Last month I posted about Brian Niemeier, an obscure right-wing indie author. Niemeier holds a number of curious beliefs – such as his notion that the political left is literally being controlled by evil spirits – but my post focused on one of his claims in particular: that his book Souldancer was amongst the most popular horror novels of 2016.
This claim is based upon two facts:
1: Souldancer won the Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel at the 2016 DragonCon.
2: Niemeier succeeded in moving a lot of copies when he gave Souldancer away for free after it was nominated for the Dragon Award.
To recap, here are my objections to this line of reasoning:
- The Dragon Awards, which were introduced last year, are decided via a free online poll and the number of votes was never made public. A look at the nominees shows that a good number of obscure indie novels made the ballot, which suggests that the votes came from various niches rather than the broader fandom. Although DragonCon has upwards of 60,000 attendees, it is safe to say that nowhere near that number took part in the award poll. (Note that the DragonCon subreddit has just one thread about the Dragon Awards, and most of the replies are critical.)
- Since the Dragon Awards were first announced as a concept, they attracted a substantial amount of attention from people associated with the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaigns, which formed as voting blocs at the Hugo Awards. These people championed the Dragons as a potential replacement for the Hugos, and flocked to the poll in an effort to make a political point. In the Dragon Awards’ literary categories, four of the seven winning authors – including Niemeier – were pro-Puppy.
- Compared to some of the other nominees in the horror category, Souldancer has received relatively low sales and has sparked nowhere near the same amount of online discussion (this individual has provided a handy chart).
- The members of the Amazon KDP forum inform me that moving free copies means little in terms of popularity, as a lot of copies will be downloaded by hoarders who will never read the book.
The obvious conclusion: the Dragon Awards poll received a disproportionately large number of votes from the Puppy subculture, as opposed to fandom as a whole. Souldancer was voted to the top of its category not because it was popular with a lot of fans, but because it was popular with Puppy supporters.
Had the 60,000 DragonCon attendees taken part in the poll, the results would have been very different. I suspect that the Best Horror Novel category would have looked more like its counterpart at the This Is Horror Awards, which are likewise decided through a free online poll – but which did not attract attention from the Puppy contingient, and consequently include neither Brian Niemeier nor fellow Puppy Declan Finn.
Recently, my post about Niemeier received replies from four bloggers. I fully encourage you to read all of them so as to see a complete picture.
The first is entitled “Interesting Article From Doris V. Sutherland” and was written by Anthony M. of Superversive SF, a group that has published some of Niemeier’s work. Anthony’s post is long and, by and large, strikes me as an attempt to give Niemeier some PR damage control by qualifying his more flamboyant statements.
For example, Anthony expresses disbelief that Niemeier ever claimed to have written the most popular nominee in the Dragons’ horror category. In fact, Niemeier has recently commented that “judging by the massive number of books I moved, Souldancer became the most-read horror nominee”. Niemeier also seems to think that the Dragon Awards represent “the unbiased votes of fandom as a whole.”
In short, Anthony, I appreciate the effort you took to write a thought-out rebuttal, but I really think that you’re underestimating just how significant Niemeier finds his performance at the Dragon Awards.
Niemeier himself responded with a post entitled “How Not to Convince a Best Selling, Award-winning Author to Sleep with You“. As its headline suggests, the post works on the premise that I secretly want to have sex with him. Beyond this, it consists largely of personal insults, hair-splitting, and the entirely inadvisable usage of serial plagiarist and compulsive liar Douglas S. Taylor as a credible source of information.
Niemeier takes particular exception to how I portrayed his Amazon chart comparison between Souldancer and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (see my post for the full background there), saying “I never claimed that Souldancer outsold The Fifth Season, I said it moved more copies”. So, yes, I will concede my error: I had thought that he was fudging two different sales charts together out of carelessness. Instead, he was knowingly bragging about how many copies he managed to shift when he was literally giving his book away for free, in the belief that this is somehow a legitimate claim to fame. Nowhere in his post does he counter the point raised by both myself and my correspondent from the KDP forum: that there is no way of knowing how many people who downloaded free copies that day actually read and liked the book.
As his trump card, Niemeier points out that Gustav Meyrink’s influential 1914 novel The Golem has even fewer Amazon reviews than Souldancer.
What Niemeier has clearly failed to wrap his brain around is that Amazon book reviews are generally written by people who want to discuss the latest releases; somebody who wishes to instead engage in discussion about literature published in Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany will likely head elsewhere. If we look at Goodreads, for example, we can see that The Golem has 3,620 ratings, compared to Souldancer‘s rather more modest nineteen.
This is the merest tip of the iceberg, of course: entire books and many scholarly essays have been written about Gustav Meyrink, but public discourse surrounding Souldancer is confined largely to twenty-one Amazon reviews and a smattering of blog posts, a significant portion of which were written by Niemeier’s friends and colleagues. The point I was making – that one would reasonably expect the most popular horror novel of the year to have inspired a greater degree of conversation – remains unassailed.
Niemeier’s post received an anonymous reply saying that the horror community isn’t nice or accepting (contrary to a quotation from Dave Thomas that I used) because… it criticises racism, or something.
In my earlier post I quoted Alfred Genesson’s curious comments about my alleged fondness for World of Darkness fanfics. He responded with a post entitled “Poke a horrior [sic] SJW, and they’re horrified by you“; endorsed by Brian Niemeier himself, this post includes more personal insults along with some additional ranting about World of Darkness (seriously, did somebody bludgeon this guy’s kitten with a Vampire: The Masquerade sourcebook or something?)
Stranger still is a brief passage in which Genesson casually suggests that I like reading the work of child molester Walter Breen, who wrote books on the subjects of paedophilia and coin collecting.
So, Genesson is accusing me of being a paedophile. Or perhaps he’s trying to say that I like to collect coins; I won’t pretend to grasp the doubtless intricate thought processes that went into his post. He also refers to me as “the thing that calls itself Doris V. Sutherland”, which would make a killer B-movie title.
If Declan and Brian were the toasts of horror fandom, it would be more civilized, wiser, and more attractive to women than you.
So there we have it!
Speaking of Declan Finn, he contributed a fourth post to the pile with “Fisking the Six Foot Blivet” (I’ll admit that I had to look up what a blivet was; the results were interesting). Here, Finn repeatedly claims that Souldancer is indeed horror fandom’s favourite novel, because DragonCon has over 60,000 attendees. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him that perhaps the majority of those 60,000 did not take part in the awards.
“Go argue with the 60,000 DragonCon attendees, and tell them how what they vote on isn’t popular”, writes Finn. “Go ahead. Me and every statistician ever will sit back and laugh at you.”
Thing is, Declan, you’re the DragonCon visitor, not me. Perhaps you should try and prove your point when you go to the 2017 convention, and ask the attendees whether they have heard of Brian Niemeier. You could even film their answers, although I am not sure if a typical SD card has space for 60,000 variations of “Brian who?”
Aside from this, the post is little more than a document of Finn’s catastrophic reading comprehension (the man apparently cannot even distinguish between something I’ve written and something I’ve quoted) and the lamentable shortcomings of fisking as a means of achieving productive discourse.
Okay. Let’s imagine that I were to write a blog post criticising Stephen King, or J. K. Rowling, or Philip Pullman, or George R. R. Martin, or Neil Gaiman, or Anne Rice.
Then imagine if the author in question was sufficiently upset to respond with a line-by-line take-down of my post. Imagine if the author insinuated that I secretly wanted to have sex with them, and endorsed a post that obliquely accused me of paedophilia.
This would result in the author’s post itself prompting a good deal of discussion. On the one hand, a chunk of the author’s fanbase would likely join in – and had I provoked the ire of (say) Neil Gaiman’s following, then I would expect rather more than the four blog posts I inspired by questioning Mr. Niemeier.
On the other hand, there would be people criticising the author’s actions: we would be seeing blog posts such as “why is Stephen King attacking this blogger nobody’s heard of?” or “is it okay for J. K. Rowling to randomly accuse people of being paedophiles?” After all, Anne Rice provoked controversy for her behaviour online, yet her most notorious statement to date is “you’re interrogating the text from the wrong perspective”. That’s a long way from “you’re a paedo” or “you want to have sex with me”.
Indeed, the parallel that springs to my mind in regards to Mr. Niemeier is with Benjanun Sriduangkaew. When Sriduangkaew was unmasked as the owner of the notoriously abusive blog Requires Hate, fandom was shocked because respected authors are not supposed to behave that way.
But yet, the behaviour in which Mr. Niemeier has engaged will pass largely without comment across SF/F and horror fandom. This is for the simple reason that most of the fandom does not know who Brian Niemeier is. He is promoting himself to a very specific audience: an audience that finds “cultural Marxists are controlled by demons” to be an entirely reasonable statement, and smearing one’s opponents as kiddy-fiddlers to be a perfectly legitmate debating tactic. Far from being turned off, Niemeier’s core audience actually regards this behaviour as admirable.
The rise of Kindle direct publishing has opened doors for an array of new writers, but it has also confronted them with a big question: how, in lieu of backing from a professional publisher, does one promote a novel? Right now, one straightforward answer to that is through appeal to identity. You will find indie books by writers who have promoted themselves specifically as gay authors, or transgender authors, or black authors, or feminist authors, or Scientologist authors. By doing so, they have attracted readers who belong to, or sympathise with, those groups.
This is the approach taken by Brian Niemeier. He has marketed himself as an anti-SJW author, and this flag has been flown by his friends in the Puppy world (Alfred Genesson, for example, wrote a review of Souldancer‘s sequel Secret Kings which repeatedly falls back on some variation of “this book is good because SJWs don’t like it”). This is his selling point.
Search the space opera category in Amazon’s Kindle department, and I suspect that you will find numerous other indie books that are of equal or superior quality to Niemeier’s novels. Many of those have vanished into oblivion; and this would likely have been the fate of Souldancer, had its author kept his opinions to himself. Instead, by latching onto the Puppy/Superversive movement, he has picked up a loyal following; not a large following, as we have established, but one that has still managed to build him a sturdy echo chamber.
I would rather not write any further posts about Niemeier, as I do not want this to turn into the Doris vs. Brian blog, but I do find all of this an interesting case study in regards to indie publishing. The Puppies have evolved from a campaign centred around bagging an award for a specific author (that is, Larry Correia) into a brand that has granted new authors a platform – Niemeier and Finn being amongst them.
Where it will go from here is unclear. Perhaps the bubble will burst; we may be seeing signs of this in the Anthony M. post mentioned above, which deliberately moves away from the “we represent all of fandom because we have Dragon Awards” claim that Niemeier and Finn hold so dear. Or perhaps the authors involved will continue to carve out a small but comfortable niche for themselves.
Either way, I still believe that the horror community will remain unaffected by this branch of the culture war.