I never expect to wake up in the morning, head onto the internet, try to make overtures of peace to a crowd and get a passive-aggressive twitter rant directed my way. But by the same token, I’m not going to be unfair to John Scalzi here. I see what went on from his perspective, and I will be as fair as I can after being attacked by an extremely wealthy white guy with a lot of followers in public on the internet.
Yesterday, John Scalzi actually did something brilliant from a master persuasion perspective. I’m talking Scott Adams level mastery, where he used the “high road” technique to turn a situation which has a high potential to end in embarrassment for him, and turn it into a huge win no matter what the outcome.
On his blog, he made the announcement that he’s withdrawing from the Dragon Award nominations. This is his second year, and his second withdrawal, let’s keep in mind for reference, as a lot of people’s memories are short. The reason was stated as follows:
The reason is simple: Some other finalists are trying to use the book and me as a prop, to advance a manufactured “us vs. them” vote-pumping narrative based on ideology or whatever. And I just… can’t. I don’t have the interest and I’m on a deadline, and this bullshit is even more stale and stupid now than it was the several other times it was attempted recently, with regard to genre awards.
I’ve been pretty active with the Dragon Awards and what’s been going on there. I saw a total of one finalist doing this, one which, if it had been ignored as was his original plan, actually wouldn’t have done much in that regard, but this is a nice way of framing the high road to make Mr. Scalzi look very reasonable to an outside observer who barely knows what this is and has a cursory understanding of what the Dragon Awards are.
To back up for a moment, the Dragon Awards are a reaction to a political “us vs. them” movement in science fiction writing. One expressly designed to take political “us vs. them” out of the equation and just have as many fans as possible vote for what they consider best fiction. The reaction was to, actually, John Scalzi and a few of his others, who had and have a monopoly on the Hugo Award, run by a much smaller convention that Dragon*Con, where they would award themselves for their political message fiction year after year, and ignore quality, fun fiction in the field. That crowd kept mocking “make your own award then,” and so, someone did.
This is still master persuasion, because Scalzi’s target audience isn’t the people who are in the know. It’s the people who barely heard of this, clicked to see what’s going on, and are trying to get an impression. While he’s certainly guilty of the “us vs. them” he pretends to scoff at, to a random onlooker, they only understand heated politics, someone taking the high road. It’s beautiful.
I can only speculate at Mr. Scalzi’s true objectives here. It isn’t to stop or shun “us vs. them” politics. Despite a lot of his vocal opponents saying that this is his cowardice in that he was going to lose and didn’t want that egg on his face, I’m not sure that’s the case. It doesn’t ring true, because if he mobilized his fan base to vote, it would be difficult to stop him.
This action can only amplify the “us vs them” politics, however. What it did in reality was signal to other writers that are in his circle that this is the “wrong” award and that they should form a soft-boycott of it (not using the term boycott because their boycotting something as big as Dragon*Con would be a bad look). We’ll see anyone of a certain political persuasion in the field dropping out shortly now, because of a perceived pressure on the internet that they’re in the wrong space, with the wrong audience watching. At the very least, it’ll cause those authors to keep quiet about it, and will at least, in the short term, diminish the award’s prestige.
Which I believe is the intention. Tor Books, Scalzi’s publisher, owns the Nebulas and Hugos. They pump these awards and talk about them constantly, and as a big publisher under the umbrella of mega-corporate MacMillan, that does a lot for public perception. As of this writing, Tor.com, their “online news” portion which is highly respected in the field, wrote zero posts about the Dragon Awards, even though one of their top authors was nominated. That’s what makes this look fishy to anyone who digs into it and gives a red flag to what Mr. Scalzi was saying on his blog ringing false. There is a vested interest by his publisher to make sure this award, one that is open to all fans via popular vote and not easily controllable, does not gain further traction or prestige. Their entire establishment of book narrative is at risk by the Dragon Award’s mere existence.
Naturally, what Mr. Scalzi didn’t take into account, or perhaps didn’t care about, was the fact that multiple smaller authors get hurt by his proclamation. Some on his side of the political aisle who received a nomination out of reader demand now feel foolish, and are linked by the “us vs. them” political crowd, with people they’re not supposed to be associated with. The association game is big with this crowd, because politics transcend all thought, and if you’re associated with the wrong people, that’s about the worst crime you can have in this business. It is a petty, high school, Mean Girls-esque clique for those who are not privy to the inside of this small publishing niche. It’s really that bad.
But all this wouldn’t have mattered. If Mr. Scalzi had left it there, he would have had a beautiful message, and he probably would have succeeded in tarnishing this award, slowing its progress for years, and hurting the independent writers down ballot of whom he doesn’t approve or want to gain any traction in the business.
Instead, he took to twitter, delivering a couple posts that were direct shots at your humble Hispanic independent journalist. He continued that later on in a rant which he framed as “marketing” – but in those tweets, he made very clear signals: we need to shun THEM. The “us vs. them” thing he claimed to want to stop was shown to be a complete farce, and it nullified any good will that any person doing a cursory search would have gotten from his blog post. And now, as I said before, those tensions are amplified, as he’s used his privileged platform to attack independent writers. What it’s going to do as an end result, is make the Dragons much bigger because now a lot of people have a vested interest in making this political, and that was started by Mr. Scalzi’s post.
And that’s where his persuasion tactic breaks down. If he kept to his own narrative, it would have really been a masterful job, but since he apparently couldn’t help but go attack writers who shouldn’t even be garnering his attention from his position, it’s effectively nullified, or perhaps amplified the opposite of his stated or what I consider to be his true objective. We’ll see how this progresses over the next few days but what I expect to see is: 1. Authors getting loud and calling foul on Scalzi 2. Authors downstream of Scalzi feeling pressure to drop out of the Dragons and signaling who’s team they are on themselves 3. Major escalation into politics that pushes these stories into mainstream news.
It’s definitely not a good thing for anyone in the field, and sadly, it started with Mr. Scalzi. Some of us are just here trying to win a Dragon Award and make our way in this very difficult business. Thanks, multimillionaire ivory tower author, for making it harder on us.
(I know a lot of my readers are looking for what happened and how Mr. Scalzi attacked me yesterday – I’ll get to that in a separate post. This needed to be discussed first because it’s very interesting for the genre. Thank you all for being here and for your relentless support. It means the world to me. – Jon)