A rebuttal of sorts

January 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week, I wrote a post questioning if it was worthwhile or not for those wanting to get their works on the Hugo nomination ballot to expend much effort, because the tangible rewards (more exposure, sales) seemed to be paltry at best in areas other than perhaps the novel finalists.  I noted that it seemed odd to me that the lower-profile the award, the more activity there seemed to be among those who could be up for consideration (especially those in the category of “fan writer”) for those awards that would pay very little to nothing in monetary terms as a direct result of being up for said awards.

Now it comes as no surprise to me that I see a particular person has parsed my words in a fashion that runs counter to the stated intent.  Generally, I would leave a simple comment and leave it at that, but after a time or two in the past where such comments were held in moderation purgatory, I shall write the rebuttal here and leave it for readers to interpret matters:

Larry Nolen declares genre awards irrelevant in general at the OF Blog, since only very few people bother to nominate and vote and the financial advantage is likely to be small to non-existent, particularly in the short fiction and fan categories. And besides, writers and publishers don’t behave in nearly such an undignified way regarding nominations for the literary awards that really matter according to Larry Nolen, namely the Booker Prize or the National Book Award.

 I do not recall ever using the word “irrelevant,” but if I had, it almost certainly would have been in context to the larger reading population, for whom SF/F would be a minor field in comparison to romance, mysteries, or historical fiction.  I could see where this person gets the impression of “undignified,” as I do believe that there is a sort of crassness that goes with clamoring to be on any nomination ballot.  But then again, that perhaps is a cultural matter, considering I feel the same way when it comes to campaigning for anything.  The values I learned from my mother and grandmothers…

Now for the tangential part:

Reading through this post, I couldn’t help but be struck by the privilege on display. Because apparently, Larry Nolen cannot even fathom that for many women or writers of colour or international writers or GLBT writers, being nominated for a genre award, even if it’s in a fan category, is an affirmation that they belong here and are part of the genre, that their books and stories and other contributions to the genre are welcomed and recognised. Never mind that he does underestimate the impact winning a Hugo even in the short fiction categories can have on a writer’s career. Because editors are a lot more willing to look at your work, when you are a Hugo or a Campbell winner. Especially, if you aren’t a straight white cisgendered man.

 To this, I blinked.  Once.  Twice.  Perhaps even three times.  I can forgive the writer being unaware of the conversations that I have participated in or at least read on Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, etc. on the issue of PoC/GLBTQ representation.  But when I am talking about tangible rewards and note that in a particular awards setting where at best there might be sales in the low thousands (Hugo Best Novel) directly correlated to being on a shortlist, the very real issue of representation just was not discussed there simply because that would involve another set of discussion parameters.  But since the issue has been raised, here is what I would say in response:

Yes, there is very low visibility for writers who do not happen to be white, cisgendered males from the UK, US, or Canada.  There needs to be greater awareness among the readerships of all literary genres, not just SF/F, of what is being produced by women of all ethnic groups, by GLBTQ writers, by writers from other regions/countries.  And as an intangible benefit, seeing such works appear on awards ballots will raise the awareness necessary for increased eyeballs.  But unfortunately, the economy of scale that I mentioned before rears its nasty head.  If the readership for a Hugo-nominated short story is perhaps in the hundreds (guess based on the number of ballots cast in previous years), wouldn’t it be more beneficial for these writers if their stories instead appeared in the various reprint anthologies that seek to collect the “best” fiction of the previous year?  That is where the fight for greater representation should be concentrated (and where more money is made).  Yes, I could see some arguing that if the underrepresented writers do not have the “visibility” that goes with appearing on awards ballots, then why would anthology editors choose them, but I tend to believe that it is in reverse:  that it takes appearing in these anthologies to raise greater awareness among readers that this writer is worth reading.  Posting “eligibility” articles might garner a few eyeballs, but it seems to be less efficient than writing to the editors of these anthologies and politely asking them to consider their works, if they haven’t already.  While yes, this would still be a bit crass to me (again, cultural matter that applies to me only), it still would seem to be a much better use of time/effort if the end goal is to raise the visibility of PoC/women/GLBTQ writers (and this also leaves aside the many excellent anthologies released in recent years that directly target these underrepresented groups.  See We See a Different Frontier and Mothership for two examples released in 2013).  And yes, I do disagree with the assertion at the end of the quoted paragraph, largely because I think it takes appearing in said reprint anthologies first (or at least very strong word of mouth) before the Hugo nominations readily come rolling in.

So instead of just rolling my eyes (which was rather tempting), I thought I would issue this apologia as a way of starting any discussion on the issue, if any are so inclined.  Perhaps there are still some “blind spots” in my views (after all, I have been reading very little SF/F fiction in recent years, and almost no short fiction in this genre) that can be pointed out.  But I will admit that it is difficult to begin a cordial rebuttal when “privilege” is so blithely tossed about, thus my reframing of the discussion in terms that I hope reduces said charge to that annoying voice in the corner.  And maybe later there can be a tackling of that “class” issue that I see has been raised in other places…

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