Friday, September 13, 2013

Discussions on a possible YA Hugo Award

I attended WorldCon this year and specifically went to the business meeting of the WSFS ("World Science Fiction Society") as I heard that discussion of a YA Hugo was on the schedule. This has come up at least three years in a row, now, and I wanted to hear why it kept being dismissed. Yet at the preliminary meeting on Friday, the topic of the YA Hugo award was dismissed with an "Object To Consideration". Which meant it wasn't even going to be discussed. Just dropped.

I was so irritated that I simply left the meeting at that point. I've since learned that later in the meeting, someone more canny with Roberts Rules of Order managed to get a committee formed to discuss the notion of a YA Hugo. I hope this means that something will come of it (though my experience in a university usually translates "there will be a committee to discuss" something as "we'll talk it to death until people give up and go away"). Maybe the Roberts Rules sticklers will format the wording in a way more acceptable to the WSFS. One can only hope.

Since this is at least the third year in a row that the topic has come up, there's already been a good deal of discussion on it. Some claim that having a YA Hugo Award will bring more young adults to WorldCon. I'm not hopeful of that, but since there are many *adult* readers of YA, maybe more of those will show up in support of YA authors in attendance. LoneStarCon 3 had at least two YA panels ("Giving Science a Boost with YA SF" and "YA Fantasy - We'll Always be 13 at Heart") that were packed, so YA is popular with WorldCon attendees.

I don't really have a horse in this race. Although I'm a YA author, I'm with a small press, and it seems that only the bigger, traditional publishing houses have the distribution to bring their YA books and authors to the notice of those who will nominate and vote on the award.

That's a major factor in this discussion.

This isn't the Mythopoeic Award, the Newbery Award or the Printz. It's not the EPIC eBook Award or the Nebulas. All of these are juried awards, all looking for particular criteria which signifies the "best" for those awards. No, instead, the Hugo Award is what is considered to be a "popular" award. For the Hugo award, works are nominated and voted on by those attending and/or supporting the WorldCon for a particular year. Those people voting for the awards are readers, watchers, authors, editors - *anyone* attending or supporting that WorldCon. Yet the arguments I've heard against a YA Hugo suggests that any book nominated would supposedly (by some objectors) have to be held to a higher standard, something that would be on reading lists for schools for years to come. I would think that would have to be left to those librarians and teachers who compose the reading lists, not voters for the Hugos.

There are those who complain that a YA Award was "tried" years ago. According to the WSFS notes, it was "tried" back in 1989 and the "nominating response was too low" to make it to the final ballot. However, this was before the rise in popularity in YA, back before the first Harry Potter book was published. (The WSFS note is from 2000, when one Harry Potter book had been nominated). The image of YA by both the publishing industry and the reading public has changed since then.

Another argument has been that it's much more prestigious for a YA book to be judged as a "Best Novel" in competition with adult novels. Indeed, one of the Harry Potter books (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) won the Hugo for Best Novel in 2001, after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban made it into the nominations in 2000. In 2009, there were three books considered YA among the five nominations (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi) and one of them(The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman) won. John Scalzi blogged about the uproar and grumbling back then.

So, if on one hand it's okay for YA books to be in competition with adult books, but on the other hand, people have a problem with a YA book being considered the "Best of" a particular year, why can't there be a YA/Middle Grade category? This is more an age division then, rather than a "subgenre" as some claim. Jane Yolen was interviewed back in 2012 about a YA Hugo and mentioned that YA authors would welcome another award category.

Here's what bears repeating. The Andre Norton awards (part of the Nebulas) are decided upon by SFWA members and a jury. The Golden Duck Awards (for Best Children and YA Science Fiction) are decided upon by a jury and the categories only cover through twelfth grade. The Hugo Awards, as a popular award, is one chance for YA readers (adult and younger) to vote on what they consider "The Best".

Peta Freestone posted similar points on her site, along with the points that the 2009 nominations weren't exactly considered "YA". Gaiman's book also won the Newbery Award, the Carnegie Award and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel, so those three groups considered it YA/Children.

So, how will YA books be identified? One person who was working on the proposal suggested that what is listed on the copyright page, what division of the publisher would be a determining point. That would work for the traditional publishers, who are big enough to have a separate division for each category of publication. It wouldn't work for small press (if it ever happened that a small press would get enough exposure to be nominated). At that point, the publisher's page should be considered - what category on the publisher's page is the book listed under. Cheryl Morgan back in 2010 recommended letting those making the nomination decide, which also sounds like a good idea, but probably not to those wanting solid rules.

For more details on this year's attempt at the YA Hugo and some more arguments, here is a link.

Yet another complaint about a YA Hugo is that it would make the awards ceremony much longer than it already is. Sorry, but as someone who has attended both the Hugos and the EPIC eBook Awards (EPIC is an organization of *ebook* publishers and authors, so practically every category is included), the Hugo Awards ceremony was short. The biggest thing taking up time at the Hugos was all the picture taking and waiting for the nominees to come in from dinner. Has anyone considered having the formal dinner start earlier?

The Hugo Rules allow for a trial year for a category. Those categories that aren't renewed within three years get dropped. Perhaps the time has come for a trial year for the YA Hugo.

As a YA reader, there are many YA authors (small press and traditional) I would love to see recognized in the SF community.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Top-notch article, Kathy. Thanks for your reportage and thoughts. I've put up a link over at the Poisoned Pencil fb page.

  2. That is a fantastic piece, Kathy. I'm not the sci-fi fan my husband is, but even I know what a Hugo Award could men for a YA sci-fi writer. And I didn't realize that there wasn't one in place because, well, why not? I hope people keep pushing for it. Surely something in The Hunger Games trilogy could have qualified. Not only that, YA has gotten so big that my local Barnes and Noble now has a special rack devoted to new YA releases, right on the same aisle as the NY Times Bestsellers. I would love to see his happen. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. This was an excellent article that encapsulates just about EVERYTHING about the debate surround the YA Hugo discussions over the past few years.

    There are a few salient points that I would like to elaborate on:

    The initial proposal, made by myself and several other fans, was made at Renovation, the 2011 Worldcon. I was told in advance of the Business Meeting that the YA proposal would be objected on the agenda and voted down solely because a majority of the debate time would be taken up by discussions over the Podcast Hugo, which caused a big stir between new media and fanzine fans. As the primary force behind the YA Hugo, I had to grit my teeth, suck it up and wait for a chance to make our case at Chicon 7 next year.

    In the interim between Worldcons, I urged the Chicon 7 committee to use a clause in the WSFS Constitution (3.3.17: Additional Category to be exact) to see how viable a YA category could be. The committee, after a lengthy and vigorous debate, decided to test a Podcast category instead.

    The proposal was on the Agenda at Chicon 7 and after a rather acrimonious debate (by those opposing it, in my opinion), it was voted down by a mere 17 votes.

    This past year, I appealed to the LoneStar 3 Committee to present a YA category but they declined.
    older fans
    My partner and I and several supporters had planned on coming to San Antonio but family issues prevented us from attending. Unbeknownst to us, a fan named Amy McNally mounted an effort to try to bring her own amendment for the Business Meeting agenda and was astounded by the vehement reaction (both written online and to her face) from the old guard fans. I was in contact with her during the con and was appalled by their behavior.

    I have joined the YA Category committee and I expect we will have some lively discussion of the next few months. I hope that our committee will come up with some favorable ideas for presenting such a category.

    The one thing that I will insist on is that there be NO description of such a category, as some detractors demand. I firmly believe that those people who nominate and vote on the Hugo Awards are NOT STUPID. The electorate, who PAY for the privilege to vote, know what a young adult novel. Speaking for myself, I try to be very responsible in my voting habits and I would like to think that others who do this annually try to do the same.

    I have appealed to the Loncon Three committee to present a YA category next year. If you, and anyone reading this, would like to support this effort, I urge you to write to the Committee directly via this link:

    Them the committee how is vitally important that authors, editors and publishers of young adult fantasy and science fiction be recognized and honored on an annual basis by one the premiere awards in genre literature.

    Thank You,
    Chris M. Barkley
    Cincinnati, OH