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).
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.