Why the new Nebula Award rules ... rule

In both my comments as part of the new Mind Meld at SF Signal, and my editorial in the new edition of StarShipSofa, I praise the revised Nebula Award rules. I believe the new rules helped create one of the best Nebula final ballots in years. Obviously this is a somewhat delicate position to take since I'm finalist. But I'd be saying this even if I wasn't because so many of the authors and works I've praised for the last year are on the final ballot.

However, not everyone agrees with this view. In the comment section of that Mind Meld, Steve Berman says the following:

I think Mr. Sanford is a bit deluded if he thinks there's no logrolling happening with the new rules--which I think are a vast disappointment. How many members voted early and then saw that, by Feb. their nominations had no choice to make the top 6? A lot. How many of these people then made changes, which could be done to the very last moment!?

As for logrolling, it's actually easier. See an author you like that needs votes to reach the top? Switch your vote or send out advocacy emails. See an author you dislike near the top? Switch your vote to block them. If Mr. Sanford thinks this isn't being done he's mistaken.

The Nebulas have, as Sandra McDonald put it, "become American Idol-ized."

I totally disagree with this. The traditional definition of logrolling is the "trading of favors or quid pro quo." The old Nebula rules encouraged this by making it easy to both nominate friends and supporters for the preliminary ballot (by letting members nominate so many stories) and to verify that these people were returning the favor, since all nominations were public.

Under the new Nebula nomination rules, this ability to pimp unto each another is limited because members are limited to 5 nominations in each category (meaning fewer spots to waste on pimping), and nominations are now private. This last point is extremely important, and is why most democracies have the secret ballot--when no one can see who you vote for, you're more likely to vote for the best person instead of your best friend.

Now is it possible some SFWA members agreed to vote for each other's works? Yes. In fact, this likely happened. But the difference this time is that thanks to the changes mentioned above, such practices were far less likely to affect the final outcome. In addition, another change undercut the ability to logroll. Under the old rules, if you could convince 10 of your friends to vote for your story, you made the final preliminary ballot (from which the final ballot was then voted on--see the comment from Geoffrey Landis below for more details). This time, the top six vote getters in each category were finalists. None of this year's finalists made it onto the ballot with only 10 votes; in fact, all were far above that mark. There is a limit to how far logrolling can carry you, and with the Nebulas the bar has been raised far above even the highest rolling log.

I also disagree with Steve labeling the changing of one's vote as logrolling. Yes, a number of members changed their votes as the process unfolded. But that's democracy. If a story you like wasn't doing well in the voting, but another story you liked just as well was close to making the ballot, why not switch your vote? There's also nothing wrong with asking someone to consider a story or novel for the Nebula. If someone asks me to read their story, I'll likely do it, and if it's a great one I'll even thank them for bring it to my attention. But this is a far cry from people telling me that they'll vote for my story if I vote for theirs, and that if I don't they'll verify this nasty slight and enact a hideous revenge on me at some point (okay, maybe this last part was more implied than stated under the old rules :-).

To me, there are two easy ways to analyze the outcomes of the old and new Nebula rules, and see why the new rules, well, rule. First, participation and nominations appear to be up. The other proof of the new rules' success is that so many of the authors now making the Nebula final ballot for the first time have previously been finalists for, or have won, the Hugo, World Fantasy, and other major awards. I have trouble believing these authors are only now worthy of being a Nebula finalist. Instead, the more obvious explanation is that the old rules did not work as well as they could.

Anyway, I'm thrilled with the new Nebula Award process, and commend everyone at SFWA for setting up and running this year's awards. And if you're an active member of SFWA, don't forget that voting for the overall winners is now open through March 30th on the SFWA website.

And yes, if you want to change your vote at any time during the voting process, you're still allowed to do so.