Lightspeed, Apex Magazines Depart Semiprozine Hugo Category

Lightspeed Magazine, which won the Best Semiprozine Hugo in 2014 and 2015, and Apex Magazine, a three-time nominee, have announced they are no longer eligible in the category.

They announced the change in response to queries from Neil Clarke, who contacted the publishers while updating his Semiprozine Directory.

Clarke reports Nebula Rift (formerly eSciFi), and New Realm (formerly eFantasy) have also been confirmed as professional. He still has a query open about the eligibility of Albedo One,

Jason Sizemore shared his feelings about Apex Magazine’s accomplishment in a blog post titled “Matriculation.”

The other day I received an email from Neil Clarke. He owns Clarkesworld Magazine and he maintains the directory of Semiprozine publications for the edification of Hugo Award voters. With the recent ascendancy of Apex Magazine and my transition to full-time publisher/editor, he wanted to inquire regarding the magazine’s Semiprozine candidacy.

He made the observation that from the outside, it appeared ` was now a pro-zine. As it turned out, Neil was correct.

At first, I was bummed out. We’ve been Hugo Award-nominated three of the last four years in the Best Semiprozine category. We had a strong 2015 and had hopes of receiving a fourth nomination.

Then it occurred to me that matriculating from the ‘semiprozine’ level is itself an achievement and noteworthy. It’s 10+ years of work and tens of thousands of dollars of effort to reach this level. I’m proud that Apex Magazine now exists on the same plane as Clarkesworld, F&SF, and Locus.

Two Four titles have graduated from the category, however, the list of semiprozines continues to grow. Comparing Clarke’s current list with the directory from last April, I found these new additions:

Update 01/12/2016: Clarke wrote in a comment that Nebula Rift and New Realms have been confirmed as professional.

Clarkesworld Announces Ineligibility for Semiprozine Hugo

Clarkesworld, three-time winner of the Best Semiprozine Hugo, will not be eligible in the category this year. Editor/owner Neil Clarke told readers —  

The combined income from Clarkesworld (and its parent, Wyrm Publishing) has just barely crossed the threshold for semiprozine eligibility. We are NOT eligible for nomination this year. This is a very good sign for the future of Clarkesworld and gives me continued hope that someday I’ll be able to make this my full-time career.

Under rules changes that took effect in 2013, a magazine is excluded from the category if  —

(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.

Clarke reminded everyone he remains eligible in the Best Editor (Short Form) Hugo category, where he was a nominee in 2012 and 2013.

Clarke’s self-disclosure helps make a success of the new rule, which contains no means of verifying the status of nominees.

Semiprozine.org, which Clarke launched in 2009, lists formerly eligible magazines and the reason for their change in status:

No longer eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine:

Ansible – according to new rules, this publication is a fanzine

Clarkesworld Magazine – has declared they are  ineligible due to staffing rule

Locus Magazine – disqualified by “professional” staffing rule

Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show – disqualified by “professional” staffing rule

Scoring the Proposed ‘Zine Hugo Amendments

What any fan thinks about the Semiprozine Committee’s and Rich Lynch’s proposals to change the fan publishing Hugo rules will inevitably depend on what he or she thought needed to be fixed in the first place.

So I’ll lead into my comments by listing what I believe, with a brief explanation:

  • Audio and video presentations should be ruled out of the fanzine category.

Text-based publications should not be grouped with unrelated items for the same reason we don’t lump novels and dramatic presentations into a single category.

  • Zines that pay contributors, owners or staff, which otherwise qualify in the fanzine category, should compete in the semiprozine category.

I advocate this as a way of creating an enforceable definition of semiprozine.

  • All rules must define the terms they use – professional, nonprofessional, issue, “equivalent in other media.”

The current rules define none of these terms. People cannot be sure what is eligible in the fanzine category, which deters participation.

  • No standard of performance or measurement ought to part of a rule unless the data needed to evaluate it can be easily obtained by the Hugo Administrator.

There must be practical means of enforcing any rules. Fandom neither wants nor rewards activist Hugo Administrators.

I. The Committee’s Report: Did the Semiprozine Committee report deliver? Let’s see.

The majority report proposes four changes.

(1) New criteria for semiprozine:

Amend the sections 3.3.12 and 3.3.13, by replacing them with:

3.3.12: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least one (1) of the following criteria:
(1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(2) was generally available only for paid purchase,

(Cited sections are in the WSFS Constitution.)

The proposed amendment’s most impressive feature is that it discards the antiquated criteria regarding printed copies and advertising space. I’m satisfied the two remaining criteria are the best litmus tests for semiprozines – payment to participants, copies primarily available to purchasers. And these are performance/measurement-based criteria a Hugo Administrator can evaluate from readily-available information.   

Interestingly, the Committee’s proposal eliminates the right an editor currently has to move a zine into semiprozine category by declaration. As a result, Langford’s Ansible would be welcomed back to the fanzine category.

The amendment’s main shortcoming is its failure to define “issue” and “the equivalent in other media.” One virtue of Rich Lynch’s proposal (discussed below) is that its terms are defined.

(2) Best Fanzine modified: The Committee has made neutral changes to the Best Fanzine rule to conform it to the revised semiprozine criteria:

3.3.13: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met neither of the following criteria: 
(1) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication, 
(2) was generally available only for paid purchase,

The old rule excluded anything that qualified as a semiprozine; the new wording serves the same purpose.

Unfortunately, the Committee has done nothing about the eligibility of podcasts and its report explicitly states StarShip Sofa will continue to qualify as a fanzine under its version of the rules.

(3) A definition for “professional publication”: The Committee proposes to put a working definition of “professional publication” back in to the WSFS Constitution. Their intentions are right on target, the rules have been in want of a new definition of “professional” since the old one was erased as a side-effect of other changes.

However, the reason a definition of “professional” is needed is not to keep Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF out of the pastures of fandom. Almost none of the “pro” Hugo categories – for fiction, editing and art – actually includes “professional publication” as a condition of eligibility. Best Professional Artist alone has that requirement.

The real need for defining “professional” is to disqualify ineligible entrants from the semiprozine and fan categories by giving constitutional meaning to the antonym “non-professional publications.”

The Committee’s definition is in this proposal:

Add a new section: 3.Y.Z: 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.

The proposed language sounds very precise, which is of little help because in practice the rule will depend on voluntary compliance, being impractical to enforce.

Consider: Semiprozines aspire to commercial success, whether or not they depend on it. If lightning strikes, what then? Charlie Brown once told me he depended on winning the Hugo every year to drive Locus’ subscription sales. That leads me to believe no semiprozine publisher will want to give up the market appeal of a succession of Hugo nominations.

In Charlie Brown’s day the print media criteria were sufficient to classify Locus as a semiprozine. Nobody had to ask him for income information to apply this new one-quarter test, which presumably would lead to Locus being reclassified as a prozine. Can you imagine how Charlie would have answered? Business reasons and privacy motives will keep prospective nominees from cooperating with the enforcement of this rule.

(4) The Hammer? The Committee already anticipated my last criticism with its final proposal:

Add to the end of Section 3.9 (Notification and Acceptance): 
Additionally, each nominee in the categories of Best Fanzine and Best Semi-Prozine shall be required to confirm that they meet the qualifications of their category.

But what will that mean in practice? The rule doesn’t define what prospective nominees will be required to do to confirm eligibility. Does that mean continuing the policy of self-certification with polite “do-you-think-you-are-eligible?” e-mails of the sort this year’s Hugo Administrator sent out? If the plan is to take everybody’s word for it, there’s no need for this rule.

Saul Jaffe’s minority report, appealing for better draftsmanship, is on target. If it is not fairly obvious who is eligible in a category there is a major problem with the Hugo rule, because it will never be cured by enforcement.

II. Rich Lynch’s Amendments

The latest version of Rich Lynch’s proposals I know about are on his LiveJournal:

Proposed WSFS Constitutional Amendments to keep the Fanzine Hugo non-professional and limited to words on paper or video screen.

(Note: strikeouts indicate proposed deletions and underlined text proposed additions.)

3.3.12: Best Semiprozine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction or fantasy which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which in the previous calendar year met at least two (2) one (1) of the following criteria:

(1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue,
(2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(3) (2) provided at least half the income of any one person,
(4) (3) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising,
(5) (4) announced itself to be a semiprozine.
Audio and video productions are excluded from this category.

3.3.13 Best Fan Audio or Video Production. Any generally available non-professional audio or video production devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has had four (4) or more episodes or podcasts, at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year.

3.3.13 3.3.14: Best Fanzine. Any generally available non-professional periodical publication devoted to science fiction, fantasy, or related subjects which by the close of the previous calendar year has published four (4) or more issues (or the equivalent in other media), at least one (1) of which appeared in the previous calendar year, and which does not qualify as a semiprozine. Audio and video productions are excluded from this category, as are publications that pay their contributors and/or staff monetarily.

Lynch’s amendments make changes I support. They

  • Identify semiprozines and fanzines as reading experiences — words on a page (appearing on paper or screen) — by ruling audio and video productions out of the category
  • Define semiprozines and fanzines as periodical publications – appearing in discrete, individual issues (similar to a magazine)
  • Limit eligibility for Best Fanzine to amateur zines by restricting those that pay contributors or staff

Some other features trouble me. His Best Fan Audio or Video Production amendment creates a new category for podcasts, videocasts, etc. – like last year’s winner StarShip Sofa – that would be excluded from the Best Semiprozine and Best Fanzine categories if his changes go through. I think that idea for a new award category should be left to find its own supporters, and not be packaged as though it is a goal of fanzine fans. It rings a false note.

Lynch’s semiprozine definition fails to go far enough, leaving in place outdated print media criteria (average press run), criteria an external observer can’t check (income), or have no practical application for blogs and websites (15% of space occupied by advertising). However, Lynch would argue my last complaint isn’t a problem — he interprets his amendments to rule websites and blogs out of contention in the zine categories.

III. Thinking Out Loud

Rich Lynch has my thanks for advancing the public discussion of these issues with his motions. And they are the only proposals to plainly state that fanzines are text-based and should not be competing with items that resemble dramatic presentations.

While I like several of the Semiprozine Committee’s ideas for changing the semipro and fanzine category definitions, more needs to be done. I’d like to see the “issue” definition problem solved by including Lynch’s chosen word “periodical.”  And I would like to focus the zine categories on text by adding Lynch’s phrase “Audio and video productions are excluded from this category” to the Committee’s semiprozine and fanzine rule proposals.

We’ll see how it all plays out next week at the 2011 Business Meeting.

The Best Defense

The best defense is a good offense and Neil Clarke, Publisher/Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, refuses to let the Best Semiprozine Hugo category go down without a fight. He has launched Save the Semiprozine to rally opposition to the rules change that could end the Hugo Award in that category if it is ratified at this year’s Worldcon.

This could be the last year the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine is offered. We respectfully disagree with the reasons presented by those pursuing this goal. Through this blog, we hope to make the case against voting out the semiprozine category.

The 2009 Worldcon business meeting will vote whether to ratify the rules change initially passed in 2008. Voting is open to Anticipation members who attend the relevant session.

The case for making the change was based in part on there being far fewer semiprozines than fanzines, and that Locus has almost monopolized the award throughout its 25-year history, arguably proving the category is futile.

Since last fall, the community of people who produce small science fiction magazines has been trying to voice effective resistance to the prospect of losing what opportunity they have to complete for a Hugo. Despite Locus taking a Brobdingnagian share of the Hugos they don’t share in the spirit of nihilism that flavored last year’s fanpolitical discussions. They seem willing to take their chances. A Hugo nomination may help them with marketing, regardless of the prospect for actually winning.

Cheryl Morgan, currently on the Clarkesworld staff, contributed ideas to the new site and her blog supplies additional background.

Were You Confused?

Electric VelocipedeTo allay any surprise over Electric Velocipede’s Best Fanzine Hugo nomination, editor John Klima has posted some comments, beginning:

There tends to be some confusion as to whether Electric Velocipede is a fanzine or a semiprozine, as far as the Hugo Awards are concerned. Since I pay my contributors, people automatically assume that this means I am a semiprozine…

Electric Velocipede is a fiction publication that pays its contributors and enjoys a fine reputation among critics.

A publication belongs in the Best Semiprozine Hugo category if it meets two of five criteria in the rules, which are: (1) publishes more than a thousand copies, (2) pays contributors and/or staff, (3) provides more than half the income of any one person, (4) has at least 15% of its space occupied by advertising, and (5) announced itself to be a semiprozine.

Klima explains that Electric Velocipede meets only the second one listed. He wrote last year on Tor.com that the magazine appears twice a year and has about 150 subscribers. It accepts advertising, but presumably gets something less than the threshold amount.

Klima’s answer covers the bases and, besides, fair is fair. The Hugo Administrators have never asked me how many copies I publish, whether I pay contributors (no, guys, do not start sending your invoices!), or anything more than am I willing to accept my nomination — which I virtually always have, quite happily. I’m sure John Klima feels just as happy. Congratulations, John.

Proposed Hugo Award Changes

The Hugo Awards are presented annually by the members of the World Science Fiction Convention, to be held this year in Denver, August 6-10.

Two proposals have been made to change the Hugo Award categories by amending the World Science Fiction Society constitution.

Farewell Semiprozine Hugo: Chris Barkley and Ben Yalow propose to delete the Best Semiprozine Hugo category.

Title: One less award

Moved: To amend Section 3.3.11 (Best Semiprozine) by adding a new last sentence:

“No award shall be made for this category.”

Discussion: This removes the semiprozine category, while still leaving the definition in to stop former semiprozines from dropping back into fanzine. Since the Best Editor-Short would now allow the editors of those publications to compete in that category, there is still a category to recognize those works.

Adding a Best Graphic Novel Hugo: Chris M. Barkley and Steve Barber propose to add a category to the awards:

Best Graphic Novel: A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, of at least sixty-four (64) pages in length, published in book form or as a series of consecutive, continuous issues through an online medium as a complete story.

Discussion: Eligible works for nomination are to be any publication devoted to graphic science fiction or fantasy themes, whose story lines end and are published or distributed by the end calendar year.