Jonathan Brazee, SFWA Make Statements on Nebula Awards Issues

[Editor’s Introduction: Jonathan Brazee, who authored the 20Booksto50K Recommended Reading List which succeeded in gaining Nebula Awards nominations for several works, made the following statement in the File 770 comments section and asked for help in making it more visible:]  

STATEMENT BY JONATHAN BRAZEE

I am Jonathan Brazee, and I worded the post that contained the 20Booksto50K Recommended Reading List. I am a writer as well as a retired Marine colonel. I mention that because I hold honor to be of vital importance, and I would not knowingly or purposely do something untoward or unethical.

For background, the intention for the list was for visibility. I knew any indie title needed nominations from the membership at large to make the ballot. I wanted to have a diverse ballot with indie representation, but not to nominate or vote for something just because it was indie-written or by a member of the group. All I wanted was for the works on the list to be considered and judged on their own merits.

In addition, the list was there to excite other group members about the Nebulas and SFWA itself, to show that striving for quality might be recognized.

HOWEVER . . .

I screwed up, and I take full responsibility for that.

I am writing this both as an apology, because regardless of my intention, my actions have hurt people and organizations that I care about. But I also write this so that other people can understand the nuances of where my mistakes lay. There isn’t anything wrong with reading lists, but mine made mistakes.

First: this specific post was not approved by anyone on the SFWA staff. The list grew out of a request for indie titles for consideration. I approached a SFWA staff member and discussed posting an indie reading list in the group. I was told it would be OK, but to steer clear of doing things that could be taken as encouraging a specific vote. And I think my first rendition of the list did that. Where I blew it was in the last rendition, where I took it further than the initial discussion and posts. No one on the SFWA staff vetted the specific post. No one said I could list the titles as I did. No one said I could write what I did about the Norton. That was my fault.

Second, I should not have listed the titles in the order I did or included asterisks. It was an attempt to encourage the 20Booksto50k membership at large, not for the small number of 20Books SFWA members who had or were going to nominate. It was stupid of me, and by doing that, I broke a rule that things behind the SFWA forum wall remain there. Although it was not the intention, I can understand the perception that this was a way to ask people to nominate a certain manner.

Third, I became too enthusiastic about a Norton candidate. Last year, two slots were left empty because only four had the minimum ten nominations. I wanted a full ballot, and when we had a book on the recommended reading list, I became too specific, writing that if ten people read the book, liked it enough to nominate it, and then did their nominations before the close, then it probably would get on the ballot.

My intent was to be enthusiastic about indies and get visibility on their work, not just for members of 20Booksto50k. There should have been indie titles by writers not in the group on the list.

I am supposed to be a writer, someone who understands the power of words. And I consider myself a smart individual. But the execution of my post, no matter the intent, was poor. When I write something that leaves the impression other than I intended, then that is on me.

I love SFWA. I love 20Booksto50K. I love award season and reading for them. Joining SFWA has been a dream of mine since 1975, and 20Booksto50k had helped me, and countless others, become better at the business side of writing. I would never purposely do anything to harm either of them. I have worked hard to help SFWA in every way I can, and I have tried to help others not just within 20Books, but to all writers. I hope I can still be a positive force for both groups, but if I’ve wrecked that, then I accept the consequences of my mistakes.

So, where does that leave us?

First, none of the other nominees asked me to put their title on the list. I would ask that you don’t hold it against them.

Second, 20Booksto50k was not directly involved with it. In this case, the group was a platform, nothing else.

Third, while the concept for an indie recommendation list was discussed with a staff member, the end post was not vetted. I wish it had been, as it never would have been posted as is.

Fourth, while I had what I consider the best of intentions, my unfortunate wording has cast a pall over the awards and caused ill feelings, something that has kept me awake at nights since this broke. I can’t turn back the clock, and I have nothing in my power to change what happened. But what I can do is to offer that my own nomination be removed from consideration for the award.

If there is one thing I hope to convey is that nothing was done with ill intention. Naivete, yes, sloppiness yes, but no ill intention.

Please don’t let my mistakes reflect badly on SFWA, the Nebula Awards, 20Booksto50k or on any of the other nominees.


SFWA BOARD STATEMENT

[Editor’s introduction: Today the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Board responded to the current controversy with a “SFWA Board Statement Regarding the 2018 Nebula Ballot” on the SFWA Blog.]

In light of recent events regarding the 2018 SFWA Nebula Nominations short list, the SFWA Board is aware of the ongoing issues. We will continue discussion on ways to improve our processes so that something of this nature does not happen again. With that said, we would like to make it clear that the organization frowns on any attempt to manipulate our Nebula Awards nomination and final ballot processes which includes logrolling and slate campaigns. In our ongoing dialogue, the SFWA Board will be working in concert with the Nebula Awards Commissioner and the Nebula Rules Committee to strengthen existing rules and guidelines to safeguard the integrity of the awards. We also do not condone abusive behavior in response to the stress of this situation.

In 2013, and as part of a larger effort to recognize just how much the publishing landscape continues to evolve, SFWA began admitting independent and small press writers to our organization. Since then, we’ve welcomed hundreds of new independent, traditional, and hybrid authors. The volunteers currently serving on the board proudly reflect this addition as well, with all nine elected positions representing each of those demographics. Our commitment continues to be towards the support of writers everywhere, members and non-members alike, embracing all of what the field has to offer regardless of the way creative, genre works are published.

Our SFWA Nebula Conference and awards have also evolved from the first ceremony over fifty years ago in 1966 to our most recent addition of a game writing award which debuted this year.  We also understand that with growth such as this, sometimes comes the pain of finding our way forward. The recent controversy is no exception, and we fully understand just how frustrating something like this can be. Our goal with the Nebula Awards is to foster an environment which celebrates the exceptional work we all do. To spread that outward to the community and emphasize just how important the words we create continue to be. We gather at our SFWA Nebula Conference to network among our peers, hone our craft, and learn from one another, all while building up to a ceremony that hopes to recognize the work poured into each of those experiences. 

With all of that said, the SFWA Board and staff regrets the shadow that has gathered over what we’ve all worked so hard to build. Not just a ceremony, nor just a conference, but a community, and the sometimes complicated relationships within. We sympathize with the invocation of painful echoes for many of us and the damage that sometimes comes as a result of what some may view as the best of intentions.  Taking what we’ve learned from something like this, our largest concern will be focused on the careful repair of the rifts that have opened and how we can avoid something like this in the future. 

Above all else, we hope we can move forward with our ongoing vision to make this organization into everything it can be. With that, we need your help. We ask that you continue to create and participate in SFWA events, programs, and services. We ask that you continue to reach out and let us know where we can improve.

And finally, when it comes to every Nebula Awards ballot, we ask that you judge each of the works with care and consideration. The work that stays with you, that moves you, that work that you love the most should earn your vote.  It is our hope that you will join us on this very first step, showing just how strong we all can be when we work together. 

-The SFWA Board

32 thoughts on “Jonathan Brazee, SFWA Make Statements on Nebula Awards Issues

  1. Hi Jonathan, really appreciate you clarifying that the authors weren’t involved in the slate anyway.

  2. Camestros– It seems one can’t read the many words if not in the group.

  3. Marshall Ryan Maresca on March 1, 2019 at 12:18 pm said:

    Camestros– It seems one can’t read the many words if not in the group.

    Ah. Well, in that case, I could give you a precis.
    When Craig was young he played golf with his dad. Golf things happened and anyway he learnt an important lesson that day.
    Craig is a big fan of many great SF authors and they’ve influenced his work. That work is half art and half business. He feels you need both. He would like to write at a level to compete in the kinds of awards that great SF authors pioneered.
    People who do not know Craig have been denigrating him and 20booksto50K [he doesn’t name any people doing so] This denigration was unfounded and without value. He pities those who feel the need to tear others down.
    He waited until emotions had calmed before weighing in. he finds it distressing to be accused of cheating. He had read every story he voted for. He begged people to read stories he had liked. He thought his story ‘A Galactic Affair’ was award worthy but it didn’t make the final ballot. A good story that did was Messenger, which he regards as an exceptional story.
    He was honoured to include Messenger in the Expanding Universe anthology, which he regards as a platform for established authors and new authors.
    He buys many books but only has time to read a few. He is very busy and hardworking. He has a million-dollar business to run.
    He spent 20 years in the Marine Corp. Philanthropy is a big part of his life. He earns money from fiction but he runs 20booksto50K as not-for-profit. he 20books conferences are run at as low a cost as possible. Collectively, the authors who attend represent a lot of income in book sales.
    The next conference in Vegas has 850 attendees.
    20booksto50K doesn’t tell people what to do other than find readers. The group is about how to make your hobby or dream work for you.Not all books sell but some exceptional ones deserve to be on the Nebula ballot. He could have had 15 stories on the reading list but he didn’t.
    After this issue with the Nebulas he isn’t sure any award is worth being denigrated for.
    He believes a rising tide lifts all boats. He believes nobody gets ahead by cheating.
    He violated no rules, no terms of service, and no laws. He helped people get visibility.
    He hopes everybody has a nice day.

    Like I said. Many words.

  4. He waited until emotions had calmed before weighing in.

    He should have waited a little longer.

    I’m glad 20BooksTo50K is helping independent authors succeed and the organizer is excited about books and authors he has published. But slates suck and no amount of praise for works you’re involved in publishing is going to change that. Jonathan Brazee is adopting the right tone here. He’s taking the integrity of the Nebula Awards seriously in response to the criticism over how the group’s recommended list appeared to encourage slate voting.

    If Martelle is as altruistic as his comment states, he should be able to understand where the fans of the Nebulas are coming from. They love the awards because they honor excellence. They don’t want them to become a prize for best networking.

    I was curious whether 20BooksTo50K is actually not-for-profit or just being run without money-making as a primary goal. At $139 a registration for 850 slots, it raised around $120,000 for one conference. That sounds kind of profitable to me. It claims a registered trademark but there is no such mark in the USPTO database (which is a big no-no). Maybe it’s not a profit-seeking venture but I wouldn’t call something not-for-profit unless it is registered as such.

  5. rcade: I was curious whether 20BooksTo50K is actually not-for-profit or just being run without money-making as a primary goal. At $139 a registration for 850 slots, it raised around $120,000 for one conference. That sounds kind of profitable to me.

    That Bali conference which poor downtrodden Yudhanjaya Wijeratne attended was “20Books Bali for 60 top-tier authors“. The registration fee was $3,500.

    It will be interesting to see whether he and Virdi will have the integrity to follow through with their offer to decline their nomination if members of SFWA made it clear to them that the way they got onto the ballot was unfair.

  6. Camestros Felapton: After this issue with the Nebulas he isn’t sure any award is worth being denigrated for.

    Ah, in amongst the deluge of excuses for bad behavior, a rare glimmer of self-awareness appears.

    This is what happens with slates. The slated works will forever have the taint of not getting to the ballot on their own merit.

  7. Yudhanjaya Wijeratne is a traditional author with a four-book deal from HarperCollins. The story on the ballot is awesome, with great imagery, style, characterization and meaning on multiple levels. It’s just the kind of story any awards system should be happy to have on the ballot.

    Plus, Wijeratne is Sri Lankan and brings an authentic “own voice” to SFF publishing. And doesn’t he live in Sri Lanka? That broadens the diversity of his nomination even more. Why are people calling for him to withdraw?

  8. @rcade:

    At $139 a registration for 850 slots, it raised around $120,000 for one conference. That sounds kind of profitable to me.

    If that’s all the detail you have, you have no idea whether it was profitmaking or not. Fannish conventions do usually charge half that or less — but by convention standards fannish conventions are bare-bones at best. For a metric, consider that 25 years ago my partner’s professional convention was over $100 per day and that was considered low as pro cons went; technical conventions were already at $200 per day. (No, the cons didn’t generally sell one-day memberships; that’s the total fee divided by the number of days.) If a con does any food functions, or even has finger food beside some other function, the bills can add up very fast, and other costs (e.g. function space) can follow them.

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  10. Lela E Buis; Wijeratne is Sri Lankan and brings an authentic “own voice” to SFF publishing. And doesn’t he live in Sri Lanka? That broadens the diversity of his nomination even more. Why are people calling for him to withdraw?

    As I stated elsewhere, his ethnicity is irrelevant to the legitimacy of the nomination of his work. He’s being asked to withdraw because his work looks as though it got onto the Nebula ballot due to an unfair slate advantage.

    We’ve been through all of these same questions with the Puppies. You are well aware of this. I can go back through the File 770 archive and find links where people have told you these things numerous times before. You’re being disingenuous.

  11. I appreciate Jonathan taking responsibility, demonstrating that he understands how he crossed the line, and offering to withdraw. It doesn’t sound like SFWA is going to take him up on that offer. But since I’m not in SFWA, I’m just a curious bystander.

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  13. Jonathan, thank you for writing so kindly.

    We want both the SFWA, and indie authors as a group, to succeed and to flourish. Very easy to make mis-steps, and… those can have unfortunate repercussions. Being able to realize that, course-correct, and get back to everybody supporting everybody, is so important — thank you for helping do that.

  14. 20BookTo50K is free to join. Free to participate.

    There are a few rules… the most important being that the group is about the business of writing and the community that comes from helping each other learn.

    It is about how to build a business and make it work. Specifically what has worked for others in indie publishing. Information not readily available to everyone.

    How to write…what to write…not included. That is up to the individual creators.

    People talk about marketing books. How to focus what limited attention and time they have. What the members make of it is up to them.

    The conference is very reasonably priced, covers costs and little more, and has presenters from just about every part of the industry. Including old-timers willing to share the knowledge they have gained over their many years in the industry.

    Part FAQ/part cheerleading, the central idea is that a rising ship lifts everyone (para).

    What works for one may not work for someone else, but the history of shady information being shared to earnest newbies in the effort to hold back important information for one’s own gain has to go away. It won’t until someone steps up and does what is right…

    The name of the group “20BoksTo50K” comes from one of the founders, Michael Anderle’s desire to warm enough in royalties to pay for a vacation. He made a prognostication that it would take about 20 books to earn him 50k. With his wife’s extensive corporate marketing experience and books that excite his fans, he made that happen.

    That’s it. No guarantees. Just like-minded indies and hybrids trying to earn their way and help each other learn from their experiences.

    That’s what I have gained from the group. I’m not published yet, but one day it will happen.

    And knowing so many people (many in real life) who have made the tradition from wage slave to successful author/business owner has given me far more hope than the seemingly endless slush pile I hear so much about. My confidence gets boosted every time I hear about someone’s success.

    There is no “scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” that I know of personally. Certainly no call for it in the group. Every person I have met really wants to do this the right way…through hard and smart work.

    The group is private because, I am guessing, the information shared is sometimes financial or personal in nature. What they tried and how it either worked for them or didn’t.

    Given the way this disappointing way this thing has played out…especially the calls for nominees to remove themselves from contention…proves that moving forward with caution is often the best way. It absolutely proves that people will say things they don’t know anything about just because they heard from someone else some version of a story. You know…gossip.

    Haven’t seen a rumor mill run this fast since back when my dad as a preacher in a very small town.

    Brazee and Martelle and Anderson are stand up guys. I have the upmost respect for them individually and as business people. I don’t blame them for being protective of their company. The publishing company…you know…the multi-million dollar one that isn’t making bank on the conventions. And those conventions happen across the world. Not just in Vegas.

  15. JoDee Wells: lengthy digression

    All of those things are very nice, but they’re also all just excuses.

    What was published was not a lengthy list of recommended works. It was a voting slate, with a handful of works very specifically singled-out by asterisks… most of which then magically showed up on the Nebula ballot.

    You can see it for yourself here.

    The works on the slate weren’t even promoted as being the “best” works in their category. They were just promoted as “indie works”, as if that somehow made them award-worthy (hint: it doesn’t).

    Brazee also talked about how many recommendations the asterisked works had on SFWA’s list (something that he is not permitted to do) and how many nominations it would take to get a non-Young-Adult novel on the ballot for a YA award (also very much an unethical thing to do).

    Brazee himself admits these things in his statement above.

    The fact is that voting slates confer an unfair advantage on the works which are slated. “Unfair Advantage” is also the definition for Cheating.

    Make all the excuses you want, it doesn’t change the fact that this is what happened, that most of the slated works which made the ballot almost certainly did so only because of the slate and not because of their own merit, and that these authors will forever be known in the SFF community for their willingness to benefit from cheating.

  16. JJ: …how many nominations it would take to get a non-Young-Adult novel on the ballot for a YA award (also very much an unethical thing to do).

    A Light in the Dark? It’s listed under Teen & Young Adult on Amazon.

  17. Laura: It’s listed under Teen & Young Adult on Amazon.

    Having read the excerpt, I don’t know what would make it YA. My impression is that the protagonists are twenty-somethings, and that it’s written at an adult level (it’s also full of info-dumping).

  18. JJ: Hmm, I see. I notice it was under both Novel and Norton on the Nebula Reading List. But, of course, not as many books on the Norton list.

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