Playing the Short Game: How to Sell Your Short Fiction (Part 28)

Cool Stuff That Might Happen (or Not): Awards, Best of Anthologies, Movies

Welcome back! This week I’ll be looking at some of the cool things that just might happen to you after you’ve published a story or—more likely—a lot of stories.

And while I have your attention and since we’re discussing awards this week, for the Canadians who might be reading this, my short story “The Walker of the Shifting Borderland” is on the final ballot for the 2013 Aurora Awards. You can learn how to pick up a free ebook copy of the story (or read it online) as well as how to vote in the awards via this blog post on my site. Voting closes September 13. Any support would be greatly appreciated!

And the Winner is . . . : Awards for Short Fiction Writers
Prix Aurora Award

Prix Aurora AwardAurora

Once your story’s been published, it becomes eligible to be nominated for one of the many awards for short fiction. Since I’m focusing on speculative fiction genres, I’ll restrict my comments to awards for SF, fantasy, and horror. Rather than trying to list all of the various awards here, let me point you to a couple of excellent online resources: the Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards and the Science Fiction Awards Watch. I’ll also mention my own Links for Writers page where I list several SF&F award sites.

I’ll walk you through some general information about the main types of awards and how the awards process generally works. What I’m not going to do is to tell you how, or for that matter encourage you in any way, to promote your freshly minted story for award attention. If you want to know why not, then go back and read my part 24 on promotion.

A Typical Awards Process

Most awards have a nomination phase that results in a final ballot, and then a voting phase to select the winner(s) from the finalists. In the nomination stage, any eligible member of a specified group may suggest (nominate) any eligible story for inclusion on the final ballot for the award in question. At the end of the nomination period, the stories (typically limited to five to six) receiving the most nominations will be put on the final ballot.

Then comes the voting phase, where eligible voters will vote by some prescribed method to choose which of those finalists will be the winner. The voting process can range from simply selecting one work in each category, similar to an election ballot, to the instant runoff voting (IRV) method.

What do I mean by “eligible” story? Typically, for a story to be eligible for an award, it must have been published in the previous calendar year. Note that awards are usually labeled for the year they are presented, not for the year in which the works were published. For example, the 2013 Hugo Awards are generally for works published in 2012.

Types of Short Fiction Awards

And what do I mean by “eligible voter” in the above? Well, it depends on the type of the award. There are three basic award types: fan-voted, members-only, and juried awards.

Fan-voted awards allow anyone to participate in nominating works and voting for the winners. The biggest fan-voted awards are the Hugos. Canada’s Aurora Awards and Australia’s Aurealis Awards are other examples.

Members-only awards restrict eligibility for nominating and voting to members of a very particular group. The biggest members-only awards are the Nebulas, which restrict participation to members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

Technically, the Hugos and many fan-voted awards are really members-only awards, in that you must be a member of the convention that sponsors or hosts the awards (e.g., the Hugos require membership in the previous or current WorldCon (World SF convention). But I still call those awards fan-voted, since you can simply buy the necessary convention membership, as compared to the Nebulas where you must achieve the required publication credits and then be accepted into SFWA before you are eligible to participate.

Juried awards use a select group of writing professionals, usually well-known editors, publishers, and writers, to act as a jury. Typically, a separate nominating committee will review eligible works for the year and select a long list for further consideration. The jury may review the long list and make the final short list selection, or the nominating committee may select the short list and the jury will only vote on the finalist to choose the winner. Canada’s Sunburst Awards and the Endeavour Award (restricted to works by NW US writers) are examples of juried awards.

Writer Awards

There is one other class of awards—awards given to writers rather than to specific works. The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is the best known example of this. Check the Campbell site for eligibility rules as they tend to change. One key difference with the Campbell is that your eligibility lasts for two years. Finalists appear on the Hugo ballot, although as I learned when I was a finalist in 2001, the nice people running the Hugos will tell you over and over (and over) again that the Campbell is not a Hugo. However, the Campbell finalists still get one of the cool little Hugo rocket pins, so nyah nyah nyah.

Being Nominated is Not an Accomplishment

Let me pause to clarify something. Recently, a writer acquaintance declared publicly that their novel had been “nominated” for a particular award. Most people assumed the writer’s book had made it to the final ballot. Much congratulation ensued, which is natural and good and cool.

One problem. The nomination period had not yet closed, and therefore the final ballot for the award had not been determined. This writer was crowing that someone had sent in a nomination for that writer’s book.

Big whoop. This particular award is fan-voted, so anyone–including the author–can submit a nomination. Being nominated is not the same as making it to the final ballot (duh). The latter is way cool and is worthy of crowing. The former means absolutely nothing, and if you claim it as some sort of accomplishment, you look like a dweeb at best or disingenuous at worst.

The reverse mistake happens, too, where a writer on a final ballot will mistakenly say that they’ve been nominated for an award. Better to say that you are a finalist.

What Awards Mean to a Writer

A boost to your ego—yes. A boost to your sales—not so much. The exceptions are awards that drive purchases by libraries, and these tend to be for children’s or young adult books, such as the John Newbery Medal (American Library Association) or the Golden Duck Awards (for excellence in children’s SF).

But for a short story writer, all an award means is an ego stroke and something else to add to your cover letters and website. I’ve won the Aurora twice, and been a finalist for the Campbell, the juried Sunburst, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Bookies, and two juried French awards. I was also a judge for the Endeavours. All were fun happenings and another form of validation, but every time I sit down at my keyboard, I still have to write the best story that I can. That’s all that will ever matter.

A Very Good Year: “Best of” Anthologies

Another possible outcome of publication is that your story may be selected to appear in one of the many annual “best of” anthologies. You can Google these yourselves, but here is one list. These anthologies contain the “best” stories (in that editor’s opinion) published in the prior year and typically focus on one specific sub-genre, such as the Year’s Best Fantasy or the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror.

These aren’t markets to which you need to submit your published story to be considered. In most cases, the editor(s) will make their own selections based on a review of the prior year’s issues from the major magazines and anthologies from the big presses. Some editors may invite submissions, but only to find stories they may have missed, such as those appearing in lesser known magazines or in anthologies from small presses.

Some “best of” anthologies will also include a list of honorable mentions in an index at the back—stories that the editors enjoyed but ended up not selecting. I’ve also had a bunch of these, which are the writerly equivalent of kissing your sister.

Lights, Camera, Action

Awards and best-of anthologies are just a couple of possibilities that could result from a story sale. Your published tale could inspire other creative people, resulting in invitations to collaborate on projects based on your story—movies, graphic novels, whatever. I’ll give one example from my own experience.

After my horror story “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down” appeared in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #13, I started receiving queries about whether the film rights were available. No, not Stephen Spielberg or anyone of Hollywood ilk. Most were film students. But one was from Anthony Sumner, who had his own film production company (TinyCore Pictures) and whose credits included corporate promotion videos, music videos, and political campaign videos for big name clients—and some short horror movies. Anthony and I started talking, and the end result was a beautiful thirty minute film that screened at film festivals around the world, winning multiple awards. More on the film here.

You May Now Ignore Everything Above

Awards, best-of anthologies, graphic novel collaborations, movie deals—possible cool events that your story publication may prompt that all have one thing in common: you have absolutely no control or influence over making any of them happen.

So don’t sweat trying to make them happen. If they do, they do. If they don’t, you have lots of company. I’ll repeat the advice I’ve given throughout this series: your wisest strategy is to write the best stories that you can, submit them to top pro markets, and keep them in front of those markets until they sell. The more stories the better. Rinse and repeat.

Next Week

Where Do We Go From Here?: Career progression for a short fiction writer

As always, please feel free to add comments and questions, and I’ll respond as best (and as soon as) I can.

I’ve written these posts in a very specific sequence, with each entry building on previous ones. You can read my earlier posts here.



I am thrilled to announce that I have now repackaged the 32 separate posts that make up this blog series into a book titled Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction. The book is completely updated and reorganized, with new material not in this blog series, plus an introduction from multi-genre, multi-award winning writer and editor, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Here’s an extract from Kris’s intro:

Douglas Smith is the best person to write this book. … He’s one of the few people who has probably published more short fiction than I have, and in more countries, and more high-paying markets. He loves the short story as much as I do, and he’s good at writing them.

He’s just as good at the business side of the profession. He knows more about marketing short stories to other countries than I do. He understands how to manage short fiction contracts very well. He’s up-to-date on 21st century publishing practices, and he has a toughness that the best business people need.

We short story writers have needed a book like this for decades. I’m glad Doug decided to write it. Read and reread this volume. Because you’ll learn something each time you do. And take Doug’s advice. It’s spectacular.

—Kristine Kathryn Rusch

More information on the book, including full buying links for all major retailer sites, is available on my website here.

As a special offer to Amazing Stories readers, I’m offering discounts in my bookstore. Get the ebook or print edition at a discount by using the coupon codes AS-SHORT-E or AS-SHORT-P respectively at my website bookstore. Enjoy!

Profile photo of Douglas Smith

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Doug is an award-winning Canadian writer whose fiction has appeared in twenty-five languages and thirty countries. His works include The Wolf at the End of the WorldChimerascope, and Impossibilia.

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