The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Repeat Nominees, Part 3

Today, we’ll be continuing our look at repeat nominees and the Hugo and Nebula Award for Best Novel, 2001-2014. Part 1 looked at how often the Hugo and Nebula voters nominate writers who have already received Best Novel nominations, to the tune of 65% for the Hugo and 50% for the Nebula. In Part 2, we looked at how “repeat nominees” dominate the slates, particularly for the Hugo. The 7 most popular Hugo writers received 45% of all the possible nominations between 2001-2014. The Nebula was far more evenly distributed, with the most popular writers taking home 24% of the slots, and that number was greatly inflated by Jack McDevitt’s 9 Best Novel nominations.

So far, I’ve only looked at nominations, and not chances of winning. Do these “repeaters” dominate the Hugo and Nebula wins? Or do rookies and one-time nominees stand a chance?

Hugos: Between 2001-2014, there were 15 Hugo winners (Bacigalupi and Mieville tied in 2010). At the time of their win, 4 of those authors had previously won the Hugo for Best Novel: Willis, Gaiman, Vinge, and Bujold. 5 winners had previously been nominated for Best Novel: Scalzi, Mieville, Wilson, Sawyer, and Rowling. So, all told, 60% of the Best Novel Hugo winners had prior history in the Best Novel category.

4 of the winners were pure Hugo rookies at the time of their win: Leckie, Walton, Chabon, and Clarke. The other 2 winners—Bacigalupi and Gaiman (for his initial American Gods win; by the time he wins for The Graveyard Book, he’s a “repeater”)—had success “downballot.” Bacigalupi had several prior nominations for his stories, and Gaiman had a Best Related Book nomination for one of the Sandman volumes. To look at that visually:

Hugo Winners

All in all, that seems a fairly reasonably distribution: 66% of the total winners have Hugo history, and 33% are rookies. If we correlate that to the stats from Part 1 of the report (65% of the ballot is repeaters), we’ll see that there isn’t much of a bias once you make it into the slate. While it’s harder to get into the slate as a rookie, a rookie has just as good a chance, proportionally, of winning as a repeater. Hugo voters are fairer at picking a winner than picking the slate.

How does this correlate, though, to Part 2 of our report, the pool of “repeaters” who got 2 or Hugo nominations in the 2001-2014 period? On the surface, you’d think that this group would dominate the winner’s list: after all, they grabbed most of the slate spots. Here’s the data:

Table 3: Number of Wins for Best Novel Hugo Award for Repeat Nominees, 2001-2014
Hugo Repeaters Winners

8 of the 15 winners were from this list of repeaters; that means 7 of the winners came from people who were only nominated once in the 2001-2014 period. That’s a 53%/47% split, or basically a coin flip. Even though these repeaters dominated the slate, they didn’t dominate the winner’s circle. This may suggest an interesting hypothesis: getting nominated is more biased towards reputation/award history, while winning depends more on the quality of the individual novel. Toss Gaiman out, and these “repeaters” actually have a worse chance of winning—proportionally, of course—than the non-repeaters.

The top of the repeaters list—those 7 authors who dominated 45% of the slate—only managed to win 33% of the Hugos, so dominating the slate doesn’t necessarily lead to winning the Hugo for Best Novel. Stross is perhaps the best example of this: he is the most nominated author between 2001-2014, but has no Best Novel Hugos to show for it. Don’t feel too sad for him, though; he picked up 3 Best Hugo Novella Awards in that time period.

Remember, the pool of winners (15) is a very small sample size, and we shouldn’t put too much stock in specific numbers. Instead, it’s the trends that matter. The main trend for the Hugo seems to be this: past Hugo Best Novel history doesn’t seem to matter much when it comes to actually winning the award. Given that making the slate seems biased towards past Best Novel nominees, this is an interesting result.

I’ll take a look at the winners of the Nebula in the next post.

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2 responses to “The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Repeat Nominees, Part 3”

  1. MadProfessah says :

    Why is Charlie Stross the Susan Lucci of the Hugo Awards? Clearly people like his work but I guess not enough to give him the big prize?

    I hope he gets nominated for ” Neptune’s Brood” this year. I thought it was great (and I often have not been able to finish his books.)

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Yes, Stross has a strange history with the Best Novel category. He’s won three Best Novella Hugos (2005, 2010, 2014) as conciliation prizes, though. This actually happens a fair amount with the Novella category: it goes to someone as a substitute for a Best Novel award. George R.R. Martin actually has a Best Novella Hugo for “Blood of the Dragon” (basically the Daenyrs chapters from Game of Thrones) but no Hugo for any of the rest of Song of Ice and Fire. History is going to have a hard time parsing that one out!

      As for Neptune’s Brood, you’re a year late—it snagged a 2014 Hugo nomination, and came in second behind Ancillary Justice.

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