I’m a big fan of the Whitney Awards. I think they’ve filled a need with great success and have been managed professionally and sensibly. I’m always certain to nominate books I read that qualify and are deserving, and every year intend to actually act on my Academy membership and vote a category, but never quite succeed.
I do have two suggestions that I believe would further improve the Whitneys which I would like to humbly present publicly, in order to invite an open discussion of my suggestions’ merits.
Suggestion the first: Expand the borders of date eligibility
I know this has been frequently offered to you and that, no doubt, you have considered how to implement it. And so far you’ve stuck with the simplest solution which is just to remain at “Publication date must be between January 1st and December 31st of the award year.” (All quotations from rules accessed Oct. 11, 2012 at this page.) It’s simple and clear and understandable and inadequate.
The problem is that any book released in January has an enormously better chance of being read while nominations are open than a book released Christmas weekend. That’s just a fact.
Last year the big “controversy” was David Clark’s The Death of a Disco Dancer, released in late October and was widely beloved. It was not a finalist and although it did receive enough nominations, it’s non-finalistiness was widely perceived as resulting from too few people reading the novel in time.
The secondary “controversy” (whined about by the same group) was the non-finalist status of Steven Peck’s The Scholar of Moab. My understanding is that novel was insufficiently nominated.
Adjusting the publication dates would solve both that Disco Dancer‘s perception problem and Moab‘s not-enough-people-had-read-it-yet problem.
Here’s my suggestion for new rule language: “Publication date must be between January 1st of the year prior to the award year and December 31st of the award year. Any book nominated enough times to qualify for the Preliminary Awards Ballot in its first year of eligibility will not be eligible for nomination in its second year.”
Thus books with late-year releases will not be penalized merely because of their release date.
Please consider this change in language as I’ve just purchased Courtney Miller Santo’s The Roots of the Olive Tree and James Goldberg’s The Five Books of Jesus—both of which I anticipate adoring but neither of which do I anticipate reading before nominations close. (Alas! I am too busy rewriting my own novel which, if plans hold, should be out . . . in December. Natch.)
Suggestion the second: expand the borders beyond novel novels
By which I mean this:
Definition: “novel” in these rules refers to a work of fiction that is at least 50,000 words in length.
With an exception for YA novels (“greater than 20,000 words”), this is all that the Whitney Awards award. And I certainly do not want to suggest that the judges be forced to spread themselves too thin—they are already heroically reading an enormous amount of literature to keep this show running. I do want to suggest that the Whitneys consider a miscellaneous category.
One novel I nominated this year logs only 30, 000 words. So it’s out. Last year—remember Monsters & Mormons?—that was a great book. But a collection, not a novel. Ineligible. And what about graphic novels? We’ve seen some great ones from Mormons of late!
So my suggestion is that the Whitneys offer an award to Worthy Miscellany. Works clearly worthy of the recognition, but not novels. Let them remain ineligible for the Novel of the Year and maybe even Best Novel by a New Author awards—but so many worthy novellas and collections and comics should not be overlooked.
How to fit this into the current paradigm is a much more complicated question, but here’s a suggestion:
Any sufficiently nominated work that meets the requirements of 2b (dates of eligibility) and 2c (a member or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), but does not meet the definition of the novel may be considered for the Worthy Miscellany award. Judges assigned to any genre may read works in the Worthy Miscellany as they have time. If at least 15 judges rate the works and find at least three works worthy of being considered finalists, then Worthy Miscellany will be a category presented to the Academy’s vote.
Just a thought.
Thank you for your time and kindly consideration. I appreciate all you do and hope my suggestions have been presented in a way that reveals my respect and continued support for your efforts.