An Open Letter to the 2023 Hugo Finalists, Whoever They May Be

This is an updated repost of this post from 2021 and this one from last year, which a lot of people found helpful.

ETA: This post is now also available in Chinese on Weibo, thanks to MrOctopus233.

Nominations for the 2023 Hugo Awards closed yesterday and the finalists are expected to be announced sometime in May.

Right now, no one except for possibly the Hugo administrators knows who those finalists will be. And yes, I deliberately posted this so shortly after the Hugo nominations closed that the e-mails won’t have gone out yet and no one know who the finalists are.

However, sometime in the next two weeks or so, some of you will receive an e-mail from the Chengdu Worldcon, informing you that you are a finalist for the 2023 Hugo Award and asking you whether you want to accept the nomination. Some of you will have received such e-mails before, for others it will be the first time.

But whether it’s your first or your twentieth nomination, congratulations! That’s awesome.

As a first time recipient of such an e-mail in 2020 as well as a Hugo finalist in 2021 and Hugo winner in 2022, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. The e-mail may not look like you think it will. When I got the e-mail from CoNZealand in 2020, the subject line was “CoNZealand Hugo Awards Confidential”. I was exhausted that day and waiting for two important e-mails, so I scanned right past that subject line, because I assumed it was the convention newsletter. I only opened the mail, because none of the two important e-mails had come yet, so I thought I might as well check out the CoNZealand e-mail while I was waiting. Good thing that I did.
  2. If you receive an e-mail from the Chengdu Worldcon, please reply as soon as you can whether you accept the nomination or not. If there are questions with regard to eligibility, answer them as soon as possible. The Hugo administrator and their team work very hard, so don’t make their job any harder than it has to be.
  3. The Chengdu team will also ask you to keep quiet about your nomination until the official announcement. Please don’t violate this, because you don’t want to steal Chengdu’s thunder!
  4. The period between the time when the finalists are notified and when the Hugo finalists are officially announced can be weird, because while you know that you’re a finalist, almost nobody else does. I blogged a bit about my experiences in 2020 here. Basically, I kept having the niggling fear that there had been some terrible mistake and that I wasn’t a finalist after all or that I only was a finalist because all twenty people who would have been ahead of me had withdrawn. From talking to other first time finalists, I learned that I wasn’t alone in this. And while I can’t guarantee that terrible mistakes won’t happen, the chance that the wrong person is notified about being a Hugo finalist is extremely small. So relax. You really are a Hugo finalist, even if nobody else knows it yet.
  5. Do something nice for yourself to celebrate. Have an ice cream, a nice box of chocolates, a glass of champagne, a good beer, a bubble bath, whatever it is that makes you happy. You’re a Hugo finalist, so you damn well deserve to celebrate in private.
  6. You can tell a few people you trust about your nomination as long as you know they won’t blab it all over the internet. Before the official announcement, a handful of people knew I was a Hugo finalist. These include my parents (whose reaction was, “That’s nice,” before turning back to watch a rerun of Midsomer Murders), some folks from Galactic Journey and others in the SFF community, who knew not to say anything before the official announcement, as well as my accountant (because I asked her if buying an evening gown for the Hugo ceremony was tax-deductible – it’s not BTW) and the guy who repaired my patio, because he just happened to be there, when I got the e-mail. Neither the accountant nor the patio guy are SFF fans, so chances of a leak were zero. They both also probably thought I was quite mad.
  7. If you are nominated in a fiction category – i.e. short story, novelette, novella, novel, Series, Lodestar or Astounding – or nominated for a non-fiction book or essay in Best Related Work, you should let your editor and/or publisher know that you’re a finalist. They work in the industry and therefore know not to say anything and they may want to prepare some kind of congratulatory tweet, post or other promotion effort. Finally, editors are also thrilled when one of their authors is nominated.
  8. One thing I did not do is tell people about my nomination who might be up in the same category. Because I didn’t know who else was nominated (you don’t before the official announcement) and didn’t want anybody to feel disappointed, because I was a finalist and they were not.
  9. Even if you can’t publicly talk about your Hugo nomination just yet, there are still a few things you can do in the meantime. For example, you can update your bio to mention that you’re a Hugo finalist or write a bio, if you don’t have one yet. Important: Don’t upload your updated bio anywhere until the official announcement has been made! In fact, I spent a chunk of the evening after the Hugo finalists had been announced updating my bio everywhere it appears.
  10. In fact – and this is important – don’t upload anything that mentions your Hugo nomination anywhere on the internet, until the official announcement has been made. Even if you set a Tweet or blogpost to go live after the announcement has been made, don’t upload it yet. Because mistakes happen, you accidentally hit “publish” rather than “schedule” or a post goes live too early. I had my celebratory blogpost ready to go in Word, but I only uploaded it with links and a few comments added once the announcement had been made.
  11. Another thing you can do in the meantime is prepare a media kit, if you haven’t got one already. You can see mine here and there are also plenty of pages around the web that tell you what a media kit is supposed to contain. Important: Get permission to use any photos that you did not take yourself.
  12. Another thing you can do is write a press release about your Hugo nomination. It doesn’t matter which category you’re nominated in, whether it’s Best Novel or a fan category. Write a press release anyway. There are plenty of places around the web which tell you how to write a press release. It varies from country to country, so make sure you get the correct format for your country. My press releases from 2020, 2o21 and 2022 (in German) are here. Then make a list of the contact info for the relevant newspapers, radio stations and other media outlets in your region or country. Once the nominations have been announced, send your press release as well as the link to your media kit to those media outlets. The press release linked above netted me two in-depth profiles and a bonus article in two different newspapers in 2020 and two more in-depth profiles in 2021 as well as an article and an interview in 2022, which is much more than I’d hoped for.
  13. Consider whether you want to attend Worldcon and the ceremony. And yes, I know it’s difficult, because of covid  and because conditions and restrictions are very different in different parts of the world. For Chengdu, high travel costs and difficulties getting a visa may also be a problem for many. Nonetheless, get a Worldcon membership, if you haven’t got one already. Like most recent Worldcons, Chengdu offers a reduced rate for people attending their first ever Worldcon. You can also start looking for flights, hotels, etc…. If you need to apply for a visa, do so now. If money is an issue, as it’s for many of us, think about crowdfunding your Worldcon trip, as several finalists have done in recent years. However, don’t start your crowdfunding campaign, until after the finalists have been announced.
  14. If you want to participate in programming, contact Chengdu, since I can’t find a program participation form on their website. Do this as early as possible, so the programming team doesn’t have to find suitable programming for you at the last minute.
  15. Finally, start thinking about the Hugo voter packet. If you need to get permission to include certain texts or images, contact the relevant people.

Finally, here are a few observations regarding what happens after the Hugo finalists are announced:

  1. A lot of people will congratulate you. These will be people you expect – friends, peers, etc… – but also people you don’t expect. After the newspaper articles mentioned above came out, I suddenly got congratulations from translation customers, various relatives, neighbours, former classmates, my plumber and my Dad’s diabetes doctor among others. Enjoy the experience, thank everybody and don’t forget to congratulate your fellow finalists.
  2. Some people will also not congratulate you and again, some of these will be people you don’t expect. There are several reasons why someone might not congratulate you and most of them are not malicious. For example, some people might simply not have seen the news yet. Or they may not understand the significance, since not everybody is plugged into the SFF community and knows how important the Hugos are. Of course, there will also be a few people who think that you don’t deserve your nomination. Ignore them!
  3. Your fellow Hugo finalists are not your rivals, they are your peers. You’ll probably know some of them already and if not, you’ll quickly get to know them. And yes, only one of you will get to take home the rocket in the end, but all six of you are amazing and in a way, you’re all winners. This also applies across categories. I met a lot of great people in the SFF community and even made new friends, just because we were on the Hugo ballot in the same year.
  4. In general, there is a sense of community to siblinghood among Hugo finalists. Whether you’re a bestselling author or a first-time finalist in a fan category, you’re all in this together. There is usually a private group for Hugo finalists to chat, ask questions, share gripes, post photos of Hugo gowns, tiaras and pets, etc…
  5. If you’re not part of the Worldcon SFF community and don’t know anybody else on the ballot, don’t worry! You’ll get to know the others soon enough and pretty much everybody in this community is lovely and very welcoming. If you’re a repeat finalist, reach out to the first-timers to make them welcome. This year, we will likely see at least some Chinese finalists, so please try to reach out to them as well.
  6. As a Hugo finalist, you will get plenty of e-mails from Chengdu about anything from the Hugo voter packet via the program book to the ceremony itself. Pay attention to those e-mails, send any information requested in time and check your spam folder. You don’t accidentally want to miss something important.
  7. Once the Hugo finalists have been announced, there will be people who have opinions about the ballot. Most will be positive or at least fair – I always try to be fair in my own Hugo and Nebula finalist commentaries, even if I don’t care for some of the finalists – but some will be not. There are always people who think that your category or the entire ballot is too male, not male enough, too white, not white enough, too queer, not queer enough, too American, not American enough, too bestselling, not bestselling enough – you get the idea. There will be people who complain that only people no one knows got nominated or that only the usual suspects got nominated – and multiple bestsellers and Hugo winners can be “people no one knows”, while first or second time finalists can be “the usual suspects”. Some of these people won’t even wait 24 hours after the Hugo finalists have been announced to air their opinions – at least they didn’t in 2021. Some will even tag you, just to make sure you don’t miss their very important opinions. The best thing to do is ignore those people.
  8. A handful of people seem to have made it their life’s mission to mock and harass Hugo finalists. Ignore them and block them on social media and don’t let them get you down. Most of them are just jealous.
  9. There will be drama. So far, I’ve never seen a Worldcon that did not have at least some degree of drama and I have been a Worldcon member since 2014. Often, this drama affects the Hugo finalists in some way. Sometimes, the Hugo finalists even band together and try to resolve this drama. How you engages with whatever this year’s drama will be is up to you. However, don’t let it get you down. Drama is normal. At this point, I would be more surprised at a Worldcon without drama than at one which has some degree of drama. And usually, everybody winds up having a great time anyway.

So what happens, if you win?

  1. Basically more of the same. Lots of people will congratulate you, most of them with genuine enthusiasm, a few very grudgingly (one in my case, not a fellow finalist) and some not at all.
  2. Make sure to have your acceptance speech ready before the ceremony with the names of all the people you want to thank. Check with people how their names are pronounced, if you aren’t sure. Always have a printed paper copy of your speech, because phones can and do break down, run out of juice, fail to have reception or get overloaded with messages at the crucial moment.
  3. After you win a Hugo, you should prepare another press release and send it to all the local, regional and national media you can think of. I actually wrote mine at six AM in the morning after the winners had been announced.
  4. Don’t forget to update your bio wherever it appears. That includes anthologies or magazines where you’ve been accepted, but which aren’t out yet.
  5. Your “market value” (for lack of a better word) does go up with your first nomination, goes up even further with your second and even more, if you win. For example, I got a story acceptance in the mail literally the day after I won. Of course, the story might have been accepted anyway, but the timing was still interesting. I also gained a bunch of new Twitter followers with every nomination and winning a Hugo pushed me over the 3000 follower mark for the first time. You’ll also notice that your name will start to show up on covers of anthologies or magazines, sometimes with “Hugo winner” attached. However, you’ll still get rejections as well, because even Hugo winners get rejected and that’s perfectly normal.
  6. You’ll also find that you have acquired more clout in the SFF community, something which also happens once you get nominated. Use what influence you have in the SFF community for good, to uplift and support others.
  7. One thing I noticed is that I would sometimes find myself thinking, “Wait a minute, I have a Hugo and [insert name of vastly more important genre person here] doesn’t? How on Earth did that happen?”
  8. That said, certain people will still call you a nobody who barely sells any books or a fake fan or whatever. This literally happened to me approx. a month after I won the Hugo, when I got into an argument about a TV show with the adherents of one of those “We hate everything” outrage clickbait YouTube channels. I pointed out that I really enjoyed the object of their rage du jour and so did many others and was called “not a real fan” in response. When I said, “Dude, I’m the 2022 Hugo winner for Best Fan Writer”, I was told that awards didn’t matter, that I was clearly not a real fan, because I didn’t hate the thing. Best just ignore those people and privately think, “Guess who has a shiny rocket? Hint, it’s not you.”

Finally – and this is the most important point – enjoy your experience! You’re a Hugo finalist, i.e. your peers consider you and your work one of the six best in your respective category. That’s amazing, so celebrate!

If anybody wants to translate this into Chinese for the benefit of Chinese Hugo finalists, please feel free to do so.

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4 Responses to An Open Letter to the 2023 Hugo Finalists, Whoever They May Be

  1. David E Hook says:

    Cora, thanks for the update and the helpful thoughts.

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