Robison Wells asked me to serve on the committee for the Whitney Awards. I was both flattered and perplexed. I wasn't an author and wasn't a publishing insider. Maybe that's why he chose me. I don't know, and I didn't ask.
I wasn't a complete newb. I had started my own company and founded a non-profit, so I knew how that side of it worked. I also knew technology.
But I was a newb in so many ways. By-laws--I could handle. Analyzing and improving processes--good there. But one of my responsibilities was to judge a category.
Over the course of a year, anyone can nominate novels for consideration. At the end of the year, a select group of judges reads nominees and votes to narrow each category to the five best novels.
It was hard. I agonized over each book. Thinking of their strengths and weaknesses. Thinking of the hundreds of hours each author spent on the work. I would narrow things down and re-read scenes and sections until I finally came to a decision.
The great thing about the Whitney Awards, is that it's not just about a select group of judges. Once each category is narrowed down to five finalists, they are sent out to a much larger group, called the Academy, made up of booksellers, publishers, authors, and other publishing professionals. This large group casts their votes, which determine the winners.
To be a part of this process sparked something for me, but it wasn't until I went to my first gala that I really saw what the Awards were about. I met many authors and editors. I saw people moved to tears of happiness and sadness. The conflicting emotions of people cheering on their friends who won, while hiding their own ache of losing (Consolation Chocolate Cake anyone?). I saw, not a group of competitors, but comrades in arms.
I know I'm waxing a bit poetic, but it really struck me how cool everyone was about it. And how many friends I made.
Then the next year came. I saw authors roll up their sleeves to do better. Maybe this year was their year to win. I heard people talking about the Awards with anticipation.
It's awesome to be a part of something that can inspire my friends, but the awards do more than that. They help readers find great books. They bring writers together. They add some excitement to our little corner of publishing.
I'm grateful for Rob. I still don't know what he was thinking, but whatever it was, it worked. I've been involved with the Awards ever since. I'm not on the committee anymore, but I try to help in whatever ways I can.
I encourage everyone to go read one of the past winners or finalists. They are great stories, told by great people.
And to all my friends competing this year, Good Luck.