by J.D. Rhoades
I had the honor this past year to serve as one of the committee chairmen for the MWA’s Edgar Awards. The committee that I headed up was the Best Young Adult Mystery, and let me tell you, it was an eye-opener. I went into it not knowing that much about the whole YA field, except Harry Potter (which I liked but could take or leave, based on the first book) and the TWILIGHT series, which I haven’t read, but which I hear an awful lot about from the teenagers in my house (one liked it okay, the other loathes it).
After reading through a boatload of submissions, though, I was extremely impressed by both the breadth and depth of the subject matter and the quality of the writing. It was a tough choice, and the voting went several rounds, but I’m comfortable with the eventual winner: John Green‘s PAPER TOWNS.
The voting process itself is shrouded in secrecy and covered by a variety of confidentiality agreements that make the whole selecting-the-Pope thing seem transparent. But I thought that, since I’m sure new committees are hard at work reading through a new batch of submissions, I’d toss out some general suggestions to publishers and publicists on how not to make committee members (and committee chairmen) hate you.
You need to understand that some of the things I am going to tell you in the following paragraphs may not seem fair. That’s because they really are not fair. They are a natural function of the judges being human. Judges, if they’re doing their jobs. do try to be better than the average human, but don’t stake your book’s chances on their succeeding.
- Know what genre, if any, the award is for. The Edgars, for example, is given by the MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA. I put that in all caps because it apparently escaped the notice of some publishers. Since these awards are–let me say it again–from the MYSTERY WRITERS OF AMERICA, perhaps–and this is just a thought– the novels you send should have at least some component of mystery or crime in them. We got some beautifully written, moving books that just did not fit the genre, no matter how far we tried to stretch it. I began to think about midway through that a lot of books get submitted because some harried publicist told a summer intern “go pull some books to submit for the Edgar Award” and the poor clueless intern was too cowed to admit that he or she didn’t know what the hell the Edgar Award was. Well, poor clueless intern may not know, but you can bet your boots the judges do, and they’re slogging through a lot of submissions. If you really cannot rest until the judges read your fantasy epic or your beautiful, sensitive coming of age tale, neither one of which has so much as a stolen bike to bring it into the realm of crime fiction, then send it after the awards, when they might actually have time to read something else. Otherwise, they will hate you.
- Do not send ten books the week before the contest deadline. I know you’re busy and stuff slips up on you. But all of the judges are working writers, and they have deadlines, too. Your gem may not get as thorough a read if the judges only have a day and a half to do it. And they will hate you.
- On the other hand, if you send books too early, it’s possible that the book the judges all loved early on is going to get pushed aside in their memory by the one they just read that they love, too. See “this is not fair” above. So when do you send them? I’d say about midway through the period. the judges may breathe a heavy sigh when the UPS guy shows up with another dozen books, but they probably won’t hate you. Much.
- Once the submission period is over, please do not ask if the judges will consider “just one more” that you forgot to submit. Sorry, I know stuff happens, mistakes get made, and it’s not the writer’s fault. The committee chair may really want to help you out, but I for one had no real wish to open that particular floodgate, because the old cliche is actually true: if they do it for you, they have to do it for everyone else. And, since what you’re making the chair and/or the committee do is make an innocent writer suffer for something that was not their fault, said chair and/or committee will feel guilty, and thus, will hate you.
A final note: Maybe it’s because I haven’t gone to the right places in the blogosphere, but I was happy to see a big decrease this year in the usual bitching and whining about how the Edgars suck, how awards in general suck, how it’s all political, people only vote for their friends, blah blah blah. I can’t speak for the other committees, but the folks on the YA committee (Our Pari, Our Cornelia, Jeff Shelby, and Lori G. Armstrong) volunteered cheerfully with only a minimum of begging on my part. Then they worked very hard and bent over backwards to be fair, even when publishers violated the above guidelines. And I certainly didn’t hear any of the “well, this needs to win because such and such won last year” reasoning that awards judges are sometimes accused of.
Thanks guys, it was an honor to be your chairperson. And thanks, Cornelia, for being there to present the award itself.
So, ‘Rati: any of you ever judge an award? Have any suggestions of your own? Readers, if you’d like to chime in with your own stories, or even a “this book should’ve won” complaint, feel free. Just don’t trash my committee, or I’ll have to take steps. You don’t want me to take steps.