If you’re a Sad Puppy reading this I probably don’t know you personally, but I bet we have many things in common. For instance, you like science fiction. Hey, so do I. You’re probably enough of a fan to know there are such things as conventions, SF fandom and, of course, Hugo Awards. Me too. You also probably think the books and stories that you really, really like should get a Hugo award. I also think the things I really, really like should get Hugos.
There are others like us, and some of them share the things they like by publishing recommendation lists of works they think are Hugo worthy. The idea is that fans might try reading something due to these recommendations, and if they like that thing they might also consider voting for it. Many authors also list their eligible works each year so fans who are inclined to vote for them know which things can in fact be voted for. (Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what is and isn’t eligible because readers often don’t know or remember publication dates, which determine eligibility.)
However, it’s possible to overdo it. The FAQ on the Hugo Awards site even has something to say about self promotional efforts: “Be careful. Excessively campaigning for a Hugo Award can be frowned upon by regular Hugo voters and has been known to backfire.” The words are italicized for emphasis not by me but by the person who wrote the FAQ. Note that the FAQ is addressed to the entire world, not to a specific group within fandom. In other words, anyone anywhere who excessively campaigns may face a backlash. It’s actually happened before.
Now, let’s jump back in history to 2013 when the first Sad Puppy campaign was launched by author Larry Correia. If you read his blog posts from that time, you’ll notice Larry was quite actively campaigning to get this work nominated. He started with a post titled “How to get Correia nominated for a Hugo. :)” where he explained that he was nominated for a John W. Campbell Award a few years earlier and didn’t win, and now he thought he deserved a Hugo. He followed that with three more “How to get Correia nominated for a Hugo" posts urging voters to nominate him, and in each one expanded on the reasons why people should help him get a Hugo.
In these posts he also explained exactly how few nominations he’d need to get on the ballot, how much a voting membership would cost his fans should they choose to vote for him, and even counted down to the Hugo nomination deadline to try and spur his fans to action (sort of like the ending of an eBay auction). Larry really wanted to win a Hugo and he was upfront about it, to the point where he instructed readers how to register, how to vote, what to vote for and when to do it by.
(In Part 2 I’ll address some of the other things he talked about, but for now let’s just stick with the campaigning stuff.)
Now you may personally think this amount of campaigning is fine and that Larry was deserving of your vote, but if so this is where you and I start to diverge in our mutual love of fandom. I don’t think excessive campaigning is cool – even when done with humor as Larry did – and as noted in the Hugo FAQ most fans are also likely to think it’s not cool. And it was pretty obvious early on in Larry’s campaign that most voters didn’t agree with the tactics he was using to try and get himself a Hugo.
That stance against campaigning has nothing to do with the personal beliefs or the politics of the campaigner, but rather their actions, i.e. campaigning to an excessive extent. And yes there was a lot more going on with Sad Puppies besides just campaigning, but even if that’s all that had ever happened, it was extremely doubtful voters would have responded favorably to Larry’s campaign to get himself a Hugo.
As it turns out Larry didn’t end up getting himself nominated in 2013 despite all that effort, so we don’t know what voters would have done. I strongly suspect – based on the aforementioned history of Hugo voters rejecting anyone who excessively campaigns – that he wouldn’t have done very well. That was born out in 2014 when after another campaign Larry did get himself nominated, along with a bunch of other works that he championed, and didn’t do very well. When the fans had a chance to vote on Larry’s picks (which of course included himself), they predictably decided not to bestow a Hugo Award on any Sad Puppy nominee. Larry’s own novel finished last in the voting, barely ahead of No Award.
Although this year Larry recused himself (somewhat) from the Sad Puppies, the campaign continued on and got even more works nominated to the Hugo ballot. Those works were subsequently voted down even more vociferously by Hugo voters.
I’ve been a Hugo voter off and on since 1988 when I attended my first Worldcon, and it’s always been widely known that voters react badly to campaigning. So had anyone done what Larry (and later on other Sad Puppies did), voters would have responded the same way. In fact, Larry isn’t even the first to try campaigning and have it not work. (Thus the reason it’s in a FAQ to begin with.)
So my thought to you is, while there was more going on around the vote than just Larry’s excessive campaigning (again, I’ll talk about that stuff in Part 2), we really never had to get past the campaigning issue to know that Larry’s tactics were simply not going to work. Not because of his politics, not because of his story telling ability, but because of his actions.