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.”

https://www.dragoncon.org/mediarelations/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/2019-Dragon-Awards-Ballot.pdf

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.


39 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.

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    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.

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  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.

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    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?

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      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 2 people

      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.

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  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.

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  4. Kat, I don’t know that you can say the Dragon Award was specifically set up to help the Puppies, or that it’s illegitimate in any way. It doesn’t make sense that a con with an annual attendance of over 80K fans would launch a major award to assist one particular fan group within it’s fold. I do think that, given the recent controversies over the Nebula and Hugo Awards, the con management saw the opportunity to offer an award catering to the tastes of their own membership. Large cons like this are a fertile opportunity for awards, and the Dragon isn’t their first walk in the park.

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    1. But they haven’t launched a major award? They have launched a small thing they can’t be bothered to promote or administrate in any serious way.

      Perhaps it can be a major award in 30 years or so, you know, the type where winners and nominees show up in their best dresses and the audience appears in thousands, but it certainly isn’t now. It is the step above tiny.

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    2. Lela E. Buis: I don’t know that you can say the Dragon Award was specifically set up to help the Puppies, or that it’s illegitimate in any way. It doesn’t make sense that a con with an annual attendance of over 80K fans would launch a major award to assist one particular fan group within it’s fold.

      You’re mistaking “a half-assed awards program run under the name of a major convention” for “a major award”.

      Of course we can say that. It was very obvious from the beginning that the Dragon Awards were the result of someone offering to present awards in DragonCon’s name and being given permission to do so. The awards’ website was a completely different website than the DragonCon website. Rather than the awards being promoted on the DragonCon website in and in official DC publications, the organizer went to Larry Correia and asked him to promote them. Promotion for the awards took place almost exclusively on the blogs of Puppies. And we know that the administrator(s) who volunteered to run the awards are good friends with several Puppies.

      The organization of the awards was an absolute clusterfuck (the bizarre sweepstakes rules cribbed off the internet, the bizarre eligibility dates which just coincidentally would have permitted certain works by various Puppy authors published over a 16-month span to be eligible — and which were later revised, the complete failure to promote the awards on the con’s website or in its publications and communications, the ability for anyone to submit n number of nominations and votes, the ability for the administrators to put anything they wanted on the ballot and name any work they wished as the winner). Apart from the promotions aspect, which has somewhat improved, none of these problems have ever been fixed.

      It’s pretty apparent after the laughingstock that the awards were in their first year, that in the last couple of years the final ballot works have been curated lists which include some works by small special interest groups who have freeped the nominations (Puppies, Scrappies, Inkshares, Chris Kennedy’s group) and works taken from Amazon’s bestseller lists, to give the awards some semblance of legitimacy while still catering to the small interest groups.

      And they say “10,000 fans”. We have no way of knowing whether that’s true, whether it’s actually 10,000 nominations across 15 categories (which would translate to 1000-2000 nominators), or whether that’s a completely made-up figure, because no nominating and voting stats have ever been published for the awards — and they never will be published, because those stats would make it obvious just what a trashfire the awards are, and that the final ballot is being arbitrarily constructed by the administrators.

      I think it’s incredibly telling that the 20BooksTo50K lot has completely ignored the Dragon Awards and targeted the Nebulas instead. They know that there’s no prestige associated with being nominated for a Dragon Award.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. >But they haven’t launched a major award?

    I think if 10K people voted, it’s sort of in the running for a major award. It is a little different, I agree, for one thing because it’s billed as a completely popular award, and it’s not making any pretensions toward being a high-level literary award. You may be right that they’re trying to set a certain standard in order to have the kind of reputation that makes a nomination desirable, but they don’t seem to be setting any requirement other than publication date for eligibility.

    The promotion and administration may grow. Consider what kind of job it is to put on a con with 80K attendees. DragonCon very well managed, as far as I can tell, but these people are busy with other things. WorldCon this year had what? Maybe 6000 attendees? How many people voted?

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    1. @Lela —

      “I think if 10K people voted, it’s sort of in the running for a major award.”

      Do you consider the Goodreads Choice awards to be “major” awards? Because they get many times more voters than that.

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      1. Goodreads is a general fiction award, right? I see on their info page that they do consider themselves a major award and advertise that a win can increase readership by up to 1800% (based on their own internal statistics). In comparison, I notice that everyone seems to agree that winning a Hugo provides something of a sales boost, but I don’t see it quantified. When you compare it to general fiction awards, how do you think it rates?

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      2. “Goodreads is a general fiction award, right?”

        They have multiple categories, including — IIRC — fantasy, sf, horror, and YA.

        “When you compare it to general fiction awards, how do you think it rates?”

        No idea! I’m not the one going around calling awards “major” just because they get a lot of votes. 😉

        Liked by 3 people

    2. I regularly see tweets get more votes, so I don’t really care about those numbers for free internet voting. I’d expect an award that is called “major” to also be able to show that people think it is relevant.

      Obviously Dragon Award has a long way to go there. When we see the first auditorium with more than 1000 spectators, then we can start talking.

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    3. “WorldCon this year had what? Maybe 6000 attendees? How many people voted?”

      Easily answered with publicly available info: 3097. So call that 50%ish of members. Vs say 15% of Dragon Con attendees voting – or less if a lot of voters are actually not attendees, as seems likely at the moment.
      The problem that I see for the Dragon Awards is that although Dragon Con is a large well known con, its awards aren’t particularly popular even amongst attendees. Their slowness in even doing basic things to get attendees interested over the past few years has been noticeable.

      The Dragon Awards are interesting – initially in a car crash sense, now in a “can they fix it” sense – but they’re not yet major by any measure.

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  6. In general, I’d expect that a higher number of members and/or voters is an indication of higher potential readership. Goodreads has a 2019 membership of 85 million. If even 1/85 of these voted on the winners, it likely puts them ahead of all the other literary awards combined.

    WorldCon is a very small, in-bred community in comparison to either Goodreads or DragonCon. One caveat here, though, is that all these venues will tend to draw a particular demographic. For example, looks like the DragonCon audience includes a larger percentage of readers interested in military SF than either WorldCon or Goodreads.

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    1. @Lela —

      “WorldCon is a very small, in-bred community in comparison to either Goodreads or DragonCon.”

      Sure. But, again, the size of the voting pool isn’t what makes an award “major” or “minor”. Heck, the Pulitzer Prize committee is something like FIVE people — yet it’s about the most “major” literary award out there.

      What makes an award “major” is how many people pay attention to it throughout the culture. And you only have to google “Hugo Award” to see all the bazillions of times the Hugo is mentioned in all sorts of venues. People pay attention to it. The Dragon? Not so much.

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    2. “WorldCon is a very small, in-bred community in comparison”

      “In-bred”. Sigh. I suppose it was too much to ask that you went more than five minutes without reverting to type

      Liked by 2 people

  7. >When we see the first auditorium with more than 1000 spectators, then we can start talking.

    As I said, there’s a lot going on at DragonCon. I mean, they might be competing with the burlesque show, or maybe even the Puppet Slam. I think the Georgia Philharmonic has a slot, too.

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  8. >What makes an award “major” is how many people pay attention to it throughout the culture.

    The Pulitzer cheats. It’s juried, and they award a cash prize of US$15,000 along with their little gold medal. That gives it instant prestige.

    I agree that the Hugo has a lot of clout gained over a lot of years, but I don’t think you can discount awards like the Dragon or the Goodreads Award just because they’re fairly new in the community. I mean, look how publishing has changed in the last few years. The awards will change to accommodate the new landscape.

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    1. @Lela —

      “The Pulitzer cheats.”

      That’s irrelevant. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that “major” is not the same thing as “large voting pool”.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “Will change” is the key. Right now the Dragon Award is a small thing that few people pay attention to. They are more interested in a puppet slam. If only one percent of visitors cared, there would be almost a thousand persons in the audience. But is is more like one tenth of one percent that is interested.

      That’s not impressive. And certainly nothing that points to something “major”.

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