A vague Dragon Award stat and a big pile of speculation

Any port in a storm and any number in a statistical dessert. There is a media release from Dragon Con about this year’s ballot. It has a numerical nugget in it:

“In 2018, more than 10,000 fans cast ballots for Dragon Award winners, selected from 94 properties in 15 categories covering the full range of fiction, comics, television, movies, video gaming, and tabletop gaming.”


It’s a media release, so it’s easy to nit-pick (e.g. the award very much is NOT the full range of ‘fiction’ — they obviously dropped a qualifier there). Also, there can be a specific issue when such numbers announced to confuse what is being counted i.e. the number of votes versus the number of voters. However, the wording implies that this is the unique number of voters. I think we can also safely assume that the number is less than 10,500.

Is that plausible? Yes, very much so. It’s roughly a 100 votes per finalist and it is very plausible that on average a finalist could marshal that many fans to vote. I estimated that in 2016 Vox Day had somewhere between 160-180 Hugo voters in the final ballot ( see https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2016/08/21/estimating-rabid-puppy-numbers/ ) and the Dragon Awards are far easier to vote in. Of course some finalists won’t have bothered and there will be substantial fan-overlap between some finalists but also some nominees will bring a lot more folks to the party. That’s also assuming the figure does not include any cheating via pay-for-votes services (either because finalists didn’t cheat or because such votes were identified and discounted). Altogether, I think that magnitude is a good basis for other estimates.

What else can we infer? Well, it is safe to assume that the number of people nominating is a lot less. Based on other awards, I think we can assume a factor of 2 i.e. 2 final votes for every nominating vote. That would be a hefty 5 thousand+ people nominating. Very hard to tell how those nominating votes would spread across categories and nominees though.

What I imagine is that most people who choose to nominate do so because of a specific call to action i.e. somebody they follow saying that they should vote. I think this is a safe assumption because the promotion otherwise is very thin. However, of the works a single voter might nominate only one is likely to be in direct response to that call to action i.e. Author X says ‘nominate me’ a fan thinks ‘sure, why not’ nominates Author X’s book and then nominate bits and bobs of other stuff. The odd thing is that those calls to action are more likely to be from authors who appear in down-ballot categories (with a couple of exceptions) and the bits-and-bobs more likely to be in the higher profile categories.

But another way, you might need 1000+ nominations to be a finalist for Best Fantasy Novel but much less for the other categories. I think that is on a balance a positive feature of the Dragon Awards. A category like Best MilSF brings in a lot of fans of Author X, Y or Z who then vote more organically elsewhere. It would be interesting to see what would happen if there was a Best Paranormal Romance category.

Any other stray observations? Only that the odd wording about the nomination process is used in the press release:

“The ballot was selected in an open nomination process. Using the dedicated Dragon Awards website, fans were invited to nominate one (and only one) of their favorite properties in any or all the award categories. Nominations ran from early April until July19. The best and most popular of the nominated properties were elevated to the ballot.”

The “best and most popular” appears to be a very deliberate term and implies two categories of finalists.

Observant eyes will have also spotted that the nomination process is stated as running from “early April”. According to the website, nominations are supposed to start from November of the previous year. In reality, the process was much messier for 2019:

Did nominations submitted before April count? Who knows.


17 thoughts on “A vague Dragon Award stat and a big pile of speculation

  1. It seems like a black box, which means the award banks heavily on the credibility of Dragoncon. Don’t the Hugos release a lot more data about how the voting went? Nothing identifiable, of course.

    I do hope these awards gain traction and prestige- it’s much more civilized behavior to back a new award than to hijack an old one- but it seems to me that the black box aspect is a barrier to people feeling like the results truly reflect the will of the community. Or am I wrong? Maybe not everybody cares about seeing the raw data.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a worthwhile point. But it also seems like you could protect the credibility by working to protect the voting process from click farms. If they want the results to be respected, and I hope they do, because I want to respect them, they need to block efforts to subvert the results.


    1. Yes, Worldcons release pretty detailed stats after the Hugo ceremony. For both the nominations and the final vote. A fair number of us who participate in Hugo voting care a lot about those stats. That’s a big reason why we look askance at the Dragons and wonder how much the voting actually affects the outcome.


  2. The big, interesting question for the 2019 Dragon awards was whether the organized self-publishing contingent that swarmed previously in 2018 and pressured against organized Puppy campaigns still having an in-road would make the effort to go for it again this year, first off, and second, would be successful in that effort, given that the award runners are Puppy friendly, decide who gets nominated and wins based loosely on the votes, and were consciously trying to bring in big name, well known authors to be nominees for legitimacy and attention since 2017, (even if they were evil SJW’s.)

    The resulting nominees do still show an organized, successful effort from the self-pub, Chris Kennedy contingent of several nominations and a few self-pub authors who may or may not be associated with those groups, but it’s not huge and mostly in a few specific categories. Was there less of a push from those groups? Very likely, but it still was sufficient that the award runners went ahead and accepted some of the votes to give them nominations. That Kennedy can snag several nominations for his self-pub oriented book packaging firm, including for himself, indicates that he’s marshaling enough votes that the award runners can’t just fob them off.

    The other issue was how much the DragonCon administrators had been pressuring the award runners to make the awards seem more legitimate, broader and bigger. The Puppies don’t have much of a showing, though some of the big name authors they approve of have nominations once again. And the limited, though solid, presence of the self-pub, Chris Kennedy contingent combined with that indicates that the administrators did in fact sit on the award runners a fair amount. Both the Red Panda Faction’s efforts at publicizing the award particularly to DragonCon attendees and the fact that the award is an official con award that is growing older probably spurred DragonCon to make the award runners pay more attention to the actual votes. Though their investment in the awards is minimal, I’m sure they’ve sent the message to not make the award seem a joke to big authors who would refuse the nomination as Jemisin did, given the desperation we saw in 2017 and a bit in 2018.

    To that end, we’ve ended up with a nomination list that is probably closer to the actual popular vote count than in any of the previous years, with lots of well-known authors from both respected smaller operations of SFF and bigger imprints, and a smattering of popular self-pubs. Mary Robinette Kowal, on the high enemies list of the Puppies, has a nomination for her feminist Lady Astronauts novel, as has Kameron Hurley in military SFF, which should for the Puppies indicate that the Dragons have been horribly corrupted, but I’m guessing is more likely at this point to elicit a shrug. (After all, if prominent authors are nominated and win the Dragons, that makes the Puppies’ first year nominations and wins more valuable.)

    So the nomination list again indicates that the awards are sidling towards legitimacy much faster than I had previously expected. Though we have no real way of knowing if vote counts before were 10K or 8K or whatever they claim they are and what of those are for the books. But the continued inclusion of the sweepstakes language that gives the award runners full control of who gets nominated and wins as the rules of the award, and the continued use of phrases such as “best and most popular are elevated” shows that the awards still are not legitimate, that the award runners are picking and choosing.

    But they are under pressure to make those picks as legitimate appearing as possible, which will eventually lead to reform and full legitimacy for the award. It’s a sort of wishing makes it so — if everyone, particularly the big name nominated authors, treats the award as legitimate, then the fix the award runners do has to be more and more a legitimate reflection of the vote count. At a certain point, they’ll dump the fix, especially again if new award runners are put in place.

    So the big issues for 2020 will be: can the organized self-pub effort continue to yield nominations for a narrow set of self-pub/book packaged self-pub with enough votes to make it worth the award runners’ while; will the 2020 award running be a lot smoother and more on schedule than this year — drawing in more votes rather than first trying to discourage them from the general public/DragonCon attendees; and will they drop the language/rules that make it a fixed award controlled by the award runners as the awards turn five and more big name authors go along with their nominations. It’s going to be a very interesting evolution.

    *Note again, having self-pub authors nominated, who are just as potentially popular and interesting to readers as license published titles, is not a problem in and of itself. But it is interesting to see how the award runners process organized campaigns for the vote count by some of those authors.


    1. Yes, it’s an interesting question. There’s been various groups in the Hugos but the only consistent ones are Baen, Chris Kennedy’s mob and the TradPubs. Do the others (eg Inkshares) get out voted by increasing numbers or just lose interest?


      1. In legitimate awards like the Hugos, name recognition is a factor. The Hugo voter pool is a specialized pool drawn from attendees or supporting attendees of the convention, and includes short fiction awards. So they name recognize people who are from smaller operations as well as people from larger ones — they like a lot of folks and pick who they like.

        A group like Inkshares can bring in enough participating voters to have an impact and may have name recognition by other Hugo voters who also vote for them. But if there are some bigger names that are being super talked about in the field that year, the amount of impact Inkshares can make/get noticed decreases. And that can discourage Inkshares authors who don’t then mobilize their fans further to vote for them. And if other self-pub groups like Kennedy are mobilizing voters, that’s probably borrowing some of the Inkshares’ voters/fans. The bigger publishers — and that actually includes Baen Books — don’t have to really do any of that. It’s just a matter of which of their releases has high name recognition and how much they were talked about out in the field.

        The Puppies’ biggest problem is that they couldn’t come up with what they were exactly campaigning for, except that they wanted awards for themselves and they thought there were too many writers of color and LGBTQ themes/liberal stuff getting award attention. Consequently, they kept squandering opportunities to mobilize voters and certainly didn’t appeal to other Hugo voters. Towards the end, they tried to make it about Baen Books, but championing one publisher was a losing strategy to appeal to voters. They had to bring in the Gamergater agitator voters on a slate, which handed control of the whole campaign over to Ted Beale. Beale used it to push his publishing house and to try to climb higher in the rightwing mediosphere as an agitator, then moved on.

        The Dragons, which was simply an illegitimate award set up at first to help the Puppies and widely open to gamesmanship, allowed Puppies to recoup a little, with a split focus of supporting Baen Books and supporting specific types of self-published fiction. But as soon as more people started paying attention to the Dragons in the second year, the less impact Puppy mobilization had and the less name recognition they had in that bigger pool. And there was only so far the award runners were willing to bend to accommodate them because the award runners/DragonCon wanted to have bigger names in the nominations. (Hence the begging to Scalzi and Jemisin to not pull their nominations.)

        What we may see more of is the Puppies making common cause with Chris Kennedy to mobilize voters since there seems to be some friendships there. But for most of the award categories, the horse is out of the barn already.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well that may well have caused him to hone in on the Dragons then. But according to your stats, while Baen does well in the Dragons, they aren’t dominating over other publishers. It may be an interesting conundrum for the Puppy contingent — mobilize voters with Kennedy to get “conservative” or at least approved of self-pub authors in nominations, or keep pushing for Baen titles. I don’t know that they can really push either group effectively at this point, plus again the voter count still affects the outcomes but does not decide the outcomes. Gaming the Dragons is easy the way they are set up, but gaming the vote doesn’t necessarily mean winning the vote the way they are set up.

        So is Kennedy pals with the award runners? That’s a question.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m coming in late to this, but I wanted to mention something. If this has been discussed already, my apologies — I haven’t been following this discussion thoroughly.

    Any analysis of the Dragon noms is complicated by the weird eligibility period. We always have to keep that in mind when we’re comparing Dragons to the other awards. And once we take that into account, the Dragon noms start looking much more like the other awards.

    For instance, almost all of the **eligible** Nebula and Hugo nominees were also nominated for the Dragons this year.

    In the Hugo adult novels, only Space Opera was eligible and failed to be nominated. Both Revenant Gun and Trail of Lightning were published outside the Dragon cutoff dates.

    Likewise, the Nebula adult nominees that weren’t nominated for Dragons weren’t eligible.

    And in the YA categories, none of this year’s Hugo nominees were even eligible for Dragons — and only ONE of the Nebula nominees was. And this year’s Nebula winner, Children of Blood and Bone, won the Dragon YA award last year.

    Obviously, the Dragons have a lot *more* nominees than either the Hugos or Nebulas. But it looks like those extra nominees are now almost exclusively adding to, rather than replacing, the “establishment” books.

    Liked by 1 person

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