Hugo Award Nomination Ranges, 2006-2015, Part 3

Today, we’ll start getting into the data for the fiction categories in the Hugo: Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Story. I think these are the categories people care about the most, and it’s interesting how differently the four of them work. Let’s look at Best Novel today and the other categories shortly.

Overall, the Best Novel is the healthiest of the Hugo categories. It gets the most ballots (by far), and is fairly well centralized. While thousands of novels are published a year, these are widely enough read, reviewed, and buzzed about that the Hugo audience is converging on a relatively small number of novels every year. Let’s start by taking a broad look at the data:

Table 5: Year-by-Year Nominating Stats Data for the Hugo Best Novel Category, 2006-2015
Table 5 Best Novel Stats

That chart list the total number of ballots for the Best Novel Category, the Number of Votes the High Nominee received, and the Number of Votes the Low Nominee (i.e. the novel in fifth place) received. I also calculated the percentage by dividing the High and Low by the total number of ballots. Remember, if a work does not receive at least 5%, it doesn’t make the final ballot. That rule has not been invoked for the previous 10 years of the Best Novel category.

A couple notes on the table. The 2007 packet did not include the number of nominating ballots per category, thus the blank spots. The red flagged 700 indicates that the 2010 Hugo packet didn’t give the # of nominating ballots. They did give percentages, and I used math to figure out the number of ballots. They rounded, though, so that number may be off by +/- 5 votes or so. The other red flags under “Low Nom” indicate that authors declined nominations in those year, both times Neil Gaiman, once for Anasasi Boys and another time for The Ocean at the End of the Lane. To preserve the integrity of the stats, I went with the book that originally was in fifth place. I didn’t mark 2015, but I think we all know that this data is a mess, and we don’t even really know the final numbers yet.

Enough technicalities. Let’s look at this visually:

Chart 5 Best Novel Data

That’s a soaring number of nominating ballots, while the high and low ranges seem to be languishing a bit. Let’s switch over to percentages:

Chart 6 Best Novel % Data

Much flatter. Keep in mind I had to shorten the year range for the % graph, due to the missing 2007 data.

Even though the number of ballots are soaring, the % ranges are staying somewhat steady, although we do see year-to-year perturbation. The top nominees have been hovering between 15%-22.5%. Since 2009, every top nominee has managed at least 100 votes. The bottom nominee has been in that 7.5%-10% range, safely above the 5% minimum. Since 2009, those low nominees all managed at least 50 votes, which seems low (to me; you may disagree). Even in our most robust category, 50 readers liking your book can get you into the Hugo—and they don’t even have to like it the most. It could be their 5th favorite book on their ballot.

With low ranges so low, it doesn’t (or wouldn’t) take much to place an individual work onto the Hugo ballot, whether by slating or other types of campaigning. Things like number of sales (more readers = more chances to vote), audience familiarity (readers are more likely to read and vote for a book by an author they already like) could easily push a book onto the ballot over a more nebulous factor like “quality.” That’s certainly what we’ve seen in the past, with familiarity being a huge advantage in scoring Hugo nominations.

With our focus this close, we see a lot of year-to-year irregularity. Some years are stronger in the Novel categories, other weaker. As an example, James S.A. Corey actually improved his percentage total from 2012 to 2013: Leviathan Wakes grabbed 7.4% (71 votes) for the #5 spot in 2012, and then Caliban’s War 8.1% (90 votes) for the #8 spot in 2013. That kind of oddity—more Hugo voters, both in sheer numbers and percentage wise, liked Caliban’s War, but only Leviathan Wakes gets a Hugo nom—have always defined the Hugo.

What does this tell us? This is a snapshot of the “healthiest” Hugo: rising votes, a high nom average of about 20%, a low nom average of around 10%. Is that the best the Hugo can do? Is it enough? Do those ranges justify the weight fandom place son this award? Think about how this will compare to the other fiction categories, which I’ll be laying out in the days to come.

Now, a few other pieces of information I was able to dig up. The Worldcons are required to give data packets for the Hugos every year, but different Worldcons choose to include different information. I combed through these to find some more vital pieces of data, including Number of Unique Works (i.e. how many different works were listed on all the ballots, a great measure of how centralized a category is) and Total Number of Votes per category (which lets us calculate how many nominees each ballot listed on average). I was able to find parts of this info for 2006, 2009, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Table 6: Number of Unique Works and Number of Votes per Ballot for Selected Best Novel Hugo Nominations, 2006-2015

Table 6 Best Novel Selected Stats

I’d draw your attention to the ratio I calculated, which is the Number of Unique Works / Number of Ballots. The higher that number is, the less centralized the award is. Interestingly, the Best Novel category is becoming more centralized the more voters there are, not less centralized. I don’t know if that is the impact of the Puppy slates alone, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless. That might indicate that the more voters we have, the more votes will cluster together. I’m interested to see if the same trend holds up for the other categories.

Lastly, look at the average number of votes per ballot. Your average Best Novel nominator votes for over 3 works. That seems like good participation. I know people have thrown out the idea of restricting the number of nominations per ballot, either to 4 or even 3. I’d encourage people to think about how much of the vote that would suppress, given that some people vote for 5 and some people only vote for 1. Would you lose 5% of the total vote? 10%? I think the Best Novel category could handle that reduction, but I’m not sure other categories can.

Think of these posts—and my upcoming short fiction posts—as primarily informational. I don’t have a ton of strong conclusions to draw for you, but I think it’s valuable to have this data available. Remember, my Part 1 post contains the Excel file with all this information; feel free to run your own analyses and number-crunching. If you see a trend, don’t hesitate to mention it in the comments.

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11 responses to “Hugo Award Nomination Ranges, 2006-2015, Part 3”

  1. davidelang says :

    > Do those ranges justify the weight fandom places on this award?

    I think that everyone who looks at the number of votes or where the votes come from for the weight fandom places on the Hugos is looking at the wrong thing.

    What made the Hugo’s good wasn’t who voted in what percentage, but rather that the books that won Hugos were still considered to be “really good books” even years later after all the hype wore off (as always, there are exceptions)

    Some people (including, but not limited to the puppies groups) think that this has changed in recent years. The books getting the awards and nominations are not ones that are “good reads” and are unlikely to stand the test of time.

  2. Brian Z says :

    I know people have thrown out the idea of restricting the number of nominations per ballot, either to 4 or even 3. I’d encourage people to think about how much of the vote that would suppress, given that some people vote for 5 and some people only vote for 1.

    One benefit of having 5 nominations per ballot might be its implicit encouragement for voters to read as widely as possible. One of the strengths of the Hugo Awards compared with other popular vote awards, in today’s media-saturated world, is probably that WorldCon culture emphasizes the virtue of reading as much as you can. So the ballot as currently defined, and the nominating practice that has grown up around it, might signal, at least to many regular voters: “Don’t just nominate your personal favorite work – think broadly about what is out there that is Hugo worthy.” To the extent that voters consider other people’s opinions (their friends, online reviews, and so forth) in identifying works to consider, the effect of this could be consensus building.

    (However: the number of newly published works a voter reads each year may or may not large enough for them to feel confident they are able to identify the five best of the year in each category.)

    Thank you for your hard work and excellent insights.

    PS. How hard is it to estimate the number of members eligible to nominate in each year?

    • chaoshorizon says :

      Eligible to nominate in a year? You’d take the previous year’s attendance (everyone is eligible to nominate the next year), the membership of this year’s Worldcon as of the final nominating date, and the membership of next year’s Worldcon as of the final nominating date. You’d then have to estimate how many people are repeats (members of more than 1 Worldcon). The repeats are the one part I don’t think you could estimate reliably.

      So, for this year: 10,718 Loncon Members (taken from The Long List of Worldcons page). I’m pulling a number of 5,466 members as of March 15th from the Sasquan members page (voting closed March 10th, but that’s the closest I can get). The MidAmeriCon page is showing some 1000+ members as of April 3, 2015. So that gives a pool of around 16,500 eligible to vote. You’d have to subtract the “repeaters,” and your guess is as good as mine as to what that number might be. Several thousand?

      2122 people voted in 2015 out of that pool.

      • Brian Z says :

        Thanks. No, I don’t know how to estimate how many thousands that is either.

      • NatLovin says :

        I would imagine most members of the next worldcon in April would have been Site Selection voters from the previous worldcon.

  3. Standback says :

    Thanks again. This is fascinating, and I’m slavering to see the analysis for short fiction. 🙂

  4. Andrew says :

    Can you get the 2014 total votes from here?

    Click to access 2014HugoStatistics.pdf

    • chaoshorizon says :

      I checked, but wasn’t able to find that data on the .pdf. The chart they included at the very end didn’t have that column, while the 2013 .pdf did. If you’re finding it, let me know!

  5. gav says :

    Tiny correction: Neil Gaiman’s declined nomination was for *Anansi* Boys, not “Anasazi”

  6. Tuomas Vainio says :

    *Thumb up.* I know, a pointless comment, but these are interesting to read.

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