Award Season

As I have noted elsewhere, award season is upon on once again. At this time of year, all around the blogosphere, we see people posting things a bit like this:

OMG, I’ve never done this sort of thing before, but you see I have this book out, and it would be just awesome if it was nominated for a Hugo, so could you possibly be so kind as to VOTE FOR ME, please!!!?

A few relentless self-publicists will be providing detailed lists of each Hugo category along with which work of theirs you should nominate in it, urging their loyal fans to go out and campaign on their behalf, and promising 100 virgin houris of the gender of your choice in fan heaven should the desired rocket eventuate. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, we get stuff like this:

I despise all these people who pimp themselves for awards. It makes a mockery of the whole process. How dare they call something the “best” when all it has done is win some grubby popularity contest? Anyone who asks people to vote for them in an award clearly doesn’t deserve to win it. And I hate all awards anyway. They are unfair and elitist and no one ever gave me one. It is disgusting and WRONG!!!

Personally I don’t place much store by this “best” stuff. Popular vote awards are inevitably popularity contests, and juried awards reflect the taste of the jurors. That’s just the way it works. But awards are very useful for getting people to talk about, buy and read books. And this, I think, is a good thing. It may well be disgusting and grubby that you need to have awards to encourage people to read more, but it works.

As someone who used to be responsible for promoting the Hugos, I love those pimp posts. Years back I had to remind people to vote myself. Nowadays there is a whole army of people doing it for me. And with a popular vote award that has a relatively low turnout getting more people involved is a good thing. It helps raise the profile of the awards, makes ballot stuffing harder, and makes the whole process less cliquey.

Pimp posts also encourage people to think about who they nominate. There are few worse things for the reputation of a set of awards than to have the same people nominated and winning year after year. Anything that gets the voters thinking outside of the box is worth having.

As to the pimping itself, Jeff VanderMeer pretty much nailed it here. There’s an etiquette to these things, and it is wise to follow that. After all, if you want people to vote for you it helps not to piss them off.

Yes, I know some people will still find it grubby no matter how it is phrased, but really you shouldn’t think of this as begging for awards. It is advertising. Most of the year sticking your hand up and yelling, “me, me, me, me!” is not going to get you much respect, but in award season it seems like everyone does it, so even the most shy shrinking violet feels able to do a little PR.

And they need to. Increasingly authors are being left to their own devices as far as promoting their books goes. Someone has to get the message out, or the books won’t sell. Online, if you are invisible, you are dead. If the attempts at PR by authors are a little clumsy, well, having a talent for putting words on a page doesn’t necessarily imply a talent for selling yourself. We shouldn’t be surprised.

Some of the people who complain, I suspect, are either students or have some backroom job that never requires them to meet a customer. They’ve never had to sell anything in their lives, and probably despise salesmen for the same reasons that Dilbert does. Things look a little different if you are self employed and have to sell yourself in order to keep a roof over your head.

All sorts of moral and political reasons are deployed for despising awards, and I’m sure that most of the people who advance them believe them sincerely. But I know that some of those people who are opposing pimp posts are doing so because they know what more publicity means more voters, and less control of the process for them. These are people who think you shouldn’t be allowed to vote in the Hugos unless you have been going to Worldcon every year for decades; people who want the same writers to keep winning even after they are all cryogenically frozen in their luxury gated community retirement homes. The less publicity there is for the Hugos, the happier these folks will be.

It is very odd watching exactly the same life being pushed by the moralistic progressives and the crusty reactionaries. But, of course, angry young leftists do sometimes grow up to be grumpy old conservatives, especially if being curmudgeonly is what is most important to them.

5 thoughts on “Award Season

  1. I agree on this. Auto-pimping always struck me as a desperate, insecure and tacky practice in any award process from Ditmars to Hugos to Oscars. If a work is of high quality, the cybernetic word-of-mouth will get the news to a vast audience vey quickly. This kind of thing is a memetic legacy of the simple old days of posted letters and fanzines as physical objects when getting the news out on a good work was difficult. But even in those days it was tacky – and when a suoerannuated guttersnipe like me thinks something is tacky, it must be bad.

  2. I’m just too British, I think. I am happy to write about what I’m doing, and I’m more than happy to promote books I admire by other people, but I just cannot do it for my own work. It’s not in me. That’s a failing in the modern world, sadly, but one I can’t see how to cure.

  3. It’s very true, as Kari says, that self-promotion is viewed different on this side of the Atlantic than it is in America.

    Yet, there is a line between taking humility too far. You’re utterly correct Cheryl that a lot of marketing is now being left up to the authors – which is quite uncomfortable for a lot of people. I’ve also found – just personal experience, ymmv – that women are often terrible at promoting themselves, even in the mildest fashion!

    We need a bit more humility and a bit more confidence when it comes to self-promotion I think. It’s a tough line to tread of course.

    I also believe that if there is a work that you like and admire that you should champion it. Not for the sake of scoring brownie points, but because strong, interesting work deserves attention. That’s why I always give a shout-out online to work that inspires and excites me. Good work deserves publicity. 🙂

    1. It is very much a cultural issue too. Having had the benefit of living in three different countries, I’m probably more aware than most of the subtle differences in expected polite behavior in different English-speaking regions. Last week I had a fascinating conversation with a Canadian girl who is working in England. She found British businesspeople unspeakably rude, but I suspect that the “thank you gift” culture that she is used to in Canada would be regarded as offensively ingratiating by most British businesspeople.

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