SFX Weekender / Gemmell Award

January 31st, 2010

I have received a schedule for the SFX weekender, taking place at no less a location than Pontins at Camber Sands. Apparently there may still be some changes as the details get ironed out, but for the time being, here is my schedule:

Friday, 12.45-13.30 (Main Void) – Gollancz panel, along with imprint stablemates Dave Moody, Chris Wooding, Justina Robson, Tom Lloyd, John Meaney, and Richard Morgan, and who knows, perhaps one or other of the magnificent Ozzes who make it all happen from behind their curtain…

Saturday 5th Feb, 10.00-10.45 (Main Void) – David Gemmell Legend Award Panel, along with award organiser Debbie Miller, and authors Stan Nichols, Richard Morgan, Adrian Tchaikovsky.

Saturday 6th Feb, 16.00-16.30 (Slaughtered Lamb) – Me, alone – my incandescent brilliance undimmed by the presence of other authors as the tiny moon briefly occludes the majestic fiery orb of the sun during a solar eclipse – reading readings from books written by me, probably including something from the forthcoming The Heroes, to an awestruck crowd (should there be one) and answering questions (should there be any).

Anyone who’s attending the Weekender, and would like anything signed, can by all means collar me at any of these places, though I’ll also more than likely be happy to oblige if you collar me elsewhere, which probably, I shouldn’t wonder, for the rest of the time, means in the bar. Books should be available from dealers there as well, though I couldn’t absolutely swear to that.

Talking of the David Gemmel Legend Award, which it looks like I will be at the Weekender, I note that Nic Clarke has completed a probing examination of last year’s shortlist at Strange Horizons (part I here, and part II here). It’s interesting reading, and not just because she clearly realises what the internet-using population of the world was clearly TOO DAMN THICK, WRONG-HEADED or PROFOUNDLY EVIL to realise, that mine iz the bestest ritten out of that hole load of bookz.

This caused author Mark Charan Newton, who is running a very thoughtful and insightful blog (curse him), to reflect upon the absence of serious discussion about last year’s Gemmell Award, or at least serious comparison of its nominees:

“I must admit to finding it bizarre that any award can have a shortlist where titles are barely compared to each other. How can you call a book the “best” without such an analysis? Getting as many people to vote online seems a spurious way to go about this, when clearly no one could have read so many titles.”

I certainly agree about the online vote aspect, I much preferred the idea of a public vote on the longlist – which would have meant a decent amount of public involvement and a relatively commercial shortlist – then a panel to decide the winner, which would hopefully encourage debate, reduce any chance of vote-stuffing, and hopefully prevent the award endlessly going to the most popular series currently going (I’m a little worried it’ll just end up going to, say, the final three books of the Wheel of Time three years in a row, which there probably isn’t much point in. Awards are at their most useless when they just point Catholics towards the Vatican, as it were.) as well as meaning that the people making the choice do actually have to read and compare the books, rather than just vote for the one they’ve read.

But overall, though I’d like to see more, I’m not honestly sure lack of in-depth discussion is that important. Firstly, it’s a new award, and it takes time for these things to bed in and be taken seriously, and a lot of what determines how seriously it’ll be taken and by who is who actually wins the awards – the character of this has yet to really be established. In due course it may wither or it may become important. It’s also interesting that despite everyone saying a public vote would be incredibly predictable, no one actually predicted the outcome at all last year. Secondly, the award generated some debate in those places that people talk about these kind of books, which generally aren’t the same ones where people talk about other awards, since other genre awards really don’t tend to go to these kind of books – follow me? Thirdly, I’m not sure debate on blogs should be the barometer of success for an award. The Gemmell did get a little attention outside of the genre, and it did get a little attention from booksellers, all in its first year. The more knowledgable can by all means correct me, but my understanding is that genre awards are not terribly significant commercially, and some of the bigger ones are getting less significant by the year. Be nice to have something that can actually get some books in a window, wouldn’t it?

Anyway, just talkin’. I like serious criticism as much as the next guy. I look forward to Mark’s in-depth comparison of this year’s entire DGLA longlist.

Posted in appearances, reviews by Joe Abercrombie on January 31st, 2010.

15 comments so far

  • I plan to pay others to read the books for me and write a report. If it works for degree students, it'll work for this.

    See you at the Weekender.

  • Jared says:

    There needs to be some discussion of the list, if for no other reason than to make the criteria clear.

    The initial stages are packed with every fantasy release of the year, whether or not they're remotely Gemmellish. (Gemmellian?)

    Still, it seem to self-select down to the most Gemmellworthy (Gemmellike?!) by the end – so maybe there is something in the wisdom of crowds.

  • Mark C Newton,
    So various other people read some of the books, then you decide how to vote based on what they say? Isn't that how it works already…?

    You'll be there? Excellent. We can discuss it further.

    Last year, at least, the longlist was simply whatever was nominated by publishers and, as you say, it was up to public vote to winnow them down to whatever people felt were worthy. So naturally it's a big list with a wide range. In practice, I think it's impossible to push the GEMMELLESQUE element (unless you make it part of a panel's judgement, but even then very tricky) since where do you draw the line of what is or isn't in the spirit of Gemmell? He wrote quite a lot of quite various books, after all, and everyone's going to have a different idea of what Gemmellesque means.

  • Possibly. But I thought it was simply whoever had the biggest fanbase… because isn't that how online voting works? And possibly, of course, explains why no one bothers to discuss the content of the books.

    As an aside, I think I might do most of my reading through other people this year. Much quicker. 🙂

  • PS Which is not to say having a big fanbase voting is a bad thing per se – rather that it moves the debate away from content, and I personally don't think benefits the genre that way. Essentially, you end up rewarding bestsellers for being bestsellers, which is down to many factors, some of which is outside the hands of "the talent".

  • I've long ago outsourced all my reading, and am now at the point of trying to get other people to write my books for me. Don't suppose you'd fancy doing a couple of chapters of the next one…?

    As for public voting, it may well be whoever has the biggest fanbase that wins, but who really knows on what basis people are casting votes? Some may have read all the books and be carefully considering them. They may well be considering them just as carefully as, say, those that decide the Hugos or Nebulas, who's to say? And let's not forget that we already have some juried awards, and without doubt they have their own biases. They tend to be discussed, and to be regarded as relevant and important, by people who have similar tastes to the jury – that's not meant to be a criticism, it's just a fact. Awards have a flavour, and it's important that they should so that people who like a particular taste can find more of what they like. The whole purpose of an award with a significant public involvement (and I agree I'd prefer a balance of public involvement and jury) is to attempt to broaden the interest to people who might otherwise find themselves a bit uninterested by the awards already out there, and potentially to provide a platform for interesting booksellers and perhaps a wider public in a set of titles, especially since existing awards are commercially not terribly effective. I don't think it's unfair to say that core commercial fantasy of the epic/heroic type that Gemmell is best known for doesn't really get much of a look in at existing awards, especially once you consider its great commercial importance. Maybe that's because it's all junk, but I'd like (obviously) to believe otherwise.

  • Sure, I'll take a chapter. I've a good zuffling scene going spare…

    There's certainly some value in giving 'recognition' to commercial books. But the thing is with commercial publishing: it's not just an author involved. How many readers know just how much money is spend advertising those bestselling books? How much money is spent placing books on table promotions, on mail-outs, ARCs, putting it Amazon offers – it's hugely expensive stuff making a commercial success of an author. And the reward of being a commercial author is – they can afford to do it for a living.

    Your juried award winners, on the other hand, might not be a commercial success, but they certainly deserve an airing. (But also, I shouldn't suggest a commercial book might not possess good artistic quality – they certainly can, and do.)

    The Booker Prize and Costa Award are interesting, because they can pluck unknowns and give them massive commercial exposure. That's healthy for the lit genre in the long-term.

    With an online poll award, the long-term effects would be: popular authors always win. No bad thing, perhaps, but how does that effect the genre's depth and range and quality?

    And what if Dan Brown entered and won every year because he has the most readers! Sure, more people are involved, but…

  • DMiller says:

    Just a quick comment guys because I am sure we can continue this at the Weekender – I'm a little confused as to why Mark, you might think there has been no discussion? The DGLA is run on a social network platform which includes its own Discussion Forums – we also have reader reviews & interviews with Nominees (Yes please both of you!)

    Last year we had a dedicated Group for each novel in the Shortlist… 'we' ARE discussing the books – maybe just not where you're looking! Or where you have decided such debate is useful or important?

    And in the future… well, I can't reveal yet, but let's just say, discussion of the books is very important to us.

    Oh, and yes, I do agree, last year's longlist was rather too long – this year's is shorter, and more focussed! And if last year proved anything, it was that those author's who we might expect to have the biggest fanbase online – were not the biggest winners on the night. IMO the Fantasy readers DID think carefully about who they wanted their winner to be… 🙂

    See you soon!

  • Mark,
    I absolutely agree with you that awards are often at their most useful when they draw attention to things nobody knows about. For me, newcomers awards are often more interesting than best of awards for that very reason. I think we're probably more in agreement than non-agreement, overall. I don't reckon there's much point in simply bunging an award to whoever sells most, which is why I'm for public vote for shortlist followed by panel for winner. Incidentally, a public vote isn't necessarily going to return the best selling shortlist or necessarily winner. It might return the most 'popular' (whatever the definition of that might be since surely the most popular choice with voters will always win any kind of vote), but surely that's no bad thing in an award that precisely aims to be relatively populist. Let's not forget this is meant to honour David Gemmell, a proudly commercial author who was much loved by his readers but perhaps had a more mixed response from critics? I do think there is a space for an award with a significant amount of public involvement, and that such an award has a good chance of getting wider public interest. There are already a lot of juried and academied awards out there, and all due respect to them, they tend to be slanted in very specific directions (look at the BFA, for example), and they're not of much commercial interest. Is your suggestion that we should aim for something more like a British version of the World Fantasy Award? I'm not sure how useful that would be.

    I'll look forward to discussing it further, for sure, as you can see…

  • Debbie: there has indeed been phenomenally little discussion compared to other awards. There certainly has been little *passion* compared to the Clarkes or the Hugos. Admittedly it's still in its infancy, but still. On those forums, there's little discussion beyond casual aesthetics – but I'd be delighted for more thorough analysis, and would welcome it very much.

    Is debate useful or important? For an award: definitely. An award is only as useful as the debate an interest it generates, surely? That's why the Booker is such a coveted prize, since it generates massive interest and sales.

    The fantasy genre has so few awards, and thus whichever one sets out to find "the best" is making a statement of being an ambassador for the genre. However, an online poll might indirectly find "the best" (whatever that means anyway), but in the first instance it is seeking out those with the biggest active online fanbase – which is influenced by how much publishers spend on developing that author and their fanbase (marketing spend, distribution, promotional tables). And yes, that includes international bestselling authors too.

    I would love to know what the reason was for making the award an online poll all the way, though – because wasn't it originally juried? I know how difficult these things can be to set up. I mean, was it to help get more sponsorship money, to get publisher backing?

    And Debbie, you must know that I'm asking/questioning all of these things simply a) because I care about the fantasy genre, being a writer in the genre, but b) to make more of an awareness of the realities of publishing. I'm one of the lucky ones, but I've no problem in airing publishing's dirty laundry, and showing how the industry functions. And those things I've mentioned all influence 'popularity'.

    Joe: yes, quite right about the need for a popular award, and to be honest, I suspect that a well marketed juried award could do splendidly – look at the Clarkes, a great example of how to generate interest and discussion far afield, whilst still serving the industry in finding a benchmark for quality.

  • Anonymous says:

    i know 3 little bunnies Hershey, Murray, and Furry who like make their Grandma cupcakes.

    carrot of course


  • Leiali says:

    wow, interesting discussion. As a reader who didn't vote due to the longlist being um, too long and not having read a lot of the books, I'm fascinating to see the importance placed on the award process.

    so far I'm with Joe on the mix of panel and public votes based entirely on my having watched John Sargent on strictly…
    Look forward to watching you all discuss this at sfxweekender!

  • Tarn says:

    A thoroughly enjoyable weekend, although it did require me to enter the zen state that I hadn't needed to use since my university days. You know the one: it allows you to mentally blank out the filth and general decreptitude that is all around you – in this case Pontins.

    Interesting panels for the most part and a nice, relaxed atmosphere in the Slaughtered Lamb – although would have been better without hundreds of shouting people down the other end.

    This year I intend to finally read some of your books, rather than just your blog. 🙂

  • Lickmylovepump says:

    Mark I dont think youve thought it through totally.the most democratic way of voting would be to give everyone the right to vote not just a select few. Most award are of a select jury voting ..bit elitist isnt that.Im sure with so many authors being on twitter and having there own blogs that they can muster up a heavy enough fanbse to do well in an award though :0)

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