Still not my job to fix the Dragon Awards

Nominations have closed as per the rules but the main page of the website hasn’t updated. The circuitous path to the nomination page (see previous posts) no longer leads to a nomination form but the front page still looks like this:

Back in 2017 I wrote a post entitled Fixing the Dragon Awards isn’t my problem . At the time I had assumed far-right groups gaming the awards would be the biggest issue but that problem fixed itself with the steady decline of output from overtly right-wing publishers (right-wing authors is a different question). The broader question was a singular lack of purpose for the Dragon Awards.

2020 will be the fifth iteration of the Awards and they still haven’t progressed far either in impact or reputation. The biggest, most obvious and most pressing problem they have is somebody to manage their website, which appears to be purposefully intended to discourage participation. However, that is hardly the only issue.

Nominations: Nobody publicly knows how the nomination process actually connects with the resulting list of finalists. It’s notable that various organised efforts to get on the ballot (which are 100% legit by both the rules & ethos of the awards) tend to work for any given group only once. Sword & Laser, Inkshares and others are successful one year and then vanish from the ballot the next. The rules suggest that the organisers can determine the finalists by any means but the public implication is that the finalists are chosen by popularity. A lack of clarity discourages participation.

Final voting: A similar lack of transparency exists with the final voting. Again, there is a mismatch between the marketing of the award as a popular vote and the actual rules which give the organisers the capacity to determine the winner how they wish. If people think their vote doesn’t matter then they won’t vote. The organisers have been cagey with actual voting numbers and it is not clear if the work with the most votes is actually the winner. Again that discourages participation.

Impact: Goodreads Awards get far more votes, Hugos and Nebulas have more impact, even the Locus awards generate more buzz and media coverage, the Clark’s have more critical clout and so on. Four sets of awards in and even Baen Books don’t play up their Dragon Award wins much on books covers or general marketing. For example, here is Brad flippin’ Torgersen’s bio on Amazon:

Brad R. Torgersen is the author of numerous stories, novelettes, and novellas which have appeared in the pages of Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show webzine, Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge magazine, and beyond. He’s the 2011 winner of the Analog AnLab Reader’s Choice Award for best novelette, and also won a place in the 26th annual Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest. For 2012 he was the field’s single triple-nominee for the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Campbell awards.”

Note: Analog AnLab Reader’s Choice, Writers of the Future, Nebula, Campbell and Hugo Awards are all listed but not the Dragons. Brad’s Dragon Award win simply isn’t used to promote Brad either in general or on his books, aside from his personal blogs and Facebook. Partly this is due to a lackadaisical approach to updating marketing blurbs but it also demonstrates that a Dragon Award win simply isn’t enough reason to update the copy . The same is true (more or less) for Larry Correia. Baen Books, who have been a major winner of the Dragon Awards publishes an Award Eligibility list but sticks with calendar years and has not ever produced a simple listing of Dragon Award eligible books that take account of the weird eligibility period. In short, even the main boosters of the Dragon Awards don’t put much stock in them.

SEO: The bane (rather than Baen) of my Dragon Award beat is that “Dragon Award” is a terrible name that covers a very varied range of international awards. As a piece of search-engine optimisation it is appallingly bad. The most damning example was in 2019 when DragonCon accidentally tweeted the handle of the Göteborg Film Festival. Adding a modifier or calling them the Dragon Con Awards would help. If the aim really is to build a popular award with a strong reputation, a unique name would help. Media coverage is slim in general also (e.g. when I search on “Dragon Award” this blog still gets on the main page of results).

Some solutions

Voters: Of the things I suggested back in 2017, I still think connecting the award to the convention makes the most sense. Make any attendee a lifelong voter, so you build a big voter base without a recurring fee but also give a bit of meaning to the votes. The Dragons boast of 10,000 voters but as a vague group of people it doesn’t add much kudos to the award. A smaller number but of a better defined group would carry more cachet and 10,000 out of Dragon Con’s 80 thousand+ participants would be both impressive and meaningful.

Transparency: It is true that being vague about numbers gives the awards some protection from being gamed but the Dragons still ended up being gamed anyway. Yes, numbers can create controversy and argument but any contest worth taking part in generates controversy and argument. That fact is an excellent argument against literary contests but a bad argument for having a contest that almost actively avoids publicity. Tell people numbers! Avoiding doing so because author egos will get wounded tells everybody that the award is for authors and not for fans.

Dump the books: Seriously, at least in two categories. There are no end of genre book awards and plenty that are doing everything better than the Dragon Awards (see impact above). Instead make the Dragons the award that a lot of Puppy-sympathetic people wanted out of awards: a “best author” award. Change (at least) the best sci-fi and best fantasy awards into best author awards, but with an eligibility requirement of a recent book published. Make a winner skip the following 2/3/4 years before they are eligible again and you have a great muggins’s-turn award that an author can slap on their book covers forever.

22 responses to “Still not my job to fix the Dragon Awards”

  1. I feel dumb. Because I don’t even know what this Award is about. Yes, I‘ve read the wiki entry. It just leaves me puzzled. Is this yet another award, why should I care?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I still like my theory: the Awards were the passion project of a single individual (who may or may not be employed by DragonCon at the present time) who never had the resources to it right because no one else there ever cared.

    DragonCon runs an enormous convention on a for-profit basis. If it wanted the Dragon Awards to matter, it wouldn’t be half-assing them like this.

    That said, I just went to the DragonCon front page, which does not acknowledge that it’s gone virtual, so maybe they are simply incompetent.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. I assume the Clark award is given out by Timothy. Bravo to him for all the fine work he’s done over the years to promote whatever it is that he promotes!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. What we know:

    DragonCon is not only a giant, for-profit multi-media con, but has long made use of letting volunteers set up content and events at the convention and handling it themselves with minimal oversight, at no or little cost to DragonCon, as part of the brand assets of DragonCon.

    After the media coverage debacle of their Hugo campaigns, the Puppies and Puppy sympathizers created the Dragon Awards to be a largely right-wing set of book awards that would not scream “right-wing” as a part of DragonCon, that would be associated with that popular event but that would be easier for them to crack into than the established convention and association awards. They wanted it to be only concentrated on the “money-makers” where they wanted to seem strong — novels — partly to help boost Baen Books which they had started treating as a religion, and, since they’d brought in Gamergate voters for their Hugo campaigns and some of them tried to do game or comics ventures, they wanted game and comics awards, which also better meshed with DragonCon and appealed to DragonCon admins more than just a book award.

    They were initiated and organized by a Puppy sympathizer and DragonCon shrugged and said okay, letting their name itself be used for the awards. They set up rules where this organizer would basically decide the nominations and the winners with no transparency and as little publicity as possible while claiming that the Dragons would be a much more popular award than those meanie Hugos. But they didn’t want DragonCon attendees particularly interested because a lot of younger, liberal people attend DragonCon and they wanted to be able to game the awards online and marshal voting blocks.

    This worked beautifully the first year of the Dragons when no one was really paying much attention and the website was deliberately hard to use. Puppies organized voters, which were counted, and got a bunch of nominations, along with a few big name authors, and won the categories they cared most about. But DragonCon admins noticed that this wasn’t really what they signed off on. There was clearly some pressure on the organizer to make the awards more legitimate looking with bigger, established names. The Red Pandas and other people also pushed for more accountability, more publicity of the awards to the con and encouraging more con members’ participation, which the organizer had to deal with. The nominees in the second year were more diverse, but several authors didn’t want the nominations. The organizer desperately tried to force them to remain on the ballot and faced with outrage over that, backed down and let them off as future policy in return for Scalzi, one of the Puppy nemeses, agreeing to remain on the ballot.

    The next year, the self-pub authors discovered that the Dragon Awards could possibly be an avenue for them and organized voting blocks. The organizer tried to recognize those votes with some nominations for authors who again were not particularly well known, but not wins. This showed a major problem for the Dragon Awards: what had been designed for the Puppies to vote block — but they were losing interest — now was open season for other groups to do the same. The organizer had to work somewhat legitimately to appease DragonCon admins, bring in big names to make the Dragons seem impressive and viable and not have these voting groups screaming that the awards were obviously fixed if they didn’t get nominations. At the same time, having the Dragons actually always go to the popular authors who tend to get people’s interest for awards would make the Dragons no longer a vehicle for conservative flag waving but instead like awards such as the Nebulas, Hugos, Clark’s and Locus. The pressure was on for the Dragons to become a legitimate, popular award instead of a haphazard, rigged operation. Even more, DragonCon admins bestirred themselves with slightly more promotion of the awards, letting con members know they could vote for them.

    Last year, the fourth year, these pressures produced a split field. In the few book categories that the Puppies most cared about, they were back to dominance in nominations and wins, though it’s not clear whether this was because the Puppies organized voting blocks to counter the self-pub voting blocks or just because the award organizer picked them. In all the other book categories that the Puppies have less interest in and most other non-book categories, the Puppies had nominal presence and no wins. The self-pub author groups also were somewhat blocked compared to their previous attempts. In some categories, such as YA, the Dragons showed the kind of popular authors for nominations and wins who the Puppies had claimed had rotted and rigged the Hugos — and that they weren’t really popular — and in larger numbers than before. After that split field, the Dragon Awards organizer essentially curled into a ball and left the award website a mess and promotion for the awards was nearly non-existent, even it seems by most of the winners.

    This set the stage for a very interesting Year Five of the Dragon Awards. Which pressures and factions would affect the organizer’s choices next? Would the organizer step down? Would the Dragon Awards change its rules and become a legitimate award? Would the Puppies be able to re-take-over the awards due to lack of interest from everyone else? Would the self-pub groups rally and create such overwhelming voter blocks that the organizer would have to let them dominate or face really bad and loud press? As more popular authors were willing to participate in the Dragon Awards ceremony, would that mean more engagement and promotion from DragonCon — and thus also pressure to have more legit awards? Or would the efforts to keep the Dragons on the down low cause DragonCon admins to feel they weren’t a very useful brand asset with their name on it and cancel their association? It could have gone any which way.

    Then the pandemic happened. DragonCon admins are looking at how the con is going to survive for the next 2-3 years, especially with Hollywood, their prime source of money and draw, doing the same thing. They are looking at how they can do virtual stuff to keep going this year. They are dealing with a governor who is trying to kill everybody in Georgia. So they aren’t putting anymore pressure on the Dragons organizer to legitimize and jazz up the Dragons; it’s not even on the radar right now. The organizer has free reign — good news for the Puppies. But, this also means that DragonCon has less and less interest in having the Dragon Awards, which may mean they’re simply dropped and certainly they aren’t going to promote them. If the organizer of the Dragons was assiduous and promoted the heck out of the awards for online voting this year, then DragonCon might think the Dragons were a slightly useful virtual online asset that could help them this year with an online con, but the organizer hasn’t done that. It’s still possible some of that may happen but not looking promising. And various voting block groups may have well been focused on other things or not happy if there’s no physical awards ceremony.

    So it still can go any which way, but the pressures are different now. And they are a long way away from even basic fixes for some of the problems the awards have had being a consideration. We have no idea what the show is going to look like this year, if there is one. It’s rather like a community theater group that was deeply insular having all their people come down with food poisoning. But if they do announce a bunch of nominations eventually, that will tell us a lot about what is going on from who they are.

    If any of us were running awards, we’d do it differently. But the Dragons are about a bunch of ideologues pecking dissolutely and whining a lot, so it’s going to continue to be a weird form of performance art.

    Liked by 10 people

  5. Well Cam, whilst you might not be trying to fix the Dragon awards, the suggested name ‘Dragon Con’ award nicely sums up the concept and execution so well summarized by Kat Goodwi. Maybe you will earn a royalty if they adopt it.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. DragonCon vs. ComicCon’s web pages are a study in contrasts.

    ComicCon has every damn thing on their website, with linkage to panels, movies, dealers, masquerade, awards, anime, movies, program book. I am going to be tuning in to several different things in the next few days.

    DragonCon has… a button that leads to a FAQ largely about refunding or rolling over your memberships, which still manages to have a bad attitude. And a vague promise to do some virtual stuff on the day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s certainly true but Comic-Con cancelled on Apr 17, 2020 so that gave them 3 months to get it together. Dragon Con waited until July 6th maybe bc they believed that Georgia could reopen or maybe because of the insurance to get their money back from the hotels once it was clear that Atlanta wasn’t going to give it the permits it needed. That only gives them 7 weeks or so. I think it’s also the major industry convention versus a volunteer run convention where as much profit is wrung from it to benefit the owners.


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