens is a dump.
    In regard to Hugo and Nebula, they were needed when S&SF was a niche market. A little like a town crier in a small town, now that the internet and a mass audience exist they have become irrelevant. Readers check out reviews on Face book, Twitter, You Tube, and the like in real time. Google is your friend.
    Glad to see we can post again.

  7. rayvyn2k says:

    I followed a twitter link to your earlier post about the Hugos and I liked what I read so much, I bought 1632.

    I had never heard of you before following that link. Now, you have a new fan because, OMG that book is amazing. I wanted to let you know that I am happy to have “discovered” you this year.

  8. Stevie says:

    Thank you for your contributions to the discussions on the Hugos; it’s important.

    And please ignore DarylS’s observations on Athens; it’s an amazing place and this is the right time of year to explore it. You won’t be broiled alive, much, and there are so many things to see beyond the Parthenon and its museum that the problem is narrowing down the list. I have a particular fondness for the Museum of Cycladic Art, which also has an amazing cafe in a cool atrium where you can escape the frenzy of daily life in Athens, but if you don’t share my preference for the culture of deep time there are plenty of alternatives…

  9. Stevie says:

    I forgot to add that the view over Athens from Mount Lycabettus is both stunning and exceedingly useful for someone considering the fictional destruction of one or more parts of Athens.
    There’s a funicular railway up almost to the top, cut through the rock, and then it’s all laid out in front of you; if it’s clear enough you can see the port of Piraeus and the sea beyond.

  10. Bret Hooper says:

    Eric Flint writes: “My own preference would be for awards given in these four categories:

    Short novel (40,000 to either 80,000 or 90,000 words)

    Novel

    Complete multi-volume novels (often called trilogies, quartets, quintets—but which have a definite ending)
    Series”

    I agree, with one exception: Series needs to be split into two categories: Series, such as David Weber’s Safehold stories, which are all one sequence, by one author or sometimes a pair of authors, and Hypernovels, with multiple semi-independent sequences and (so far at least) multiple authors, such as 163x (Ring of Fire) and probably now Honorverse.

    I, for one, would not be terribly upset to find the award for Best Hypernovel pingponging between [Weber-Flint-Lindskold-Zahn] and [Flint-Carrico-Cooper-DeMarce-Dennis-Gannon-Goodlett-Huff-Hunt-Jones-K&KEvans-Sakalaucks-Weber].

  11. Sonia Lal says:

    People have a hard time reading what’s already on the ballet.

    If whole series went on it, I am not sure anyone would read the whole thing. Maybe one book.

  12. Zak Ryerson says:

    This Article lead me to Damien G. Walter’s “File 770″ Article:
    “SF & Fantasy Publishing needs Industry Awards”
    That article lead me to The Eisner Awards Ballot (AKA Shortlist or Nominees):
    Which in turn got me into The Newbury Comics on Newbury Street wher I purchased a copy of the collected
    Sergio Argones “Groo Versus Conan”

    My review: Decent but overprice at over $15 (Fifteen Dollars).

  13. Books first, food later. says:

    Well, I suppose I can take comfort in the fact that I’m in good company. Larry, Dave Freer, Sarah Hoyt, Brad Torgersen, Kate Paulk, and their fellows are mighty fine companions to share a delusion with. I’m more than proud to call myself deluded, whiny, or willfully ignorant, among other lovely things you’ve said here, Mr Flint, if that is the consequence imparted to me for so foolishly realizing that I agree with the opinions (in this matter, at least) of such decent, intelligent, kindhearted folk. Indeed I’ll wear a dunce cap, if you’d like, and consider it a badge of honor. Better to be ignorant, delusional, and compassionate, than allegedly knowledgeable, rational, and (not allegedly, factually) willing to state as fact the despicable accusation that a person with whom I disagree is a wife-beating, rape apologizing, woman-hating, white supremacist with delusions of “white victimhood”. (never mind the non-white status of the accused) The latter is what the “SJW’s” (a name invented by those folks, by the by, and appropriated by their foes. I like SJB’s as John Ringo put it, personally -Social Justice Bullies-) whom you identify yourself with do, and have done, to Larry, Brad, et al. Apparently, being in a happy marriage with a person of non-Caucasoid ancestry is a sign of deep-seated racism. Or at least that’s what the “SJW’s” have said -with a straight face- about Brad Torgersen. I have admired you, and enjoyed your work for a very long time. I cannot say I have enjoyed reading your comments on this issue. I hope this reaches you well, and that you do not ban me for writing it. Either way, thanks for reading. ;)

    PS: Larry was an accountant for a long, long time. He’s rather good at arithmetic. :)

    • How appropriate that you have taken the appellation of “Puppies” for yourselves. Puppies shit and piss everywhere, they won’t stop yapping, they destroy everything they can get their teeth on, and some of them are too damn dumb not to shit and piss in their own beds.

      I cannot wait until the Occult/Paranormal/Fantasy/Time Travel Romance crowd discovers that for the mere pittance of $40 they can buy a major award for one of their darlings. The weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth of you lot is going to be music to my ears.

      • Books first, food later. says:

        Wow. What an insightful, polite, civil response, Mz. Lackey! I am humbled by your sheer classiness in writing that response!
        Does the sarcasm come through? I hope so.
        Firstly, Mz. Lackey, I’ve never called myself a “puppy.” An “opponent of puppy-related sadness” yes. a puppy? no. It was your vile, false accusation of spousal abuse-issuing, racist-label applying, literary-taste assuming, comrades who applied that appellation. Hen e why, if ever I use it, I place it in quotes, thus: “sad puppies.” But thank you, author whose work I had enjoyed and had hoped to meet one day to tell her how much it meant to me, for assuming I am an active part of the “campaign to prevent puppy-related sadness” (I’m not. I’ve also never voted on a hugo before in my life. That takes money that I’d much rather spend buying books), for equally spuriously assuming I dislike the genre(s) you’ve listed, and for assuming I am an imbecile. Thank you, so very much. Just fyi, I am chronically ill, so I HAVE been incontinent before, of no fault of my own, in my own bed. I apparently erred in believing it was not a result of my own obvious and unforgivable stupidity, but rather an unpleasant and unavoidable consequence of my disease. Thank you for correcting that mistaken understanding. I feel much better now. I also have frequent tremors, which, though not audible, would likely be equally delightful, to your eyes, if not your ears, in absence of that “wailing and gnashing of teeth” you are so eager to see and hear me produce. Alas, you are unlikely ever to have the chance to delight in personally witnessing my struggle, because I make it a point to avoid meeting singularly unpleasant individuals who, themselves, have made it a point to condescend to and insult me. Good day madam, and God Bless.

        ;)

        PS: Mr Flint, if it is bannably (ban-worthy) stupid of me to be deeply personally offended by the tone of your occasional co-authors reply to me, and to have written a response to said reply which endeavored to make clear the depth of my offense, then I beg pardon, and will regretfully live with only being able to enjoy your work as it is published, rather than viewing snippets beforehand. Nonetheless I will bear you no ill will. I will be sad, but I will understand. We all have our own standard of what is, and is not, bearable to have posted in our blog comments. If this is goodbye, then I wish to say thank you for the wonderful experiences I have had, escaping from my own struggles and into the delightful worlds you have crafted. I may not share your politics, but I certainly share your love of the written word, and am grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to play in your mental playgrounds. I know you are an atheist, but I am not, so I must tell you that I wish God’s blessings upon you in abundance. Be this farewell or no, that wish remains true. *hug* :-)

      • Echo says:

        Given a choice between 50 Shades of Twilight and someone as rude as you’re being, I’d take sparkly BDSM vampwolves every time.

  14. Dan Stith says:

    BWAHAHAHA…. this comment from Mr. Flint just highlights why I love his style as a writer and a person. You slay me sir in the best of ways. Keep on crying all the way to the bank and I take pleasure in that just a teeny-tiny bit of that well earned compensation comes from my own pockets. Cheers!

  15. Dan Stith says:

    Oops. I put my comment on the wrong tab in my browser as I was trying to comment on Mr. Flint’s original blog entry for the ‘award environment’. Still the gist is still just as valid this blog comment from Mr. Huff.

  16. Lysenko says:

    Given that there’s already talk of getting one of J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts’ In Death books onto the Sad Puppies slate for next year if there’s an eligible work, I’d chalk their absence more to the -presence- of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files pushing out other candidates like Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison. There’s a lot of audience overlap there.

    • Books first, food later. says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. ;) It’s cute when the folks criticizing others for ignorance and closed-mindedness demonstrate that closed-minded arrogance themselves. I didn’t want to mention it in my first comment, so I appreciate your highlighting the inaccuracy of Mr Flints “gotcha” quip regarding paranormal romance authors and the “delusional” “ignorant” Sad Puppy voters. We’ve got no problem with romance authors, and if the work is good, we’d be delighted to see it on the Hugo nominations list, assuming it qualifies. Suggesting otherwise was not exactly the most mature thing Mr Flint could have done. Howsabout asking before flinging around spurious accusations of elitism next time? I’ll not comment on the unfair and demonstrably untrue suggestion that the only reason people like Scalzi, Requires Hate, Arthur Chu, and their unpleasant fellows are being labeled as “SJW’s” is because they dared to “…not to consider the work produced by Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen—or me, for that matter—“part of the good stuff” either.” any further than to say that it *is* an unfair and demonstrably false assertion.

      Thanks for reading. ;)

      • Eric Flint says:

        You’re both missing the point. So what if next year the Sad Puppies include a paranormal romance author on their slate? I was just using that an as illustration. There will STILL be huge areas of fantasy and science fiction that they ignore–because they have to. EVERYONE has to. The genre has simply gotten much too big to be encompassed within an annual award that’s voted on by a comparatively tiny number of people.

        That’s why pissing and moaning about awards is so pointless. Not to mention, being blunt, so stupid. SOMEBODY — some authors — are always going to wind up on the short end of the stick, when it comes to awards. And on the flip side, some authors who get awards will wind up, in the fullness of time, being shrugged off as not all that important after all.

        Forget the Hugos. That’s true with ANY literary award. The Novel Prize for Literature was never given to James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad–but it was given to Pearl Buck, whom almost no one today considers a great author.

        So it goes. It happens. Grow up and stop whining.

        • Books first, food later. says:

          Um…if the Hugo is so unimportant (and it is, yes, in my opinion) why are you writing these posts? I mean, if Larry and Brad getting more people to register to vote for the Hugo, and being successful in getting new authors on the ballot with an astonishing level of success is so unimportant (it isn’t important at all…that’s Larry and Brads point, in a way) in the long run…why write about the reasons they are wrong, and misguided, and “incompetent”? It seems like a lot of effort to potentially offend people doing nothing particularly important, isn’t it? As a side note I hope mine aren’t the only comments being moderated…I didn’t think I wrote anything particularly inflammatory in any of my previous responses, did I? (okay, “cute” might have been unnecessary…I was feeling irritated and snarky) Either way, I hope it’s clear I don’t intend to offend, or to anger. I also don’t intend to whine, but that seems to be beyond my ability to control. ;P Thanks for reading (and responding! I may have been a little excited by getting a response from you…just a little. lol, I’m not a fan…no, not at all…*hides handmade “Butcher of Baen” poster*) ;D

          • Books first, food later. says:

            successful…with an astonishing level of success…*groan* /facepalm. I may weep. My kingdom for an edit function!

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