Thoughts on the Clive Staples Award

The idea to create an award for Christian speculative fiction came about two years ago when the Christy Awards omitted the speculative category. After considerable discussion here and at Speculative Faith, we settled on the Clive Staples Award as the name for this reader-initiated recognition of top Christian speculative fiction.

For the last two years we collected nominations, using the same guidelines as the Christy Awards. However, in both years, the actual awarding of a winner bogged down because we have no sponsor, no agreement with publishers to provide judges with books, and no judges.

The most serious problem was this latter issue. While I say “no judges,” that’s not completely accurate. We had a handful of people who volunteered to help judge, but no one who volunteered to head up the judging—requesting books, sending them out to judges, tabulating judge sheets and/or spearheading discussions to arrive at a consensus regarding finalists.

Beyond that, we agreed the award, if it was to carry any significance, would need finalist judges of some standing. I preferred someone outside the publishing business to avoid the appearance of partiality, but well informed about speculative fiction. Unfortunately, the people I contacted for that role declined to take part.

So where does that leave the award? Is it over before it actually began?

I’m thinking, this may be the kind of thing that needs to build momentum, to gain in popularity, and thus garner more support as a result. So my current thought is, why not start with a reader award? Not only do readers nominate but readers vote for the three books they want to see in the finals. Then maybe those volunteer judges, if they are still willing to participate, can pick a winner. Or readers can vote again between the three finalists.

We’d need to conduct this contest over several months to get the word out and to give readers time to check out the nominations they haven’t yet read.

We’d have to set some ground rules in an effort to curtail popularity voting (I haven’t read his book, but I sure like so-and-so, so I’ll happily vote for his novel). I can’t think of a way to eliminate that sort of thing completely, but if the award becomes linked with “readers” right from the start, it might alleviate campaigning among non-readers.

Some time ago I set up a site for the award as a kind of home base, but with no activity, there’s been no real reason to send people there. If you’d like to take a look at it, go to the Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction.

Since WordPress and PollDaddy make it so easy to include polls, I’m thinking it would be easiest if I started a series of polls to get your feedback. I’ll also need your help passing the word on to anyone else you know who has interest in this genre and particularly in creating this award. Let me know what questions you have, and we can find out what others are thinking about any number of subjects related to making this award work. If there’s still interest in doing so. Which actually is the first question.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Published in: on June 30, 2009 at 1:33 pm  Comments (15)  
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15 Comments

  1. One issue I have is the anonymity of the voting. I think it should *not* be anonymous to make sure no double-voting takes place. It’s really easy to spoof these things.

    Does PollDaddy have a way to force you to enter an email address with your vote?

    One thing I like, though, about PollDaddy is that it randomizes the order of the vote options since the “first one” tends to get the vote more often.

    It would also be nice to have a checkbox at the bottom after the email address that says “I certify that I have read the above book in its entirety.”

    Just some ideas…

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  2. Hi Rebecca,
    I read your post, and I think a readers choice award a good starting point.

    As far as polling goes. How does this sound. Some kind of weighted polls that give more points to the votes of those who’ve read more of the books.
    For me, I won’t be able to read all of the books, but I’d still like to vote for ones that I like, even if I haven’t read them all.

    I definitely don’t want the popularity vote to win out, but the best book.

    Perhaps the best way to do this is, once a good “finals list” has been compiled (how we do that is another matter that needs some thought) those who vote on the finals list who HAVE read all four (or whatever total there is) of the novels–their votes would be worth more than a person who voted for only three, or two, or one. And a person who read three of the novels would have a vote that was weighted less than the person who read four, but more than the person with two or one, and this “weighted” voting would trickle down.

    Second, A person who has read all four would rank the books from first to fourth place, and each of his votes would count for each of the books.

    An example: His first place vote would carry 4 points for that novel he liked the best, while the novel he liked the least would carry 1 point.

    For a person who read three of the four books, his first place vote would count for three, second place, two points, third place 1 point, and the one he didn’t read wouldn’t get any points.

    For a person who read two books, their first place book would get two points…and you can figure out the rest from there.

    …these are just thoughts to throw into the pot 🙂

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  3. Aren’t there enough awards in the world? Are we heading to a situation where there are more awards than thing to award them to? I’m starting to tune out more and more to this sort of thing.

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  4. Robert, PollDaddy gives the randomizing option which I think is important when voting for a person or a book title, but you’ll notice on this poll I chose the multiple choice format, so the list is static.

    As to the email addies, no there’s no such option. I can manage the poll so only one computer gets a vote, and I do that for the CSFF award, but that doesn’t mean someone couldn’t vote again from another computer.

    The thing is, if someone wants to cheat, they’ll find a way. But why would they want to? I mean, if we set this up as a reader award, and an author scams the system … to claim to be the winner of a Christian fiction award, he/she some serious issues.

    The main thing is, we want people talking the award up, but that might look like politicking. I’d like to see more discussion before hand, as a way to get people ready to nominate and to vote. All the conversation now isn’t and won’t appear to be self-serving, since no titles are on the table.

    Becky

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  5. Brandon, PollyDaddy doesn’t have a way to weight the the votes.

    But here’s the thing. If this is a reader award, it seems logical that the books that have the most readers will surface as the front runners. Maybe more people will make an effort to read the ones they haven’t read before. Maybe we should pass a rule/request that only people who have read half or upwards of three titles or … whatever are eligible to vote. No way to oversee that though. People would be on the honor system.

    I do think books should be recognized if they are a person’s second or third choice, so I’m wondering if a second choice poll could be added, and a third choice poll. Then those three could be manually tabulated (first choice gives a book 10 points, second gives 5, third, 2 or something like that.

    Becky

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  6. Ken, you might be right. The idea behind this award was originally to create another means of raising the profile of the genre. I still think that’s necessary, but this award will only further that end if we make it work.

    I like getting readers involved. The more we can get the actually people who are spending time and money on these books aware that there are other titles, other authors besides their favorite, well, I think we all win, published authors and those of us hoping to be published. And of course, readers, because they have more books to enjoy.

    Becky

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  7. Addressing all the concerns regarding the fairness of voting is a huge challenge, which is why I am not a fan of reader polls. There are so many ways to circumvent the fairness issue and sometimes voters are penalized even though the administrators of the poll have the best intentions. For instance, using IP addresses to limit the number of votes: when you have two people using one IP address, this automatically disqualifies one “legal” vote.

    I’ve been involved in administering polls for hundreds of people at a time and I can say with experience that unless it is a plain-jane system of one vote per (non-anonymous) person, any weighting done will skew the results in very curious ways. All the good intentions in the world cannot combat this and sadly, the administrators of the vote are not able to predict the variable outcomes until it’s too late.

    I am disappointed (like you) that we couldn’t get judges of some standing. If it weren’t for the appearance of bias, I would have stepped up to organize the judging (without taking a vote for myself). It is unfortunate that we can’t find such a person.

    Good for you, Becky, for pursuing this.

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  8. I think it is worth starting, and hoping it can evolve into something more sophisticated.

    I am not sure how it can work practically due to the inherent dangers and biases in online voting. Luckily that is not my problem, and I leave it to greater minds than mine.

    D7

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  9. I like the overall idea, but quibble with the name of the thing. Calling it the ‘Clive Staples’ award is like referring to ‘Saudi’ instead of as a modifier for a specific country in the Middle East. (I tend to refer to the primary thing itself if I’m going to abbreviate something out to a single word, ‘Arabia’ instead of ‘Saudi Arabia.’)

    If you’re going to use ‘Clive Staples,’ I’d suggest adding the primary part of that name and make it explicit, such as ‘The Clive Staples Lewis award for best Christian speculative fiction’ or something along those lines. And if you want to come up with a friendlier name, maybe call it the ‘Aslan’ (and I’m not lion).

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  10. Cyn, as D7 says, this reader poll thing is just a starting place.

    I don’t want an award that ends up being meaningless, and I’m afraid if we take nominations again and have no way of determining a winner, we’ll kill the idea.

    At the same time, if we delay for a year, I think the award will fade from memory.

    A reader’s choice winner might work for a year or two, but we have to have a way of getting the word out to as many readers as possible. Should we end up with a good number of voters, we might then get the corporate sponsorship (bookstore chain?) that could put up a monetary prize. I think that would turn this award into something writers would value and readers would respect.

    For now, we need to encourage integrity and a sense of fair play. This is not like American Idol, not a popularity contest. It is readers getting a chance to say, I like this kind of story.

    And Johne, we had a lengthy discussion about the name of the award two years ago. I don’t want to revisit that. If the award becomes important, then the name will work, even if we called it something really dorky. 😉

    Becky

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  11. The first thing that comes to mind is to find a way to eliminate duplicate voting. As such, I would not want to see anonymous votes collected.

    I watched the MLB home run derby yesterday and it got me to thinking about all-star games in sports. Yes, the fans vote for the favorites, and yes, it is a popularity contest. But it works. I think the key is to get enough votes–again, as long as there aren’t duplicate votes, the “popularity contest” aspect should be minimized.

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  12. One other thought: If it’s not too late, I’d prefer the “Clives Staples Lewis Award”, simply because–as hard as it is to believe–not everyone interested in the genre knows that Clives Staples Lewis is the same as CS Lewis. I think that including “Lewis” in the name broadens the appeal and recognition factors.

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  13. Hi, Dona,

    When voting online, I don’t know that we can eliminate cheating. The poll I use for CSFF limits the times a person can vote from a particular computer, but that produces the opposite problem when more than one resident wants to vote using the same machine.

    There are no perfect solutions, I don’t think.

    I’m more concerned about notifications going out to email lists and loops with a plea to “vote for my book” which might elicit voters who have not read the work in question. Some people will vote just because they feel loyal to the one asking, but that doesn’t give us a Reader’s choice.

    Still, it might be worth a try. What I’m wondering is, would such an award bring more buzz about Christian speculative titles and the genre in general? If so, then I think it’s worth pursuing, even if we can’t get it done perfectly.

    Oh, about the name. As I said to Johne, that discussion was held a couple years ago, and I don’t have the time to open it up again, especially if we may not even proceed.

    Becky

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  14. Becky:
    You make a good point about multiple votes–many people have more than one email address they can use as well. And I agree, there are no perfect solutions.

    Yes, the “buzz” is what’s it’s all about, isn’t it? I would be interested in seeing this move forward, because of that.

    And, I agree that you shouldn’t open up the name discussions again since it was settled so long ago. But, hey! It never hurts to ask, right? 😛

    Dona

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  15. […] I had forgotten that PollDaddy not only creates polls but it allows for surveys as well. I think the survey might answer a lot of the concerns voiced in our last discussion (most held over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction). […]

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