On Celebrating Every Victory on the Day of my 20th Award Nomination

It’s very possible that I will one day become known as the “crazy awards lady”. Think crazy cat lady, except instead of harboring dozens of feline friends, I’ll be hoarding my awards. In my mind, I’ll be some grotesque combination of Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard” and Bette Davis in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” If I’m lucky, I might even get a William Holden lookalike to poke around.

That fleeting moments of recognition are the best that authors can expect is not so much notion as fact. In a business this saturated, with margins this thin, soul-crushing disappointment has become the norm. I’ve met authors who can’t sell brilliant manuscripts; newbies who have been hoodwinked by crooked industry pros; but the most common, most insidious, and most tragic fate is simple oblivion.

For those who don’t write, it’s difficult to comprehend all that goes into penning a book—how much we sweat, cry and bleed over our characters and our stories. Beyond the emotional investment (which is also linked to time and the people and things we sacrifice in order to write), is the financial investment which rarely yields a sustainable return. If we can’t get rich off of this (or even break even), only one other emotional payoff will do: recognition that comes from critics, authorities and fans.

People ask me sometimes why I enter so many awards. It started out as a way to gain recognition—awards were one of the only vehicles I had available to me, to create social proof around the merit of my work. Critical reviews had lead times, were often closed to indie authors, and sometimes cost hundreds of dollars. Awards were inexpensive to enter, and I wagered that external validation might actually convince readers to try my books.

Today, nearly a year after I entered my first awards, they serve a different purpose. They have become small victories that I can hold on to in light of new wisdom: that the other payoffs may never come. I may never sell so many copies that I earn a living income. I may never sell my masterpieces to a major publisher, and even if I do, the work I’m so in love with may not do well. In absence of these other sorts of accolades, award recognition whispers: what you wrote matters.

An author-friend reminded me to celebrate every victory. I’ll admit—I’ve been a little embarrassed to announce each win and talk about what all of this means to me. It feels not wrong, but simply imbalanced to hold up this sort of recognition without also holding up evidence of my failures. And there have been failures: mostly rejection letters from agents and editors, missed opportunities, bad timing, and straight-up rookie mistakes. If anything, it is because of these failures that these awards are such a blessing.

Kilby BladesComment