The Hugo and Nebula Awards and Repeat Nominees, Part 5

This report on Repeat Nominees has gotten more complicated by the post: there’s a lot of information to sift through here, and a number of different ways to slice the statistical pie. In Parts 5 and Parts 6, I’m going to provide some additional detail that commenters asked for. If you’d like to know anything more—and provided I can come up with a decent way of finding/presenting the data—just ask.

In Part 1, we identified a certain number of “rookies,” nominees for the Best Hugo or Best Nebula Novel Award (2001-2014) who had previously not been nominated for the award. If you recall, there were 25 “rookies” for the Hugo and 44 for the Nebula, or roughly 35% for the Hugo and 50% for the Nebula. In the comments, Niall asked whether or not these rookies had prior success on other parts of the Hugo and Nebula ballot, thus making them familiar to voters.

This is a very solid hypothesis, one we could call the “moving on up” idea: writers would first get nominated for Best Short Story (or Novelette, or Novella), and then would eventually “graduate” to the Best Novel slate. Data shows that this isn’t necessarily the case: you don’t need to have previously been nominated for any Hugo or Nebula categories to make the slate. Here’s some charts:

Hugo Rookies
Nebula Rookies

The numbers are relatively straightforward: of the 25 Hugo rookies, only 6.5 had received downballot Hugo nominations (I counted Brandon Sanderson as the .5; he shared his nomination with Robert Jordan for Wheel of Time). For the 44 Nebula Best Novel rookies, 15 had received a prior Nebula nomination in another category. I was generous in my counting, including such categories as “Best Related Work.” If this were limited to only fiction categories, that would cut the numbers down by a little more.

So, what do we learn? That being downballot on the awards doesn’t necessarily help you get up into the Best Novel category. Hugo and Nebula voters don’t necessarily insist that you’ve had success in the Short Story, Novelette, or Novella categories before you make it to the top of the ballot. Lots of pure rookies make the ballot—good news if you’re a rookie, but maybe disappointing if you’ve got some wins in the other categories.

This is a case where the raw statistics might be a little misleading. While they show 75% of the Hugo rookies never have been nominated before, we must acknowledge that this is a much larger pool of writers than those who have previously been nominated for Hugos. So, if we estimate that the pool of no-Hugo nominations as around 500 (I just made that number up, but it’s probably in the ballpark of the novels that could be considered “credible” Hugo contenders), and the pool of writers who have been nominated for downballot Hugos at around 100, you can see that there is a statistical advantage to being on other parts of the Hugo ballot. I’m still surprised; I was expecting a greater advantage. I thought the awards would be more hospitable to downballot success, as appearing on other parts of the ballot would make you more familiar to Hugo and Nebula voters. While it helps, it doesn’t seem to help that much.

Let’s think about a couple of examples: Elizabeth Bear has had good success on other parts of the Hugo ballot, with 4 nominations and 4 wins, 2 for Best Fancast, one for Best Novelette, and one for Best Short Story. She hasn’t had any luck, however, at cracking the top of the ballot. Ken Liu is going to be a great author to keep your eye on for 2016 awards. His debut novel, The Grace of Kings, is due out in April 2015. Liu has been enormously successful in the other Hugo and Nebula fiction categories: 3 Hugo noms, 2 wins, and 6 Nebula noms, 1 win. He’d be a prime example of someone you would expect to “graduate” to the Best Novel slates: but will he? Before this study, I might have Liu down as a “good” bet. Now, I’m not so sure.

So, in conclusion: while being on other parts of the Hugo and Nebula ballot helps, it’s not an enormous help, and we’ll have to be cautious predicting Best Novel nominations based solely on short fiction nominations or wins.

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