Nebula Award Rules Revised

I had more or less given up on the Nebula Awards as a useful guide to, well, anything much, but it’s just been pointed out to me that they’ve quite dramatically revised their rules for 2009 and beyond. In particular:

  • No more rolling eligibility; the awards are now tied to the calendar year
  • No more preliminary ballot; there will be a nomination period between November and February, after which a final ballot will be created comprising the six works in each category with the most nominations
  • No more awards juries adding books to the ballot; “publishers are encouraged to make eligible works available to the membership”, and if there are fewer than six works nominated, then there will be fewer than six works on the ballot (Exception: The Andre Norton Award retains its jury)
  • No more “best script” category; instead the “Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation” (which is Not A Nebula) will be given to the writer and director of the winning work

I have to say, this all looks very positive, and I look forward to seeing the ballots that result.

23 thoughts on “Nebula Award Rules Revised

  1. So it’s basically the Hugos but voted for by the members of SFWA? And can something win both the Nebula and the Norton?

    I think I prefer a dramatic presentation award to a script award because I find it hard to separate the script from the finished product – I’m sure Wall-E is a good script, but assessing it without thinking of the wonderful voices/sound effects and the adorable animation is difficult.

    There’s an interesting bit of history about the dramatic presentation Nebula here (scroll right down) – I hadn’t realised it was such a contentious issue at the time.

  2. Ironically, the lack of rolling eligibility means that the Norton Award will continue to sink. The children’s and YA markets are still very regional, and as far as I can tell, nothing from Australia, the UK or Ireland is getting through.

  3. Well, that should keep any story published in December under the byline of anyone not named Ted or Connie off the ballot.

    The script award’s always been a “favorite movie” award anyway, so that’s just as well.

    Liz, the new rules explicitly state “Nothing shall preclude a work’s being eligible for both a Nebula Award and an Andre Norton Award.”

    Niall, I think you missed the most important bits: “All Active and Associate members of SFWA in good standing are eligible to make nominations during the NOMINATION PERIOD” and, in the footnote: “It is anticipated by the Board that Associate members will be allowed to vote on the Final Ballot, once the new by-laws have been ratified by the membership.”

  4. Liz:

    So it’s basically the Hugos but voted for by the members of SFWA?

    Which strikes me as perfectly reasonable — the USP of the Nebulas should be that the voting population are expert, for some value of expert. It shouldn’t be an incomprehensible process.

    David: given that most of the “december” issues of magazines are available in late October, if not earlier, ie before the nomination period is scheduled to open, I don’t imagine stories in those magazines will be hugely disadvantages. Might be a problem for novels, though.

    I think I missed that bit about associate members because I don’t have a very clear idea of what one is, or why it should be particularly dramatic that they can vote. I definitely missed the bit you point out on your own blog about the confidential nominations/public recommendations, which does strike me as another good move.

  5. I liked the idea of a jury being able to shortlist one title of their own. It allowed for the opportunity for books with either a late year publication or without the huge marketing budget or as Farah mentions from a regional source to be considered and highlighted to the general membership.

    Anyone who has sat on a juried award such as the Clarke will be very aware that there are always books that come to be considered from leftfield, small presses, non-genre publishers etc that would otherwise not have been seen by most of us. How many SF fans ‘discovered’ Jeff Noon because of his Clarke nomination and win, how many readers has Sarah Hall picked up?
    This option was a good thing and I’m disappointed it has gone.

  6. Kev, I wasn’t a particular fan of the juries because it felt like an add-on. If SFWA wanted to administer a juried award, with a panel consisting entirely of professional sf writers, that would be one thing — I’d find that useful and interesting. Alternatively, what they’ve gone to now, an award voted on by a community of writers, has value. But judges who may or may not add a single title to a shortlist, which is then voted on by the general membership, seemed the worst of both worlds. If the two are to be combined, I liked the original conception of the David Gemmell Award — popular vote than jury reading the shortlist — much better.

  7. I imagine that this won’t change the sparseness of the ballots of the future any, unless it reinvigorates activity among the members, which has waned into a dramatic lull over the past ten years or so. Prior to this, when the membership was engaged and actively recommending and nominating items, the rolling eligibility wasn’t a problem. There were long lists in every sub-category. Taking away rolling eligibility will mean nothing if it does not spur engagement in the membership as well.

    It’s treating a symptom rather than the problem.

    As with any group or community in dire straits, the people who complain the loudest are also often the ones who are non-members, or have given up membership, or have membership and do not participate in the process.

    Despite that, I was pleased to see that change could occur within the system. That’s saying something. If making a change such as this will spur more engagement and activity among the members, then it will be a success because of that, not because rolling eligibility was ever really a problem. There are plenty of awards that take the past eighteen months of published material into account, rather than twelve, and no fretting is heard amongst the blogosphere about any of those. It’s the Nebula, the Nebula, the Nebula, that everyone complains about. Interesting how that differs.

  8. Kev, Farah: Only work published in the US is eligible. And if it’s published elsewhere, then it is still eligible when (if) it is published in the US. The only exception is online publication, which counts as in the US, wherever it is.

    The A in SFWA is there for a reason.

  9. Chris:

    There are plenty of awards that take the past eighteen months of published material into account, rather than twelve, and no fretting is heard amongst the blogosphere about any of those.

    I suspect that’s because (a) unless I’m forgetting one, none of those are sf awards, and I suspect the sf community likes its awards to be comparable; (b) the Nebulas didn’t uncomplicatedly take the last eighteen months, they took a certain time from each individual work’s point of eligibility, which seemed arcane; and (c) I think the Nebula awards shortlists in recent years have been perceived as relatively weak and, rightly or wrongly, the process got the blame for that. But of course (c), at least, goes to your point about institutional enthusiasm, which is well taken.

    Jo: the text of the Norton Award rules states that “Any book in its first appearance in the English language published as a young adult science fiction or fantasy (or related genre) novel during that period shall be eligible, including graphic novels”. Only the Nebula categories specify “All works first published in English, in the United States”. This suggests that the US-only clause doesn’t apply to the Norton. (Nor is there anything to say that the Hugo approach of having works be eligible during the year of their first publication outside the US, and then again during the year of their first publication in the US, is part of the Norton process.)

  10. SFWA has 3 membership classes:

    Affiliate — publishers, etc, not of interest here.

    Active members — members who have attained the minimum requirements: 3 pro short stories or a novel. Full members. Senior members, technically.

    Associates: 1 or 2 pro shorts. Novels unlikely, and if so then to a publisher that’s not on the qualifying list (like an indie publisher, for example.). Technically, this is the junior members. The apprentices, or whatever.

    It is relevant that they are now allowed to nominate Nebula works, because at present Associate members can do basically bugger-all. They cannot vote, nor recommend, works for the Nebula and cannot vote for SFWA Board officers.
    Allowing Associate members to at least participate on the nomination process for the Nebulas gives them at least one thing in which they have a say, and is therefore a reason for writers qualifying for Associate level to join.
    Whether it’s enough of a reason is something every individual will have to decide for themselves. But it’s more than this class had till now.

  11. Allowing associates to vote may indeed be the new change that can reinvigorate the membership, by allowing other areas of the membership to vote. Bring more voters in, basically, because the others aren’t participating at the level they need to be for a healthy election.


    I believe the Crawford Award and World Fantasy Award take the past 18 months into consideration. At least, according to Wikipedia they do.

    They’re juried awards, certainly, but I don’t think this really matters. You would think a jury would be able to consider a twelve month period better than a large collective of people anyhow.

    The Nebulas did take about eighteen months to get most of its nominations in past years. It took about eighteen months for almost any of the works to collect enough recommendations from enough members to make the list. Hence my opinion that it’s member participation that is the problem, not the rolling eligibility, which if nothing else during this lull in the membership’s engagement enabled the award to exist at all. Otherwise, even fewer works would have made the list in time. If you look at the list of novels this year, only one was published in 2008. I wouldn’t say the list is weak, either, when writers like LeGuin, McDonald, and Goonan appear on it.

    But, as I said, I do hope that it changes minds and re-engages people with the process, for whatever notion they may have about it. That will be the real change, not the eligibility length itself.

  12. I consulted my award expert husband, David Hartwell. He says the World Fantasy Awards are for 12 month calendar year, and in principle so are the Crawford Awards, though with the Crawfords, changes to the rules can be made by administrative fiat, and so there may be some variation.

  13. Chris:

    Wikipedia, as usual, is talking bollocks.

    What does happen with juried awards, is that works which are published late in the year, and are known not have been considered by the correct years’ jury, may be considered in the subsequent year. I know the Crawford does this (see Thunderer in this year’s short list), and I’ve been told that the Tiptree does as well.

  14. Right, Cheryl, they make adjustments for late in the year books, and I’ve heard the Tiptree does that as well, too. Does the new Nebula arrangement have some way to attend to that? I confess, I haven’t completely sorted through the new rules due to a lack of interest, which seems to be the sort of malaise the membership has been suffering over the past ten years. Hopefully the new blood will be the infusion necessary to revitalize matters.

  15. Chris:

    The answer to your question is not clear from the new Nebula rules, and may only be decided by case law and precedent.

    In the Hugos an author who thinks that his work has suffered due to it being insufficiently available to the public in its normal year of eligibility can appeal to the Business Meeting for an eligibility extension. However, this is generally not granted merely for a December publication because books are usually reviewed prior to publication and Hugo nomination is open at least 2 months into the new year.

    The new Nebulas have no such right of appeal. However, there is a Nebula Awards Commissioner who has the right to adjudicate on all matters of eligibility. An appeal to that person might be successful, but until one is tried we won’t know.

    A potentially important issue here is that, unlike with a jury, it is very difficult to tell whether a work was “not considered”. There are simply too many voters. I would be inclined to say that eligibility extension of this sort is something that is easy for a juried award to do, but much harder for anything with any degree of mass participation.

  16. I wouldn’t say the list is weak, either, when writers like LeGuin, McDonald, and Goonan appear on it.

    Obviously it’s always a subjective judgement, but the strength of those names, and indeed yourself and Daniel Abraham, is rather diluted for me by the presence of McDevitt (again), Rothfuss, Making Money (which even Pratchett fans seem to acknowledge is a weaker Pratchett) and Little Brother (on which I agree with Liz’s review, and then some). Of course, we don’t yet know which books will be on the final ballot.

  17. I do see what you mean, Niall. Jack McDevitt does seem to be on every Nebula ballot, I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the Rothfuss (it was a fun, ripping yarn, but not would I would hold up as the best book of the year), and I’d heard even Pratchett’s fans weren’t as impressed with this book as much as past efforts. I haven’t read Little Brother yet, though plan to now that it’s been nominated. Must find Liz’s review of it after I finish to see where we line up and where we depart.

    If I read the rules correctly, now that I’ve went through them, one thing that is an addition that I find interesting is that members will only have so many recommendations they can give in a limited amount of months. That I think is perhaps a great limiter, which I can see as perhaps also being a great equalizer. I like that addition, if I’ve comprehended it correctly.

    Sorry for carrying this thread on days after it’s been posted. I keep backing and forthing and sometimes a day or two goes by before I can get back to it.

  18. But there are lots of people who raved about Rothfuss and Little Brother. See, this is subjective territory and exactly where I start getting confused when people complain about ballots being “weak.”
    All that means at the end of the day is that a specific ballot is not aligned to one’s own personal taste, and following through on that it means one’s personal taste is not aligned to the majority reading taste of the voters on any given ballot. That’s neither good nor bad, it simply is.

    on an aside: I’d agree Making Money isn’t Pratchett’s best, and actually wondered whether sentiment played some role there. But… back to subjective taste again.
    That’s an interesting discussion on its own.

    Back to the Nebulas:
    any system ultimately will have flaws and is open to being gamed. Best case scenario right now is that at least the rules are simple and easy to use.
    Worst case scenario is this comes down to a pure popularity contest.
    But that will always be an issue.
    Most people seem happy with the changes so that’s the important thing.

  19. Chris, don’t worry about taking time to respond; I’ve been dragging my feet on comments this week anyway. Liz’s review of Little Brother is here, for reference.

    The limit on nominations is interesting, though I don’t know what proportion of members currently nominate more than that number of works in a given category.

    David: of course, it’s all subjective, but I think it’s possible to identify trends, and I think a recent trend has been for Nebula ballots to be thought of as not as strong as some of the other major awards.

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