This purely a thinking out loud post. I’ve neither the motivation, time or organisational skills to do any of the things required. But let us assume, for the moment, that I’ve had a sudden influx of both wealth & time and that rather than devoting this new-found bounty to securing world peace, ending hunger or advancing the cause of democratic socialism, I instead concentrated my efforts on building an award for self-published (or very small-press published) science fiction & fantasy novels, THEN how would I go about it?
The purpose would be the kind of signal boosting that has been discussed with respect to other awards. The need for that outside of big publishing is even greater. However, an award that was an effective signal booster would be swamped by those most effective at self-promotion. Self-promotion isn’t inherently a vice but there isn’t any need for an award for best self-promoter* and an award for best novel in some field shouldn’t become a de facto award for self-promotion.
The other danger would the award would become just another gatekeeper over a slushpile and hence prone to the same biases as any outlet.
Having considering what needs to be avoided, the next question is who does the work? Not the administration perse (this is a fantasy thought-experiment where I suddenly have wealth to pay people to run websites and collate data etc) but the picking and choosing.
There are in principle two choices:
- Selection by experts/jury
- Popular vote by a community
Those two choices can be mixed together by using stages or can become blurred by having a very large jury – I’ve suggested before that the Hugos can be thought of as an award with a very large self-appointed jury rather than a popular vote.
The merits of jury versus vote depend on the award. In this case, the award’s primary purpose is to signal boost quality from a very large field. A jury has the advantage of identifying works that are good but not popular. A vote has the advantage of crowd-sourcing the survey of a very large field.
Here is my complicated process:
- Open nominations. Free to nominate but nominations must be via a specific form and contain all relevant details to correctly identify the book. Also, each nomination must have a review of the book AND a discussion of the book’s flaws. Authors would be encouraged to ask their readers (friends, relative etc) to nominate them but only those nominations that were validly entered and had unique reviews would be counted. This stage would be gameable but not easily spamable.
- The top 200 (say) nominations would form the long list.
- A jury would take the long list and on the *reviews alone* (not the books themselves)^ pick out the top 50 (say) most interesting nominees from the longlist. Some consensus between jurors would be needed for most of the list but each juror would have some power to add any of the works. The mix of jurors would be diverse in multiple ways, helping ensure the not-so-long list was also diverse.
- The top 50 would then go to paid members of the award along with the reviews – a kind of cross between the Hugo packet and a book club. The money from the members would go back to the authors.
- The members vote on the top 50 to get a top 5, and the jurors pick out another 5.
- The Top 10 all get the award.
Eligibility would cover overlapping two-year periods but a book could only be on the longlist once and an author coul only be in the top 10 once.
Some people who have actually set up awards for indie books:
http://www.writersdigest.com/writers-digest-competitions/self-published-book-awards (not sure if this is still going)
http://mark—lawrence.blogspot.com.au/2017/05/spfbo-2017-call-to-authors.html Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off
*[or maybe there is – as it would be the easiest award to run as an open vote]
^[that may sound weird but it is partly to make the task manageable but also to encourage interesting reviews. Jurors are going to be put off by gushing claims of wonderfulness.]