Embittered Ranting about the Gemmell Awards


I got a lovely review for Stranger of Tempest today – for context, here it is: https://parmenionbooks.wordpress.com/2016/07/04/tom-lloyd-stranger-of-tempest-review/



And in said review, there was again a mention of some Gemmell-esque qualities, which is great not least because Gemmell was one of the benchmarks for the sort of fantasy story I want to write and tried to write with Stranger of Tempest. So while of course my first reaction was “woohoo!” my second was “of course it never stands a chance in the Gemmell awards because only rich authors are allowed to win.”


Now of course that sort of thinking sounds like the musings of an embittered mid-list fantasist and that is exactly what I am, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m wrong. Bear with me a minute…


For the sort of writer I am and the books I want to write, I’m unlikely to trouble most awards. They’re looking for a more literary type of book and that’s fine, but when the Gemmells were announced, the goal was something a little different. They wanted to celebrate books in the spirit of David Gemmell, which is good news to someone who writes and reads that sort of book. But in the name of popularism only the rich are properly eligible to win.


That might be a flippant way to put it, but publishing these days is a global beast and all the money runs to the top just as conservative politicians would like it to. So modest success is a rare thing to see, you’re either big across half the world and your success breeds more success, or you’re struggling. The mid-list continues to be squeezed and that’s just the way life goes.


So why the whinging from this corner of the mid-list? Simply put – the Gemmell awards are a popularity contest, so you need to have sold a lot of books to get a lot of votes. It might not be a guarantee of votes, but it’s the very first criteria. If I wasn’t an embittered mid-listers but someone who sells loads, I’d be reaping the rewards of my success. Bigger advances, a dozen or more translation deals, GoH slots at conventions etc etc. My mortgage would be paid and I’d be able to write with a lot less pressure, but also, I wouldn’t NEED to win awards as a result. They would be nice certainly, but they wouldn’t make much difference to my career and life.


Sad to say, because it’s a popularity contest open to the world, the only people who can win it are the ones who don’t really benefit. And conversely, those who could benefit from winning, don’t stand a chance. Which is fun for us.


But sure, life’s not fair and this is hardly the biggest injustice around. However it rankles a bit and in large part because of one particular reason. The rules were changed – deliberately amended – to allow this to happen. For whatever reason, the awards committee decided to change their original plan to the open vote, and as a result they screwed those of us who could actually be helped by their award.


Yes, they screwed us. In the spirit of… well, something… they changed the rules with the net result that only massive-selling authors stood a chance. I could stand losing out to, say, Joe Abercrombie, on literary merit – the man’s a cracking writer after all – but to never be in the game, to never have a chance of comparison, is a kick in the crotch.


I think I’d guessed the Legend shortlist would look something like this:


Abercrombie, Brett, Hobb, Sanderson, Novik


But I could be wrong, I often am! I based that mostly on who has the most Goodreads ratings, with a few close calls going to ones who’ve got a bigger internet profile that I can see,


If any of the books on the actual shortlist has less than… say 5000 ratings of Goodreads (picking a figure that’s double my highest-selling book), I’ll gladly apologise and owe the award committee a drink or two. But I doubt that’s a bet many people would want to take.




*** Edit – Stan tells me that it was never intended as a juried vote so that is clearly either my faulty memory of being given incorrect information back when I first heard about it. Thought it best to note that here rather than rework the post and then have following comments refer to things unseen ***

12 thoughts on “Embittered Ranting about the Gemmell Awards

  1. I understand your point of view, Tom, but the history of the awards tends to refute it. There have been lots of examples of hugely popular authors garnering only modest numbers of votes. If running these prizes for eight years has taught us anything it’s that they continually surprise us. We discussed (a lot!) whether the award/s should be juried before we launched in 2009 – there was never “an original plan” – and decided to put our faith in the wisdom of crowds. (We believe Dave Gemmell would have approved, btw, given his respect for his readership.) Incidentally, Gemmell didn’t win a single award, juried or otherwise, with the exception of a French prize. He was a bestseller, greatly liked, and yet his popularity never resulted in an award. Does this perhaps disprove your point about only mega-sellers standing a chance? Anyway, if you wait until Friday you’ll see how your Legend shortlist prediction works out.
    Thank you for expressing your feelings about the Gemmell Awards. We do listen and we do try to learn.
    Stan Nicholls
    Chair, The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy

    1. Hi Stan,

      Firstly, apologies then for clearly getting it wrong about the original plan – not sure where I got that detail from, but I was convinced I’d been told that.

      As for your other points, if I can reply to them here in a hopefully coherent form – certainly there will be hugely popular authors who don’t get many votes, my point was more specifically that high sales are necessary criteria to do well, rather than all bestsellers get lots of votes.

      Regarding Gemmell’s situation, he never won much but did sell a lot. His wasn’t the sort of fiction that wins many awards however, it’s a more commercial style (I’m trying to not sound dismissive there, it’s the sort I aspire to) but while the theory is nice, to vote for a book you need to have read it. If the crowds had read all of the longlist/shortlist then fair enough, but most will have only read a handful and few people will vote for a book they’ve not read. For the Legend award, Gemmell would have a good chance of winning (as it were) because obviously he wrote in the certain way the award is trying to promote, but also he sold enough books to meet that first criteria. So I would argue that doesn’t disprove the point at all, more the reverse than anything.

      Using the very woolly benchmark of Goodreads as an indicator of success (and ignoring that sales may well have had a boost because of the award, instead hoping that it’s more compensating for older books fewer ratings as the user base has expanded over time) I realise I’ve not actually looked at the figures for past winners, so:

      2009, Blood of Elves – 20k ratings
      2010 – Empire – 335 ratings –
      2011 – Way of Kings – 129k
      2012 – Wise Man’s Fear – 230k
      2013 – Blinding Knife – 36k
      2014 – Emperor of Thorns – 24k
      2015 – Words of Radiance – 81k

      Firstly, I see there’s an outlier, which may or may not be explained by how Warhammer books sell as much as the age of the book, but also there’s a significant fluctuation in the ratings there so I may need to do a bit more looking up of figures to see how they compare, but of the more recent novels 24,000 ratings is the lowest figure involved.

  2. That’s the first time anyone has ever called me rich!

    Certainly over the time I’ve been writing I would have earned a lot more had I simply driven a London tube train and never written a word…

    1. Hi Mark!

      Well I think it’s true that by the standards of more writers you are! We have low standards admittedly… it’s certainly true that the average tube driver earns one hell of a lot more than the average writer, but I suspect right now you’re doing better than them even, and will continue to do so for the years coming. Of course I don’t have figures and am running on conjecture, but the impression i get is that you sell very well in the UK and have a significant number of translation deals too, no? All of which does come together to put you well ahead of the game currently – I believe even my career has been slightly ahead of average for most of the time, but following a different track there.

      And I don’t want to sound like I’m begrudging your success (except in the usual writer’s way perhaps ;0) ) – my point was simply that there’s an upper tier of genre writers (with a distinct subset of the huge bestsellers) where most of the money is now going and the nature of the gemmells is that you need to be within that bracket or have a specific other source of readers (like Warhammer) to be in with a chance. You are within that bracket and while you’re not insanely rich, you’ve hit the critical mass figure of sales that is largely self-sustaining. And I’d guess you’d hit that figure before you won the Legend award, rather than it gave you a boost towards that point.

      Hopefully that made sense there, I’ve got a crying baby forcing me to rush my thoughts somewhat!

        1. Sure, but if the award is supposed to be for the best novel fantasy of the year (of a certain type or not) then it’s weird to require that as a base level. And I’ve just seen that Stan’s posted the shortlists so I’ll now go see how many of my words I need to eat!

  3. 2016 shortlists

    Legend Award (best novel)

    The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron (Gollancz)
    Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia (Baen)
    Gotrek & Felix: Slayer by David Guymer (Black Library)
    Ruin by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan)
    The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence (Harper/Voyager)

    Morningstar Award (best debut)

    Battlemage by Stephen Aryan (Orbit)
    The Traitor by Seth Dickinson (Pan Macmillan)
    The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (Harper/Voyager)
    Starborn by Lucy Hounsom (Pan Macmillan)
    The Vagrant by Peter Newman (Harper/Voyager)
    An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (Harper/Voyager)

    (We normally have five finalists in each category, except in the case of a draw, which has happened only once in the awards’ history. However, as we had just six nominees for the Morningstar this year, and the number of votes separating fifth and sixth place weren’t that great, we thought it was fairest to let all six nominees go through to the final.)

    Ravenheart Award (best cover art)

    Kerem Beyit for The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron (Gollancz)
    Jason Chan for The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence (Harper/Voyager)
    Larry Elmore & Carol Russo Design for Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia (Baen)
    Raymond Swanland for Archaon: Lord of Chaos by Rob Sanders (Black Library)
    Paul Young for Ruin by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan)

    1. Cheers Stan!

      Looks like I’ve got an apology to make here, I’m genuinely surprised by.. well, most of those actually. I’m running out of the door in a few mins so I’ll do a more complete reply this afternoon – maybe a proper post as that seems only fair.

  4. Well, I still think you don’t have to apologise for a sincerely held opinion, and as I said originally we welcome feedback and give it serious consideration. It’ll be a pleasure to raise a glass with you though. I might add, without giving anything away, that you garnered a very respectable number of votes.

    1. Thanks Stan! That does surprise me then, OMG really didn’t garner a respectable number of sales at all so I don’t think I even mentioned anywhere that it was on the longlist, thought I’d save up my pleading for next year!

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