Saturday, January 21, 2017

Demystifying the phone calls

One of the exciting things about the ALA Youth Media Awards (including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals) is that after the winners have been decided, the committees pick up the phone and actually call the winners. These calls have long fascinated me and I’ve asked every honoree I’ve ever met what their phone call story is. Often, these stories are part of award acceptance speeches or featured in press interviews.

After hearing so many of these wonderful stories, one detail has emerged over and over. The people getting these calls really have no idea what to expect. They’ve heard rumors and they all think they know what time the call will happen, but the reality turns out very different.

Here’s a little information about the phone calls, in case you're wondering what they are like or are hoping to receive one. 

It's already over
If you are reading this post on Sunday, you can stop worrying about if they will pick your book. The decision has already been made. It needs to be made by Saturday night. On Sunday morning the committees work on the press release. On Sunday afternoon they keep their mouths shut while everyone asks them what won. On Sunday night they make a futile attempt to go to bed early to be up in time for the phone calls. 

They call when they call
I hear so frequently that people expect calls at a specific time, and when the phone doesn't ring at that time, they think all is lost. Don't worry so much about the exact time. There's a lot going on the morning of the press conference. Maybe at the time you were expecting the phone to ring the committee is getting their press photo taken. Maybe another committee is using the phone. Maybe your voicemail picked up and they decided to try you again after they finished calling everyone else. If your phone is supposed to ring, it will ring. 

The calls do not take your time zone into account
The press conference is typically at 8 am. So, let's say the committee you're hoping for makes their calls at 6:30 am. That's 6:30 am in whatever time zone the conference is being held. If the conference is on the east coast, and you are on the west coast, it is not out of the realm of possibility for you to get a call at 3:30 am. They call when they call. 

Not all of the committees call on Monday morning
The Caldecott and Newbery committees call on Monday morning before the press conference, but committees like the Sibert, Geisel, Schneider, Wilder, etc. call Sunday afternoon or evening and sometimes even on Saturday. Different committees are on different schedules.

The caller ID might surprise you
If ALA Midwinter is happening in Boston, you might reasonably expect your phone to say Boston Convention Center when the call comes through. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. The calls my committee made, which were placed from a phone in the convention center, came up as "Unknown Caller." Sometimes committees call from cell phones, so your caller ID will read whatever state the person who owns the phone is from. 

If you have an eligible book, answer your phone the whole weekend of Midwinter. Maybe you won't win a medal, but you might win a free cruise.

There are a lot of people on the phone
This is not an intimate chat. You are called by the chair of the committee, as the rest of the committee stands huddled around listening on speakerphone. The Newbery and Caldecott committees are each composed of 15 people; the other committees are smaller.

The calls are short
They tell you your book won or received an honor, listen to your wonderful reaction, congratulate you and then it’s time for them to call the next person. It’s not a half hour chat with the committee.

You get a call for each award
If your book wins a Geisel and a Coretta Scott King Award and a Caldecott (or an honor) expect three phone calls. Each committee works separately and doesn’t talk to the other committees. The committee calling you has no idea what other awards your book may have received until they find out at the press conference with everyone else.

The calls happen according to a script
Your part of the call and what you say is spontaneous, but what's happening on the other end of the line isn't. The chair of the committee is reading from a script. If you ask a question such as who else won or who you can tell, the chair reads the answer from the Q and A section of the script. That being said, the emotion coming from the committee is very real and genuine and shines through.

Here’s a glimpse at the phone calls I was lucky enough to be a part of in February 2015.

The other end of the phone
For me, this was one of the most magical parts of being on the committee. The committee I was on chose a record setting six honors, which meant that including the winner, we got to make seven phone calls. After a few calls, I felt like we were calling everyone in the world to tell them they had won a Caldecott Honor.

I later found out what was going on at the recipient’s ends of the phones- who was sound asleep, who had recently moved, who was on vacation, etc. but that morning those calls were about spreading pure joy. Being able to tell this enormous piece of good news to each person who picked up the phone was incredible and unforgettable.

The calls are just wonderful. If your phone rings, enjoy every second. And if it doesn’t ring, read this

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