Monday, January 25, 2010

A Word on Awards

With the recent announcement of the National Book Critics Circle Award finalists, I thought the time might be ripe for a brief discussion of literary awards.

Some of you may have wondered, in the process of querying various agents, when and whether it's appropriate to mention any awards you might have won for your writing. Since I don't have time for an awesome flowchart, I'll just give you a few general "Do"s and "Don't"s:


· Mention any significant awards you've won for your writing (anything from placing in contests judged at conferences to Pushcart Prizes). Obviously if you've won a National Book Critics Circle Award, a Pulitzer Prize, a Hugo, an Edgar, &c, list it. (Although quite honestly, if you have, you probably already have representation.)

· Mention any significant awards you've won for things outside your writing so long as they're relevant to your topic. (E.g., if you're writing a medical memoir, mentioning your professional qualifications and awards is not only germane, it's expected.)

· Mention any previous publications you have, excluding self-published work or work published in a magazine or anthology for which you make editorial decisions. Try to stick to short stories (mentioning where your poetry or journalism has appeared might be helpful if they're really well-known markets, but otherwise, it's just superfluous). Note: if you're submitting non-fiction, any non-fiction or journalistic credits you've got are fair game.


· Mention any writing awards that are not a big deal. This includes that ninth-place award you got in your hometown (population: 200) newspaper for your short story about a cat and a dog who become bros despite the biological and social forces working against them.

· Mention any writing awards you won as a child (unless you are still a child or that award is a big deal; see above). No one cares that you got a "Most Thoughtful Essay" award in fourth grade for your three-paragraph treatise on Betsy Ross.

· Try to trick the agent. (Fun fact: everyone in the industry knows that anyone with $50 can nominate themselves for a Pulitzer. Telling us you're nominated won't fool us.)

· Mention where you earned your undergraduate or graduate degree(s), except maybe an MFA, and even then, be judicious. Agents are interested in your book, not the school(s) you attended. (This is not the case if your professional credentials are part of your platform; see above.)

In short: if you've won an award or otherwise earned some kind of recognition that you believe sets you apart from 90% of the crowd, include it. Otherwise, don't put it in your query; when push comes to shove (and it will, gentle authors), agents and editors only care about your novel and your willingness to promote it (in that order). No more, no less.


  1. Thanks for clearing the air on half a dozen questions I had.

    Anyone with $50 can nominate themselves for a Pulitzer.

    Wow. Do you get a certificate? Like, you know, I could show to my date?

  2. Your willingness to promote IS a big deal, but how exactly do you get that across in a query letter?

  3. You mean my "Circle of Friends" blogger award isn't going to cut it... :P

    You make good points, but I'm surprised to hear about the Pulitzer nomination requirements. (none)

  4. Dear Eric,

    I'm criticizing this ridiculous, insensitive post in my blog tomorrow. It'll be up at 12:01 AM, as usual.

    I could e-mail you professional to professional about this...but I'm not going to.


    Gordon Jerome

  5. Dear Gordon,

    To the extent that your comment warrants a response: fire away.

    Thanks for reading,


  6. Eric -

    For the life of me, I cannot imagine what Gordon Jerome found to be "ridiculous" or "insensitive" in your post.

    It was, as usual, full of helpful, pertinent, valuable and, above all, professional information.

    Please keep up the great work.

    Sharen Ford

  7. Eric: I think you just got the blog version of a glove to the face. And, sir, as the winner of the Combreviations Recreational Award for Posting (CRAP), I second that glove. Slap! I will continue to use my CRAP trophy in all of my queries!

  8. Eric, You insenstive clod!:)

    Seriously, thanks for clearing that up for me. I was wondering about a non-fiction award, OK, a journalism award, not very noir. So no dice, huh. Too bad. Agents are so fussy.

    I have CRAP trophy envy.

  9. Lucky for you, Terry, I am willing to trade you one CRAP trophy in exchange for $20k. Please wire the money to my associate in Nigeria. He's a prince! No, literally. That's what he told me.

  10. Ha, ha, Laura. I'm sure he is a prince... and not a toad:)

    I wish I had the $20K to send you for that coveted CRAP award!

  11. Uh oh. You replied to Gordon. You'll never get rid of him now. That's like feeding bacon to my Boxer.

    But more can nominate yourself for a Pulitzer? So that explains Lonesome Dove!

  12. yee haa! I am running off to log onto the Pulitzer site- I have so many idiot-friends who will be impressed by my "nomination!"

  13. Thanks for the list, Eric. Very helpful.



  14. Hmmm. My previous comment didn't stick. Weird.

    Anyway, what I wrote yesterday was that I disagree with your suggestion not to mention undergrad/grad school. I don't think these things are CREDITS, per se, but I think they fit nicely into the final "bio" paragraph of a query letter. I live in [town], I am [married, with kid, etc], I graduated from [school] and I love [hobby]. Just a little more insight into who they'd be working with, if they chose to represent me. And, it's at the end of the query! Agents can always ignore it.