Behind the Scenes: Judging a Book Award

What is it like to be a judge for a book award?

Tomorrow morning the Cybils winners will be announced! I can't wait to share my opinions on all the Graphic Novel finalists with you.

Back in October 2015, I went to KidLitCon in Baltimore, and was part of a panel that discussed judging book awards. The panel was called And The Winner Is . . .: A Panel Discussion with Literary Award Judges. Here are the notes I made to prepare for that panel.

Celebrating 10 years of the Cybils Awards with founder Anne Levy

What are the personal rewards for judging a book award? Why do it?

  • Getting to know the other judges/jury members
  • The education you get by reading all the titles, the chance to think deeply
  • The free books ;)
  • You may be bound to secrecy and locked into only reading a certain type of book for a period of time, but as Susan Kusel says, "The chains are so sparkly!"

How does your particular jury influence outcomes?
People have favorites, because of their personal backgrounds and preferences. Sometimes, you win, sometimes you lose. I wrote a huge essay about why another panelists favorite shouldn't win, and convinced the other panelists not to shortlist the title Once, I wrote a huge essay about why a title should definitely be on the shortlist. It seems like huge essays are pretty convincing.

What's the one thing award judges want bloggers to know?
Whether you're on the selection committee or blogging the results, when you share award-winning books you're helping kids and parents. They want to know what to read and they want it to be vetted. We all like validation. Share the love! Even if you're a beginner pinner, you can pin a winner. ;) A cheesy joke I decided not to make.

Do you pay attention to predictions/buzz for what will win the award?
One part yes and two parts No. Yes: considering availability of a book, No: bringing new books to light, honoring best book even if it has been honored before.

How you become a book award judge? 
I can only speak for the Cybils:
  1. be at least 16.
  2. contribute to a kidlit blog monthly or more
  3. think about what category and round you'd like.
  4. have a couple posts ready to show off in your application.
What surprised you in judging a book award?
yr 1: the badness of the bad nominees
yr7: the great titles that were overlooked and not even nominated

How do you keep track of all these books and your thoughts on them?

  1. Cybils database
  2. Excel doc or Notebook.
  3. Clay tablets weren't working out for me, because my stylus broke. Another cheesy joke I decided not to make.

Why all the secrecy?
  • you're speaking for a group, not just yourself
  • avoids inflicting hurt 
  • allows extra thought and deliberation

How is reading for awards unique?
  • focused on criteria
  • you read things you wouldn't usually read
  • you're taking notes, discussing, thinking deeply and comparing
  • it has a deadline!

How is being on "The Big 3" (Caldecott, Newbery, Printz) different from judging other awards?
I've never judged one of the big three. I imagine it's much more intense. With Cybils, people don't know you're on this committee. Well, your postman knows you're getting a lot of books in the mail, if you're serving on round one! Average adults didn't grow up reading Cybils award winners, since the Cybils began in 2006. So, you get to explain the award and what it represents.

So, those were my notes. I had forgotten about those bad jokes. Glad I didn't use them. Haha.

Do you have other questions about what it's like to judge for a book award? Please ask! 

If you've been a judge and want to answer or add to one of the questions above, I'd love it! 

Leave a comment below.


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