[Sorry this is a day late; I completely forgot to do my weekly educational post yesterday.]
This week I want to talk about one of the topics that tends to confuse people the most: how we sort stories into categories and subcategories. With many awards programs stories are nominated specifically for some grouping - Best Vignette, Best Slash, Best Ft. Aragorn, whatever. The person nominating the story nominates it for one of these categories, and then the nominated stories receive votes and are ranked within those categories.
That's not quite how it works with the MEFAs. The nominator only tells us the title, author, and a link where the story can be found. The author supplies all the rest of the information. You're not telling us that this is one of the best stories of a certain type, but rather that it's one of the best story (period!) that you've read, at least since the last year's awards.
The author then provides the information we use to sort the nominations into manageable categories and subcategories. They give us three important pieces of information:
1. Three main category choices.
2. The "type" of the story - that it's either a fixed-length ficlet; poem; work-in-progress; or full-length, finished story.
3. Some basic information about the story that we can use to divide larger categories into sub-categories: the characters involved, the story's setting, pertinent canonical events/time periods, and any sub-genres it fits.
Now, you may be wondering how we take these three pieces of information and use it to assign stories to categories and subcategories. We start by placing each piece into its first-choice main category. We then divide each main category into the four types mentioned above: story, FLF, WIP, and poetry. We look to see if there are enough pieces of each type in a certain main category for those stories to compete together in that main category.
If there are enough pieces, we have a sub-category. For instance, if there are seven WIPs who all chose "Races: Men" as their first category choice, then they'll compete in the subcategory "Races: Men: Incomplete." If there *aren't* enough pieces for that subcategory to be big enough (in MEFA terminology: viable), then we'll look at moving stories around.
If there are nearly enough pieces, we may move pieces into that category to try to make the subcategory viable. If there's only one or two pieces of a certain type in a main category at this point, we'll likely move them to their second or third choice category.
Maybe an example will make things clearer. Say that instead of the seven WIPs with Men as their first-choice category, there were only four. That's not quite enough for a viable "Races: Men: Incomplete" subcategory, but it's enough to make me think that we could maybe make the subcategory work with a little elbow grease. At this point I would look for other main categories that either had a lot of works-in-progress, or had so few I knew it would be nearly impossible to set up an "Incomplete" subcategory for that category. I'd look to see if any of those nominations had "Races: Men" as a second choice, and if so, I'd move them into the "Races: Men" category. That way I could collect enough stories so we could have a "Races: Men: Incomplete" subcategory.
Eventually we would sort things so that each nomination was in one of its three category choices where there were enough other pieces of the same type so that that could compete together. In other words, each nomination is in a subcategory that's not too small. But some of them may be too big! Last year there were twenty-nine fixed-length ficlets that ended up in the "Races: Men" main category, and only nine in "Races: Hobbits." This is probably just because there happened to be more Men FLF than Hobbits FLF nominated that year. Or maybe authors of hobbit-centric FLF chose other main categories as their first choice, like Genres: Humor or Times: Late Third Age. For whatever reason, there were over three times as many fixed-length ficlets in Races: Men than there were in Races: Hobbits. Which means that (if we'd let this situation stand) there would have been a lot fiercer competition in Races: Men than there were in Races: Hobbits.
This is where that third type of information I mentioned earlier comes in: the characters, settings, and so on. If there are a lot of nominations of a certain story type (FLF, story, WIP, or poetry) in the same main category, we'll divide them up based on character. Or subgenre, or setting, or something along those lines. This means that for each story type, some main categories will only have one main category, where all of the (for instance) WIPs in that main category compete together. But sometimes there will be enough that there will be more than one subcategory for the same type of story, and we'll use some other factor to divy up the stories. In the Races: Men example, they were split into Gondor Drabbles, General Drabbles, and Other Fixed-Length Ficlets (for longer FLFs and FLF series). By doing this, we were able to come up with some subcategories for those Races: Men fixed-length ficlets that were about the same size as the sub-category in Races: Hobbits, even though there were a lot more FLFs in the Races: Men main category than in the Races: Hobbits one.
So... that's how categories and subcategories work. If you have any questions now's a good time to ask them!
PS - For "extra reading," here are some good FAQs to check out:
1. "What are main categories?"
3. "What main categories are available?"
7. "Can my story be moved to a different subcategory?"
8. "Do you give awards for winners of a whole main category?"