Too Many Awards

It is award season somewhere. I was reminded that the Nebula Awards are open for nominations. Writers are encouraged to post a list of their award-eligible works so that others know what they can be nominated for. I prefer not to do this.

I was the Nebula Award Commissioner for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America several years ago, and the experience turned me off to awards. To be fair, I was lukewarm to awards to begin with. What turned me off was the overt campaigning that took place—and the effect that the campaigning had on the results. Campaigning happens, of course, and there is no rule that I am aware of that dissuades this practice, but it isn’t something that sits well with me.

My own take—and I apply this standard only to myself—is that if my writing isn’t good enough to gain the attention of readers without my having to remind them of it during award season, then my work isn’t worth a nomination. I need to write a better, more memorable story next time.

I’ve received two awards in my life. One was an “Outstanding Achievement” award from the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce. I was in sixth grade. I’m not sure for what specific achievement I’d been outstanding, and I am even less certain how the Granada Hills Chamber of Commerce found about it. The award confused me more than it pleased me.

Eighteen years later, in 2002, I was a recipient of my company’s “President’s Award.” It is among the highest awards offered by the company, and I was absolutely stunned when I found out. I was also very pleased. It seems to me, however, that too many awards would go to my head, and it is probably a good thing that I’ve only received two so far.

Many awards seem like popularity contests to me. They remind me of baseball’s All-Star Game. In baseball there are methodologically sound ways of constructing two opposing teams of the best players using performance statistics. However, the word “Star” in “All-Star” implies popularity, not performance.

Unlike baseball, there are no objective measurements of “best” for art. “Best” is in the eye of the beholder. When people don’t agree that award winners are the best, they go create their own subjective awards, which leads to the proliferation of awards we have today.

Awards should be hard to get. When I see people campaigning for an award, whether it is a Nebula, the baseball All-Stars, or the Oscars, I’m reminded of a child begging his parents for a toy he really wants. If the parents give in just because the child wants the toy, it cheapen the toy somehow. If, on the other hand, the child works hard, and earns the toy, it is the best thing ever.

I wish more awards were like that.


  1. I don’t mind an annual eligibility post because I like having a convenient lists of what’s been published this year, to peruse at my leisure, and catch up with stories by favorite authors I somehow missed when they first came out. But I agree completely about the campaigning. It’s so gross.


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