Dragon Big. You Small.

Big Dragon

When Sad Puppies V leader Sarah Hoyt explained why SP didn't release a list of recommendations in time for this year's awards season, several folks in the Puppy scene voiced dissatisfaction with her rationale.

Me? I read both sides' arguments, tried to see the issue from the major players' perspectives, and was satisfied that I'd gotten a decent handle on the group dynamics at work. Even if I disagreed with a particular call, it was easy to understand where the party who made it was coming from.

Health and work not cooperating with the original plan? Chalk another one up to Murphy's Law. Well-meant efforts to help result in toes getting stepped on? Insert saying about good intentions as paving stones. People throwing shade at your boy? You gotta do what you gotta do in the name of loyalty.

The way I see it, Sarah is the duly appointed head of Sad Puppies V. She made some judgment calls. I don't agree with all of them. But she didn't ask for my opinion, and she doesn't need my approval.

There's a flip side to the rights of leadership, though. If you claim to respect someone's authority, you don't get to selectively champion or downplay her agency depending on how you feel about the consequences. The rank and file are equally obligated to praise good decision-making and call out errors in judgment.

Since SP 2, I've been a loyal Sad Puppies supporter. I wouldn't have gotten my Campbell nomination without them. As mentioned above, Sarah is someone I deeply respect as an author. So you know where I'm coming from when I call her out for the following unforced error:
I did not feel guilty about a) not turning over Sad Puppies to someone else. Sad Puppies was Larry’s, then Brad’s, then Kate’s, and is now mine and next year will be mostly Amanda’s. We were in it from the beginning, and we have decided long ago that it would stay within the cabal, because none of us — all of us public figures to a degree or another — can afford to have something associated with our name taken down a crazy road without us having control over it. b) Not putting up a list for the Hugos — I was never going to put up a list. And I feel queasy about encouraging people to vote for an award that has been so thoroughly tainted. c) Not putting up a list for the Dragon. The Dragon is bigger than any of us. Some small names got in last year, but they were just because it was the first time.* Right now I’m not big enough for the dragons, and I doubt any who covet it are either.
*Emphasis mine.

Sarah's claim to the SP throne? No contest. Open and shut case in he favor. Her decision not to do a Hugo list? Understandable.

Glibly dismissing "some" of the incumbent Dragon Award winners as small-timers who got in due to a fluke?

It's probably a good idea at this point to take a step back and look at Sarah's statement from another angle. She mentions "some small names". Who could she be talking about?

Let's take a look at the list of 2016 Dragon Award winners.
  • John C. Wright: Nebula nominee. Tied the record for most Hugo nominations in one year (would've broken it but for Worldcon's selective application of the rules). Castalia House's flagship fiction author. It would be really weird for SP's leader to describe the Puppies' most nominated author as a "small name".
  • Larry Correia: The biggest Puppy author, at least in terms of physical size. We can a priori rule out The Mountain That Writes.
  • Sir Terry Pratchett: Big enough to have been knighted. Next.
  • David Weber: NYT best seller. Godfather of a whole genre. Next.
  • Naomi Novik: Strong seller. One of the few authors appreciated by Puppies and CHORFs alike. Calling her a "small name" would be a big stretch.
  • Nick Cole: Please. Nick could buy and sell us all 17 times over and have enough left for a steak dinner with a side of avocado-topped hash browns.
  • Neil Gaiman: The last SFF rock star. Nick is huge, and Neil could make him his cabana boy.
  • Andy Weir: Has a movie directed by Ridley Scott.
  • George R. R. Martin: Has an HBO series starring Peter Dinklage.
  • Brian Niemeier: Admittedly the smallest name on the list. I got nothin'. Unless you count:
Campbell finalist, Amazon top 30 horror author, Space Opera top 5 best seller (thanks, Larry!), Science Fiction #1 best seller.

Awards and honors are nice, and I'm thankful for all of them. But what I appreciate most about them by far is that they're quantifiable evidence that I'm reaching and pleasing readers.

You guys out there reading this are the reason I can add all of the items above to my resume, and most importantly, you're the reason I write in the first place.

Sarah has a point. I'm not a household name like Gaiman or Martin. I'll never approach John's technical and stylistic mastery. I don't sell nearly as well as Larry or Nick.

That's fine. Sarah and the CHORFs can say what they want about me. Just like she doesn't need my approval, I don't seek approval from anyone except for my readers.

I respect Sarah, and that means not turning a blind eye when she makes a bad call. The "small name" label she used smacks of analog thinking. Again, that's understandable for someone who started out in tradpub. But the game has changed. Now indie authors you've never heard of are quietly making six figures and more--and there are more of them than you'd think--all without book tours, B&N co-op, TV ads, or convention appearances.

But let's take a step back. Who does Sarah think is big enough to win a Dragon? How does she define a "big name" author?
Because awards are a game of the left. And a game of authors with a great big following. My books sell okay, but I’m not yet where I could win a Dragon, or where it would do any good for my career, because you know what? Amazon rankings don’t lie. Someday, maybe.
Before we proceed, let it be known that Sarah's chosen metric for which authors are worthy of a Dragon Award is Amazon sales rank.

Full disclosure: I firmly believe that for any author, comparing yourself to another author is a sure path to insanity. I'm a live and let live kind of guy. You can take shots at me all day, and I'll take it in stride.

But if this blog has established nothing else, it's that no one gets to mess with my readers.

Remember: Sarah tried to DISQUALIFY! my readers who made Souldancer the first ever Dragon Award winner for Best Horror Novel. She implied that their choice was just a fluke--an early bug in the system that will surely be worked out in time.

Sarah thinks that you, dear reader, made a mistake. You gave a Dragon Award to an unworthy "small name" author. And don't forget, she based her assessment on Amazon sales rankings.

Exhibits A-F:

To save you the trouble of expanding the screencaps above, those are the Amazon KDP rankings for Sarah's three best selling books, taken two days ago when I first read her post. They're all in the top 170k-140k range. That means they're all selling a little less than one copy per day. Not bad. She's getting close to the top 1% of all authors on Amazon.

But as Sarah herself said, she's not as big as the current crop of Dragon winners.

Now let's take a look at some more numbers--this time form oh, let's say the smallest name on the Dragon Award winner list.

Looks like all three of my books were in the top 50,000 that day. The way Amazon's rankings work, a book ranked at 50k isn't selling three times better than a book at 150k. My sales were actually closer to five times better than Sarah's.

And to add a little context, this has been a slow month for me.

Now, I'm not bragging. If I wanted to brag about my sales, I'd have posted my Amazon rankings when they were much better. Compared to the other Dragon winners, the top 50k isn't anything to crow about, anyhow.

The point is a) making catty attacks against your peers without doing your homework first is a bad idea, b) using said attacks as a smokescreen to cover the absence of SP Dragon Award recommendations when a simple "The Dragons aren't within the scope of SP" would've done the job raises questions about your motives, and c) nobody messes with my readers.

Here's an idea: how about we stop making it about sales or author prestige and get back to supporting books on merit?

The Secret Kings, Soul Cycle Book III is eligible for the 2017 Dragon Award for Best Science Fiction Novel. Voting is free and requires no convention or association memberships.

NB: since the Dragon Awards do not have a Best Editor category, I publicly shared Souldancer's 2016 Dragon win with my lovely and talented editor L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright. I can honestly say that she made Nethereal and Souldancer award-worthy. Based on what you, the readers, have said, The Secret Kings is our best collaboration yet.

I invite all of my beloved readers to nominate The Secret Kings for Best Science Fiction Novel and in so doing, unofficially nominate L. Jagi Lamplighter for best editor. I acknowledged SD's win as a joint victory for my readers, Jagi, and myself. I pledge to share due credit in like manner if you see fit to nominate SK this year.

Join #TeamJagi.

P.S. The Secret Kings is now just $0.99 for Kindle.

The Secret Kings - Brian Niemeier



  1. Good writeup.

    I only hope I was as fair in mine.

    1. Where was yours? And that looks like a neat diskos.

    2. http://nightlandsredoubt.blogspot.com/2017/06/on-bullying-and-puppies.html - and yeah, it's a bit of a theme for my site. My twitter and Gab avs have changed a few times.

  2. If Sarah gets to lead the SPV, then she gets to own both the good and the bad. Excuses are not allowed if you demand to sit in the Captain's Chair. You are responsible for both.

    She doesn't act like she owns the command seat.

    Just sayin'.

    1. Good point. It doesn't do anyone any good to put blinders on.

  3. Sounds like Sara is stuck in Hugo land.

    1. Who knows? I'll take her reasons for not doing a Hugo list at face value. What baffles me is the unnecessary barb she threw in re: not doing a Dragon list, when "That's not our bag" would've sufficed.

      How Sarah runs SP 5 is up to her. However, continually laying down friendly fire isn't the most productive move.

  4. Thank you, Brian. While I hate to play favorites with books, I have a soft spot in my heart for Secret Kings, too. ;-)

    1. You're welcome, Jagi! SK wouldn't be as good as it is without your hard work. You deserve recognition.

  5. Good assessment.

    I believe the "Some small names got in last year" was a shot at the nominees, particularly Declan Finn, but it is a pointless one. The Dragons are poised to blow the Hugos away, and do it soon. Now if only they could get short story and editor categories together.

    1. Well, there's a way to make sure at least one editor gets recognition...;)

  6. Totally don't agree. At the risk of putting words in someone's mouth, I don't see where she said anything about "worthiness." She was talking about the likelihood of a writer with a smaller following being able to win. Saying the Libertarian Candidate for president isn't going to win isn't the same as saying the candidate isn't worthy; it's merely an honest appraisal of what it takes to win and the resources the Libertarians can bring to the contest. As the Dragons grow, it's going to take a larger and larger fan base to secure a win. That's all about math and nothing about worthiness.

    1. Read Sarah's statement again. Look at the context. She's not just making a prediction about subsequent years. She's doing so to explain how the small fry crashed the party last year.

      "Some small names got in" is how Queen Cersei would describe middle-class tradesmen sneaking into Joffrey's wedding.

  7. I've read it three times. I still don't see it. And Queen Cersei certainly wouldn't follow it up with, "right now I'm not big enough" either. Maybe I'm lacking the context (and that's entirely possible), but not I'm catching a whiff of "hoi palloi" in her statement.