The Horror Writers Association has formal guidelines that describe the right and wrong ways for members to promote work for the organization’s top award. In what were formerly called the “Etiquette Rules,” now the “Guidelines for Promoting Works for Bram Stoker Award Consideration” HWA gives positive examples of ways to publicize fiction to Stoker Award jurors and other members, some hosted on the organization’s own social media, and warns against unacceptable conduct that can disqualify a work from consideration.
HOW THE STOKER WINNERS ARE PICKED. The Stoker Award winners are chosen by a “partial jury system.” A dozen award categories each have their own small jury panel (and “You may not spam the Jury” is one of the rules.) There is a preliminary and a final ballot. The preliminary ballot lists 10 nominees in each category, five works that have received at least 5 recommendations during the year from members, if there are that many, and the rest of the slots filled by the jury. Members vote on the preliminary ballot for five works in each category to go on to the Final Ballot. The final round of voting determines the award winners.
THE GUIDELINES. The 2,200-word Guidelines begin with a list of five acceptable ways to promote a work, for example —
A. PUBLICIZE: The very best way to promote a book for a Bram Stoker Award® is to publicize the book as widely as possible. Most HWA members who participate in the Bram Stoker Award process are voracious readers and enthusiastic film buffs, and subscribe to a variety of magazines, newsletters, and web sites that offer reviews and ads for horror-related material.
HWA also tells how to promote work through its own publications and social media, within limits that promote a level playing field.
The rules end with 10 prohibitions, including —
You may not send unsolicited emails or other forms of contact (such as Twitter) promoting your work for a Bram Stoker Award®….
The Guidelines are backed up by strong enforcement measures in the main Bram Stoker Awards rules.
HOW WELL DOES IT WORK? I wanted to learn more about the HWA rules after seeing a heated discussion follow Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America’s (SFWA) announcement of this year’s Nebula nominees — an exchange that began with “Annie Bellet Criticizes 20Booksto50K Slate and Members of the Group Respond” and largely ended with “Jonathan Brazee, SFWA Make Statements on Nebula Awards Issues”.
While individual SFWA officers over the years have written advice about appropriate ways to pursue the Nebula Award, the organization doesn’t have its own formal guidelines. Only SFWA members can answer if one would help.
As to how well HWA’s rules work for them — I decided to ask.
The co-chairs of the Bram Stoker Awards Committee, James Chambers, C.W. LaSart, and Rena Mason, kindly agreed to answer File 770’s questions about the Guidelines/Etiquette Rules.
1. What are some examples of the problems that caused HWA to formulate the Etiquette Rules?
The Etiquette Rules were created to provide a positive process for members to share their work for Stoker consideration and preserve the integrity of the Awards. They ended a number of unpopular tactics some people used to promote their work. This included e-mailing members who were not interested in receiving works for consideration (or even sending them print books before the e-book boom), spamming members with multiple e-mails, attempts at trading recommendations, and campaigning in general for recs and votes. As more and more business moved online it became much easier to reach people and cross the line of acceptable professional contact, and the Awards needed to adapt for that. It’s one thing to make works available for those who would like to read and consider them. It’s another to badger and promote. The Etiquette rules closed the door to promoting works for Award consideration but left open the door to making work available to other HWA members in a respectful way.
2. Did these problems primarily affect who became finalists, or (apart from getting on the ballot) did they influence who won the Bram Stoker Awards?
Generally, no. They might have affected what works appeared on the Recommended Works list and could’ve contributed to a work reaching the Preliminary Ballot, but they didn’t have much influence over actual voting which is limited to Active members, who are members with a professional publication history.
3. The preliminary ballot is the product of a “partial jury system,” containing some works recommended by members, and additional works recommended by the jurors. What are examples of problems that cannot be overcome even with the inclusion of a jury?
The two-tiered preliminary ballot system does a good job of eliminating or minimizing the problems that arise in any awards process. The one thing it doesn’t do as well as we would like is inform the perceptions of those who want something to criticize, but who are not involved with the process and so operate off of often-erroneous assumptions about how works land on the ballot.
4. Who helped draft the original Etiquette Rules, and what year did they come into existence?
The etiquette rules have been around since the inception of the awards, added to every year by HWA Member suggestions, the Awards Committee, HWA Officers, and the Board of Trustees. They’ve been fine-tuned and updated by many HWA members over the years.
5. Are these rules enforced? What is the process for detecting and addressing conduct that violates the rules?
The Rules are enforced. It’s understood that breaching them can lead to a work being disqualified or can work against it by creating negative feelings within HWA membership. We often field questions from authors who want to make sure they don’t breach the etiquette. They take it seriously as do the vast majority of our members and non-members presenting their work. Any HWA member can report a violation. Members of the Awards Committee also monitor conduct. Violations are addressed directly with whoever breached the etiquette in accordance with our bylaws. Cases are discussed and resolved by the Committee.
6. The rules emphasize “the difference between promoting and soliciting,” and define the difference between those behaviors. HWA has a lot of infrastructure in its official publications and social media to help members gain exposure for their work without violating the spirit of the rules. Were such provisions as taking ads in publications, and one-time Facebook announcements, added to support the rules, or did HWA do things like that all along?
One-time Facebook announcements and limits on e-mail contact are more recent developments to respond to changing technology and support the rules, but there have always been rules or accepted practices guiding the process. The infrastructure has evolved and become better documented over the years. It’s there to facilitate sharing news with our membership in a positive way. Most of our members follow genre news pretty closely so just promoting work in general often puts it on their radar.
7. In your opinion, is campaigning for a Bram Stoker Award effective? If the answer is yes, is it effective for anyone, or more effective for a subset of authors, and what would distinguish that subset — name recognition, publisher, something else?
It’s not really effective. While all HWA members can recommend works for Stoker consideration, only Active members may vote. A campaign effort that somehow slips past the general membership and the Committee might land a work on the Preliminary Ballot based on the number of recommendations it receives. There it will be one of ten, but very likely the members who recommended it in response to a campaign won’t be voting members (only Active Members with a proven publication history can vote) so those works are very likely to drop off the ballot. There’s no particular subset of authors or works that’s more likely to benefit over another in a campaigning sense. Big name authors, of course, have wider recognition and larger readerships that can help them but that’s different from campaigning. Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates are not campaigning for a Stoker, but they’re frequently recommended and nominated because a lot of HWA members read them.
8. What was the most recent improvement to the Etiquette Rules? Are there any proposed changes under consideration, and what are they about?
The most recent changes were the rules about posting on Facebook and providing links to works online via an Internet mailer that the HWA compiles and sends to members. An etiquette-related change is that we no longer display the number of recommendations a work has received on an ongoing basis, which removes a temptation for authors to try drumming up more recommendations when other works in the same category get ahead of them. There are no concrete proposed changes on the table right now, but the Committee and HWA officers are always observing the process and discussing refinements. Our membership has grown about threefold in the past eight years, too, so we’re always taking into consideration how that affects the Awards dynamic and looking for ways to improve it.
File 770 thanks the Bram Stoker Awards co-chairs for sharing their insights.