Savvy and Shooting the Moon are two titles that I heard a lot about this spring, and which some of you mentioned as soon as we said we were looking for titles. Both of these books have engaging voices, and well-paced and compelling narratives. They are fun and well done. Are they distinguished? I’ve yet to have someone convince me, using the Newbery Terms and Criteria. I find both titles suffer in endings that don’t quite deliver…or that just deliver a slightly shabbier version of what was promised–like getting the wrong bike for your birthday. It’s true that they are strong spring titles…and it can be difficult sometimes to locate the measure of a "distinguished" book among spring returns.
I’ve heard from some publishers that they hold their "best" books for fall, because this is when award committees notice them most. Is this true? If so, isn’t it just a self-fulfilling prophecy? From my stints on award committees, I can promise you that committee members are "noticing" titles all year long (that is, reading their butts off, 24/7/365). Another version of this goes that a spring title has a longer time to sink in estimation with committee members. Hm. Actually, I’ve found award committee members to be amazingly rigorous in exposing all flaws in every title (there is NO flawless book) and weighing them judiciously against each book’s strengths. It’s just that this work gets more intense in the fall… perhaps because publishers are holding on to their strongest titles? In that view, a spring title could be considered to have more time to "recuperate."
So, a hint to publishers: Fall ARCs in the spring or summer whenever possible are greatly appreciated by award committees. Committee members will follow up by reading the final copy when you send it. The more time members have to work with a title, the better they can articulate their thoughts on it. No book with a Newbery Medal has gotten it without having gone through the wringer first. In fact, one measure of "distinguished" might be how well a book holds up after several rounds through it. Maybe a thread starts to pull, a non-essential button loosens. But doesn’t the whole thing still glow, maybe even with a richer hue?
(Okay–someone take me on regarding Savvy or Shooting the Moon, but be convincing…)