On Campbell Award *Ineligibility* and The Eligibility of Others

This year marks a new milestone. I’m no longer eligible for consideration for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. And I’m totally fine with that. Mostly.

I’ll tell you why: During the period when I was eligible, I published approximately 2500 words across three flash stories in Nature (2012) and Daily Science Fiction (2011). I enjoyed writing these stories; I learned from writing them. I heard from readers who said they enjoyed them too. That made me happier than I can possibly sum up with words.

It felt something like this: 

For a new writer, acceptance in a publication that pays pro rates is something of a milestone. I didn’t totally understand the full ramifications when I sent “Everlasting” to Daily Science Fiction in spring 2011 and they accepted it. I’d written a flash-length story, was looking for places that would publish flash-length stories and that had published other stories that I enjoyed. “Everlasting” was my first published short story, anywhere. And dear dog it felt good to have someone pay me for my words.

Back then, I had no idea that this started an awards-eligibility clock ticking. I’m competitive enough that I would have cared, and felt pressure to publish more stories, faster. So here’s the thing: I’m glad I didn’t know. Over the past two years since I sold that first story, I’ve grown so much as a writer and I’ve met so many incredible people who have written, and are writing, incredible things. That first sale gave me the sense that I might be one of those people — one who had a lot to learn, surely. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for the world. Even before the story sold, I wouldn’t have traded the feeling of finishing “Everlasting,” which was the first time I can remember writing an ending that ‘stuck.’ Same for “Without,” which is when I learned an important lesson about telling the story equally from both sides, and how much power that gives a narrative. I learn something from every story I finish writing, and every story I read.

Fountain pen nibs make up the award. Shiny!

The Campbell Award and the Campbell nomination ballot recognizes the best new SF/F writers among those who have published stories in professional publications (‘pro’ designation being based on criteria like distribution range and pay-rates) in the past two years. Writers so recognized include many people whose names you know — Elizabeth Bear, Karen Joy Fowler, Michaela Roessner, Orson Scott Card, Ted Chiang, Nalo Hopkinson, Cory Doctorow, Jo Walton, Jay Lake, John Scalzi, Mary Robinette Kowal, David Anthony Durham, Seanan McGuire, Lev Grossman, E. Lily Yu, and last year’s winner, Mur Lafferty.

These winners and their Campbell classes (those nominated with them) are among the brightest new writers of their generations. But they are not the only new writers who are doing amazing work. Some may differ with me on this, and that’s fine, but I feel pretty strongly that great stories are found in many places, and do not keep to a clock.

I published my first full-length story last year, “A Moment of Gravity, Circumscribed,” to the Impossible Futures anthology. Then — amazingly, and I still get giddy about this — I sold two more full-length stories to Asimov’s and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

A couple of people have asked me if I’m sad I’m not eligible this year and next for the Campbell. I admit, I would love to be among the list of names up there. They are incredible writers and incredible people. And the Campbell Award is one of the ways that the SF/F community recognizes beauty and wonder among its own. Yes, I would love to be among that group. I’m a writer. Awards are shiny. And it’s an amazing group.

Does it make me less of a writer that I will not be among the Campbell nominees? Nope. I don’t look at others and think “well I loved their story, but they’re not on the Campbell list.” No way. So why would I do that to myself? Nope. Would I trade what I’ve learned during the past three years? Nope. I’m on a different schedule. That’s ok. I’m going to try to tell the best stories I can, and not worry about the clock too much.

Would I like to be recognized for my work? Hell yes. But I will hope for that recognition in other shapes, and other formats.

Meantime, should you be eligible to nominate for the Campbell Award, AND/OR should you be a reader who enjoys a ripping good story, here are some writers to get you started – among many – and new rabbit holes to fall into.

Alisa AleringBrooke Bolander | Oliver Buckrham | Adam Christopher | John Chu | Wesley Chu | Max Gladstone | Ada Hoffman | M.K. Hutchins | Jacqueline KoyanagiKelly Lagor | Carmen Maria Machado | Sam J. MillerJohn MurphyE.C. Myers | Sarah Pinsker | Tony Pisculli | Benjanun Sriduangkaew | John Shade | Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

A fuller list of those eligible (in their first and second years) is available on the John W. Campbell Award Writertopia Page. If you are eligible and your name isn’t on there, you should get on that! Also, there’s an anthology of 2014 Campbell eligible folks – the deadline is today. You should get on that too.

And should you desire to do so, I would encourage you to read among those who are doing work on their own clock, those who are not yet eligible, and those who have been eligible, nominated, and even given awards. Many of whom are eligible this year for awards nominations in other categories.

A few to visit with at all different stages of their careers, from new author, to neo-pro, to award-recognized pro (and if I am wrong about eligibility here, or you don’t want to be on this list, please let me know. I’ve done my best to confirm, but I still screw up like mad). This is in no way a complete list, because how could I possibly. Also check out the publications listed to the side of this post, as they are wonderful:

Madeline Ashby | Helena Bell | Aliette de Bodard | Siobhan Carroll | Beth CatoCarrie CuinnNicole Feldringer | Jake KerrAnn Leckie | Yoon Ha Lee | Vylar Kaftan | Matthew Kressel | Jaime Lee Moyer |  Mari Ness | Margaret Ronald | Jaime Todd Rubin* | Lawrence Schoen | Alex ShvartsmanE. Catherine Tobler | Lauren Teffau | Genevieve ValentineMichael R. Underwood | A.C. WiseLaShawn M. Wanak

Enjoy the rabbit holes! Happy reading.

(*not eligible for Nebulas because he’s awards administrator)


  1. I read this a couple times to make sure, but it looks to me like Joseph Gordon Levitt is not the prize for the Campbell Award…so my desire to win one just evaporated.

  2. This is a wonderful post. Thank you. It sums up a lot of my own thoughts/feelings/experiences. I had no idea the Campbells were even a thing until a year or two after I stopped being eligible. At times it makes me feel like I’ve done everything completely and utterly wrong, but other times I realize (as you say more eloquently here) that there’s no one “right path” through crazy writer-land.

  3. […] I’m also in my second year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. I managed 12th place on the long list last year, so… you never know! I’ll be posting more about the Campbell Award later, as there are a lot of writers eligible for it, and lots of cool samples and content to try. You can see a sample of names over at Fran Wilde’s blog. […]

  4. Thank you for writing this post! A.C. is right – there are so many ways through this place. I think it’s nice to look up from the forest floor and realize how many other people are walking near you.

  5. A similar thing happened to me as my first pro sales were flash. It’s an odd award in many ways, as it prioritises a certain kind of sudden success, often due to publishing a longer work. Even short story writers tend to be discussed in terms of whether they can use those skills on a novel.

    It’s one reason why when I’m choosing who to nominate, I don’t discount people for shorter work or for having small numbers of sales.

  6. Thanks for throwing my link up there. Seconding Carmen on how reassuring it is to realize that indeed many other lovely people are toiling in the next briar patch, forging their own paths through crazy writer-land.

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