Trophies for the 2015 Aurealis awards

Making sense of spec fic awards: the Ditmar & Aurealis Awards

Between the Aurealis, the Ditmars, the Locus, and the Hugos, award season is well and truly here in the world of speculative fiction.

So why should you care?

If you’re a writer or other creator, you’ve probably already answered that question. We are, for the most part, an insecure breed, forever convinced that our work just isn’t that good.

Creators also spend a lot of time isolated from their audience, holed up at their computer or easel without easy access to the reactions of the wider world. For my part, all it takes to set fireworks off in my head is a reader getting in touch to tell me they liked my story. To be shortlisted for an actual award, let alone to win one? Validation and joy unimaginable!!

If you’re a reader (or viewer) of spec fic and related works, why should you care? Well, first because paying attention to awards gives you a chance to find great works of SF that you might otherwise miss. If something has made it to one of the finalists’ list in a category you enjoy, chances are it’s worth checking out.

Second, because nominating/voting in awards gives you a chance to share your own opinion on what’s worth checking out, and reward the works you’ve really enjoyed.

And third, because you could help spark that feeling of happy, disbelieving wonder in an author, artist or creator whose work you love.

This year, just saying, that creator could even be me…

Ahem. Anyway.

Since I’ve always found the different awards systems a bit confusing, and I can’t be the only one, I’ve written a concise and (hopefully) straightforward guide to the defining features of the two major Australian spec fic awards, the Ditmar and the Aurealis, as well (in a later post) as the two major international awards, the Locus and the Hugo – and how to take part in nominating/voting for them.

The Ditmar Award: the people’s award (sort of)

The Ditmars (formerly the Australian Science Fiction Achievement Awards) are national awards covering all works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror produced by Australian writers and artists in the preceding year. That includes written fiction, written non-fiction (e.g. book and film reviews), and artwork of all kinds.

They are decided by popular vote and are presented at the National SF Convention (e.g. Continuum 15 in 2019).

Who can nominate?

Any Australian who is either a) a full or supporting member of that year’s National SF Convention (Natcon), or b) “natural persons active in fandom.”

As far as I can tell, these restrictions are in place to try to make sure the people nominating are dedicated readers/viewers of speculative fiction who have read/seen a decent number of works to choose their favourites from, and to prevent people trying to garner extra nominations from every aunt, cousin, old school friend, cat, or computer simulation of their acquaintance. But it does lead to the awkward situation where, if you’re not signed up to the Natcon or simply one of those people who’s been around Australian fandom so long that everyone knows you, you have to prove yourself in order to nominate.

The nomination form includes a section for justifying your eligibility. If you can’t point to something concrete like membership of a SF convention or fan club, you can also name a referee, who must be known to the subcommittee, who can vouch for you. But as to how you would know who is on the subcommittee, I have no answer except to email them: my most concerted googling has failed to turn up that information.

I’m eligible to nominate! What can I nominate?

Any Australian work of written fiction, written non-fiction, or art first published in 2018. There’s a convenient (though unofficial) list of eligible works that people can update wiki-style, though by definition there’s no guarantee it will contain every eligible work.

You can nominate as many different works as you like.

How do I nominate someone’s wonderful story or art?

By filling out this online form or sending the organisers an email before 24th March 2019, or by mail sent no later than 22nd March to:

GPO Box 603
Victoria 3001

How are the finalists chosen?

In each category, the five nominees to receive the highest number of nominations become finalists eligible for voting on.

How are the winners chosen?

The winners are decided by popular vote – that is, the finalist that gets the most votes wins!

So how do I vote for someone’s wonderful story or art?

Voting is limited to anyone with a membership or supporting membership to either this year’s or the previous year’s Natcon. So for the 2019 ballot, that would be anyone with a membership to Continuum 15 in Melbourne or Swancon 2018 in Perth.

Once and finalists have been announced and voting opened, an online form will be available to cast your ballot, or you can send it in by email or mail.

How can I keep track of when this award is open for nominations/voting?

As far as I can tell, the only way to get notifications directly from the award organisers is to follow the Ditmar Award Twitter account, but you can also stay up to date by signing up for notifications from the upcoming Natcon (Continuum, for instance, posts awards announcements on Facebook and Twitter, as well as having an email newsletter you can sign up for).

Full disclosure: I am a member of the organising committee for Continuum 15 and am responsible for organising this year’s Ditmar Award trophies and presentation ceremony. I am not, however, a member of the Ditmar subcommittee (or the Natcon Standing Committee), and I possess no special insight into the awards process beyond the information publicly available.

The Aurealis Award: the judged award

The Aurealis Award for Excellence in Speculative Fiction is a literary award – that is, is only covers works of written fiction, not art or non-fiction material. Like the Ditmar, the Aurealis is an annual award, covering any fantasy, science fiction or horror work written by an Australian writer in the preceding year.

Unlike the Ditmar, the Aurealis breaks Australian spec fic down into subgenres – so there isn’t just a single ballot for e.g. Best Short Story, but separate ballots for Best Fantasy Short Story, Best Science Fiction Short Story, and Best Horror Short Story. They also have specific awards for young adult and children’s fiction, categories the Ditmar doesn’t explicitly cover.

They are decided by a panel of judges and are presented at an independent award ceremony.

The finalists for the 2019 awards were announced on 20th February. Sadly (though hardly surprisingly, with so much amazing fiction out there) ‘Arguing With People on the Internet’ didn’t make it onto the ballot for Best Science fiction short story – but Mother of Invention did make it onto the ballot for Best Anthology! And I’m chuffed to see Lee Cope’s beautiful, non-binary story from the same anthology, ‘A Robot Like Me’, is on the ballot for Best YA Short Story.

Who can nominate?

Technically, anyone can, but nomination requires you to submit a copy of the nominated work to each of the judges and, for categories other than Short Story or Children’s, to pay a $10 entry fee. So realistically, works tend to be nominated by their writersor their publishers.

That said, during nominations there is a list available of all works that have been nominated, and the organisers specify that,

if an eligible work does not appear on our list of entries… Anyone may contact the judging coordinator to suggest that a work be entered, and every effort will be made to encourage that work’s author/publisher to enter it.

How do I nominate my (or someone else’s) wonderful story?

Via an online entry form, available when the award is open for nominations.

How are the finalists and winners chosen?

Each award category is judged by a panel of no less than three volunteer judges.

Anyone can apply to be a judge – the Aurealis website specifies that [t]he only qualification necessary is a demonstrated knowledge of and interest in [your] chosen category – and the final panel is selected by the Aurealis Awards management team. Be prepared to do a lot of reading, though!

How can I keep track of when this award is open for nominations?

The easiest way is to sign up to the Aurealis Awards Information mailing list, although – like the Ditmar – significant announcements are likely to be shared by major Australian conventions and spec fic writer support groups.

Full disclosure (again!): I’m Secretary of the Continuum Foundation (ConFound), which is the current administering body for the Aurealis Award. I am not, however, a member of the Aurealis Subcommittee, nor am I on any of the judging panels for the award.

But wait…

It’s worth noting that these aren’t the only Australian awards covering speculative fiction – just the biggest ones.

As of writing, other notable Australian SF awards are:

If there are any others that I’ve missed, please do let me know and I will add them to the list.

Image source: Aurealis Awards, used with permission
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