Do Book Awards Matter in Scifi? A Discussion

How the changes in the publishing industry democratized best sellers and reader audience choice

Science fiction, a genre that explores the potential consequences of scientific and technological innovations, has been a staple in literature for centuries. From H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” to Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, the genre has consistently pushed the boundaries of our imagination. But in this vast universe of speculative fiction, how do we determine which works truly stand out? This is where book awards come into play.

The Role of Book Awards in Sci-Fi

Book awards, such as the prestigious Hugo Awards and Nebula Awards, have long been considered the gold standard in recognizing excellence in science fiction and fantasy literature. Winning such an award can catapult an author into the limelight, significantly boosting book sales and readership.

As noted by author John Scalzi, a Hugo Award winner himself, “Winning a Hugo makes a difference in the career of a writer. It’s a big, flashing sign that says, ‘Hey, this person can write.'”1

Changes in the Publishing Industry

However, the publishing landscape has undergone significant changes in recent years. The rise of self-publishing and digital platforms has democratized the process, allowing more authors to bypass traditional publishing houses and reach readers directly. This shift has also led to an increase in the diversity of voices and stories within the genre.

As a result, the criteria for what constitutes a “bestseller” or a “reader’s choice” have also evolved. Today, a book’s success is not solely determined by its sales figures or critical acclaim, but also by its impact on readers and its contribution to the genre.

Democratizing Best Sellers and Reader Audience Choice

With the advent of online platforms like Amazon and Goodreads, readers now have a more direct influence on a book’s success. They can rate and review books, share their recommendations, and even create their own awards, such as the Goodreads Choice Awards.

This democratization has also led to a shift in power dynamics. As author N.K. Jemisin, a three-time Hugo Award winner, points out, “The gatekeepers are no longer solely the people who have traditionally held power in the genre.”2

Do Book Awards Still Matter?

Despite these changes, book awards continue to play a crucial role in the sci-fi genre. They provide a benchmark of quality, recognizing the creativity, originality, and craftsmanship of authors. They also help readers navigate the vast sea of sci-fi literature, highlighting the works that are worth their time and attention.

However, it’s important to remember that awards are not the be-all and end-all. As readers, we have the power to decide what we value in a book. And as the publishing industry continues to evolve, so too will our definitions of success.


In conclusion, while book awards still matter in the sci-fi genre, the changes in the publishing industry have democratized the process of determining best sellers and reader audience choice. This shift has not only diversified the genre but also empowered readers, giving them a more direct influence on a book’s success. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how these trends continue to shape the landscape of sci-fi literature.

1 John Scalzi, interview with The Guardian, 2013.
2 N.K. Jemisin, interview with The New York Times, 2018.