Last fall I was asked to judge a book contest. Specifically, the Society of Midland Authors Book Awards, which is presented each year in several categories of writing - adult fiction and non-fiction, children's fiction and nonfiction, memoir, and poetry. I was a finalist for this award in 2016 for my young adult novel, Stranded. The criteria for the award being a traditionally published book by an author who was born and/or lives in one of the twelve Midland states.
So when I was contacted last summer about being a potential judge, I first wonder if I was qualified. I had never judged a contest before.
"It'll be fun!" they said. "You'll get free books in the mail!" they said.
You had me at free.
I agreed to judge the adult fiction category, and a few minutes later a horrible thought popped into my head. "Um," I wrote back. "How many books do I have to read?"
"Oh, ha, ha," they said. "Funny that. It really depends on the year. Some years it could be low as thirty..."
Oh, I thought. Well. Thirty books. That's not so bad.
"But it could be more than one hundred."
It turned out to be 85.
Thankfully, I wasn't the only judge in my category. One judge was from Michigan ( a real live Yooper), and another resided in Illinois. Together we made a nice Midwestern trifecta. Starting in November, we would each read two or three books (depending on length) per week. Every Sunday we would report back over email whether a book should pass through to the next round or not. Because we were reading different books, we were able to get through the pile by the end of February, deciding on a long list of fifteen. From there we read anything we hadn't yet completed, agreeing that on April 1 we would submit our ranked list of the top eight.
I was surprised in the overall agreement of the top five picks - coming up with a winner and three finalists went fairly quick! And this was out of an exceptional pile of fifteen. I was amazed (though I shouldn't have been) of the quality of books I received. Of course, everyone knows that Midwestern authors are some of the best.
I'm not biased at all.
Overall, I was thrilled to be a part of this experience and grateful for the privilege to read so many outstanding novels and short stories!
My nine-year-old daughter, however, was not thrilled. Every time a book arrived in the mail she would sigh and say, "Mom, why couldn't you judge the children's books? Then I could READ them! ME!"
Oops. Next time.