Thursday, March 15, 2018

Awards Versus Happiness


Zestful Blog Post #255

Awards Versus Happiness

If you read this blog, you’re my friend. At some point before we’re all dead, I’m gonna send out a newschat, but today you guys will learn a little bit of news in advance, along with my Facebook friends, who saw this yesterday. Gonna talk about awards here. If you are an author, especially, please read to the end of this post to get my most heartfelt and useful advice. Last week I learned that Crimes in a Second Language is receiving the silver medal in the Florida Book Awards, general fiction category. Which is nice. But upon hearing the news, I was like, shit! Because I had wanted and expected gold! That’s how I am: totally confident in my superiority as an author. Which, though arguably delusional, has not proved to be any serious handicap.

During the most recent cycle of the Olympics, I read somewhere that psychologists have determined that the least happy medalists are the ones who get silver. Because of course the gold people are happy that they won the top prize, and the bronze people generally are ecstatic that they got a medal at all. The silver people go Aw hell, should have gotten the gold! And that was exactly my first reaction to this silver medal. But I’m over it. I’m gratified that the other two medalists in my category were published by major houses in hardcover, while I released Crimes independently, under Spruce Park Press, my personal imprint. The gold went to Laura Lee Smith for The Ice House (Grove Atlantic) and the bronze went to Randy Wayne White for Mangrove Lightning (Putnam). I hope to meet them both, along with the winners in the other ten categories, at a dinner in Tallahassee next month. Will someone actually put the medals around our necks, like at the Olympics? The thought makes me nervous. I’ll report back.

I give major credit to the judges for taking my book seriously and not discounting it because it’s a humble indie. Their identities are public information on the FBA web site, so I’m going to thank them here: Chris Coward, Jennifer Pratt, and Dianna Narciso. All judges are past winners of FBAs. I highly approve of having judges be identified, because it makes the process transparent. Yeah, I guess an author could try to coddle up to a judge or send a case of Scotch to their house, but the risk of something like that swaying a judge doesn’t cancel out the benefits of transparency.


[From the Florida Book Awards website: The competition is run by the Florida State University Libraries and co-sponsored by the Florida Center for the Book, the State Library and Archives of Florida, the Florida Historical Society, the Florida Humanities Council, the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, the Florida Library Association, “Just Read, Florida!,” the Florida Association for Media in Education, The Center for Literature and Theatre @ Miami Dade College, Friends of the Florida State University Libraries, the Florida Writers Association, and the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.]

When you think about it, most of us have competed for lots of things. Grades in school, the affection of a parent, athletic contests and games, and so much more. Competition is a part of life. Some competitions are completely objective. You skate the fastest or you don’t. You jump the highest or you don’t. You earn the most money or you don’t. Then there are the subjective contests, which play so much havoc with artists. Your pirouette spin wasn’t as pretty as hers. Your book wasn’t as good as his.

I’ve cursed judging panels when books of mine have been snubbed and books of inferior quality (in my opinion) given prizes. “Pearls before swine!” is my go-to rant, meaning the judges’ tastes were so coarse they couldn’t recognize quality when they saw it. I’ve been a judge in literary contests, and I know how subjective the process can be. (Certain things you can be objective about: the mechanics of writing, for instance. Then there is literary merit. Let the brawl begin!)

The sad reality is that awards do drive readers’ choices. Just the other day I participated in a group reading with other authors; all of us had some books for sale. As I was signing a copy of Left Field for a reader, she said, “I bought the one that won the award!” That copy happened to have a GCLS Goldie sticker on it, one of a bunch they give you for such use.

Some authors get depressed when they don’t win an award, and that’s just so wrong. Understandable, but wrong. You gotta either get mad for a while (pearls before swine), or shrug and say, “Who cares?” You cannot let the non-win affect your self-esteem. It’s the same when a negative review smacks you in the face. The hell with it.

So, publish your work, enter competitions, go for the gold, but remember this tremendously important fact: Your work is not you. Your work is your work. It is separate from you. And remember the corollary: A win doesn’t mean you’re special. It means a particular piece of your work was judged to be worthy. That’s all.

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16 comments:

  1. What a timely post for me. My first novel is coming out July 1st and we are in the process of final typesetting and getting advance reviews, etc. My nerves are wound about as tight as they possibly ever have been wound. I want some great reviews from some pretty noticeable authors I have selected to send it to. I want to win a Goldie. I want it to be more than good I want it to be great. But is that what I want or do I want me to be special? to be great? to be noticeable? I'm going to try really hard to remember what you said, Your work is not you. Your work is your work. It is separate from you. I might even type it up and put it above my desk. Thanks for the words of wisdom. I get something from every blog you post, but this time I really scored. Thanks!

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    1. Congratulations, Ona Marae! Keep writing books, and you'll start to get used to all this... Oh, and hey, let us know when the book is out, OK? I'd like to mention it on the blog.

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  2. Congratulations, Elizabeth. You know how much I loved this book. I strongly recommend it to all your readers. They're in for a treat.

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    1. Caroline, I cherish your friendship! Thank you.

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  3. Congratulations are in order, EVEN if it was JUST a silver, You’re always entertaining, ‘just a silver medal winner.’ I got so excited when my first book was a Rainbow Awards finalist. It came in 4th. So close to third and an actual award. I remember that for a few seconds I actually felt bad because it didn’t get 3rd, but really, for a debut novel, I realized It did very well. That’s the only time I’ve felt that bad feeling. I’m happy to say that one time taught me that lesson. Thank you for these timely reminders that we are not our work. As long as we do the very best work we can on each piece, whether it’s a novel or short story or even frying a hamburger, then there’s nothing to be upset about. Try again and do better next time because you learned something. And we always learn something. I love your thoughts on writing. As Ona Marae said above, they always seem timely. Congratulations Ona Marae, enjoy that debut novel feeling. It’s a wonderful combination of fear and walking on clouds that you’ll never forget.

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    1. Beautiful, BJ. Thanks for building on the discussion.

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  4. Wow, great news! I truly enjoyed that book! Solid advice, too, thanks!

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    1. Love your enthusiasm, Pam! You're welcome and thanks back.

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  5. I LOVED Crimes in a Second Language from the title to the last page. Congratulations, and dang, I'm right there with you on the almost gold thing. But as usual, you have your priorities right and see the silver-lining in that silver medal. I agree on the judge disclosure idea. Having been in the judge's seat myself I know I took it very seriously and wanted the critique to be helpful to the writer who took the chance to enter her work in the competition. I've also been on the finalist platform--in third place. That bronze was so exciting for my first contest entry, but also a letdown because I could not revise and resubmit the next year in the same contest like those who scored in fourth or below. Of course, on reflection, I was truly thrilled that the kind judges gave me positive and constructive feedback that, in the long run, has been very beneficial to revisions and to supporting my belief in the story. Take Care, Friend.

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    1. Liz, it's great of you to share your experience with us. Thanks for being a conscientious judge!

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  6. Elizabeth Sims,
    Congratulations on your award. And thank you for your illuminating comments. I look forward to someday having a published body of work that has received positive recognition. Your comments help me see my situation in a different light. I have submitted five pieces months ago. I just heard back on one submission. It was "Thanks, but no thanks." This was the very first thing I submitted for publication. I was hoping for acceptance, but now I have to "shrug and say, “Who cares?”," as you said in your post. I have comes to the point in my brief writing career where what I want is: to find is an appreciative audience that can be entertained by what I've written. Maybe I'll just collect all my humorous anecdotes and hand them out to people looking for some entertainment.

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    1. Oh, you're absolutely right, Dave, re: the shrug of 'Who cares?' I had a ton of rejections before getting anything going. Not the greatest thing to hear, but the old Kipling line about triumph and disaster and 'treating those two impostors just the same' bears remembering for all of us authors... Glad you stopped in.

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  7. Perfect. Thank you, and, congratulations!

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  8. Seriously, I had to check the FBA site. I thought that you were that miffed at the judges for giving you Silver and not Gold, that you made up their last names!

    I mean, come on!

    I am late on the comments of this, so perhaps you have received your award all ready. Congratulations! I hope to win an award, any award one day.

    Once again, congratulations.

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    1. Ingrid, LOL! No, I meant it when I thanked the judges for taking my book seriously. I've judged literary competitions myself, and it's a challenging and largely unsung task. Thanks for checking in, and thanks for the congrats. Keep us posted on your work, OK?

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