Review Round-Up Strategy for 2015
Tomorrow, I’m going to be starting my Review Round-Ups for 2015, closer looks at the major contenders for the 2016 Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards. I use these Round-Ups to springboard my predictions, and they’re a key aspect of the work I do here at Chaos Horizon.
I start with my 2016 Hugo/Nebula Watchlist, composed of new books by past awards winners and other 2015 novels that are getting significant pre-release buzz. I try to read the major contenders, and then I begin doing research on the books. Here’s what I’m currently looking at when I make predictions:
1. Genre: Certain types of novels are favored by the Hugos and Nebulas: a Hard SF novel has a better chance than an Urban Fantasy, for instance. Young Adult novels rarely make the cut.
2. Place in series: Unless previous novels in the series have been nominated, later volumes rarely receive awards nominations.
3. Previous awards history: This is a big one: the Hugos and the Nebulas love nominating the same people over and over again. Hello, Jack McDevitt.
4. Measurable sales data: I try to look at Goodreads, Amazon, and Publisher’s Weekly to get a sense of how a novel is doing. This is more useful for comparative cases than in terms of absolutes. So if two novels in a similar subgenres, like let’s say The Goblin Emperor and City of Stairs (broadly speaking, both are experimental fantasy novels), the one with more rankings/more sales gets the nod in my prediction. Amazon, Goodreads, and PW all track different audiences, and probably only make sense when utilized together.
5. Critical buzz: I’m currently looking at two different types of critics for 2015: mainstream venues such as the Publisher’s Weekly, NY Times, NPR, Kirkus Reviews, Entertainment Weekly, the Guardian, etc., venues that have huge national exposure and can help boost a novel’s raw readership. However, these mainstream venues don’t necessarily reflect the tastes of Hugo/Nebula voters, so I’m also looking at the SFF-specific websites and blogs: Locus, the B+N SF Blog, Tor, io9, Book Smugglers, Strange Horizons, etc., to take a look at fandom’s reception of the book. I’m currently having trouble figuring out exactly which sites I should look at, so any suggestions of prominent review venues that you think reflect the Hugos/Nebulas would be appreciated.
6. Reader buzz: I look at the rankings from Amazon and Goodreads, and then I check my fellow WordPress bloggers to see how actual readers are thinking about these books. Some books can get great press in the critical realm and fall flat with the general readership, and vice-versa as well.
That’s a fair amount of data to look at. I weigh all of these factors together to come up with my predictions for the shortlists. I try to keep my personal opinions in the background. While it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pretend I don’t have my own opinions, I’m not particularly well correlated to Hugo/Nebula tastes. My three favorite novels from last year were The Three-Body Problem, The Bone Clocks, and Broken Monsters, for instance, which makes me 1 out of 3 with the awards. Better than a coin-flip, but not much.
So we’ll be beginning shortly. Here are some of the books I’ve already read this year and am planning on doing Review Round-Ups of shortly:
Karen Memory, Elizabeth Bear
Touch, Clair North
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson
Uprooted, Naomi Novik
The Water Knife, Paolo Bacigalupi
The Book of Phoenix and Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
Aurora, Kim Stanley Robinson
Armada, Ernest Cline
Nemesis Games, James S.A. Corey
We also have major possible nominees like The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (as sure fire a nominee as any this year), Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt, and then authors with more outside chances like Ken Liu, Kate Elliot, Zen Cho, Brandon Sanderson, Wesley Chu, Gene Wolfe, and Victor Milan. As these books begin to pick up buzz and the 2015 narrative takes shape towards the end of the year, they might join the list above.
Any other books you think have good chances for the 2016 awards? The sooner we know, the sooner we can start reading.