This time of year, our genre has a lot of awards and best-of lists going on. The Rainbow Awards, so wonderfully organized by Elisa Rolle, are perhaps the most prominent, but groups ranging from Goodreads M/M Romance Members’ Choice Awards to a dozen of our favorite blogs will be posting best of 2016 award lists. Some are reader-voted (once, or over and over), some are jury selections, some are the blogger’s own choices. And no two will ever be the same.
It’s wonderful, as an author, to be mentioned in awards and best-of lists like those. I was thrilled beyond measure to have Tracefinder:Contact win the Rainbow for 2016 Best Mystery/Thriller with gay MCs. It’s lovely to be nominated by readers who think my name and my books should be on those lists. And then, sometimes I’m not.
There’s also no denying that our books tastes vary. Sometimes we’ll come across a list and wonder who the heck that number two author we never heard of is. Or why that book we’re so proud of isn’t even on that 52-title long list of nominations. It shouldn’t matter, but it can. For a moment.
But then, I remember, it’s also a good thing. In a way, the variety of recognition, the way every list is different, is so valuable in reminding me that every book has its audience, including my never-winners. Every author speaks to someone’s heart. Getting votes may be more about whose fans like to jump on repeat voting, or whose readers go to which blog, or whether your book landed in the hands of one award judge who loves your style, or doesn’t.
Chance, variation, happenstance… those are part of the public recognition lists we see coming out.
But it’s good to remember that most books and writers, winner or not, are a touch to the heart, or a lift on a bad day, for someone. I have books that will never win an award – stories of mine with lower ratings, with small readership – that nonetheless brought me a review, or comment, or email from a reader. “I read this when I was sick after my kidney transplant and it gave me hope.” “I had a neighbor who reminds me of Nelson, and this makes me hope he also found his happy ever after guy and stopped being lonely.” “The things you write about the mother are so true. It’s hard. I really like how Kellen can have love, anyway. I’m hoping for me too, someday.” “I was so down yesterday, and your story made it better. I read it twice in a row. Thanks for writing. Don’t stop.”
That’s what I want the awards and best of season to help remind us of, not the competition but the value of the words. Yes, some books are widely-seen as wonderful and garner a lot of awards. Yes, I hope that winning something myself will bring me new readers, because I‘m proud of my books and I have two kids in college and I’m not so altruistic I don’t want my books to sell.
But also, I like the reminder that this genre is big, and diverse, and wonderful. That we can fit 41 different categories full of nominations. That there can be winning books I don’t know, and even authors I’ve never heard of, to explore in the new year. And that books of mine may never get recognition, and yet they also matter, and sit alongside favorite reads of mine that somehow didn’t make lists either. That those books still get me reviews that say, “When I read this book, I suddenly saw something about myself. I saw a truth I hadn’t been able to put into words. I just sat and cried, happy tears, because it was like a door opening.”
That book never got so much as a mention, for any award. And yet, for that person, it was worth everything. I’m glad I wrote it. It’s not a failure, or a lesser work, or a sign I should give up because I didn’t make those lists. Stories are important. Art is important.
And sometimes, this season, that can be hard for some of us to remember.
Because it’s perhaps easy for me to say, when I do sometimes win, and when I am on more than enough nomination lists to warm my heart. But there are favorite books of mine and favorite authors, whom I nominate because I can’t believe no one else has. There are books I have read in the dark, in the cold, in the sad times, to keep my heart and hope going, that have never won an award. And I desperately hope that those authors keep writing, even if they don’t have the “Rainbow Winner” sticker to put on their website. I hope those books go on finding fans, even if it has to be slowly, one reader at a time.
And I’d like to suggest, in this sometimes cold, dark, emotional time of year (or, in the other hemisphere, hot, busy, and emotional), when we are stressed and celebrating and mourning and wondering if we’re good enough, and dealing with family criticism and our own inability to be perfect…
If you have a book you love, that doesn’t often make lists, take the time to write a little review (even just “I loved this book so much!”) Or email the author and tell them privately. Or go to somewhere with open nominations and put in that book, not expecting it to win but to affirm that it belongs on that list, in your heart. Maybe someone else will find it and love it too. Maybe an author who is feeling worthless will see that their work matters. Let’s raise each other up. (And I don’t mean mine, please. I have wonderful fans who already put me plenty of places. I mean that orphan book you keep telling people “I don’t know why it only has six reviews!” Write in that one.)
The M/M Romance Group on Goodreads still has nominations open through the 17th: https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18350004-the-6th-annual-m-m-romance-group-members-choice-awards—now-open-cate
Gay Book Reviews is still taking write-in nominations, and votes, for best author and book : http://gaybook.reviews/2016/12/02/vote-for-your-favorite-mm-author-for-2016/
There are lots of ways to both share your favorite books, and tell your favorite author that their work matters. This year, more than most, there are people in this genre who need to know that art matters, writing matters, the stories give hope, whether they ever win an award or not. I hope you’ll help me spread the love far and wide.
Happy Holidays to all.
-Kaje Harper, Dec 2016