Over the past week, we’ve been look at trends about YA Fiction and Hugo and Nebula Awards, 2001-2014. The results were pretty stark: YA novels don’t have much of a chance to make a slate (6% for the Hugo, 2% for the Nebula). If they’re going to make the slate, one of the following has to happen:
1. The YA book has to be written by an author already well-known to the Hugo and Nebula audiences, such as Le Guin, Gaiman, etc.
2. The YA book has to be enormously popularly, i.e. Harry Potter levels of popular.
Do any 2015 YA adult novels fit that profile? Not really. Gaiman doesn’t have a YA SFF book out this year, nor Le Guin, nor Rowling, nor any of the other writers who have done well in this space lately like Nalo Hopkinson, Paolo Bacigalupi, or China Mieville.
So we’re left looing for some dark-horse contenders. A good place to start is the Goodreads SFF YA Vote. If you look at that page, you’ll see why YA novels have a hard time: most of the popular novels are #2, #3, #4, etc. in a series, and neither the Hugo or Nebula like books from the middle of a series. Add in other structural disadvantages (they don’t get reviewed in the same places as adult SFF novels, they don’t make year end lists), and it’s hard find any strong contenders for 2015.
So let me give your four novels that have the best shot. I don’t expect any of these to make a Hugo or Nebula slate, but each is popular enough that, with a little—or huge—push from a campaign, they might make some noise.
Half a King, Joe Abercrombie: Abercrombie is well known to fantasy audiences for his grimdark First Law trilogy. This is his first move into a YA space, and the novel has plenty of crossover appeal for pre-existing Abercrombie fans. Abercrombie hasn’t done particularly well in the Hugos or Nebulas so far—0 total nominations—but he is popular, and the start of a new series is always a place to win new fans. Don’t except this to make the Hugo slate, but I could see this picking up enough votes in the Hugo nomination process to wind up in the #10-#15 range.
Red Rising, Pierce Brown: Brown’s YA SF revolution book was hugely marketed at the beginning of 2014 as the “next big thing.” I don’t know if Brown lived up to that label, but the sheer amount of hype means Red Rising is well-known. This also made a few year-end lists, and the fact that it’s clearly SF (set on Mars), not just dystopic, will make it a little more appealing to Hugo voters. I think Brown is going to benefit from the early launch date of the sequel, Golden Son, out January 6, 2015. The marketing campaign for that novel will sell more copies of Red Rising, perhaps enough to fetch Brown some Hugo votes.
I’ll Give You the Sun, Jandy Nelson: Abercrombie and Brown are potential Hugo nominees; Nelson’s magic realist YA novel is more of a Nebula book. A heart-tugging coming-of-age story about twins intertwined with some more magical elements, this covers some of the same ground that made Among Others so successful. I think this is more of an Andre Norton nominee than a Nebula, but this book is evoking a ton of strong sentiment in its readers. That strong attachment is something that could drive a successful campaign; for these YA books to make a slate, they need to really capture the public imagination.
City of Heavenly Fire, Cassandra Clare: It’s the wrong genre for either the Hugo or Nebulas (urban fantasy), it’s #6 in a series, but these books are phenomenally popular. To put that in perspective, this book has twice (80,000+) the Goodreads ratings of the most popular SF book of the year (Andy Weir’s The Martian at around 40,000). 5 years ago, we never would have predicted a Mira Grant, Larry Correia, or Robert Jordan making a slate, and while I don’t anticipate a The Wheel of Time style nomination for Mortal Instruments, there’s nothing stopping that from happening. The flop of the film, though, indicates that this is more niche than either Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, so I can’t see this getting any Hugo attention. Still, what do I know?
I’ll be adding Abercrombie and Pierce to the lower part of my Hugo prediction. At the very least, it’ll be fun to keep track of their sales, and we can see how badly YA novels are outselling adult SFF. Since the Nebula is so inhospitable to YA fiction, I won’t be adding Nelson to that list, and until I see an organized campaign for Clare, she won’t be on either list.
YA novels do not need to be in the Hugo or Nebula mix to be worth reading, and the Hugo and Nebula have never been great indicators of quality. The Hugo and Nebula are very peculiar awards, mired in decades of biases, in-fighting, and strange genre distinctions. Anyone else know some YA novels that are likely Hugo/Nebula contenders, and, beyond that, of strong interest to genre fans?
For one brief moment in 2009, YA fiction looked poised to break into the Hugo and Nebula mainstream. Gaiman and Le Guin won the Hugo and Nebula respectively, and Scalzi and Doctorow rounded out the slate with more YA novels. And then . . .
Silence. The data we’ve looked at over the past several days shows that YA novels aren’t really making any inroads into the Hugo or Nebula awards. For the most part, these books are completely ignored when award season comes around. Of all the books nominated for the Hugo and Nebula from 2001-2014, only 6% of Hugo nominees were YA, and only 2% of Nebula nominees were YA.
Sometimes these studies reveal patterns we might not have been aware of. Given that a number of YA novels have won the Hugo and Nebula—Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Graveyard Book, and Powers—you’d expect plenty of YA books to be on the slate. The opposite appears to be true: those three winners were exceptions, and don’t indicate competitiveness on the part of other YA novels.
Of course, data-mining does not provide either context or meaning for statistical trends. What we can conclude, at this point, is that YA novels are not in the mix for either the Hugo or the Nebula award. When YA novels pop up, they usually do so because the authors of those novels are already well-known. Barring a repeat of the overwhelming popularity of the Harry Potter books, it seems nearly impossible for an author known only as a YA author to get nominated for a Hugo or Nebula.
How problematic is this? Should YA novels be on the Hugo and Nebula slates? Can the Hugo or Nebula cover both adult fiction and young adult fiction? Has the introduction of the Andre Norton award taken care of this problem? Should the Hugo Award consider adding a “Best YA novel” to their (bursting) list of awards? Currently, we have categories like “Best Fancast” and “Best Graphic Story”; a “YA Hugo” seems as justified as either of those categories. These are all interesting and important questions, and I don’t have any solid answers for you.
What does all this mean for Chaos Horizon? Well, it means that I should be very careful when predicting YA novels to make a Hugo or Nebula slate. While not an impossibility, these are a rarity, and will likely need some other major factor (overwhelming popularity, author’s pre-existing reputation) to be viable candidates. Chaos Horizon has been trying—with varying degrees of success—to build its predictions on solid data. Data is always changing, and if the members of either the SFWA or the WorldCon want to see more YA novels on their slates, all they have to do is vote them on.
Tomorrow, I’ll be taking a look at any potential 2015 candidates. Any questions about this Report? Any big surprises?
Let’s get right into it. The slice of the Nebula pie for YA novels is even smaller than the Hugo’s 6%:
In the 2001-2014 period, only two YA novels have been nominated for a Nebula:
2009: Powers, Ursula K. Le Guin (won the Nebula)
2009: Little Brother, Cory Doctorow
Once again, we have 2009 as the outlier year, and both Le Guin and Doctorow were already well known to Nebula voters. Le Guin, in particular, has such a formidable Nebula reputation that I’m not sure this should be seen as a win for YA fiction, but rather as a win for Le Guin. Nonetheless, part of Le Guin’s reputation is tied to her YA Earthsea series; if anyone is going to win a Nebula for a YA novel, it’s Le Guin.
If you want to feel better about YA fiction, we can make the same observation we made about the Hugo: YA fiction has a hard time making the slate, but, once it’s on the slate, it wins. Of course, 1 win in a 14 year period isn’t a significant enough sample size to make real conclusions.
The Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy was established by the SFWA in 2005, and while this has been a great venue for honoring YA fiction, it may have removed any YA novels from serious Nebula consideration. In the decade since we’ve had the award, no novel has appeared both on the Andre Norton slate and on the Nebula slate. Even novels that might have received some Nebula consideration in the past such as Delia Sherman’s The Freedom Maze or Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine found themselves “only” winning the Andre Norton.
Since the Andre Norton process runs parallel to the Nebula, and is voted on by the same pool of SFWA writers, I imagine voters have been only nominating a novel for either of the awards, not both. The fact that Le Guin or Doctorow did not receive Andre Norton nominations can act as confirmation of this, although we lack enough data to draw a true conclusion.
So, just like the Hugo, YA novels have difficulty making the Nebula slate: 2% is a very small number. When we add other observations about which YA novels were nominated—one from a SFWA grandmaster, and the other from a well-regarded prior Nebula nominee—it’s hard to argue that any YA novels are likely to make future Nebula slates. Awards change over time, and there’s nothing stopping from SFWA writers from shifting how they vote. However, based on the patterns of the past decade+, it does not appear those voters are considering YA novels in any serious way for the Nebula.
Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up this report, and then we can turn to thinking about any potential YA Hugo or Nebula nominees for 2015.
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:
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:
10. Shipbreaker, Paolo Bacigalupi, 7.2%
13. Railsea, China Mieville, 5.48%
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.
Over the past week or two, I’ve been asked several times about Young Adult fiction, and why Chaos Horizon doesn’t spent much time tracking that sub-genre of SFF. That’s an important and significant question, and I wanted to take a little bit of time to thoroughly address the issue. Over the past month, I’ve been studying the issue of Genre and the Hugo and Nebulas, and that (lengthy) report will be ready to launch next week. As part of that study, all the relevant YA data also fell out, so I’ll go ahead and present that information separately.
Let me make a couple introductory comments, and then I’ll launch into a multi-part report:
I’ll then follow that up with some analysis of 2014’s YA crop to see if any of those novels have a chance of making this year’s Hugo or Nebula slate.
Introductory Comments: Young Adult fiction has always been an essential part of the SFF scene, going back to The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia, to Heinlein’s juveniles, moving through important and genre-defining works like Earthsea or A Wrinkle and Time, and on to our present day YA dystopian boom. YA novels help to build new generations of SFF fans, and they provide a space for innovation and experimentation outside the pressures of being “adult fiction,” whatever that means. In our moment of 2014, YA novels are broadly read by both younger and adult readers, and their popularity often eclipses adult SFF novels.
Despite that importance, YA works have rarely been in the mix for the Hugo or Nebula awards. In this study, we’ll be looking to see how substantial that bias is, and I’ll discuss how this impacts the predictive work I do here. Remember, Chaos Horizon looks at what is “likely” to happen, not what “should” happen. The method of analysis (data-mining) I use reproduces past biases in future predictions, so if the Hugo and the Nebula have been biased against YA fiction in the past, Chaos Horizon will predict that bias as continuing into the future.
This is an obvious shortcoming of data analysis. When I started Chaos Horizon, I made a commitment to that shortcoming because I wanted to offer something other than “just” my opinion about the awards, which was very likely to be wrong. There are plenty of opinion-driven websites out there; I wanted Chaos Horizon to be data-driven, with all the possibilities and problems that brings. I’d never argue that data-driven is inherently superior to opinion-driven; they are simply different ways of looking at the same issue, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. As a community, I think we’re best off when we have the most information available to us, and I want Chaos Horizon to simply be part of the larger puzzle.
Any prediction or report that I produce should always be taken in the light of starting a discussion rather than finishing one. The unique value of this website lies in giving a statistical underpinning for Hugo/Nebula debates. By seeing the data, the patterns, and biases of the past, only then can we begin shaping the future. The Hugo and Nebula are both living awards, and there’s a rich discussion to be had about the possible inclusion of YA fiction in the Hugo and Nebula.
Methodology: For this study, I’ll be looking at the # of number of wins and nominations for YA novels in the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel categories from 2001-2014. I use that 2001 date because, for me at least, it marks the “modern” era of the Hugo and Nebula, inaugurated by J.K. Rowling’s win for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. That win marks a substantive shift in the Hugo, opening up the award to fantasy and YA works.
How do we define Young Adult? That’s a tricky one, as Young Adult is often used as a marketing rather than a genre term. When faced with these kinds of difficult decisions, I try not to insert my opinion (who cares if I think Railsea is or isn’t YA?), but to find something more objective. In this case, I’ll looking at marketing and reader reception. If a book was labeled or marketed as YA, I’ll consider it YA, and I’ll be using Amazon to check that. Second, if a majority of readers considered the book YA, I’ll consider it YA. Since 2003, Locus Magazine provides an annual list of the Best SF, Fantasy, and YA SFF, voted on by a large number of readers. I figure if the Locus readers think something is YA, that’s what the larger SFF community is thinking. If you’ve got a more objective way to measure this, let me know.
So, get to thinking about Young Adult novels and the Hugo and Nebula awards. How biased do you think the Hugos and Nebulas have been in the past? Are they beginning to change? Have they already changed? Or has the introduction of the Andre Norton Award in 2005 moved YA novels out of Hugo and Nebula consideration? To what extend does a website like Chaos Horizon need to track YA fiction to make good Hugo and Nebula predictions?
I’ll be back tomorrow with data and charts, so stay tuned. Any preliminary questions, comments, or thoughts?