Let's look at the final vote tallies for the Top 10:
- The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (140 votes)
- The All-Pro by Scott Sigler (105 votes)
- The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (63 votes)
- The Seventh Throne by Stephen Zimmer (63 votes)
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (55 votes)
- The Final Arbiter by Mark Rivera (55 votes)
- A Dance With Dragons by George R. R. Martin (53 votes)
- Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi (52 votes)
- Dancing With Eternity by J.P. Lowrie (50 votes)
- Among Others by Jo Walton (49 votes)
What struck me about this, considering that the poll ran for at least a week, was the relatively low number of votes for a site such as Tor.com, which seems to have traffic that's likely 100x or more than this blog's (depending on the counter service, I seem to average somewhere around 700-1000 page views/day for the past couple of months). It's slightly higher than the nominations for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, if I recall (I think some get in under the Top 5 cutoff there with around 40-50 votes, but I could be mistaken), but less than I would expect for a site that probably has more than 5,000 daily visitors (which I think is somewhat more than those who are full or supporting members of the yearly Worldcons).
Now I'm not as certain as Patrick seems to be that there is something corrupt going on. I could see an author who releases $0.99 Kindle edition stories picking up a readership that flies under the radar of those of us who distrust authors who self-publish (that is, those who have no reputation for quality, as several authors I do enjoy, such as J.M. McDermott and Minister Faust, seem to be experimenting in releasing story collections as e-book exclusives independent of traditional presses). Scott Sigler is a prime example of that, as he started in a similar fashion and gained a huge readership through podcasts and cheap e-releases, if memory serves.
But this wouldn't lead to a readership in the hundreds of thousands, at least not in 99% of these cases. But I could see a hyper-loyal fanbase in the low hundreds that follows these authors much more than the majority of Rothfuss, Sanderson, Martin, or Scalzi's fans follow them. From what I've gathered, none of those authors publicized this poll's existence (after all, is it really going to boost/dent their sales?) and yet the self-published authors on this list seem to have mentioned it on their blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter and attracted just enough votes to crack the Top 10. 55 votes to make the top 5/6 is a pretty small amount for a forum like Tor.com, after all.
What one could argue, and this is where I found Patrick's chart of Amazon reviews/Tor.com vote to be interesting, is that there is a very large margin of error that could be attributed to evenness of promotion elsewhere, makeup of fanbases, and extremely small sample size. What reader polls like Tor.com's illustrate is not the books that are necessarily "the best" for a given span, but rather the dynamics of fan interest/awareness playing out across multiple media. There don't seem to be eliminating factors such as those found (in an imperfect fashion, of course) for the Locus Awards (subscribers get their votes weighted twice as much as non-subscribers, plus there's a provided list that tends to dampen write-in nominations) or even the Gemmell Awards, which I consider to be nigh useless because some elements of "bloc voting" seem to occur there. What this particular Tor.com poll reveals is just a bunch of fans in separate communities trying to promote their favorite author without much regard to actual quality of the writing.
After all of this e-ink being spilled here stating the near-obvious, I do find myself wondering what would happen if I promoted a similar thing here. Would anyone be interested in seeing the results to that, provided that if I set up such a poll that I would expect readers to tweet about it, post it on Facebook, or blog about it? Or is that something best left to non-squirrelists?