Yes, people do read the non-Puppy novels up for the Hugo and Nebula Awards

So the Hugo Awards final ballot has been released and it matched up pretty much as I predicted earlier this week. Essentially every fiction and editing category outside of Best Novel is all Sad Puppies all the time (or from the related Rabid Puppies campaign). In addition, three of the five finalists in the novel category are also from these slates.

I've already said plenty about this year's Hugos, including how the Puppies campaign is merely the dysfunctional US political system expanding its reach into the SF/F genre. There are many others commenting on the issue right now, so I won't rehash my earlier points.

But I do want to address a different issue raised by the Sad Puppies campaign, which is that they represent the "true" version of science fiction and fantasy fandom. In this view, few people read the works that have been nominated for the Hugo Awards in previous years and the Puppies campaign are merely nominating the stories actually read by genre fans.

In some Hugo Award categories, such as with short fiction, its impossible to test this theory. While there are some general numbers on magazine circulations and anthology sales — the main place short fiction is published — these numbers don't tell how many people read an individual story in a magazine or anthology. So you can't draw any definite conclusions on readership patterns from the short fiction categories. 

But there is one category where we do have solid readership numbers — Best Novel. And thanks to Nielsen BookScan, a book industry sales-tracking data system, it's not hard to compare the sales numbers of the different Hugo Award finalists and see how they stack up with readers.

Important Note: These are only sales tracked by BookScan, which does not report e-book sales or some print copy sales or how many books are checked out of libraries. (Update: Per the comment from Colleen Lindsay below, Bookscan represents about 60% of actual physical book sales.) But that said, this does allow for general comparisons of how many people are reading specific novels.

Here are this year's Hugo Award Best Novel finalists and how their BookScan reported sales compare as of earlier this week:

  • The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Tor), 1,800 copies.
  • The Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson (Tor), 1,900 copies.
  • Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Roc), 94,000 copies.
  • Lines of Departure by Marko Kloos (Amazon's 47North imprint), 2,360 copies.
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie,  (Orbit US; Orbit UK), 8,000 copies.

As you can see, the sales of the two non-Puppy novels (The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison and Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie) are either in line with the other novels picked by the Sad Puppies or extremely ahead of them, in the case of Ann's novel. In fact, Ann's novel is second in sales behind only Skin Game by Jim Butcher, which sold 94,000 copies in hardcover and is the 15th novel in a very popular series.

It's worth noting that Monster Hunter Nemesis by Larry Correia (Baen) evidently made the final ballot but Larry declined the nomination. So to be fair we should note that his novel has sold 6,100 copies. This is the fifth book in Larry's bestselling Monster Hunter Incorporated series. According to BookScan, the first book in his series has sold 54,000 paperback copies since being released by Baen in 2009.

If you wish, you can compare this with Ann Leckie's first novel, which is the Hugo and Nebula Award winning Ancillary Justice. Ann's novel on this year's final ballot is the sequel to Ancillary Justice, which according to BookScan has sold 26,000 copies in trade paperback since it was released. Of course, a direct comparison between these novels is a little tricky because Larry's novels are released in a paperback edition, while Ann's are higher-priced trade paperbacks and Jim Butcher is originally published in the most expensive format of all, hardcover. 

But this comparison still shows all of these top authors are reaching plenty of readers. If these sales represent what genre fans are supposedly reading, then there is no way to say that genre fans are not reading books like those by Ann Leckie.

Again, these are only BookScan numbers and don't include some print sales and all e-book sales. I keep inserting this disclaimer because I don't want any anyone to think I'm under-reporting any author's sales.

Of course, only two non-Puppy novels are on the Hugo final ballot this year, which limits the comparisons we can make. But how about if we also bring in this year's Nebula Award final ballot. After all, the same complaints the Puppies made about the previous Hugo Awards not representing what fans truly read have also been made against the Nebulas.

Here's are the BookScan sales figures for this year's Nebula finalists:

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (FS&G), 33,836 copies. (Note: I want to remind everyone yet again that BookScan doesn't report all sales, and doesn't include any reports on ebook sales. As proof of this, note that Jeff's Southern Reach series has sold more than 150,000 copies to date. That's significantly more than BookScan is reporting.)
  • The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Tor), 1,800 copies.
  • Trial by Fire by Charles E. Gannon (Baen), 1,373 copies.
  • Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie,  (Orbit US; Orbit UK), 8,000 copies.
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu (Tor), 7,669 copies.
  • Coming Home by Jack McDevitt (Ace), 3,311.

The BookScan numbers for the novels on the Nebula final ballot actually exceed the sales on the Hugo ballot with the exception of the novel by Jim Butcher. And both Butcher and Jeff VanderMeer blew everyone else on both ballots out of the water. The Three-Body Problem also had excellent sales, especially when you consider the book was (like Butcher's novel) released as an expensive hardcover edition.

The take-away: All of these numbers indicate that people are reading the novels on the Sad Puppies slate AND the novels their campaign implies no one reads. In fact, if you take VanderMeer's novel into consideration, then far more people read the first novel in his Southern Reach series than all the other Hugo and Nebula shortlisted novels combined with the exception of Skin Game by Jim Butcher.

What these numbers tell me is there's no reason to say that the Sad Puppies campaign represents the true genre fandom any more than people should say the novels which made the Nebula Awards are the true fandom. People in the science fiction and fantasy genre are reading all of these works.

So the next time someone tells you their view of SF/F represents the genre's true fans, don't believe them. Because the numbers say otherwise.