Cybils 2014: A (Spoiler-Free) Peek Behind the Scenes

We are now well into the Round 2 judging period for the Cybils Awards, and this year I’m on the committee for Graphic Novels (both YA and Elementary/Middle Grade), which is always wonderfully fun for me. Without going into detail on the actual books themselves or my opinions (which are MUM for the time being), I did want to post a bit on the topic of how I try to evaluate the shortlisted finalists and what goes on behind the scenes when the judges deliberate. It’s been interesting to me, because I was new to the whole book-award thing before getting involved with Cybils way back in 2006. I always felt like the awards judging process for books was a bit of a black hole. Who makes these decisions? How do they happen? What if people don’t agree?

Because Cybils is a two-round process, the Round 2 judges are working from the shortlists that the Round 1 judges have settled upon, so that’s the first cut. And, obviously, because it’s a different set of judges that decide the finalists, it’s always interesting and occasionally surprising (hopefully in a good way) to see what books we’ll be judging in Round 2. This ensures that we get a variety of opinions in on the judging process.

Whether I’m reading for Round 1 or Round 2, my personal evaluation process is pretty similar when it comes to each individual book. Because the Cybils’ two main criteria are KID APPEAL and LITERARY MERIT, during and/or soon after I’ve read the book, I write down my impressions on both of these measures and assign a score out of 10 for each one. What would kids or teen readers think about the story and/or subject matter? Is the story timeless, or important, or particularly well-written? For graphic novels, I also include a score out of 10 for graphic storytelling. How effective are the visual elements, and how well do they work with the text? (If I have anything additional to say, I write more notes, which often end up in future blog posts when the mandatory judging-period silence has been lifted.)

At this point, rather prosaically, I select my personal top choice or choices based on the total out of 20 (or 30, for GNs). If titles are within a point or two of one another, factors other than pure numbers may come into play, but the numbers give me a good starting point, especially if I’m reading a long-ish list and want to make sure I remember each one well enough to consider it fairly. [Please note that these numbers and stuff are just me and my personal method of keeping track of what I read as I read it. This is by no means anything definitive or official.]

Then come the group deliberations. Those might be a bit different on every panel, but generally speaking, sometimes there’s a clear favorite common to many judges, while other times there’s a bit more discussion and weighing of relative merits before coming to agreement. Sometimes it’s a vote; sometimes it’s more of an informal consensus.

So, yep–that’s kind of how it goes. Right now I’m still reading and reflecting, and pretty soon we’ll be discussing and deliberating. And then, on St. Valentine’s Day, the secrecy lifts!

I wonder how it is in other book awards, though. I’ll have to grill my librarian friends who have served on Caldecott committees and such…

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