Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Carol Award Call

I’d missed a call from somewhere in Texas. That’s all my phone told me, so I assumed it was another political candidate or customer survey. I’d been getting a lot of them, so I didn’t mind ignoring this one either. I went about my day until about four in the afternoon when my phone rang again. This time I heard it, so I answered.

“Hi, Liz, this is Mindy.”

I knew her name well. After all, I’d sent her copies of all of my books over the years to enter them into the ACFW Carol Award contest. If you’re not familiar with the Carol Awards, think Screen Actors Guild Awards of Christian fiction. Once upon a time they were called simply the ACFW Book of the Year Awards. ACFW members get to enter their books published during the calendar year and other ACFW members read and judge them.

So why was Mindy calling me? I was stumped. The ACFW conference was almost three months away, and she’d long ago confirmed that my books for this year’s contest had arrived with the right paperwork. Had there been a problem?

“I’m just calling to let you know that A Star in the Night, which is part of A Log Cabin Christmas Collection”—She was sure to specify this either because it was on the information sheet in front of her or because she thought I might have forgotten what book it was in.—“is a finalist for the ACFW Carol Award in the novella category.”

I subdued a little shriek. After all, I was at my day job, and it wouldn’t do to create a ruckus. I think I managed to thank her before she added, “Now, you can’t tell anyone until the finalists are officially announced in two weeks. Only your spouse.”

Well, I’m not married, so that left me with two weeks of biting my tongue. And plenty of time to really think about what this meant. After the news settled in, I seriously considered canceling my registration for the September ACFW Conference and staying at home that weekend. In fact, if I hadn’t already bought my plane ticket, I might have done just that.

It’s exciting to get that call. It’s such an honor to be named by my peers as an example of excellence in Christian fiction. It’s sweet recognition for working so hard on a story that I love.

And it’s downright terrifying.

You see, being a finalist for any award is a double edged sword. Sure, it’s fun to put on a pretty dress, do up your hair, and take pictures with your friends, also in their finest.  But then, you have to sit through a three-course meal. Sure, it’s always tasty, but that doesn’t make up for the wait. Every bite takes an hour when you really, really just want to know who won your category so you can relax for the rest of the evening. 

Just when you think the anxiety might get you, they finally announce the beginning of the awards. And this is the perfect time to crawl under the table because, if you lose, you have to sit at a semi-formal banquet and not only be gracious to the winner but also appear gracious, lest you become an internet meme. Take for example McKayla Maroney, who upon winning the Olympic silver medal in the women’s gymnastics individual vault competition, was caught with a pained expression. This one picture prompted an entire tumblr called McKayla is Not Impressed. Heaven forbid if you have even a flicker of a less than gracious expression that’s caught and posted online for the world to see. You can’t let your smile drop at all the rest of the night, or you’ll be pegged as a sore loser.

But is winning really any better? Writers are notorious introverts, so hearing your name called to walk up on stage, accept your award, and say a few words is no less daunting than writing a book in a weekend.  You’re sucking in your stomach, wishing you’d gone to the gym at least a few more times leading up to the conference and praying that your Spanx don’t roll down to your knees. And that chocolate-y goodness you gobbled down for dessert? It isn’t sitting quite right anymore.

You stumble up the steps to the stage then through a few remarks, rushing down the wrong set of stairs. It’s not until they’re taking a picture of you holding your award that you realize that you’ve thanked a husband you don’t have and completely forgotten to thank your agent who got your book picked up in the first place. You accept pats on the back as you make your way to your table, but all you really want is to go back to your hotel room and hide from all the attention.

All right. Both edges of that sword are more than a little extreme. Awards are wonderful, and if I win in a couple weeks, I’ll know that I have a lot of people to thank. I couldn’t have written A Star in the Night without the support and feedback of many. And if I lose, I’ll take heart knowing that the other finalists in my category are incredibly talented writers. (I’ve read their books, too.) It really is an honor just to be named among them.

But for me, my favorite awards are the letters from readers who were moved by something I wrote. The ones who tell me how God used my book in their lives.

And I can enjoy those in the privacy of my own home.

Have you won any awards? Have you lost an award? How did you respond? What’s your tip for being gracious in either situation?

Liz Johnson


  1. Loved this post, Liz! Especially the comment about the Spanx! Lol congrats on your nomination and good luck! I hope you are able to relax and enjoy your night.

  2. You can't be gracious in a moment like that.
    It's not time to me gracious but thankful and overwhelmed. LOL
    Thank you for sharing and Congratulations!

  3. So funny, Liz, and so true. Is it better to not win and stay in your seat or to win and then have to stumble to the microphone? A question all finalists face.

    Good luck to you and to all those up for the Carol Award!

  4. Thanks, Eva, Karen, Teresa, and Debby. I'm glad you liked this post. I confessed to my agent about having these feelings, and she kindly reminded me to just try to have fun. It's a great night celebrating Christian fiction, one of my favorite things in the world, so I'll sit back and try to relax.

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  6. Great post.
    I remember the year I won the CAROL. I had no acceptance speech. I'd noted the names I was up against and KNEW I couldn't possibly win. When I did win, I stopped breathing, all the way to the stage. I blathered something and left the banquet room to go cry LOL