Nominating podcasts for the Hugo Awards

Recently, I read a tweet that moved me to respond to the author.

The reason Jason tweeted to say that his podcast (The Incomparable) wasn’t eligible in the Fancast category was that he takes sponsorship. Both he and I thought that rendered him ineligible for any fannish category, due to the fact it represents a revenue stream.

A photograph showing previous Hugo Awards on display at a convention

I tweeted at Jason, and we discussed podcasts and their place in the list of Hugo Award categories. There are two categories in the last couple of years that have seen podcasts nominated. The first and most obvious is Best Fancast, in which a range of fannish podcasts have been nominated but which is specifically for non-professional ventures. The other is Best Related Work, in which Writing Excuses was nominated in both 2012 and 2013.

In which category would The Incomparable belong? Upon reading the WSFS Constitution1 we find:

A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria: (1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

The definition of the Best Fancast category as expressed in the same document is — to preçis — any podcast that is “non-professional”, i.e. any podcast that does not meet either of the above criteria. I have been told that the reason that Writing Excuses is not eligible as Best Fancast is because it is published by Brandon Sanderson’s company, which qualifies it as a professional work.

What this does mean, however, is that any podcast with sponsorship and adverts can be nominated for Best Fancast, as long as that sponsorship does not make enough money to qualify the podcast as professional.

Podcast collectives

Where this becomes somewhat less clear is in the case of podcast collectives. The Incomparable is a part of the 5by5 network, which employs Dan Benjamin on a full-time basis, so anything published by or owned by 5by5 counts as a professional work. A podcast collective does not own the podcasts that belong to it, but I don’t know how a Hugo Awards administrator would rule on whether a collective counts as publishing the podcasts that belong to it. Jason argued that it wouldn’t in an email to me, writing:

I own my show (5by5 hosts it and sells some of the advertising, but I have all creative control as well as our separate site at so 5by5’s business status probably doesn’t connect.

I agree with Jason — it seems clear to me that podcast collectives are not publishers. Despite my opinion, however, the word ‘publish’ is not explicitly defined in the WSFS Constitution and so I can’t be sure of how an administrator would rule on the issue. I would argue that the fact that 5by5 has no editorial control over the podcast means that they don’t publish it, but I suspect there are arguments one could put forward to argue the reverse. I hope that future administrators would agree with me, but without a test case there’s no way to know.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion is to nominate The Incomparable as Best Fancast and watch what the administrators do! Go nominate it now, and I’ll write a follow-up blog post when it’s announced as a nominee at Satellite 4.

Thanks to Andrew Trembley and Warren Buff for discussing this subject with me!

  1. I apologise for linking to such a completely awful website, but unfortunately it’s the best way to link readers to the constitution. Hopefully one day it’ll get a fresh coat of paint. 

Worldcon and the cheapest way to support it

Worldcon is the shorthand for the World Science Fiction Convention and is held annually on behalf of the World Science Fiction Society, or WSFS. The convention has a long history, having run 70 times (at the time of writing) since 1939, and thousands of people from across the world attend and discuss science fiction every year. However, not everyone who is a member attends the convention; some people buy supporting memberships, and that’s what I’m discussing here.

There are several reasons to support Worldcon. The first reason is simple: because you want to. Worldcons need money to be successful, and a supporting membership helps in that regard. If you are slightly less altruistic (or, like me, you simply can’t afford to support every cause of which you approve) here are a couple of tangible benefits to supporting Worldcon, and then I’ll let you in on the secret to supporting it in the cheapest way.

The Hugo Awards

The Hugo Awards are the premier award in the field of science fiction and fantasy. Works are nominated every year by the members of that year’s Worldcon, the previous year’s Worldcon, and the next year’s Worldcon.1 As a result, if you’re interested in having your voice heard being a member of a Worldcon is good, as you can influence which works make it onto the Hugo Award ballot.

In addition, members of a Worldcon get to vote in the Hugo Awards that are awarded at that convention. This not only means that you get to have a say in what is recognised by the award, but it means you get something called the Hugo Voter Packet, which consists of electronic versions of almost every nominated work.2 This is a lot of material for what you pay; a supporting membership costs $60 this year, and the packet is comfortably worth more than that.

Site Selection

The advertisement for the Helsinki in 2015 Worldcon bid.

Even if supporting membership is a good deal normally, we want to try to minimise the cost of acquiring one. So, onto the real business of the article — how does one support Worldcon for as little money as possible? The secret is to vote in site selection. Worldcon sites are voted on two years ahead of the convention, and everyone who votes in site selection becomes a supporting member of the Worldcon that is elected. This isn’t just people who vote for the bid that wins; it’s all fans who vote. Since the voting fee tends to be $40, this is the cheapest way to become a supporting member of the Worldcon, every year.

Thus, your next course of action is clear. Go and join LoneStarCon 3, paying the $60 to become a supporting member, and then pay the $40 on the Site Selection page to vote for a bid. (You should definitely vote for Helsinki in 2015, by the way….)

So go forth, and exercise your right to vote! Not only is it supporting Worldcon, it’s getting your supporting membership in the cheapest possible way. You’re two for two!

  1. So, the works that appear on the ballot at LoneStarCon 3 were nominated by members of that convention, Chicon 7 and Loncon 3. This is a new thing that’s only come in recently: before this year, it was only members of the current and previous years’ conventions, so Loncon 3 members would not have been eligible to nominate. 
  2. The nominees for Best Dramatic Presentation usually don’t appear in the packet, and some novels don’t appear in formats other than PDF. 

TAFF 2013: Where the votes came from

On every TAFF ballot (and most ballots for TAFF’s sibling fan funds), there is a piece of text at the bottom that reads something like this:

Reproduction of this form is encouraged. It is the official voting vehicle and must be reproduced verbatim.
Anyone reproducing this form should substitute their name here: John Coxon

A discussion brewed on the mailing list of past and present fan fund administrators over whether this was necessary and whether it was still worth doing, mostly driven by the release of a PDF voting form for the most recent DUFF race administered by Dave Cake and John Hertz. I pointed out that it was useful to be able to track where votes were coming from, but it occurred to me that I’ve never done anything huge with that information. As a result, I asked my co-administrator (the lovely Jacqueline Monahan, who has an incredible amount of patience with my odd requests, last-minute pieces of work and tendency to go off on tangents) to send me the breakdowns for the North American side of the race and I collated the sources of the European side. Hence, a graph!

A graph showing the number of votes for each source in the 2013 TAFF race.

In this TAFF race the delegate’s continent, Europe, was responsible for 60% of the votes cast whereas the destination continent received around 40% of the votes. PayPal now accounts for around a third of payments made over the course of a race. Europe seems to have embraced PayPal more readily than our cousins across the pond, but PayPal is a significant source in both territories.

Another thing to note is the high number of votes cast at EightSquaredCon. Roughly 22% of the European voters chose to wait for Eastercon to come around instead of using PayPal or the Royal Mail to cast their vote, which signifies that a strong fan fund presence at large conventions is a useful thing to have. However, another 22% of the voters on the European side voted after having been sent a ballot by Jim Mowatt, the winning candidate, which also indicates the strong effect that a campaign that involves sending ballot forms to the potential voters can have on the race.1

This is reinforced by the fact that almost three-quarters of the US votes came as a result of Randy Byers’ concerted campaigning for Jim, which shows the importance of having someone campaigning strongly for you on the other side of the Atlantic. Candidates that don’t have people campaigning strongly in the destination continent regularly perform poorly; choosing good nominators is a key aspect to winning a fan fund race.

Perhaps all of this (campaign hard, ask people to vote for you, make sure your nominators campaign) is obvious, but I think it’s interesting to see the huge effect that Jim’s campaign had on the race in this instance. Over 40% of the votes can be traced to forms that were sent out by the Jim for TAFF group, which definitely demonstrates that campaigning inefficiently is something that candidates can’t afford to do if they want to win the race.

  1. This is corroborated by Liam Proven’s strong showing in the 2011 TAFF race, in which he scored a huge majority of the votes in Europe.