Writer’s Ramble: Some Thoughts on the Dragon Awards, and SF/F Publishing Awards in General

(Trying out putting super-titles before article titles so I can better categorize my posts here in the future once I reorganize this site. This post, and posts that’ll have the Writer’s Ramble super-title will be largely written in one sitting, with me just saying my opinions, as opposed to future articles that’ll feature more research and hard analysis. Hope this makes sense!)

So, a couple days ago the first ever Dragon Awards were given out, as one might expect, at DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. Interestingly, but perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Dragon Awards have not received a great deal of press attention, especially when compared to the Hugo Awards, which were given out a few weeks ago. But again, this in unsurprising, as the lead-up to the Hugo Awards was full of controversy, while no one seemed to take issue with the new Dragon Award, at least not until the winners were announced, but even so, things have been fairly calm an level headed.

Now why is that? Well, in my opinion, it really has to do with the nature of the two awards, and chiefly, the primary difference between the two: voter eligibility and demographics. In the case of the Hugos (as well as the less well known World Fantasy Award), one may only nominate vote if they purchase a supporting or attending membership, (which costs about $40 or $50), while Dragon Award nominations and final voting was open to everyone. Yet another major “mainstream” SF/F publishing award, the Nebula award, is selected member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

I do not intend to discuss here the who controversy surrounding the Hugos, with the Sad and Rabid puppies vs the CHORFs, as they term the core Worldcon fanbase. Both sides have covered that plenty well, plus I was completely a neutral observer until this year, when I finally ponied up the money to vote. And no, I’m not going to discuss my own voting choices here.

What I wish to do is talk about why the Dragon Awards so excited many fans and even authors, and to do that we must delve into the purpose of awards like the Hugos and the Dragons, or rather, what their purpose should be. These thoughts on awards for creative pursuits can be extrapolated to other awards and mediums, but for the purposes of this I will focus exclusively on those related to science fiction and fantasy publishing. Everything I say is strictly my own opinion, based on what I have seen and read; this is not meant to be some complex, in-depth analysis, just one writer’s thoughts.

Who are awards for? Are they for the fans, who enjoy seeing their favorite works get officially recognized? Are they for the authors, to convey to them a sense of appreciate for their hard work as well as a way to (theoretically) boost sales? Are they for some greater “fandom”?

In my opinion, the awards are for both the fans and the authors. While the authors may get some increased sales or some more doors opened by nominations for awards or awards won, nothing seems to point to any significant measurable benefit for the authors. Conversely, it is more likely that an author being nominated for or winning an award indicates a certain level of success.

Which brings me to my next point, the fact that awards are also for the fans. Fans love seeing their favorite works or authors recognized in an official fashion, and more so when they can participate. Just see the fan excitement over the Dragon Awards.

Of course, the argument can be made that an award like the Dragons, which is open to all, free of charge, is essentially a popularity contest, not a referendum on the quality and significance of a work. But then who is to say that Hugo Award voters, who do pay a fee, are at all qualified to make objective judgments on quality? All we can say for certain about Hugo voters is that they are willing and able to pay at least the supporting membership fee, if not the full fee to attend WorldCon.

An easy point of comparison can be made between these SF/F awards and what is arguably the most famous award, the Academy Award. However, as the Hugos, which are often compared directly to the Oscars, are technically open to anyone willing to pay, it is hard to make a direct comparison. A better one would be to compare the Nebula Awards, which are voted on by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as the Oscars, conversely, are voted on by members of the Academy. Every year around Oscar season there is talk about “snubbed” movies, actors or directors, and it is understood that a fairly small group of industry people vote based on their tastes which, as we have seen, often do not align with what the most popular movies are, often with good reason. But at the same time, we see films that hardly anyone saw get major awards while other films that were hugely popular and also well reviewed at most secure a nomination, because the small group of Academy members likes what they like. Similarly with the Nebluas, and with the Hugos to an extent (even after the advent of the Sad Puppies, which led to a significant increase in Hugo voters, the number is still pretty small.) While there are no hard stats on the Dragon Awards just yet, it stands to reason that the number of participants in the voting process was significantly higher, between the enthusiastic promotion of many authors as well as the simple fact that DragonCon is a massive convention, and doubtless notified attendees about the awards. It is far more likely that this award was for the fans, as opposed to the WorldCon “fandom”. I know that I, personally, felt like the Dragons better represented quality sf/f works.

In essence, this debate is what the Sad Puppies wished to bring to light, that the prestigious Hugo Award was given based on the tastes of a small number of people who do not represent SF/F fans as a whole. do not take this to mean that I don’t think there is a place for genre “elites” to have an award of their own to give out, but such as award, as the Hugos still seem to be, should not be passed off as a true “fan award.” That role would seem to be filled by the Dragons, at least for now.

So in closing, while I think there is most certainly space for awards where the winners are decided by a select few, ultimately those awards only reflect that small group’s tastes, not fan appeal, and do far less to actually help the author increase their recognition and earnings. An award open to all, while in some respects a popularity contest, at least represents a much more broad range of people, and shows authors just how much their fans love their work. And while only time will tell whether the Dragon Awards have any significant on sales, but I am willing to state that I believe that in the future the Dragons will supplant the Hugos as the premier sci-fi and fantasy publishing awards, and I think the community will be better off that way.

Congratulations again to all of the nominees and winners of the inaugural Dragon Awards, and I look forward to voting in them again next years!

And until next time, continue reading, writing, and supporting your favorite books and authors!

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