The Hugo Award and Publication Dates, Part 4: Conclusion and Discussion

Over the past several days, Chaos Horizon has been looking at the correlation between US publication dates and the frequency of being nominated for or winning a Hugo Award for Best Novel, 2001-2014. Today, we’ll wrap up that report and open the floor for discussion and questions. Here are the previous posts (with charts and data!): Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Based on the previous posts, I believe the conclusion we can reach is simple: there is a definite “publication window” that extends from May to October. About 75% of Hugo nominees come from this window, as do 85% of the winners. May and September were the best Hugo-winning months, perhaps correlating to the start of the Summer and Christmas book-buying seasons.

Further questions:

1. How does this “window” correlate with the number of SFF books published per month? That’s not an easy statistic to find, although we can make a rough estimate based on Locus Magazines list of SFF books per month. I trust LocusMag—they’ve been making this list for a long time, so there methodology is likely consistent—but this estimate is gong to be very rough. We should only pay attention to the trends in this chart, not precise numbers:

Estimate SFF Books Per Month

This is what we might expect: there is a definite spike in books published right before the Christmas book-buying season, a drop off in December in January, and a slight spike during the Summer book-buying season. Since more books are published in May, September, and October, it should come as no surprise more Hugo nominations and winners come from that time period.

From a publisher’s perspective, it might be that the Summer season is being neglected—it looks like everyone wants to publish in September and October. If I were an author, I might prefer to published in May: there’s a softer market (fewer titles to compete with), and maybe more of a chance for publicity/to be read.

2. Are we looking at a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do publishers believe that May-October are the best months for publishing potential Hugo books? In other words, do publishers hold their Hugo books until this window, thus biasing the stats as a result? Would publishers be better off trying other months, in an attempt to break through to an audience that needs books to read?

3. Is the internet changing the importance of publication dates? If so, how? Do e-books provide more immediate access than print books, and would that alter the publication window? Could publishers extend the window by dropping e-book prices later in the year?

4. How much stock can we place in this study, given the relatively small amount of data: 68 nominees and 14 winners? Is this too small of a data set to draw reliable conclusions from?

5. Is it fair to only think about US publication dates? How would UK (or international) publication dates factor in?

Lastly, are there any concerns or issues you’d like to raise about this study? Statistics can be incredibly misleading, as they depend enormously both on the data set and the statistical model being set up by the analyst (in this case, me). Chaos Horizon is committed to transparency in all reports. How else could the study be set up? How could we provide a more complete picture of publication dates and the Hugo Award?

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