Farewell! Thou Art Too Dear For My Possessing

Recently the website Science Fiction Awards Watch posted a motion to amend the WSFS (World Science Fiction Society) constitution to eliminate the Best Semiprozine Hugo. As Kevin Standlee noted on his blog, the proposed changes need to be ratified at Anticipation (the 2009 Worldcon) before they take effect.

As Cheryl Morgan explains in the comments, the intention “of the proposers of the motion is that former semiprozines should not be eligible as magazines, but that their editors should be eligible for Best Editor: Short Form.”

In addition, the language of the Semiprozine Award defines the item in question as “any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy,” and while determining what is professional and what is non-professional may be akin to answering the question “What is art?” it would seem that the perennial winner of the Semiprozine category, Locus, in the words of Kevin Standlee “failed the ‘non-professional’ criteria long ago.”

I take what Kevin means here is that Locus should be considered as a professional publication, for which there is no Hugo category. I agree, for whatever Locus’ humble beginnings were, it is now a full-fledged magazine, with a budget and staff. Not that some of the other past winners, Science Fiction Chronicle or Interzone, didn’t have a budget or staff either. It’s been a tough category to define (in regards to nominations and voting) since it was introduced in 1984.

In fact, many of the titles making the ballot for Semiprozine should really be considered professional magazines, except that they meet the critieria for Semiprozine (quoted directly form the WSFS constitution):

3.3.11: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) of the following criteria:
(1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue,
(2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(3) provided at least half the income of any one person,
(4) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising,
(5) announced itself to be a semiprozine.

Technically, publications like Entertainment Weekly or Wired fulfill the criteria 1 – 5 in some fashion or other.** Electric Velocipede does not meet these criteria—it only fulfills one of the criteria: #2; although I’m getting close on #4—even though the latest issue certainly has the look and feel of a professional publication. Nonetheless, I remain in the Fanzine category. I had been thinking of declaring myself a semiprozine, but will not do so at this point. I had been thinking that Electric Velocipede was looking less and less like what I thought a fanzine looked like, but there are some of the Fanzine nominees that are primarily very nice-looking websites, so who’s to say what a fanzine looks like?

To put things in historical context, the Semiprozine category was meant to recognize the work done on publications that fall between a fanzine and a professional magazine. The non-professional phrase in the subsection would prevent places like Asimov’s, Analog, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF) from being on the ballot in the category. There was a Best Magazine category until 1973 (F&SF winning eight times and Astounding/Analog winning seven times) when the category was dropped in favor of a Best Professional Editor as an attempt to recognize the editorial work being done in anthologies as well as the magazines.

Now, I do not think this removal of the Semiprozine award is made out of an effort to prevent Locus from winning more Hugos (I believe it’s 22 wins for Semiprozine and 8 wins for fanzine/amateur magazine…wow!), but rather, as Cheryl says above, a reflection to the change of the Best Editor Hugo. Now Hugo nominators/voters can recognize the efforts of the editors of Semiprozines with the Best Editor Short Form category.

But wait, where does that leave Locus? 100% of the nominees in the Best Editor Short Form catgory have been fiction edtitors, and while Locus is a great publication, it does not publish fiction. Let’s see how the constitution defines the Editor Short Form category: “The editor of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy, at least one of which was published in the previous calendar year.” Since there is no stipulation that what is edited needs to be fiction, it would seem that Charles N. Brown et al would be elligible for this award should they get enough nominations.

Not that I’m looking to compete head to head with the editors of Locus for a Hugo award. Part of my reluctance to declare myself a semiprozine was due to their dominance of the category. As it was, I just barely missed (N.B. PDF link) out on making the ballot as a Fanzine for this year (tying for sixth place with Banana Wings) and made a decent showing on the Best Editor Short Form ballot (tying for tenth place with William Sanders). I’d also like to mention that William Shunn‘s novelette, “Not of This Fold,” from the chapbook I published, An Alternate History to the 21st Century, tied for twefth place in its category. Very cool!

If this gets ratified, I’ll miss the idea of yearning to be a part of the Semiprozine category. You know: building my subscriber base, refining the end product, getting the word out to the masses about what I’m doing, all those sorts of things. Now I can only hope to catch up with and pass Gordon van Gelder, Shelia Williams, Stanley Schmidt, Ellen Datlow, Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Lou Anders, Shawna McCarthy, and Kelly Link.***

And since I’m retaining Fanzine status, perhaps next year I’ll get the half-dozen or so extra nominations I need to make the final ballot. I’ve made the World Fantasy Award ballot two years in a row now, and I keep closing in on a Hugo nomination. Curious what Electric Velocipede is all about? I’m running a subscription drive with a benefactor option that gets you the bulk of my back list, but you’re always free to go with the more standard subscription.

In my opinion, I think there’s a 50/50 chance of this getting ratified. Actually, I think it has a better chance than that of being ratified, but I can make strong enough arguments in head for and against this that I feel I have to give it a 50/50 shot. If there was still only one editor category, I would be less inclined to think the Semiprozine would be eliminated. But since those editors can all be nominated for Best Editor Short Form, the category may be less relevant than it once was. As long as people remember to nominated those editors, then this works the way the proposers intended. If people nominate only from the professional magazines…

Regardless, the category will be around for Anticipation, but you should still consider the Semiprozine editors for Best Editor Short Form. Come next spring, when we’re all thinking about things like baseball, summer nights, warm weather, and grilling out (or for those of you in the Southern hemipshere: cricket, the whaleshark festival, winter solstice, and warm fires) I’ll be here to remind you about this conversation we’re having.

* Kevin has been very active over the years in planning conventions as well as chairing WSFS business meetings. Kevin has, in my opinion, an unparalleled knowledge of the WSFS and its constitution. He may disagree, but that’s his wont.

** I realize that the publication needs to be devoted to science fiction and fantasy and on top of that, my examples are clearly professional publications, I’m just thinking out loud.

*** Perhaps it’s obvious, but those were the editors ahead of me on the final tally list. The first five were on the ballot.

[Image by Flickr user Sonia Carolina; CC licensed for commercial use]


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