Building Your Own Ballot: No Slates Required!

I don’t want to talk about 2015 Hugos. The ballot has been revealed, I’ve bought my supporting membership, and how I vote is going to be between me, myself, and I.

No, instead, I want to address any and all current and future WorldCon members (any and all) and offer a non-slate suggestion for next year. And yes, I recognize there’s already an SP4 movement, and I won’t be surprised if there are counter-slates, but I’d like to counter anything and everything involving slates with a different idea, so if you’re planning on nominating for WorldCon in 2016 (MidAmeriCon II), this post is for you.

Seriously. It’s for YOU.

I almost didn’t nominate this year. It always feels like a hassle, especially now that I’m no longer book-blogging, which means I’m no longer putting together year-end favorite lists or anything like that. I read a book, I rate it on Goodreads and LibraryThing, and I move on to the next.

That means going back to refresh my memory during nomination season is a chore. Don’t get me wrong, I did nominate, and despite any and all controversy, I’m glad I did. I suspect, thanks to this year, more and more people will be interested in nominating for 2016, and I’ve come up with a method for myself to make the nomination process easier for me next year. I thought I’d share it with you.

I like spreadsheets. A lot. Which is weird, since I’m a creative person, but there’s a strong analytical streak in me, and that strong analytical streak can sometimes be found petting her Microsoft Excel program while mumbling something resembling “my preccioussssss…..” and pretending this is a perfectly normal thing to do. I have spreadsheets tracking every book, every piece of short fiction, every comic, every movie and television show I read/watched/attempted to read/watch. I’ve even got a spreadsheet that breaks television seasons down to their component episodes where I track whether or not I’m caught up on the freaking show.

Clearly, I have a problem.

But I figured why not take this problem and make it into a strength, and therefore make it easier for me to nominate in 2016 and reduce temptation to be swayed by any particular slates that may appear to align with my reading tastes?

So here’s what I’m doing:

Over the weekend I talked about how, for 2015, I’m going to make a better effort to stay on top of new releases. I don’t mean all new releases, because honestly, I don’t think ANYONE has that kind of time, not even Harriet Klausner. Rather, I want to stay on top of the new releases that 1) I’m already interested in and therefore READ them in a timely manner and 2) if there’s a new release that intrigues me (aka, not written by a favorite author) and I think it might be a contender for the Hugo, I’m going to go ahead and read it NOW rather than wait and hope it gets on the ballot so I can read it then.

Clear as mud? Good.

So I’ve created a spreadsheet: Hugo Nominations! In the spreadsheet I have the categories I’m most interested in as a voter. Why just those? Because I’m frankly not interested in all of the categories, and some of the categories I don’t need to track. Some of those categories I can damn well figure out at the last minute. But the categories that overwhelm me? Those are the ones I’m tracking. So for my part, I’m tracking:

Best Novel
Best Novella
Best Novelette
Best Short Story
Best Graphic Story
Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Forms)

I’m not including John W. Campbell Award (Not a Hugo!) because that category confuses me in terms of eligibility and I’ll trust the eligibility page to keep me mostly straight.

So I’ve got my columns, right? And now, as I read a 2015 published work (or watch a 2015 released movie or television episode), I’m going to rank them (not ALL of the television episodes: I watch WAY too much television for that to be feasible — instead, I’ll rank the episodes that stand out to be as awesome AS I watch them).

To give an example, let’s look at Best Novel: to date, I’ve read four books that have been published in 2015, and therefore (to the best of my knowledge) are eligible for a Hugo. They are (in alphabetical order):

Galaxy Game by Karen Lord
Prudence (The Custard Protocol #1) by Gail Carriger
Pocket Apocalypse by Seanan McGuire
Shadow Study by Maria V. Snyder

Now, any one of you can look at the list to date and question whether or not these books are eligible for a Hugo. That’s not the point of the list. The point of the list is to rank the books, in order, from best to worst, in my humble opinion. What constitutes “best” and “worst” is between me, myself, and I. But the idea is that the list will grow, new titles will take the top slots, and when it’s time to nominate in 2016, I can take the top 5 titles and ask myself: do I feel these books are worth nominating for a Hugo?

If the answer is yes, I’ll ask myself: are these books eligible for a Hugo? Depending on circumstances, the answer might be no due to reasons: maybe it was self-published five years ago and therefore deemed ineligible, you know?

If the answer is still yes, I’ll do a sanity check and compare the top five to the rest of the list. I’ll ask myself: have any of these books grown on me since reading them? Have any of these books diminished since reading them? I’ll make adjustments accordingly.

And then, I’ll take my top five (or top two or top three, because let’s be honest, maybe I decide my top five aren’t all Hugo-worthy!), and then I’ll use them to fill out my nomination ballot. Period. It won’t matter who wrote those titles: these are my faves, and these are the titles I’d like to see make the ballot.

This makes me less tempted to rely on any slate. Sure, I may have a title or two that matches a slate. Maybe a lot matches a slate. It could very well happen. But the difference is I decided what I wanted to nominate based on ranking my preferences through-out the year. My preferences, of course, are based on what I read, what people recommended to me, what caught my attention. I won’t like everything I read, but regardless of how much I like it, if it’s published in 2015, it’ll be ranked for my own purposes.

I can see this being especially useful for the Best Dramatic Presentation (Long and Short Form) categories, particularly Short Form. I won’t have to wrack my brain about 1) which shows I watch, 2) which episodes of those shows I love, and 3) which ones are eligible. It’ll be right at my fingertips, and I can’t wait!

So that’s it. Well, not quite it. I do have to remember to actually keep this spreadsheet up to date. But I’m motivated! Because I want to make the nomination process easier for myself next year. I don’t want to be swayed by any “pre-approved” slates, and I don’t want my opinion to change one way or another when those slates appear. If I want to nominate something that happens to appear on any slate? So be it. At least I’d already made that decision, rather than had the decision made for me.

What about the other categories, you might ask? In some cases, they’ll take care of themselves: I can see who’s editing my favorite novels, for example, or see where my favorite pieces of short fiction are being published. Fan writing? I read quite a few blogs, I think I’ll be fine because I’m reading those voices all year around.

To me, one of the delights about the nomination process is to have my favorites, submit them, and get excited if/when any of them make the final ballot. Because if we’re all nominating based on favorites (and not based on slates), then there’s a joy to realize you AND a whole bunch of other voters thought something was awesome enough to make the ballot. For me, it makes the prospect of reading the stuff I didn’t nominate all the more intriguing, because it gives me the opportunity to find out why others thought these other things were awesome. I may not agree, mind you, but I’ll at least give it a shot, and giving something a shot is, for me, far more palatable than reading a nominee just because it made an approved slate.

I want all readers of SF/F who attend WorldCon in any form or fashion to have their voices heard. I want them to talk about the books and stories they love and why they love them. I want them to encourage people to read those books and stories. I want them to encourage people to buy supporting memberships and nominate, not to add votes to any pre-approved slate from any camp, but rather to share their favorites, cross their fingers, and hope their favorites make the final ballot. Idealistically, that’s what I think the nomination process should be about, and personally, that’s what I think we should all be moving towards — no matter what camp we do or do not identify with.

And if that doesn’t work: if we feel fiction is getting ignored that deserves recognition? Maybe it’s time to jump the Hugo ship and create a new award or two. I suspect that’s how many awards came to be, as they were reactions against the Hugos and/or Nebulas. I know there are things I wish the Hugos would recognize and honor*, and maybe it’ll just take a new award system to make me happy.

And that’s okay. Because there’s a part of me that thinks creating a new award would be easier than trying to remake an award that’s so heavy with history. The Hugo can sink or swim on its own, it doesn’t need our help.

* = I’d love to see a category for Best SF/F/H YA Novel, Best Debut SF/F/H Novel (the Campbell Award drives me crazy, because I don’t like comparing debut short fiction writers to debut novel writers), and I’d like to change the Dramatic Presentations to Best SF/F/H Film and Best SF/F/H television show. That’s my wishlist for new categories!

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