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Poking at Awards: WFA, BFA and BSFA changes

Yay genre!Tis the season for nominations! I've been keeping an eye on some of the genre awards and, as I haven't seen any discussion elsewhere, I thought it'd be worth pulling this together in one place.

World Fantasy Award

Not a rules change as much as a quiet modernisation: all five of this year's judges accept either pdf or mobi submissions. Hard copies are still preferred, but this is still a major - and welcome - change. Awards that insist on physical copies are, even without formal submissions fees, quietly discouraging small presses and (not so quietly) self-published authors - who may not have the operating funds to gamble on a prize submission. Also, in some cases, physical copies may not even exist.

Whether a formal or a de facto rules change, this is long overdue (and much appreciated).

British Fantasy Awards

If you're a BFS member and you've received issue 13 of the BFS Journal, it contains the results from a recent survey of the membership. There were no questions specific to the awards, but a few that helped reveal the make-up of the society. For example, when asked what sort of speakers people would prefer at events, authors (34%) came out on top, and independent publishers (29%) pipped mainstream publishers (27%). The British 'indie' scene was also mentioned in some of the responses. Many of the other comments - both positive and negative - were about the BFS as small or tight-knit community.

There were also several comments from both new and established members that approved of the BFS' shift to be less horror-focused.

I only mention all of this in regards to the awards. The BFA is a society award, so the answer to "who is this award for?" is "the members of the BFS". The prize's tradition of (at the risk of sounding tautological) "Britishness" and an over-abundance of small press shortlistees would seem to be supported by the membership.

Another slightly Awards-related article in the Journal is a round-table interview with previous BFS Chairs, including several enlightening references to the 'high melodrama' (to quote Ansible) of late 2011. As far as I know, this is the first(?) public statement from the Chair/Awards Admin (pro-tem) of the Awards before they were radically reformatted in early 2012.

Below the jump we get to the 'big' one - the BSFA rules changes.

British Science Fiction Awards

The BSFA committee have made several changes to the format of the BSFAs:

  • The BSFA will request a "year in science fiction" panel at Novacon and Bristolcon. 
  • The BSFA will maintain a web page of eligible publications and a means for authors and artists to register their eligibility. 
  • A minimum of three nominations will be required to be included on the ballot.
  • Nominations are restricted to four per category. 
  • All categories are restricted to publications within the UK and Ireland, and UK and Irish authors publishing overseas, or for publications on the internet which are thus easily available to UK readers. Non-UK and Irish writers are eligible if publishing in UK publications or with UK publishing houses.

The "year in science fiction" panels seem like a good idea, although the ability to "request" one doesn't particularly mean anything. Generating more awareness of eligible titles is a good idea, although I'm curious how the BSFA will host 'best of' panels without provoking accusations of bias. (Since Novacon and Bristolcon voters don't get to vote in the awards unless they are BSFA members anyway, does it actually matter? Maybe that is on the cards for the future...)

The web page is a no-brainer - the BFA has been doing this for several years - initially as informal process run by Stephen Theaker, and now a formally endorsed one. Indeed, the BSFA is using Theaker's exact page, which is very sensible.* 

As an aside, the web page also addresses the annual debate over whether or not it is the done thing to promote oneself for awards. Now the membership have an official space to 'put themselves forward' and showcase their eligibility. I suspect this won't put the debate to rest, but it is still a very clever solution - a safe space for self-promotion.

The next two points - number of nominations and number of nominations required to make the shortlist - are perhaps the largest changes. The BSFA has always been remarkable for allowing infinite nominations: members could (and indeed, did) provide a shopping list of 'stuff they liked'. As far as I can tell, this was unique amongst awards. The four-to-a-category cap is by no means un-generous (Hugo: 5, BFA: 3), but it does herald a change in approach.

The minimum of 3 nominations is also entirely sensible. I have to admit, that doesn't seem like many, and it does make the natural scandal-monger in me curious. What works made previous shortlists with <3 votes? (And did any win in the end?) (Let's start some rumors!)

And, finally, the last rules change rationalises all four categories of the prize. And it seems entirely sensible to let overseas British/Irish writers/artists to take part. Especially with short stories, non-fiction and artwork - as large websites like Tor.com are dominating that market. (See, for example, last year's Hugo nominees.) I don't see how this will impact the Novel category, as it would require a very specific set of circumstances (living overseas, published outside of the UK but not in the UK, yet still well-known enough in the UK to win a popular vote). 

As long as the BSFA was making changes, I'd would've liked to see some more attention paid to the Artwork and Non-Fiction categories. Artwork is currently defined as a "single image", which I find unnecessarily restrictive (and simply not reflective of many forms of SF/F artwork - including comics, games, movies, exhibitions, craft or fully-illustrated books). And Non-Fiction is just messy. I like the quirkiness, but currently the only restriction on the category seems to be upon 'unrevised' collections (which would knock out some of the year's most pre-eminent work, including  Sibilant Fricative and, of course, Speculative Fiction). Given the category currently encompasses websites, blog posts, articles, journals and scholarly works, this restriction seems a very specific prohibition in what is otherwise a free-for-all. Neither of these are major points, but as long as we're revising the awards to make them more broadly inclusive...

It is worth noting that BSFA members with the latest issue of Vector to hand can read more about the rules changes and the BSFA committee's reasons for bringing them about. I am, curiously enough, not entirely on board with the logic as presented. That said, I agree with the changes and the intent behind them, and I believe they improve the award.***

Are you a BFS or BSFA member? Or are you submitting work to the World Fantasy Awards?

What do you think about the genre awards this year? What changes would you like to see? 

*Just to be clear, the BFS has the BFAs and the BSFA has the BSFAs. And yet British fans are always surprised when Americans can't keep up with the hashtags.

**I'm also a little uncomfortable with what constitutes "British" and "Irish" - citizenship? Ancestry? Do Commonwealth countries count? 

***In a nutshell, although I agree that improving diversity is an important goal, the BSFA already has the most broad eligibility requirements of any non-Kitschies British award. Rather than blame the lack of diverse shortlists on the 'publishing industry' or a handful of 'super-nominators', I'd rather see BSFA members encouraged to nominate outside of 'core SF' (as they are already allowed to do). It is also worth noting that, although 2013 was a bit rubbish, in 2014 at least, the BSFA was one of the most diverse awards. Future-proofing is no bad thing, but I would've liked one more year to see which was the fluke - 2013 or 2014 - if only to satisfy my personal curiosity.