Strange Horizons’s history with the Hugo Semiprozine category

A friend asked when Strange Horizons became eligible for the Semiprozine category of the Hugo Awards. Here’s my response.

Part 1: the early days

For our first couple of years, we firmly declared ourselves to be not a semiprozine. We paid SFWA-qualifying professional rates for fiction, and we wanted to be taken seriously as a professional magazine, so we opted out of the semiprozine category.

At the time, if we had declared ourselves to be a semiprozine, then we would have met the criteria for the category; but a given publication could essentially make itself ineligible by declaring itself to be a professional magazine. So that’s what we did.

It was disappointing to me to be declaring ourselves ineligible in the only Hugo category that the magazine per se might have appeared in. (Except for the one-time Best Web Site category, in which we appeared in 2002.) Then again, from 1989 through at least 2001, four out of the five nominees in Semiprozine were the same every year, and from 1997 through 2001, all five nominees were the same every year. So it was pretty unlikely that we would’ve been nominated anyway.

At the time, I think I tended to use the word semiprozine to mean a publication that paid for fiction but didn’t pay enough for fiction to be SFWA-qualifying. I’m not sure whether other people used that definition or not.

Part 2: my shifting perceptions

Starting in 2004 if not earlier, a few nominators each year nominated SH for Semiprozine even though we were publicly saying we didn’t consider ourself a Semiprozine. But it was never enough nominators for us to make the ballot.

In 2004, I wrote the following to the SH management folks:

Some arguments in favor of being a semiprozine for Hugo purposes: If we could get on the ballot, that would be great publicity; also, Interzone successfully manages to be perceived as a prozine for SFWA purposes and a semiprozine for Hugo purposes. And staying off the semipro ballot doesn't necessarily make people think of us as pro; it may just make them think we're not a good semipro.

Some arguments against: We're still struggling to get respect, and people are still confused about our status; we don't have IZ's decade of publishing to back us up. Also, it would be nice if the semipro category contained some actual semiprozines [by which I think I meant magazines that published fiction and paid less than SFWA pro rates]; On Spec came reasonably close to making the ballot this year, which would've been mighty cool.

I don’t have a record of their response, if any, but in 2005, I nominated Interzone but not SH.

In 2007, I raised the question again, concluding thusly: “I'm still kinda uncomfortable with the idea, but I'm not as opposed to it as I used to be, partly because I feel like we're more established now and don't need to care as much about perceptions of us as being in any way unprofessional.”

In 2009, I raised the question again. My email included this line: “Summary of background: We're probably technically a semipro by Hugo standards, but any magazine can opt out of semiprozine; in the past, we've chosen to opt out so as to be taken seriously as a prozine.” At that time, it looked like the Semiprozine category might be going away.

In 2010, Clarkesworld appeared on the Semiprozine ballot (and had two stories in the fiction categories), which made me a little sad and jealous; they were suddenly getting all the attention that I had always wanted SH to get.

In 2011, I started strongly pushing for us to declare ourselves eligible in Semiprozine. Other staff members disagreed. I nominated us in that category, but we didn’t make the ballot.

Part 3: rules change and sequelae

At the 2012 Worldcon, WSFS ratified a major change to the Semiprozine definition.

As I understand it, Neil Clarke was the major driving force behind that change. I think it was an excellent change, both in its contents (the details of the new rules) and in its effects.

The gist of the change was to define a professional publication as one that paid at least some staff significantly (I’m paraphrasing; for details, see the above link), and to define a semiprozine as a nonprofessional publication that either paid staff or paid writers.

Around that time, for various reasons, other SH staff members stopped objecting to calling us a semiprozine.

And from 2013 through 2018, SH has appeared on the Hugo ballot in the Semiprozine category.

More generally, the category underwent an upheaval when the rules change happened; Locus, which had won in most years since the category was created (unsurprising given that the category was created largely to get Locus out of the fanzine category, as I understand it), was no longer eligible, and the category shifted to focusing almost entirely on venues that published fiction.

Clarkesworld, unsurprisingly, won the category in 2013, but then declared itself to be professional by the new Hugo definition, and thus ineligible for future years.

Lightspeed won in 2014 and 2015. Then they too went professional and thus became ineligible.

Uncanny won in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

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