Suggestions for 2013 books have been flowing in, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how we find books, and how we create the contender list that we post come the on-season in September.
(A brief housekeeping note: unlike our fellow award bloggers over at Heavy Medal and Calling Caldecott, we won’t go totally dark in the off-season, mostly because if we did, no one would ever be able to keep up with the reading when the on-season rolls around. So we’ll still be around, posting every week or two, from now until August, about what we’re reading and what we’re seeing and what we think may have Printz legs and, if we think there are any hard thorny questions about the Printz worth visiting or revisiting, possibly tackling those as well.)
(Edited to add: well, we kind of went dark because LIFE. But we’re not gone. We’re reading and thinking and we’ll post again one of these days soon and we love and miss you all a lot.)
So let’s talk about creating the contender list. And about crowdsourcing. And mostly about discovering the secret gems.
In the comments on our last post (about early potential contenders), the question was raised of how we can find the serious sleepers, the books without a ton of stars. Which is a really good question, and probably the place we’ve been the least successful.
In an effort to cover a wider range of books and maintain our sanity, we’re also reassessing the “3-or-more stars means we cover the book” rule that we’ve used the last two years — it leaves us reading frantically from a pile with a lot of books that clearly are not actually serious contenders, while missing some great stuff that we should be talking about.
Now, the idea behind the contender list we put together each year is to list books we really believe the RealCommittee is/will be reading, and in that sense the 3-star cut off is not arbitrary — that’s a good baseline to create a pile worth looking at, since they already have a consensus from critics, and the RealCommittee does use stars as one way to find books, and we combine it with buzz to try to broaden the net.
But the RealCommittee members can put books from that pile aside five pages in, or fifty, or 100, and move on; they also receive hundreds of books from publishers and publicists, meaning the books come to them and they are saved a lot of the work of discovery. We’ve got a different charge and, while we get some review books, nothing like the quantity of material that the RealCommittee members receive. Our charge is that we review, publicly, anything that goes on the list (well, most of it, anyway… a few books get away from us every year). Last year, that meant we had a HUGE contender list, just from the stars, which made it hard to get beyond those books — I’m not sure I read a bona fide sleeper last year. And we need to create that list without having seen many of the books yet.
(Plus we end up having to take apart books that are perfectly delightful and deserved their stars but are just not contenders, and we’d like to find a way to instead spend more time looking for new contenders.)
What we’re looking for are better methods of discovery.
Currently, we’ve got: reviews, publisher previews, catalogs, ARCs, Goodreads/social media, and bookstores.
Reviews are all well and good but we can’t read every review ever, so how, other than stars, can we make sure we’re not missing things? Plus, reviewers are people too, which means sometimes a great book gets a terrible review (I’ve been that reviewer a few times), or doesn’t get reviewed at all for whatever reason. Same for catalogs, really — who can read every page of every catalog from every publisher?
Previews are fantastic — I do love being a New York City librarian! — but limited: only a few houses have them and only the big houses, which leaves an awful lot not covered.
Goodreads I adore, and I do find a lot of titles there, but, like all social networks, the filter bubble issue remains– I’m in a circle of like-minded readers, so how do I find the books none of us are reading yet?
As for bookstores… for a long time, a monthly bookstore visit was something I saw as a professional obligation (and ok, also something I just liked having an excuse to do). But my last few bookstore visits have been pretty disappointing — Barnes and Noble has become all about the commercial frontlist titles, of which there are more every year, while smaller stores just don’t have the shelf space for everything.
So what’s left? What stone have we not turned over? And how do we choose, when we’re still reading, what to put on the contender list? We want better — or at least more — ways to find the best books. What do you think? Where do you look? Or is the very definition of a sleeper a book that no system can discover?