Debut Author Lessons: So you’ve been nominated for an award…

I will grant that this particular thing will not happen for everyone, but it will happen for some of you and award nominations come with no instructions. Over the years, I’ve learned a few things and so here’s the stuff that I’ve told new Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell finalists.

When they say confidential… What they mean is that they don’t want the news to get out into the wider world. There are two reasons for this.

  1. They want to get as much traction with the news as possible. If it trickles out into the world a little at a time, it’s less good for everyone, including you.
  2. People are notified at different times. Sometimes this is because of categories and sometimes it is because a nominee declines and they go to the next person on the list.

Try to avoid subtweeting Look. I’ve done it. I will do it again. BUT I try not to now because it is not even remotely subtle. Everyone knows when nominations start rolling out, so if you announce Secret Good News during that window, people know. I get that you’ll explode if you don’t tell someone and that you’re really excited so find another venue through which to express that excitement. For instance…

  • Tell your agent and editor. Your publicist, too, if you have one. They need time to get things set up so that when the news stops being embargoed, they are ready to go with announcements. Make sure they know the embargo date!
  • Tell your family. Look, you didn’t sign an NDA. As long as you respect the need for the organization to control when the news is released into the wider world, it’s okay to tell your family. Obviously, don’t do it on your cousin’s livestream but as long as you are clear about the embargo date and that they can’t tell anyone, you’re fine.
  • Write an announcement and have it ready to go. When that list of finalists goes live, people will want to congratulate you. It’s easiest if they have a place to do it. Plus there’s a chance some of them will repost it and that’s a good thing.
  • Write a speech. It doesn’t matter if you are sure you don’t have a chance and feel like an imposter. Writing a speech is a chance to think about everyone who helped you get to the place where your work has been nominated. None of us do it alone. Taking some time to think about who you want to thank and why is very centering. In the event that you win, it saves you from getting up there and forgetting to thank someone super important.

Once the announcement is public…

Tell everyone. Boom — your announcement is ready. Post it in all the places. Tell your family that they can talk about it now. Tell random strangers on the bus. (I may or may not have done that once.)

Congratulate and celebrate your fellow nominees. Look, your fellow nominees are your peers. They are not your competition. The book/story/radio play/whatever already exists in the world and there’s nothing you can do to change the quality of your work or anyone else’s. That truth will do nothing to reduce your anxiety. The only other people who completely and totally get what you are going through, right now, are the people you are nominated with. Even people who have been nominated in the past will have forgotten the crispness of the excitement. The frisson of the moment when you get the call or email. But your peers will grok the weirdness completely.

Plus, a rising tide raises all boats. Celebrating your peers raises the awareness of the award, which encompasses all the nominees, including you. Only one of you will take the award home, but all of you can benefit and enjoy being nominated.

You will get a lot of interview requests. Answer all that you can without breaking yourself. A nomination offers visibility. Start a spreadsheet with questions and your answers to them, because people will ask the same ones over and over. You can cut and paste a stock answer, tweaking it so it looks fresh where necessary.

Update your bio.  It will feel odd and self-aggrandizing. It only feels that way. But it serves the function of raising the visibility of the award, which will help you and the other nominees. Especially remember to mention this when you are on panels at a convention. It doesn’t have to be hard. Just something like, “My name is Mary Robinette Kowal, I’m a professional puppeteer, an audiobook narrator and I write SFF novels and short fiction. Currently, my novel “Calculating Stars” is a finalist for the Nebula award.'”

Finally… you will probably completely freak out about being a finalist and have difficulty writing, because you will feel pressure to prove that you deserved the nomination. You deserve it. Know that.

Also recognize that the freak out is a perfectly valid response. It’s a desire to keep leveling up, but it’s misfiring slightly. The way past it is to set an external deadline on your next project and to keep writing. If you don’t have a deadline already, ask a friend to set one for you.

Above all, enjoy the glow. As previously mentioned, there’s not really anything you can do to improve your chances of winning. The work is the work. So focus on what you can control. How that manifests will differ from person to person. I like ballgowns, so I use the opportunity to track down a perfect gown. I get a facial. On the day of, I have my hair done. None of it matters, but it is stuff that is in my control and allows me to feel special.

Treat yourself like a goddess of fiction and buy something cool that represents all the hard work that got you here. Go to the spa. Throw a party. Whatever makes you happy, do it.

And congratulations!

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One Response

  1. Julie

    Thanks for this.

    I have not won an award, but I have been offered an opportunity I should be leaping at, and am, instead, having the aforementioned freak out. Your explanation of why that is happening is both sane and helpful.

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