I’m here to argue that it matters…A LOT.
When I found out that I was nominated for an award in the literary community that has been in existence since 1976, an award that honors small presses and authors who may not have made their claim to fame with their writing (yet maybe should have), the first thing I did was look up “What is a Pushcart Award?” While I had heard of it before, I had never bothered to investigate because I was a 40-year-old-former-psychology-turned-writer-person.
I was in the Target bathroom with my six-year-old, waiting outside of her stall as she probably asked something like “Mommy? Are you out there?” when I checked my phone and saw that my Twitter account had blown up. Again, for a 40-year-old who Twitter stalks more than tweets, I never had notifications. But this particular Sunday morning, while I was listening to my daughter pull the toilet paper off of the industrial-sized roll and a flush coming from the other end of the room, I had many notifications.
On the car ride home, my husband looked it up on his phone.
“Tell me what it says!” I said. “I want to know more about this thing!”
He found some interesting articles, first just describing other peoples’ excitement about the nominations, and then one from John Fox, a former writing professor, self-proclaimed person-to- help fiction writers do better. As the founder of Bookfox, where he offers writing classes to those willing to pay, he seems to have some clout. So, when I got home, I read his piece “Open Letter to Pushcart Nominated Folks.” He opens with some math:
“Dear Writers who post resumes/bios with “Pushcart Nominated”: Stop. You’re embarrassing the literary community. You’re embarrassing yourself. Because let’s do the math: Duotrope has 3,500 active literary journals. Let’s assume half of those submit to the Pushcart Prize.
So 1,800 journals each nominating 6 stories/poetry apiece = 10,800 nominations a year.
Multiplied by the past two decades = 216,000.
You’re really going to brag about an accomplishment that 216,000 other writers share? Is that even an accomplishment?”
At first glance, he seems to make a point. That’s a lot of people to be grouped with. Fox specifically addresses his open letter to those who put “Pushcart Nominated” on their resumes or bios. If you actually WIN, that’s another story. You get your nominated writing published in the annual Pushcart anthology which is quite revered and seen by publishers, writers, agents, blah, blah, and blah in the literary community.
But what about getting the nomination? That must mean something. I mean, I’ve never gotten one before, and many of my (fantastic) writer friends have never gotten one.
It’s a good thing my husband, who was sitting next to me in the car, reading me Fox’s thoughts on the Pushcart nominations, is a math professor. If you are not married to one yourself, and if you’ve never met a math professor in your life, let me tell you that they are logical. Like seriously logical people. My husband is no exception.
“Well, think of it this way…” he began. “…how hard was it for you to even get that essay published? Each journal only takes a small fraction of the submissions they receive each year.”
True! On Duotrope–which admittedly has questionable statistics because of reporter error–Ligeia Magazine, the journal that so graciously nominated my essay, accepts about 11% of submissions. Say you don’t trust those stats (because, again, logically we should be skeptical), it is well-known that in this business, literary journals get way more submitted pieces than they can possibly publish.
Then we need to consider the process your piece must pass through readers and editors to even get selected. For example, I am a reader for Carve Magazine. I may be a first reader, a second reader, or a third reader on a piece. I may read a piece after it makes its way to the editor’s desk but is not yet accepted. I can see the comments from other readers, and there are often up to ten different people chiming in. Then, if we all like the piece enough, the editor has to like it. Not only does everyone have to like your piece, but that particular story can’t be too close to other pieces they are including to the issue, or ones that they have recently published. It has to fit in the pages they are restricted to (especially for print journals). It has to meet the aesthetic that the other chosen pieces give off. See what I mean? The odds are always against you, even for the best of writing.
“Then,” my math professor husband went on, “the journal has to go back through the small number of selected pieces they published and narrow that down to only six that they think were the best ALL YEAR.”
“And only two of those from Ligeia were even in my genre!” I was finally getting in-line with his vibe. The Pushcart allows six nominations per journal, and Ligeia split up the nominations for each genre they publish–fiction, poetry, nonfiction. I was one of TWO best nonfiction pieces the believed they published all year.
So, there you have it. Two out of the eighteen nonfiction they published all year is a pretty small number. Ala John Fox, let’s do the math: 11%. I’m going to be proud of that. I had a couple editors who believed in my piece so much that they not only published it, but they nominated it for a legit, well-recognized award in the literary world. For someone like me, who worked in psychology until I was thirty-eight (and for ANYONE really), that is huge. It’s huge to know that someone out there that I never met is championing my work. And if they are, who else might do the same? An agent? A book editor? An indie publisher?
Maybe John Fox never had the pleasure of being nominated, so he doesn’t get how good it feels. Maybe he has been nominated but didn’t stop to use math logic to really break down how unlikely it is to even get a nomination. Maybe he is trying to drum up business for Bookfox by crushing writers’ own self-esteem by essentially saying “you were nominated for something awesome, but you aren’t good enough yet to brag.”
In any case, I’m going to be proud. I’m going to tell people about my nomination. I’m going to be happy for others who announce their nominations, but let’s be honest, the odds are not in favor for any of us getting nominations in the first place.
So, fellow writer, write on. Brag on. I’ll be doing the same.