They’d Rather Campaign

and it’s got to stop… if we don’t want Hugo voting to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

As we approach the nominating season for the 2016 Hugo Awards (given out at Helsinki in 2017), I am seeing an increasing number of promotional posts from websites, authors and magazines.

Many of them – far too many – have slipped beyond the barrier from “eligibility notice” to downright pandering for votes.

This is the slippery slope we inhabit.  It’s a steep one.  One misstep and we’re in campaigning territory.  The ink is not yet dry on the changes made to the award’s voting systems and we’re already seeing a growth in voting slates (albeit humorous ones).

The Hugo Awards were very carefully designed to be a “consensus” award.  Poll a bunch of motivated (experienced and educated) fans and arrive at a choice that the vast majority of voters at least agree is “worthy” of the award, even if it wasn’t their personal choice.

We encourage (and practically demand) that voters only cast votes for those works they are actually familiar with; we jump through hoops to make sure that as many eligible works as possible are brought to voters’ attention;  we kick ourselves endlessly when a worthy work is overlooked, or improperly categorized; we critique our own choices endlessly after the fact.  These awards are important to us, as is their integrity.

Early on, the potential for misuse was identified and curtailed by the social convention of not tolerating ANY form of campaigning.  Everyone, from publishers on down to the not-yet-ink-stained neofan recognized that there was a potential imbalance of influence present in fandom, and that allowing it to operate on the awards would quickly render them meaningless.

Publishers of books and magazines, and of some fanzines, possessed both the budget and the platform to easily reach a voting plurality that could “buy” them a nomination and perhaps even a win.

The individual fan (the ones we want the awards to represent) have no such resources.

The monied interests once recognized that campaigning could destroy their valuable relationship with fandom and could also open up a bottomless pit of added expense.  Similarly, influential fanzine publishers recognized the damage to themselves inherent in campaigning.  (WSFS even went so far as to add a category to deal with one “overly” influential fanzine in order to mitigate that influence.)

Things have changed dramatically.  Now, in addition to being able to self-publish, most individuals possess the means to effectively campaign; while at the same time, the social stigma and awareness of the possible consequences have begun to wear thin.  Additionally. the author of an SF work who is otherwise unconnected to fandom, indeed, any entity not connected to fandom, faces NO CONSEQUENCES and receives a decided benefit from campaigning for the award.

Fannish tradition and social pressure are no longer strong enough by themselves to effectively curtail campaigning.

We must all once again remind ourselves and the new fans just joining our ranks that campaigning is not only wrong, not just unacceptable behavior for a fan, it is also the means by which the awards can be destroyed.

All it takes to render the Hugo Awards meaningless is ONE successful campaign.  One author, one magazine, one editor gathering together enough votes to put a work into the winner’s circle.  The following will result: forever after, only those works that can command the promotional budget will make it onto the final ballot and everyone will know that the winner’s “bought” their win.

Moving forward, I suggest the following:

1. IF you are so moved as to write an eligibility post, clearly state in some fashion that you are not asking for votes, but are only noting the work’s eligibility for a particular category.
2. Whenever you do so, be sure to mention that the history of the awards includes a social prohibition on campaigning.  Fans. Don’t. Do. That.
3. Join me in requesting that WSFS add an explanatory paragraph to its website and to the Hugo Awards website – a paragraph that explicitly states that campaigning is unwelcome and not in the best interest of the award’s integrity
4. Help me draft an amendment to the WSFS Constitution that requires similar language be appended to all ballots and published in Worldcon publications wherever the award is discussed.
5. Gently remind your friends and colleagues  that it is our collective enforcement of this policy that insures that any worthy work can be nominated and possibly win…and that it is the ONLY policy that insures that the award continues to have meaning.

Small Press, websites and indie authors/artists/editors are a large constituency among Hugo voters and these are the companies and individuals who have the most to lose if campaigning and vote-buying become standard practice.  It is in the vested interest of most Hugo voters – if they want their vote to count – to actively work to protect the award’s integrity.

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