On the Winning of Awards and Prizes

I’ve been hearing a lot of noise lately (for noise, read bleating) from people who’ve not won the competitions they entered or not been short-listed for something or other. The fact that I’m annoyed enough to write this should tell you how often I’m hearing this!

Yes, I understand there is disappointment when you don’t get what you thought you might like. What I don’t understand is anyone who thinks they deserve to be on a short-list or they deserve to win something … or someone who trumpets “When I win a Hugo/Booker/Nobel Peace Prize” and then is surprised when they don’t.

You don’t know who the competition is. You don’t know what the judging panels’ tastes are like. You don’t know what’s going to happen when each of those judge’s tastes are combined in the melting pot of the decision-making process. And, perhaps most cruelly of all, you don’t know if your work is good enough to blow the judges away – you may suspect, you may like to think, but you do not know.

Who the hell assumes they are going to win? All you can do is try your best and hope the gods like you, but you cannot prepare for every eventuality, you can’t knobble all other competitors.

Similarly, I’ve also been hearing some whining noises from people who’ve actually won things or been short-listed and are now complaining about the prizes. Okay, you entered the comp and when you did, presumably, you applied sufficient brain-power to check out what the prize was going to be. For the love of Pete, it’s like complaining about the quality of something you got for free. Here’s a thought: if you didn’t pay for it, then your right to whinge pretty much ends there.

At the base of all this is the question: why are you writing?

If it’s for the fame, the glory and winning the fabulous prizes, then you’re doing it for the wrong reason. I would ask that you hand your pencil in at the door and never write again. If you’re concerned with winning, then take up an actual competitive sport, like running or swimming or darts … chess, perhaps.

Competitions are crapshoots. You have the same chance as anyone else (provided you can manage to spell your own name correctly on the entry form and format the thing according to instructions). If you are writing in expectation of a reward you are doomed to disappointment. Enter the competitions by all means as it’s excellent to practise achieving deadlines, following guidelines, etc; be hopeful for all humans should have hope; but for the love of all that’s holy, don’t complain when you don’t win. And when you inevitably don’t win, try to keep the bitterness in check – sure, I think some talentless fools have won things, but their success does not lessen me. Other writers’ opportunities are not your losses. Gore Vidal famously said “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies” – Gore was, of course, a sad old git, and should be a role model for no one.

Be humble, be hopeful, be happy for your friends when they succeed and also for strangers, be kind to those behind you on the writing career ladder, for you may need their help later. But do not have expectations of winning; do not carry a sense of entitlement around with you and wave it like a peacock in mating season.

Here endeth the grump.

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28 Responses to On the Winning of Awards and Prizes

  1. kaolin fire says:

    Guh. I mean, I’m human, I’ll always be a little jealous, wistful, whatever. But that’s nowhere near a controlling part of me, and hopefully never will be for any significant duration. 🙂

    The worst is the folks who win and then complain… someone else posted about this recently on facebook, just to show it happens at “every level”: folks were accepted for publication in a journal, and then (while accepting the acceptance), publicly snubbed said journal. Really–wtf?

  2. Belinda Jeffrey says:

    Love your grump, girl. Really.

  3. Trent Jamieson says:

    Wise words indeed.
    You start writing stories to win awards and you may as well give up. It’s the same as writing for the success it will bring you down the line. You write for the writing, and the challenge/pleasure the writing presents – anything else and you’ve sold out before you’ve even begun.

  4. angelaslatter says:

    We all feel disappointed and maybe a little bitter – but man, it’s not worth letting it take over your life – I like to remember Father Ted when accepting the Golden Cleric Award as a ‘how not to’. 🙂

  5. angelaslatter says:

    As I said over on FB: the winning of the award is like getting Ice Magic on top of your ice cream. You don’t expect to get it, it’s a nice surprise if you do; if you don’t you’ve still got the nice ice cream that is writing.

  6. angelaslatter says:

    Some days the grump is used for good.

    Other days, it just presages the apocalypse.

  7. Flinthart says:

    Eeeyyeeew. What if you don’t LIKE Ice Magic? I was always deeply suspicious of that stuff. The right way to do choc on top of ice cream:

    150ml whole cream
    350g dark chocolate (at least 40% cocoa)
    Shot of decent brandy (or liqueur of choice)

    Warm the cream in a small saucepan with a solid base, over a low temperature. While the cream is warming, break your chocolate into wee chunks. Before the cream actually does anything so depressing as simmer, put the chocolate in and stir the mix well. Just before the chocolate is fully integrated, add your dash of brandy. Turn off the heat, and continue to stir gently until the mixture is dark, and smoother than Barry White after a total wax and polish.

    As the mixture cools, it will begin to thicken even further. Before it solidifies completely, drizzle it gently over your ice cream. Add waferage of choice… consume.

    Prizes? Yeah, they’re fun. But they’re nothing like the real thing, are they?

  8. steph says:

    As a sideways comment: I read something on the Vogel award this year that the judges were surprised/apalled/saddened at the number of vampire stories that were entered – which makes me wonder two things: who are these people who submitted vampire manuscript to the Vogel, of all things, and what are the odds of writing a vampire story that they would actually like and getting it done by, say, next year? Nothin’ without a challenge …

  9. Aimée says:

    Amen to your grump.
    Who complains about winning stuff?

  10. Angela Slatter says:

    Have lost track of what you were saying – too busy drooling over the choclit sauce recipe.

  11. Angela Slatter says:

    You are young, you are funky, you are a talented scribbler – I charge thee with winning the Vogel by application of a literary vampire novel. Go forth.

  12. Angela Slatter says:

    Eejits, that’s who.

  13. Mrs G says:

    Prizes of any sort are a lottery – and particularly literary since they rely on entirely subjective responses. Ever since “Demidenko” won the Vogel in ’95 my opinion of literary prizes has been on a par with my opinion of food-court tortellini carbonara. Even before her fraud was uncovered I thought the novel was one-dimensional drivel

    So I’m astounded that anybody WANTS to win a literary competition. I’d be embarrassed to win. I only enter for the money, and therefore, it’s no different to TATTS. And I don’t expect any more wins than in TATTS!

  14. Mrs G says:

    You can do it, girl. Don’t think about the Vogel – your publisher will do that. Just get it to a publisher. The one thing I’ve learned from my Editing classes over the past two years is that you do not have to have a completed, excellently-structured, 100% (or even 0.05%) edited and proofed ms – the amount of work editors can do to a ms is astounding. Whole chapters go, authors are made to write new chatpers. Whole characters go and new ones appear. The punctuation is all wrong or even missing entirely. The structure will change so much the ms is unrecognisable from the first draft. Even the entire premise (though not the broad genre or narrative) of a novel will change – first draft ms can have a cast of 100s and more plot-lines and story possibilities than the TV series ‘Lost’. Therefore get into your “I enjoy writing mode” AND JUST CHURN IT OUT.

    The trick is getting your ms accepted by the publisher. So you’ve got to have “something”. What that something is, I don’t know. See my comment below re: “literary = lottery”

    signed: Sabre-Toothed Mermaid girl (in case you hadn’t realised who I was by now…)

  15. Cat Sparks says:


  16. Ben Payne says:

    Word, Mrs S. Word.

  17. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I’m a little more jaded about this, in that there are several awards that need overhauls to their process and structure to remove institutionalized biases. Some awards just quite simply stupidly set up, too. Complaining about them is any writer’s or reader’s right. People don’t need to listen, but I don’t think it’s whining–it’s a kind of activism.

    As for winning an award and whining about it…well, every writer has the right to defining their own self-image and to have their own approach to awards.

    In general, I agree with your sentiments, but “awards” are not something general–each one is different and comes with different baggage, expectations, and procedures.


  18. Hi Angela,
    Love this piece about Competitions. Puts it all into perspective. I’ve just added your website to my Blog Roll. You might like to do the same … Karen

  19. Michele says:

    Fantastic article, Angela. If I can figure out how to link it to my website I will.


  20. Alan says:

    Good post. I’m gonna nick it (with credit, of course).

  21. angelaslatter says:

    Cheers. I’ve been shortlisted three years in a row and I do notice that people lose perspective!

  22. Alan says:

    I can imagine. I probably put a lot of stock in the awards cos I don’t have one. I’d really like to win one, purely because there’s some kind of peer recognition that comes with it. But I don’t know that I ever will given that you lot are my competition! Anyway, if I ever do it’ll be gravy (or Ice Magic, man that gives me nostalgia!) but for now I’ll just concentrate on getting better and getting published.

  23. angelaslatter says:

    See, I think being published is recognition enough. That’s just me – I recognise my attitude is quite strange!

  24. Alan says:

    Yeah, I’m with you there. I would take a good publish over a good award anyday. But to be published AND awarded, well, that would be nice.

  25. angelaslatter says:


  26. All writers get rejection, lots of it. When any of us gets recognition, we deserve the chance to bask in it, and get congratulations. That’s what I want when I get an acceptance or a prize, and that’s what I want to give to my peers.

    So, we’re all human, and we all feel disappointed with every rejection. And being human, we’d love to get fame and fortune for our work, and no contest–not even a Hugo–is likely to give us that.

    Those valid feelings are no excuse to be rude to or about the people who did, for once, do better than get another anonymous rejection note.

    Likewise, they are not an excuse to be rude to people who put their time and love into a contest or magazine or anthology (etc.) so we have places to try to publish our work.

    Of course, the world and humans being imperfect, there’s doubtless contests out there that could be improved. However, I doubt that whining about not being a winner is an effective way to bring about positive change.