Don’t nominate me for the Campbell; I declined it last year.

Photo: Adam Christopher

Last year, I was nominated for a Campbell Award, for my debut novel vN. Then I declined the nomination, because I realized I wasn’t truly eligible for the award that year. Why? Because I’d already made a sale to Nature magazine. SFWA treats Nature as a Campbell-qualifying market, which means my “Campbell clock” (which I imagine looking like the glowing crystal in Logan’s Run) has been running since 2009.

I spoke about this at length with the organizers of LoneStarCon 3, the 2013 WorldCon in San Antonio. Back when they contacted me about my nomination, I was naturally very happy about it. I cuddled up to David and told him I was so happy he was the one sharing this moment with me. For a moment, I imagined myself wearing that tiara. I imagined how happy my publishers would be with me, and having the opportunity to return their investment in me. I imagined more people reading my book and wondered if they would enjoy it. Then the doubts started creeping in. And I started to feel sick. Was I really eligible? Had they checked? That night, I didn’t sleep at all. I kept thinking about my friends Helen Marshall and Tim Maughan, who I had included on my Hugo ballot. Could I really face them, if I accepted this nomination? No. I couldn’t.

You see, I had written up my own eligibility at Writertopia, having been told by reviewers and friends that vN should be eligible. (After all, vN was nominated for both a Locus and a Kitschie in the debut category.) I had written up my own profile on the logic that no one was going to do it for me, something Amal El-Mohtar discusses here:

You cannot with one breath say that you wish more women were recognized for their work, and then say in the next that you think less of people who make others aware of their work. You cannot trust that somehow, magically, the systems that suppress the voices of women, people of colour, disabled people, queer people, trans people, will of their own accord stop doing that when award season rolls around in order to suddenly make you aware of their work. You MUST recognize the fact that the only way to counter silence is to encourage speech and make room for it to be heard.

The presence of women on science fiction shortlists is pretty marginal, in part because it’s tough to get a genre novel written by a woman reviewed. And that stems in part from publishing statistics themselves (which sometimes involve editors who think it’s a woman’s own fault for being intimidated, and not an editor’s responsibility to scout or encourage talent).

So it was with that in mind that I wrote up my own eligibility, honestly thinking I was eligible and not expecting anyone else to mention my work. I have a lovely agent who represents my manuscripts, and my publisher employs a full-time publicist who works tirelessly on our behalf, but awards promotion is another beast (unless you work for, say, the Weinsteins). I ran headlong into this process, having only the vaguest notion of what the Campbells were about, and assuming that a first novel counted.

It doesn’t. Not necessarily.

You see, as I discovered after speaking with Todd Dashoff of LoneStarCon 3, I learned that “For Campbell Award purposes, a professional publication is one for which more than a nominal amount was paid, any publication that had an average press run of at least 10,000 copies, or any other that the Award sponsors may delegate.” Todd got this from Trevor Quachri, who was administering the award. What that boils down to is that first-time publications need not hit a trifecta of criteria in order to start the Campbell clock, they need only meet one criterion. Realizing this, I backed out of my nomination. Here is what I said:

I’ve looked over the eligibility requirements a second time, and it looks like my mistake was in thinking that my previous publications had to hit *all three* criteria (nominal amount, circulation, delegated), rather than just a single criterion. This was an honest but stupid mistake, and one that caused a lot of extra trouble for everyone, and I’m sincerely sorry for it. Having looked over it, I don’t know how I could accept the nomination, because I was never eligible. It would be wrong to accept the nomination under those circumstances. Worse, I think doing so would be stealing attention from other writers who have a legitimate shot at the award. And it would impugn the honour of the award to do so — put simply, it would take a two-minute Google search for any Hugo voter to find that I was ineligible, and that wouldn’t do anything for the credibility of the award or its winners. I have an opportunity to gracefully and graciously back out now, and I feel that I should.

Dashoff and other organizers then told me that they had reviewed my entire fiction CV, and agreed I was not eligible. I then told Mr. Dashoff that I thought the eligibility requirements were a bit confusing, especially for beginning writers, and he told me this:

The Campbell is not a Hugo, and is administered by Dell Publications under a different set of eligibility rules than are currently used by WSFS. I discussed the situation at the beginning of the year with the current administrator, Trevor Quachri, and he confirmed his desire to stick with the current (different) rules. Add to that the fact those rules involve a payment of only $50 to technically start the clock running, while at the same time including a long list of exceptions, and you have the formula for problems, as occurred this time. WSFS can request changes to the process, but if Dell declines to change, we are stuck having to play by someone else’s rules.

So, what does this mean?

  • Writertopia, the site from whence many Hugo voters derive their knowledge of Campbell Award eligibility, doesn’t vet their candidates. At all. That’s apparently your job, as a writer or as a reader. If a writer has been dishonest with them, or has made a mistake, they have no way of knowing. I mean, look at me. I almost got away with it, and I wasn’t even trying to get away with anything. Before you nominate someone, Google them. Do your homework. Nobody else is going to do it for you.
  • The “nominal amount” of payment that starts your Campbell clock can be as low as $50. That’s what professional rates are, according to the administrators of the award. Congratulations, professionals — you can celebrate your nomination with a 2-for-20 deal at Applebees!
  • To my knowledge, I’m still not eligible for the award. That means that posts like this one recommending me for the award, while delightful and flattering, are inaccurate.
  • If you voted for me in the last cycle, I stole your vote. I did so unwittingly, but it’s still a type of disenfranchisement, and for that I apologize. I was wrong. I fucked up. I put self-promotion ahead of basic research, and juked the stats for everybody. That was stupid. While it’s clear I never would have won the award (see the picture above), I want to thank everybody who supported me, but I also need to apologize for having misled them. I’m sorry.

I’ve debated writing about this for a long time. I didn’t want it to come off as sour grapes, because by and large I’m happy with my career. I mean, I’d love to win an award, and I’d love bigger sales, and I’d love some kind of media adaptation, but that just makes me a writer. It doesn’t make me an unhappy writer. I’m choosing to write about it now because awards season has started again, and Writertopia still has my profile up, so well-meaning folks are already sending me anthology and interview requests, as well as recommending me for the award. I wanted a Google-friendly post that would disabuse them of that notion. And I also wanted to show you how the Campbell sausage gets made. Further, I want to stress that Todd Dashoff and the other LoneStarCon organizers were flawlessly kind and polite during this process. What happened here was sad — for me, at least, in that it felt like handing back the One Ring — but it’s not nearly so appalling as what happened to Mary Robinette Kowal and her story, “Lady Astronaut of Mars.”

And that’s my story about declining a nomination for the Campbell Award. If you’re curious about what I’m actually eligible for this year, I suggest you read my second novel, iD: The Second Machine Dynasty, or my story “Social Services” in the Aura of Familiarity anthology, or my story “Permacultures”, in the Cautions, Dreams, & Curiosities anthology of the Tomorrow Project. If you’re not already exhausted by my writing after such a long post, I hope that you enjoy them.

1 thought on “Don’t nominate me for the Campbell; I declined it last year.”

  1. Huh. I had the reverse experience, I had to explain to Writertopia that my publication in Strange Horizons in 2012 didn’t make me eligible because it was a poem, not a piece of fiction, published in the poetry column (and paid $20 IIRC?). So they must vet at least some people…

    What took me forever to find out was whether my non-English-language publications made me ineligible. The last I heard was that they didn’t – this from an awards committee member so I think it’s OK and I’m eligible. I think I was the first person who asked this question!

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