Literary Awards – Scout Badges for Authors?

April 18, 2015 | By | Reply More

If, like me, you’re a bit of a nerd, you might have picked up on the current online outrage over a literary award called the Hugos – kind of the Oscars for American writers of fantasy, science fiction and horror novels.

This award is given out every year at the World Science Fiction Convention, and this year some politically right-leaning fans got together to game the system and ensure that their pick of novels got onto and dominated the short-list – mainly old-style Raygun science fiction by Libertarian male authors – rather than the more liberal sprinkling of novels (especially those by female authors and perceived politically left-leaning writers), that have been featuring in the awards for the last few years.

Thus, the Tea Party versus Democrats (or Labour vs Conservative) divide has been imported into the genre world, amid much flaming, confected outrage and harsh words from both sides . . . even George RR Martin has taken the week off from writing Game of Thrones to devote time to playing blog tennis in this conflict.

Basically, if you pay to attend the annual science fiction convention, you’re eligible to vote on the Hugo Award for that year. Only a tiny percentage of attending fans bother voting, making it fairly easy for a gang of fans with a political agenda to get together and block vote to put their own choice on the slate.

I’m sure both sides of the current ‘civil war’ in science fiction would take exception to my simplistic summary of the situation above, but it’s a very good introduction into the world of Literary Awards and their worth – or not – to authors.

Literary Awards tend to fall into two camps . . . those decided by juries, or those decided by public vote. Some of the more famous awards for fiction such as the Booker are juried – where a panel of the great and good get together to decide on which book is “The Best” of the year. Having a self-appointed jury gets over the troublesome issue of the readers picking “The Wrong” sort of book in a public vote . . . see the Hugos above.

In the UK, the main award for science fiction is the Arthur C Clarke Awards, which is happily juried.

Each award tends to have a unique flavour. The Booker sneers at genre fiction (they’d sooner cut a leg off than allow a grubby science fiction author into the list), and focus on “Literary Fiction”, blindly missing the fact that contemporary fiction is a genre with its own rules every bit as set in stone as that of fantasy (dragon: tick; quest: tick).

There is the Hugo and Nebula and Arthur C Clarke Awards for science fiction. There is the Golden Dagger for crime writers (there you go, Mr Castle), or the RITA award for romance writers. There’s even the Prix Aurora Awards for Canadian science fiction novels.

But what actual use is winning a shiny piece of Perspex to authors? In reality, not much. As a rule, you don’t tend to sell more books as a result of winning a gong. Awards give Tru-Fans of the genre something to politic and complain about. A win certainly puts a smile on the author’s face. Publishers will happily stamp Award-Winning Author on the cover of a novel, and the editorial team will all slap each on the back when one of “their” writers picks one up.

Beyond that, the politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

One interesting relatively recent literary award to hit the scene is the Gemmell Award for fantasy fiction, named after the sadly deceased (and very talented) British fantasy author David Gemmell.

The Gemmell Award allow the public – that’s you and me – to vote on which novels should form the shortlist for The Legend Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and that shortlist is then put to you a second time to select the winner.

One of my novels, ‘In Dark Service’ (the first book of the Far-called series) is up for being voted on by you now over at http://www.gemmellawards.com/award-voting/

Being voted onto the shortlist won’t help the Stephen Hunt Retirement Fund, but it might put a smile on my notoriously grumpy Jack Dee-lookalike mug.

'In Dark Service' - you can vote for it in the Gemmell Awards.

‘In Dark Service’ – you can vote for it in the Gemmell Awards.

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Category: Writer's Dojo

About the Author ()

I have been working as a full-time author publishing fantasy and science fiction novels for HarperCollins for the last seven years.

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