The Hugo Award and Publication Dates: A Chaos Horizon Report

As part of its continued statistical analysis of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Chaos Horizon is happy to present its first ever report. Today, we’ll be looking at the impact of publication date on the chances of being nominated for and winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Since this is going to be detailed, I’ll break the report down into four posts:

1. Analysis of publication date and the chances of being nominated for the Hugo, 2001-2014 (Monday 9/22)
2. Analysis of publication date and the chances of winning the Hugo, 2001-2014 (Tuesday 9/23)
3. Methodology (the boring part!) (Wednesday 9/24)
4. Conclusions and discussion (Thursday 9/25)

Introduction: The Hugo Award for Best Novel is a Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) award given annually at the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon). Voted on by the attendees of WorldCon, the Hugo has been awarded since 1953. For more details, see the Hugo awards website.

In general, all SFF books published in the previous year are eligible for the Hugo award. Nominations are due early the following year, often by March, and voting takes place at the actual WorldCon, usually in August, although the exact timeline can vary slightly. For this report, we’ll be considering initial US publication dates—the date a book is first released in print—and the chances of getting nominated for or winning the Hugo award.

Today’s research question is simple: are some publication dates better than others for Hugo nominations and/or wins? Some believe that January is too early to be published, as voters will forget about the novel when nomination season rolls around. Likewise, December may be too late, as readers won’t have enough time to read and process the book before nominations are due. Does a statistical analysis confirm these expectations?

Findings: When it comes to receiving a Hugo nomination, Chaos Horizon’s statistical analysis suggests that there is a “publication window” that extends from May to October. Let’s take a look at the data, which I generated by looking up the initial print US publication dates for 68 nominated novels between 2001 and 2014:

Hugo Nominats per Month

As you can see, there is a definite peak during the middle of the year. May (10 nominations), July (9 nominations), and June (9 nominations) were the best months, with October (8 nominations) also providing a solid option. November (2 nominations) and December (a sad 0 nominations) were the worst months. February was surprising, with 6 nominations, showing that all months—except December—have some promise.

When we break this down by season, the trend is even clearer.

Hugo Nominats per Season

We have a nice bell-shaped curve, with nominations peaking in the summer months and falling off on either side. I think the conclusion is pretty obvious: Summer is the best time to be published if you want a Hugo nom, with late Spring and early Fall being your other viable alternatives.

The window for maximum Hugo nomination chances extends from May to October, and the difference is pretty stark:

Hugo Nominats Window

Nearly 75% of the nominees come from that May-October window, and only roughly 25% come from outside of it. While there may be other reasons to publish early in the year—a less competitive marketplace, for instance—when it comes to getting nominated for the Hugo, your best chances lie in publishing between May and October. Still, 28% is nothing to sneeze at. Life exists outside the “publication window,” and SFF readers are capable of finding good novels whenever they are published.

Tomorrow, we’ll consider what effect publication date has on winning the Hugo.


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