What Do You Say to a Loser?

           Pari Noskin Taichert

Sorry for the late post today; I’ve been trying to catch up on life since returning from Malice Domestic late last night.

Rather than recap the convention, I thought I’d offer my own little primer on an important etiquette question that seems to have escaped many a manner maven.

What do you say to someone who has been nominated for a national award . . . but, alas, loses?

Since I’ve begun to refer to myself as the Susan Lucci of the Agathas (of course . . . I should be so lucky), I’ve built a sturdy, big soapbox upon which to stand.

Before I get too distracted, let me just say one thing:


YES. IT REALLY IS. And, I hear winning is pretty nice, too.

For many, talking to an author who has lost an award can be a disconcerting experience. I mean, how do you offer condolences for something as nebulous as a “coulda, shoulda, woulda?”

First, let me get the negative stuff out of the way. Some people feel compelled to say something to nominees after the winner is announced.

The following are a few unpleasantries uttered to me that didn’t sit quite right . . . 

(Remember . . . If you want to avoid embarrassment, you can always run from the finalist, or duck into a bathroom close by, rather than commit these gaffs.)

1. “I couldn’t find your book anywhere.”

Oh, pluhleeez. With all the mystery bookstores, chain outlets and online resources available today . . . no nominated book is that difficult to find.

2. “What was your name?”

3. “Oh? You were a nominee?”

4. “Why would anyone nominate YOU?”

Now that I’ve got that out of my system here are some great phrases to use. Any one of them will work with most authors:


1. “Congratulations.”

2. “I voted for you.” (This works even if you’re lying.)

(Another nice line is: “You deserve it” which implies that the nomination wasn’t simply a miscalculation. Believe me, we writers are an insecure group. Ask me what I said to the Awards chair when she called to tell me about the honor in the first place.)

3. “I love your books. When’s the next one coming out?”


(This one works for any major media outlet.)


1. “Oh, I wish you’d won.”

2. “I love your books. When’s the next one coming out?”

3. “What an incredible honor to be nominated.” (Note the lack of the word “Just” as in “What an incredible honor JUST to be nominated.” Somehow that little word can negate the phrase to an author who’s licking her ego-wounds a tad.)

4. “The vote was fixed.”

5. “I’ve got a call in to my friend at the OPRAH/CHARLIE ROSE/THE TODAY SHOW.” 


1. “Oh, I wish you’d won.”

2. “I love your books. When’s the next one coming out?”

3. “What an incredible honor to be nominated.”

4. “Would you like a drink?”

5. “Let me buy you a drink.”

6. “You should have won.”

7. “Wow. Is your glass empty already? Let me buy you a drink.”

8. “My friend at the OPRAH/CHARLIE ROSE/THE TODAY SHOW wants to talk to you tomorrow.” 


The thing here is to avoid pity. The finalist has now – probably – come to terms with the loss. Still, a bit of ego massaging and friendly support never hurts.

1. “Congratulations.”

This remains an elegant and simple response.

2. “You should’ve won.” “I voted for you.”

I’m sorry, but these will never stop feeling good – and they in no way imply that the winner didn’t deserve the award.

3. “I buy all of your books as soon as they come out.”

4. “I hope you liked the box of chocolates (or bottle of Glenlivet) I sent.”

5. “Oprah still says you were the best interviewee she ever had.”


Since I didn’t get to say it on stage . . . I want to take a moment to thank everyone who nominated and voted for me at Malice last year and this year. It was – and remains – and incredible honor.

I hope to give you many more reasons to feel my writing deserves your accolades in the future.



28 thoughts on “What Do You Say to a Loser?

  1. Lorraine T.


    As an avid reader of 4-6 mysteries every week, it may interest you to know that I’ve never chosen a single one of them based on it’s having won an award. I scanned the list of 77 I’ve read so far this year and doubt any of them won an award, but I simply don’t know.So, while winning may have felt wonderful, I can’t believe whether you did or not will make make a damn bit of difference to how your readers feel about your stories.Lorraine

  2. Pari

    Hey, Lorraine,Thanks for your comments.

    Actually, S.J. Rozan took me to task last year on the Sunday after the banquet when I was feeling sorry for myself. She said something that validates exactly what you just wrote.

    I think the winning/losing is more of an ego thing . . . and for those of us with smaller publishers, it might have some influence on whether we’ll be able to attract the attention of a bigger house.

    But, other than being absolutely exhausted today . . . I’m doing just fine.


  3. Jeff Cohen

    Okay, here’s the thing:

    Someone actually said “why would anyone nominate you” TO YOU???


    Meanwhile, let me apologize for not buying you a drink immediately after the banquet. I did take your chocolate, and gave you nothing in return. I have shamed myself and dishonored my family.

    If I knew Oprah, I’d recommend you to her immediately… well, immediately after recommending myself. Let’s be real, here.

    I did, in fact, vote for you, Pari. And it was a treat to see you at Malice, win, lose or (as in my case) not be nominated at all.

  4. Elaine

    Many thanks, Pari – for expressing what so many nominees really feel. Yes, it IS an honor to be nominated. Win or not, it’s an incredible validation of one’s work – and you’ve twice been offered that terrific knowledge. And, from the bottom of my heart-deservedly so!

    I loved some of the comments you mentioned! I received a few doozies too!

  5. JT Ellison

    You shoulda won. No ifs, ands or buts. But, you get to use the moniker for both of your books — Agatha Award Nominee, and that’s nothing to blink at. Suffice to say that THE CLOVIS INCIDENT, which was last year’s Best First Nominee, was a remarkable debut. For your sophomore effort, THE BELEN HITCH, the get an Agatha Nomination for Best Novel is a huge achievement. Most people who have stellar debuts don’t follow up. You did, and your second was even better than your first. Trophy or no, you’re a winner in my book.

  6. Pari

    Yes, Jeff . . . someone really said that.

    As to the drink, well, that can always be rectified. And, the chocolates? No problem. UPS and the USPS have one- or two-day delivery. Right?

    Actually, I doubt we’d be hot topics for Oprah . . . she doesn’t seem to like funny books much. But, I’m sure we could find someone “big” who might. I’ll be sure to recommend you . . . in time, too .pari

  7. Pari

    Naomi,It’ll be great to see you, too.

    Though I’m tired right now, I’m looking forward to being at the Festival and meeting more people who adore books.


  8. Pari

    J.T., sweetie,You came up with more wonderful comments that any finalist would love to hear . . . and that were music to my heart and ears.

    I debated about writing this piece. Would people think it was sour grapes or a plea for sympathy?

    In the end, I thought that we rarely get to hear from the people who don’t win awards because all the focus goes to the winners. That’s why I wrote it.

    I’m glad you all understand my motives were pure (well, except for the chocolate and Glenlivet plugs ).


  9. JT Ellison

    I’m glad you wrote it. Here at Murderati, we’re all about telling it like it is. No sour grapes, and no pleas for sympathy. It’s honesty and truth.Shots of scotch topped with whipped cream all around…

  10. Elaine

    Okay, you asked. The year I was nominated for Best First, a woman in an elevator said to me-‘Oh, YOU’RE Elaine Flinn? I didn’t vote for you,but I’d wished I’d met you earlier and I would have. I just love your perfume.’ I’m not kidding. And then there was a woman at the bar who said – ‘I didn’t read any of the nominees, I just voted like my friend did.’ Oh, and the best one (yes! I remember them all!)- ‘I just love Jackie Winspears accent, so I voted for her.’ No discredit to Jackie (a lovely gal),but I ask you-DOES ANYONE REALLY READ THE NOMINEES???

  11. Elaine

    Fendi. I LOVE it! And I still wear it. I used to buy it at Saks and Macy’s and now the only place I can find it is at Ross. Go figure.

  12. Maria Y. Lima

    As a fellow nominee who did not take home the teapot, I salute you!

    The Locus awards (SF/F) call the short list “finalists” – I tend to like that terminology better.

    In any case, you are always a winner in my book.

    Great seeing you!!

  13. Carstairs38

    Does anyone read the nominees? Last year I decided I was going to read all the nominees for best first novel before the awards. I already had four of them, so it should be easy.

    I’ve made it through three of them. But since I have yet to vote in the awards, it really doesn’t matter.

    Pari, when’s your next book coming out?


  14. David J. Montgomery

    Having been on the deciding end of some awards, I would like to affirm that it really is an honor to be nominated. Making the fine distinctions to pick a winner out of a group of 5 excellent books, for example, is so difficult and imprecise.

    Granted, it’s tough just compiling a shortlist of 5. But then winnowing it down to 1… Ugh.

    One book has to win, of course, but really, all of them are winners.

  15. Libby

    As one of the “also-rans” this year at Malice, I loved your post, Pari. I was struck by the number of people who came up to me and said they voted for me for short story. Did they? Who knows? Maybe yes, maybe no. Clearly, they were trying to be nice. What is curious to me is the process itself… if an award is fan-generated, it can be simply a popularity contest. If it is juried, it can be swayed by a few strong personalities. There’s always been lots of discussion one way or the other… maybe one of you can write about it further.

  16. Elaine

    Hello, Libby! Great to see you here! You brought up some interesting points about awards. I hate to say this, but I sometimes wonder if the fan-generated awards are truly a popularity thing. As for the juried awards-both David Montgomery and I (along David Liss, F.Paul Wilson and P.J.Parris) just came off judging Best First for ThrillerFest and while we were a committee of strong personalities (!)- we had no problems on that score. We got along wonderfully and our decisions were based totally on merit. I’d like to think all juried committies are the same, but then I was a judge for…well,nevermind.

  17. Pari

    Well,I sure got alot of emails on this topic . . .

    Mark, if you’re out there, I couldn’t find your email address to respond to the question about the next book.

    I’ve begun editing a decent draft (finally) and hope to complete this phase in the next month — or two — at the most. Then I send it back to my agent. He’ll find more flaws and then I’ll work on those (I hope there won’t be too many) and then send it back . . . and then he’ll shop it around. I suspect it’ll come out in ’08 or late ’07 if we’re lucky.

    In the meantime, I’ll start my new series and get another Sasha book under my belt.

    That’s the scoop. Over and out,Pari

  18. Carstairs38

    So the fact that I haven’t read Belen Hitch isn’t the end of the world?

    (Ducking and running.)

    What is it you are currently working on?

    See you Saturday.


  19. Iden Ford

    Too many awards these days for them to really matter much. In the end, you build your fan base reader by reader. To give the power of your own work over to a subjective committee, or fans who vote for their faves whether it is the best book or not, is to surrender a certain amount of ones own personal dignity and control to outside influences who have nothing to do with whether your work is appreciated by a fan base. It’s nice to get that kind of notice, but in the end it is more important to ignore that stuff and concentrate on the creative process and getting more readers.

  20. Margaret

    Pari,Congratulations.You shoulda won. I voted for you.I buy all your books the moment they come off the press.Let me know when you’re scheduled for Oprah so I won’t miss it.Let’s have a drink — my treat!Margaret


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