Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Save the Semiprozine Hugo

Evidently there is a desire among some involved in Hugo Awards nominating and voting to eliminate the category of "Best Semiprozine" from the awards. The issue is explained well by Neil Clarke (editor of one of this year's nominees in that category, Clarkesworld) on the site pictured to the left and on the Tor site by John Klima. I won't rehash everything they say there, so if you're interested in this issue, please visit these links.

The fact that Locus nearly always wins in this category is stated as one of the reasons for eliminating it--it doesn't mean as much, they say, if one publication is the winner every year (would that be true of the Fan Writer category, too, won nearly every year by David Langford?).  Another complaint about the category is that it is difficult to define and therefore identify which zines qualify for it. It seems to me that this would be where to make the change. Look at the rules for the category on the Hugo Awards website. They attempt to define how  "semipro" is different from a "pro" zine like Analog or a "fanzine" like M-Brane, but it seems overly complicated. For most purposes, isn't the difference among pro and semi-pro defined by pay rates for writers?

Some people also think that the number of Hugo categories in general should be reduced. Why? I see no problem with having an award with some stature to recognize people who do the good work in these perhaps lesser categories. It seems good for the genre, good for the fans, good for everyone, and doesn't hurt anyone at all. Leave it be. Save the Semiprozine Hugo.

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Brandon said...

I'd suggest dividing the categories up in the same way that a site like Ralan's divides market categories: pro, semi-pro, paying, and possibly non-paying. Good work can appear at any of these levels. And why not, if there are nonfic contenders, split off a nonfic category, which would open up the prior for someone other than Locus to win?

Christopher Fletcher said...

I think that makes good sense, Brandon H. It would make it clear-cut what kind of zine is which, and it would be in keeping also with the way SFWA defines "pro" level for writers' publishing credits. Another idea that has been floated is simply disqualifying last year's winner from winning the next year, but I don't think that really gets to the heart of it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your support!

The SFWA looks at author pay rate to determine if a story published in that venue can qualify the author for membership.

The Hugo categories (fanzine, semiprozine, best editor short form) are more concerned with editors. I believe any criteria that focuses simply on the authors is only looking at half of the issue. We need a solution that also looks at whether or not the editor is being paid professionally. If you look at the best editor short form, you'll see that it is populated by magazine and anthology editors who do this for a living. To me, that's a major criteria for defining a professional.

At Clarkesworld, I pay pro rates, but I don't make a living wage from it. I have to keep a day job for that. I'm not a professional. I hope to be someday. Of course, none of this matters if we don't save the category first. Can't fix it if it doesn't exist. :)

To me, semiprozines are that middle ground between fanzine and professional editors. We don't belong in either of the other categories. It would be unfair to put us in with fanzines and equally unfair to us to put us in with the professional editors. Opposition to the category likes to say that there aren't enough of us worth keeping the category for, but that is far from the truth. One of the reasons exists is to prove that.

kaolin fire said...

Hear, hear.

Cheryl said...

What Neil said. Thanks for the support, but please don't push an idea that encourages us to pay our writers less.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Cheryl, I'm certainly NOT pushing an idea that would reduce writer pay. That's the last thing I'd want to do. At your current rate, CLARKESWORLD is a pro-zine. Perhaps if they change the rules, you'd be in that category instead. Which would be great, too. My only suggestion is that they define the rules more clearly (as opposed to weird stuff like "15 percent advertising" and a person making half their income off of it--doesn't make sense, and can't be evaluated objectively).

Cheryl said...

Cheryl, I'm certainly NOT pushing an idea that would reduce writer pay. That's the last thing I'd want to do. At your current rate, CLARKESWORLD is a pro-zine.That's exactly my point. Clarkesworld is a nominee for semiprozine this year. There is no question that it is eligible for semiprozine. And that's because it is the money that the editors get paid, not the money that the writers get paid, that determines the magazine's status. If WSFS followed your rules then the only way that Clarkesworld could become eligible again would be to reduce the money we pay our writers. I don't want Neil to have to make that sort of decision.

But you are right, most of the requirements in the semiprozine definition can't be easily evaluated. If the category does get killed, the thing that will kill it is the difficulty of actually writing a definition that makes sense.

Brandon said...

I don't see the difficulty in defining the category. I see a certain elitism that is harmful to the genre. The facts are, economies being what they are these days, outside of a few markets, short SF (and fantasy and horror... etc.) will live on in smaller magazines that may not make money enough to pay their editors. I guess the objection is that if awards just focus on how much writers are paid for categorization, then anyone can start a magazine, pay for stories at .05 or .03 a word, and call themselves pro or semipro.

But isn't that the ecology, especially online? Garbage will not survive, in the long run, regardless of the medium. But awarding good works in publishing short fiction at these various levels: that only encourages everyone.

I am a huge fan of the old Emerald City site, so please understand my criticism is not aimed at Cheryl, but at a literary establishment that can be insular and sometimes fails to support its own lower echelons. And check out the Save SemiproHugo site: we are not talking about fly-by-night operations, but quality work by dedicated people.

By using writer pay rates as I already suggested, then judging based on quality of fiction in a given magazine, I bet you'd see the best of the bunch moving up in terms of pay for both editors and writers as well as quality of fiction. People like kudos, and this sort garners attention for the the winners.


Brandon said...

btw, this is my alternate identity, aka Nithska.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Good points...and I had wondered if that was you, Brandon "H" :) And I didn't mean to get the Clarkes folks worried about my idea. I'm totally on their side. I just think EDITOR pay has frak-all to do with anything, and that's what might need to change if the rules changes. And maybe it needs to just be left alone.


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