On the question of my novelette “Lady Astronaut of Mars” and the Hugo ballot.

So, this link is getting passed around on the internet and people are asking me if I knew about the disqualification of “Lady Astronaut of Mars.” No. I didn’t. Not until the night of the Hugos, when I saw the same list everyone else did. I checked it because I was curious to see if the novelette had come close to the ballot and discovered that it had received enough nominations to make it to the ballot, but had been declared ineligible because it was an audiobook.

Hugo 2013 novelette

Since I found it confusing that they thought it should be in Dramatic Presentation, I thought I’d try to get some clarification and have been in contact with the Hugo administrators over the past week. The past clearly can’t be affected, but I had some questions going forward. Not just about my story, but because I’m not the only author that this will affect. Audible has been doing original stories in audio without a print version. At the moment, it’s not clear which category of the Hugos they belong in.

One reason that I was confused is that, to an author, “dramatic presentation” means very specific rights, which we didn’t sell to Audible.com. I mean, yes. “Lady Astronaut of Mars” was in an audiobook anthology, but it’s still a novelette.

I should point out that this is just a question with the Hugos. The Nebula awards made the ruling  several years ago, that the form of delivery didn’t matter regardless of if it was paper, ebook, engraved clay tablets, or audiobook. What counted were the words that the author wrote. However, the Hugos are not the Nebulas and are governed by different rules.

You can read the complete Hugo rules online.

Meanwhile, here are the emails that I’ve exchanged with the committee, which I would rather supply to make sure context is totally clear than risk distorting things from a partial narrative.

Sep 3, 2013 at 6:09 PM

Dear Mr. Dashoff, Mr. Docherty, Mr. Jaffe, Mr. Staton, Ms. Welsh, and Mr. Yalow,

After the Hugo Awards, I was shocked to see that my novelette “Lady Astronaut of Mars” had received enough nominations to make the ballot but had been declared ineligible. I saw the note that it was because it was an audiobook, but I don’t understand why that rendered it ineligible.

When Metatropolis, also from Audible, came out the authors were told that the anthology as a whole was eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation, but that the individual stories were eligible in the appropriate fiction categories. Why was my story different?

I’ve gone through the rules and don’t see anything about the medium of delivery for stories. Can you please help me to understand what happened?

Sincerely yours,

Sep 4, 2013 at 7:21 AM


I expected this to happen once the results were published.

When the nominations were received, the subcommittee went back and looked at the website and your comments, which included the statement that the ORIGINAL item had included stage directions for how to present the various characters in the story.  The printed version that appeared in (if I remember correctly) February 2013, which we suspect many nominators saw before submitting their choices, did not contain these directions.  Since for the purposes of eligibility at LoneStarCon 3 the eligible item is the Audible presentation, we felt that the additional stage directions made it a different work from the story that was printed on the website and more correctly should have been located in the Best Dramatic Presentation category.

Given all of the above, it was also the opinion of the subcommittee that the story as it appeared on the website in February 2013 should be eligible for a Hugo at Loncon 3.  However, just as there was a different administrator handling the Hugos when Metatropolis was released, who made the opinion on that work, there will be a different administrator, Dave McCarty, in charge of the Hugos next year at LonCon.  Mr. Yalow will be in charge of the entire WSFS division, of which the Hugos are a part, so he will be familiar with the history of this item.  I am including Mr. McCarty as a recipient of this response, so that he will be familiar with the situation as well.  I cannot guarantee that he will rule as I and our subcommittee did, but I will be happy to provide any other information you feel would help support our decision to allow eligibility for the novelette in 2014.

This was an unfortunate “edge case”, but the entire subcommittee agreed with the interpretation.  I believe that it might be helpful for someone to propose clarification to the WSFS constitution to delineate whether the medium by which material is presented does or does not affect the category  for a given work.


Todd Dashoff
Hugo Administrator, LoneStarCon 3

Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Dear Todd,

Thank you for the explanation. I will admit that I am dismayed as the text on my website is exactly the text that I gave the narrator, including the stage directions. This is the original. There are only two true stage directions. [Dorothy as child] and [snorts]. The rest are lines that I suggested cutting if the narrator didn’t need them. If you search for [square brackets] you will see all five of the “stage directions.” What appears on my website is the original, not something that was modified for print.

While I did write “Lady Astronaut of Mars” knowing that the final product would be performed, it is still a novelette.

I took advantage of the medium that the story would appear in, in the same way that I might include hyperlinks in a work that I knew was going to be in ebook format or footnotes for one in print. Beyond that, I thought it was still a novelette.

Since there is nothing in the rules to suggest that the medium matters, I was blindsided. May I suggest that, in the future, contacting the author beforehand would at least eliminate the pain of making a discovery like this while at a party? It was unpleasant and something I would rather have learned in private.

Meanwhile, I would very much like to know if this work is still eligible in print, especially since it is exactly the same form as the one that was declared ineligible. Since your ruling was based on the mistaken belief that the printed text was different than the recorded one, do I need to revise it and republish it in print in order for it to count as a new work?

Along those lines, for works that appear in both print and audio, are both versions eligible in their respective categories?

Finally, since I will ultimately need to let people know if it is or is not eligible for next year, may I have permission to quote your email?

Thank you for the work that you put into administering the Hugos and for taking the time to answer my questions.


Sep 8, 2013 at 10:41 AM

Dear Mr. McCarty and Mr. Dashoff,

I’d like to include Stephen Feldberg, of Audible, in this conversation since this decision affects a lot of authors besides me. Audible has been commissioning original short stories, novelettes, and novellas for audio anthologies for some time now. I’ve apprised him of what happened with my story, as well as letting other authors know that their stories may be affected in the future.

I agree that a measure should be raised at the next WSFs, but it will be too late to alter the eligibility of stories published in 2013, so we have to rely on the Hugo committee for that decision. I think it would save a lot of confusion and potential strife if we could have the answer before nominating begins. Can you let me know if where things stand?

Again, thank you for your time and attention.



Sep 9, 2013 at 7:08 AM from Todd Dashoff

I have discussed this again with the members of my subcommittee, and our opinion remains that the work published in 2012 belongs in Best Dramatic Presentation.  My personal opinion is that the printed work that appeared on your website in February of 2013 would be eligible in the appropriate fiction category, but as previously stated, I am not the Hugo Administrator for 2013, and it is usually the practice of the Administrator to not make rulings in advance on issues.

Sep 9, 2013 at 8:28 AM

Dear Mr. Dashoff,

Thank you for that clarification. Unless you have any objections, I’m going to quote your emails so that I can provide an official source for this information to the other authors and fans that this is a gray area.



As someone who has been on the hotseat about awards eligibility, I am not expecting them to make a ruling about future audiobooks with any speed.  And I’m going to take Mr. Dashoff’s advice and attempt to draft an amendment to the WSFS constitution. Of course, my preference would be that the medium in which a story is published should not matter. Either way, it would take two years for such a measure to go into effect, which means that we’re still looking at the current rule set.

Based on the Metatropolis rulingI had previously thought that the text was eligible for fiction categories, while the performance could be considered for dramatic presentation. According to this ruling, if a work is only in audio form, it’s disqualified from the fiction categories and only eligible as a dramatic presentation.

There’s actually an exciting opportunity for authors here, if future Hugo administrators maintain the separation of audio from fiction.

Given the rules on year of eligibility, it means that if the audio form and the ebook/print form come out in different years, each form would be eligible in the year it first appears. Remakes of audiobooks would also be eligible, following the precedent set by remakes of SF films. For instance, Ellen Kushner’s The Fall of Kings came out as a novel in 2003, but the audiobook with Neil Gaiman performing, just came out in 2013. This production of it should thus be eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form.

Since they are considering audiobooks are separate entities from print books, that means that the audiobook should still be considered in dramatic presentation while the print/ebook is in the fiction categories. For instance, Seanan McGuire’s Chimes at Midnight, which I narrate, could theoretically be considered next year for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form AND Best Novel.

Mind you, I think that the form in which a work appears shouldn’t matter for its inclusion in the fiction categories, but I will abide by whatever the rules are. I will admit that I’d like to know what they are ahead of time. Right now? I have no idea what is eligible in 2013.

Anyone want to help me draft an amendment?

EDITED TO ADD: This clause in the WSFS Constitution was just pointed out to me.

3.2.4: A work shall not be eligible if in a prior year it received sufficient nominations to appear on the final award ballot.

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44 thoughts on “On the question of my novelette “Lady Astronaut of Mars” and the Hugo ballot.”

  1. I guess the lesson learned here is never mention the phrase “stage directions” about a work you want considered. That’s the only logical reasoning I could come away with on this decision.

  2. Regardless of their reasoning for excluding your work, the way it was handled was extraordinarily disrespectful. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to publicly discover your work struck through at the #3 spot. You have my sympathy. For all you’ve done for the SF community, you deserved better than that.

  3. I guess I’m torn on “audioformat” and “dramatic presentation.” For me, an audio book or podcast of a story is a story. “Dramatic Presentation” for me requires a cast of characters. I know they share several of the same production values: editing, pacing, direction, but I don’t yet consider audioformats part of the dramatic presentation form.

    But, as I think and type, perhaps it should be considered dramatic presentation. I think I’m changing my mind mid-comment. I remember reading “The Importance of Being Earnest” and trying to figure out why all these nasty people in this “wittiest play in the English language.” When I watched a performance, I laughed pretty much most of the time. For awards purposes, do you judge the text or the delivery?

    Kristen Stewart could be given the greatest monologue in history and ruin it with her mumbling monotone.

      1. And yet, millions of sight impaired persons use some form of audio book every day as their only access to literature, journals, otherwise printed news, or any number of otherwise printed materials that they would have no access to without the recorded word. It really is akin to saying it isn’t real because you hear it, but you can’t see it.

        In other word. BS.

  4. My sympathies. What a terrible way to find out. Thank you for taking on the work to draft an amendment to clarify the situation.

    For now, I hope the incoming Award Committee chooses to declare your story eligible for next year’s novelette Hugo.

  5. I’m willing to help with the Business Meeting stuff, as I always make a point of attending those. I’m also not certain that an amendment is necessary to fix this — a motion of continuing effect might be sufficient, and would take only one year to pass. (Granted, I’m not the best of the BM warriors, and there are many who’ve been in there since before I was born, but you’ve got my support, and my help if you need it.)

  6. My preference is to amend the category clarifying that audiobooks are Dramatic Presentations (and not eligible for print awards).

    The problem is that otherwise, a particularly good audio presentation of a work isn’t eligible for a hugo on its merits — paritcularly if it appears years after the printed version; but Best Dramatic Presentation is about the performance — not the script.

    So I think it’s important that audiobooks remain eligible for BDP. Otherwise, we can’t reward particularly good audiobooks, and we should be able to do so.

    The question, then, is whether the script of a dramatic presentation is separately eligible for the written fiction categories if it is unpublished (except as the dramatic work itself). For that, I’d have to argue in the negative:

    First, the Hugos have a very strong ethos towards not having a single work qualifying (where possible) for multiple awards. Allowing a script to be eligible without separate publication would break this.

    Second, I think it disadvantages a script (or a read story) to treat its first dramatic presentation (which may not reach as many people as the first print/ebook presentation) as the only year in which it’s eligible.

    Basically, the hugos are currently (correctly) conscrued as to avoid prejudice based on media. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t hugely tied to -form-, and I think that that’s correct (until we start seeing forms that aren’t covered, anyway).

  7. Some people interested in the Hugo rules that I’m in contact with had a discussion about audio books the other year. It’s complicated because audio books range from one person just reading the book, to much more complex presentations with multiple voice actors portraying different characters (you probably know this better than me, since I know you both write things that are recorded as audio books *and* read for audio books yourself).

    It seemed obvious to me that, generally, an audio book was just a different format of the story, like an ebook, though perhaps some of the extreme cases might rise to the level of dramatic presentation.
    But apparently it didn’t seem obvious to many other people; most people seemed to come down on the side of considering them dramatic presentations.

    Certainly radio-plays can be dramatic presentations; Firesign Theater and the original BBC Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy come to mind, and local fan Jerry Stearns both produces such works and administers the Mark Time Awards for them.

    The line between a radio-play adaptation of a book and an audio book version of that book is going to have a pretty fuzzy zone somewhere. The issue, I think, in trying for constitutional clarification of this, is to find a principle to divide them across. Something that both the administrator and the voters will understand and think is sensible.

    It seems clear to me that these are the extreme cases, and that the extreme cases are easy to categorize. The difficulties, as always, come somewhere in between, in the border between the categories.

    A single person reading the each and every word in the text of the story in their own voice, with no music or sound effects, is *not* a dramatic presentation. (The way books for the blind are done is I believe an example of this extreme.)

    A production using a different actor for each character (or voice actors good enough that the audience doesn’t realize that a single actor is voicing multiple characters), having sound effects and perhaps music, and significantly changing the text *is* a dramatic presentation.

    Trouble is, I’m not sure what to do with multiple voice actors voicing each character and the narrator in the book, reading every word of the text, with sound effects.

    I would personally incline towards making the default be to consider an audio book to be an edition of the book, not a dramatic presentation, except in extreme cases.

    I’m amused at your references to the possible complexities that following the current administrator’s decision will lead to.

    1. Thanks so much. For me the thing as an audiobook narrator is that recording a book doesn’t magically stop it from being a novel, even if it never appears in print. I can absolutely see the argument that the performance of an audiobook could be considered in Best Dramatic Presentation, but I don’t think that it should make the text ineligible in its appropriate fiction category.

      Honestly, I don’t think a strong restrictive set of rules would benefit anyone. A lot of times this comes down to someone pointing at it and saying, “This is a performance” and “this isn’t.” If the fans make the call, I think their opinion should have the final say.

      1. Exactly. Did Mr. Dashoff determine that because of the things he cited above, The Lady Astronaut of Mars was not a novelette? As the version you published on your website was exactly the same as the version that was made into the audiobook, why would publishing it on your website suddenly make it a novelette?

        If it is a novelette, it should have been eligible as a novelette.

    2. But apparently it did seem obvious (that an audiobook was just a different format of the story) to 61 nominators as well as the author. (And me too, fwiw.) I wouldn’t be too quick to discount your initial impression, or to discard policy suggestions arising from it.

  8. HI Mary, I’d like to help you with the amendment, like Warren I go to the BM every year, and I have had reasonable success at getting things changed in the past …

  9. Seems a silly distinction to make, though no sillier than some of the arcane rules for Oscar nominations. Sorry you didn’t make it on the ballot — I usually try to check out the nominees and had thus missed your story. I will look for it on Audible.

  10. I’m also willing to help where I can. I’m going to both London and Spokane so can be at both sets of business meetings. I’ll be there anyway because of the YA Hugo and the No Representation Without Taxation items.

    I’m concerned about “…it is usually the practice of the Administrator to not make rulings in advance on issues.” All eligile nominators (members of LoneStar, LonCon and Sasquan) ought to know going into the nominations what is eligible where. I hope urge Dave McCarty and the rest of the Hugo committee to clarify before then.

  11. The most problematic part of this (aside from the discourtesy to Mary) is that English language publishing draws a distinction between audio books and dramatic presentations as subsidiary rights. They are not the same thing! An audio book is not a dramatization, even if some of them go so far as to use multiple narrators to indicated different characters. I think that, if the Hugo administrators find the two confusing, a rules amendment is certainly in order. It troubles me that this is an eligibility distinction that could change from year to year, based on the opinion of a single person.

    And while I know that the “it does’t have to be printed on paper” rule was instituted to cover works published in webzines, and not audio books, still a story is a story, whether you read it on paper or a screen, or someone tells it to you. In fact, one could make a case that the telling is the original form of story.

  12. Mary, I’m sorry this happened to you, and in the way that it did.

    Many people, in the same circumstances, would have gone ballistic and used the interwebs to rant. Kudos to you for turning it into an opportunity for examination and reflection, with the possibility for growth and change in our field.

    You are a class act.

  13. I hate the way you discovered the ruling. I believe that any audiobook should be judged strickly for it’s content, but I also think that an addition performance category would be nice but may not make sense for the Hugos. I know of books that I loved where I didn’t love the narration and books where the narration was fabulous but the book wasn’t as strong. So you really are judging two things. However, I’m not sure it makes sense to have two categories for the Hugos. There’s no separate category for physical book presentation – that evaluates binding, fonts, paper etc that go into producing a book. There are beautifully produced books that I don’t love (rare, because these are usually classics and there’s a reason they’re in that category). There are poorly printed books that I love. Unless more technical categories emerge, media shouldn’t matter.

  14. Geez, that’s a mess. They really should have told you before. And they are wrongity wrong wrong.

    I promise to nominate you again next year! And get up early for the Spokane business meeting.

  15. You were the epitome of The Class Act in the face of the results sheet. In a situation that was a mere shadow of a Hugo denial, but vitally important to me, I probably looked like I was hit with a 2×4. Thank you for offering a bridge to the future, and may they rule the story goes on the ballot next year.

  16. Since I cannot deal easily with narrated text and therefore would never consider buying anything from Audible, I agree with the original con committee: a reading of a novelette is a dramatic reading, not a novelette. I also agree that the printed version is of course eligible for 2013, despite clause 3.2.4.

    1. What about our blind friends who don’t have a braille version available, or who have found that narrated text is more enjoyable for them than reading braille?

  17. Forgive me if I repeat some of what has already been noted here, but there are a lot of comments. I tried to read as many as possible, but if I read them all I wouldn’t have time to write a response so….

    As a book reviewer, who is sent both text and audiobooks by most major publishers and production companies, I would say without a doubt that I would qualify your novelette as an Audiobook, not an audiodrama. This is crucial to me because it such definitions dictate the way I present my reviews as well as whether or not I review a piece (I do not, for the most part, review audiodramas).

    David Dyer-Bennett makes some very good comments, and brings up the topic of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. I am delighted because this is a case that helps me make my case. The HGG has been produced, in order, as a Radio drama, a record, a book, a TV series, an audiobook, and a movie. As it turns out, at the 100th posting of my review site, I reviewed all versions of that work, so I know it well.

    The audiodrama (radio originally) came first, and is completely different than the narrated audiobook. The first has multiple characters, sound effects, music etc. The second has a narrator who describes what is going on and does all the voices, etc. themselves. The same can be said in the BBC radio drama of the Lord of the Rings, versus the Narrated audio books. I point this out because they are clear cut examples.

    A less clear cut example, is that of the Audiobook of Dune, narrated by Simon Vance, but with part of is curiously performed as an audiodrama by a whole cast. This is what I would consider a borderline case. Though I would still define it as an audiobook for the purposes of the Hugos.

    This is definitely not the situation with your novelette. Your stage directions are reading instructions to the narrator, not stage directions. Anyone who has worked with voice talents, including myself, knows that a certain amount of information is necessary. Pronunciation guides, instructions for accents, etc. are always useful, lest the voice talent starts off giving one character’s voice a Jamaican accent and three chapters later discovers their Irish.

    I can give dozens of examples of audiobooks, marketed and defined as audiobooks not audio dramas, that cut the line a lot closer to Dramatic Presentation than your story does. If it would be of any help, let me know and I’ll trawl through my old reviews.

    All the best,

  18. Mary, you are so very calm while the scenery falls, well done!

    “I expected this to happen once the results were published.”
    — God forbid that they actually contact you beforehand.

    From Mr. Dashoff’s comments it seems that they only read about the story and did not actually check the text of the web version against the audio version before ruling on it.

  19. I’d be happy to help you draft an amendment, or a resolution, or whatever. I should probably add that, if I can get to Loncon, I’ll be chairing the Business Meeting, and I’m also the author of the last major rewrite of the Hugo rules (back in 1997).

  20. Mary, my sincerest sympathy on the painful way you learned of your story’s disqualification. I’m not a writer or publisher, but I am a long-time, WorldCon-attending, Hugo-voting fan, and from my perspective an audiobook is a book, not a dramatic presentation (unlike a podcast or a radio play). The fans who nominated “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” obviously considered it a novelette as they nominated it as such and, in the absence of a clear rule that states otherwise, the committee should have let the fans’ vote stand. The Hugos are, after all, the fans’ award.

  21. Kudos on your calm, take on this. I disagree with the decision, but can understand and sympathize to an extent with how they got to it. What seems beyond the pale is that no one thought to mention this pretty crushing news to you beforehand, even though they “expected to hear about it.” And Mr. Dashoff didn’t even bother addressing your pain at being blind-sided.

    I assume that 3.2.4 wouldn’t apply to “Lady Astronaut of Mars” as it did not appear on the final award ballot? (Presumably because it did not have enough votes in the “proper” category?) I sure plan to nominate it, and I doubt I’m alone.

  22. Thinking further…

    What the committee seems to be saying is that if you had spent five to ten minutes searching on brackets and changing each instance of brackets into something appropriate for printed text, and if you had written a shorter intro that didn’t discuss the nature of audio scripts (which would subtract at least some of those minutes), you would have been eligible.

    People are baffling.

  23. For what it is worth, as a first time Hugo nominator/voter this year, I considered the stories in Rip-Off! in the written categories, not as dramatic presentations. Obviously, I was not alone.

    Good luck to you in getting the rules changed/clarified. How to categorize audio books should be clear to all concerned – voters, potential nominees, and committee members.

  24. You said “When Metatropolis, also from Audible, came out the authors were told that the anthology as a whole was eligible for Best Dramatic Presentation, but that the individual stories were eligible in the appropriate fiction categories.” Who told them? Since I don’t see any of those stories having been nominated, I doubt the Hugo Subcommittee made any rulings on them (it avoids making rulings when they wouldn’t matter).

      1. Audio publication is certainly publication; the question is the category. And SFWA has nothing to do with the Hugos.

        I don’t believe there were (or could have been) people who would know which category items fell in; if the members of the Hugo Subcommittee disagreed, they would discuss, argue, and finally vote. So even they wouldn’t know (in advance), and anybody else could only guess.

  25. Audiobook rights are by long tradition in the business of publishing further subdivided into dramatic and non dramatic rights and abridged and unabridged. Audiobook contracts usually specify dramatic and non dramatic rights with most publishers asking for both. If you’ve ever wondered why a company like graphic audio, which does nothing but dramatic presentations, publishes audiobooks of titles published elsewhere it is because they are dramatic. For the audiobook industry the line between dramatic and non dramatic is grey one and they have substantial money on the line.

    In practical terms the dramatic category is ruled by films moving an audio presentation of prose into that category dooms it to failure with the current mindset of the voters.

  26. Mary, I’m so very sorry that this happened to you. You handled it well. It’s important to remember that the Hugos, like the rest of Worldcon, are run by volunteers who do an immense amount of work for the sheer love of it. As a member of the community of fans (as well as being a professional writer), I apologize that you were blindsided, and I hope such a thing never happens again. Best of luck on the next Hugo ballot. Your grace in this matter will certainly help your award karma. Fans have been known to get mulish and resentful when abused, even justifiably, by members of the professional writer’s community. Other writers should attempt to emulate your exquisite manners when frustrated by the somewhat chaotic and Byzantine conventions of fandom.

  27. I’ll start by echoing the words of so many others: handled beautifully, with class and grace alike.

    Now… as someone who nominated the work in question in the Novelette category, I’m as befuddled as most everyone else here (and elsewhere where I’ve seen this discussed). I can _understand_, I suppose, how the committee came to their conclusion, but I certainly disagree with it. Not least because (as some have pointed out) audiobooks ARE books, and for some (most notably the blind, but far from exclusively) are either their sole or vast majority method of “reading.” If the delivery format were so telling, then what about e-only books? Or, as some would say, “books,” because there are those who’ll say that e-books aren’t books at all. And yet that seems to be a settled question, for some time now. And we call audiobooks just that, not “audio presentations of a book.”

    Perhaps this is a more modern, newfangled idea, but if it is then I’m not sure why I hold it. I’m not old by any means, but at 42 I’m not exactly young either. This Worldcon was, however, my first, and if I’m to be one of the ones to drag SFF kicking and screaming into the 21st century – talk about irony – then so be it.

    What I regret most is not knowing, because I had a Short Dramatic Presentation slot left on my nomination form. Had I but known, I’d have nominated LAoM as both Novelette AND BDP:SF, and let them sort it out.

  28. So sorry this happened to you — even with the “confusion” and uncertainty it would have been a lot classier to at least let you know privately and in advance.

    I’m glad the folks who go to the BMs will be helping out with Hugo amendment(s).


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