Saturday, January 9, 2016

What is like to be on a book award committee?

As we approach this year's announcement, our attention is focused on the big book awards such as the Caldecott and Newbery. But there are dozens of awards of all shapes and sizes. After serving on a lot of award committees, I can tell you that the experience varies greatly depending on the award.

Here's some of the questions I get asked a lot:

How do you get on the award committee?
-Sometimes you get nominated, and then selected by a nominating committee to be on the ballot, and then win an election. Or you get appointed by the head of the association to be on the committee.

-Sometimes you fill out an application and send in writing samples.

-Sometimes you tell the chair of the committee that you’re interested.

How do you get eligible books to read?
-Sometimes they are sent in large boxes that arrive from publishers of all sizes on your doorstep full of hardcover, first editions of all the books they’ve published that season.

-Sometimes they are sent in occasional envelopes from publishers and directly from self-published authors.

-Sometimes you spend countless hours in the library and searching relevant databases and review journals desperately trying to find eligible books.

How do you decide on the winners?
-Sometimes everyone on the committee comes together from all over the country, and are sequestered for several days in one room until they emerge with the results.

-Sometimes you meet several times over the course of a year for short meetings.

-Sometimes you use e-mail or Skype, but never actually meet or talk to other committee members in person.

What do the authors and illustrators think about being given your award?
-Sometimes it literally changes their lives. Sometimes it lets them afford to be a full-time author or illustrator when they couldn’t before. Sometimes they cry or exclaim in joy or are at a loss for words when you tell them they’ve won. 

-Sometimes they are honored and touched. They hadn’t heard of your award before but they are delighted to be recognized and truly appreciate it.

-Sometimes they don’t even know they’ve won until they Google their name.

How does the public find out about your list of winners?
-Sometimes they are announced with great fanfare at a giant press conference in front of over a thousand people who scream and cheer while others tune in to the big moment online from all over the country.

-Sometimes they are read at a small conference in front of people who have never heard of any of the books on your list but applaud politely at the end.

-Sometimes they are announced in a press release that you send to everyone you know in the hopes that someone will notice your wonderful books.

How is the award presented?
-Sometimes it is given at a beautiful banquet in front of people from every part of the children’s literature world, while the winner gives a carefully crafted and lengthy speech, which is later published and studied by graduate students.

-Sometimes the winner speaks for a few minutes at an event honoring many books and award recipients.

-Sometimes the winner gets the award in the mail.

What can you say about the award process?
-Sometimes it’s all an enormous secret and you can’t breathe a word of any of it. People hang on everything you say; even the tiniest detail, and you can never, ever, ever let a real piece of information about what actually happened escape your lips. Or else.  

-Sometimes you can reveal why certain books won and why others lost.

-Sometimes even if you could tell every single detail about the whole entire process, the award is so obscure that no one, probably not even the winning author, would be interested.

What remains the same?
-No matter the prestige of the award, book award committees are a lot of work. They involve reading and analyzing an enormous quantity of books, staying as impartial as possible, and making difficult choices. 

-You have to work together with your committee and recognize that other people have different points of view. The book you love, others may hate and vice versa. It's not an individual decision but a group compromise.

-They help shine recognition on quality books for children and ideally get great books into the hands of readers. 

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