Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Why am I here, and what this anonymous thing is about

Ok. The race goes not always to the swift. Got it. But still...

Here's what happened:

A few weeks ago, I got a book in the mail from a fellow SFWA member. And with it was a letter addressed to me, talking about how much my fellow writer admired me and my work. If you're in SFWA and nominated a novel for the Nebula, you probably got a copy too. A bunch of the other writers I know certainly got them, all with customized letters praising their work. This was a guerilla marketing campaign.

Credo: literary awards and recognition should go to brilliant stories, not brilliant ad campaigns.

I've come here as an unpaid lobbyist on behalf of quality. I'm going to recommend stories and novels that I think are worth attention, I'm going to say why they're worth attention, and I'll try to be open to folks telling me what I've misunderstood and why some other story is better. I also intend to take on the unpleasant task of reading all the nominees for some of the major awards and giving not just my opinions, but the thought behind my opinions. I'm going to make a case.

I'm hoping other folks will do the same.

Along with that, I hope that we can create a civil, engaged conversation about what our hopes and visions of speculative fiction are.

What I'd like you to do (as a reader of this sort of thing) is, when you vote for some award -- the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus Awards, any of the juried awards you find yourself saddled with -- vote for quality. Don't vote for your friends. Do't vote against your enemies. Don't nominate someone because of their gender or ethnicity or political affiliation. Vote aesthetics. And if you think I'm wrong about a story, tell me so in a reasoned, civil way.

Civility. That brings my to the anonymous thing. If I have the strength of my convictions, why not just stand up and shout it? Why the hiding behind a mask?

Because the last thing I want is someone sending me their stories so I'll maybe talk about them on the blog. And you know it would happen.

Anonymity has its price. The price is civility. I'm not going to use this as a chance to insult people. I will express opinions, including about some things I don't like. If I have something mean or cutting or bitchy to say, I'll say it someplace else with my name attached.

More recognition for better work. It's not taking over the world, but it's a start.


Blogger Johnny Dark said...

when you vote for some award -- the Hugo, the Nebula, the Locus Awards, any of the juried awards you find yourself saddled with -- vote for quality. Don't vote for your friends. Don't vote against your enemies. Don't nominate someone because of their gender or ethnicity or political affiliation. Vote aesthetics.

That's easy to say.

The problem, of course, is that there is a vast flood of things being published-- something like 2000 short stories and 1500 novels each year. Nobody's paying me to read. Saying "vote for quality" really doesn't help.

The SFWA process at least makes an attempt to deal with this, by winnowing down the selection in an iterative process. But it's a little erratic-- there seems to be either too many things on the preliminary ballot to read, or so few that they all make the final ballot. Of course, that's precisely why SFWA members are always arguing about the Nebula rules-- everybody thinks the process is flawed, but it's hard to see a clearly superior way to change it.

10:05 AM  
Blogger Stygian Dark said...

I have a proposal, it'll be my next post, for how to move SFWA towards allowing us to be able to read the works for nomination process.


10:22 AM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Stygian wrote, in the topic called "Why" (but I'm replying here because it continues the thread of discussion):
does the author assume that the book is good enough for a Nebula, and if so, why did they assume I needed a letter and a free copy of the book to help me come to that conclusion?

It seems likely that the author assumed you needed a copy of the book to help you come to that conclusion because they figured you would be unlikely to recommend a book you hadn't read, and giving you a copy of the book gave you the chance to read it.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Yes, the flood of raw manuscripts does make this a pain in the bum. No argument. There's no way this can be totally rigorous.

But if not Vote for Quality, then what?

The alternatives are don't vote at all (which I can respect) or else vote for people you like or whose advertising campaigns catch your eye (which I have some ethical qualms about).

I'll talk particularly about the Nebulas here. If you read a story that's good, you should recommend it. You should also tell folks it's worth reading. If you've got some folks you trust, you should maybe take a look at what they're reading too, right?

And if you (and about 20-25 other folks who are more interested in good work than political causes or career puffing) vote your consicence, some of those stories are going to wind up on the awards ballots.

Also, if you (and about 20-25 as above) actually read and discuss the stories and novels on the final ballots for the awards you're voting for, some of the stories will win.

And for every story or novel that wins because it's good as opposed to any other reason, one loses that would have (further?) reduced the meaning and integrity of the award.

We may be a dark cabal, but we can lean toward the light...

4:25 PM  
Blogger Brickworks said...

If the Nebula nomination process were anonymous, would it cut down on the sort of campaigning we're talking about?

12:52 PM  
Blogger Johnny Dark said...

Well, that's another question hotly debated by SFWA members. It's worth keeping in mind that the Nebula process is anonymous, for the most part: it is a three step process, and the last two steps-- the preliminary ballot and the final vote-- are secret ballots. It's only the first step that requires ten sfwans to publically declare that they recommend the work.
--you could argue that making the first step anonymous would make the process less transparent, and hence make it *easier* to manipulate the process, since it wouldn't be visible.

11:39 AM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

I'm gonna ditto Johnny on that one. I don't see further anonymity in the recommendations process being helpful.

I'm indulging in anonymity here because if this winds up being useful to folks, I don't want to ahve to 1) explain to my friends why I didn't recommend their stuff or 2) have folks try to make friends so as to cadge a positive review.

I'm still quite pleased to make my nebula recs in public.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Brickworks said...

And I suppose that having the recommendation process be public lets us see who might be involved in overt campaigning.

Not that I'm a conspiracy theorist or anything.


10:57 AM  
Blogger Naomi Novik said...

Having read this whole blog over. I still don't see much justification for your use of anonymity here, however civil. People might send you things? You can always just throw them away unread if you only want to comment on the things you would read uninfluenced by outside sources. Or, for that matter, you could explicitly post, "we will deliberately avoid commenting on anything sent directly to us other than at our request."

If it is cowardly to anonymously post bitchy remarks, why is it less cowardly to anonymously post thoughtful criticism? In both cases the primary function is clearly to protect you from a negative reaction from the target (or rather the author of the target). And clearly here they are not going to do anything particularly dire to you, as you are not going to be reviewing True Life Tales of the Mafia Killers: An Autobiography.

And one final point -- you're complaining here about a sleazy marketing campaign. Without your own names attached to this, how are we to know for sure that this itself isn't in fact a front for your posting positive reviews and recommendations of your own and your friends' work, cleverly camouflaged with other reviews, when we have no idea who you are? Now *that* would be guerilla marketing.

Anyway. I'm not in the least convinced of the inherent evil of marketing in a crowded field, but the general principle of nominating quality instead of the work of friends, I'm fully behind, and I've found the reviews here good so far. But the anonymity really undermines your credibility. (The prominent message This blog does not allow anonymous comments. in the comment-posting interface does not improve the impression.)

12:10 PM  
Blogger Safe Light said...

Would you feel more comfortable if the anonymity were just for a giggle? I think we can make a strong case for that too :)

2:33 AM  

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