Will Andy Weir’s The Martian be eligible in 2015?

One of the great unanswered questions going into the 2015 Hugo and Nebula season concerns the eligibility of Andy Weir’s The Martian. Weir’s book was a runaway success in 2014, selling tons of copies by tapping into the same vein that made the film Gravity such a hit. If you stroll over to Goodreads, you’ll see that The Martian has 30,000+ ratings and a 4.33 score. In comparison, last year’s Hugo and Nebula winner, Ancillary Justice, has under 10,000 ratings and a 3.96 score. While The Martian wasn’t a huge hit amongst SF critics, it was staggeringly popular with the general public. If The Martian is eligible for this year’s awards, it’d likely be a major contender on that popularity alone.

But . . . there are lingering eligibility issues. Long story short: Weir self-published the novel on Amazon in 2012. The novel did well, and was picked up by a mainstream press (Crown publishing) and republished in February 2014. Any changes to the narrative seem to be minor. If you take the 2012 date as the date of first publication, Weir is not eligible for the 2015 Hugo or Nebula. If you take the 2014 date, he would be.

I have no idea how this will be resolved. I want to use this post as a repository for information; if anyone has any good sources on Weir’s eligibility, I’d love to link them here. Here’s what I have so far:

Weir’s own take on his Hugo eligibility from a Goodreads Q+A session:

I don’t know for sure. My interpretation of the Hugo rules is that it’s not eligible. The Awards are year-by-year. Although the print version of The Martian came out in 2014, I posted it to my website as a serial starting in 2012. The Hugos don’t discriminate between print publication and self-publication. Therefore, to them, I think The Martian is a work from 2012. So it’s not within the time period to be eligible.

While I don’t think serializing on your website would count as “publication” (how is that different than serializing a novel in a magazine?), the Hugo clock likely began when Weir self-published the novel through Amazon, as per this publication timeline, taken from the Wall Street Journal:

He’d been rebuffed by literary agents in the past, so he decided to put the novel on his website free of charge rather than to try to get it published. A few fans asked him to sell the story on Amazon so that they could download it to e-readers. Mr. Weir had been giving his work away, but he began charging a modest amount because Amazon set the minimum price at 99 cents. He published the novel as a serial on the site in September 2012. It rose to the top of Amazon’s list of best-selling science-fiction titles. He sold 35,000 copies in three months. Agents and publishers and movie studios started circling.

Now, compare that info to the official paragraph on eligibility, taken from the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society:

Section 3.4: Extended Eligibility. In the event that a potential Hugo Award nominee receives extremely limited distribution in the year of its first publication or presentation, its eligibility may be extended for an additional year by a three fourths (3/4) vote of the intervening Business Meeting of WSFS.

I can’t imagine that 35,000 copies meets the “limited distribution” requirement. Aside from that, a one year extension wouldn’t help The Martian because of the 2012 publication date.

I even asked about Weir’s eligibility over at the official Hugo website. They didn’t give me a definite answer:

Will Andy Weir’s book The Martian be eligible for the Hugo Award in 2015? It was originally indie-published, but then published by a commercial press in 2014. The rules seem unclear about this.

Reply

Kevin says:

August 28, 2014 at 21:25

You’ll need to address your question directly to the 2015 Hugo Administrator (Select “Hugo Administrator” from the Committee List) to get a definite answer to this; however, the Hugo Award rules are pretty clear about the fact that first publication is what starts a work’s “clock.” The fact that a work is self-published, published by a small press, or by a large press isn’t relevant. Publication date is publication date, regardless of who publishes it.

That was as far as I pushed it; I didn’t think it was my place to “officially” ask the 2015 Hugo Administrator.

Based on the evidence we have so far, I’d come down on the side of Weir not being eligible for the 2015 Hugo or Nebula. I doubt that either award will issue an official statement; they’ll just let the process play out, and if he gets nominated, declare him ineligible at that time. As a result, I’ll be crossing Weir off of my Hugo and Nebula predictions.

Is this fair? I don’t know. Since The Martian came out in 2012, it’s had a long time to build up momentum, which might put it at an unfair advantage compared to books released this year. Don’t feel sorry for Weir: he sold a bunch of copies, The Martian is being made into a movie starring Matt Damon, and he’s now a major player in the SF landscape. He’ll survive without a Hugo or Nebula.

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9 responses to “Will Andy Weir’s The Martian be eligible in 2015?”

  1. Mark says :

    Just want to throw this out there: Scalzi originally published Old Man’s War for free on his website in 2003 or 2004, after which it was promptly bought up by Tor and republished in 2005, garnering a Hugo nomination in 2006 (despite original publication being earlier than 2005). Now, Scalzi didn’t have really have an ebook version, but only because that wasn’t really an option at the time. I suspect that if he were starting today, we’d see a very similar pattern to Weir’s… I keep reasonable tabs on the SF community and had no real indication that The Martian was something to really watch out for until it was actually published in print (which is pretty much the same as my experience with Old Man’s War).

    That probably doesn’t count for anything, but unless someone makes a definitive statement before the end of the nomination phase (or I have an unexpected run of good luck in 2014 reading such that The Martian is only my 6th favorite book), I’ll probably be including him on my ballot.

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Yes, if you’re looking for hope for The Martian, Old Man’s War gives you a little. I think Scalzi fell under the “serialization” rules, which are different than the “first publication” rules. Talk about needlessly convoluted! If you like The Martian, you definitely should vote for it—put pressure on the Hugo committee, and maybe they’ll clarify/clean up the rules for cases like this.

      • ULTRAGOTHA says :

        The Hugo commitee has no authority in that capacity to “clean up” the rules. That power lies with every member of WSFS (every member of Worldcon, but more specifically those who attend the business meeting).

        Any member may propose changes. This includes those members who happen to be the Hugo administrators, but they have the exact same power to propose and vote on changes any other member has.

  2. Teri Centner says :

    Perhaps The Martian film will win BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM next year. That would be a nice consolation prize, I think.

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