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.
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.