So each committee is a little different and I'm not an expert on the subject or anything, but I know a few of you are wondering about behind the scenes of the Cybils Awards. Two years ago, I was on the middle grade fiction committee and this year, I'm on the fictional picture book committee. Both years, I opted to be a judge on the first panels that takes all of the books nominated for their category and narrows it down to a few finalists. After the finalists are announced in January, a different panel of five judges in each category will take the finalists and come up with a winner.
I like being on the first committee for several reasons. Most of all, I think it's less pressure than coming up with one winner. Debates can be very heated, and I think it's a lot easier to come up with several finalists than one winner. Plus, being the book lover that I am, that would be like choosing my favorite child (ok, I only have one child so that would be easy, but you know what I mean!). I also love the extra motivation to be up-to-date on what's out there this year. Anyone can read all the nominates, but I would probably skip several if I wasn't a judge and it's good to be forced to branch out a little and make some new discoveries.
There is a designated leader for every panel, and for the most part, they decide how they want to run that category. This year, Sheila from Wands and Worlds has set up a database for all of the Cybils judges so every judge can log in and see an organized list of all the nominees in their category. Each judge is constantly updating which books they've read and which books they've received free review copies of from publishers, as well as adding comments about them. Publishers do not have to send review copies to judges in order for their books to be considered, but it certainly makes it easier on the judges so many of them do send review copies.
I love opening my door to find this site most days (although most days, it's a padded envelope with one or two books, not a box full of several of them, and how appropriate that my little helper made it in the shot).
This year, I really wanted to get a headstart so I wouldn't feel crunched for time around the holidays so as soon as nominations closed, I started reserving as many titles as I could from the library. I make biweekly trips hauling books back and forth. I take notes on each book before I return it, and I hold on to some of my favorites as long as the library will let me. They are nestled in a pile in the corner at this very moment.
This year there are 186 nominees in the fictional picture book category (it was originally 175, but a few books were sifted over from other categories because they are a better fit in our category. It's up to the categories' leaders to make those calls so I'm not involved in those debates). After serving on the middle grade fiction committee, I feel like we have it easy. Right now there's a tally that shows up with you log into the database for Cybils judges that tells you which judges have read the most and my name is at the top of the list at 68, but I feel like a cheat because reading 68 picture books doesn't exactly take as much time as reading 68 young adult novels.
As you might imagine, in some categories it just isn't possible for all five of the judges to read each and every book, but they sure do try. In general, I think each category makes sure at least two judges have read each book, and if they think the book may be a contender then all the judges are sure to read it. That was the case when I was on the middle grade fiction committee, but on the picture book committee I would not be surprised if all five of us read each and every book on our list (at least as long as we can manage to get our hands on copies).
So far a lot of the review copies that I've received are from small publishers or even self-published books. It always makes me smile to see these packages on my doorstep because I love that the Cybils are all about helping good books get the notice they deserve, whether they are from big publishers with big budgets or books hardly anyone has seen at all (and oh yes, that means some of them are not so good, but it's worth it to come across a few lesser known gems).
My panel has been busy reading away, but soon the debates will begin. The first step is that each judge will put together short lists of their favorites so far and the debates will begin from their. I'll keep you posted on any other interesting tidbits along with reviews of some of my favorites so far that I'm excited to share. I won't be highlighting the book I don't like here because who wants to waste time on that when I could be telling you about books you must check out yourself.