Strange Horizons for Best Semiprozine

This entry is partly about SH and partly about the new rules for the Best Semiprozine Hugo category, and the meanings of the term “professional.”

In the past, there was some ambiguity about whether SH was eligible in the Best Semiprozine Hugo category, and the magazine explicitly opted out of that category; we felt that it was more important to be known as a professional magazine than to be nominated for a Hugo. But with the change of semiprozine rules/definitions last year, SH is now very clearly eligible (as detailed below).

It is self-serving of me to recommend nominating the magazine, seeing as how I was an editor during the period in question. I considered waiting until next year, when it would not directly reflect on me, to post a nomination recommendation.

But I know that some people have nominated the magazine in the past regardless of the opt-out (which we never publicized that much); and the magazine's past statements plus the rule changes seem to me likely to create a certain amount of confusion. So although I don't speak for the magazine in any way, and am no longer on the staff, I thought it was worth posting about it. And even those of you who don't intend to nominate SH may be interested in the rest of this entry, which covers the new rules and links to a list of other eligible magazines.

There's a lot of confusion in our field around the term “professional,” because it has very specific definitions in particular contexts, and those definitions don't always match the sometimes-nebulous connotations the word has in the real world. For example, by SFWA's definition, SH continues to be a professional venue, because it pays fiction authors more than the requisite minimum qualifying rate. And by my own personal definition, it continues to be professional in other ways as well, because in addition to paying contributors, the editors take the work seriously, do professional-level work, and treat contributors professionally. But none of that is relevant to the Hugo definition.

By the new Hugo definition, “professional” essentially means “the staff makes money.” Specifically, the WSFS constitution now defines “Professional Publication” as a publication that, in the preceding year, “provided at least a quarter the income of any one person” and/or “was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.” So a magazine that a staff member makes significant money from, or that's published by a publisher that makes significant money, is a professional publication by the Hugo definition.

SH does not provide any income for anyone on the staff, and it's published by a nonprofit organization that also doesn't provide any staff with any income. The whole magazine is created by a dedicated staff of volunteers.

So it cannot quality as professional by the Hugo definition. But does it qualify as semipro by the new definition? Absolutely. The key relevant criterion is that a semiprozine pays money to its contributors and/or staff (or else is available only for paid purchase). SH has always paid its fiction and poetry contributors, so it counts as a semiprozine by the new Hugo rules.

Of course, that still leaves the question of whether it should be nominated as one of the best semiprozines in the field. There are a bunch of other good ones out there. Neil Clarke has put together an excellent list of Hugo-eligible semiprozines; probably not completely comprehensive, but a good start. However the award turns out this year, I'm looking forward to seeing new names on the nominations list.

But I, of course, am going to nominate SH (among other venues), and I'm hoping that others will as well.

Regardless of what magazines you decide to nominate, remember that nominations are due this coming Sunday, March 10. Specifically, ballots are due just before midnight Eastern US time, so if you're a likely last-minute nominator like me, adjust your deadline according to your time zone.

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