Many congratulations to author Catherynne M. Valente for winning the Norton Award for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and the Lambda Award for Palimpsest, the latter of which is also a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award and the Hugo. The only novel to win both the Lammie and the Hugo was China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh, which also won the Tiptree Award, won by Valente for The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden.
The Norton is a ground-breaker in many ways. Fairyland (for short) was first published as a crowd-sourced novel, and uploaded in installments to the author’s web site, along with audio recordings of the author reading the story. I’m pretty sure this is the first time that a self-published novel has won a major science fiction award.
Before the award was granted, Macmillan imprint Feiwel and Friends bought publication rights to Fairyland, and they’ll be putting out an illustrated edition next year. Some vehement proponents of ebooks, especially free ebooks, took exception with Feiwel’s requirement that Valente remove the last chapter of the book from her website. I’m frankly appalled at the rudeness and entitlement in some of the criticism. But this is also a learning period for publishers and authors, as the web can allow an author to get a large following of vocal fans without the usual path to traditional publishing. Feiwel will offer a color print book, distribution, and promotional efforts for Valente, and she will bring a loyal following, as well as attention from sites like Boing Boing, and fellow authors.
Moving on to the Lambda awards, Palimpsest was a great choice. Most of the previous Lambda SF/F winners have been for books primarily featuring gay or lesbian characters, and it’s heartening to see that the Lambda judges (who this year, in full disclosure, included Genreville’s own Rose Fox) took this opportunity to reward a book with bisexual protagonists.
Palimpsest also benefited from some unorthodox publicity moves. As the recent rounds of layoffs hit Bantam Spectra, the book was given less attention than it might have if there had been the same person in PR dealing with the book throughout its launch and early career. The launch tour was mostly funded by the author, who traveled from city to city with musicians, jewelry artists, and at times a performance art troupe. This culminated in a train trip from Chicago to New Orleans with performances in both cities. It was a unique and impressive artistic venture, and Rose and I were lucky enough to go along for the ride. The train tour created a close knit group of core fans who feel a personal connection with the artists and help promote Valente and Tucker’s other work, acting as evangelists for it in a way a typical fan might not.
And finally, the Mythopoeic Award is a good follow up to Valente’s win in 2008 for her Orphan’s Tales books. The award is less well known in the mainstream than the Hugo, Norton, and Lambda awards, but it is well respected among academics and scholars of myth and fairy tales. Many of the stories within stories in Palimpest are reflections and refinements of real world myths. In fact, Fairyland was such a story, included in Palimpsest as a fairy tale that a character loved. In this way, the recursive theme of Valente’s fiction mirrors the real life life cycle of Palimpsest and Fairyland. An adult novel, with sexual themes, gave birth to a charming book for children.
Both books had an unorthodox life cycle, and were embraced nonetheless. An author with determination, skill, and a solid network of supporters can create a marketplace for books that might otherwise slip through the cracks, and publishers and literary awards are willing to consider books with unusual provenance. With Amazon looming on the horizon experimenting with Amazon Encore, publishers must be willing to innovate, and to trust their authors. SF/F/H fandom is particularly open to innovation: look at the reception for Cory Doctorow’s model of making all of his books available online for free. But most of Tor’s authors don’t get the leeway to experiment in that direction. As publicity budgets drop and staff are spread thin, publishing companies need to loosen the reins on what authors can do to self-promote, and to accept the risks that come with trying wonderful new things.