Awards lobbying – the view from the fence

It’s awards season in science fiction and fantasy land, and if you’re of a mind to follow these things you’ll probably have already read much about the subject and various points of view on whether or not it is a seemly thing for authors to lobby the voting public for nominations and ticks-in-boxes for their eligible works.

Relax, this post is not going to be an exhortation for you to nominate or vote for Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.

Neither is it a criticism of those who do flag up the eligibility of their works at this time.

No, it’s more the view of a fence-sitter on the whole affair. Let’s have it right, I do have a dog in this fight – Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was released by Tor in the US and Snowbooks in the UK in September 2013, so is technically eligible for nomination for any of the major awards doing the rounds at the moment.

And my general view is a somewhat twisty one – It would be great to be shortlisted for an award. It would be amazing to actually win one. Why? Well, who doesn’t like to get a prize? I’d LOVE a prize. I’d love a rocket-shaped award or a bottle of rum or whatever swag is going for award-winners. I’d love the validation of the SF/Fantasy reading community. I’d love to be able to sit in the pub, clutching my well-polished space probe, slurring into my beer about how I won a prize.

But I’m probably not going to lobby for people to nominate or vote for Gideon Smith. And not from any lofty ideas, more because I think it probably wouldn’t happen, so I’m not going to force it.

There are various viewpoints on this and I vacillate between them. In the red corner… You’ve got to be in it to win it! It’s not about the winning, it’s the taking part! If you don’t piss in the pot you can’t expect, erm, nope, not sure where that one’s going.

In the blue corner: Look, if my book’s any good, then someone will nominate and vote for it whether I lobby them or not. If they don’t, then c’est la vie. Also, pick your fights, don’t start something you can’t finish. Do I think Gideon Smith has a chance against some of the big hitters in the SF/Fantasy field who’ve released books last year? That doesn’t matter. What matters is whether YOU think it has a chance.

And here’s where my thoughts on the whole matter get even muddier, and it’s about whether the people who are usually eligible to vote in these awards – members of SF associations, people who are attending conventions – are actually the people who are reading my book.

First off, let me tell you about some stunning reviews Gideon Smith has had. The very best ones were published in The Guardian, Publishers Weekly (which gave it a starred review), the Washington Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, plus a host of book-blogger sites.

The book didn’t get reviewed on what I consider the major SF sites, nor in the big glossy SF magazines. That isn’t a whinge; I’m a journalist, I know what it’s like to have to choose books for review, and not everything that’s submitted for review gets in.

That isn’t to say I wouldn’t love to get reviewed in SFX or SciFiNow or whatever. But the core genre press hasn’t perhaps taken Gideon Smith to their hearts, and – I might be wrong in this – it’s the people who read the core genre press who are probably also the people who go to conventions and vote in awards.

I don’t know how well Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl has sold yet – I’m sure I’ll get some figures in the next couple of months. But my gut feeling is that the majority of sales are to people I wouldn’t call hardcore SF readers. I base this on the fact I’ve had so many lovely emails and messages from people who loved the book but began with “I didn’t think I would like this but…” and “This isn’t what I’d normally go for but…” or “I never read science fiction but…” or “I’ve never heard of steampunk but…”

These messages are incredibly gratifying, and they go some way to validating what I set out to do when I began writing Gideon Smith – create something that would appeal to traditional SF readers’ sensibilities but also be accessible to people who didn’t necessarily classify themselves as SF/Fantasy fans.

It may be that Gideon Smith just isn’t SFnal enough, or just not original enough for someone who has read widely in the genre. Or maybe just not good enough. So though I would love an award on my mantelpiece – who wouldn’t, come on? – I think, on balance, at my stage in my writing career, readers and sales are more important.

So nominate me or vote for me if you like, and I’ll love you forever. Buy my book and I’ll probably love you even more.

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