Ad Astra: The Nebulas and The Hugos

All of us science-fiction readers have heard multiple times that this or that author won the Nebula Award or the Hugo Award, or even both of them! But what processes lie behind the stickers and blurbs?

Image courtesy of ThorstenF

This morning a bookstagrammer asked me (well, not just me, it was a general post with a question that I couldn’t ignore) about the genre I turn to for comfort. This is a common question and you see these at last once a week in different profiles on social media. The answer sprung to my head immediately: science-fiction. Being my over-thinking self, I wondered ‘Why?’. Well, as Freud would say, it all comes from childhood, so I love sci-fi mainly because that was the first genre I was introduced to as a kid. My father is an avid science-fiction reader, so our home was always full of classic sci-fi novels. For me, reading about space exploration, aliens, other planets, spaceships, and the (post-)human future of our race will always be associated with the most comfortable and secure time of my life. Funny enough, I learned the words the Hugo and the Nebula way before I knew what these awards actually were (or that they were awards in the first place, haha). It just seemed so natural that my favourite Robert Heinlein novels have all these words on the cover.

In Episode 3 of our podcast we interviewed Dr Simon Rosenberg about the Women’s Prize for Fiction. It made me think about the voting processes and decision-making when it comes to books in general and the fantasy genre in particular. In this blog post I would like to have a closer look at two most famous science-fiction and fantasy awards: the Nebulas and the Hugos. Let’s take a look at the structure of the awards and their traditions.

The Nebula Awards

Every spring somewhere in the States a group of science-fiction writers and critics get together to announce and celebrate this year’s best works of the genre. Established in 1965, The Nebula Awards® is given to the best novel, novella, novelette, short story, and script.

Who presents the nominees and votes for the winner?

The members of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. (further mentioned as SFWA because the name is just too long). BUT if you don’t know anybody who happens to be an active member of the SFWA, you can still try to get their attention:

“Members and non-members alike are encouraged to offer their eligible works for consideration for the Nebula, Norton, and Bradbury Awards by making them available on the Nebula Awards: Fiction area on the discussion forum.” or email it to it to the Nebula Awards Commissioner at

Nebula Rules

The SFWA President chooses a Nebula Awards Commissioner, who oversees and administers the Award (and also does everything that needs to be done for the Award to happen – sounds like a dream job to you? I wouldn’t be so sure). The above mentioned President also appoints a three person SFWA Awards Rules Committee (further abbreviated to SARC, for the same reason as SFWA). I still can’t really figure out what they do but apparently they look out for correctness of procedures.

The categories are as follows:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more.
  • Game Writing: An interactive or playable story-driven work which conveys narrative, character, or story background.

(The list of categories I took from the official website of the Awards. It’s their original punctuation)

Interesting fact is that if the SFWA come up with any new category, the award would also be considered Nebula Awards. This means every year we could have a new form of literary work added to already existing categories and this new category would also be part of the prestigious Nebula family.

The Nebula awards year begins January 31, and it ends consequently on December 31.

The nominees should be first published and made available to the readers in English, in the USA, during this calendar year (so, if your masterpiece of sci-fi or fantasy is gonna be published in the US at 23:59 on December, 31st, you can still make it!). Also, if you publish online, it counts as being published in the United States. All active members of the SFWA can nominate a work in the nomination period from December, 15th till January, 31st next year (as life shows, these dates can be very different still). Fun fact: nominations via paper ballot override nominations via online form (Can anyone explain me the reasoning behind that, please?)

If the nominee’s dates and print data look weird, well, it’s for the poor Nebula Awards Commissioner to sort it out. The same Commissioner later composes The Final Ballot. It includes the top six works in each category that receive the most nominations. The winner in each category is the work that received the most votes in the Final Ballot. At the the Nebula Conference Banquet they announce the winners. You can watch The Nebula Awards Ceremony here or simply find it on YouTube. If you are interested, the results for 2018 are available on the official website. Wow, they actually have lists of all the results and nominees starting from 1965! I looked at the titles for last year – they are gorgeous. I immediately wanted to pick up and read each and every one of them. Yes, to my shame I have to admit I haven’t read any, and might have heard only about couple of them.

The Nebula Awards are not exclusively bookish though. In addition to the standard book awards there is The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation that is made for dramatic works such as motion pictures, television, Internet, radio, audio, and stage productions. In addition to the addition there is The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.

The Hugo Awards

The older book prize sibling of the Nebulas is the Hugo Awards, which began in 1953. This one is arranged and administered by the World Science Fiction Society (“WSFS” – oh look, another abbreviation). The WSFS is an “unincorporated literary society which sponsors the annual World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”) and the Hugo Awards” ( ) . It is claimed to be the most prestigious award in the world of science-fiction.

Hugo Award logo

During the Worldcon the members of WSFS can vote for the best in fifteen categories:

  • Best Novel
  • Best Novella
  • Best Novelette
  • Best Short Story
  • Best Related Work
  • Best Graphic Story
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)
  • Best Editor (Long Form)
  • Best Editor (Short Form)
  • Best Professional Artist
  • Best Semiprozine
  • Best Fanzine
  • Best Fancast
  • Best Fan Writer
  • Best Fan Artist

For the more detailed description of the categories go here.

So how do they do their thing?

The nomination period is from January till March; the members of the Worldcon can nominate works and people (up to five) from the last year. A shortlist is announced in April, in each category there can be no more than five finalists. Till the end of July the present members of Worldcon should find time to rate all nominees in a final ballot. The Hugo ceremony takes place during Worldcon. That is when the winners get their trophies.

Speaking of the trophies! Unlike The Nebulas website, the Hugos like to show off their trophies. Here you can find a gallery of all Hugos, and the article on the process of their creation. In 2019 the Worldcon was in August in Dublin, and it was charmingly called the Irish Worldcon.

The world of book prizes is dark and full of terrors. I am glad to be on the furthest possible receiving end of it – I would get the book with the prize emblem on the cover. I would know the book must be good, it went through a thorough quality control after all… right?

Here are the links to the official websites of the awards

Nebula Awards

The Hugo Awards

Worldcon official website


Image courtesy of TweSwe