So on Thursday night last week I was having a really, really annoying evening due to a series of circumstances that involved, to name a few, my kids, paper airplanes, and the Spanish postal service. (These things are not necessarily related to each other.) As I tend to when I am tired and out of it but can’t focus on anything productive because of the aforementioned kids, I was scrolling mindlessly through my social media feeds, and then noticed I’d been tagged in the following Tweet:
— Newfound (@NewfoundOrg) November 9, 2017
So I sat there staring at it for a few seconds, trying to register what it meant that my name was appearing only two words away from the words “Pushcart Prize”.
Wait. Wait. I was just nominated for the Pushcart Prize?
The Pushcart Prize is a Big Frikkin’ Deal, isn’t it?
Ahh, but don’t worry, my friends. My self-doubt demons kicked right into gear. My next move was to type the following into Google:
Because, I mean, come on. Let’s not get hasty in getting excited, shall we. Excitement is for amateurs.
Sadly, my self-doubt demons knew exactly what they were doing. The very first result that popped up was a blog post by one Jon Fox called “An Open Letter to Pushcart Nominated Folks.” I’m not linking to it because I don’t want to give the man more Google karma. The upshot of Mr. Fox’s letter was that getting nominated for the Pushcart is not really that big a deal and y’all need to stop mentioning it in your bios and cover letters because it makes you look desperate. After all, like, every single literary magazine is eligible to nominate up to 6 people, so that’s, like, a lot of people, and if a lot of people receive this distinction, it’s not all that special, is it?
Hmm. So I headed back over to Newfound to check how much stuff they’d published in the past year. Just one issue, so overall, I’d been selected, along with five others, out of a list of around 30 other writers. And is it really 30, anyway, ’cause there are, like, interviews here, and do they count? And they didn’t nominate any essays? Maybe it’s more like six out of 15. 18, maybe, including the essays. Not terribly impressive by the numbers. Score 1 for the self-doubt demons.
Fortunately, I didn’t stop with Mr. Fox’s open letter, and further down the page of Google results was another open letter in response to his: An Open Letter to Pushcart Nominees: Brag It Up, You Beautiful Geniuses! by author and poet E. Kristin Anderson. (Pushcart-nominated author and poet, she specifies in her bio!) Kristin’s take on the matter was far more to my taste: “An editor reads SO MANY poems (stories, essays) every year. Like, jillions. Okay, maybe more like thousands. But, still. It’s overwhelming. To even be published in a magazine is a struggle and a challenge. And, sure, throw some statistics at me, Jon Fox. Tell me that there are XYZ nominees because there are ABC journals. I don’t really care. Because one editor championed my piece and a handful of others from a whole year of submissions, from a whole year of poems that he published. Tell me, how is that not a big deal?”
Yeah, Mr. Fox, self-doubt demons et al?
How is not a big deal that a mere year and a half ago I wrote these words in this very blog: “I am now 29, with another novel, a novella, and a handful of short stories under my belt… and more than 200 rejection letters to show for all of it. That’s it. Not one of them has been published”… and not only have I had five short stories and one novel published since then, a team of editors from one literary magazine decided that one of those stories was one of the six best pieces they’d published that year and nominated it to be considered for publication by the very embodiment of literary snobbery itself?
HOW IS THAT NOT A BIG DEAL?
As to whether one should mention it in a cover letter or bio: in my opinion, that depends on your audience and what your goal is. So much of this industry is marketing, and so much of marketing is about getting a second glance; and the words Pushcart Prize–no matter what appears before or after–are going to get you a second glance. If the editor is then going to turn up their nose that you are a mere nominee, well, a pox on them.
Oh, and here’s the story if you’re interested in reading it. 😉