the difference between self promotion and canvassing

Posted on February 1, 2014


As the annual SF awards nominations season rolls around, there’s yet again been a bit of a stooshie. Writers split into two camps. One side says: “we have to post lists of what stories of ours are eligible for awards this year, otherwise we’ll be overlooked and voters will just go with the same-old same old”, while the other side says: “oh come on, old beans, that’s just not done. If you’re good enough to win, you’re good enough to be remembered.”

As Al Reynolds has pointed out this week, it’s not a straightforward issue. There are good, valid arguments on both sides and–to be honest–I don’t really care what other writers do. For me, though (and I fall into both camps, I regularly vote for books and stories I like and my own work has occasionally been nominated for awards), I think with a little bit of thought, it’s pretty easy to reach a compromise.

See, both readers and writers have obligations here. A writer’s obligation is to promote their work so that people know about it and can buy it. That’s what makes publishers happy and keeps the writer in their good books. Writers should therefore have a blog (or tumblr or equivalent), so why not do an annual summary post: “Here’s what I did this year. I’m proud of it. Coincidentally, if you like my stuff and missed any of it, here’s where you can find it.” It’s an information service to your fans and BY SHEER COINCIDENCE would naturally be published at the start of the new year, just at the same time as readers are thinking about award nominations.

Now, you might say this is being disingenuous. It’s canvassing under another name. But, no it’s not because it does not involve the words “please consider my stories when you’re making your award nominations”. It’s a matter of intent. It’s the explicit notion that you think your own work should be worthy of praise. It’s the difference between informing plainly and simply and, well, begging for praise.

Because awards are not, and should not be considered, part of the regular round of publicity that surrounds a story or book. They’re unlooked for extras. Soon as you start looking for them — no matter whether your motives are self-aggrandising or politically for the good of the genre — then you loose all points that you ever had for class.

By all means, as a reader, canvass for OTHER writers’ stories and novels, but not your own.

Which brings me to: readers have obligations too. For me it’s quite simple. If you read a story and like it, make a note of it so you won’t for get. If you loved a book you read in February, jot it down in Drive doc so you can refer to it the next January when you’re making your nomination lists. Don’t wait til the next year and then try and work out who the discussions are all about so you can read those too. Don’t say to yourself: who normally gets on these shortlists anyway and go and find out what they had published last year. And don’t vote for things you’ve heard about but haven’t read. Doing all of those things just homogenises the ballots even more than they already are.

Do your own reading, vote for what you love. Hey, by all means, if it means a lot to you blog about them, start conversations, canvass for your favourites. But don’t leave it up to the authors to shuffle their feet and point you in their direction.

Sure, there’s more stuff published every year than anyone can read, so just accept you won’t read it all and vote for what you did read.





Posted in: Awards