When we fail to do our part

I mentioned in yesterday’s wrap-up that I was feeling tremendous guilt post-awards ceremony, but it was something that crept up far before the ceremony began and far before listening in on the Best Fiction for Young Adults session. I should be fair and say that actually, my initial feelings on the subject were of frustration and anger and disappointment. But those are ultimately unfair emotions for what amounts to guilt.

See, one of my favorite books of 2011 — and one of the most well-written, engaging, exciting, and fresh books of the year for young adults — was one I had hopes could earn a little Printz sticker. I thought early on it had good potential, as so many of the reviews were positive, and there was a lot of excitement about how daring the book was. The book earned 4 starred reviews, and it showed up on numerous Mock Printz contender lists. Without doubt, this book had something to it that made it stand out.

But this isn’t a post about why Imaginary Girls didn’t garner a Printz nod.

Every year, the American Library Association’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) selects books not only for prestigious awards like the Printz, Morris, Excellence in Non-Fiction, Alex, and Odyssey, but the numerous, hard-working committees also develop a number of “best of” recognition lists, including Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults, Fabulous Films, Great Graphic Novels, Popular Paperbacks, Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers, and Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA). These lists serve a number of purposes, including assisting librarians and other youth advocates in collection development and reader’s advisory.

The last list I linked to — BFYA — is especially important because it helps whittle down what can be an overwhelming number of books published over the course of a 16-month period (September 1 of the previous calendar year through December 31 of the current calendar year, so for this year’s BFYA, titles were published between September 1, 2010 and December 31, 2011). This list recognizes the best of that huge number of books.

So how do these list and award committees get their pool of potentials? It’s kind of straight forward: those who serve on the committees work hard all year round to keep on top of the materials being published (or that have been published). Committee members do receive copies from publishers to consider, but the bulk of responsibility falls upon them to keep an eye out for other eligible titles, then they read or watch or listen to the materials and discuss them at length. For a long time, I was under the impression all of the work falls upon the committee; many of the committees even posted their current pool of contenders for everyone else to check out. It felt like one of those worlds those who weren’t serving on committees were sort of removed from all together. I’m not sure why I thought that, but it’s not true.

All of the linked-to awards and selection lists above also allow for field nominations.

Did you read that?

Anyone — teachers, librarians, authors, publishers, you, me, a teenager, any average reader — can field nominate a title for consideration to any of the above lists. As long as you’re not the author of that particular book or the publisher of that book, it’s fair game. Each of the awards and lists has a link to a form to complete, and once it’s filled out completely and correctly, it’s sent on to the committee for consideration. Of course, the field nomination needs to actually be eligible for consideration for that particular award or list, and the eligibility information is also available on the individual award/list websites.

While each and every award and selection list committee works differently, the rules are generally about the same. Here’s what the rules are about titles being considered for the Printz Award:

Field nominations are encouraged. To be eligible, they must be submitted on the official nomination form. All field nominations must then be seconded by a committee member, and periodically the chair will send a list of field nominations to committee members for this purpose. If, within thirty days, no second is forthcoming, the title will be dropped from consideration. Only those titles that have been nominated (and seconded if field nominations) may be discussed at Midwinter and Annual Conference meetings. Furthermore, all nominated titles must be discussed. Publishers, authors, or editors may not nominate their own titles.

Rules for the Excellence in Non-Fiction Award are similar:

Field suggestions are encouraged. To be eligible, they must be submitted on the official suggestion form. The form will allow for both a rationale and summary of nominated titles. Committee members will be notified of all field suggestions, which are eligible to be considered for nomination by members. Nominated titles must also have a second from a committee member. Only those titles that have been nominated will be discussed at Midwinter and Annual Conference meetings, as well as phone meetings, though a committee member may request that a suggested title be moved to the discussion list and thus treated as a nominated title. Furthermore, all nominated titles must be discussed. To prevent a conflict of interest, publishers, authors, or editors may not nominate titles in which they have a vested interest.

For both of these awards, field nominations are encouraged. As long as the book’s eligible, it will be moved to discussion, and if a committee member feels it’s worthy of consideration, it moves on.

Now, field nominations for the Best Fiction for Young Adults isn’t much different. Again, it’s encouraged, and like the awards above, titles nominated from the populous require a committee second:

Field nominations, which are nominations that come from someone who is not a member of the committee, require a second from a BFYA committee member. The chair informs the committee of field nominations, which remain active until all nominations are closed. If no committee member seconds the field nomination, the title is dropped from consideration.

As long as books are properly nominated from the field — the form’s filled out correctly and submitted correctly and the title is eligible per listed requirements — the books will be considered by the committee. There’s not a wall up that separates the committee’s considerations from those at large. Rather, the field nominations help populate the pool of contenders for awards and lists. When a field nomination comes in, the committee receives an email. If someone has read it, they’ll either second it or discuss why it shouldn’t be considered. There are legitimate reasons a book might not be seconded, and once a book is seconded, every member of the committee must read it, as with any nominated title. But thoughtful, smart nominations are always welcome.

There’s a caveat to this, but it’s one that I’ve laid out here and that’s laid out in the rules. The field nominations need to be thoughtful. The forms that read simply “this is the best book ever” as reason why it should be considered are meaningless. A good nomination will give concrete reasons for why a book should be considered for the list. Talking about the book’s appeal and what makes it better than average are important, as is discussing why and how it fits in the context of the award or list. Likewise, the books need to be within the appropriate eligibility time frame. 

Now, going back to my very original comments on this post. I feel extremely guilty this year. Even though I fell in love with Imaginary Girls, even though I thought it was one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable YA reads this year, I didn’t nominate it for anything. It didn’t occur to me to do it. I thought to myself, surely someone will nominate this book because how could they not?

And yet, when I saw the final list of BFYA titles under consideration, guess which book was not on that list?

As I mentioned earlier, my first reaction to not seeing it on the list was shock and a bit of outrage. There’s no way it didn’t meet the criteria. But when I left the auditorium after the announcements of the Youth Media Awards, I felt nothing but guilt. I read that book and I loved that book. But I didn’t do anything about putting it into the minds of those serving on the BFYA committee. I assumed someone else had this book on their radar already.

But now, it’s too late.

The reason I wanted to write this post was because I wanted to encourage everyone who reads something they like this year to take the time to nominate it if it’s eligible for a particular YALSA award or list. These hard-working committees can miss something simply because of how overwhelming their tasks are. They can miss something because they miss something. Human error happens. But anyone who reads can pitch in and do their part, too, so books like Imaginary Girls don’t unfairly slip between the cracks.

As of today, nomination forms for the 2013 awards and lists aren’t yet open, but they will be starting in February, and I will write up a post when they come out. I’ve made it a personal goal to spend an hour or two once a month going through every book I’ve read that has merit and writing up the nomination forms, even if it’s for a title that seems obvious it’d be considered. The worst that happens is my field nomination is read and considered a duplicate. The best that happens is a book like Imaginary Girls doesn’t miss its chance at consideration for something like the BFYA. I encourage you to do this too — even if it’s not at the same time frame I’ve made for myself, do take the time to fill out a nomination form for a book you love and that fits the criteria. For the five minutes it takes to complete the form, you are doing your part.

Remember — anyone can do this.

* A huge thank you to my experts Liz Burns, Sophie Brookover, and Karyn Silverman for their help in the research and fact-checking in this post.

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  1. says

    Imma let you finish, but Imaginary Girls was the best book of all time. Of ALL TIME!

    Seriously though, great post, and a really good point – it's too easy to float along sometimes figuring, "Somebody else'll do this." Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  2. says

    I had no idea that "regular" people could do nominations! I was absolutely heartbroken that Between Shades of Gray didn't even get an Honor. This year I will be SURE to nominate the books that I believe are worthy!

    • says

      I don't think many people know that! As long as you can articulate why it's worth nominating and it's eligible, then it's worth the effort.

      Between Shades of Gray DID get a Morris honor and made the top ten of BFYA. Those are two huge honors to garner!

  3. says

    Thank you SO much for getting the word out about this. Details such as field nominations are not easy to find within all the other words of a website. I am looking forward to seeing more follow-up about this through the year.

    • says

      I do think you make a good point about it not being the most user-friendly site. And it's not entirely transparent. Hopefully this helps someone, even if it's just me, take the time and effort in the next year to do the work of nominating worthy titles for consideration.

  4. Anonymous says

    It doesn't help when in years past (thoughtfully written and considered) field nominations that I've written have been summarily ignored by the BBYA/BFYA committee. So while I do not want to discourage anyone from doing this, my experiences have not been the most positive. And I agree that Imaginary Girls deserved to be on the list, certainly more than a few others (but I'll be kind and not name titles).

  5. says

    Yes, yes, yes! This is a great goal and one I'm going to do, too – make sure that my favorites are nominated. I would add to this that many state book awards take field nominations, too. Each state is different (for some states you may have to be a teacher or belong to the state library association, etc.), but check on your state's process and make sure you're nominating for that, too!

  6. says

    Thanks for posting about this, Kelly! I've known about field nominations, but always just assumed that someone else would nominate the titles I love — obviously not so! Definitely should have nominated Like Mandarin.

    • says

      Oh wow, my guilt just went up MORE in realizing that one wasn't on the consideration list either! Another book I adored this year and that had definite BFYA consideration qualities.

  7. says

    I have to say that this is one thought-provoking post. I had no idea it was possible to do this! Thank you for letting us all know. It's definitely knowledge that'll be put to good use in the future.

  8. says

    I just took Imaginary Girls out of the library and now I'm even more excited to read it. I had no idea that anyone could nominate a title. Thank you for telling us!

  9. says

    While I new about field nominations, I never did it, because "Imaginary Girls is the AWESOME and OBVIOUSLY someone will nominate it."

    And no one did. And Imaginary Girls is not alone on this. I'm with you on the guilt.

    My New Year's resolution is to nominate every awesome (eligible) book I read.

    • says

      Exactly what my thoughts were, too! And then walking away and realizing *I* could have done the five minute work to nominate it has given me such guilt. And you're right — Imaginary Girls was not alone. Like Mandarin was another one not in consideration, as was The Returning, which got a Printz honor (but not a BFYA consideration).

      If we all take a little time to do it, the chances of this happening again get smaller :)

  10. says

    During my time on Amazing Audiobooks (2 years), we had maybe 2 field nominations (and I think one was from a former committee member who had just cycled off the committee). I can't remember if either one made the list, but they were definitely considered. The audiobook publishers seemed to do a pretty good job of submitting their new releases, but at the end of the day we only had so many committee members and so much time to listen, so some titles just didn't get listened to, plain and simple. A field nomination would have definitely made a title a priority. Nominate, nominate, nominate!

    • says

      I think this is it EXACTLY: "at the end of the day we only had so many committee members and so much time to listen, so some titles just didn't get listened to, plain and simple."

      You guys bust your butts to make these lists happen and to make these awards happen, and the onus SHOULDN'T be entirely on the committee. It belongs to all of us!

  11. says

    I'm definitely happy that I took the time to nominate Where Things Come Back for the Morris this year. It was my first field nomination EVER. I'm ridiculously proud of myself for it. If you can't tell. Although, with this call to arms, I'm a little scared that my committee workload will be LARGER. 😉

    • says

      You should feel proud of yourself about making the nomination!

      And yeah, maybe it means your workload will go up a bit, but it's worth it if it means THE BEST are being selected from as large a pool as possible. You know this from Cybils 😉

  12. says

    This just reminds me that the more you put into YALSA (or really any organization), the more you get out. It's a small thing, nominating, but it makes all the difference.

  13. Anonymous says

    This happened to me last year and I felt horrible about it. I know how much work goes into our committees and it's up to us to get the nomination list right before they can do their work.
    I wasn't pleased with several things at ALAMW this year. Some committee picks were off for me. Some were way off. Until I read your post I felt like backing away from the process because I'm not sure I can help when it seems the quality criteria is changing. But your post helped me want to jump back in. Thank you! I may not be able to choose the winners when I'm not on a committee, but at least I can make sure the great books are nominated. I also love Imaginary Girls and was sad not to see it on BFYA.

    • says

      The only way we can feel good about it is if we take the time to nominate, you know? At least knowing you DID it is enough to know you did your part (even if the end results aren't what you'd hoped).

      Committee processes are always going to be different, depending on the committee, and not all committees work the same way. Sometimes it's a vote and sometimes it's a rank system. That can wildly impact the way things fall.

      But, we have to do our part as non-members to ensure those who are on the committee have the widest range of titles from which to work with and choose from.

  14. says

    Kelly, I had absolutely NO IDEA this was possible. Thank you so much for sharing this info. Tweeting this out to all my Tweeps right now. I follow lots of teachers that were really invested in the ALA awards this year. I wonder how many of them know this.

    • says

      I think that's a big problem — it's NOT all that obvious anyone can nominate a title. Teachers are probably among the best people TO nominate. So, yes, spread the word!

  15. says

    I was on Amazing Audiobooks last year. We received exactly one field nomination, and it wound up on our top ten. This year, I'm chairing Amazing Audiobooks, and I'd *love* to see more field nominations. Bring 'em on!

    • says

      I would think *anyone* would love more field nominations — as long as they fit the criteria, of course. The wider the field, the more true to a "best of" you can get!

  16. says

    I was on Amazing Audiobooks last year. We received exactly one field nomination, and it wound up on our top ten. This year, I'm chairing Amazing Audiobooks, and I'd *love* to see more field nominations. Bring 'em on!

  17. says

    This is a terrific post. I especially love the suggestion to review our shelves at the end of each month and fill out the nominations as we think of books that are a cut above. I suspect that my What Can't Wait made it on BFYA because of a field nomination, although there's no way to be sure, of course.

    Much gratitude to you for taking the time to articulate the issue and call us to action.

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