The Nebula Process

The Nebula for best novel involves several stages of voting. The rules are explained in excruciating detail by the SFWA at their website, but here’s quick rundown:

1. The members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), around 1800 strong and consisting of professional science fiction and fantasy writers, nominate books published in 2013. Books must be in English and published in the United States. While technically eligible, books in translation rarely make the Nebula slate.
2. The 6 works with the most nominations become the final slate (nominees). If works tie for that 6th spot, all tied works appear on the ballot.
3. SFWA members then vote on the ballot. The book with the most votes wins Nebula. In case of a tie, the number of nominations is the tiebreaker.

Pretty simple, right? The two stages of the process, though, add some wrinkles. The first stage emphasizes passion, as you have to go to the bother of nominating a book you really like. A relatively small number of devoted readers could get a book nominated by doing this, leading to the often head-scratching slate. Since we have 8 nominees this year, that means 3 different books tied for the 6th spot. How many votes did it take to sneak into that bottom slot, and do any of those books have a real chance?

The second stage is much more general, and tends to focus on which books are most well known. What percentage of those 1800 members actually reads the 6 nominated books? The nominees usually appear in mid-February, and votes are due by the end of March. That’s a quick turnaround for a working writer. This year’s slate includes some short books, but there are also some 500+ page tomes (looking at you, Hild!)

To creative a predictive model, we’ll have to figure out what–aside from a book’s quality–Nebula voters have historically used in making their decision. Past nominations, critical acclaim, author’s fame–all of them will come into play. I’ll start breaking this down in my next post.

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