Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
'On spies through the ages' by Hamil Grant (1915)

Immodest Proposals for the David Gemmell Legend Awards


I'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here.  And don't forget to vote.

I'm taking a brief break at the halfway point to stop talking about the books and talk about the Awards themselves. Please join in below.

There are two definitions of modest - "humble" and "small" - and generally when someone has a "modest proposal" they actually mean neither. So let's not beat around the bush here: this is about big changes, proposed arrogantly. 

As with previous years, there are some ground rules:

  • The folks running the DGLA are working really hard, actively making the award better every year, and, most importantly, really love fantasy. Running an award is difficult and (very often) thankless. So don't be a dick.
  • I have absolutely no affiliation with the DGLA. I don't even get the press releases. I suspect they know this website exists, but I doubt they're reading along. So you're shouting your suggestions into the internet void - that's part of the fun. But don't be surprised when the award doesn't scramble to enact them. 
  • Philosophically, I think we need to keep the core tenet of the DGLA intact - it is a publicly voted award for fantasy. If only to focus the conversation. Other than that, I think all ideas are fair game.

I've thrown a few ideas into the ring below, but please, share your proposals in the comments.

Debuts = Debuts

Let's get this one out of the way, because I think this was a problem this year. I think debut is best interpreted as 'first published novel'. Novel means a work of fiction, 50,000 words or more. First published means 'made available to readers on any platform, including self-publishing'. If someone's published a history of the Cold War, and then published The Blood City of Thrones - the latter is eligible. If they've self-published a heart-breaking work of staggering lit-fic, and then published The Secret Ember Sword a year later with Harpenguin Voyallancz - the latter isn't eligible. 

Part of this is simplicity. Making a debut = first published novel is clean and tidy. It also means that there's no judicial interpretation required. Part of the problem with Kameron Hurley, Ben Peek and John Hornor Jacobs having books considered 'debuts' is that it required a judgement call from the admins on whether or not their previous books were sufficiently 'fantasy'. That's treading in subjective waters, and, since the DGLA is about the public's choice, we shouldn't have that sort of pre-voting decision making. It isn't like we're banning the books entirely, after all - they're still up in the Novel category.

Encourage more YA and self-published books

I am totally a broken record on these points. But these are the two fastest growing areas of fantasy, of all genre fiction and, in fact, of all publishing. Again, if this is an award that represents the public taste in fantasy fiction, it needs to be embracing the realities of the genre. 

Nominations from the greater public

There are weird references to 'nominees from the public' on the website, but, even as a DGLA obsessive, I've never actually seen that happen - or understand how to make that possible. Currently, the DGLA pokes publishers, publishers to send in books, those books constitute the 'longlist'. The public then gets involved in the two voting stages that follow.

If there's a mechanic to get nominations from the public, that'd be great because...

  1. It increases the range and diversity of nominations. This is where those YA and self-published titles could come from. And small press. And etc. etc. All without adding to the administrative burden.
  2. It increases engagement with the award itself. Because this is fun!

The challenges, I think, are:

  1. Technical. But organisations like the British Fantasy Society do this already, with a simple Google Form. For something like the DGLA, it'd be nice to see a social mechanic for this as well - #fantasyfriday or something, where you shout out your favourite books from the year.
  2. It could be too successful. I mean, a list of every fantasy book published could be self-defeating. You could filter with the award admins (but, I don't like this as, again, a public award should be public) or do something like the Goodreads system - every book sent by a publisher is automatically on the 'longlist'. And any other book that gets, say, 10 nominations, gets on the 'longlist' as well. That would add a bit of an admin burden, but it'd be fun. And would weed out the really long-tail books.

As an added benefit, this would make the 'longlist' actually mean something (a little something, but still more than it means now).

Make a new friend

The DGLA seems to be settled in at 17,000 or so votes a year. I think that's votes, not people, but let's assume the latter. First, that's a big honking number. Second, it could be bigger. r/fantasy has 79,000 members. Fantasy Faction has 27,000. Westeros.org has some equally silly number. Various Game of Thrones related sub-reddits total to well over a million. Granted, there's a fair amount of overlap there, but, you know... golly.

So how about a partnership strategy? Where's the little app that let's people vote from reddit, or the widget on the home page of Fantasy Faction? How many tickets to the awards ceremony can the DGLA swap r/gameofthrones for a stickied thread on the top of their subreddit? Etc. 

This would also be a nice way of getting around one of the Award's lingering problems - the lack of discussion. Right now there's a rush to vote on day 1, then again on day 1 of the finals. But there's not a 'book club' feel to it, and there's very little conversation about the books (or even comparing their merits). Getting a partner on board could address this without putting the DGLA into a position of having to produce their own content.

Enable social voting

Following on from the above, how about a mechanic where people can vote without going to the (renovated but still... slightly clunky) DGLA site? There are two parts to this challenge:

  1. Philosophical. That's pushing content out, as opposed to trying to reel folks in. I don't think that's at odds with the DGLA approach in general, as long as you remember that the ultimate KPI here is 'number of voters' and not web hits. 
  2. Technical again. But, honestly, this isn't 2005, or 2010 even - there are a lot of interesting cross-platform voting plug-ins. 

But I think this is worth it. Give people a means to vote where they are, not where the site is.

More social media in general, really

Given this is the award for the public, you need some way of actually dealing with the public. Right now, there's a huge reliance on intermediaries: relying on publishers to send books, relying on authors to send voters. The award has a Twitter account that hasn't been updated in over a year and a Facebook page that's trying, but hasn't done much. They aren't easy sites to find, either. If you'll notice a theme to my immodest proposals, it is about going straight to the readers. But that won't happen without a commitment to social media. Right now, I suspect that has - understandably - been the last priority. But maybe the time has come?

I can understand the twitchiness around appointing a person (or people) to be the 'voice' of the DGLA, but a lot of that could be alleviated through proper planning. Again, this is the genre award selected by the public, so let's have fun with that!

Let voters choose three books, not one

Ok, now we're into the really immodest stuff. What if everyone got three votes for each category, not one?

Mark Lawrence, who is a man who knows his statistics, discussed this with me on reddit, and he suggests that it'll actually remove variance from the results - meaning the shortlists (and winners) will reflect commercial popularity even more.

But I'm optimistic. Without any study behind this, I feel there's a lot of knee-jerk voting going on - people that vote for their favourite author, rather than a specific book. What would make this interesting would be how people use their second vote, not their first one. I'm a die-hard fanboy of Chester McFlot (author of God-Viking: The Blood War), so obviously I'm going to vote for his book, no matter what. But then, then what? What happens when I've got a vote outside my 'comfort zone'? Maybe that's where I choose something more 'objectively' quality? (No offense, Chester.)

Honestly, I think Mark Lawrence is right. But with the Legend shortlist looking increasingly predictable, some change should be considered.

Add new and distinctive categories

Last year, I proposed 'Starts', 'Series' and 'Standalones' as replacements for 'Novel' and 'Debut'. These reflect the various ways fantasy books are published and add a bit, of, I dunno... fun. And let's build on that. If we're the big public award - the MTV Awards of Fantasy - why not have categories that no one else can have? Credit for this idea goes to Sam Sykes, but how about some categories that are all about making people laugh, talk and have some fun?

Most Epic Battle

Best Magic System

Ultimate Hero 

Vilest Monster

Most Thrilling Romance

This isn't a publisher-focused award or one for 'true-fans', so I'd eschew anything like editor or publisher, or anything that requires a knowledge of, say, word-counts. The DGLA is the award for people that like reading fantasy books, so let's not require any sort of specialised knowledge beyond that. (It is one of the things I dislike about the Hugo Awards - as soon as you're requiring the reader to recall or research a story's word-count, you're outside of anything approaching the normal reading experience. So let's not do that here.)

And, yes, there's potential for infinite silliness here, but, you know, were I an author, I'd be pretty happy to walk off as the creator of the year's 'Vilest Monster'. As a reader, this also gives me more options to choose from - I'm probably more likely to skim the 'Vilest Monster' shortlist for reading suggestions than a generic 'Year's Best'. So these categories - and more - could showcase the range of fantasies, and all the different types of enjoyment the genre has to offer. And be fun.

Ditch the trophies

"It’s worth noting that the trophy for The Legend Award is the most expensive literary award anywhere." - DGLA website

Obviously just my opinion, but I think that's a cool thing that benefits one person, and doesn't actually make a difference to anyone else - or the prestige of the award. And, as awesome as the axe is (and it is pretty awesome), how about just writing a cheque? Authors like that, a lot. A cool trophy is cool, but it is pretty far down on my personal list of priorities.

Or, let's be boring. Say the axe costs... £500 (I suspect this is way cheaper than the Snaga, but, whatever)... how about we slap that £500 into a Facebook advertising campaign promoting the winner's book? I KNOW. EXCRUCIATINGLY DULL. But you'll flog God-Viking (Chester will like that), build awareness of the DGLA (good for everyone) and get Likes for your community.

Ok, that's very functional, so how about making a deal for a full-page ad in SFX or Empire instead? I suspect publishers would be far happier, more readers would see it, and Chester can enjoy his £50 gift certificate to Red Lobster in the knowledge that the rest of the prize fund is out there working to flog his books.

This isn't without precedent. The Booker is guaranteed to sell books, because the Booker spends its money on marketing the shortlisted and winning books - and also itself. That ain't dumb. 

Rename the prize

Yup. I'm going there. How about dropping David Gemmell from the name of the award? 

The Legend Award would still honour the man and be named after his most famous book. And the category titles could stay the same, I guess - they make sense. (Unless you juggle categories as noted above.) 

I know Gemmell's influential and important and seminal. I am very sympathetic. Many people regard Gemmell with the same loyalty, awe and appreciation that I have for folks like Eddings and Dragonlance. I'm not trying to bury the man or his contributions to fantasy. (FYI - I also think "The Orbs" is a more inclusive, more interesting name than "The David Eddings Orbs Awards". The Orbies?!)

But... The Legend Awards is a hell of a name. The sort of thing that you put on a book. And, for that matter, fits on a book. It doesn't sound niche, or British or even exclusively epic fantasy - it just sounds big

I suspect that isn't going to be a very popular suggestion.

Your turn!

Any ideas? What would you do to make the David Gemmell Legend Awards even bigger and better? If possible, stick to the core idea of 'a publicly voted award for fantasy' - or, if not, explain why that wouldn't work. ALL IDEAS ARE GOOD IDEAS. (Except the bad ones.)