WSFS Business I: Semiprozines

It looks like the WSFS committee investigating the fanzine/semiprozine split is going to report at the Business Meeting at this year’s Worldcon. Neil Clarke has a report here explaining what they have decided. The actual report and and some minority reports from dissenting members of the committee, is available here.

The objective of most of the people involved has been to try to find a clearer definition of what constitutes a semiprozine, because the existing definition was deemed too confusing and ineffectual. The point of semiprozines, at least as I see it, is that they are run as commercial concerns — in that they pay their contributors, may have advertising and so on — but they are run by people who all have other jobs, and those people often take no pay for their work on the magazines.

This has caused some confusion in the past because many people who are in the SF&F community have a variety of jobs. So, for example, Jonathan Strahan edits reviews for Locus, edits anthologies for other people, and has a day job. David Hartwell edits NYRSF, but also has a full time job with Tor. So focusing on the editors made it hard to see who was professional and who wasn’t.

What the committee appears to have done is shift the emphasis onto the ownership of the magazine. So if the magazine is owned by a company that employs staff, then it is a professional magazine, but if it run entirely by people working for it in their spare time, then it is a semiprozine. The actual rules are a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the substantive change.

Under this rule, magazines like Locus, Weird Tales and Lightspeed, which are all owned by proper companies, are professional. Magazines such as NYRSF, Clarkesworld, and of course Strange Horizons, though as far as I know they continue to ask not to be considered, are semiprozines.

The new rules are still fairly opaque, in that your average voter is not going to be easily able to tell which magazines are eligible are which are not. But that’s because there is no simple and easy rule that can be written. If you want to have a semiprozine category, you will have to have complex rules. Given that, this is probably the best we are going to get. It is certainly a new idea, and I wasn’t sure that the committee would be able to come up with one.

It is worth looking briefly at the various minority reports. I see Stu Segal’s point, in that we have had new winners in the past two years, so things do seem to be getting better. However, I am fairly certain that Locus will win again this year, and the “stop Locus” people would be very unhappy if the committee reported back that Locus had indeed been stopped, and then it went and won again.

Saul Jaffe is right when he says that the rules are still too complex, but it will be very easy for various websites such as the Hugo Recommend LiveJournal, or the SF Editors wiki, and indeed, to list eligible magazines. Saul’s problem appears to be that he’s still hung up on the issue of “campaigning”, and he’s opposed to anyone even mentioning that they are eligible. I think we have moved well beyond that.

As for Ben Yalow’s proposal, it cuts against the whole philosophy of semiprozines. The reason that I and many other people work on them for nothing is that by doing so we are able to provide struggling writers with additional income. If you stop semiprozines paying their contributors then they become indistinguishable from fanzines. And, as Neil points out, Ben’s proposal will gut the semiprozine category. There will be so few eligible magazines that there will be no point in having the category. Given that Ben is one of the people who wanted to do away with the category in the first place, it is easy to see why his proposal is crafted the way it is.

8 thoughts on “WSFS Business I: Semiprozines

  1. Magazines such as NYRSF, Clarkesworld, and of course Strange Horizons, though as far as I know they continue to ask not to be considered, are semiprozines.

    Just a small correction here. It’s not that we ask not to be considered, per se. Under the current rules, Strange Horizons is not automatically a semiprozine — the only criterion we meet is the one about paying contributors. Historically, this has suited us quite well, since when we were set up online magazines were less a part of the field than they are now, so it was important to be clear that we are, by SFWA definitions, a professional magazine, in that we pay professional rates for our fiction. These days, I think that’s less of an issue, but the fact remains that by the current criteria we’re not a semiprozine — unless, of course, we declare ourselves to be one, and since the only reason for doing that after so long would be to make ourselves eligible for the Hugo category, I think it would look a bit tacky, so we haven’t done it.

    If these changes pass, Strange Horizons will be a semiprozine for Hugo purposes without us doing anything.

    I do wonder about how semiprozine interacts with editor short form, though. The report says:

    For award purposes, this continuum — the zine continuum — continues to be divided into three categories: Fanzines and Semi-Prozines which are eligible for Hugos themselves, and professional magazines whose editors are eligible for a Best Editor Hugo. As always, content is no guide as to where to draw the lines.

    I have to admit I hadn’t realised this — it’s quite confusing this year, for example, that John Joseph Adams’ work on Lightspeed is relevant in the semiprozine category, where Lightspeed is eligible, but doesn’t count towards his eligibility for best editor, short form, which is based on his anthologies. (Should voters disregard his work on Lightspeed when considering the best editor short form category? Surely not.) If I’m reading the report correctly, the change would remove this specific confusion by moving Lightspeed into the professional category, but it wouldn’t change the principle. Is that right?

    (It would also mean that Karen, Susan and Jed stop being eligible in best editor short form, presumably.)

    1. I would have thought that you reach the electronic equivalent of a print run of 1,000, even if you adjust that upwards on the assumption that on average an issue of a print magazine has more than one reader. However, that’s not very relevant. What Mary Anne first said when she started the magazine was that she wanted it to be considered professional, and judged against the likes of F&SF and Asimov’s. That’s a very fine ambition. I think that you guys deserve a Hugo, but I very much applaud the desire not to seem tacky. (I also note in passing that the current proposals would remove a number of fine magazines from contention, and having you guys in the mix would benefit the category.)

      The question about the relationship with Editor Short Form is a tricky one. The easy way to fix it would be to split the category and have Best Anthology and Best Professional Magazine, but lots of people hate adding more categories, and if we had Best Anthology you can bet people would demand Best Collection as well. There may also be people who fall through the cracks in that, though I can’t think of any offhand.

      I have always felt that, despite the orthogonal set of differences between fan and professional activity, there was a hierarchy here. If you edited a good fanzine you could aspire to become a semiprozine — something both Dave and I opted for — and if you edited a good semiprozine then you could aspire to be a professional editor.

      This would suggest that if you get nominated in Editor Short Form you can’t be eligible for Semiprozine as well. But JJA complicates this, because he does anthologies in addition to Lightspeed and Fantasy. If Neil were nominated in Editor Short Form I’d be perfectly OK with Clarkesworld not being in Semiprozine, but I can see that if, say, Jed were nominated in Editor Short Form, that shouldn’t necessarily rule SH out of contention for Semiprozine.

      If the Hugos had a jury then complex issues like this would be decided behind closed doors, and we’d never see how the sausage was made. But the Hugos have to make such decisions in the full glare of fannish scrutiny, which is I why very much like the vox populi, vox dei doctrine. What the people say might not always seem rational, but it is preferable to having anyone decide on our behalf, or to having to devise rules that encompass every possibility.

      1. It looks like professionals in the eye of the beholder, but the actual Best Editor category names and descriptions don’t say professional anyway. I’m not reading the actual WSFS Hugo rules, just this write-up here:

        But I don’t see a conflict wrt Semiprozine and Best Editor stuff. Probably I’m over-skimming and under-reading…?

        1. There’s no restriction on the Editor categories. You can nominate anyone, professional or not.

          What Niall and I are talking about is the general principle that you should not get two Hugos for the same work. In this particular case it could be alleged that JJA has been nominated in two categories for the same work: Lightspeed. That’s not a desirable outcome. Fortunately JJA has also edited some fine anthologies, but as Niall says it is not clear whether we should consider Lightspeed when voting on Editor: Short Form.

          Replacing Editor:Short Form with Professional Magazine and Anthology would solve that problem, but bring with it a whole lot of new concerns, such as the likelihood that Anthology would, for very good reasons, always be dominated by “Best Of the Year” books.

          1. Thanks for ‘splaining. There’s always a risk of this, I suppose (e.g., best fan writer + best fanzine, methinks).

            I am not in favour of expanding with those categories, anyway.

            Thanks again.

  2. I have to say I think no amount of tinkering will solve the basic problem with the SemiProZine Hugo.

    And I really don’t like giving the Hugo Administrator the job of having to determine whether a publication is a valid nominee or not in the category, especially given the definition is one you can’t expect the nominators to self-administer.

    Your more likely to damage the reputation of the Hugo be excluding a publication that is technically not a SemiProZine, but in most peoples eyes is than having a publication that most people think of as a ProZine included in the nominations.

    I much prefer the tried and tested method of letting the nominators and voters decide. But this probably means we do need a new Hugo category “Best ProZine” so that people can decide what category something is in.

    1. I think most people will agree with you about not wanting Administrators to have to make such decisions on a regular basis. I know I do. But the fact that eligibility isn’t easy for voters to discern doesn’t mean that eligibility can only be decided after the fact by Administrators. The Campbell, for example, works fairly well thanks to the good work being done by the Writertopia folks.

Comments are closed.