Welcome to the emotional roller coaster.
I’m not going to lie to you: for any professional writer, award season is kind of hell on the fingernails. Either you get the nod, and you feel great and validated and briefly loved… or you don’t get the nod, and you are left with the general feeling of insufficiency. Or you don’t let yourself care about it at all, which is both extremely difficult and might mean missing out on opportunities.
There are writers who blithely ignore literally everything award-related, which is healthy—but those award nominations can provide a little free publicity, and a few extra readers, and those things slowly add up to a career. On the other hand, plenty of best-selling authors have never seen an award nomination, and plenty of people with a pile of statuettes and plaques struggle to reach a readership.
Conversely, there are writers who work hard for awards—carefully placing their work in publications that get the most notice from specific award-nominating demographics, submitting them to juried awards, logrolling for nominations with groups of friends, and running social media self-promotion campaigns to get out the vote among their fans. This takes up a lot of time, though, and sometimes leaves a bad taste in the mouths of colleagues.
Carried to extremes, it can result in notoriety for all the wrong reasons, as fans and award juries are very capable of finding ways to let their displeasure be known. (See the recent Sad Puppy Hugo Awards kerfuffle, an exercise in slate-related ballot-box stuffing that resulted in an awful lot of No Awards being handed out, and a complete revision of the Hugo nominating rules.) So, you know, don’t be that guy.
And then there’s the terrible feelings that can propagate when the post-voting Hugo award numbers are released, and you find yourself realizing that you missed a nomination by a couple of votes, or that—if you were nominated—your story came in somewhere below NO AWARD.
Maybe you’ve collected a few dozen nominations and never won anything. Maybe you’ve never been nominated. Maybe every time you win something you find yourself unable to enjoy the moment because you’re already worried about where your next glass brick is coming from.
As is usually the problem, being dependent on that external validation when it’s external validation you can’t control is only going to exact a horrific price in making you feel terrible for hours for every minute of joy it provides. And it’ll rob you of the joy you ought to be feeling for having been recognized at all.
Worse, if you feel entitled to the award and don’t win it—and then aren’t immediately nominated again!—you might find yourself a few years later creating a massive internet shitstorm and trying to game the system just to get that sweet, sweet victory of an invite to a rubber chicken dinner you’ll probably be too nervous to eat. And a nomination for an award that didn’t come because anybody liked your story or thought your work was good, but because you managed to line up a small army of nominators to pack the ballot box.
And remember what we said about not being that guy. That guy isn’t happy. Even if that guy should happen to win, it would be empty, and they’d only feel the need to do it again the next year.
Also, if you are nominated, suddenly your entire creative life becomes dominated by people complaining that you didn’t deserve the nomination; that some far more worthy person was passed over for you; that your story is obviously the worst of the ones on the list. Then you do to the event where the award is being handed out and the event organizers think it’s a great idea to put your flop-sweat-soaked self on programming with all your flop-sweat-soaked colleagues and let you try to discuss the category and your feelings about the nomination and your competition coherently while praying for an Ativan and hoping you don’t come off as too much of a narcissist or a self-loathing loser.
You may find yourself, in the wake of a shortlist being released (or even worse in the wake of an awards ceremony), moved to get on social media and complain that your infinitely superior work was not nominated, or did not win. (I once saw a writer complaining on social media that an awards jury I had happened to serve on had not even considered their work for the award. We had. None of us thought it was very good, however.)
If your book missed a Hugo nomination by three votes—you know what? That sucks. On the other hand, it also means you wrote the book that the Hugo voting demographic considered the seventh best of the year. And that’s not nothing.
You have to remember that this stuff is largely a matter of taste. It’s arbitrary and it does not reflect on your worth as a human being.
For me, at least, the only healthy way to approach awards has been to acknowledge that it’s outside my control; that whether I win or not has literally nothing to do with me and only a glancing relationship with the quality of my work. To try to be gracious; to remember that everybody else in the genre wants that nomination or that award just as much as I do; and if I get beat, hope I don’t get beat by somebody with the morals of a stoat and the writing ability of an earwig, whom I also happen to personally despise because they kicked my puppy that one time.
And to keep my feelings off the internet if I do.
My ability to deal with award nominations, lack of nominations, wins, and losses has become infinitely better since I adopted this policy. I imagine Bill Murray in my head leading a chant of IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER and you know? I’m so much happier than I used to be when I’d let it throw me off my stride for days on end.
And really—I treasure every award I’ve ever won, and every nomination I’ve ever received. And I treasure the losses, too. After all, I’ve been beaten by (among others) Kelly Link, Chris Moriarty, Amal el-Mohtar, Bo Bolander, Aliette de Bodard, and Pat Cadigan.
I can only feel that every one of those defeats is not ignominious, but an honor.