* Wow, did this never post? Sheesh. Talk about using things properly. :/ I wrote this a month and a half ago. Sorry about that, guys.
I don’t want to come off as one of those cranky people who just pick holes in everything without offering a solution. And the best way to avoid that is to offer a solution. So here you go.
It seems to me that at this stage of the fandom’s life, the goal of an award should be to highlight any quality book that comes from the fandom. We are trying to show the outside world with these awards that there is really something to this fandom, that we are not just a lot of people writing “I WISH I WAS A CAT” stories. And the main gripe with the Ursas has not, by and large, been the awards process, but the winners. You will also note that the complications in the previous part are all generally tied directly to selecting a “winner.”
Yes, that is the purpose of an award. But if we are trying to show quality in the fandom, then why do we have to restrict that list to one book in a year? I can look back at the Ursas in many years and find two novels that were worthy of recognition, or three or more short stories. So why don’t we have an award that recognizes, not a single work, but any work that passes a bar of quality? Make the award inclusion on a list, so that it carries the same weight as being a Hugo or Nebula nominee.
At a stroke, you eliminate many of the barriers to a juried award. Authors whose works are in contention need only excuse themselves from considering their own book; with no competition, they could fairly judge other works, knowing that praising one book or story doesn’t hurt the chances of their work to be listed. Jury members need not have read all books in contention as long as enough people have read each entry to provide a balanced judgment of it. I can envision a system whereby a work would need a minimum of, say, fifteen votes to qualify for the list, and would need to have a 2/3 positive score (10 yea to 5 nea) to be on the list.
The main problem I see with this award is the main problem I see with any furry fandom award, and that is my problem from the last post: this is a young fandom without a lot of experienced, professional writers. So even if this proposal is put into effect, I can see that the release of the list of winners each year will be accompanied by the same kind of complaints about some work that should’ve been on but wasn’t, or some work that made it but shouldn’t have…
But it’s in people’s nature to complain, and at least this way there would be an approximate record of what the fandom considered its best works. And as the quality of writing improves, and the discrimination in the readership improves, the overall quality of the list will improve as well.
I think that aiming for a list rather than a single award will feel like a more manageable goal to beginning writers, and having several books or stories included on a list makes it more likely that someone will find something they like, whereas a single winner may not be to everyone’s taste. And perhaps that will motivate people to do what we are all hoping these awards will do, which is: write better fiction. This fandom is still in its youth (in many senses of the word), is still growing fast, and there is no shame in recognizing that the fiction may have a little ways to go to catch up to big brother/parent Science Fiction. While I don’t believe the sometimes-repeated contention that the popularity-rewarding Ursas discourage writers from even trying because they will never be as popular as already-established writers (*), I do see that it would be nice to have a larger body of work for them to look up to.
*This argument seems to me close kin to the argument that raising taxes on rich people will hurt the economy because it removes the incentive for people to be successful. Anyone with the means to accumulate a fortune does not choose whether or not to do it based on what the tax rate is, and any writer who gives up just because he/she doesn’t think they will ever be popular should not be writing to begin with, and is therefore probably correct. Real writers, the ones willing to put in the hours per day and days per week and weeks per month and months per year into their craft, those people are aiming for a larger goal than popularity, and they would not be deterred if the Ursas did not exist at all.
Of course, I help run a publishing company that prides itself on selecting the best available work in the fandom, and one might argue that having a work selected by a business that depends on quality to make profit is pretty similar to being chosen as a high-quality work by a small group of people with trustworthy judgment. There aren’t that many works published in the fandom each year in print, after all, and if you really want to be analogous to the Nebulas, then publication as a barrier to entry isn’t that bad an idea. However, it does weed out those potentially brilliant stories that just don’t have an audience or a venue—the market for short stories in the fandom is pathetic, much as it is out in SF at large. So I’m not opposed to the idea of an independent group that can scan all the writing in the fandom.
There you go: my thoughts on writing awards in the fandom. I’ve written these out as much for my benefit as for anyone else’s; next time someone tries to set up something like this, I can just point them to this series of posts.