January 19, 2015

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...


Sheila Ruth said...

Great post! I admire your rating system; I'm not that systematic about it. I do think deeply about the literary merit and kid appeal, but I tend to do it more in words than numbers.

Sarah Stevenson said...

It's probably overly fussy, but it helps me zero in on what I like and don't like!