A Lesson About Awards

Yesterday The Guardian‘s Book Blog published the final short list for their Not the Booker Prize contest. There was, I regret to say, not a single work of speculative fiction on it. China Miéville’s The City and The City missed the cut by 4 votes. The other spec fic titles were nowhere.

But here’s what interests me about the whole thing. Voting was entirely free, and the contest encompassed the whole of fiction, not just our little corner thereof. And yet only 794 people nominated (as compared to 639 who nominated in Best Novel for this year’s Hugos) and discussion of the voting is rife with allegations of ballot stuffing.

That tells me two things. Firstly free voting alone won’t get you a lot of participation: people have to care about the award in question first. And secondly, if you do have free voting, you had better make sure you do get a lot of participation, because people will try to stuff the ballot. A fee, even a quite small one, would have deterred most of that, I suspect.

8 thoughts on “A Lesson About Awards

  1. I also was disappointed by the results – from my pov I mean since the 6 shortlisted novels may all be great though the only one that truly tempts me is Solo at some point

    4 of the 6 definitely do not tempt me though I would browse any if/when I see them in a US bookstore, while Tomas seems to be one of those “love or hate” books and the controversies about the author do not help either…

    Despite that I *should have* since it was clear it needed all the help it could get and even Mr. Jordison used his vote for it, I could not find myself voting for Mieville since it was such a “meh” novel for me- not even infuriating like Iron Council, but plain boring after a while, though again it may just my strong bias against detective stories with policemen as heroes – when you live 21 years under a totalitarian regime where the police is the daily monster ready to gobble you or at best make your life a misery, it is very hard to empathize with a policeman forever…

    So I voted the emotional favorite Spirit though if Father of Locks or Brooklyn had a shot late, I would have voted happily either…

    To me the biggest failing of “Not the Booker” was not having a dedicated site and secret voting by email say that only Mr. Jordison and helpers would see; a fee would have just cut massively the participation to no good purpose I think

  2. Liviu:

    I’m not suggestion that Not the Booker should has had a voting fee, I’m just pointing out that if you have free voting and low turnout then ballot stuffing is fairly inevitable.

  3. Ah, but I read the not the booker to be a bit of fun and a chance to stimulate conversation given the people involved. Damien G Walter did do his bit for pushing China. 🙂

  4. Since all the Not Booker (and the related Booker) posts brought to my attention some books I would have not heard about or considered and I got to enjoy a lot, I agree that it was a big success from that point of view; with a dedicated site I think it could attracted more participants

    Regarding Mieville, the Tor.uk publicists emailed our site (Fantasy Book Critic) and I am pretty sure lots of other sff oriented sites to point to the Guardian contest and “go Mieville”, so the Tomas, Tin Kin or Crump bloc votes were more indicative of the degree of attention and response by their fans as opposed to the sff fans who did not respond, than of attempts to rig the vote (imho at least)…

  5. The thing that cracks me up about this? There might well be a year when the six best books published weren’t in any way SF or Fantasy. No quotas, people. And I can think of a few SF/F books this year better than China’s, so that fixation cracks me up a bit, too. As does comparing an award given for decades to an online poll. Sorry, Cheryl, but this post just doesn’t scan.

  6. Jeff:

    I’m not really interested in which books were “best” here. We are talking about different forms of popularity contest. All that is at issue is how they operate. The fact that the results won’t please everyone should be a given.

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