Kameron Hurley’s Further Comments on the Relationship Between Awards and Sales

Kameron Hurley, winner of Hugos in 2014 for Best Related Work and Best Fanwriter, recently blogged

So when people tell me that Hugos don’t matter, awards don’t matter, and promotion don’t matter, you can imagine the $13,000 face I make.

Putting a dollar figure on it really caught people’s attention, even more than her contradicting the received wisdom of the sf field that Hugos are not helpful in making more money.

Of course, fans would prefer if Hugos did help. Long ago in 1972 when Harlan Ellison pitched a Worldcon business meeting about restoring one of the short fiction Hugos, part of his argument was that the award is helpful to writers’ careers, although he didn’t put a dollar figure on it. (A penny per word was a good rate in those days, so the number wouldn’t have been impressive anyway…) We voted to restore the category.

However, over the years it has become commonplace to scoff at the idea Hugos translate to sales.

I wondered, have things changed? And I wanted to find out from Hurley whether her statement was the result of an editor or publisher having said explicitly that her latest advance – $13,000 more than for her previous book — was a decision based on her winning Hugos, or whether that was her personal interpretation of her recent sales successes. She kindly responded with a thorough and nuanced explanation —

Kameron Hurley: There does seem to be a bit of raging debate about awards and whether or not they sell books. The reality is that awards raise the profile of books. Raising visibility means more people are aware of that author, which results in more sales. Books like Ancillary Justice and The Windup Girl would probably have done OK without the awards, but would not have become instant classics. The reality is that any time a book that isn’t already selling wins awards — especially multiple awards — it results in cascading media, blog posts, event invitations, that ultimately result in more sales. Every bit of attention your book gets helps. In particular, the Hugo and Clarke Awards get a lot of attention outside SFF that helps book sales.

A single award win may not turn a book into a bestseller, but it helps bring a poorly performing book into the midlist. The Nebula Award nomination for God’s War was worth about 1,000 sales to me. The Clarke Award nomination garnered nearly 3,000 sales in the UK alone (for a book that had been out 7 months in the UK and sold only 300 copies there up to that point!).

As for the Hugo nominations and wins helping increase my advances — the reality is that the Clarke and BSFA nominations, Hugo nominations, my blog tours, podcast appearances, events, and etc. were raising the visibility of my work starting in January of last year. A lot of people don’t realize that in January of 2014 my career was pretty much a bust and every major house had passed on The Mirror Empire. Coming out of that bust required a lot of work and a lot of luck, and the Hugo wins were integral to that. I remember the day of the Hugo announcements telling myself that it was OK if I didn’t win. It wouldn’t change any of the work I’d done so far. But I knew that if I did win, it was going to make a big difference. Winning Hugos sent the marketing team at my publisher back to their sales folks and book buyers, asking them if they were sure they had all the books they wanted, because you know, the author was Hugo Award winning, now….  Hugo wins had The Guardian contacting me. It got me mentions in my local paper here and in my home town, and my name in a huge number of online and offline publications. People who would never call were calling. And that increased visibility sold more of The Mirror Empire, too. All the sudden I was getting invited to anthologies, and speaking events, and far more conventions, including my first “all expenses paid” convention next year. It was a huge level up.

Hugo wins, paired with all the nominations, awards, and hard work I’d done up to the point at which Saga Press came calling, helped make me a horse worth betting on. It helps that Joe Monti is very good at identifying horses. I still, frankly, think he got a very good deal for these latest books, because I intend to work incredibly hard to move copies like nobody’s business.

People forget that publishing is very much a casino. Publishers are making bets on books. And I looked like a far better bet in August of 2014 than I did in January of 2014, and the Hugos, the Clarke nominations, my awards up until then, my online presence – all of that is taken into consideration when a publisher makes an offer. It’s up to the author and their agent, too, to know how much they’re worth. I’ll note that final advance was not the first offer, but by then numbers were coming in for The Mirror Empire and betting on me was looking like an even better investment, and my agent baked some other favorable things into the contract.

Do awards matter? To someone not selling well, to someone unknown, or as part of other efforts at increasing one’s visibility, yes, they matter a great deal. Do they matter to someone like Robin Hobb or Joe Abercrombie who are already selling loads? Probably not much. A few thousand copies is nothing when you’re selling 250,000. But it means the world when you’re selling 500. Every writer must work to build an audience. Awards can help get you the visibility you need to connect with them, and start building a career. But they won’t write the books for you. They won’t do the speaking events. They won’t negotiate the contracts. It’s up to you to know what to do with that visibility and use it to build something even greater.

13 thoughts on “Kameron Hurley’s Further Comments on the Relationship Between Awards and Sales

  1. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article on the value of a Nebula for the SFWA Bulletin. It was very interesting to compare different people’s response to the question about whether a Nebula helped. Authors felt that it made a reader more likely to pick them up, but didn’t necessarily translate into sales, publishers (and their staffs) felt it was prestigious, but didn’t translate into anything that could be monetized, the only people who felt that it meant more money were agents.

  2. When I see an unfamilar book with the words “Nebula Award” or “Hugo Award” winner or nominee, I’ll pick it up to look at. It gets my attention, but it doesn’t always get a purchase.

    Then there was that bulky tome of Harlan Ellison’s, consisting of his award winnng stories titled TOP OF THE VOLCANO. That’s attention getting. Ellison does know about promotion, and uses it a lot.

  3. I’m shocked that a Hugo award can result in increased sales for an author!

    You mean those Fan Writing Hugos some pros are going after is for personal gain beyond egoboo?


  4. “You mean those Fan Writing Hugos some pros are going after is for personal gain beyond egoboo?”

    Is there any evidence of “some pros” “going after” Fan Writing Hugos “for personal gain beyond egoboo”?

    Who, specifically, has had “Hugo Winner” on a book of fiction due solely to a Best Fan Writer or Best Fanzine award? Which book?

    Since it’s not just one, but “some” who are doing this, could we have perhaps three names? I mean, if they’re doing this, we should all be informed, shouldn’t we?

  5. A hit, a very palpable hit, Gary. I cannot name three.

    Probably isn’t even one that has to use Fan Writing Hugo as a cover blurb.

    See, admitting you’re wrong isn’t hard.

  6. Awards definitely make a difference when it comes to library sales. If you’re in a branch library and have a limited budget or if you don’t have much knowledge on science fiction you will tend to go for the award winners and the award winning authors. And while it may not mean extra sales (unless patrons put reserves on a title and more copies need to be ordered) an award notation on a book cover will increase the circulation of the book.

  7. Do you remember that thread here a while ago about whether people winning fanwriter Hugos valued them enough? This is kind of the opposite, are they valuing them too much?

  8. Gary asks, “Who, specifically, has had “Hugo Winner” on a book of fiction due solely to a Best Fan Writer or Best Fanzine award? Which book?”

    Jim C Hines’ CODEX BORN is one. I’ve no idea whether this was strictly DAW’s idea.

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