Two and a half months. That’s all the time left for readers to send in Whitney Award nominations.
A big announcement regarding the awards recently came out, but before I get there, here’s a quick refresher on what they are and how they work.
The Whitney Awards were created by LDS novelist Robison Wells in an effort to do two things for LDS literature: 1) improve the overall quality and 2) acknowledge the quality of what’s already out there. (Let’s face it; LDS fiction in general has received a bad rap over the years, some of it totally justified, but much of it not.) Rob is a great novelist in his own right. He published three novels with Covenant (the first two with really sad covers, alas), and now has a 3-book deal with Harper Teen. His next novel, a YA dystopian called Variant, will be out in 2011.
While he enjoyed writing for the LDS market, he made the switch to the national one for the simple reason that he wanted to write full time, and that’s very difficult to accomplish in the LDS market.
But back to the Whitneys: Wells researched many literary awards programs to see how they work and put together what he felt would be the best of all
worlds: not just a popular, reader-based system, but not just a jury system, either. A combination of three different types.
(Horn-tooting moment here: I came up with the name for the program, “Whitney” in honor of Orson F. Whitney, the apostle who envisioned a great literary future for our people, with “Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” I was thrilled when my suggestion was picked.)
Here’s how the awards work:
1) Readers nominate their favorite books written by Latter-day Saints. This includes LDS market and national authors, point being that the LDS market should (and can) hold its own against the best. Some writers overlap; last year’s Best Novel of the Year went to David Farland for a very much LDS novel, although he’s known nationally (and internationally) for his science fiction and fantasy. And last year’s winner in the General category was Jaime Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, definitely a national title. If a novel receives the required FIVE reader nominations, it becomes an official nominee. (Nominate at the Whitney Awards site.)
2) Official nominees move to the next phase: the judges. Each genre category (General, Romance, Speculative, Youth, Historical, Suspense/Mystery) has five judges who read every nominee. They then vote using a Condorcet-type ballot, which whittles the nominees down to five finalists.
3) The finalists are usually announced around February 1st. Then the Whitney Academy has 2+ months to read the finalists and cast their ballots. The Academy is made up of literally hundreds of industry professionals: writers, editors, reviewers, publishers, book store owners, and more. Academy members don’t have to vote in every category, but they must read every finalist in the categories they do vote in. This means that to vote for Best Novel by a New Author and Best Novel of the Year, they must read every book eligible for those awards.
(This also means that people who want to vote for Best Novel usually read a lot throughout the year in hopes of hitting several finalists and not having 30-some-odd books to read in 2 months.)
4) The Academy’s votes are tallied, and the results are announced at the Whitney Awards gala, which follows the annual LDStorymakers Writers Conference. (For 2011, that means Saturday, May 7.)
Now for the big rule change:
In the past, one book could win one award.
For example, if Farland’s In the Company of Angels had been #1 in Historical last year (I have no idea if it was; this is purely hypothetical) then the second place novel would have taken Best Historical, because Farland’s novel already took an award (Best Novel of the Year).
That’s all changed. A novel can now win in any category it’s a finalist in. In theory, that means a novel by a new author could win three Whitney Awards (its genre, Best Novel by a New Author, and Best Novel of the Year).
Read the complete announcement here from this year’s Whitney president (and Whitney-Award winner), Josi S. Kilpack.
Remember to nominate your favorite titles; don’t assume a book is shoo-in. Readers can nominate through December 31. (For the sake of the judges, though, please nominate early; it’s tough to get through lots of last-minute titles in time to cast your ballot!)