Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

The Clarke Award: Shortlists Vs Longlists

with 42 comments

In the blue corner, Tom Hunter #TeamShortlist:

Now with us regularly receiving over 100 books a year, the question we’re asking is, rather than mess around longlists why not just get straight to the point with a bigger shortlist that would allow the judges to highlight more books in one larger shortlist to rule them all?

Eight books might work well again, or even twelve which is the number some people have suggested as a longlist figure, so again why bother calling it a longlist, let’s just have more people actually shortlisted — it looks better on the cover of a book for a start

[…]

Would a larger shortlist be more of a focal point for both debate and promotion than the staggered and potentially fatiguing extra step of a longlist? I’ll leave that idea hanging for now, but for me this feels like more of a new move than the idea of copying a longlist format from another award, and feels somehow more in the spirit of Sir Arthur to me.

In the red corner, Niall Harrison #TeamLonglist:

I still think a larger shortlist is a really bad idea. I’m particularly alarmed that it might be done because it is “new” (or, I guess, “distinctive”). Obviously six books is an arbitrary number, but there are good reasons why you very rarely see shortlists — for any award, in or out of genre — of more than six. I’d say the two main ones are:

1) The more books you add, the more of a commitment reading the shortlist becomes. That means fewer people will want to do it; more people will be likely to pick and choose, or just wait for the winner and only read that.

2) I don’t believe adding more books will extend the same amount of prestige to those books. I think the same amount of prestige will be divided up into smaller portions. It will be perceived as “easier” to make the shortlist, and doing so will be valued less.

In contrast, when thinking about a longlist:

1) Not many people will read a longlist. But there will be a hard-core of people invested in the award who will look at it, and start to create some discussion. A longlist feels to me like a participatory gesture: I’m not necessarily part of the process, but I’m reading along with the process. Moreover, as Nick H said in one of these threads, it puts the industry on notice and gives them time to prepare for a shortlist.

2) A longlist creates an interim level of prestige. It helps to mark out “writers to watch”, it gives you that tool to bring more books into the Clarke discussion. If anything it increases the value of shortlisting, because (hopefully) it makes clear how hard-won a shortlist place really is.

Context is for the weak but here you go.

It goes without saying that I’m #TeamLonglist.

 

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Written by Martin

19 May 2016 at 17:03

Posted in awards, sf

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42 Responses

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  1. [This comment exists purely so that I can subscribe to the thread and receive notifications when people are calling me a wronghead.]

    NH

    19 May 2016 at 17:18

  2. I’m #TeamDontMessWithTheShortList, though I accept that a shortlist of six is a good percentage of 40-60 books but not so good for 100-150. So, if we must be binary, I’m in #TeamLonglist, and don’t think Niall is being wrongheaded.

    I pay so little attention to the Booker that I have no idea what impact the introduction of their longlist has – but “good awards copy, great awards steal” – right?

    Duncan Lawie

    19 May 2016 at 19:50

  3. #TeamLonglist

    For me, this is something of a no-brainer. A longlist is not ‘just another list’, it’s an interesting and valuable window into the process, into the tone and timbre of the jury’s mindset in any given year. Of course a longlist would engender extra discussion! At the risk of it being counter-productive to harp on the Booker again, I do think we should bear their example in mind in this instance, simply because the Booker is the most relevant comparison we have to work with. The introduction of a longlist to the Booker calendar in 2000 has increased media coverage, critical discussion and general public interest in the prize to a substantial degree. I don’t have the figures to hand, but I’ve certainly seen it in print that the Booker longlist has a strong effect on book sales, too. So everyone goes away happy!

    (NB: I don’t think anyone has been suggesting that the Clarke should be ‘more like the Booker’ in terms of what books are longlisted, shortlisted, or even submitted – that’s a whole other discussion. The Booker has been cited simply because, like the Clarke, it is a juried award and a British juried award at that. It therefore makes sense to compare the way the two are organised.)

    I really don’t get this thing about the introduction of a longlist stage being ‘potentially fatiguing’, either. So far as I can gather, the judges draw up the informal equivalent of a longlist during the course of their discussions anyway. Indeed it could be argued that having a formalised longlist stage might actually help in the structuring of the judging process.

    I heartily second everything Niall has said, above. The secret of getting all this to work is simple: introduce a regular schedule.

    Nina Allan

    19 May 2016 at 20:37

  4. Call me #teamlonglist too…

    Firstly, I think adding books to the shortlist would kill the ‘shortlist review article’ stone dead. Given our current cultural climate, people are already reluctant to opine in public. Raise the commitment required and people will not bother.

    Of course… you could argue that people aren’t bothering *now* but it seems a bit early to assume the patient is dead and to start burying them. They might yet get better!

    Secondly, I’m not sure where this Booker-phobia comes from. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone dismiss the Clarke as being too like the Booker. The Booker is famous + does develop discussion, why not copy what manifestly works?

    Jonathan McCalmont

    20 May 2016 at 06:35

  5. No, the anti-Booker stance is bizarre. I don’t want the Clarke to be the Booker which is good because the Clarke can’t become the Booker but they are both juried awards that aim to find the best novel published in Britain. So I’m not sure what Hunter means when he says the Clarke’s mission “differs greatly from that of the Booker”. I’m even less sure why he carries such a huge chip on his shoulder because “one persistent criticism of the Clarke in its early years was that it was trying to be too much like the Booker” when this was decades before he took over the award and has no relevance to any discussion of the award today. When discussing nameless “concerns” that “there’s a real danger of list fatigue kicking in”, it seems perverse to simply ignore the evidence from the Booker of the opposite happening. Perhaps looking at the evidence base is “copying”.

    My own position is that I hadn’t thought about a longlist until Allan mentioned it and when she did, it seemed like a good idea with lots of benefits and no real downside. As this conversation has continue on this blog, this seems more and more the case, given the increasing number of submission. I am still open to being told it is administratively too burdensome but I don’t think anyone has made the case for that yet. However, I’ll happily never mention the idea of a longlist again if Hunter drops the terrible idea of expanding the shortlist.

    Martin

    20 May 2016 at 07:18

  6. Everyone should just have their own literary prize the way they like it

    sadpress

    20 May 2016 at 08:36

  7. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone dismiss the Clarke as being too like the Booker.

    I’ve heard tell; I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed it first hand. I have seen people point to the similarities between the Clarke process and the Booker process as evidence of the award’s methodological strength — particularly the re-read of the shortlisted books, for instance.

    Contra Tom’s piece, I don’t think this is a case of people changing their views over time — I think it’s completely separate groups of people offering such comments, some in favour of a Booker-like process, some seeing it as taking the award too far away from the common fan.

    But I don’t think anybody is suggesting the Clarke should become exactly like the Booker, or even very much more like it. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the Clarke should move to non-calendar-year eligibility (September to September), for instance. I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the Clarke should stop publishing its submissions list. (I wish the Booker would start!) Based on Tom’s article the idea of restricting the number of entries per imprint has been mooted, but personally I’m not in favour. And so on.

    I hadn’t thought about a longlist until Allan mentioned it and when she did, it seemed like a good idea with lots of benefits and no real downside. As this conversation has continue on this blog, this seems more and more the case

    “It me”, as the kids say these days.

    NH

    20 May 2016 at 09:16

  8. Thanks everyone. I’m going to try and answer points raised here one by one rather than in one epic post if that’s ok – just written a 5000 word splurge after all, so trying to get back to short focused comments after that epic.

    For the record, while Martin has positioned me as #TeamShortlist, and I’m happy to play that role here, I think I was pretty clear in my piece that I’m actually on both sides or neither right now. We actually started talking about longlists internally years ago, for instance.

    Anyway, the Booker thing as far as Clarke being like the Booker criticisms go isn’t something many people here might be aware of as this goes back to the earlier years of the award and wins like Atwood, Piercy, Ghosh etc being taken in some fan quarters as evidence of the Clarke hive mind trying deliberately to be ‘literary’ whatever that means, and was perceived as a deliberate attempt to somehow try and escape from lowly SF so something. There’s no evidence of this in the actual data , of course, but when did that stop a good fan moan?

    I would love to see the actual data that is being discussed about the Booker if anyone can point me to something substantial. Do remember thought that the Booker has a full time PR company behind it, which is one reason why the longlist gets good coverage as well as the shortlist. I’m good but I am a one man band.

  9. So I’m not sure what Hunter means when he says the Clarke’s mission “differs greatly from that of the Booker”.

    In answer to this, what I’m specifically talking about when I reference ‘our mission’ as it were is the idea that we want to get as broad a sense of what the SF field in any given year is, which means being as open as possible in our submissions rather than applying limits to publishers as the Booker currently does.

    Now, to be honest a lot of that pressure comes from all of you on this comments thread who appreciate the submissions list but are also the first to immediately flag any book that isn’t submitted (and there’s always one) and we can’t have it both ways.

    Right now I put a lot of time in behind the scenes hanging out on all your blogs and elsewhere, checking out what’s getting talked about but might not automatically be submitted and going out and getting it. This is actually not so hard once I reach out to the editors in question – enthusiasm for submitting is at an all time high – it’s just the time required to make the connection and call things in. That’s one of the prime reasons why our submissions have gone up. I now do call ins one to one by phone basically.

    Personally, I think this is the right way round and I wouldn’t want to artificially limit submissions with some kind of per publisher cap as a prize like the Booker does. The only way our judges can discuss a book’s shortlistability (or even whether it meets their definition of SF) is if it’s actively submitted.

  10. I’m just not sure the genre-puritans are much of a constituency anymore… I can remember “but is it SF?” being asked more in the past than it is now but I can’t remember any hostility to the Booker.

    Frankly, I class myself as a science fiction grognard by the standards of the field and I think the Clarke’s strength lies precisely in its rapprochement with the literary. I want the award to help the field break from genre publishing PR narratives and uncover genre-y stuff published in mainstream circles.

    The Booker has a structure that sells books and drives debate, plus “it’s the Booker for science fiction” seems like a handy hook with which to grab more mainstream attention.

    Win, win, win if you ask me :-)

    Jonathan McCalmont

    20 May 2016 at 11:46

  11. What is a “genre publishing PR narrative” please?

  12. Sadpress: Everyone should just have their own literary prize the way they like it

    That sounds pretty tragic. The strength of any award comes from the community that supports it.

    Tom: I think I was pretty clear in my piece that I’m actually on both sides or neither right now.

    I honestly don’t see how anyone could think that after reading your piece!

    what I’m specifically talking about when I reference ‘our mission’ as it were is the idea that we want to get as broad a sense of what the SF field in any given year is, which means being as open as possible in our submissions rather than applying limits to publishers as the Booker currently does.

    I think the Clarke’s attempt (by which I mean to a large extent, your attempts) to get as comprehensive as possible coverage of the UK SF publishing is one of its major strengths. I certainly don’t want you to limit submissions but then I’ve never seen anyone suggesting that. So sorry, I thought when you were talking about people who “want us to be more, not less, like the Booker” that this was linked to the proposal for longlists (and, as Niall says, i really doubt they are “some of those same people”).

    Martin

    20 May 2016 at 12:50

  13. Quoting myself in my Medium blog: “To be clear these are all my positions at time of writing, and in this first post the simple fact of length has meant I haven’t covered every nuance of even my own opinion let alone the counter debate, so I fully reserve the right to be swayed by compelling conversation.”

    Given the length of my Medium blog and wanting to get every topic into one post (first draft hacked right down to one you see btw) I tried to take a line rather than neutrally present Pros and Cons, which I did try initially, hoping this would assist the debate. If I wasn’t open to either side on Longlists I wouldn’t have included it in my list. As mentioned above, it’s something we’ve discussed internally for a good few years now. I just made the decision to not introduce those sorts of changes before our 30th.

    In the same way, I am not about to increase the shortlist unless someone stops me, just discussing the idea. Six books limit still has real advantages for me. Maybe I should have made that list 15 things, and made the final one Don’t Change Anything.

    Hope that helps clarify

  14. ‘Grognard’ is a great word.

    Adam Roberts

    20 May 2016 at 13:51

  15. By “genre publishing PR narrative” I am simply referring to the fact that PR for stuff coming out of genre publishers is more common in genre space. I’ve always looked to the Clarke award to vault over that by pointing to a few books that don’t come from genre publishers and so tend to be under-represented in genre PR.

    Adam — It is a favourite. Sounds better than “old guard” :-)

    Jonathan McCalmont

    20 May 2016 at 14:01

  16. That Booker thing.

    I think we need to chuck the Booker out of this conversation right after this post, as it’s in danger of derailing and causing confusion.

    Quickly though, I’m definitely not opposing a long list concept because the Booker has one (Duncan’s point about great award’s stealing resonates well with me). The Booker has come into this conversation more because of a different suggestion that, voiced on earlier blog posts here and also mentioned to me in past years, that the Clarke adopt more Booker style rules for limiting submissions and also even radically move it’s dates. Those aren’t really ideas I want for the Clarke at the moment. Another, future, director might overrule me of course.

    On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have brought in the idea of finding it amusingly ironic that Clarke criticism had morphed from early years ‘too much like the Booker’ to today’s ‘be more like the Booker’ it just muddied things.

    From now on I’m talking about what’s best for the Clarke. I’m not really interested in how other awards do things unless I think we can steal well as it were. The Clarke is certainly a strong enough award it doesn’t need to fear being seen as too much like such and such a prize if we choose to change anything for our own reasons

  17. OK, last comment unless other people are still posting, and apologies but I did say I’d have to break up posts rather than write one larger one on lots of points. Anyway…

    I’m going to pick up on more of thinking for and against in my own next blog post, but I did want to address the points about Clarke scheduling.

    Every year I fix our dates based on the needs of that particular year, for instance coordinating meeting dates for judges (can’t announce a shortlist until we have one after all) and syncing with the copy deadlines and publication schedules for SFX and similar. I plan against the particular needs of the year, so the concept of a fixed schedule is not something I have overly sought after, however I was a bit surprised by the idea that the award schedule needed more regularlity, so I’ve gone back and looked at the last ten years.

    With the exception of this current year when I have moved our ceremony to August – a move planned for a couple of years and well publicised as being linked to our 30th anniversary – every year of the winner presentation has been very regular and timed to the opening night of the Sci-Fi-London film festival just prior to the first May bank holiday week.

    I’ll freely admit I’ve moved the release date of our submissions list back and forward and there’s a number of reasons for this. One is simply because the submissions list is still relatively new and I’m testing whether a reveal closer to the shortlist or more separate is better for us. For those wonder why we can’t just press publish on 1st Jan as soon as submissions close, that’s simply because there is usually a period of admin after that date, checking subs, chasing missing post, basically doing the diligence, and that’s different for different years. The release of the submissions data is basically done when we are ready to start cycling up the promotional phase of the award, which is very time consuming for me. There have been years when I’ve opted to release this information later rather than sooner simply because i have other, non-public Clarke duties I need to focus on behind the scenes. The stuff that makes sure there is an award basically!

    Really though I suspect we’re talking about the shortlist release date, so I checked those specifically going back to 2007. That year we revealed the shortlist in January as that was how it had been done in the past, and we actually revealed it the same day it was decided, which was also how it used to be done (same with the winner back in the day as well). This by the way was a terrible idea. We missed good press opportunities by not having shortlist under a press embargo first and also January simply seemed way to early when you were revealing your winner in May. Others may argue this meant more time for people to read all the books, but I definitely didn’t see this having a positive effect on broader awareness or conversation around the award (and bear in mind I’m likely checking in more places than even a more than average fan).

    Since then the award shortlist has been announced within a regular four week window in either March or April, the earliest being March 4th 2011 and the latest being April 8th 2015.

    Given the simple logistics of arranging for six jury members to coordinate diaries, combined with all the other genre events in and around that time, and the aforementioned need to sync at least a little with our media partners and so on, I’m going to say I think this is actually pretty regular given all of the different needs O have to balance.

    I have already said I’m very willing now I’m more aware of these concerns to look at scheduling in more detail for future years, but based on this first pass I’m not quite seeing what the cause for concern is.

  18. based on this first pass I’m not quite seeing what the cause for concern is.

    I’d say my personal frustration comes from three factors:

    1) I think you’re underestimating how much difference four weeks makes, and I think that’s because you’re coming at it from the wrong direction. The ceremony date, as you say, has been relatively fixed, so while an early March shortlist gives me 8 weeks to read the shortlist, an early April date only gives me 4 weeks. End result: I haven’t read most of last year’s shortlist.

    2) The Eastercon factor. Four weeks may not be that long in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to put you before Eastercon or after it, and on the British SF calendar, that’s a big difference. I don’t want to speak for all of British fandom, but certainly to me Eastercon marks “the end of the previous year” in some ways — the panels that happen tend to reflect the discussions of the previous 12 months, and it’s after Easter that I really start focusing on new books — so a shortlist that comes out after Easter feels a bit belated.

    3) The transparency/predictability factor. The Booker (that again, sorry!) has announced its dates already. Longlist 27th July; shortlist 13 September; winner 25 October. Nice generous six-week gaps each time. Believe me, I fully appreciate that real life has an impact on these jobs we do in our spare time, and so pinning down specific dates makes you a hostage to fortune, but there isn’t even a general calendar on the Clarke website, as far as I can see. “We announce submissions in February, the shortlist in March, and the winner in May” would really give me a more concrete sense of the award’s life cycle. And to the extent that you have to work around judges’ lives as well, I would think that stating a schedule up front would a) help them decide whether to do it and b) plan other commitments around it.

    NH

    21 May 2016 at 10:57

  19. “The transparency/predictability factor. The Booker (that again, sorry!) has announced its dates already. Longlist 27th July; shortlist 13 September; winner 25 October. Nice generous six-week gaps each time. Believe me, I fully appreciate that real life has an impact on these jobs we do in our spare time, and so pinning down specific dates makes you a hostage to fortune, but there isn’t even a general calendar on the Clarke website, as far as I can see. “We announce submissions in February, the shortlist in March, and the winner in May” would really give me a more concrete sense of the award’s life cycle. And to the extent that you have to work around judges’ lives as well, I would think that stating a schedule up front would a) help them decide whether to do it and b) plan other commitments around it.”

    Amen! Having a fixed schedule, announced in advance and publicised via the Clarke Award website, would give the proceedings that edge of professionalism the award merits, rather than the somewhat ad hoc situation that prevails at the moment. Why not formally announce the names of the judges (as indeed the Booker does) at the same time? If even the Hugos can manage a regular schedule, I’m sure the Clarke can, too.

    Nina Allan

    21 May 2016 at 16:24

  20. So, as mentioned in my recent Medium blog on all the many, many things we’re currently looking at for the future of the Clarke Award on the subject of the calendar scheduling a “certain degree of flexibility of dates is important to the needs of the award right now, but if there are opportunities to lock down our calendar more firmly, I’m certainly open to exploring them.”

    Expanding on that, the good news is I think we can definitely pick up on the suggestions here for publicising our schedule earlier and indeed that’s one of the main reasons I’ve launched our newsletter this year – it gives me the chance to release key information without being overly press releasey basically.

    If you’re not on it, you can sign up to that newsletter at clarkeaward.com by the way

    Announcing dates more in advance (and judging info perhaps) is something I think we can do, but locking into a particular week for the announcement is trickier. What I can tell you though is that the year’s where we’ve announced out shortlist closer to the actual award winner announcement have been for particular reasons, but I wouldn’t want to make that our business as usual. Nice six weeks or more gaps sound good to me too on the whole.

    I hear and understand the points you’ve all be making above though.

    Side note: I’ve always been very happy to work with bloggers (and especially Strange Horizons editors) who are especially keen to look in depth into the award shortlists, and to share the shortlist for advance reading under press embargo e.g more time reading, but don’t tell anyone.

    Yes, there’s a thing where we know what the shortlist is before its public these days. I still remember the first time I introduced this and got amazed emails asking how we could reveal the shortlist and have it in SFX the same day. Spoiler: we told them a little earlier than we told everyone else.

    Eastercon’s an interesting one as obviously Easter dances all over the calendar as well so syncing up timings is always a challenge.

    More importantly, for me Eastercon is a space for the BSFA Awards (and there’s also the small matter of the Hugo’s shortlists being announced there in recent past years as well) and as someone who was Team BSFA before they were Team Clarke Award, I kind of think a fan award at a fan event should take priority.

    That isn’t to say I’m not up for things at Eastercon if the programming team are. I wouldn’t want to take credit for the 30th anniversary of the Clarke panel that just happened at this last Eastercon for instance as I’ve no idea if that happened because we flagged the significant year to the programming team or if they arrived at it separately, but it sounds like it was a fun panel.

    2017 is a late Easter too, and we’ve started a few preliminary chats about something for that year as well.

    What I’d personally love to see is a panel that looks back at the last year as Niall suggests Eastercon does, and uses our submissions data as part of a broader what was the last year like overview. This seems like a great way for the Clarke to be a part of the Con without getting in the way of the fan-voted awards.

  21. The number of people who care about the winning title of any given award is small. The number who care about the winner and care about and engage with the whole shortlist is smaller. Logic suggests that the number of people likely to care about the winner, and the shortlist and who might engage meaningfully with all the titles on a putative longlist would be very small indeed. A few people would clock that their favourite title of the year is on one or other list, or else bemoan that their favourite title was on the long but not the short, or on neither. A few, a very few would digest the whole longlist. Recall the place where Martin P. began this discussion, several posts ago: he noted that the days have departed when there would be round-up reviews of the entire shortlist that assessed individual titles and parlayed that into more general statements about the state of genre — well, if that’s not really happening with respect to shortlists now, does anybody believe it would happen with longlists?

    The way I see it, the most valuable thing a prize can do is fertilize the wider genre conversation. To think that the Clarke judges (for instance) are declaring ex cathedra “these six novels are the best SF novels published in 2015” is to think a daftness. I’d hazard not even the judges themselves would claim so. A list like this is a collation of individual preference, filtered via the application of eligibility rules, compromise, horse trading and so on. I’d say that a better way for a panel of judges to think is not ‘we are assembling the definitive list of the best novels of the year’, but rather ‘these are the novels we think should be at the heart of the conversation in genre, going forward.’

    That’s one reason why I think Niall H.’s proposed shortlist, from the other thread was such a good idea. That list would have foregrounded the variety as well as the strength of the SF being written by women, and that strikes me as where the conversation ought to be right now. But I don’t say so to twit the judges. As I suggest in my own post on the award, 2016 seems to me a shortlist that does advance its own coherent aesthetic. The list’s one wrongstep is the Pears, which (who knows the minds of the judges, of course, but) has the look of a sop to those critics who insist SF should literary and experimental and so on. Otherwise this is a list that says: genre at the moment is about ‘core’ SF values, stories where the racism, sexism and homophobia of the Golden Age have been purged away, other appealing aspects of Golden Age SF being left in place. I can’t pretend that’s not a thing in genre, right now. As I say in my post, the success of Star Wars Force Awakens seems to me predicated upon precisely that (to say nothing of the pressure being applied from the other side, by the Puppies).

    The problem with longlists is that they would dilute this sense that the judges’ can make a more-or-less coherent contribution to the genre conversation.

    Adam Roberts

    23 May 2016 at 13:29

  22. Interesting points, thanks Adam. Much of what you’ve said is what I’m getting at when I talk about ‘list fatigue’ e.g. the potential dilution / drop off of interest with too many list-based announcements from any on award.

    With submissions list we already have three, and I personally feel the submissions list is perhaps more interesting to award watchers than the halfway house of a long list.

    One thing I need to explore more on the question of a longlist is how long should it be? A suggestion of 12 books seems way too little and fixed, especially given the way we currently shorten and discuss our way down to our shortlist, but there are issues to with a non-fixed or too broad shortlist.

    For those who have suggested a long list is a very simple thing to create by the way, I’d just like to say that it definitely isn’t. Our rough cut long list as it were, what we call a discussion list, is a real moving feat and work in progress until the final shortlist meeting. If each of our five judges produces a personal long list of 12 books, then the potential size of a long list is rather huge isn’t it.

    I suspect that everyone here on this blog would be appalled if we actually just published a long list without real discussion being behind it. Right now a lot of the calls for a long list seem to stem from wanting to know more about how the shortlist is formed. I get that, but I also don’t think that a long list will actually service that need. In reality I suspect something more like Adam described with a focus on what’s missing from the long list and why the heck didn’t the judges include so and so book.

    I also have an SF community concern that we are actually a close knit (if argumentative group) and there’s a real potential for negative impact on authors I’d be keen to avoid – namely not everyone might get shortlisted and you can perhaps imagine / hope you were book seven out of six, but not being long listed is going to sting, especially with a longer long list. It’s entirely personal, but that doesn’t feel like a very positive thing to be putting out there, and longer term as I’ve suggested before I suspect this would also have an impact on submissions from more outlier publishers of precisely the kind many people on this blog would appreciate the most.

    Right now I can use the fact of our publishing the submissions list as a direct incentive to encourage submissions, basically: “we’re calling about Book X because we’re seeing it gets lots of chatter in SF circles, so we might not be an award you automatically thought of but theme of X in the book makes it sound like something we should have a look at, can we have it? Oh, and we publish a complete list of submissions so you’d get that coverage at least and be part of the ‘what might get shortlisted’ buzz and it would be a shame if instead people were asking why X wasn’t submitted…”

    Eventually though if editors aren’t even getting a taste of a long list I suspect they’ll question the fee and choose not to play (and by suspect, I mean I’ve already had conversations in precisely that direction).

    Adam, as an author and past Clarke shortlistee what did you think about the proposed idea of increasing the shortlist to 8 books from 6?

  23. “I also have an SF community concern that we are actually a close knit (if argumentative group) and there’s a real potential for negative impact on authors I’d be keen to avoid – namely not everyone might get shortlisted and you can perhaps imagine / hope you were book seven out of six, but not being long listed is going to sting, especially with a longer long list. It’s entirely personal, but that doesn’t feel like a very positive thing to be putting out there, and longer term as I’ve suggested before I suspect this would also have an impact on submissions from more outlier publishers of precisely the kind many people on this blog would appreciate the most.”

    Have we lived and fought in vain??? I’m sorry, Tom, but this is the most wrong-headed and potentially damaging statement I’ve seen arise from this debate so far. The idea that the jury of a literary award should even think of taking account of authors’ feelings? Where do I start? The idea that books not being longlisted (or shortlisted) would have any kind of significant impact on future submissions is simply, if I may say so, wrong.

    Nina Allan

    24 May 2016 at 13:44

  24. Adam: Recall the place where Martin P. began this discussion, several posts ago: he noted that the days have departed when there would be round-up reviews of the entire shortlist

    I also said I thought that it was cyclical and that a longlist might be a way of increasing engagement with the award. I agree that the number of people interested in the longlist is likely to be small but are we really going to play that game in the context of science fiction publishing? Everything is a niche.

    The problem with longlists is that they would dilute this sense that the judges’ can make a more-or-less coherent contribution to the genre conversation.

    Your argument, as I follow it, is:

    1) The current approach of a shortlist which aims to capture the six “best” novels is daft.
    2) Instead the shortlist should be a coherent contribution to the genre conversation (such as the list Niall proposes).
    3) However, sometimes the current approach does, accidentally, yield a coherent contribution (such as this year).
    4) Therefore we shouldn’t introduce a longlist in case it dilutes the coherent contribution that does occasionally takes place.

    This seems a bit odd. I don’t see how you can both describe the current situation as “collation of individual preference, filtered via the application of eligibility rules, compromise, horse trading and so on” (which I don’t disagree with) but also fear that this would be watered down.

    Tom: One thing I need to explore more on the question of a longlist is how long should it be? A suggestion of 12 books seems way too little and fixed

    I think you might be in a minority here. Hands up anyone who wants a shortlist of more than 12 books with the actual number at the judges’ discretion. Anyone? (I could be persuade that 10 was a sensible number.)

    If each of our five judges produces a personal long list of 12 books, then the potential size of a long list is rather huge isn’t it.

    It would indeed be huge: 60 books. Luckily, that isn’t going to happen and, if it did, the longlist would be the least of your problems. More likely there are probably about 30 plausible candidates (say a quarter of submissions). I don’t doubt that whittling these down to 12 would be hard but it is even harder to whittle them down to 6. Yes, you’d need to move beyond the rough cut list to something more formal but I don’t see why that is a significant barrier.

    I suspect that everyone here on this blog would be appalled if we actually just published a long list without real discussion being behind it.

    I honestly don’t know what this means. What discussion? A longlist is the same as a shortlist: just a list. I also don’t understand what this means: “Right now a lot of the calls for a long list seem to stem from wanting to know more about how the shortlist is formed.”

    I won’t go through the rest of the comment but, as Nina says, it is deeply alarming.

    Martin

    24 May 2016 at 15:34

  25. Nina, I never said anything at all about this being a concern for a Clarke jury. I said it was my personal concern, which is a very different thing. I’m nothing to do with the judging process remember. I actually made that comment in part reference to Adam’s Clarke blog piece that he linked to above.

    I do spend a lot of time thinking about our place in the broader community, and one of my ambitions stated way back in my Guardian piece is to look further at how we can help authors create and promote their work regardless outside of our immediate PR cycles regardless of them being nominated or not.

    Call this a Serendip Foundation ambition if it helps, not a Clarke Award one.

    With regard to your opinion on potential long list affects on future submissions, would you grant that maybe I do know what I’m talking about here insofar as I’m the one with all the qualitative and quantitative data regarding submissions call out for the past five years?

    You may see the final submissions list, but you don’t know the conversation behind every submission (or why books don’t get put forward).

    My concern is not that it will have a significant impact on total submissions, only that it could impact the kind of Edge of SF submissions I believe you and others on this blog thread particularly would like to see more of, not less.

  26. Hi Martin

    Let me try and answer those questions about my two statements that confused you:

    “I suspect that everyone here on this blog would be appalled if we actually just published a long list without real discussion being behind it.”

    It’s been suggested several times on your blog threads here and also elsewhere that the judges should have no problem releasing a long list as they already have a form of this in their discussion lists e.g. why not just publish that and voila, long list.

    I don’t agree with that simplistic ‘how hard can it be?’ viewpoint.

    A discussion list is a very different beast from a formal long list and much more fluid as books can come back in and out and so on, or even be included when no judge is advocating for them – the ‘we should look at it again even though it’s not a book we seem to individually support’ scenario as it were.

    In other words, for it to have any value a long list has to be debated as actively as a shortlist, we can’t just nail a work in progress to the internet then get on with deciding which books we want shortlisted.

    Your guesstimate of approx 30 books as an active discussion list from our judges is a pretty accurate description of at least one of our recent years.

    That’s our internal longlist. I am not sure if we should publish that many books, but actually it could be argued that a very-long long list is potentially of more interest / value to the broader SF community than one that’s only 12 or 13 books long?

    Anyway, anything that isn’t us releasing that simple very-long long list is going to take active work and discussion, so more time and commitment both in deciding this new list and also in releasing and promoting it. These are heavy commitments for us to take on.

    I’ve tried to stress that I am open to both views, and indeed I was once #TeamLonglist when we first started talking about this option internally a long while back here at Clarke HQ, but it is a big commitment for us to take on and while the enthusiasm here is powerful, it is much less so elsewhere.

    Personally, I’d be happy to see if we could take on the work if I could be convinced of the broader return.

    Right now though, I hear a few voices very keen for this move but the arguments for me do ring more of ‘I want a Clarke long list because it benefits me’ not ‘I’ve thought very hard about what the benefits of such a move might be for the Clarke.’ As Adam’s comment suggests, there are other points of view about the potential benefits.

    This leads me to the second of my comments:

    “Right now a lot of the calls for a long list seem to stem from wanting to know more about how the shortlist is formed.”

    Maybe I’m reading the comments wrong, but the strong sense I get from a lot of this conversation is that you collectively feel that a long list of some form is of interest from a critical perspective at least partially to shed light on how judges arrive at their final shortlist selection.

    In other words those six selections would make more sense if viewed through a wider initial selection of books s you can see how things narrowed down. Am I getting that wrong?

    Thanks everyone who’s still reading

  27. Martin: I don’t really recognize your four-point summary of my argument as expressing what I said. But, you know: whatevs.

    Put it this way: the underlying issue is that this award has gone from selecting the best 6 from ~40 to selecting the best 6 from ~140. In that latter case, as Niall H’s alternate shortlist (a better shortlist, I think, but I’m not a Clarke judge) shows, is that any given list-of-six is bound to be only one of several possibles. Three, maybe four shortlisted lists of six titles could be viable. (I agree with you that three quarters of submissions can be discarded; but that leaves a lot of possibles).

    What this means, I think, is that it becomes less tenable to think in terms of ‘best of year’, and might make more sense for the judges to say to themselves: of the thirty of so possibles, what kind of SF are we saying ought to be at the heart of online etc discussion over the summer?

    I take the point that winnowing down from 140 titles to 6 is liable, via compromise and horse-trading, to tell strongly against the unusual, the envelope-pushing, the weird and outlying and so on. That seems to me a great shame; but then again I don’t believe my personal tastes (which lie that way) are broadly shared in SF fandom. And whether it was by accident or design, the shortlist this year does end up saying something about the value of middlebrow meat-n-potatoes SF to the state of genre as it currently exists. Last year’s shortlist was made up of titles that were all post-apoc or social-crisis SF, and (accident or design) represented a sense that dystopia was very In, 2015. For myself ‘accident or design’ is more or less a red herring, provided the list is one that gets people talking, and reading.

    To answer Tom’s question (since he aksed me): back in the days when I used to review the whole shortlist, six was a lot of texts to wrangle into a single piece. Strange Horizons, when I did it for them, used to break it into two separate, and quite long, essays. Eight titles (say) would be even harder to construe into a coherent thinkpiece, I would say. Twelve starts to become simply unwieldy. If the aim is to promote discussion, fertilize the conversation and so on, then really the shortlist should include fewer, not more, titles — ideal world, fans of SF would download the whole list to their kindles and read the lot. Six titles is, what £70-80 or more? That’s a lot to ask people to pay. Maybe, and at the risk of talking myself round to a position entirely contrary to the one I started with, a two-stage process: a twelve-title preliminary list, and then a four title actual shortlist? But this would have the wrinkle that only die-hards and people with a dog in the fight would worry at the longlist; and Tom or his successor would concentrate their promotional efforts on the final four.

    Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes.

    Adam Roberts

    24 May 2016 at 20:13

  28. Actually (as a PS) I think a lot of these issues would become less problematic if the very many different awards with which SF is supplied — and there are a lot — actually did different things. If every single award in genre is just going to go to Anne Leckie, then … well, by my own logic, I suppose that at least aids the process of discussion and debate. If you think of yourself as interested in the state of contemporary SF then clearly you need to read Leckie: that’s a message that comes out very clearly.

    But monocrops are not environmentally healthy. If there are, say, six plausible six-book shortlists for ‘Best SF Novel of Year X’ depending on whether you’re looking for this or that, then it might be nice if different awards actually reflected that diversity. So, to return to the question of the Clarke. Clearly, there’s a divided perspective on what the Clarke means. For some, it ought to be the prize that rewards literariness, fine writing, experiment and so on; since none of the other SF prizes (perhaps excepting the Kitschies) do that. For others, it should reward the kind of writing Clarke himself produced, which, for all its merits, was not especially literary or experimental. Not hard to work out which is the version of the Clarke, of these two, that I’d like to see.

    Adam Roberts

    24 May 2016 at 20:21

  29. Hi Adam, thanks for coming back to answer my question (and others).

    The idea of shortening the shortlist is not one I had really incorporated into my thinking much until now, but ponder I shall.

    My default setting is that six books is great for a shortlist because that’s what we already do, and likewise no to the idea of a long list because that’s what we already don’t do.

    If that sounds all very much if it aint broke, don’t fix it and so on, that’s one way of thinking about it.

    Another is that to date the conversation about Clarke updates has focused rather on the idea of more lists and a big no vote here at least to increasing the size of the shortlist (spoilers, there are other non-bloggers I’m in touch with very keen on that idea btw).

    My main thought is that I’m not sure any of these upgrades are the ones I think are key to the future of the award.

    I listed 14 areas we’re looking at in my big blog brain download over on Medium and I cut that list down from more than 20 just to make things manageable. Most of those are related to what else the Clarke’s organising body could do outside of awards seasons and so forth rather than list refinement.

    One thing you might have been able to infer from that is that there’s a big part of me that would like to make the Clarke’s mission (ok, Serendip’s) much bigger, not it’s list of lists.

    When I’m thinking about the future of the Clarke Award, I should perhaps make it clear I am also thinking about the future of its organising body, and the two are not necessarily the same.

  30. P.S. The entire 6 book Clarke shortlist for this year is currently £19.33 on Kindle download at least.

    I’m not arguing this is necessarily a great thing, but I can confirm we are definitely shifting lots of books to new readers.

    Part of the idea of a longer shortlist comes from this kind of data. Shortlist buzz working for two more books than we presently have has serious profile benefits for authors. I’m not sure a long list, however long it actually is, would convey that same benefit.

    One to sleep on…

  31. Tom – I don’t think anyone here has ever believed, even momentarily, that the Clarke Award’s director has anything to do with or say in the judging process. That’s not what concerned me. What concerned me was to see the Award’s director apparently subscribing to the view that a longlist might be problematic because it might hurt authors’ feelings. There are many valid arguments both for and against adding a longlist stage to the Award’s calendar, but that is not one of them. A literary award – any literary award – is not about the promotion of six, or even twelve, individual titles. It is about books in general, literature as an abstract concept, the continuing value of the written word in our society, the potency, importance and value of the ideas expressed therein. If individual writers benefit, either financially or in terms of their overall visibility, then that is fantastic, but it is a side issue. Engaged critiquing of the shortlist (or a longlist) is a positive thing, regardless of whether the criticism itself happens to be positive or negative. A literary culture that sees rigorous discussion of whatever stripe as a negative, or as some kind of threat to authors, is not just unwell, it is in danger of its life, and this also is of concern to me.

    I would never wish to suggest that you don’t know what you’re doing in terms of soliciting submissions etc, of course not. As has been stated more than once on this thread and others, everyone in British fandom knows how hard you have worked in promoting and enlarging the influence of the award. But I would insist, absolutely, that any outlier publishers seeing a vigorous and engaged intellectual climate around the Clarke Award would be more likely to submit eligible titles, not less.

    Nina Allan

    25 May 2016 at 06:28

  32. Tom: In other words, for it to have any value a long list has to be debated as actively as a shortlist, we can’t just nail a work in progress to the internet then get on with deciding which books we want shortlisted.

    Ah right, I understand now. I’m a bit puzzled why this needed stating though. Yes, obviously the longlist would have to be actively debated by the judges. All I’ve said is that I don’t think it is an insurmountable obstacle for the judges to whittle perhaps 30 books to perhaps 12, particularly when it has to be whittled to 6 anyway. I know we differ on how difficult this might actually be but from my perspective as an ex-judge, reading all the bloody books is the hard part and arguing their merits with the other judges is your reward. Likewise I know the chair of the judges was concerned about the logistics of getting the judges together for another meeting but again, this doesn’t seem insurmountable in the digital age.

    (I also completely disagree that “a very-long long list is potentially of more interest / value to the broader SF community”. This is getting into the prizes for all approach suggested by the your comment that Nina picked up on.)

    The strong sense I get from a lot of this conversation is that you collectively feel that a long list of some form is of interest from a critical perspective at least partially to shed light on how judges arrive at their final shortlist selection. In other words those six selections would make more sense if viewed through a wider initial selection of books s you can see how things narrowed down.

    That’s not where I’m coming from and I’m surprised you’ve picked that up here. I think having a longlist would change and expand the conversation around the shortlist but I’m interested in the books, not the process. I guess from your side it seems like the award is under attack whereas from my side it seems like the award has a bit of a persecution context. I’m not seeking some proof I can use against a jury in court.

    Adam: I don’t really recognize your four-point summary of my argument as expressing what I said. But, you know: whatevs.

    Sorry, I didn’t want to misrepresent you. But I’m afraid I’m still not entirely sure I follow you.

    I’ll accept your premise that is harder for judges to agree the best six novels as the submissions list grows. However, at least they have a common definition to work with. Ask five people what kind of SF ought to be at the heart of discussion and you will get five answers; pick one of those answers as your definition and you will still get different proposals for the shortlist. The current issues are just inherent to having a jury (as are the current strengths).

    The next bit is where I lose the thread: “For myself ‘accident or design’ is more or less a red herring, provided the list is one that gets people talking, and reading.” I’d have thought a longlist increased the chances of getting people talk but you seemed to be saying it reduced it. In fact, I’d have thought a longlist would have to be closer to that ‘list of SF that ought to be at the heart of discussion’ you were after. But I will accept that you are large.

    Martin

    25 May 2016 at 10:04

  33. Some more scattered thoughts from me. Sorry, I’m going to get numbered again.

    0) I can’t help feeling that there’s a lot of conflating different issues and different audiences going on. I don’t think there is such a thing as “best for the Clarke”; I think the Clarke has several different constituencies (which can be sliced in a variety of overlapping ways: literary sf fans, general sf fans, British sf fans, mainstream readers, etc etc etc) and that different changes to the Clarke will be of different value and interest to different constituencies.

    1) Tom describes the current model as “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, which on one level is fine; I think we all agree the current process has a lot going for it. This discussion started, though, because Nina asserted that something is broken: a lack of critical discourse. To a certain extent I think that’s not up to the award. If we want shortlist reviews, we can all go out and write them (and indeed I disagree with Adam’s characterisation of the shortlist, based on what I’ve read so far — I think the Chambers is the only book that really fits the frame he proposes — but let’s not derail this process debate with discussion of actual books…). However, to a certain extent it clearly is up to the award. The Clarke could do more things to encourage the kind of response most of us here are interested in.

    1a) The Clarke could also do more things to encourage other kinds of response. I am absolutely willing to believe there are non-bloggers “very keen on the idea” of increasing the size of the shortlist. I would not be at all surprised to learn that they are editors and publishers, because I think an 8-book shortlist suits the needs of that audience much better than it suits my needs: more books in the spotlight, and (precisely because of that) less rigorous examination of each one.

    1b) I had a niggling feeling that there is an example of an award that’s increased the size of its shortlist, and then last night I suddenly remembered: the Oscar for Best Picture. I’m not sure it’s a conclusive evidence for either side of our debate, though. On the one hand, sure, there are more films that can say they were a Best Picture nominee, and they all get coverage. On the other hand, I do have the impression that a lot of people find the expanded list a bit odd, particularly since a) it varies in number from year to year and b) it’s only for that one category.

    1c) I wish I could believe Nina’s suggestion that publishers seeing a vigorous and engaged critical debate around the Clarke would be more likely to submit. I think some publishers would, absolutely. I think for others it’s irrelevant, and possibly even a small deterrent. I think the value of critical debate is for its own sake, mostly.

    2) I think Adam’s point about different awards being different things is important. These audiences I’m talking about, these choices the Clarke could make — they will shape the kind of award it will be, not in an absolutist, prescriptive way, but in general terms. And there are almost certainly tradeoffs. I don’t think the Clarke can be all things to all audiences. If I’m no longer part of the core audience for the Clarke that will be frustrating and sad for me, but these things happen.

    3) What are the things the Clarke could do that I think would encourage more of the discussion I’m interested in? I actually think the big one for me is transparency and regularity for the award calendar.

    3a) Tom: “What I’d personally love to see is a panel that looks back at the last year as Niall suggests Eastercon does, and uses our submissions data as part of a broader what was the last year like overview. This seems like a great way for the Clarke to be a part of the Con without getting in the way of the fan-voted awards.” — As long as you understand this is not what the people who attend the convention want, sure. It would be a distant second best, Clarke panel methadone. Speaking as someone who’s worked on several Eastercon programmes, when people don’t see the Clarke shortlist panel on the schedule, they ask for it. It’s not like anything else that appears on the programme. It’s not an item you could do with the BSFA shortlist. It’s not seen as competition, it’s seen as conversation. It is a different award doing a different thing.

    3b) My impression is that the discussion doesn’t feel valuable because it’s limited to Eastercon, it doesn’t have “reach”. If that’s the case, I think the best approach would be to work with Eastercon to do more with the panel: record it, broadcast it, live-tweet it, and so on.

    4) On the longlist, I basically agree with Martin’s most recent comment.

    4a) Work: “Reading all the bloody books is the hard part and arguing their merits with the other judges is your reward.” — yes, that’s how I felt.

    4b) Process: “this doesn’t seem insurmountable in the digital age.” — yes, it would seem perfectly reasonable to me to have longlist discussions via email.

    4c) Purpose: (Tom’s comment) “a long list of some form is of interest from a critical perspective at least partially to shed light on how judges arrive at their final shortlist selection.” — Well, yes and no. In a literal sense, no, this is utter bobbins, as Martin said. In a slightly more general sense, yes, obviously one reason a longlist is of interest is that it is an interim position between a totally unstructured submissions list and a much more focused shortlist. But that interest resides in the books chosen — and to use Adam’s frame, the different aspects of the genre they represent — not in trying to pin the judges to the wall.

    4d) So is a longlist essential to the survival of the award? No. Would it make it more interesting to me? Yes. Is “people like Niall” an important audience? Probably not.

    NH

    25 May 2016 at 10:39

  34. I’m glad my point about being utterly separate from anything judging based is understood.

    I hope you won’t immediately all accuse me of a politician style u-turn, but sharing my own concerns here re authors and longlists wasn’t appropriate, or at least I should have made that a much longer post rather than letting it creep in to a different point and confusing people.

    To try and clear up where I was coming from, I’m not afraid of hurting feelings as such (sorry authors) and I don’t want prizes for all either. I had at the back of my mind more a concern about a scenario whereby we again stop seeing books put forward by authors/publishers who’d prefer to not be considered than to not be longlisted and other variants on that theme. You might consider this a needless worry, and that’s fine. My job is basically worrying about everything that might go wrong and trying to get out ahead of the problem.

    Another thing that became clearer to me from this is that when people say longlist in comments here, they are most often talking about a list of 12 or 13 books size, not how I have usually thought of a longlist which is more like our discussion list of maybe 30 books. I think reading back on my own comments and others that’s a source of some disconnect as we’re not always talking about the same thing exactly.

    I mentioned previously that I started thinking seriously about a long list a few years ago and was then much more #TeamLonglist. Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised to hear I do see potential benefits in opportunities for MORE AWARD PR.

    This is purely theoretical, but one of the many ideas considered was a very long list more in line with our current discussion list but tidied up a bit as it were. The thinking was this would give a very good overview of the larger SF field then focus down into our standard shortlist.

    Part of this came from viewing what happened when we released our submissions list and the flurry of congrats tweets thinking this was a more formal longlist rather than a list of authors lucky enough that their editor put copies of their book in the post before a deadline.

    Our thinking was whether should we embrace that extra congrats opportunity and release a larger long list of potential titles selected by our judges and then perhaps only release the full submissions list at the end of the award cycle e.g. post winner, as a final; recap of the year’ as it were. This wasn’t being considered as a prizes for all either by the way, it would have had to be a fully debated list.

    As I said, purely theoretical, but I thought it important to show we have been thinking around future concepts for some time. Thoughts welcome but not essential, this is just one idea among others after all.

    And now to respond to a few quick points.

    Martin: I felt I needed to explain about a long list being properly juried in response to some comments like this one from Chris Priest: “Surely, as they approach the need to compile a shortlist, the judges will have a rough-and-ready list, if only in mind, of the titles that have most interested them to that point? From such preliminary notes, it should not take either a genius or a workaholic to produce a list of the twelve titles mentioned most often.”

    Maybe it was just me, but I’ve continually picked up on the idea of ‘how hard can it be when they already have a rough list’ type thoughts. The answer is exactly as hard as the shortlist, if not harder. In mine and Andrew’s experience of shortlists it’s often the case that the longest debates are over the judges 6th and 7th choices of book e.g. which one makes the cut and which just misses even though all the judges know that book doesn’t have their vote as winner. My point in stressing this isn’t to say we can’t automatically do it because it’s too much work, but simply to shoot down the notion that it’s super simple. This is one reason I wouldn’t want to formulate an official longlist by email alone as I can see the debate being pretty intense.

    Niall: I’ve already made a commitment several times to look at timings where I can, and even if I need flexibility in dates I will definitely look to make those dates clearer earlier and have created mechanisms such as our newsletter to deliver that.

    Niall again: I also take your point about what Eastercon programmers might want. I wasn’t trying to drive the submissions list idea overly, more responding to your point about looking back at the year just gone, which books-wise at least is basically our submissions list minus a book or two.

    Nina: Re your comment “I would insist, absolutely, that any outlier publishers seeing a vigorous and engaged intellectual climate around the Clarke Award would be more likely to submit eligible titles, not less.” I have that hope to, I merely frame my thoughts through actual conversations I’ve already had thus have the opposite scenario as a legitimate worry. As noted above it is my job to worry and to plan ahead.

    Adam: Thanks for answering my 6 or 8 books question.

  35. Niall: I wish I could believe Nina’s suggestion that publishers seeing a vigorous and engaged critical debate around the Clarke would be more likely to submit. I think some publishers would, absolutely. I think for others it’s irrelevant, and possibly even a small deterrent.

    Yes, I’m probably more in this camp. I do think it is absurd to suggest that a longlist would actively prevent publishers submitting. Tom suggests that publishers (presumably ones who currently submit) have told him that if there was a longlist and they didn’t make it then they would cease to submit. Am I to understand that there are publishers who are totally happy to miss the shortlist every year but would draw the line at missing the longlist? And isn’t it pretty obvious that such publishers have a much better chance of having their work recognised with a longlist as well as a shortlist? And what publishers aren’t getting their work recognised when this year’s shortlist spans Solaris to Faber? And publishers submit books that are never longlisted or shortlisted, is it the end of the world if they are not submitted? I’ll confess that I don’t have access to all the qualitative and quantitative data but I still feel confident in saying this is total bollocks.

    Tom: I’m glad my point about being utterly separate from anything judging based is understood.

    Your point wasn’t ‘understood’, it was already known! I don’t think you realise how damaging it is for the director of the award to say that he makes decisions about the future of the award based on protecting the feelings of authors. I’m glad you didn’t actually mean that but you really need to keep the award and Serendip entirely separate.

    My point in stressing this isn’t to say we can’t automatically do it because it’s too much work, but simply to shoot down the notion that it’s super simple.

    I just find this bizarre. As you’ve just pointed out again above, you aren’t a judge. Me and Niall, on the other hand, have been judges. So I’m not sure why you feel the need to keep telling us it is harder than we think. Priest’s comment was days ago and on a different blog post.

    Martin

    25 May 2016 at 16:23

  36. This isn’t turning into the most even-tempered comment thread in the history of the internet, is it.

    Martin: I don’t doubt my largeness is in need of a cummerbund of some kind. You may be right that a longlist would increase debate. It would, just on the level of basic maths, include more people, which might lead to more ‘look my favourite book made the longlist!’ type blogging. But where award discussion is concerned, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Plenty such discussion is going to be variants of ‘I think X should win’, which is to say ‘X is the best book on this list’, which (just on the level of basic logic) is not a claim one can sustain without reading the whole list. Who’s going to do that, I wonder, with a list of 12 titles? Maybe people will.I don’t know.

    Niall: are you planning to notate your assessment of this year’s list anywhere? I’d be interested to hear what you think of it (of course), and, of course, you may be right that I mischaracterise it. The Chambers, we agree, is pretty old school SF space opera, howsoever charming and Firefly-y. You don’t think the Tchaikovsky is also core SF? The Smythe is more dystopia than Golden Age, perhaps: although generation starships are a pretty old-school idea (I know, I know, spoilers prevent more detailed discussion). Then there’s the Okorafor, which clearly draws deeply on its African elements and heritage. But at its heart it’s quite an old fashioned story: the special individual overcoming future-statist evil, with a range of from-central-casting Golden Age props and settings: giant inhabited towers; clones; superheroes, right down to ‘3D television’. Plus a rather too casual (for my taste) end of the world. Setting the Pears aside, this leaves the Hutchinson — the best book on this year’s list, I think, and clearly not like these others: except that one of the guiding lights of the Europe books, stylistically and formally, is Len Deighton (no bad thing), old-school in a different way. And this second vol is less spy-story than Autumn, and more The World Is A Giant University and alternate versions of reality, both thoroughly 1950s/60s SF notions.

    I should maybe add: I don’t say this to belittle the list. It’s not the strongest shortlist in Clarke history, I’d say, but it could be argued that one thing in its favour is that it weathervanes the generic climate at the moment, epitomised by just how well Force Awakens has done. At the risk of repeating myself: on the level of plot and genre novums Force Awakens is extremely old-fashioned SF, essentially a remake of a 1977 movie that itself set out to resurrect the 1950s space adventure films serials. What differentiates Force Awakens from the 1977 original is its more up-to-date identity politics: a female lead, a black main actor, the hints at gay romance and so on. Doesn’t that capture something of where SF is, now, that combo? As do many of these books.

    Speaking just for myself, I’m interested in other things than this in genre at the moment. But, in line with your ‘is “people like Niall” an important audience?’ comment, I don’t assume that SF has to bend to my peculiar tastes, or that Fandom as a whole is wrong for not sharing them.

    Adam Roberts

    26 May 2016 at 14:23

  37. As another past judge, I tend to disagree with Niall and Martin on whether Longlists are easy. But that does kinda depend on whether the longlist is 12 or 30. If it’s 30, then it probably covers every judge’s top 10-12, but if it needs to be six they shortlist plus six more they would like to, it almost feels like one could only do that by choosing the shortlist first, and then the second rank. Or if it’s like the winner process, where the longlist is there for a re-read to choose the shortlist, I can see a lot of pain in cutting down a discussion list to 12 and wouldn’t really be keen to do that by email.

    I also think that a longlist would therefore push out the judging timeline, as you would really need to be finished with all 100-150 books before choosing the longlist, same as you need to be for a shortlist.

    Duncan Lawie

    26 May 2016 at 21:00

  38. Thanks, Duncan, that’s a really helpful insight. I’d been hoping that a more recent judge would weigh in as I was conscious that both me and Niall were from the pre-explosion era. It sounds like instituting a longlist in the current system would require quite a bit more work from judges. This means a really strong case would need to be made for the longlist and I’m not sure it has. It was lots of upsides but I’m happy to stick in the ‘if it ain’t broke’ camp (and that goes double for expanding the shortlist).

    However, as I said before, I do think the system could be looked at to try and reduce some of the pressure on judges caused by the volume and phasing of the workload. That might then offer a framework for looking again at the idea of a shortlist in a couple of years.

    Martin

    27 May 2016 at 08:57

  39. It sounds to me like there’s a lot of love for the longlist, and that the counterarguments to the longlist are really around the time and energy it takes to put it together (and perhaps the perennial potential for confusion with the submissions list)?

    Might one option be a compromise longlist that is essentially a submissions list with some procedural curation, without any debating yet. Just for instance, the longlist could be of no fixed length, and could comprise all titles with two or more nominations, with judges able to nominate as many titles as they like, and publishers able to nominate up to a small limit. A longlist, in other words, that is comparatively quick and easy to generate, with only a modicum of evaluative energy invested in it, in accordance with its diluted prestige — but which still has many of the advantages of the longlist mentioned on this thread.

  40. I propose that n = p(k + rk’), where n is the number of books on the shortlist, p is the prestige of the award. So long as k, k’, and r do not change, changes in n cause proportional changes in p. I don’t know what k, k’, and r are.

  41. George “r are” Martin

    Adam Roberts

    27 May 2016 at 15:51

  42. While Adam’s post above is undoubtedly the best way to finish off this thread, I did want to take a moment extra to say thank you to everyone for all the time taken and deep thought required to keep this chat going for so many days.

    I’m sure the conversation isn’t over yet, but for the time being I’ll steal a trick from Niall H and sign off with a list of things I’m now thinking about:

    1. Timings and announcements

    “Try and lock this down more,“ you all said. Part of that is tricky, as I need a certain degree of flexibility in any given year and I don’t think I can just state ‘from now on the Clarke always reveals its shortlist first week of March’ or similar right now.

    On the other hand, I hear the points made and I’ve already started to look at the year ahead now, which is way earlier than I usual would for 2017.

    If I can’t always fix the dates from year to year I will try at least to get announcements about when those important dates are out into the wild much earlier so more people can know what our plans are in advance.

    2. Submissions list

    This still seems popular (and I like it) so we’ll be keeping that, I think, and again I’m going to aim to have that out much earlier next year than we have previously.

    In past years it made a lot of sense for us to put that out at the beginning of what I might term our public cycle and we used it in part to signal the beginning of a new award year. Once we start a public phase its actually a much bigger work load, which is partly why I’ve tended to time this announcement a little later than the beginning of the year. The workload btw is primarily about the difference between working behind the scenes on the award and needing to be public on social media etc. Once we launch the year we are ‘on’ and that’s actually quite a big extra time investment

    Anyway, I’m going to aim for earlier this coming year. If the cost to benefit doesn’t work out I’ll trial something new in 2018, but inspired by the above I’ll aim for an early submissions reveal this next time.

    3. Long shortlist

    Increasing the shortlist size to something like 8 books obviously not popular at all here for a very simple reason: it’s much harder for one person to read all of the books.

    Other people have told me the idea has appeal, and they weren’t all publishers or authors keen to have more chance to see their books / themselves shortlisted btw. Some ex-judges amongst others have signaled this would have been of interest to them if available.

    One reason stated is the ability to build a potentially stronger list when there’s now so much more choice in the submissions pile than there used to be and an eight book list would be able to showcase that range better.

    There is also the past precedent that, actually, back in its early years, the award did indeed have a larger shortlist even when the supply of books submitted would have been much smaller. In this way we’d not so much be doing something new but going back to our roots.

    An 8 book shortlist also has traction with people who are keen for awards to increase the diversity of their lists. In my view this is good in theory, but very dependent on the judges and the actual submissions list in any given year. As we know the current mix of submissions could very easily provide a shortlist of eight white male writers, for instance. Great writers obviously, but not the sort of shortlist that will appeal to those most engaged in the diversity debate.

    So, there are potential advantages to this move but it’s a balance between more people taking about more books but not all of them in one go, versus less people talking in detail about the shortlist as one whole.

    The ‘if it aint broke’ rule of thumb echoes strongly over this conversation too, although if has been suggested the critical shortlist review article as a whole is already fading away maybe the award should ride that change and pivot towards the bigger, more popular option?

    4. A long list

    For now I’m going to just talk about a short long list as it were, something like 12 to 14 books as most people have here, not a larger ‘judges collective highlights’ list of 30.

    The main Pro Long List arguments that resonate right now are actually the ones that first started me off thinking serious about this idea a couple of years ago.

    It’s another announcement and thus exposure/conversation opportunity. It’s a broader view of the current field. It’s more authors with their books bearing the words Clarke Award Listed on the cover (publishers willing) and so on.

    A long list today will definitely be a bigger piece of work for judges working today than it might have been in the past given the submissions pile leap from 40ish books to over 100, but some judges have talked to me about precisely this idea in more recent years. There is enthusiasm as well as workload concern from more recent judges in other words.

    There is however also a concern that a schedule of 4 announcements is a very tight timeline (assuming we revert to our more usual timings and announce the winner beginning of May anyway) and that what Niall best described as an “interim level of prestige” is maybe not so appealing a thing, kind of like finally getting a letter from Hogwarts then having some old hat dump you in Hufflepuff for the rest of the movie (#TeamSlytherin obviously btw).

    This is what I mean when I’ve talked about list fatigue. Will interest actually fall away for the real shortlist if people have already determined there own ideal combination and the real one fails to meet their expectations?

    Those are all PR based arguments though, and the central argument here has been that a long list is a vital missing element from a more detailed and critical analysis of the award, not that it’s important because it’ll mean more authors can put ‘Clarke Award long listed’ on their book blurbs.

    I understand the theory of that, but not the delivery. As people have pointed out here already, no one will read 8 books, so 12 or 13 is even less likely. What then is the actual critical analysis to be done here, and where is it going to happen and who is going to do it?

    I’m new to the conversation about a fear over the dying off of longer critical pieces in the SF community and the lack of what Nina has called A Hub, but I can see the point.

    I must admit I’m not surprised that many bloggers etc including ones here are heading off in new directions and interests and I actually find that rather healthy and all part of a broader cycle. You can’t stay interested in the same things for ever, and much of the negative Clarke criticism I read basically seems to come from a place of the writer not feeling the same buzz they used to back when the award was new to them. The award hasn’t changed, they have.

    Still, it’s a concern that’s been raised here, and there does seem to be a disconnect between an idealized critical coverage of the shortlist and what I might more reasonably expect to see in reality e.g. speculative conversations about what might be shortlisted, people excited about their personal favourites being on the list, Twitter chatter and so on.

    I can’t help think that’s not the level of critical engagement you’re talking about.

    A long list can generate chatter and awareness around the award, but then so can a piece like my recent ‘17 things the Clarke Award judges said when they thought no one was listening’ article. A fun bit of clickbait that you’ll all be utterly depressed to know outperformed all of my other posts to date by a vast margin.

    Finding new ways to generate immediate chatter is not a problem for me, but I think what you’re all talking about when you talk about critical engagement is the kind of longer form piece that you’ll go back and read again years later. Adam’s past shortlist reviews being an excellent personal example of this for me.

    I’m not sure my creating a long list will naturally cause that kind of deep engagement to arise organically without my also doing a lot of outreach work to make sure it does.

    And, if I’m actively reaching out to key people to encourage them to write on the award, then this is something I can do just as well with only the main submissions list e.g. hi friendly blogger, would you be up for writing something on what six books you would shortlist from this pile and why?

    I should be clear this isn’t me being negative about the value of critical engagement, this is me inviting you to convince me. Pitch me on what you would actually see happening with a long list that would make a real step change to the level of deeper conversation around the award. Who will be talking, what will they be talking about, where will they be having that conversation?

    Let’s also talk about what this hub actually might be (maybe not on this thread though). Is it a university based academic project, a website, an event? Is it something that existing organisations might address best, the SFF or BSFA perhaps, or is it better to come from some new source of fannish enthusiasm?

    This has been a fascinating conversation, and thank you again. I haven’t arrived at any firm conclusions yet, and I’m aware I’m behind schedule on posting further to our own blog about all the different issues I raised in my last piece.

    As I think about which of those many topics to write about next though, I’m not sure it’s the long list that most appeals and that actually there are other ways the Clarke / Serendip might contribute more meaningfully rather than upping its current list manufacturing capabilities.

    To be continued…


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