hugo_awardIn an editorial on Amazing Stories, Steve Davidson takes a look at the recommendations currently listed on the Sad Puppies 4 Hugo recommendations website and draws some conclusions about the relative award potential of stories made available for free versus those only found in a source that must be purchased. At the time he wrote the article, Davidson noted, of the 21 short stories that had received mention in 42 total comments, only 2 were from pay-for sources such as published anthologies; the other 19 were available freely online from sites like or The New Yorker.

Davidson theorizes that the reason for this is that the harder you make it for people to read your stories, the fewer people actually do, and hence, the fewer people care enough about them to recommend them. He thinks it is especially interesting to see it happen on the Sad Puppies site, given that one of the major party lines of the Sad Puppies movement in past years has been that works with more sales success deserved more consideration for awards. But here it’s the stories that are given away, not sold, that are getting the most recommendations. Davidson feels that this poses an ironic question: “if “free” routinely wins awards, will any writer be able to make a living writing?”

That may be a bit extreme, but I do find it ironic that Sarah Hoyt (a leading puppy) gets one mention and no “dittos” (yet) for a story that must be purchased to read, while works from sources that are generally SJW – associated receive numerous “dittos”.

Further irony: that Sarah Hoyt story is from an anthology published by Baen, the folks who pretty much pioneered the practice of giving away free e-books to boost electronic and print sales.

Davidson’s question is fundamentally rhetorical, but I would point out (as Eric Flint did) that award-winning stories and “commercial” fiction tend to be from two distinct sets that rarely have a lot of overlap—so whether or not a writer wins any awards shouldn’t affect his commercial prospects either way. Besides, all or most of the free sources Davidson cites do pay the writers, even if they make the work available for free, so it’s not as if the publication giving their work away for free is keeping them from earning money from writing it.

Anyway, if you put it another way, free works are more popular among readers, and the Puppies’ previous rhetoric has tended to equate commercial success with overall popularity—so if you had more commercial success, you’d have more popularity, and vice versa. I suspect that if you asked them to choose between the two, they’d be more likely to fall on the side of popularity being the most important measure of whether a work should get a Hugo—because the more popular titles should theoretically have more people willing to vote for them, regardless of how they got that way. So from that perspective, it’s not so odd to see free stories getting the lion’s share of the recommendations there.

(Found via File770.)


  1. This is another problem with deciding a supposedly prestigious award by mass audience voting. If the Hugo awards truly want to be on the level of the EGOT family, they need to be awarded by an assembly of experts and not run of the mill people.

    Where do these experts come from? Well the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extends membership (and therefore voting rights) to anyone nominated for an award. The Hugos could start there, perhaps throw in chairs of large conventions and then establish bylaws by which the voting membership could be expanded by a super majority vote of the existing membership in addition to the aforementioned auto-bids.

  2. The Hugo Award wasn’t started with the intention of being prestigious; it was just a bunch of fans getting together and handing out trophies. Any prestige has accreted around it since, like snow on a snowball rolling downhill, while the award has remained the same. They didn’t ask for prestige, but they got it anyway.

    If you’re looking for an award granted by a jury of experts, you want the SFWA’s “Nebula Award.” There’s ample room for both types of award in the world, after all.

  3. Then why does anybody care about the Hugo awards? There’s rarely controversy over the People’s Choice Awards because everyone knows that mass poll based awards are rarely worth the statuette they come with. I am shocked SHOCKED that a type of award that is suceptable to vote manipulation…is having issues with vote manipulation!

    I am blaming the Sci Fi media for pretending that the Hugo’s are anything other than a ploy to get a favourite creator to show up at a con to claim their award. If they were called the “Sci Fi Fan’s Choice Awards” then nobody would take them seriously, but through a remarkable branding effort these awards have been given an air of respectability.

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