I am seeing an increasing number of people of late suggesting loopholes in the Hugo Award rules whereby things that you would not expect to be eligible in a category could be argued as being eligible. Typically this involves work that ought to belong in one of the more competitive categories being moved into one that is seen as a soft option. The most obvious examples are getting professional work nominated in the fan categories, and getting anything into Related Work.
Now obviously there are reasons why such things might be legitimate. It is OK for a professional writer or artist to do fan work as well. It is quite another to suggest nominated work that was clearly well paid as fan work. Equally Related Work is a catch-all category for work that can’t be nominated anywhere else, but that doesn’t mean that things that clearly do belong somewhere else should be moved to Related Work.
There are a number of reasons why this sort of thing is bad. Firstly, it discredits the awards, because it makes it look like the way to win is to exploit the rules, rather than produce good work. Of course there are people who think that discrediting the Hugos is a fine and upstanding moral cause, but thankfully they are more noise than anything else.
Reason two is that is can make problems with the rules harder to fix. If a category definition is unclear then it is normally sufficient to ask the Business Meeting to pass an amendment clarifying the situation. That will probably go through on the nod. It still takes two years, but it is uncontroversial. However, if someone has taken advantage of that lack of clarity and gotten nominated because of it, fixing the problem will be much harder. Everyone who is a fan or friend of the person who got nominated, and everyone who hopes to follow in their footsteps, will immediately yell UNFAIR! It will be seen that a possible route to nomination is being taken away. All fandom will be plunged into angry exchanges on social media.
Interestingly this is an example where Cheryl’s Second Law is not crazy enough. The Second Law states that something has to happen twice for something to become a sacred and holy tradition of fandom that must be defended. With the Hugos, nomination need only happen once to become sacred.
Finally, encouraging people to nominate works in line with a perceived loophole can cause people to waste nominations, and thereby cause works to miss getting on the final ballot. To understand why that is, you have to look at the rules for moving nominations between categories.
It is not the job of the Hugo Administrators to look for reasons to disqualify nominations. Normally they will bend over backwards to try to accommodate the voters’ wishes. That includes fixing obvious mistakes.
For example, suppose you mistakenly think that a work must be a novel because it was published as a book, not in a magazine, but it fact by length it is only a novelette. The Administrator will remove that work from your list of nominated novels. But, as you clearly liked the work, they will look to move the nomination to the correct category. However, there is a firm rule that you cannot nominate more than five works in any one category. If you had less than five works in Novelette, then the work you wrongly put in Novel can be moved. But if you have filled the Novelette ballot then the incorrect nomination is wasted.
This is why it can be very dangerous to try to exploit loopholes. To take another common example that I have seen touted for this year, it may seem from last year’s odd ruling about “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” that audiobooks are eligible in both fiction and dramatic presentation categories, but you have no guarantee that this year’s Administrator will follow that ruling. If you fill up your BDP: Short Form nominations with stories you have also nominated in fiction categories, and it is ruled that audiobooks can only be eligible in one category at a time, then you will have wasted five nominations.
In the later case, your nominations in one or other of the categories will still stand, and the works will not be disadvantaged. However, in the earlier example, losing your nomination because you thought a novelette was actually a novel, and you nominated five other novelettes, may be that one vote that makes the difference between the work getting on the ballot, and it not doing so.
So please, don’t risk wasting your nominations, and don’t risk harming the chances of works that you like, by trying to be clever.