The non-fiction shortlist for this year’s BSFA Awards is easily the most diverse of the shortlists, at least in terms of media. There’s a podcast, lots of blog posts, and a controversial nomination which may not even be non-fiction, depending on who is doing the nominating. What counts as non-fiction for the BSFA awards is up to the nominators, not the award administrator.
This year, every person who nominated in the non-fiction category had far more influence than anyone who only nominated in other categories. That’s because a total of eighteen people nominated a total of only sixteen candidates for the non-fiction shortlist. 3% of the BSFA’s membership nominated in this category.
Fewer people nominated in this category than the others – over twice as many people nominated for the best novel and for the best short story shortlists. The proportions, however, are not necessarily typical of the category. Last year, twenty-nine people nominated a total of forty-three works! Even the year before that, twenty-nine different works were nominated for the shortlist.
This is the only category for which there were fewer nominations than nominators which, superficially, may suggest a greater initial consensus on appropriate works than in other categories. There weren’t a whole lot of eligible non-fiction books published compared to some recent years, but there were plenty of other ways in which eligible non-fiction is produced, as is clear from the diversity of this year’s ballot.
To simplify a more complicated situation: Novels have publishers, bookstores, and reviewers to raise awareness of them. Short stories have magazines, online and off, to promote them. Artwork is promoted via novel covers, and thus bookstores, and magazines (which, although it’s a fraction of genre artwork being produced, at least gives it venues for publicity). Non-fiction doesn’t have so many built-in mechanisms for advertising. Collectively, I think, we consume a fair amount of it, but it requires a bit more effort to step back from reading and consider a work’s longer-term importance, and to track casually-read essays, reviews, and criticism for their nomination potential.