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Hugo FAQ

What are the Hugos?

The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They are awarded each year at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Voting for the awards is open to all members of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), and to become a member all you have to do is buy a membership in that year's Worldcon. The number and nature of the Awards has varied from year to year. A list of the current award categories is available here.

Why are they called Hugos?

The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, a famous magazine editor who did much to bring science fiction to a wider audience. Gernsback founded Amazing Stories, the first major American SF magazine, in 1926. He is widely credited with sparking a boom in interest in written SF. In addition to having the Hugo Awards named after him he has been recognised as the "Father of Magazine SF" and has a crater on the Moon named after him.

What does a Hugo look like?

The basic design of the Hugo is a chrome rocket ship created by Jack McKnight and Ben Jason. The design of the base on which the ship is mounted is left up to each individual Worldcon, so each year's Hugos look slightly different. A photographic archive of Hugo designs is available here.

How are the results decided?

Voting for the Hugos is a two-stage process. In the first stage voters may nominate up to five entries in each category. All nominations carry equal weight. The five entries that get the most nominations in each category go forward to the final ballot. In the final ballot voting is preferential. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference. The system for counting the votes is quite complicated but it is designed to ensure that the winner has support from the majority of voters. A full description of the counting procedure is available on this site.

Who can nominate and vote?

Nominations are open to members of the current year's Worldcon and to members of the past year's Worldcon. The final ballot is open only to members of the current year's Worldcon. You do not have to attend the Worldcon in order to vote. A special category of Supporting Membership is available for people who wish to vote but cannot afford to attend the convention. Supporting Membership also entitles you to all of the official Worldcon publications for that year, and entitles you to participate in the vote to select the site for the Worldcon to be held three years hence. You can find details of the current Worldcon's membership rates by following this link.

How do I submit my book for nomination?

The short answer is, "you can't". If the Hugos were judged by a small panel, as is the case with some other awards, then you could send your book to the judges. But the Hugo nomination process is open to every member of the current and previous Worldcon. That means somwhere in the region of 7,000 people. You don't want to send your book to all of them, even assuming you could get their addresses.

So how do I promote my book for the Hugos?

A good review in Locus always helps. Other than that, word of mouth is a good method. Look for fanzines and web sites that review books (see the links page for ideas). If you really want to spend money on promotion the best bet is probably Worldcon progress reports. A Worldcon will send several mailings to its members during its lifetime. You want to advertise in one that comes out about a year before the convention. Check out the WSFS web site to find a link to the convention you need.

Who runs the ballot?

Each Worldcon is responsible for administering and counting votes for the year in which it takes place. The Worldcon committee will appoint one or more people as Hugo Administrators. It is their job to see that the process takes place efficiently and fairly. If you have any questions about the Hugos your first port of call should be to ask that year's Hugo Administrator.

What categories of awards are there?

The most famous awards are Best Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation. However, there are many other Hugo Awards available, including some for short fiction, for artists, for editors and some for fannish activities. An additional award, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, is voted for and presented alongside the Hugos but is not an official Hugo Award. A full list of the current award categories is available here.

What works or persons are eligible?

Generally speaking, works are eligible if they were published in the calendar year preceding the year in which the vote takes place. Some Awards are given for a body of work rather than for a single item, in which case it is all work produced in the calendar year in question that is considered. See the list of Award categories for full details of eligibility rules.

Are non-American works eligible?

Yes. Any work is eligible, regardless of its place or language of publication. Works first published in languages other than English are also eligible in their first year of publication in English translation.

What is this Eligibility Extension I have been hearing about?

The members of WSFS have been concerned that works published in English outside of the US are not getting sufficient exposure to the voting public (the majority of whom are Americans). Frequently US publishers will pick up on successful British, Canadian or Australian books (amongst others) a year or two after their initial publication. American voters want to nominate them, but by then it is too late because the eligibility year is passed. So WSFS has been experimenting with extending eligibility for such works when they are first published in the US. Currently this rule is being renewed on a year-by-year basis and the precise details may change from year to year. Read the Hugo nominating ballot carefully (and check the Emerald City Hugo Recommendations List) if you are uncertain about a particular work.

What if I am not sure about the length of a work?

Both the fiction and dramatic presentation categories are divided by length (fiction by word count, dramatic presentation by running length). You don't want to have to count the words in a story before nominating it. Furthermore, the Hugo Administrators have a small amount of leeway to move works between categories. For example, a work that is 39,900 words long but is marketed as a book rather than in a magazine might be more suited to the novel category than novella. Equally a movie that is 88 minutes long but comes from a major studio and is widely shown in cinemas might be better suited to the long form dramatic presentation category.

Once again the first thing you should do is check Recommendation Lists. They may have checked the word count with the author or publisher. In close cases that may result in a work being moved they will give a sense of where other people think it belongs. These sources are not authoritative. The final decision belongs to the Hugo Administrators, but they are most likely to go with the preferences expressed by a majority of the voters (unless those preferences are clearly contrary to the rules).

The good news is that if you nominate a work in the wrong category the Administrators will try to move it. But they can only do that if there is room. For example, if you have incorrectly nominated a story as a novelette when it is in fact a novella then the Administrator will move it, but only if you currently have less than five nominations in the novella category, because you are only allowed five. So if you are not sure where a work belongs, it is advisable to leave space for it in the other category in your nominations.

Aren't Hugos just for Science Fiction?

Have you ever tried to define science fiction? Anne McCaffrey won a Hugo in 1968 for her novella Weyr Search and it is science fiction. McCaffrey made it quite clear in later books that the planet Pern was settled by space-faring human colonists and the famous dragons are a result of genetic engineering experiments by early colonists. Yet most people assume that McCaffrey's Pern books are fantasy. Because of this difficulty in drawing firm boundaries, the Hugo Awards are open to works of both science fiction and fantasy.

Are works published electronically eligible?

Yes they are. The definitions of the Hugo Award categories refer only to the nature of the work, not the medium in which it is published. A novel is a novel, regardless of whether it is published in hardback, softback, as a serial in a magazine, or on disk.

Why are there Hugos for fan activity?

Some people claim that the existence of fan Hugos devalues the more prestigious Awards. But do you ever hear Tom Hanks or Steven Spielberg complaining that their Oscars are worthless because you can get an identical statue for Best Make-up Artist? Without fandom there would be no Hugo Awards, and the fans of today are often the rising stars of tomorrow.

Why isn't there a Hugo for.?

The list of categories for which the Hugos have been awarded has changed frequently down the years. The categories that exist now are ones that have proven to work well and provide reasonable competition. But new categories are sometimes added, and old ones sometimes removed. Changing the categories requires that a motion to do so be passed at the WSFS Business Meeting at two successive Worldcons. Anyone attending a Worldcon can propose a motion to the Business Meeting. However, if you wish to do so you would be advised to consult the Chairman or Parliamentarian of that year's Business Meeting for advice as to the appropriate wording.

Do I have to nominate/vote in every category?

No. You need only vote in areas where you feel competent to judge. If you never read novels, just ignore that category.

Can I vote for something I have not read/seen?

Well that depends. Some people would say that you should not vote in the final ballot for any category in which you have not read/seen all of the nominees. After all, if you are judging a competition it is only fair that you give every competitor a fair chance. On the other hand, getting to read/see everything can be an expensive process. After reading reviews, flicking through a book in a shop, or whatever, you may decide that you have seen enough to know not to waste your money. That is making a judgement, albeit perhaps a hasty one. And, in the final analysis, the Hugo Administrator is not going to know if you haven't read/seen all of the nominees. How you vote is between you and your conscience.

What are Retro-Hugos?

Science Fiction has been going a lot longer that the Hugos, so many famous works never got the chance to win an Award. The WSFS Constitution gives Worldcons the right to award Hugos for a year 50, 75 or 100 years in the past, provided only that there was a Worldcon in that year but no Hugos were awarded. Not all Worldcons choose to do this. You will be informed when you receive the nomination papers if Retro-Hugos are being awarded.


Emerald City Hugo Awards Section

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Emerald City - copyright Cheryl Morgan - cheryl@emcit.com
Masthead Art copyright Steven Stahlberg (left) and Gerhard Hoeberth (right)
Additional artwork by Frank Wu & Sue Mason
Designed by Tony Geer
Copyright of individual articles remains with their authors
Editorial assistants: Anne K.G. Murphy & Kevin Standlee