Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

2009 Whitney Awards Changes

by Robison Wells

I'm happy to announce that there have been a couple of changes to the Whitney Awards. The Whitneys have been a success in the past two years, but we're always trying to improve them, so we tweak and adjust as necessary. While I freely admit that these alterations are not perfect, I do believe that they are a step above last year's methods. (And, as always feel free to contact the Whitney Committee if you have any suggestions or comments.)

So, without further ado:

Rules Changes

  • We will no longer be announcing finalists for the two overall awards (Best Novel of the Year and Best Novel by a New Author). Here's the reasoning behind this change: there are six genre categories each with five finalists. If Best Novel of the Year only has, for example, one romance as a finalist, then a voter might thing "The judges have already told me which romance is the best." In other words, the presence of the overall finalists is kind of suggesting to voters how they should vote in the other categories. So, we won't be announcing finalists.

    Now, it's important to note that this is mostly a perception issue. In the past two years, the voting academy has voted with the Best Novel "suggestions" less than half the time. However, it is a legitimate complaint, and we decided to address it.

  • The overall awards will now be decided solely by the voting academy. When an academy member votes for Best Novel, instead of selecting from just the five Best Novel finalists, he/she can choose from any of the thirty genre finalists. Likewise, for Best Novel by a New Author, the voter can choose from any of the eligible genre finalists.

  • Voters will have to certify that they've read every book they're voting for or against. This rule might cause the most private consternation among voters, but I don't apologize for it at all. Voters will now have to check a box for each genre category that says "I certify that I have read all the finalists in this category." Of course, this also means that in order to vote for Best Novel, the voter will have to certify that they've read all thirty finalists.

    Yes, this might be viewed as kind of a big burden, but: (1) more than half the voting academy is comprised of bookstore managers who easily can make that certification, and (2) voting without having read all the books will yield inaccurate results--how can a voter really say "Book X is the best Mystery" if they've only read two of the five?

    Now, a voter doesn't have to vote in all categories. If they only have read two of the categories, they can vote in those. Our intent isn't to restrict voters; our intent is to get better results.

    (For what it's worth, we've always had this rule written in the ballots. But this is the first time that voters will have to check a box indicating that they indeed have read all the finalists. Yes, it's still the honor system, but we feel it's a good fix.)

Organization Changes

  • The new Whitney Committee is:

    • Robison Wells, President

    • Julie Coulter Bellon

    • Danyelle Ferguson

    • John Ferguson

    • Crystal Leichty

    • Jaime Theler

    • Sheila Staley

  • A note about the president: many of you were probably aware that Kerry Blair had taken over the Whitneys as president for 2009. However, due to health problems, Kerry was unable to continue in that role, and I (Rob Wells) have resumed duties as president for one more year. The Whitney Committee wishes Kerry the very best.

As a sidenote, we have currently received several hundred nominations, and forty three books have enough nominations to move on to the judging panels. However, many great books do not have enough reader nominations yet. Go to the Whitney Awards website and nominate your favorites--don't assume someone else has already done it! You can continue to nominate until December 31st, 2009. Finalists will be announced on February 5th, 2010. Winners will be announced at the Whitney Gala on April 24th, 2010.


At 9/22/2009 12:50 PM, Blogger Fellfrosch said...

I like the changes, but I think that forcing "best novel" voters to read every eligible novel is unrealistic; it makes a lot of sense in the individual categories, but for overall categories I think it's too onerous to work.

At 9/22/2009 1:01 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Admittedly, Fellfrosch, it's a bit of an experiment. We're taking the gamble based on the previous two years of voting. Despite the stated rule (that voters can only vote in the categories where they've read all the books) at least 80% of voters vote in all categories. My sincere hope is that this is because they actually have read all the books.

If this truly doesn't work this year, we'll reconsider for next time. But I have high hopes.

At 9/22/2009 1:08 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Great changes! Congrats to the committee.

Will there be a list indicating which of the genre finalists are by new authors so voters will know which of the books are eligible for that award?

At 9/22/2009 1:13 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Yep. There definitely will be a list.

At 9/22/2009 1:57 PM, Blogger Th. said...


Potential problem: What if a new author isn't nominated in a genre category? (Or not enough to make it feel like a competition?)

At 9/22/2009 2:08 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

That's a good point, Th, and we may have to address it in the future. Last year, however, 7 of the 30 genre finalists were eligible as new authors. I imagine that trend would continue. If it doesn't, we'll revisit this.

At 9/22/2009 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the changes make sense. I do have one question, though: if a voter gets fifty pages into the book and just can't take anymore and is completely convinced that they would never vote for said book, does that count as reading it, or do they actually have to read through every single page?

This only happened to me once last time. Most of the reading was thoroughly enjoyable. But it did happen.

Also, another question: do you have a list of the books that have already been nominated enough times to be eligible? Or did I miss that somewhere? There are books I'd like to make sure get considered, but if they are already on the list I won't worry about it.

At 9/22/2009 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain all this to me in LESS TECHNICAL TERMS. I would just like some clarification in lay terms, without a lot of commentary so my pea brain can figure it out without exploding and, more importantly, without losing interest in something that should be intersting. So tell me where I'm wrong. Please!:

Step 1: A bunch of LDS (Mormon) authors write a bunch of novels during 2009 (no non-fiction considered) and whichever ones get nominated by a minimum of three readers are considered for the award. Is this the first selection step?

Step 2: After the nomination deadline on December 31st, a panel of about five or six Whtiney judges whittles the field of nominated novels down to five selections or finalists. Is this the second step in the selection process?

Step 3: The five finalists selected by each genre category committee are announced (except for best novel of the year, and best novel by a new author) and a period of a few months follows while the Whitney Academy (Authors, Booksellers, Publishers, Critics) sequester themselves in their reading rooms and stay up all night for weeks to read all the five finalists in any or all of the genre categories for which they wish to vote. Is that the third step in the selection process?

Step 4: Any Whitney Academy member (Author, bookseller, publisher or critic) wishing to vote for best novel of the year, and/or best novel by a new author must certify that they have read each of the five finalists in ALL FIVE genre categories or they must recuse themselves from voting for best novel of the year or best novel by a new author. Is certification or recusal the NEW addition to the rules this year?

Step 5: The Whitney committe tabulates the results and announces the winners at the Whitney Gala in the spring. Is this the final step in the selection process?

Just wondering about all this and a little confused by the complex commentary surrounding all of this.

At 9/22/2009 4:27 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

To Anon at 3:59pm:

You're almost exactly correct. Just a couple tweaks to what you said.

Step 1: This is correct, except a book needs five nominations, not three.

Step 2: This is correct. There are five judges per genre category.

Step 3: Correct.

Step 4: Correct. The certification is new this year, though we've always had it listed as a rule on the ballot. The only difference this year is that voters have to check a box that says "I read all the finalists."

Step 5: Correct.

Sorry. I know it's complex. Ultimately we're just trying to get the very best result we can, even if that means the process is a little complicated.

At 9/22/2009 4:33 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

To Anon at 3:58pm:

We don't release a list of the nominated books. Our basic philosophy is that if readers like a book enough to nominate it, they will, and if they don't like a book enough to nominate it, they won't.

However, after Dec 31st, the Whitney Committee can add one overlooked book per genre category. We find that, once in a while, a few of the really big-name books don't get enough nominations because readers assume someone else will nominate them.

That said, there has never been a case that I'm aware of where a critically-acclaimed (or even high-selling) book has failed to make it to the judges.

At 9/22/2009 8:01 PM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

I just hope Jeff Savage doesn't ruin the whole gala next April by interrupting Stephanie Black's acceptance speech for Methods of Madness with his untimely declaration that Traci Hunter Abramson's novel, Lockdown, was one of the best books ever written. I don't think the rules are that hard to understand or unfair, but this is the thing I worry about. Well, in a civilized society it probably won't happen, huh.


At 9/23/2009 11:54 AM, Blogger Jennie said...

I'd like an answer to anon's question. If the first fifty pages of a book stink, do we have to read the whole thing?

At 9/23/2009 11:55 AM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Don't worry, Charlie. I promise to tackle Jeff on his way to the podium so that Stephanie can finish her acceptance speech. I'm sure I'll have plenty of help holding him down.

The real challenge will be for Stephanie to keep a straight face the whole time. :)

At 9/23/2009 12:02 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Oops. Sorry I missed that question, Jennie and Anon.

The answer is: as soon as you feel you can make an educated, informed decision, you're okay. If you're 50 pages into a book and it's so bad that you know it couldn't possibly get your vote, then by all means vote against it.

It's all the honor system, and we're shooting for fairness. So, if you feel that you've given each book a fair chance, that's all we ask.

At 9/23/2009 1:10 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

It's easy to imagine Jeff disrupting the proceedings--he's just that kind of a nutcase (last year's wig--need I say more?)--but the scenario, as written, is backward--it's going to be TRACI up there giving that acceptance speech. This year's Whitney has her name on it for sure!

At 9/23/2009 2:57 PM, Blogger Traci Hunter Abramson said...

Stephanie- You are too sweet...and modest! The only way I'd be giving an acceptance speech instead of you is if you win the best novel of the year. Hey, I like the sound of that!

At 9/24/2009 1:58 AM, Blogger Charlie Moore said...

I've read both books, sisters, and I declare a tie. Both were very good.


At 9/25/2009 5:49 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thanks, Charlie! You're awesome.


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