Who Wants Storytime?

Earlier this week, I caught a news story about a principal who read bedtime stories on Facebook Live for her students (and anyone else who wanted to listen.) It got me thinking about maybe doing something similar with my own stuff.

So, who might be interested in the occasional live reading of some of my stuff? I’m currently thinking about doing it via Facebook, but there are plenty of other platforms, and I’m not entirely sure what’s easiest for everyone.

I’d probably start with doing maybe one a month and see how things go.

Because of audio rights and contract stuff, I don’t think I’d leave a public archive of the readings. Maybe keep them up for 24 hours for anyone who missed them?

I’m still at the beginning of thinking all this through. What do you think?

How to Get Nominated For a Nebula or Hugo

The Nebula and Hugo awards are generally considered to be two of the most prestigious and well-known awards for science fiction and fantasy literature. As a result, lots of authors would really like to win them.

Hugo AwardI won a Hugo in 2012 for my fan writing about SF/F, and I was on the Nebula preliminary ballot once — back when the Nebula awards had a preliminary and a final ballot. I have brilliant writer (and editor) friends who have shelves full of Hugos and/or Nebulas. I have equally brilliant writer/editor friends who’ve never even been nominated.

So how does an author go about getting on the ballot? There isn’t one Right Answer to that question, but I’d suggest the first step would be to understand how the awards work. Authors do not submit their work for consideration for either the Hugo or the Nebula. Instead, works are nominated and voted upon by members of the Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) in the case of the Nebula, and members of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) for the Hugos.

In theory, members nominate what they believe are the best works in each category. From those nominations is born a final ballot. Members vote for the best, and a handful of writers get to figure out how to transport a hefty trophy home. (Taking a Hugo — shaped like a rocket — through airport security can be an adventure…)

All right, if authors can’t submit their work for consideration, what can they do?

Do Nothing.

This is certainly the easiest approach, in many ways. Just write your best work, and trust readers to find it and nominate it for consideration. In an ideal world, this would result in the best stuff being nominated and winning each year.

This is not an ideal world. Some works receive much more publicity and promotion than others. A brilliant book by an unknown author might be seen by far fewer people than a mediocre book by a bestselling author. A story in a popular magazine or anthology will receive more attention than a story in a smaller or more niche market.

Some would argue that doing nothing is the professional and classy approach to awards. I can understand where they’re coming from, and if all else was equal, I’d probably advocate the same thing. But as we’ve seen again and again, all things are not equal…

Post a Roundup of Your Eligible Works

Nebula AwardAs awards season approaches, more and more authors are posting a list of their award-eligible work from the previous year. Here’s mine from 2017, as one example. This works in two ways.

  1. It reminds your readers about stuff they may have read but forgotten about. I had a new book out a few weeks ago, but by the time awards season rolls around next year, people might not remember the continuing adventures of Jim’s space janitors. A roundup post can jog folks’ memories.
  2. It lets people know about work they might have missed. I self-published a Magic ex Libris sequel last January, but because it wasn’t through my big publisher, fewer people heard about the story. Someone who’s a fan of your work might discover something that slipped past them, and decide to check it out and see if it’s nom-worthy.

There will be people who say eligibility lists are tacky and unprofessional. I’m not one of those people (obviously). I see nothing wrong with reminding people what you’ve had published. As a writer and often-nominator, I appreciate the reminders and the chance to check out things I missed.

Amal el-Mohtar has a good post from 2014 on this topic: Of Awards Eligibility Lists and Unbearable Smugness.

Share Copies of Your Eligible Works

Unsolicited: When I first joined SFWA, I’d get a handful of books in the mail each year from authors asking me to consider nominating their books for the Nebula. These days, I’ll get the occasional email linking to a story or offering to send me an e-book for consideration.

I don’t know that I’ve ever nominated something based on this kind of cold-call from a stranger. And in 2019, it gets really easy to cross the line into spam. At least when people were sending me books, they had to look up my individual address in the SFWA directory and pack up the book with a cover letter and pay postage to get it to me.

Nowadays, an email to “Dear Reader” with my email address in the BCC: field is likely to go straight to the junk mail folder.

Posted Online: Making your work available online, or linking to where it’s been published online, is a less intrusive and obnoxious way of sharing your stuff. This goes well with the eligibility list approach I mentioned before.

My contracts often prevent me from posting things online. As an alternative, I usually note in my eligibility post that I’m happy to email a copy of an eligible story to anyone who’s interested and will be nominating. But I’m not comfortable with sending things out unsolicited.

(The corollary here is that if you’re going to be nominating, it doesn’t hurt to contact an author or publisher if there’s something you’re particularly interested in reading and considering for the award. I mean, the worst they can say is no, right?)

Logrolling/Vote-Swapping

“Psst. Hey, buddy — I’ll nominate your book for the Nebula if you nominate mine!”

It happens. I don’t think it happens as much as it used to, though I don’t have hard data one way or the other.

It’s also, in my opinion, pretty dickish. This approach may get you some extra nominations. It will also quickly get you a reputation as That Author, the one who doesn’t give a damn about whether or not a book is any good, and just wants to cheat their way onto the ballot.

Technically, it may not be cheating — but while this approach might not violate the letter of the rules, it’s pretty blatantly cheating the spirit of the thing. And it’s unlikely to win you an award.

Slates

::Dons helmet and flame-resistant suit::

In simplest terms, I think of slates as attempts to organize a group to vote for the same (or similar) handful of works in an effort to get them onto the ballot. (Often, but not necessarily, for reasons other than the strength and quality of the slated work.)

There are a ton of eligible works every year, and people’s tastes can vary widely. Also, not everyone who’s eligible to nominate does so. For these reasons, a relatively small group of people voting in lockstep can have a disproportionate impact on what makes it onto the final ballot.

We saw this for several years with the Hugo Awards, beginning with Larry Correia’s “Sad Puppy” slate in 2014. Those were some ugly, painful, frustrating years. Slates had varying levels of effectiveness at getting works onto the ballot, but slate-nominated works pretty much universally lost — often coming in behind “No Award” in their categories.

Some authors were very deliberately and strategically trying to game the system to get their own work and/or the work of their friends onto the ballots. Other authors were unaware they’d been added to a slate, and were dragged into the resulting mess against their will.

The issue of slates has come up again this year, reopening old wounds for some of the folks who got caught up in the Hugo slate issues a few years back.

What’s the difference between a Slate and a Recommended Reading List? If someone posts a list of who they’re nominating, is that a Slate?

None of these criteria are absolute, but here are some of the things I look at.

  1. Are people being encouraged, explicitly or implicitly, to vote for the same specific set of works?
  2. Is the list mostly or entirely made up of works by members of the same group being pushed to use that list for nominating/voting?
  3. How much of the focus is on Proving a Point?
  4. Is the creator of the list genuinely, visibly enthusiastic about the works?

Like the logrolling/vote-swapping approach, slates can get things onto a ballot, but they also tend to hurt a lot of people, including the nominated authors (as everyone’s left wondering if their work would have made the ballot on its own merits), and those authors pushed off the ballot by this kind of bloc-voting approach.

Buy Lots of Voting Memberships

This wouldn’t work for the Nebulas, but for the Hugo Award, if you bought enough memberships, you could essentially nominate and vote multiple times. It’s been alleged that this tactic was used in 1987 to get Black Genesis by L. Ron Hubbard onto the ballot.

The book did indeed make it onto the final Hugo ballot. It lost, coming in last place, below “No Award.”

In other words, if this was a vote-buying scheme, it was a very expensive way to lose an award (badly) and tarnish the reputations of those involved.

#

Inclusion of various tactics listed above is not endorsement (duh). And none of these approaches guarantee your work will ever be nominated. That’s not how this works. Awards are nice, but they don’t define success or failure in the field.

Keep in mind that awards have different expectations and histories and cultures. The rules and expectations for the Hugo or Nebula Awards might be very different from other awards.

Ultimately, my best advice would be:

  1. Write the best stuff you can.
  2. Never assume you’re entitled to an award.
  3. Don’t be a dick.

This got really long. I’m sure I’ve still missed some things. Thanks for reading, and feel free to discuss further in the comments.

Voyage of the Dogs, by Greg van Eekhout

Cover Art: Voyage of the DogsI’ve had a harder time concentrating these past couple of months, and have struggled to get into the books in my TBR pile. So I decided to skip ahead to Greg van Eekhout‘s middle grade SF Voyage of the Dogs. I hoped the voice and the shorter length would work better with my current state of mind.

This was the right choice.

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book:

Lopside is a Barkonaut, a specially trained dog who assists human astronauts on missions in space. He and the crew aboard the spaceship Laika are en route to set up an outpost on a distant planet.

When the mission takes a disastrous turn, the Barkonauts on board suddenly find themselves completely alone on their severely damaged ship.

Survival seems impossible. But these dogs are Barkonauts — and Barkonauts always complete their mission.

SOS. Ship damaged. Human crew missing.
We are the dogs. We are alone.

The best word I can come up with to describe this one is sweet. These are four Very Good Dogs, doing whatever they can to complete their mission. They care about each other, just like they cared about their humans. I’m not sure exactly how van Eekhout did it, but he makes you want to reach into the book and give them all belly scritches and reassure them that yes, they’re good dogs.

There are plenty of dangers – the ship is in bad shape, and the dogs don’t know what happened to the humans. And there are parts where the dogs have to struggle with feeling abandoned, and with fears of what’s going to happen to them. But the book never dwells on the darkness or lets the reader lose that sense of doggie determination.

I particularly loved the moments of dogness, like the way Lopside keeps wishing he could hunt a rat, or Daisy watching the viewscreen because it’s the closest she can get to sticking her head out the window.

It’s obvious van Eekhout loves dogs – it comes through in every bit of dialogue, in the personalities of the four Barkonauts, and in the stories sprinkled throughout the book of other heroic dogs from history. Not to mention his author photo.

This book was fun, hopeful, heartfelt, and just what I needed.

I’ll be passing it on to my son, who’s also a dog-lover. I expect him to completely adore this book.

Read a sample here. Or, you know, just go ahead and buy it.

Updates and Stuff

Cancer Stuff

We got back about a week ago from my wife’s latest round of chemo. She had an infusion reaction and a painful (but not life-threatening) side effect from one of the meds, but otherwise things went pretty well. The oncologist says the lymphoma is responding well to treatment.

In better news, it sounds like they’re going to transfer her care from the hospital in Detroit to a more local cancer center, which means no more 90-minute drives back and forth, and no more needing to stay in the hospital apartments for 1-2 weeks at a time. (At least until we get to the bone marrow transplant part of the process.)

People have asked what they could do, which is very kind and much appreciated. I don’t think there’s much we need at the moment, so my suggestion would be to look into donating blood. Amy needed a lot of blood products at the beginning, and will probably need additional transfusions, and it all drove home how important it is to have a well-supplied local blood bank.

Writing Stuff

On the writing front, I actually got a little work done on Terminal Peace earlier this week. Not much, but it was something. I’m hoping as the cancer stuff calms down a bit, I’ll be able to keep making progress there. But helping my wife to get well again and taking care of the kids is still the priority.

Thanks to everyone who boosted about Terminal Uprising coming out last week, and to those of you who’ve commented how much you enjoyed it and/or posted reviews. I haven’t been able to do as much promo this time, for obvious reasons, so I’m even more appreciative.

I’m still hit-or-miss on emails and such, but I’m trying to catch up and stay on top of things.

Depression Stuff

I’ve talked about my depression off and on. I’d expect, given everything that’s happened these past two months, that I’d be drowning in a nasty brain-weasel flare-up. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen too much sign of that yet.

Yet being the key word there. My response to crisis has always been to focus on helping the person in crisis and doing whatever I can do. I’ve been in that mode for two+ months now.

I suspect sooner or later it’s going to catch up and knock me on my ass. So I’m trying to watch my own symptoms, and to do what I can to take care of myself. Things like letting other people around town help out, or even asking for help when I need it. I also scheduled an appointment with my former therapist for next week, just to come in and talk and vent and see what happens. Then there’s stuff like sitting around and watching the second season of Dragon Prince with my son to relax and unwind a little.

I know I’m keeping some things stuffed down for now to help me function. But I don’t feel like I’m hiding from it. So far, this seems to be working.

Random Cancer-Related Observation

I’ve lost about ten pounds since this all started. This diet plan sucks!

Happy TERMINAL UPRISING Day!

At long last, book two of the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse is out in the world! Today is the official release of Terminal Uprising. In this book, Mops and company return to the ruins of Earth.

Terminal Uprising Cover Art by Dan Dos Santos

We’ve already seen a couple of reviews for this one.

“Subtle absurdist humor permeates the narrative, derived from faulty translations, cultural references without context, and unconventional solutions to problems. Clever characterization and action-packed moments round out this thoroughly satisfying outing.”

-Publishers Weekly

“Hines writes a crackling good action scene… Hines is also damn good at banter and witty repartee, and at evoking strong feelings of empathy in the reader … I really enjoyed this novel, and I look forward to another installment in the full course of time. I can’t imagine what Mops and her crew will get up to next — and that’s, of course, four-fifths of the fun.

-Liz Bourke, Locus

You can read the first chapter online, if you want to try before you buy (or check out from the library, or whatever).

Finally, I’m hoping to get another newsletter out today, and will probably give a book away to a random subscriber. So sign up now if you want to be included in that giveaway.

Purchase links below. Thank you to all of my readers, and to everyone who checked out the first book, posted reviews, pre-ordered, and/or just offered support and encouragement along the way.

Jim C. Hines