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2017 Hugo Voter’s Packet Debrief

(Note by Nicholas Whyte: In the log of Hugo Administrator decisions published a week ago, we referred to the debriefing document compiled by this year's Hugo packet coordinator, Jo Van Ekeren. I'm publishing the summary here at her request. The full debrief includes ten more documents, most of which are templates, and will be shared with future Hugo administrators.)

Mandatory tools for the Hugo Packet Coordinator:
  • Microsoft Word (or Word-compatible word processing software able to save files as PDFs; proficiency in advance recommended)
  • Calibre e-book conversion tool (free; can create a multitude of formats, including EPUB, MOBI, PDF, and RTF; proficiency in advance required)
  • Adobe Acrobat (not free; permits cropping, editing, and splicing of PDF documents; proficiency in advance helpful, but can be learned pretty easily)
  • Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFdb): fan-sourced website of SFF works, cross-indexed by Title, Author, and Publisher (this resource is not always perfectly up-to-date as there can be a delay in volunteers getting information entered; however, what is there is usually pretty meticulously accurate)
  • Master Contact List (this is a cumulative document which includes names and contact e-mail addresses for authors, artists, editors, and publishers from past Hugo Award years)
Things I wanted to change or improve, and how I did that:
  • Lack of instructions for e-book novices: to assist Hugo voters who may be relatively new to e-book formats and devices, I created and included a README file which provided descriptions of the various filetypes and the devices which use them,with links to free reader software for them, and included this file in every category packet. In the case of a Series entry which was provided through NetGalley, I created a special document with instructions on how to download and access those books.
  • Missing entries: not having at least an excerpt, if not the full work, of everything in the categoryhugely disadvantages the works which are missing. I was ultimately able to get either an excerpt or full text from all of the fiction and related work finalists – but if I hadn’t, I had intended to include for those works a 1-page PDF with a URL to an online excerpt if one was available.
  • PDF-only entries: not having readable – or any at all – EPUB, MOBI, and/or PDF versions, when they are not that hard to create if you have the right file to work from. In a few cases, I requested a DOC or an RTF from some of the Fan Writer and Fanzine finalists, and created EPUB, MOBI, and PDF from that.
  • Unreadable PDFs: the PDF versions of things, especially the print galley proofs, invariably have a lot of whitespace around the text, and are unreadable on any device smaller than a desktop computer, because PDFs do not "flow" in e-readers, so I did a lot of cropping, reformatting and/orconverting on the files I got. Often the EPUB and the MOBI will be well-formatted, with cover, but the PDF will be a poor-quality text document in typewriter font. In those cases, I archived the original PDF, and created a new version by converting from the EPUB. Adobe Acrobat was indispensable for this; PDFs are notoriously non-editable with anything else. If the PDF is protected by the creator, even Acrobat can refuse to allow changes, but I had few problems with this (possibly because I have a 15-year-old version which does not recognize newer forms of locks).
  • No covers: in the cases of PDF-only files for novels and related works, I put a cover on, but also a “Hugo Voter Packet Copy” declaration on that cover, so that the publisher would not be upset.Some of the short fiction had covers, and some did not; for those which did not, I prepared one using the cover of the magazine in which the story had appeared, added the title and author of the story, and then e-mailed it to the editor/publisher asking permission to use it. These covers were all approved by those people without hesitation.
  • Document Properties not being set on files: this has especially been a problem with PDFs, where the Title and/or Author which show up in e-readers are blank or wrong. I ensured that all files had the correct Properties (with the exception of 2 of thefiles, which were so locked-up that I couldn’t even do that).
  • Inconsistent file-naming standards: in the past, whatever name was put on the files was the name that went into the packet. I standardized the filenames on all works as
    Lastname, Firstname I – Work Title
    Within categories, the Work Title was also standardized:
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Editor Long Form Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Editor Short Form Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Semiprozine Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Professional Artist Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fanzine Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fancast Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fan Writer Selections
    Lastname, Firstname – 2016 Fan Artist Selections
    The exception to this was when I got actual issues of Semiprozines and Fanzines, which were titled by their issuance month/year.
    Note that I labeled these “2016” because they were 2016 work, even though it was for the 2017 Hugos.
  • Different filetypes: in cases where I got a PRC file instead of a MOBI file (they are read by the same readers), I archived the PRC and created a MOBI file from the EPUB, so that all files would have the .mobi suffix and filetype, to avoid confusion.
  • Having to download more than necessary: to avoid voters having to download more than necessary, for most categories, separate packets were created for EPUB, MOBI, and PDF formats. (Voters had the option to download all 3 packets, if they wanted to do so.) In cases where only a PDF was provided, this was included in all 3 packets.
  • Unnecessary nested folders: I can see how this happens as part of the process of creating the various packet bundles and then zipping them, but it’s a pain for voters when they do the unzipping, so the only places I had subfolders was where they were really needed, such as in the Editor Short Form category, where several Finalists each submitted numerous works.
  • Excerpts not being clearly marked as such: voters not realizing that an excerpt is an excerpt instead of the full work, and getting unfairly upset at the work because of no advance warning that it's an excerpt. I put “Excerpt” labels on the covers of these works, and included “excerpt” as part of the filename.
  • Passwords on documents: this had been an issue in the past, because not all e-readers will open documents which have passwords. I was prepared to try to persuade publishers/editors to copy- and print-protect documents, but not use passwords; however, this issue thankfully did not come up. (I don’t recommend suggesting watermarks, which often impair readability, but some of them will include watermarks anyway, and that can’t be helped.)
  • Lack of substantive information on what the Short and Long Form Editors have actually done: I tried to remedy this by creating documents with lists of long and short works edited, pulled from ISFdb (in addition to whatever selections they submitted).
  • Accessibility issues, part 1: tinted backgrounds. I asked one Finalist to remove the tinted backgrounds from their various e-book formats. They were reluctant to do so because they liked the “artiness” of it. I pointed out that the tinted background reduced contrast and readability for people with vision impairment (as well as making the e-books 10 times as large as they would have been otherwise), and they did remove it.
  • Accessibility issues, part 2: text which cannot be “read” by text-to-speech software. There were a couple of files which included some images of text, rather than actual text. I edited these files and replaced the images with matching text to make them readable by text reading software.
  • Accessibility issues, part 3: watermarks. Several of the files had watermarks so dark that it impaired readability. Given that these were all files which had taken a lot of time and e-mail exchanges to get, and they were only received right before the release date we had chosen, I did not go back and ask the providers to make the watermarks lighter because I was concerned that we would not receive better versions in time for packet release (if at all). I recommend that future Packet Coordinators consider including a sentence or two in the work solicitation e-mail requesting that if watermarks are used, to please ensure that they are not so dark as to impair readability. However, I am concerned that this would prompt editors and publishers who had not previously inserted watermarks to start doing so. Perhaps this sentence could be included only in messages to editors and publishers who have inserted watermarks in the past.
  • No information for the Dramatic Presentation Finalists: I tried to remedy this by creating documents with a poster or screenshot from each work, followed by the credits, and links to trailers, websites, IMdb, and Wikipedia.
  • The new Series Category, and lack of a way to evaluate it: I created a “Reading Order” document for each Series containing both the long and short fiction titles, and sent these to the authors for approval/ corrections. (One finalist provided their own, along with their packet submission, so I just used that.)
  • Lack of consistency in how the Artist works are presented to voters: I think it's very important that the works be presented on as level a playing field as possible – so that it's the works themselves, and not the presentation, which is being judged. One Pro Artist who has been a Hugo Finalist many times always presents their work in a pretty impressive way. Other Finalists don't have the advantage of that experience, or of having seen how works have been presented in the past, and their work ends up looking less professional in comparison, simply because it doesn't have the nice framing. That's just needless disadvantage, and I tried to fix that this year by setting up a standard black background document on which each individual work is framed. To avoid a question of unfairness, I did offer the artist who provided their own framing the opportunity to have the same framing as everyone else; not surprisingly, they declined and chose to keep their own framing.
    Note: if this is going to be done for the artists, it has to be done well.
  • Small art sample packets: With the help of the ISFdb, I also pointed out to several of the Artists additional eligible works they did not include, because they don't understand the very complicated eligibility definitions, and let them add those works if they wished to do so, so that they could have a sufficiently representative portfolio.
  • Inconsistent and/or minimal information on Fancasts: I pulled a complete list of 2016 podcasts from all Finalists’ websites (with one exception; see next item). In their submissions, most of them provided info on 1 to 3 of their 2016 podcasts they wished to highlight. One of them provided a “Best of” podcast spliced from various 2016 podcasts, and a transcript of that – which I thought was a fantastic idea, and which should be suggested to future Finalists in the packet submission solicitation letter.
  • No submission received: The only Finalist which did not submit something was one of the FancastFinalists. I looked at their YouTube channel and realized that attempting to identify and create alist of their 2016 videos was going to be an hours-long, arduous task, and given that we had received no response to several e-mails from me and the Hugo Admin, figured that including a document with a logo image, a hyperlink to the YouTube channel, and a brief description of the podcast was sufficient additional information.
  • Eligibility Issues encountered: after consultation with the Hugo Admins, an explanation was sent to the Finalist of the issue and what the resolution was going to be, and the Finalists were all quite gracious about understanding:
    • Short Form Editor including stories they published but did not edit
      resolution: they resubmitted a document without those stories
    • Short Form Editor including a short Novel they edited
      resolution: the Novel was not included in the packet
    • Short Form Editor including an entire issue of a magazine in which they had an editorial published
      resolution: an extract with only the editorial was included in the packet
    • Professional Artist including two works from an non-eligible publication
      resolution: these were not included in the packet
    • Campbell Finalist requested inclusion of non-fiction work in the packet
      resolution: this was not included in the packet
    • Campbell Finalist including a story from a non-eligible market, and a poem
      resolution: these were not included in the packet
    • Fanzine creating a online web page with links toreviews of 2016 works which included a vast majority of reviews written in 2016, but a handful written in 2015 and 2017
      resolution: let them know that I was going to let it slide, but that a future Packet Coordinator might not, and if there had been more of them, I wouldn’t have either, and suggested this might be something they wish to take into consideration in future as far as the timing of posting reviews
    • Explicit Content: The porn novelette was placed inside a subfolder which included “Note - Explicit Content” in the folder name. The Fan Writer whose work included cartoon nudity and explicit verbiage agreed to create an online page on their website, and a document with a link to that webpage was included in the packet (at my recommendation, this URL was added to their robots.txt file, so that it would not be indexed by search engines).
    • Editor Long Form: My original e-mail to the finalists referred to novels edited during the year, and it was called to my attention that the definition actually specifies novel-length works which were published during the eligibility year, and that those works could be either fiction or non-fiction. I sent a revised e-mail to the Editor Long Form Finalists to reflect these changes
  • Packaging errors which had to be fixed:
    • The Design/Marketing team wanted to approve/change the README document after most of the zip files had already been uploaded
      resolution: DevOps went through and replaced the document in all the zip files
    • The Novel EPUB packet included a PDF of a different work instead of the EPUB of a missing work
      resolution: repackaged the correct set, and DevOps replaced the download file
    • A Series subfolder in the MOBI packet contained the EPUB files rather than the MOBI files
      resolution: repackaged the correct set, and DevOps replaced the download file
  • Recommendations for future years:
    • A tracking spreadsheet should be created in advance, which can be used to note Finalist position acceptances, dates e-mails are sent, dates content is received, what content is received, Hugo ceremony attendance and absentee Finalist representative information, etc.
    • The e-mails to the Finalists can all be prepared ahead of time and sent as soon as the public announcement of the Finalists has been made.These e-mails will have the same basic content, but need slight changes to be applicable to each specific category. I made a special effort to really tailor these e-mails with explanations and suggestions to guide the finalists in creating their submissions, both to help avoid past issues, and to ensure the best possible submissions which would aid voters in making their decisions.
    • The Dramatic Presentation Long and Short, Editor Short Form, Fancast, and Series credits can (and should) all be pulled in advance from various websites. Once the Finalists have been announced, the Series Reading Order should be sent with the packet submission invitation to the authors for review and corrections, if necessary.
    • As much as possible, files should be reviewed for eligibility, readability, and validity as soon as they are received. If a DOC, RTF, EPUB, MOBI, or PRC file is received, it is possible to create EPUB, MOBI, and PDF versions. If only a PDF is received, then it’s a case of either requesting one of the other types if you think you can get it, or just going with the PDF.
    • Persistence and patience are required. I think that around 60 e-mails were exchanged with 12different people from one publisher, just for 3 works, which we were finally able to get. People will forget that they need to prepare a submission, and some of them will have to be reminded more than once. Saying “We’d really like to have your work included in the initial packet release with the other Finalists” in the reminder generally helps, because they realize that not doing so may disadvantage them with voters.
    • In my last thank-you to them, I asked all of the comic execs and the publishers and editors to add @worldcon76.org to their Safe or Approved Senders list, to head off Hugo notification e-mails going to Junk Mailboxes next year. I recommend doing this every year with the following Worldcon’s domain URL.
    • The Master Contact Document should be updated to include any new people and contact information, and any changes to existing information, then forwarded to the following year’s Hugo Administrator.

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