It's a major award!
“Just tell me this, Montag: at a guess, how many literary awards would you say were made in this country on an average each year? 5? 10? 40? Not less than 1,200.” The Captain from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
I’ve been active on social media for years, and it’ll come as no surprise to you that I’m primarily interested in discussions about writing and publishing (horror movies, superheroes, cool science news and facts, pet pics, and funny/adorable/weird animal videos are all in the mix, though). There are a number of topics that come up regularly – sometimes presenting fresh perspectives and new developments, sometimes merely rehashing the same old arguments – and as it’s the beginning of awards season in the genre-writing community, some people are making eligibility posts online, others bemoan the fact they’ve never been nominated for, let alone won, an award, while others are talking about why all awards (especially those they’ve never won) suck.
I wrote a previous blog entry about writing awards a few years back, after I won the Bram Stoker Award for my novella The Winter Box. You can read it here: http://writinginthedarktw.blogspot.com/2017/05/most-of-all-id-like-to-thank.html. But given what I’ve been reading lately on social media about awards, I thought this would be a good time to write an expanded update.
First off, many people equate awards with the idea of Best. Organizations who bestow writing awards tend to avoid using the B-word, an acknowledgement that literary excellence is in the eye of the beholder (or reader). However, that doesn’t stop writers from believing that award nominations and winners are an organization’s statement on which works – and writers – are Best and which Are Not Best. But a writing award just means that a particular group of people chose to honor/recognize a particular work or number of works at a particular point in time for particular reasons. That’s it. Literary awards deal with matters of art, abstractions about which no two people can ever fully agree (and who often wildly disagree), and because of this, award processes – while designed to reach some kind of consensus on which works should be honored – can never determine a true Best. They can, however, spotlight Some Really Good Work and bring more attention to them, which I’d argue is the true purpose (or at least the ideal outcome) of literary awards.
Tom Monteleone once told me that the prime benefit of literary awards is that they’re an acknowledgment from your peers that you’re doing good work, and I think that’s a good way of looking at them.
I’ve been a finalist for the Stoker four times (including when I won for The Winter Box), twice for the Shirley Jackson Award, once for the Splatterpunk Award, and five times for the Scribe Award. Each of these awards has a different process for determining nominees and winners. Since I’m most familiar with how these awards work, they’re the ones I’m going to talk about primarily.
The Bram Stoker Award: The Stokers are awarded for superior achievement in horror and dark fantasy writing. These awards have a several step process. Members of the Horror Writers Association recommend works, and those with the most recommendations appear on the Preliminary Ballot. Members vote on which works from the Preliminary Ballot they’d like to appear on the Final Ballot (and members can make up to five choices in each category of the Preliminary Ballot). There is also a jury which can add works to the Final Ballot that they feel should be recognized but which didn’t receive enough recommendations by members. The jury is made up of volunteers, and the roster changes each year. Active and lifetime members then vote on which Final Ballot works they would like to receive a Stoker. One vote per category this time. I’m honored to currently have two works appear on the Stoker Preliminary Ballot this year.
The Shirley Jackson Award: This award honors “outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic,” according to the award website. This is a fully juried award. Editors and publishers must submit works to the jury. Individual writers cannot. The jury decides which works go on the ballot (there’s only one), and they select the winners. There’s one jury for all categories. The makeup of the jury changes annually.
The Splatterpunk Award: This award is presented “to honor superior achievement in the sub-genres of Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror fiction,” according to Brian Keene’s website. (Brian is one of the award’s founders.) Anyone can nominate works – readers, fans, and professionals. The works with the most nominations appear on the final ballot, from which a jury selects the winners. (I’m not sure how the jury is selected for the Splatterpunk Awards.)
The Scribe Award: This award is presented by the International Association of Tie-In Writers to, as their site says, “acknowledge and celebrate excellence in licensed tie-in works based on TV shows, movies, and games (video games, computer games, rpgs).” Members volunteer to serve on juries, and there’s a separate jury for each category. Jurors selected the nominees and the winners. The precise makeup of the juries changes each year, but members can serve on juries again, although they often change the categories they judge in.
Positive Aspects of the Award Processes Listed Above
· Awards chosen by members reflect the will of the organization as a whole.
· Juried awards are determined by qualified and respected professionals, and they’re resistant to popularity being a factor in which work wins. Literary excellence in the field is, ideally, the sole determiner.
· Changing jury members each year brings fresh perspectives to the awards process.
· Awards nominated by readers, writers, and professionals highlight work that the literary community as a whole thinks should be recognized.
Negative Aspects of the Award Processes Listed Above
· Awards chosen by members of an organization or readers, writers, and professionals can become a popularity contest. Friends can vote for friends. People vote for writers/works that have name recognition. People can vote for works written by writers they personally like (and not vote for writers they dislike). Members can secretly promise to vote for each other. Some members may not have read widely in a given year, so their recommendations and award selections are based on limited experience. Members will be tempted to campaign for award nominations and wins.
· Juried awards can be determined by a small group whose collective opinion might not match the field as a whole. Jurors changing every year can make the award inconsistent. On the other hand, if jurors repeat, the award can get stuck in a rut. Jurors can nominate and award their friends, and refuse to nominate and award their enemies/people they dislike.
· All award processes can be impacted by the changing trends in a field within a given year. If stories about vampires suddenly become popular, more people read them, more people may believe vampire stories are Important to the Genre, and more people may nominate and vote for them.
· All nominations and award selections can be affected by biases, whether consciously or unconsciously. These biases can be toward people of specific races, genders, sexualities, identities, ethnic backgrounds, societab backgrounds, political ideologies, etc., but they can also be toward literary styles and techniques. For example, if someone hates second-person stories with the white-hot passion of a thousand blazing suns, they’ll never nominate or vote for such a story .
A Another point about both the positive and negative aspects of award processes: There is no way to prove that any of them are true. And even if you could prove any of them to be true, there would be no way to tell what impact, if any, they had on the outcome of the awards process. So when people bitch on social media about a certain literary award being trash because INSERT REASON HERE, it’s an emotional reaction, not one based on specific evidence. Science fiction’s Hugo Awards can only be voted on by people who’ve attended Worldcon in the past or who are currently attending it – fans, writers, and professionals, with fans making up a huge majority. It’s a logical supposition that this award could be prone to being a popularity contest, but there’s no way to prove that it is. And there are very different ways to view awards. I always wondered why the Hugo was considered to be such a respected literary award when it’s primarily a fan award, but I once heard SF writer Mike Resnick say that he didn’t care what other industry professionals thought about his work. He cared what SF readers thought because those were the people he wrote for, and thus the Hugo was the most important award in the field to him. It was an award given by readers.
Reactions to Literary Awards
Here are some of the most common reactions to literary awards I see posted on social media.
· What about ME? Every year I see writers – especially newer ones – lament how none of their works were chosen to appear on award ballots. Often, the implication seems to be that they think they’re geniuses (even though they only started writing six months ago), so how come they haven’t been nominated for All The Awards?
· I wasn’t nominated this year so I guess I suck and should quit writing. “I knew I was a terrible writer, and my not being nominated for awards this year only proves it. Time to die.” Writers have a hard enough time with confidence and persistence. Don’t make it any worse on yourself. Not getting a nomination is not a statement on you or your work.
· I was nominated (or won) and am now officially Writing Royalty. Insert meme of Neil deGrasse Tyson saying, “Look out, we have a badass here.” Just because you were nominated or won a literary award doesn’t make you King Shit of the Writing World. You’re not any better of a writer than you were the day before you won, and you’re not suddenly an expert everyone should listen to as if you’re the goddamned Delphic Oracle. Feel encouraged, feel acknowledged, sure. Even feel as if you’ve leveled up in your career, if you like. But stay hungry and humble, and keep on being a good literary citizen.
· I am a Stoker-Recommended author. Writers can be desperate to find ways to promote themselves, but calling yourself a Stoker-Recommended author is meaningless. Only one person has to recommend your work for you to appear on the initial recommended list. Appearing on the Preliminary Ballot is, at least for marketing purposes, meaningless as well. Only being an official nominee (meaning that your work is on the Final Ballot) is a legitimate qualification for marketing purposes. (I refer to myself a Finalist when one of my works appears on a final ballot. I think the word more clearly communicates the situation, plus it sounds more impressive than Nominee.)
· Campaigning for awards is unseemly. Some people believe that true professionals do not promote their work for awards in any way, shape, or form. Doing so is a sign that you’re an amateur, and a desperate one at that. People who hold this view might have a bit a literary snobbishness to them, but in a perfect world, they’d be right. Good work would always get noticed. But there are simply too many books, novellas, short stories, articles, poems, essays, etc. published every year via traditional press, small press, and indie writers for anyone to possibly come close to reading everything. Because of this, good work goes unnoticed all the time.
· Indie writers never get nominated for awards. I wouldn’t say never, but I do believe that indie writers have a harder time getting attention for their work than traditionally published writers do. A strong social media presence can help, but it seems to me that readers still have a bias, perhaps unconscious, that indie work is lesser work by its very nature. Which is, of course, horseshit.
· X award is superior in all ways to Y award. In certain corners of the horror field, the Shirley Jackson Award seems to have more respect than the Stoker, as does the World Fantasy Award. Does that mean any of these awards are better than the others? It all depends on what you mean by better. When it comes to literary awards, perception is everything. If a person believes one award is superior to another, then for them it is. Another person might value a different award more. I don’t think readers give a damn which award an author has won (if they care about awards at all). Knowing that an author is an “award-winner” is enough for them.
· Awards are worthless. This another eye-of-the-beholder situation. If you think they are, they are.
· Awards are important. Ditto, with the addendum that awards can bring attention to work that might not otherwise receive it.
· Awards harm the field. “The field” being whatever genre or subgenre of literature the commentator works in: Horror, SF, Fantasy, Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Literary Fiction, Poetry, etc. The idea here is that a focus on awards takes away from the art itself, not least of all by pitting one work against another as if art is a competition, as if only one can be Best, when all works should be considered on their own merits. Focusing on awards might also lead writers to write material they think is award-worthy instead of following their natural artistic inclinations.
· Winning an award changes nothing for a writer. It depends on the writer, but winning an award guarantees nothing beyond the award itself. Your career might not change.
· Winning an award changes everything for a writer. On the other hand, agents, editors, and readers might take notice of your award, and it might open some doors for you, maybe even some pretty big ones. Emphasis on the word might.
What Awards Won’t (Necessarily) Do For You
· Make you happy. Achieving a career milestone, such as winning an award, can produce a wonderful emotional high, but it’s one that doesn’t last. Eventually you come down and life returns to normal, almost as if the wonderful thing that made you feel so good never happened at all. You’ll find a new balance in your writing career and continue moving forward, having ups and down along the way, like always. Happiness may be fleeting but feeling contented with your life overall and fulfilled in your work have much longer shelf lives.
· Make you an expert writer. I referenced this earlier, but to hit the point one more time: You’re the same writer you were after you won the award then before you won it, no better and no worse. You’re not an all-knowing expert, and the fact is, you never will be. No one person can ever learn all there is to learn about making a specific form of art. We’re all apprentices our entire lives. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share what you know, but it does mean you shouldn’t take yourself so goddamned seriously.
· Boost your career. It might, it might not. If it does help your career, it might do so only in small ways, ways so small you may never be aware of them, or ways that accumulate and grow stronger over time. Maybe a long time.
· Get you bigger advances. If you win an award, by all means try to get more money for your work, but don’t expect editors to shower you with cash. Publishers pay advances based on how much money they think your book will make, and that has everything to do with the book itself, not your particular credentials (unless you already have a track record as a bestseller, of course).
· Sell more books. Whether you’re traditionally published or an indie author, a majority of readers aren’t going to flock to your books because you’ve won an award. They’re more interested in the type of material within the book. Maybe they’re interested in writing by you because they’ve liked previous stuff of yours that they’ve read. Sure, some readers might pick up your book because it says Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author beneath your name on the cover, but not a ton.
· Get you more readers. Maybe some new readers will be drawn to your work (even if they’ve never heard of you before) if you win an award, but probably not a lot. (Remember, most readers are interested in the story more than anything else.) Over the years, I’ve heard many authors, agents, editors, and publishers say there’s no clear evidence that winning an award boosts a writer’s sales or increases their audience.
What Awards Can (Hopefully) Do For You
· Give you encouragement. If, like most writers, you experience at least occasional moments of self-doubt – about the quality of your work, the subject matter you choose to write about, the storytelling and literary style you’ve developed – winning an award can encourage you that yes, you can do this thing, and the path you’ve been following is a good one that still holds promise. It can be a deep restorative breath, a sip of cool, life-giving water when we badly need it.
· Give you another data point to help you assess your career. There are lots of metrics you can use to gauge your career progress. Response to your work from readers, reviewers, critics, and fellow authors. Sales. Number of copies sold. What people say about your work on social media. Writers who cite your work as an influence on theirs. Winning an award is one more way – but just one.
· Provide a credential. Winning an award can give you a credential you can use if you want to teach a class or present a workshop. Being able to say you’re an award-winning author sounds impressive to people, especially to aspiring writers. Same if you plan on doing freelance editing for other writers. I’d long thought about putting out a how-to-write book, but one of the reasons I waited to write Writing in the Dark was because I hoped I’d win an award so that it might help market the book to readers who were unfamiliar with me or my work. Did it help? Damned if I know, but I figured it sure as hell couldn’t hurt.
· Give you another item to help promote yourself and your work. Once you win an award, you can list it prominently on your website, your business card, your email signature, your bio, in whatever other promotional materials you create. Winning an award may not be the be-all, end-all, but it can be one more weapon in your promotional arsenal.
· Increase your visibility in the field. Writers and readers in the field (those who pay attention to awards, anyway) who didn’t know your name before you win, may well know it afterward. And if they were familiar with you, your status may rise in their view. Increased visibility (even if it’s only a small increase) can lead to more opportunities, such as anthology invites, conference invites, etc. (And yes, it might have an impact on sales. As I said earlier, no one knows for sure, though.) Editors and agents might be aware of you in a way they weren’t before, too.
Self-Destructive Attitudes Toward Awards
· Envy is the writer’s disease. I’ve heard this said by a number of writers over the years, but I don’t know where the phrase originated. It sure as hell is true, though. It’s far too easy for us to resent those who get what we want so badly. We can become bitter, cynical, down on the genre and all who work within it. We can become insufferable pricks online once we’re filled with self-loathing, and we might even quit writing altogether. Envy is poison, and the more of it you swallow, the more harm it does to you – as well as to those you interact with, including friends and family. Do you best to avoid it or, if you do experience it (and I think we all do to one degree or another), do your best to deal with it in as positive a way as you can.
· Bitching and moaning about awards isn’t a good look online. Discussing awards on social media, their meaning and place in a genre, as well as unemotionally criticizing them when you see something you feel is worth criticizing are all important, and I’d never suggest anyone avoid talking about these topics if they wish to. But spewing a torrent of negativity about awards, whether in general or in specific, those who give them and those who receive them, can contribute to making you seem like a sour crank. Fellow sour cranks will love your posts and comment on them. Others may read your posts and decide they don’t need your negativity in their lives and move along. If they see posts from you in the future, they may think, Christ, not this guy again. Unless you don’t give a shit about your reputation in your writing community and how it may impact your career (and if you don’t care, that’s cool; it’s yours after all), you might want to consider what’s the best way to talk about awards before you post. Or say whatever you want and let the chips fall where they may.
· I have to write something “award-worthy.” I mentioned this earlier. Chasing awards can cause you to try to write in a way you might not normally. This could be a good thing if it results in work you’re proud of. But it could steer you in a wrong direction. You also might have trouble finishing stories if you think they’re not good enough, and eventually you might not even start stories because you think the ideas you have aren’t good enough. You end up paralyzed, not writing anything.
· I will never write anything “award-worthy” ever again. After I won my Stoker for The Winter Box, I knew I had to be careful not to worry about whether the next thing I wrote was award-worthy. I just needed to do my best, just like I always try to do. (How good my best is at any given time is up for debate.) Winning an award can paralyze you as a writer just as much as trying too hard to win one or becoming depressed because you haven’t won one or ever been nominated. Things that help you produce writing = Good. Things that prevent you from writing = Bad.
· Imposter syndrome. “I didn’t deserve that nomination/award. Everyone else on the ballot deserved to be there, but not me. He/She/They should’ve won, not me. I’m a fake, a fraud, a phony . . .” Victor LaValle’s amazing The Ballad of Black Tom was up against me the year I won my Stoker, and you can believe I felt more than a little imposter syndrome then! Imposter syndrome is our old foe self-doubt wearing a different mask. If you get nominated for or win an award and feel you’re not worthy, just remember what I wrote at the beginning of this entry: A writing award just means that a particular group of people chose to honor/recognize a particular work or number of works at a particular point in time for particular reasons. It’s their award to bestow, and it’s your job to gracefully accept. And if you still don’t feel worthy, do your best to fake it, and maybe one day you’ll come to believe it.
· A focus on outside validation. Most artists crave validation, but not all. My wife is a visual artist who also writes for her own pleasure. She sells her artwork but never shares her fiction with anyone, including me. Outside validation like awards means little to her. Although she’s thrilled when I win one, and she insists on displaying them in the main room of our house, which I find more than a little uncomfortable. I think the majority of artists want to complete the communication/artistic cycle. They create a work, they share the work, and (hopefully) they get a response to the work. Maybe that response is praise, maybe it’s harsh criticism, maybe it’s money, but anything is better than indifference. But if we focus on obtaining outside validation to the point where we need it, even become addicted to it, in order to function as artists, that can quickly become self-defeating if not self-destructive. And to a lot of us, awards are the ultimate in outside validation, and an over-emphasis on them can be just as poisonous as envy in its own way.
Should You Campaign For Awards?
This is the big issue with awards that are voted on by readers or members of a particular writers’ organization. As I said earlier, some people believe that self-promotion when it comes to awards is distasteful at best and downright revolting at worst. I also mentioned earlier that so much work is published in a given year that it’s impossible to keep up with it all, even in a specialized genre. I’ve been a member of HWA and SFWA for around thirty years, and a member of the International Thriller Writers and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers since their inception (maybe a decade or so ago?). When I first joined HWA and SFWA, it was possible to read a majority of the material published in those fields in each year. But with the rise of the small press (thanks to the development of print-on-demand technology, ebooks, and Kindle Direct Publishing), there’s no way in hell to read even a significant portion of it, let alone all of it. I don’t see anything wrong with letting people know your work exists and is available to be nominated for an award, as long as you use common sense and follow whatever etiquette a specific organization has in place for such promotion.
HWA has very specific guidelines for how much and in what ways you can promote your work for a Stoker. You can email an offer to send work to members who have specifically mentioned on their HWA website profile that they are open to receiving such messages from other members. You can do this one time. You can post an announcement on the HWA Facebook group page one time. If your work appears on the Preliminary Ballot, you can make another post on the HWA Facebook group page, but just once. You can provide links to your work for inclusion in a special email that goes out to members during the Preliminary Ballot voting period. If you make it onto the Final Ballot, you can once again provide links for the Final Ballot email that goes out to members during the Final Ballot voting period. I think you can also post one final time on the HWA Facebook group page, but I’m not sure.
While there’s no official stance on how many times you can post about the availability of your work on your own social media accounts, it’s highly frowned upon to do so too often. I do it very sparingly on my accounts, as well as in my newsletter or here in this blog. Posting too often about award availability makes you come across as overly needy and can be annoying, making people want to avoid you and your work and definitely not making them inclined to nominate or vote for it.
So be smart when promoting your work for awards, go by whatever guidelines may exist, and ask friends and mentors in the community when you have doubts about when, how, and how much to promote.
Honestly, this entry has gotten so long, and I don’t know if I have any last thoughts. Literary awards have been and always will be problematic in all kinds of ways, but that’s because humans give awards and we’re highly problematic ourselves. But whether you win an award or don’t during the course of your career, the point is to keep putting good work out for readers to enjoy, work that hopefully contributes to the health and growth of your genre, and which – even if only in a small way – makes the world a better place. If nothing else, you can apply a perspective exercise that I call the Deathbed Test. Who will be holding your hand when you’re lying on your death bed and your life is fading? Who will care about you at the end? Whoever it is, I guarantee you it won’t be any goddamned award.
I guess I had a few final thoughts after all. Go me.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
The Winter Box
Since I referenced The Winter Box several times in this entry, here’s a link if you’d like to check it out. It’s currently available only as an ebook.
The Forever House Eligible for a Splatterpunk Award
Last year I was honored that my novel They Kill was a finalist for a Splatterpunk Award in the novel category. The Splatterpunk Awards honors works of extreme horror fiction, and its nomination process is different than that for the Stokers. Anyone can nominate works for the Splatterpunk Awards. You can find out more about the awards, including how to nominate works, on Brian Keene’s website here: https://www.briankeene.com/home/ifv14xgq2ga1or80c0123p831l2x7g
My 2020 book The Forever House is eligible in the novel category, and if you feel it’s splat-worthy, I’d appreciate a nomination. The deadline for nominations is Feb. 14th , 2021.
Your Turn to Suffer Coming Soon
That heading sounds ominous, doesn’t it? My novel Your Turn to Suffer will come out on March 23rd (but it’s of course available for preorder). Early reviews on Goodreads have been positive, with a review average of 4.5 stars out of 5. My favorite review so far is from reader named Alexandra who compares the book to a blend of the movies The Void and Baskin. Now you have to check it out, right?
Preorder Links for Your Turn to Suffer
Flame Tree Website
This is my page on the Flame Tree site, where you can order any of my Flame Tree novels, including Your Turn to Suffer.
Barnes and Noble
Turning the Tide
The International Association of Tie-In Writers will release an original anthology called Turning the Tied. The book will come out on March 13th and profits will go to benefit the World Literacy Foundation. The book features stories based on public domain characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Sinbad, and Frankenstein. My story is a modern-day version of Herne the Hunter. Right now, only the Kindle edition is available for preorder on Amazon, but a paperback edition should be available to order on March 13th or soon after. It’ll also be available to order at Barnes and Noble’s website soon.
Appearance on the DIY MFA Podcast
I had a great time talking with Gabriela Pereira on her DIY MFA podcast. Our conversation delved into the intricacies of writing horror, and whether you’re a horror writer or fan, I think it’s well worth a listen: https://diymfa.com/podcast/episode-343-tim-waggoner
The Art of Suspense: March 7th. I’m presenting this online workshop in conjunction with Wright Memorial Library in Oakwood, Ohio. There’s no fee. https://www.wright.lib.oh.us/WriteMarch
Writing Media Tie-Ins: May 4th. I’m presenting this workshop in conjunction with Clarion West. It’s online and there’s no fee. https://www.clarionwest.org/workshops/online-workshops/creating-media-tie-in-fiction-just-add-writer-with-tim-waggoner/
Stokercon: May 20th to May 23rd. Right now, the con is still supposed to take place physically in Denver, Colorado, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes a virtual con. We’ll see. I should be on some panels, and I’ve proposed several workshops. I’ll let you know when I have a schedule to share. http://stokercon2021.com/
Readercon 31: July 9th to July 11th. Readercon is going to be virtual this year, and I’ve been invited to be a quest. I should be on a panel or two, and I’ve proposed a couple workshops as well. http://readercon.org/
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