Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Getting New Categories Added to the Hugo Awards

As it usual around this time of year, I'm seeing people calling for "the Hugo Committee" to add more categories to the Hugo Awards. The most-common calls I'm seeing this year are for Best Anthology (there is IMO no category at all in which fiction anthologies are eligible, including Best Related Work, and I'd disqualify a fiction anthology if it had the votes to make the ballot if I were the Administrator, which I'm not) and Best Video Game (Personally I think games should be nominated in Best Related Work).

Now first off, let's remind everyone that there is no "Hugo Committee" that decides what the categories are and who gets the Awards. There is a Hugo Administration Subcommittee that counts the ballots and makes eligibility decisions, but that committee doesn't decide what the categories are. The categories are established by the WSFS Constitution, and the way you change the WSFS Constitution is to convince the members of two consecutive Worldcons attending the Business Meeting to vote for a change.

There's an article on the Hugo Awards Web Site about Changing the Hugo Rules, but lets review the high points:
  • Any two members of the current Worldcon (even non-attending members) can submit proposals to the Business Meeting.

  • Only those members present in person can debate and vote on proposals.

  • There is no proxy voting. You represent yourself and nobody else.

  • Every attending member of Worldcon can participate in the Business Meeting. You don't need permission, nor do you need to be elected by somebody else.

  • There is no Board of Directors or other Shadowy Cabal that makes all of the "real" decisions. The "secret" part of the Secret Masters of Fandom is that they aren't actually secret. If you show up and participate, you're a SMOF.

  • Politics is hard work and usually requires compromise.

Over the last decade-plus, it has been nearly impossible to get a new permanent category added to the Hugo Awards without at least one and usually both of the following conditions:
  1. A Trial Run. Each Worldcon (not the Hugo Administration Subcommittee, not the Hugo Awards Marketing Committee, not the Business Meeting) can, on its own individual authority, add a one-shot Special Category to that year's Hugo Awards. If such a trial fails to draw sufficient nominations to justify putting the category on the final ballot, it's unlikely that your proposal to make it a permanent category will get very far.

  2. A Sunset Clause. Most new categories these days come with a "sunset" clause that requires the Business Meeting to re-ratify the proposal after 4 years, with the default being that the category automatically goes away if not re-ratified.

I advise anyone who thinks that We Need Another Hugo that any proposal they bring to the Business Meeting should have an automatic sunset clause in it. I further advise such people that they need to earnestly try to persuade a future Worldcon (Spokane is too late, of course; watch out, Kansas City) to trial the proposed new category in their year. If I were campaigning for a new category, I'd go straight to the top and start lobbying the chairs of Kansas City and the bid committees for the 2017 and 2018 to ask them to trial the proposed category. If I were successful in getting the trial approved, I would work diligently with my fellow supporters to promote the existence of the category and to make sure it got enough nominations to justify its existence.

The last time that Best Video Game was attempted was only nine years ago (2006, L.A. con IV), and frankly, it was a dismal failure. In a year when only 430 people nominated in the most popular category (Best Novel), only 154 nominated in the least popular permanent category (Best Fan Artist), and a work made the final ballot with only 18 nominations (Best Related Book), the turnout for Best Interactive Video Game was pathetic: Only 58 people nominated; only one work got more than 9 nominations. The category was rightfully dropped due to lack of interest.

Now you can argue that the world has changed significantly in the past decade, but promoters of a Best Video Game Hugo Award are going to have to do more than just claim it: they're going to have to prove it. The regular attendees of the Business Meeting are in general very skeptical of change without proof. If I were pushing such a change (I'm not), I would encourage people to nominate games in Best Related Work. If games started turning up in BRW, it would be evidence that there was sufficient interest in such works to justify a new trial as a separate category

As I said earlier, I do not think that fiction anthologies are eligible in any category at all, including Best Related Work, on the grounds that they consist of works that are individually eligible in the various "story" categories. (Edit: As pointed out in comments below, anthologies are considered equivalent to fiction professional magazines, and their editors are eligible for Best Editor as a proxy for either Best Professional Magazine or Best Anthology.) I know not everyone agrees with this interpretation, but it's consistent with precedent and practice of the Awards, so IMO you'd need a new category, and if I were drafting it, I would make explicit in the definition that it was creating an overlap, inasmuch as you might have an anthology that included a piece of fiction in it that itself found itself on the short list in one of the story categories. In general, the Business Meeting has shown itself very reluctant to create overlaps and allow "the same work" as they perceive it to be eligible in two categories simultaneously. Advocates for Best Anthology need to come prepared to address this argument.

The Worldcon Business Meeting is a "Town Meeting" of Worldcon attendees, but its procedures are deliberately designed to resist change. In particular, the requirement that changes adopted at one Worldcon must be ratified at the following one is designed to prevent people from "packing" a single meeting with single-issue voters. It appears unlikely that people would be able to retain sufficient passion in this short-attention-span era to not only flood one Worldcon Business Meeting, but two in a row; furthermore, flooding one year's meeting with a narrow focus group is likely to prompt a counter-reaction the following year, as people who don't usually attend but who keep an ear open to what's happening would show up the following year for the ratification debates. Finally, the change up for ratification this year (to require anything that gets through the ratification stage to be submitted to the members of the following Worldcon for a final ratification vote) further makes the change process deliberately slow and not susceptible to narrow focus groups.

What I'm saying here is that any change attempts need to work broadly and to persuade people who may not be part of your own narrow interest that it's worth making the change. Business Meeting voters aren't going to reject any change just because it's a new idea, but they need to be shown, not told, that the idea is a good one and isn't going to saddle the World Science Fiction Society with a category that only a ten or fifteen people actually care about.

I'm not saying not to try. After all, I've been standing before the meeting since 1984 and have authored and argued many proposals, some of them quite substantial. (The current Standing Rules of the Business Meeting are my work, based on a revision of earlier works.) I am saying not to expect your fellow members to roll over and vote for your proposal based solely upon your assertion that You Are Self-Evidently Right.
Tags: "business meeting", hugo award, worldcon, wsfs
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