The award was set up in memory of fantasy writer David Gemmell, a favourite author of mine and giant of the UK fantasy scene, who died aged only 57. The award has been running since 2009. It's described as an award for 'pure' fantasy.
The award has three sections:
The Legend Award: Best Novel.
The Morningstar Award: Best Debut Novel.
The Ravenheart Award: Best Cover Art.
Authors short-listed for the Legend award get one of these fellows:
Various events take place to help fund the Gemmell Awards, and last year there was an anthology, Legends II, featuring work donated by Award authors. I have a Broken Empire story in there, featuring Sir Makin.
You can order the book here and pat yourself on the back for supporting a worthy cause.
It hasn't been all plain sailing for the Gemmell Awards in gaining acceptance. Here a Speculative Horizons blog tells us why the Gemmells are bad for fantasy, albeit in the form of several terribly bad arguments that Joe Abercrombie rightly describes as 'bollocks' in the comments section.
The main argument against the Gemmells is that they might (heaven forfend) give an award to a (shudder) popular book. The shame of it. To prop this up we're invited to believe that bestsellers are bestsellers because of advertising campaigns. We're also invited to follow the rather feeble logic that because being well-written is not an essential requirement for bestsellers ... bestsellers are not well-written.
The idea that a voted award has no merit because it might reflect popular taste doesn't seem to have been extended to the other high profile voted awards.
It's not a function of the size of the voter-base. The Best Novel category in this year's Hugos had over 2000 voters (a record driven by highly political games being played with the award at the moment). Last year's Gemmell award for best novel was perhaps decided by 5,000 voters (nearly 20,000 votes from over 70 countries in total over three categories and two rounds, with the Legend Award drawing the bulk of the votes). The difference is that the Hugos are driven by cliques held together by shared politics, shared blogs, shared convention attendance. They talk to each other through blogs, they have their heroes to give them direction, they have their accepted aesthetic. They are a subset of the most passionate fandom. This closeness allows the Hugos to be something they can talk about, argue about, something they feel they can influence and control.
The Gemmells, on the other hand, are voted on by a demographic that's has very little to define it. Gemmell voters are fans of David Gemmell, people who follow the authors involved, their number includes passionate and extreme fans of the genre, but also plenty of casual readers with enough interest to click through and vote. The pundits don't know how to reach out to them, how to influence or persuade them. They don't feel ownership or control ... and that simultaneously scares some of them and bores others. Without that game of influence it's true that the vote moves away from the cliquey, quirky, volatility of the Hugos and does become a closer relation to the bestseller lists. It is more than that though. There is an aesthetic being applied here - not one Hugo voters may like very much - but even so. If there wasn't then Emperor of Thorns would have lost to The Daylight War and Republic of Thieves, which both sold significantly more copies, and all three of them would have been CRUSHED by A Memory of Light which heavily outsold the rest of the short-list combined.
Part of the "it's just a popularity contest" accusation seems to involve the idea that the people voting have only read the book they're voting for. This poll of Hugo and Gemmell voters (at time of publishing) shows an average of just over 3.0 books from the Gemmell short list read by Gemmell voters and an average of 3.0 books from the Hugo short list read by Hugo voters. Indicating that both sets of voters are similarly informed about the books they're voting on.
In conclusion: Hugo if you want to, I'm staying here with Gemmell.
(Additional facts: This year's long list has 49 titles, 13 of them by female authors. The titles are put forward by the authors' publishers, though I believe any member of the public can suggest titles and if they 'meet the bill', i,e epic fantasy for grown-ups, they'll be accepted).