On Contests

Contest of the day: The Stargate SG-1 Fan Awards

The Awesome Author Awards are happening again. I wrote the KK to say I wasn’t entering because I’ve retired from Trek, but I have a few other reasons for not entering this year. I’m one of a handful of writers (Dakota, KJ, Sängerin, Sheri) who have entered in all three years, and it was my personal (not contest) policy to enter different stories every year. Last year, especially, I figured that I wouldn’t win or place but that the contest would be a way for people to see my new stories, since I don’t participate in mailing lists anymore. This year I have no new J/C stories to enter, so there’s no point to my entering on that account.

One reason so few other J/C writers have entered for three years running is that winners become ineligible. This policy is also used in the ASC Awards for the Alara Rogers (Best Author) award. It’s an approach that can bite you in the behind after a few years - I call it the last one to leave ASC turn out the lights and pick up the Alara Rogers award effect. It’s not so gratifying to win an award once the real competition has become disqualified or left the fandom entirely.

I know there are people who aren’t picky about how they get their awards, but I’m not one of them. I don’t want an award that I’m the last one left in the fandom to pick up - I’d rather just move on to fandoms that are still active enough to generate new competition. Moreover, even eligible authors still active in the fandom are avoiding AAA this year, compounding the last one out effect. I know of several writers who aren’t entering AAA this year because of unrelated incidents within KK (of which I have only second-hand knowledge), and others who won’t enter on suspicion that the contest itself is being rigged or abused in some way.

Personally, I don’t believe that there is any internal corruption of the contest in favor of KK members. In any contest, people will know certain authors and therefore be more familiar with their fic and more likely to vote for it, but this effect reaches beyond KK members. If there’s a big pro-KK slant to the winners, I’ve never noticed it. As for external attempts to cheat in AAA, I have no first-hand knowledge of it but from my perspective, such cheating has no visible effect - if person X places ahead of person Y because X cheated, but I don’t think either of them writes well, then for me the cheating is irrelevant.

To put it more simply, if I don’t like the fic of writer X but she has a hundred friends who love it, and if I don’t like Y either but she has a hundred friends who are willing to stuff the ballot box for her, how can I tell the difference? The friends of X are voting in good faith, and those of Y in bad faith, but if I don’t know either X or Y, to me it looks like two mediocre writers got the same number of votes.

So for me as a fringe member of the fandom, with nineteen days to go to my Trek retirement, the only standard I can apply to a contest is whether the best fic (in my opinion as a reader) wins. Fanfic contests are therefore almost always a disappointment to me, because the stories and writers I think are the best rarely win. That’s setting aside the fact that I don’t win, which is certainly a disincentive to entering contests but is not my complaint. I can always assume that my own fic is not as good as I think it is, but I’m not the only one not winning AAA.

When I vote in a contest, I look at every story in the contest (except NC-17 and slash), or if, like the ASC Awards, the contest is too big for that, I make sure to look at every story in the categories where I’m voting. I say look at rather than read because if a story is downright bad, or clearly worse than other stories I’ve already read in the category, I don’t finish it. As a consequence of this policy, I have looked at every PG story in AAA for the past three years. Because AAA is so huge, I had to keep detailed records of whom I was considering voting for. So I know exactly how far off the results are, in each case, from what I thought they would be.

For comparison, I’ll give the lists of who won in each year, and who I voted for. AAA placements are in order of winner, runner up, and honorable mentions. People equally ranked, in my opinion or as honorable mentions, get slashes between them. My rankings are determined from the number of categories I voted for them in, and ranking if there was ranking involved.

2001 AAA results: Shayenne, EJ, Cassatt/D Kent/KJ
Jemima’s ranking: EJ, Clare009, Shayenne, Lady Firebird, Karma, Alicia/Claudia/D Kent/KJ, Ammo/Sangerin/Turtlewoman

The first year was a big year, so I have a bunch of people in my list who got only a vote or two from me. EJ was far and away the best of the bunch, even better in 2001 than in the next when she won, but Shayenne is a good writer - I can’t complain that she won. I voted for two people off the Honorable Mention list, in only one category each. This was, by comparison, a good year. [I confused Dakota with D Kent at first - sorry about that.]

2002 AAA results: EJ, Brianna, Jemima/KJ/Sheri
Jemima’s ranking: EJ, Seema/Rocky, Monkee, Jade, JinnyW

In 2002, things began to get funky. EJ won, perhaps because she’s the kind of writer that crosses boundaries between what I like and what the general AAA voting population likes. Note, however, that I did not vote even once for any of the other people with Honorable Mentions (including myself). I did consider voting for Brianna in one category, but she didn’t quite make it. Most notably neglected in 2002 was Monkee, considering her fame in J/Cdom and abroad.

2003 AAA results: Brianna, MaquisKat, Kadi/KJ/Sylvia
Jemima’s ranking: Seema/Rocky, JinnyW, Jade/Caffey, Sylvia, Brianna/Diane/Morgan/Yael

This time I did vote for Brianna in one (and only one) category, as my third choice. Even Sylvia did better - she was my first choice in one category. Otherwise, I didn’t vote for the winners at all. The lists are nearly disjoint. I knew Seema and Rocky were doomed after the results of the previous year, but I’d at least hoped for a showing for JinnyW. No such luck.

None of this is intended to get down on Brianna. If you write something and other people enjoy it, that’s great. I don’t like a lot of the stories that make it into SNW, but the ability to sell your work, either literally or in terms of hits and feedback, is what counts. Writing to the market is more important than abstract literary qualities. As the man said,

“The public does not like bad literature. The public likes a certain kind of literature, and likes that kind even when it is bad better than another kind of literature even when it is good. Nor is this unreasonable; for the line between different types of literature is as real as the line between tears and laughter; and to tell people who can only get bad comedy that you have some first-class tragedy is as irrational as to offer a man who is shivering over weak, warm coffee a really superior sort of ice.” –G.K.Chesterton in “Charles Dickens”

So I have to conclude that AAA is not my market. They want coffee and I’m selling ice. All my favorite authors are also selling ice and losing along with me. ASC is my market. I don’t look at the ASC Awards results and think who voted for these people? I know who they were, I know what their feedback said, and I know they’re looking for what I’m looking for in fic.

And in nineteen short days when I retire from Trek, the Stargate SG-1 Fan Awards will be my market. Fortunately they’re by nomination, so there’ll be none of this considering whether or what to enter.

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