2015 Hugo and Nebula Contenders: Goodreads and Amazon Reader Rankings

Since it’s obvious I like charts and graphs, and that I want to find more “objective” measures of what SFF books are actually being liked in 2014, here’s a table of Amazon and Goodreads reader ratings for the main 2015 Hugo and Nebula Contenders, as of the end of November 2014:

Table 1: Goodreads and Amazon Reader Ratings, November 2014

Goodreads and Amazon Ratings November 2014

I’ve always thought Goodreads ratings to be more reliable than Amazon’s, largely given the sample size. Goodreads usually has around 10 times more ratings than Amazon. Consider Words of Radiance: there are 36,000 Goodreads ratings versus 3,100 Amazon ratings.

I’ve never thought either rating is an accurate measure of the “quality” of a book. Everyone has a different scoring scale: some people hand out 5-star reviews like candy, others give a book a 1-star rating because they don’t like the cover. As such, I’d characterize these rating as a more nebulous measure of “satisfaction” than “quality,” which might not be particularly well correlated to Hugo or Nebula chances. People rate very personally, based on their unique likes or dislikes. Don’t expect the top-rated books to waltz off with the Hugo; this chart, like many of the other metrics, gives us only a piece of the Hugo and Nebula puzzle.

Sanderson and Correia do well because they deliver exactly what their fans want. Since their books are part of a series, everyone who hated the series stopped reading after Book #1, so all you have left are enthusiasts. Something like Annihilation, which takes several risks in both its storytelling and content, is more divisive amongst fans. I presume a lot of people bought the VanderMeer expecting one kind of book, and were confused or alienated or outraged by what VanderMeer actually did, thus the low scores. It’s interesting that three of the most “experimental” books—VanderMeer, Beukes, and Walton—scored the lowest. All of those also flirt with traditional genre-boundaries, something that the mainstream audiences tend to vote against.

Takeaways? Words of Radiance is amazingly well-liked. That 4.76 score is unprecedented, particularly given the 30,000+ rankings. I was only able to find one massively popular book on Goodreads that has done better, and that’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes with a 4.80 rating. Sanderson beats out all comparable authors: Martin, Rowling, Jordan, Gaiman, etc. Hell, even Return of the King can only scrape up a 4.48 rating. If the Hugo wasn’t substantially biased against both epic fantasy and book #2 of a series, you’d have to consider Sanderson a major contender. I currently don’t even have Sanderson predicted for a nomination, but those metrics are impressive. I think Sanderson has the popularity—if not the critical respect—to win a Hugo, but to do so, the conversation around the Hugo would need to change. Since those conversations are evolving, particularly given the campaigning that has gone on the last few years, it’s something that might happen. Would anyone have predicted a nomination for The Wheel of Time this time last year? A similar campaign for Sanderson could get him into the slate, and if he’s on the slate, anything can happen.

Correia, Weir, and Bennett all perform very well. Bennett’s 4.24 for the experimental The City of Stairs is outstanding, and I think further boosts his chances of scoring both Nebula and Hugo nods. A lot of writers fall into an average score of around 4.0, which neither helps nor hurts them very much.

It’s interesting that a book I have at the top of my predictions, Annihilation, is dead last in this measure. Remember, though, you don’t have to be universally liked to get award. Instead, you need a small percentage of SFF fans (10% to make the slate, around 30% to win) who absolutely adore your book. I think VanderMeer has that core of enthusiasts, even if some other readers are more hesitant about his book.

So, what do you think reader ratings can tell us? Are there any other books I should add to the list?

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2 responses to “2015 Hugo and Nebula Contenders: Goodreads and Amazon Reader Rankings”

  1. Colin Purrington says :

    I think the “1 star” ratings of Amazon are surprisingly accurate (though I agree, sometimes it’s just for the cover). I recently read a few recent Hugo or Nebula winners and found the books unreadable. When I checked Amazon, these books had many 1-star reviews that described exactly why the book is unreadable (to some, of course). Other winners lack these 1-star ratings. Any chance you’ve analyzed this? I’m mainly interested in generating a list of books that are guaranteed to not annoy me … and simply using the Winner list doesn’t seem to work anymore. Any thoughts on whether this has already been done?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      I haven’t done a one-star tracking, but it would be interesting. That would provide a good measure of how “divided” the opinion as a book is, rather than looking at straight star average. But it’d be a lot of data to enter!

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