The Official Rules
The official definition of the rules for the Hugo Awards can be found in Article 3 of the Constitution of the World Science Fiction Society. What follows is a plain English interpretation of those rules. In case of any ambiguity, the Constitution does, of course, take precedence.
(Note: The WSFS Constitution usually changes annually, depending on what amendments are ratified at a given Worldcon. It can be quite a while sometimes for the revised version of the Constitution to be updated on wsfs.org. Each year’s Worldcon is required to distribute the current version of the Constitution to their members, and in particular a copy of the Hugo Award rules must be distributed with the Hugo Award ballot. If the version of the WSFS Constitution at the WSFS web site appears to be out of date, check with the current Worldcon to see if they have a more recent version. In general, WSFS.org, TheHugoAwards.org, and the current Worldcon’s web sites are run by different groups and their updates are not coordinated. This is due to the highly distributed nature of Worldcons. There is no true central organization of WSFS, and each Worldcon is operated by an independent group.)
Types of Award Category
There are three main types of Hugo Award category:
- Individual works, for example a single book or film, in which case the Award is given for that work;
- People, for example Best Professional Artist, in which case the Award is given for the work that person has done in the year of eligibility. Please note that “year of eligibility” qualification. If X happens to be the most famous SF artist in the world, but he has produced no work in the year of eligibility, then he should not be nominated.
- Serial publications, for example Best Fanzine, in which case the Award is given for the entire run of that publication in the year of eligibility, not for a single issue.
Year of Eligibility
All Awards are given for work in a given year. Individual works are eligible only in their first year of publication. For people and serial publications the Award is given for all achievements in the year in question. Please note that if a book is first published in hardcover and then later in paperback then it is eligible only for the year in which the hardback was published. If you want to vote in the Hugos and can’t afford hardbacks, try your local library. They may well be able to help. For any work, the year is from the printed publication date if there is one, or else from the copyright date. (Many printed works are actually available before their printed publication date, but this does not matter for Hugo eligibility.)
Note that the Hugo Awards are labeled for the year they are presented, not for the year in which the works were published. For example, the 2019 Hugo Awards are generally for works first published or appearing in 2018. However, the WSFS Business Meeting can extend the eligibility of any particular work (such extensions will be printed with the nominating ballot information), and also see the section below about Country & Language of Publication.
Country & Language of Publication
Works are eligible when they are first published. They can be published anywhere in the world (or out of it), and they can be published in any language.
Because the vast majority of Hugo voters currently come from English-speaking countries, works first published in a language other than English are also eligible in their first year of publication in English translation.
Because a large proportion of the people who nominate on the Hugo Awards reside in the USA, and because those people often do not get to see works first published outside the USA until those works get US publication, WSFS extends the eligibility of works first published outside the USA. Works published in prior years outside of the USA are eligible if they were published for the first time in the USA in the current year.
Works such as TV series, comics and sometimes even whole novels are sometimes published in multiple parts making up a complete story arc. The individual elements of such a story arc are always eligible for their year of publication. However, voters may want to nominate a complete story arc. In such cases it is the publication date of the final installment of the series that counts for eligibility purposes.
If an individual installment of a story arc achieves a nomination on its own then the complete story arc will probably be ruled ineligible if nominated. This is because the voters have clearly indicated that the installment stands on its own as a complete work and is not part of a longer work. (The same would apply if, for example, book 1 of a trilogy were to be nominated on its own.)
Web Sites, E-books, and Medium of Distribution
Works published electronically rather than on paper have always been accepted as nominees. A decision of the 2009 WSFS Business Meeting formally acknowledged this by ratifying a Constitutional Amendment that added the words “or the equivalent in other media” to various category definitions. There is no requirement that a work be published on paper (for written/graphic fiction and non fiction), on film or video tape (for dramatic presentations), or that it be distributed through any traditional methods such as bookstores, movie theatres, etc. In other words, publishing and distributing your work on a web site is exactly the same as having copies of your book in a bookstore or your movie shown in a movie theatre. Aside from the fundamental distinctions between written, graphic, and dramatic works, medium of distribution has nothing to do with a work’s eligibility.
Note, however, that this means that if a work is first published electronically and then is printed in paper form without substantial revisions in a subsequent year, the later paper publication is not a new work; the original electronic publication is what’s eligible, not the later paper publication.
There is no restriction on who publishes a work. For example, if an author makes a novel available to be read on a web site or prints copies at his/her own expense, that novel is eligible just the same as a novel published by a well-known publishing company and sold in traditional bookstores.
Length of Work
Several of the category definitions are based on the length of a work. Don’t worry if you have not counted the number of words in a story that you want to nominate. Firstly you can check with some recommendation lists such as the ones linked to on this site. If the story is listed there it will almost certainly be in the right category. And if that doesn’t help, guess. The people who administer the voting are there to help, and they will generally move your nominations into the correct category if you have them wrong.
Some Hugo categories (Best Professional Artist, Best Fan Artist, Best Semiprozine, and Best Fanzine) are defined by whether the work done was professional, semi-professional, or fannish. The definition of what is a “professional” publication is somewhat technical. A professional publication either (1) provided at least a quarter the income of any one person or, (2) was owned or published by any entity which provided at least a quarter the income of any of its staff and/or owner.
Note that this distinction about “professional” applies only to the difference between Best Professional Artist and Best Fan Artist and to the definition of a Semiprozine and Fanzine. It has nothing to do with the written-fiction categories such as Best Novel or Best Short Story. Works do not have to be published in a “professional” publication (as defined here) to be eligible for a Hugo Award.
(See the Best Semiprozine category for the definition of semi-professional.)
Science Fiction? Fantasy? Horror?
While the World Science Fiction Society sponsors the Hugos, they are not limited to sf. Works of fantasy or horror are eligible if the members of the Worldcon think they are eligible.
The current list of Hugo Award categories is as follows:
- Best Novel: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of forty thousand (40,000) words or more.
- Best Novella: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) and forty thousand (40,000) words.
- Best Novelette: Awarded for a science fiction or fantasy story of between seven thousand five hundred (7,500) and seventeen thousand five hundred (17,500) words.
- Best Short Story: Awarded for science fiction or fantasy story of less than seven thousand five hundred (7,500) words.
- Best Series: Awarded for multi-installment works appearing in an least three installments with a total of at lest 240,000 words. A qualifying installment must be published in the qualifying year. Once a Series wins the Award, it is no longer eligible even if further installments appear in the series. If a Series is a finalist and does not win, it is no longer eligible until at least two more installments consisting of at lest 240,000 words total appear in subsequent years.
- Best Graphic Story or Comic: A science fiction or fantasy story told in graphic form, such as a comic book, graphic novel, or webcomic.
- Best Related Work: Awarded to a work related to the field of science fiction, fantasy, or fandom, appearing for the first time during the previous calendar year or which has been substantially modified during the previous calendar year. The type of works eligible include, but are not limited to, collections of art, works of literary criticism, books about the making of a film or TV series, biographies and so on, provided that they do not qualify for another category. Specifically, the Constitution says that any work in this category must be “either non-fiction or, if fictional, is noteworthy primarily for aspects other than the fictional text, and which is not eligible in any other category.” Nonfiction collections are eligible here, but fiction anthologies generally are not because all of the individual works within the anthology are eligible in one of the “story” categories. There is no category for “Best Anthology.”
- Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must last 90 minutes or longer (excluding commercials).
- Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form): This Award can be given a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music. The work must be less than 90 minutes long (excluding commercials).
- Best Editor (Long Form): This is the first of the person categories, so the Award is given for the work that person has done in the year of eligibility. To be eligible the person must have edited at least 4 novel-length (i.e. 40,000 words or more) books devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy in the year of eligibility that are not anthologies or collections.
- Best Editor (Short Form): To be eligible the person must have edited at least four anthologies, collections or magazine issues devoted to science fiction and/or fantasy, at least one of which must have been published in the year of eligibility.
- Best Professional Artist: Another person category, this time for artists and illustrators. The work on which the nominees are judged must class as “professional” (see above for a discussion of how “professional” is defined).
- Best Semiprozine: This is the first of the three serial publication/work categories. To qualify, the publication must have produced at least 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility (this being similar to the requirements for magazine editors in Best Editor, Short Form), and meet additional requirements as listed below.
Semiprozine is the most complicated category because of the need to define semi-professional. A lot of science fiction and fantasy magazines are run on a semi-professional basis: that is they pay a little, but generally not enough to make a living for anyone. The object of this category is to separate such things from fanzines, which are generally loss-making hobbyist pursuits. To qualify a publication must not be professional (see above) and must meet at least one of the following criteria:
- The publication pays its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication.
- The publication was generally available only for paid purchase.
- Best Fanzine: This Award is for anything that is neither professional nor semi-professional and that does not qualify as a Fancast (see below). The publication must also satisfy the rule of a minimum of 4 issues, at least one of which must have appeared in the year of eligibility.
- Best Fancast: Awarded for any non-professional audio- or video-casting with at least four (4) episodes that had at least one (1) episode released in the previous calendar year.
- Best Fan Writer: This is another person category. Note that it does not just apply to writing done in fanzines. Work published in semiprozines, and even on mailing lists, blogs, BBSs, and similar electronic fora, can be including when judging people for this Award. Only work in professional publications should not be considered.
- Best Fan Artist: The final category is also for people. Again note that the work by which artists should be judged is not limited to material published in fanzines. Material for semiprozines or material on public displays (such as in convention art shows) is also eligible. Fan artists can have work published in professional publications as well. You should not consider such professionally-published works when judging this award.
The Lodestar Award
The Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book is not a Hugo Award. It is voted for and presented by WSFS alongside the Hugo Awards, and its rules are set in the WSFS Constitution. It is for a book published for young adult readers in the field of science fiction and fantasy. Because it is not a Hugo Award, a work can be eligible for the Lodestar Award and for the corresponding Hugo Award (based on length) in the same year.
The Astounding Award
The Astounding Award for Best New Writer (formerly the John W. Campbell Award through 2019) is not a Hugo Award. It is voted for and presented alongside the Hugo Awards, but the eligibility rules are not governed by the WSFS Constitution. Dell Magazines, the award’s owner, has specified that eligibility for the award is limited to authors whose first Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA)-eligible publication occurred within the two years prior to the award year.
Additional Hugo Award categories
Worldcon Committees have the right to add one extra Hugo Award category each year. These extra Hugo Award categories are not permanent. This rule is not intended for regular use, but rather for special circumstances. Generally no additional awards are presented.
Some Worldcons give out special awards during the Hugo Awards ceremony. These awards are at the committee’s discretion, rather than by general vote. Such special awards may not use the Hugo Award rocket and are not considered Hugo Awards, but they are sometimes included in lists of Hugo Awards because they were presented at the same ceremony.