Of Awards Eligibility Lists and Unbearable Smugness

We need to have a serious talk about awards and eligibility and the awkward eggshell-dance people feel obligated to do every time this year.

Recently I went on a tear on Twitter because I saw women for whom I have tremendous admiration and respect speak up about how difficult they find it to overcome shyness and low self-esteem enough to talk about their work, and what an ongoing struggle it is for them to find value in their art, to think of it as in any way contributing anything to the world.

This is an old story. This is most of my friends.

John Scalzi has views on posting eligibility lists; so does Adam Roberts. The former says hooray, lists! The latter says boo, lists! Mysteriously, both of them really want to see more recognition and lauding of writing by commonly marginalized people, but while Scalzi offers the use of his Comments space for anyone to share their eligibility, Roberts decries the practice as “making it easier for the guy with the loudest megaphone to shoehorn his way onto the shortlists.”

Scalzi has also responded to Roberts’ post, but neither of them state what bothers me the most in this folderol: nothing will stop the guy with the megaphone. No hand-wringing or tut-tutting about reading widely or behaving with dignity or integrity or what have you is going to end the practice of brash, confident people telling other people, often and obnoxiously, to vote for them. But, crucially, the hand-wringing and tut-tutting does have an effect: it discourages the people who already feel silenced and uncomfortable from ever talking about or taking pride in their achievements.

You cannot with one breath say that you wish more women were recognized for their work, and then say in the next that you think less of people who make others aware of their work. You cannot trust that somehow, magically, the systems that suppress the voices of women, people of colour, disabled people, queer people, trans people, will of their own accord stop doing that when award season rolls around in order to suddenly make you aware of their work. You MUST recognize the fact that the only way to counter silence is to encourage speech and make room for it to be heard.

It breaks my heart to read post after post of (mostly women) saying “well I usually wouldn’t do this but so-and-so” (OFTEN ME) “goaded me into doing it so here it is,” or to participate in discussions where women — extraordinary, talented, accomplished, incandescent women — confess how terrified they are by the prospect of talking about their publications during award season because what if assholes start treating them like they treated Seanan McGuire.

There’s a peculiar, unbearable, vicious smugness in sitting back and talking about how tacky it is of people to list their publications and that of course YOU won’t do so because while winning awards is nice naturally YOU don’t really care about them. I find that behaviour several orders of magnitude more repellent than asking for votes. Requests for votes I can ignore; what I can’t ignore is the real toll taken on brilliantly talented people by this kind of rhetoric — brilliantly talented people who already think themselves unworthy of any kind of positive attention.

Can we please just accept — and make widespread the acceptance! — that making lists during Awards season is fine? That it’s standard? That there is a vast difference between stating one’s eligibility and campaigning for votes? That lists are extremely helpful to nominating parties who are rigorous in their reading and want to see conversations in fandom expand and diversify? And that rolling one’s eyes about the whole process helps precisely no one while in fact hindering many?

Because this is something for which I’ll certainly campaign.


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72 Responses to Of Awards Eligibility Lists and Unbearable Smugness

  1. Kate Elliott says:

    Thank you for writing this so cogently.

  2. Brian Dolton says:

    On the one hand, I agree with everything you just said.

    On ther hand, I quite understand anyone who does not want to, or feels uncomfortable, pimping their work, or even having their work pimped by others. Because that’s how I (old white male with attendant privilege baggage) feel. I was raised, culturally, not just to hide my light under a bushel, but not to believe there IS a light to hide. And if I was raised that way, how much harder for marginalised people?

    I don’t know what the answer is. I know what it is for ME, but I don’t know how to make it work for people who deserve award consideration but don’t have, or don’t want to be seen to have, that kind of voice.

    • Cynthia says:

      I think the way we all associate the word “pimping” with this whole “making sure people have access to works of merit, for their consideration” thing, contributes big time to the discomfort. Promotion, in thoughtful moderation, is not a shameful thing. Can we stop using the phrase “pinning our work” so carelessly and maybe bring a more empowering phrase to the fore?

    • Sylvia says:

      I wonder if you realize that you just called everyone who works in Marketing a pimp.
      I wonder if any of them would be offended at that.

      I wonder if the award committee realizes

  3. Laurie Mann says:

    I’m more annoyed that people feel all of their work is equally nominatable. Some people do publish quite a lot in a year, however, it’s not all equally good.

    • Sharon Lee says:

      Well. . .As someone who lists all the stuff we saw published during a given year. . .The reason is because I don’t know what’s nominatable — *I* like them all, being a fond parent. And I see that our readers differ quite a bit in their opinion of which work(s) they think are great and which are garbage — and, yes, one reader’s Best! Book! Ever! is another reader’s Worst! Book! Ever! So, my philosophy is: List them all and let the readers sort it out.

    • I’d rather leave that judgement call to the readers, since personal mileage on a given story varies so much; I know I’ve certainly thought highly of stories of my own that got no attention and thought somewhat less of stories that did. Also, again, I’m talking eligibility — and all that matters for that is year of publication and wordcount.

    • spidoosh says:

      An author posting a list of eligible works is generally not making a statement about the ‘nominatability’ of any of them. They are simply providing information that will help others make their own decisions about whether or not they want to nominate.

  4. I’m all about these eligibility lists if for no better reason than it gives me more to read. I kept track of everything I read last year; out of 201 books (yes, I’m nuts) only slightly more than a third were by women, and that was after noticing there was a problem about a third of the way through the year. I’m committed to reading more work by women and POC this year if it kills me– and finding lists like that is a great way to find me more to read.

    • I’m committed to reading more work by women and POC this year if it kills me


    • rightasusual2003gmailcom says:

      But, there are sub-genres where fewer women write – for example, military fiction, or hard-core stuff depending on advanced knowledge of physics/chemistry. Not that women couldn’t, or even do, write those types, just that there are fewer.
      I’m not into romance sci-fi, nor vampires/dragons types of fantasy, so many female writers pass me by. Even so, a good story in those genres will captivate me (Monster Hunters, or Pixie Noir).
      If it’s a good story, the race/sex/orientation/alien status, etc., will not matter. I suspect that most other readers are the same.

  5. vitaminheist says:

    God yes. Yes. And as a reader, sometimes a lazy reader–I want to read more widely and I already know about the existing big names! So it’s super-valuable to me if other people tell me about their own work. I actually use celebrity twitter to learn about books and TV and film that isn’t covered in, say, Entertainment Weekly, and it’s freakin’ awesome.

  6. rooty2 says:

    My wise grandmother had this saying. I don’t know it’s source. “If you tooteth not your own horn, the same shall not be tooted.” I have no problem with people promoting the eligibility of their work for awards. How am I supposed to know that something I read and liked last week is eligible or ineligible? Copyright date isn’t enough. Also, this is for all people who feel that they or their work is inadequate: People will tend to take you at your own valuation. So tell us your work is eligible. That isn’t saying it’s the greatest thing ever written, vote for me, vote for me.That’s just telling us it’s eligible.

    • rooty2 says:

      Darn it. “its source.” And I spent 30 years as an editor (technical). Contraction apostrophes are a scourge and should be banished from the face of the anglophone world.

  7. Linda Nagata says:

    I posted my eligible work both this year and last, and when the opportunity was offered to post it again on the big blogs, I stepped right up. I’ve been surprised since to encounter the disapproval and self-questioning. Then again, when we insist on using terms like “pimping” and “shameless self promotion” I guess it’s to be expected. The hard truth is that no one will read a book they haven’t heard of. So yes–please make your lists of eligible works, and let the voters decide.

  8. Beautifully put. I am voting for the Hugo awards, and submitting nominations, for the first time in my 45 years here on planet Earth. I am very excited about it. I spent a tremendous amount of effort over the past year to increase the amount of reading I devoted to current works, most notably short stories, for the simple idea that I wanted to be able to be a part of this process at least once in my lifetime and be able to do so from a position where I’ve at least read SOME of the works that are eligible for nomination. I know the awards are flawed. All awards are. But I love them all the same.

    As a first time nominator, what do I want? I want it to be easy for me to know that what I am putting up for nomination actually meets the qualifications. I want to be sure I didn’t miss something worthy. I want to be informed. The best way for that to happen is for authors to toot their own horns a little. In reality saying “I wrote this. It is eligible for nomination.” isn’t tooting one’s horn, but still, I want that help. So do other voters. By and large the people who have a problem with it are vocal people that tend to have a problem with everything and folks like Roberts who may have a sound argument if viewed from a certain perspective but ultimately fall short of true because the promotion of one’s work is part and parcel of being successful in any creative venture. It is ludicrous that we don’t fault all those companies for inundating us with commercials for their products telling us how great they are (it annoys us, but do we grouse about it online incessantly?) but people feel the need to shame creators who simply step up and say, “this is something I made that you might enjoy”? I think that is ludicrous.

    Why shouldn’t it be okay for everyone to be the guy with the biggest megaphone? No one is forcing us at gunpoint to read your post, tweet, facebook share, etc. talking about your work. But it should be out there for those who want to take the time to read it. For those who don’t? Don’t read it and for all of our sakes, keep your mouth’s shut.

  9. This. This. THIS.

    I have nothing more useful to add, except a standing fucking ovation.

  10. I saw a tweet about this while at work, and marked it so I could find this post when I got home tonight.

    This is the first year I’ve had anything eligible to be nominated for anything. And it is one thing, one book, because life and dayjob, and deadlines for the rest of the series kept me from writing anything else except the second and third books in the series.

    One thing is not a list. I did put the title in Scalzi’s comment thread, but I’m oddly reluctant to write a blog post for one book. New people rarely wander by and my friends aren’t likely to forget what I published in 2013. I agonize about how the book is doing often enough.

    It’s a weird place to be and a stranger state of mind.

  11. Aside from the shaming or censure that pooh-poohing eligibility posts generates I am discomforted by the implicit assumption that as a fan (in addition to wearing a number of hats in the community) that I can’t think for myself, that I can’t look at a book of Scalzi’s and a book of Sofia Samatar’s and make a rational decision on which I think might be the better book, that I might be swayed to vote for the more popular author by virtue of their popularity. Great post Amal.

  12. I can’t recall exactly but I read about studies where it was shown that women are in large less likely to generally promote their work no matter the industry. I think I also read on the Huffington post that female journalists are far less likely to submit their work for awards as well with neat data breakdown, but I don’t have the piece with me. It’s quite sad that this happens and even though I am quite annoyed personally when awards season comes, because I feel as though I’m swamped under work I have not read and it all sounds too awesome (easily overwhelmed here),

    I thought it was standard proceedings. After all, this is your career, you know. These are the things that you have to do and I’d really like for the whole thing to become a non-issue. Just make your list, mention it a few times and let it be. The mind boggles as to why so many people make a deal out of it.

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  14. Emma Newman says:

    Thank you. Your tweet was one of the things that drove me to my site to make my first eligibility post.

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  18. I liked this a lot. And I am glad that you related it to existing power dynamics. I think that too many people are just waiting for someone to recognize how great they are. And that’s great and all. But it often doesn’t happen. If you’re not willing to assert your own greatness, then you’re left at the mercy of people who might not really even be looking at people like you. For instance, I find alot of the self-publishing hype to be a little grating, but there’s also something exciting and empowering about watching people who really believe in themselves.

  19. What happened to Seanan McGuire made flames shoot out of my eyes. (False fireproof eyelashes now a go.)

    This stuff… THIS STUFF… it just keeps happening! I was enraged enough to write a million-page essay http://the-toast.net/2013/11/12/a-female-author-talks-about-sexism-and-self-promotion/ and I’M STILL ENRAGED. What’s that, ladies pointed out another all-male panel in genre fiction? The nerve of them!

    Be humble, get punished by obscurity, be outspoken, get punished for lack of humility–funny how the system is set up to screw you either way.

  20. Cat Rambo says:

    Thank you for posting this. It feels so freaking uncomfortable to make this sort of post, and yet I know that it’s not stopping some other people. Very appreciated.

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  23. I believe that it is ok to let folks know what is out there that they might consider nominating for an award. The line between ‘good information’ and ‘too much self-promotion’ is entirely subjective. But I do know that it helps break the barrier a little if others do it for you, so, starting tomorrow and running throughout awards season, Amazing Stories (whose contributors are all eligible for the Best Fan Writer Hugo award; the site itself is eligible for a Best Fanzine Hugo) is running a special Sunday feature entitled For Your Consideration.
    All you need to is send in your eligible work; if you want to say a little something about it, feel free. If you’d rather just have it appear as a title and cover illo, that’s fine too.
    But do let everyone know that your work is eligible because the benefit in doing so extends far beyond the awards: it lets all of us know that there is a much wider world of works out there and that’s a good thing for all of us.

  24. rooty2 says:

    I think the people who squirm over posting eligibility lists should consider it a requirement of their jobs as writers. You’re a pro. Be a pro.

    And ignore the critics. They’re unduly influenced by the British public (private) school, Victorian code of conduct (not merely male, but white Anglo-Saxon upper class male). Poor things. The only way they can have any fun is by breaking the code and then writhing in guilt the rest of their lives. The rest of us are not so imprisoned.

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  32. I really, really love this entry. THANK YOU.

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  37. Beth says:

    By the way… thank you. I appreciate your efforts to make SFF a more inclusive space. Thank you times a million.

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  45. richard1j says:

    Pimp your goods. Hawk your wares. Sell your product. Shout to the world that you created something. Show snippets of what you believe to be the best of your work. Ask for opinions of your work. If the opinions are not to your liking learn from them. If the opinions are simply name calling consider the source and move on.

  46. Stephan Beal says:

    “You cannot with one breath say that you wish more women were recognized for their work, and then say in the next that you think less of people who make others aware of their work.”

    Sure you can. Wishing that (group X) gets more recognition does not imply that they must bring the recognition to themselves. Which do we trust more? What someone says about themselves or what other, trusted references say about them? i generally trust the latter for more than someone tooting their own horn.

    • To me, wishing that (group X) gets more recognition means you don’t want to undermine their attempts to put their work out there. This post was about pointing out some ways in which people do that without realizing it.

      I also think there’s a vast gulf between tooting one’s own horn and making an eligibility post — the latter’s a statement of fact, the former’s not — but I recognize a lot of people see no difference there. I just happen to disagree with that view. I also don’t think listening to trusted references and reading eligibility posts are mutually exclusive activities. If anything, they complement each other.

  47. Cat Rambo says:

    Terrific post, thank you. I wish more writers would put up lists of their stuff, so I don’t have to hunt and worry that I missed something. It’s not an ill wind that blows its own horn.

    • Thanks, Cat! The irony of this is that I’ve been so busy this year–partly with reviewing other people’s work!–that I haven’t been able to find 5 minutes to put my own up.

    • perhaps what we need is an “app” that authors can post to as a matter of course upon the publication of a new work. For the author, it’s just a listing, but for someone else, it can serve as an aggregator of “all eligibles works as of” date.

      • OMG that would make my life so much easier! I actually set up a Google Form thing that’s changing my life where keeping track is concerned, that generates a spreadsheet of things people recommend to me to read for review. But an app would be amazing. Could have streams for Fave Authors, New Authors, Recommended Authors, etc…

  48. I always thought this was what people do, that it was standard! Admittedly, I first became aware of the practice through Scalzi’s blog so that might have influenced my view. That and being far away. To all the women who did not post or are to shy to – please do! The first time I got into nominations and voting I spent soooo many hours in vain searching for you!

  49. Mihalea, I think it is important to always remember that there is a big difference between “hey, my novel XBFMN is eligible this year” and “vote for these works to support our politics” or even “vote for me, me, me, me!”. Admittedly there is not much space between these ways of doing things, but however small, there is a distinction. And no, this is not to suggest that you are doing the latter, merely taking the opportunity to reiterate the message.

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