On Fan Categories

Having listened to the latest Galactic Suburbia podcast, I feel the need to point out that the fan categories in the Hugos are not, and never have been, defined by content. You do not have to write about fandom, or write in a “fannish” way (whatever that means). All that is required is that you do what you do out of the goodness of your heart, and for the good of the community (at least as you see it) rather than being paid to do it.

This does not mean that I am opposed to fans getting paid for their writing. Indeed, I think it is a very good thing. The main reason I am not still doing Salon Futura is because I could not generate enough income from it to pay the writers properly. But if you are getting paid then you should accept that you have to play with the big boys and girls in the professional categories. In practice, of course, most fans who get paid for some of their work also do a huge amount of unpaid work as well — it should not be necessary to cite their professional work in order to nominate them.

As I said the other week, the Hugo rules allow voters a great deal of leeway in areas where category definitions are unclear. However, they do not allow voters to comprehensively redefine categories. You cannot vote a novel into the Short Story category because it feels like a short story to you, or because you think dividing fiction categories by length is silly. If you do nominate paid work in the fan categories, you risk wasting your vote.

I should add that one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this because when I started out people tried to bar me from the fan categories on the grounds that my work was “not fannish”. You may find this hard to believe, but back in the 20th Century many people thought that book reviews were an inappropriate subject for fan writing. Defining categories on the basis of the type of content is a risky thing that opens the door to all sorts of discrimination. As I benefited from the categories not being defined by content back then, I do not want to see that rule changed now.