Young Adult Fiction and the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Part 2

At first glance, the Hugo Award for Best Novel may seem hospitable to Young Adult Fiction. After all, J.K. Rowling won the Hugo in 2001 for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Neil Gaiman won in 2009 for The Graveyard Book. For the 2001-2014 period, that represents a healthy 14% of all winners.

Dig deeper into the slates and ballots, though, and you’ll see that Rowling and Gaiman are exceptions. In the 2001-2014 period, only 4 YA novels have made the Hugo slate:
2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling
2009: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman
2009: Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
2009: Zoe’s Tale, John Scalzi

Several things pop out here. First off, that’s a weak 6% of all nominees, indicating that YA novels are getting very little consideration from Hugo voters. Second, many of those nominees are by writers that were already well known to the Hugo audience. Gaiman had a 2002 Hugo win for American Gods, and he also turned down a nomination for Anasazi Boys. Scalzi had two prior nominations to his credit when Zoe’s Tale—a YA take on his Old Man’s War series—made the slate. Doctorow had two prior Hugo nominations for short fiction, and a 2005 Nebula nomination for Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.

Lastly, most of these nominations are clustered in 2009, a real statistical oddity. Was 2008 simply a weak year for adult fiction, or did this represent a Hugo embrace of the YA genre? Taking a look at the 2009 Locus Awards, it seems to have been a rather slow year. Stephenson published Anathem, all 1000 pages of it, but that’s the only real SFF heavy-hitter from 2008. As we’ll see tomorrow, the 2009 Nebula slate is equally YA inflected.

That leaves only Rowling as an author that truly emerged from the Children’s Lit/YA world, and she was a once in a generation publishing phenomenon. Let’s take a look at this visually:

Hugo and YA

That’s a pretty striking graph, and the conclusion we have to reach is fairly obvious: the Hugo slate has not been hospitable to YA fiction. The only time YA fiction seems to make the slate is when it’s by well known authors. This is one of the reasons I haven’t been predicting YA fiction to make the Hugo slate. Unless it’s a novel by Gaiman, Scalzi, Stross, Bujold, or one of the other Hugo darlings, these books don’t have seem to have much of a chance. It takes an unusual convergence of factors for a YA novel to make the Hugo slate, and, statistically speaking, this will has only been happening a few times a decade.

There is an interesting discussion to be had here. Even though YA novels don’t often make the Hugo slate, when they do make that slate, they win. I’m not sure if this is just a statistical anomaly due to Rowling and Gaiman’s world-shattering popularity—I have a feeling Gaiman would be competitive for a Hugo with Gaiman’s Big Book of Laundry Lists—or it represents something more.

Given the popularity of YA fiction, why is this happening? Do Hugo voters just not think about nominating YA novels? Do they perceive the Hugo as an adult fiction award? Are they uneducated/unaware of the YA field? Despite this, once people have the option of voting for YA on a final slate—which involves checking a box rather than filling out a list—they seem more than happy with YA. It’s a conundrum, and one I don’t know how to resolve. If a YA novel were to make the 2015 slate, would it be a favorite? Of those 4 YA novels that have made a slate, 50% have won—a truly great percentage.

Chaos Horizon works by data-mining, and I don’t like to second guess the data. The numbers suggest that only 6% of a potential Hugo slate will be YA, so that’s what I’ll predict. That means I need to predict 1 YA novel for every 19 Adult novels. My Hugo Prediction is actually getting up to that length (last count, 26 novels), so I better predict at least one YA novel soon.

Deeper in the Ballot: Since the Hugo Awards provides complete balloting information, we can look even deeper into the awards. Here’s the YA novels that have made the Top 15 in the Hugo voting for 2011-2014. I’d have gone a few years earlier, but a lot of the links on the Hugo Award website are broken. In this time period, no YA novels made the final slate. Since this is the most recent data, 2015 will likely follow this pattern:

2011:
10. Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, 7.2%
2012:
None
2013:
13. Railsea, China Mieville, 5.48%
2014:
15. Steelheart, Brandon Sanderson, 4.26%

So, out of the Top 15 Hugo lists from 2011-2014, only 3 of 60 works were YA, for around the same 5% we saw above. You can’t ignore the patterns here: all by men, and all by well-known authors (including two former winners). There doesn’t seem, at least in the last few years, much consideration being given to YA authors. I think Railsea is a good test case: most of Mieville’s adult novels have made the Hugo slate, but his YA book only places #13. I actually liked Shipbreaker better than The Windup Girl, as I felt it was better-paced and cleaner, but it looks like YA vs. Adult costs even Bacigalupi 10 or so places in the Hugo noms. For a relative Hugo unknown, that bias is just too much to overcome.

Conclusions: YA novels make up only 5-6% of the Hugo slate in the 2001-2014 period, despite YA novels winning 2 Hugos in that same time period. Most of those YA authors were already well known to the Hugo audience, indicating that Hugo voters are willing to consider YA novels by their favorite SFF authors, but not authors from the YA world. So, if you were looking for data that confirms the Hugos are biased against YA authors, here you have it.

We’ll tackle the Nebulas tomorrow.

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  1. hugo hates kids | kentonkilgore.com - April 12, 2016

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