Scoring the 2023 Dragon Award Nominees

Dragon Awards trophies from 2016. Photo by Fran Wilde.

The 2023 Dragon Awards Ballot came out yesterday and collectively the nominees kept up the trend of becoming more organic year by year — books that are widely talked about, and some even up for other awards in the field — an impressive accomplishment in the face of award instructions that encourage writers to campaign (i.e., “it is perfectly acceptable for you to encourage your fans to vote for you.”)

SUPPORT FOR THE FINALISTS. The Dragon Awards never publish detailed voting statistics. Therefore, since the award was launched File 770 has looked at the number of Goodreads ratings received by the finalists as a means of exploring how extensive their fan bases might be.

The 2023 ballot maintains the trend of finalists being books that more readers are paying attention to, evident in the declining number of finalists that have microscopic totals of Goodreads ratings from readers. Here’s a year-by-year summary of the Dragon Award book finalists with fewer than 100 ratings as of the time the ballot came out:

2017 – 24
2018 – 11
2019 – 8
2021 – 3
2022 – 0
2023 — 2

(I didn’t research the numbers in 2020.)

TRIMMING THE BALLOT. This year’s ballot is shorter because last November the Dragon Award administrators announced they were reducing the number of award categories from 15 to 11 in 2023. Two book categories have been eliminated. Six game categories were consolidated into three. They also added a Best Illustrative Book Cover category.

Media Tie-In and Military Fantasy/Sci-Fi were cut from the ballot. The reason why may be guessed at from the numbers. Last year the five finalists in the Media-Tie in category included three that had less than 500 ratings on Goodreads — by that measure the weakest of all the book categories. Military Fantasy/Sci-Fi last year was weak in a different way. Its strongest finalist still had fewer than 5,000 Goodreads ratings, whereas every other book category (except Media Tie-in) had at least one finalist with over 30,000 ratings.

But did chopping those two categories result in a stronger ballot? Surprisingly, no.

In 2022 when there were 7 book categories and 40 finalists, only four of those books had fewer than 500 Goodreads ratings.

In 2023 with 5 categories and just 30 finalists, eight books have less than 500 Goodreads ratings.

THE INSIDE STATS. Here are the 2023 Dragon Awards finalists in the book categories with their dates of publication and the number of Goodreads ratings as of August 8.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel

RATINGSTITLE
23,280The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (7/22)
10,215Children of Memory by Adrian Tchaikovsky (1/23)
5,954Eversion by Alastair Reynolds (5/22)
4,243The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal (10/22)
3,101Translation State by Ann Leckie (6/23)
402Neom by Lavie Tidhar (11/22)
312The Icarus Plot by Timothy Zahn (7/22)

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

RATINGSTITLE
121,718Babel by R. F. Kuang (8/22)
54,048Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson (1/23)
32,500The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake (10/22)
6,192Witch King by Martha Wells (5/23)
519Tower of Silence by Larry Correia (4/23)
20Into the Vortex by Charles E. Gannon (3/23)

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel

RATINGSTITLE
55,342The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik (9/22)
37,730Bloodmarked by Tracy Deonn (11/22)
16,998Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong (9/22)
1,332Rust in the Root by Justina Ireland (9/22)
737Academy Arcanist by Shami Stovall (8/22)
472The Scratch Daughters by H. A. Clarke (10/22)

4. Best Alternate History Novel

RATINGSTITLE
14,500Lost In Time by A.G. Riddle (9/22)
786Hidden Voices by Dan Willis (9/22)
204Halcyon by Elliot Ackerman (4/23)
183The Mother by B.L. Blanchard (5/23)
68The Revolutionary War by Christopher G. Nuttall (1/23)

5. Best Horror Novel

RATINGSTITLE
43,231The Only One Left by Riley Sager (6/23)
13,746A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher (3/23)
7,036The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias (8/22)
9,084The Pallbearers Club by Paul Tremblay (7/22)
1,830Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste (8/22)
390No Gods For Drowning by Hailey Piper (9/22)

P.S. HOW DID ARISTOPHANES’ SLATE PERFORM? The early lock Sad Puppies and their sympathizers had on the Dragon Award has faded with the years to their intense frustration.

In 2023 a Twitter/X user with 90K followers who goes by the handle Aristophanes claimed he was incensed that works like John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society became Dragon Award finalists. He called for people to band together and nominate all the works on his ticket. Thread starts here. Remember that people can only make one nomination in each award category; this screencap shows the works Aristophanes was pushing.

Did the masses follow his lead? Negatory, good buddy. Seven of Aristophanes’ picks failed to make the final ballot. And since Zahn and Correia have made the Dragon Awards ballot without help in past years you can hardly credit their appearances to his slate. The lined-out titles are the ones that didn’t make it.

1. Best Science Fiction Novel

The Icarus Plot by Timothy Zahn

2. Best Fantasy Novel (Including Paranormal)

Tower of Silence by Larry Correia

3. Best Young Adult / Middle Grade Novel

The Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson and Robert E. Waters

4. Best Alternate History Novel

1637: The Transylvanian Decision by Eric Flint and Robert E. Waters

5. Best Horror Novel

Haunted by the Past by Simon R. Green

6. Best Illustrative Cover

Wraithbound by Jeff Brown

7. Best Comic Book or Graphic Novel

Isom by Eric D. July/Rippaverse Comics

8. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series, TV or Internet

Cyberpunk Edgerunners, Netflix

9. Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish by Joel Crawford

10. Best Digital Game

Warhammer 40,000: Boltgun, Auroch Digital

11. Best Tabletop Game

Cat the Magic Game, Chenoweth Press

18 thoughts on “Scoring the 2023 Dragon Award Nominees

  1. Neom is not necessarily the low-ratings book I would’ve expected to get picked up by the Dragon Awards, but it is a very good book!

  2. Mike: Aren’t there 2 books with less than 100 ratings?
    20 Into the Vortex by Charles E. Gannon
    and
    68 The Revolutionary War by Christopher G. Nuttall

  3. It’s hard to believe that The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler did not get nominated. 4.01 rating on Goodreads with 8,229 ratings.

  4. Perhaps goodreads is not necessarily the best measure of an author popularity for some of these authors. Timothy Zahn, for example, has 88k followers on facebook, and engages directly with his fans there. If you were to assume that goodreads was the sole arbitor of author popularity on the internet, then it would appear confusing that Zahn gets published at all, much less gets nominated for fan-voted awards. I would suggest that fans of the other authors with low goodreads numbers similarly have other places where they assert their fandom.

  5. C. Wolf: It would be entertaining to draw up a chart of their Facebook numbers too. I study Goodreads ratings because they relate to questions I’m curious about. This is a free, publicly-voted award that never reveals voting statistics. How do things get on the ballot? Is there a correlation between what people are reading and what books become finalists? Also, despite these being labeled “Best” book categories, nobody can read and compare all the finalists in the short window of several weeks between the release of the ballot and DragonCon. Looking at Goodreads ratings is a way of reminding people of that.

  6. The Problem with Facebook is that it tells us the popularity of the writer not of the work. The Problem is that there doesn’t seem to exist any reliable messure of how sucesful any work is (I remember Scalzi talking about the bookscannumbers, which were quite a bit of for him).
    I don’t mind seeing other mesures, it would be interesting if exspecially Gannon, whos work has very low numbers does better there.

  7. You would have to look at all social media. Facebook is very old fashioned and many people will probably have more Instagram or TikTok users: Kuang has over 100k followers on Instagram. And there are more new social media apps now with Twitter’s changes. So it’s almost impossible and Goodreads offers a good temperature check.

  8. For what it’s worth, the top science fiction, fantasy, YA novels all made the NYT bestseller list last year, which is not the same as having sales numbers but it does indicate mainstream success.

  9. Stefan B. – I’m suggesting that different kinds of fan engagement are possibly more important than book sales or goodreads numbers, and that fan devotion to individual authors could be a bigger driver of voting for the Dragon. Charles Gannon is a good example. Regardless of what his sales numbers are, he has two fan pages on facebook, one of which has 1200 followers. When voting for the award began, Gannon posted that he would be honored if they would consider Into the Vortex for Best Fantasy Novel. If even 200 or 300 or more of those fans took him up on it, and that’s enough votes to get on the ballot, then it doesn’t matter if a best-selling paranormal romance novel sold a half a million more copies and had 175,000 goodreads ratings when that book’s author and fans couldn’t care less about the Dragon Awards. Gannon’s readers, like Correia’s, probably skew a little more conservative, and conservative readers tend to avoid goodreads (they generally regard it as an SJW cesspool) and spend more time on web forums where they have direct access to the author. Christopher Nuttall doesn’t get very many online reviews, but all of his books are on Kindle Unlimited, he has 4500 facebook followers, his own mailing list and discussion forum, and he haunts Baen’s Bar on a daily basis. I doubt he needs more than a fraction of those people to vote for his book to become a finalist, if he suggests that it matters to him. I’m just as interested in knowing where Neom voters came from. Tidhar is not a huge bestseller nor does he get a ton of reviews on goodreads, but I’ll bet if you canvassed library patrons and indie bookstore customers you’d likely find a lot more enthusiasm for Neom than in other corners of fandom. Are those people voting in reasonably high numbers? As Mike said, we know nothing about voter numbers or the degree to which the administrators of the award manipulate the results to their liking. I doubt Dragon Con will ever release voter statistics to the public and they are probably even less interested in breaking down voter demographics. Raw votes are still probably at least a major guiding factor in determining the finalists, and I think a lot of those votes are coming from somewhere other than just goodreads users.

  10. @C. Wolf: I don’t disagree about your mainpoint that not beeing popular on Godreads means a work can’t be popular. I mentioned Gannon because he is a writer who has multible awardsnominations and his numbers were suprisingly low.
    Your other mainpoint that it maters who nominates is also a point (and the Dragon Award is an award where we have zero information here).
    My point was more that I seperate liking a writer from liking a work, (I have voted a work from the same writer on Position 1 on my ballot and also dead last another work) but this may be only me.

  11. @StefanB: I’m the same kind of voter, but I wonder how many award voters (especially in the Hugo and Dragon) are the opposite and vote for just their favorite author (or two or three etc.) no matter what they put out. I suspect there are more of them than there are of us. Possibly I’m just being cynical.

  12. @StefanB

    The Problem with Facebook is that it tells us the popularity of the writer not of the work.

    I follow a lot of authors on Facebook — but I don’t read them all. Some I follow because they post great jokes and memes. Others I follow because … well, I don’t always remember. 🙂 But then, that’s true of other social media as well. I follow some authors because I’ve read their books, some because I want to read them someday, some because they post interesting stuff, and some because of reasons I don’t remember.

    @C. Wolf

    Gannon’s readers, like Correia’s, probably skew a little more conservative, and conservative readers tend to avoid goodreads (they generally regard it as an SJW cesspool) and spend more time on web forums where they have direct access to the author.

    I wonder if they get that impression because of media coverage about Goodreads users who one-star a book after the author does something controversial? Yet there are also many Goodreads members who one-star books for featuring queer characters or for featuring characters of color — and the Overlords of Goodreads don’t do a thing about that, either. People with all sorts of opinions review books on Goodreads.

    I wonder how often these books are discussed on Reddit? But that would be hard to quantify. (Those threads can go on forever…)

  13. @Anne: And the same kind of people also automatically one-star books that have even mild expletives, straight monogamous married sex, and aren’t exactly the subset of Christianity (let alone other religions) they prefer.

  14. Pingback: The 2023 Dragon Award Finalists: Mostly Good with a Oddities | Cora Buhlert

  15. Pingback: Some Comments on the 2023 Dragon Award Winners | Cora Buhlert

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