Goodreads Launches their Best Books of 2014 Vote

Since 2009, Goodreads has been asking readers to vote for their favorite books of the year in a large number of categories, including Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. While the first few years were pretty shaky due to a low number of voters, this has since evolved into one of the biggest votes on the internet, encompassing 1,000,000+ votes last year.

The set-up is a simple: Goodreads prepares a ballot of its Top 15 books in each genre with an additional write-in spot. They have three rounds of voting in November, and then Goodreads announces both the winners and the Top 20 in each genre category. The Goodreads Best Books is a pure popularity contest, but since the Hugo is also a popularity contest (although with a different audience), we can learn quite a bit about the Hugos from the Goodreads vote.

For the past three years, the eventual Hugo winner (and nominees, for that matter) has made it onto one of the Goodreads Top 20 lists. Now, the award is not correlated such that the Goodreads winner wins the Hugo award. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice placed 20th last year in the Goodreads Science Fiction category and won both the Hugo and Nebula (Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam won, and didn’t get nominated for either). What the Goodreads lists tell us, though, is which books have the “minimum” level of popularity to be in the mix for the Hugos.

The hypothesis I’m working with is this: if a book can’t make it into the Goodreads Top 20 for it’s category, it doesn’t have a shot at a Hugo. That may be an obvious statement: given that we have 20 SF books, 20 Fantasy books, 20 Horror books, maybe 5 General Fiction Books that count as speculative fiction, that’s a lot of books. If you’re snubbed from that broad a list, though, how popular are you?

The flipside of that is also true: if City of Stairs has a strong showing, that will tell us something about the growing popularity of the book. Sentiment is beginning to get formed for the 2015 award season, and by watching these kinds of votes we can see what books are rising and which books are falling.

Of my Top 15 Hugo candidates, 10 are one of the preliminary lists. The snubs are as follow:
5. Echopraxia, Peter Watts: The biggest surprise of the bunch. While Watts will probably make the final Goodreads list as a write-in, this is a red flag in terms of his popularity. Is this book not getting read?
8. The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley: This hasn’t made the fantasy list (yet). That’s something of a surprise. Is this another book that may be selling to critics but not the general public?
9. My Real Children, Jo Walton: Can’t say I’m surprised here. Good book, but what list do you put it on? Science fiction? Fiction? Experimental cross-genre stuff doesn’t work that well in a popular vote.
10. Symbiont, Mira Grant: Again, no surprise given that Symbiont isn’t even out yet. This re-enforces how important it is for Hugo contenders to get their books out by October.
14. Broken Monsters, Lauren Beukes: Similar to the Walton case: too cross-genre to fit into the Goodreads categories.

What does this tell us? That, at least according to Goodreads, those 5 books are less popular than other books. Maybe they will make the final lists with a strong write-in vote. Maybe not. This is only one small piece of evidence, but I think an important one. These less popular books are going to need a boost: from other year-end lists, from other awards, from readers, to match the chances of the other, more mainstream and popular Hugo contenders. I’m thinking of moving Watts and Hurley down in my projections based on this kind of evidence, and helps justify why Walton or Beukes aren’t higher on my list given their critical reputation and reception.

I’d also encourage everyone to head on over to Goodreads and vote, particularly if one of your favorite novels didn’t make the initial ballot.

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