An award for self-published SFF books?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The top 200 (say) nominations would form the long list.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The members vote on the top 50 to get a top 5, and the jurors pick out another 5.
  6. 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: (not sure if this is still going)

http://mark— 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.]




  1. Matt Y

    1. I like, but in what form would the review be? Like as part of the nomination form or could it just contain a link to the review. If the latter whether it be Amazon or other Marketplaces if it require the Verified Purchase identifier it would also lessen the chances of getting gamed, and would help indie authors trying to promote their works get more reviews from those nominating them, which would also help promote their works. I’d personally want as a category for the editor to be named somewhere in the book description, with the author not counting, at least to show some effort was made.
    2. Broken down by genre, like 20 to a genre, or not?

    Rest sounds good though some people would likely feel any jury or pay to vote would be gatekeepers. Additionally there’s going to be the question of self-published versus small vanity press as what counts.

    I know I mentioned Amazon in the last thread but given they own good reads and their own marketing device I would think that maybe even better than an award for authors would be fore them to set up a community voting system for qualified self published works that only people who’ve reviewed the books can vote on, with the winner of that week/month getting a free marketing allowance for a set period of time. That would increase community participation in Goodreads, increase reviews, and if they’re KDP books financially benefit both Amazon, the KDP program and the author. That might require too many moving parts between different internal teams.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. greghullender

    As far as programming goes, the easiest thing would be to require that people paste a link to a review they wrote on Amazon. As Matt Y says, software could test that the person who wrote the review was a verified purchaser of the book. It could also extract all the other details of the book; people wishing to make a nomination wouldn’t need to submit any data beyond a link to the review they wrote.