Hugo Award FAQ

What are the Hugo Awards?

The Hugo Awards, to give them their full title, are awards for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy. They were first awarded in 1953, and have been awarded every year since 1955. The awards are run by and voted on by fans.

When are the Hugo Awards presented?

The Hugo Awards are awarded each year at the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). See the list of Upcoming Worldcons on the right side of the page for the specific sites and dates of future conventions. The Awards are generally presented at a ceremony on the third or fourth evening of the Worldcon. Each year’s Worldcon determines which day of the convention on which to present the Awards.

How are the Awards determined? Who selects the nominees and winners?

Voting for the awards is open to all members of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), and to become a member all you have to do is buy a membership in that year’s Worldcon. It is not necessary to actually attend the convention. A “supporting membership,” which currently costs around $50 though it can vary from year to year, is all you need to join WSFS.

How many Hugo Awards are presented each year? What are the categories?

The number and nature of the Awards has varied from year to year. There is a list of the current award categories here.

How do I submit my book (or story or movie) for nomination for a Hugo Award?

The short answer is, “you can’t.” See “Submitting Your Work” for more details.

Why do I have to pay to vote?

Well, the simple answer is that the Hugos are awarded by WSFS members and, just like most other clubs, you have to pay to be a member. Your money goes towards helping finance the awards. There is also a view within WSFS that it is a good thing to limit voting to genuine fans, people who really care about science fiction and fantasy. Finally requiring WSFS membership helps prevent ballot stuffing. If voting were free people might go around hassling their friends, or even random strangers, to vote for them. Because there is a small barrier they are much less inclined to do so.

What do I get for being a WSFS Member?

Firstly you get the right to nominate and vote in the current year’s Hugos. (See below and here for details of the voting process and why it is divided into two stages.) You also get the right to nominate (but not vote) the following year if you don’t renew your membership. In addition you get the right to help chose where Worldcon is held (currently the vote is held two years ahead of the convention, so if you join in 2012 you get to help pick the site for 2014). Finally you get a copy of the current Worldcon’s Souvenir Book, and copies of any other publications that Worldcon might issue to members.

Why are they called Hugos?

The Hugo Awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, a famous magazine editor who did much to bring science fiction to a wider audience. Gernsback founded Amazing Stories, the first major American SF magazine, in 1926. He is widely credited with sparking a boom in interest in written SF. In addition to having the Hugo Awards named after him he has been recognized as the “Father of Magazine SF” and has a crater on the Moon named after him.

What does a Hugo look like?

The basic design of the Hugo is a chrome rocket ship created by Jack McKnight and Ben Jason, with the current version based upon a refinement designed by Peter Weston in 1984. The design of the base on which the ship is mounted is left up to each individual Worldcon, so each year’s Hugos look slightly different. A photographic archive of Hugo designs is available here.

How are the results decided?

Voting for the Hugos is a two-stage process. In the first stage voters may nominate up to five entries in each category. All nominations carry equal weight. The five entries that get the most nominations in each category go forward to the final ballot. In the final ballot voting is preferential. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference. The system for counting the votes is quite complicated but it is designed to ensure that the winner has support from the majority of voters. There is a full description of the counting procedure here.

Why do you have a two-stage system?

Hundreds and hundreds of science fiction and fantasy works are published each year. No one, not even the top reviewers in the field, can possibly read/see all of them. Other awards limit the field by restricting themselves to works of certain types (e.g. only fantasy), or by type of work (e.g. only books), or by where they are published, or by the nationality of the author. The Hugos attempt to cover the whole field. The voting system explicitly accepts that no one can have seen/read everything. It relies on the fact that many people participate to find the five works that are most popular (that is have been seen/read and enjoyed by most people), and then there is a run-off between them in the final ballot.

Who can nominate and vote?

Nominations are open to members of the current year’s Worldcon, the members of the past year’s Worldcon, and, starting with the 2012 Hugo Awards, the members of the following year’s Worldcon. The final ballot is open only to members of the current year’s Worldcon. You do not have to attend the Worldcon in order to vote. Each person may cast only one nominating ballot even if that person is a member of more than one Worldcon. A special category of Supporting Membership is available for people who wish to vote but cannot afford to attend the convention. Supporting Membership also entitles you to all of the official Worldcon publications for that year, and entitles you to participate in the vote to select the site for the Worldcon to be held two years hence. Each Worldcon sets its own membership rates.

Do I have to attend Worldcon to vote?

No. You do not have to attend Worldcon to vote on the Hugo Awards. You need to have at least a Supporting Membership (see previous question above). Voting it done by mail and online before the convention.

Do I have to be a member of Worldcon to be nominated for an award?

No. You do not need to be a member of Worldcon to be nominated (or to have a work authored by you nominated) for a Hugo Award. The members of Worldcon nominate and vote on the Hugo Awards, but anyone can be nominated for or win one.

So how do I promote my work for the Hugos?

Reviews in publications that cover awards can help.  Other than that, word of mouth is a good method. Look for web sites and fanzines that review books (or short fiction or movies). If you really want to spend money on promotion the best bet is probably Worldcon progress reports. A Worldcon will send several mailings to its members during its lifetime. You want to advertise in one that comes out about a year before the convention. Check out the links in the sidebar of this site to find the web site of the convention you need.

What if I still want to promote my book/film/self for a Hugo?

Our advice: Be careful. Excessively campaigning for a Hugo Award can be frowned upon by regular Hugo voters and has been known to backfire.

Who runs the ballot?

Each Worldcon is responsible for administering and counting votes for the year in which it takes place. The Worldcon committee will appoint one or more people as Hugo Administrators. It is their job to see that the process takes place efficiently and fairly. If you have any questions about the Hugos your first port of call should be to ask that year’s Hugo Administrator.

What categories of awards are there?

The most famous categories are Best Novel and Best Dramatic Presentation. However, there are many other Hugo Awards available, including some for short fiction, for artists, for editors and some for fannish activities. An additional award, the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, is voted for and presented alongside the Hugos but is not an official Hugo Award. A full list of the current award categories is available here.

What works or persons are eligible?

Generally speaking, works are eligible if they were published in the calendar year preceding the year in which the vote takes place. Some Awards are given for a body of work rather than for a single item, in which case it is all work produced in the calendar year in question that is considered. See the list of Award categories for full details of eligibility rules.

Are non-American works eligible?

Yes. Any work is eligible, regardless of its place or language of publication. Works first published in languages other than English are also eligible in their first year of publication in English translation.

If something is copyrighted in one year and published in another, when is it eligible?

When a publication date (usually on the publication information of a book) or a cover date is different from a work’s copyright date, the publication or cover date applies. For example, if a work has a copyright date in 2010 but a publication date of 2011, it it eligible for the 2012 Hugo Awards. If there is no publication or cover date, the copyright date applies.

Are self-published e-books considered as potential nominees or must the publication be through a traditional publisher?

Self-published works, e-books, and other “non-traditionally” published works are eligible. There is no restriction requiring works to be published through “traditional” publishers.

What is this Eligibility Extension I have been hearing about?

The members of WSFS have been concerned that works published in English outside of the US are not getting sufficient exposure to the voting public (the majority of whom are Americans). Frequently US publishers will pick up on successful British, Canadian or Australian books (amongst others) a year or two after their initial publication. American voters want to nominate them, but by then it is too late because the eligibility year is passed. So WSFS has been experimenting with extending eligibility for such works when they are first published in the US. Currently this rule is being renewed on a year-by-year basis and the precise details may change from year to year. Read the Hugo nominating ballot carefully and check out the various recommendation lists available online if you are uncertain about a particular work.

What if I am not sure about the length of a work?

Both the fiction and dramatic presentation categories are divided by length (fiction by word count, dramatic presentation by running length). You don’t want to have to count the words in a story before nominating it. Furthermore, the Hugo Administrators have a small amount of leeway to move works between categories. For example, a work that is 39,900 words long but is marketed as a book rather than in a magazine might be more suited to the novel category than novella. Equally a movie that is 88 minutes long but comes from a major studio and is widely shown in cinemas might be better suited to the long form dramatic presentation category.

Once again the first thing you should do is check recommendation lists. They may have checked the word count with the author or publisher. In close cases that may result in a work being moved they will give a sense of where other people think it belongs. These sources are not authoritative. The final decision belongs to the Hugo Administrators, but they are most likely to go with the preferences expressed by a majority of the voters (unless those preferences are clearly contrary to the rules).

The good news is that if you nominate a work in the wrong category the Administrators will try to move it. But they can only do that if there is room. For example, if you have incorrectly nominated a story as a novelette when it is in fact a novella then the Administrator will move it, but only if you currently have less than five nominations in the novella category, because you are only allowed five. So if you are not sure where a work belongs, it is advisable to leave space for it in the other category in your nominations.

If a work is published in a revised version, is it again eligible for a Hugo?

If the revision is substantial enough, yes. Some revised works have received a second nomination when they were sufficiently different from the original. For example “Beggars in Spain” by Nancy Kress won a Hugo as a novella in 1992 and was nominated again as a novel in 1994. The novel was substantially longer than the novella, and both the voters and the Hugo Administrators believed that this qualified it as a separate work. It is quite hard to say in advance how different a revised work has to be, but a good rule of thumb is that it should be obvious to an ordinary reader that the work has been substantially altered. We can’t rule on individual cases in an FAQ, but if a revised work gets enough nominations to appear on the ballot it is unlikely that the Administrators would overrule the judgment of the voters.

Aren’t Hugos just for Science Fiction?

While the organization sponsoring the Hugos is named the World Science Fiction Society, our charter explicitly makes fantasy as well as SF eligible for our awards. Works of fantasy have often won Hugos, and, in fact, Hugos have been won by works that some people consider horror or even mainstream. There will never be universal agreement about the precise distinctions between genres and sub-genres, so WSFS’s position is that eligibility is determined by the voters. To paraphrase the great SF editor and writer Damon Knight, a Hugo winner is what the Hugo voters point to when they award a Hugo.

Are works published electronically eligible?

Yes they are. The definitions of the Hugo Award categories refer only to the nature of the work, not the medium in which it is published. A novel is a novel, regardless of whether it is published in hardback, softback, as a serial in a magazine, or on disk. A webcomic is a graphic story just as much as is a comic book or graphic novel. A fanzine is a fanzine, regardless of whether it is posted as paper, emailed as a PDF, or a blog.

Why are there Hugos for fan activity?

From the very beginning of SF, fans and pros have together created the field, and nearly all of the most famous writers and editors have also been fans. The fan Hugos exist to recognize an important component of that field. As we point out in the next question, “fan” and “pro” are not opposites, but simply different parts of the SF world. Awards for achievement in one part of the field do not make those for achievement in other parts of the field less valuable. You wouldn’t expect Steven Spielberg to complain that his Oscar® is somehow worthless because one can get an identical statue for Best Make-up Artist, would you?

What is the difference between “fan” and “professional”

Terms like “fan” and “pro” describe things we do, not kinds of people &emdash; they aren’t opposites. You are a professional when you sell your work for money. Fannish activity is done for the love of it, but is frequently far from amateurish. The same person can engage in both professional and fannish activities, and many of our greatest and most famous pros were (and are) also fans: E. E. Smith, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Hal Clement, Fred Pohl, Joe Haldeman, and a hundred others. The most high profile example of this in recent times is David Langford, who won a Hugo for a short story in 2000 but continues to win Hugos for his fan writing.

Because we have a sort of in-between kind of publication called a Semiprozine, the Hugo Awards have a somewhat technical definition of what constitutes “professional” publication, listed in the WSFS Constitution in Section 3.2.11:

3.2.11: A Professional Publication is one which meets at least one of the following two criteria:

(1) it provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or,
(2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.

This rule only affects these categories:

  • Best Professional Artist: qualifying work must appear in a professional publication
  • Best Semiprozine: Semprozines must be non-professional publications
  • Best Fanzine: Fanzines must be non-professional publications
  • Best Fancast: Fancasts must be non-professional in nature
  • Best Fan Writer: Fan writing must appear in semiprozines, fanzines, or in generally available electronic media
  • Best Fan Artist: Fan art must appear in semiprozines, fanzines, or through other public display

Note that the “professional” definition does not affect the other categories on the Hugo Awards ballot. WSFS does not require that written fiction, related works, or dramatic presentations be “professionally” published, nor do the Best Editor categories mention “professional” in their descriptions.

Does “fan writing” mean “fan fiction”?

Fan fiction is fan writing, but fan writing covers much, much more. Fan writing includes writing about SF and fantasy, writing about fandom and the fannish life, as well as pretty much any writing about anything that is written to appeal to fans. Fan writing is just about any writing fans do for other fans that they don’t get paid for — including writing this FAQ!

Why isn’t there a Hugo for…?

The list of categories for which the Hugos have been awarded has changed frequently down the years. The categories that exist now are ones that have proven to work well and provide reasonable competition. But new categories are sometimes added, and old ones sometimes removed. Changing the categories requires that a motion to do so be passed at the WSFS Business Meeting at two successive Worldcons. Anyone attending a Worldcon can propose a motion to the Business Meeting. However, if you wish to do so you would be advised to consult the Chairman or Parliamentarian of that year’s Business Meeting for advice as to the appropriate wording.

To create a viable new category, it needs to include enough first-rate works that there will be five worthy nominees each year, and it needs to be sufficiently universal that most people nominating and voting for the Hugos could intelligently make choices. So, for example, Best Proofreader would fail because few voters are in a position to pass judgment as they never see books before the proofreader has worked on them.

You can find more advice on how to change the Hugo rules here.

Do I have to nominate/vote in every category?

No. You need only vote in categories where you feel competent to judge.

Do I have to have read or seen everything in a category to nominate?

No, you do not have to have viewed everything possible to nominate or to have read all five nominees to vote. If you have seen just one movie or read one story that you think is good enough to deserve a Hugo, you should nominate it. The Hugos work best when as many fans as possible use their own experience to nominate and vote for the things they think are wonderful.

Can I vote for something I have not read/seen?

No, don’t nominate or vote for something you have not read or seen, and don’t vote based on reputation — the Hugos are meant to honor your choices and judgments, not the rumor of someone else’s.

What are Retro-Hugos?

Science Fiction has been going a lot longer that the Hugos, so many famous works never got the chance to win an Award. The WSFS Constitution gives Worldcons the right to award Hugos for a year 50, 75 or 100 years in the past, provided only that there was a Worldcon in that year but no Hugos were awarded. Not all Worldcons choose to do this. You will be informed when you receive the nomination papers if Retro-Hugos are being awarded. The next time that Retro-Hugos might possibly be presented is 2014 (for 1939).

Is there a monetary award?

No. There is no cash prize for winning a Hugo Award. Winners receive a Hugo Award trophy.

Is YA fiction eligible?

Yes. All science fiction and fantasy is eligible, regardless of marketing genre. Although there is no specifically-labeled Young Adult fiction category, works that are generally considered “YA” in nature have won Hugo Awards and continue to be eligible.

What is the official name of the Hugo Award?

The official name of the Hugo Award is “Hugo Award.” Prior to 1993, “Hugo Award” was an alternative name for was was formally described as the “Science Fiction Achievement Award.” In 1991-92, the World Science Fiction Society’s Business Meeting voted to drop all but one reference to “Science Fiction Achievement Award” and formally renamed the award “Hugo Award,” with the older name as an alternative. “Hugo Award” is a service mark of the World Science Fiction Society, registered in the USA and other countries. You may still occasionally see references to the older “Science Fiction Achievement Award” name, but “Hugo Award” is the official name.

I saw a two-part television episode with a combined running time greater than 90 minutes nominated in the Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form category. Why was that?

The rules assign dramatic presentations to categories according to running times based on four ranges:

  • Works up to 72 minutes in length *must* be placed in Short Form.
  • Works between 72 and 90 minutes in length should ordinarily be placed in Short Form, but can be moved to Long Form by the Administrator for a good reason. Discovering that a very substantial majority of the voters nominated the work in Long Form is a good reason.
  • Works between 90 and 108 minutes in length should ordinarily be placed in Long Form, but can be moved the Short Form by the Administrator for a good reason. Discovering that a very substantial majority of the voters nominated the work in Short Form is a good reason.
  • Works above 108 minutes in length *must* be placed in Long Form.

These are not the actual words in the WSFS Constitution, but the above list is the effect of those rules. Administrators tend to stick with what the voters say unless there is no way for them to do so. In the case cited, most of the people nominating the work in question nominated it as a Short Form work even though it was more than 90 minutes long, and since it was less than 108 minutes long, the administrator left it where the voters nominated it.

In general, administrators do not announce their decisions regarding moving works (or accepting the voters’ judgements) in this manner because they do not want to call specific attention (either positive or negative) to the works in question. The results of such moves are visible when the detailed nomination and final ballot vote counts are released after the Hugo Awards results are announced.

Also note that there are similar principles involved with the relocation of works in the four written-fiction categories, which also have a +/- 20% gray zone around their respective category boundary lengths. See also the question above “What if I am not sure about the length of a work?” for more information about the word count/running time rules.

I’m an author, and some people told me that they nominated me for a Hugo Award. Does that mean I can list myself as a “Hugo Award Nominee”?

No, not unless your work appeared on the final Hugo Award ballot that year.

During the first stage of the voting process, all of the eligible members of the previous, current, and following year’s Worldcons (which means thousands of potential voters) cast nominating ballots, where they are able to vote for up to five works in each category. Generally speaking, only the eligible works with the five highest nominating vote tallies (sometimes more in case of ties; occasionally fewer in limited cases) go on to the final ballot. These works on the final ballot (sometimes called the “short list”) are the actual Hugo Award Nominees. The hundreds of other works that the members nominate but that do not make the final ballot are not considered Hugo Award Nominees.

This process is also described at the Fancyclopedia web site.

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