So I was a First Round Panelist Judge...

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now) A Drive in the Country by Phillip Glass [from Cassandra's Dream].

How do you wrap up three months of your life in a single post? Really?

Minor confession time that shouldn't be all that surprising. I have never been a judge on any book panel before. I was (and still am) so honored and humbled that they offered me a chance to be apart of something so incredibly cool.

It. Was. Crazy. As in crazy fun and just plain insane. Reading that many books in that short of time? All I can say is holy cow. I am a savorer of books. I take them in slowly and enjoy the feast of emotions and words and nuances of characters (unless you're called The Hunger Games *cough cough* Then that is your own fault). This? This was like being in a hot dog eating contest and I had ten minutes to ingest my entire body weight in wieners.

My days went something like this: I went to work, ate food (sometimes) and then would stay up past midnight or later, trying to finish a book a day. Waking up early to read more was also regularly a part of the routine. A book a day didn't always happen, but that was the goal. (And if you want to do the math, a book a day over three months equates to roughly 90 books. And you have to cut out the last two weeks for discussion, so that takes it roughly down to 75(ish), and there were 147 books nominated this year. Yeah... you see what I mean). And there were some panelists that were able to read well over 100. I give hardcore accolades to them. I was not one of them, try as I might. And I really wanted to too. Seriously, my plan was to not only read EVERY book on the panel but also if it was part of a series, every book before then. Silly, silly Heather. *shakes head*

Thoughts on reading

Some theme became immediately clear. Honestly (and this is my extreme naivety speaking here) I never thought an agent or editor could catch the nuance and scope of a work in just 10 or even 50 pages. I was one of those quiet grumblers that said "impossible" and "oh ye short-changers of great stories. Give them a real chance!" This gave me a newfound appreciation and respect for the work they do. After reading this many books in such a condensed amount of time, I was able to see just how an author could capture the action, the passion, the scope, the characterization, and the atmosphere of a story all in the first page. It was mind boggling. I would pull a book from one of two leaning towers that threatened to fall over (and did. More than once), not really expecting anything out of the ordinary, but then I would be blown away. I would immediately think "oh, this is going to be good." Others, within the first four pages or so I had a feeling would not be a finalist. I was sometimes wrong, but far more often than not, by page 50 my feelings had not changed. However, the reverse could also be true. A book I thought was a for-sure winner would stumble somewhere near the end, breaking my heart. The point of this is that, well, agents and editors really do know what they're doing. And you actually can tell a lot more about the first few pages of a book than you think. That was pretty cool.

Now this is all fine and good, but you want to know what happens behind closed doors, right? The juicy sekkrit stuff that no one knows about. Talking about the reading process is all fine and good but you could have probably guessed that it would have been like that, right? Well then, I am here to oblige. :)

*pulls aside the curtain to show the wizard within*

Inside the panel

Well, we have a database where all the nominations with their pretty pretty book covers and all information is kept. Honestly, this was a lifesaver. It listed them in alphabetical order and showed how many panelists had read a certain book and how many has received X book as a review copy from publishers (this was extraordinarily helpful for smaller publishing houses and books that were extremely popular and thus on perpetual check-out at the library. *Clockwork Angel and Shipbreaker!* *cough cough!* Not to mention several others). So, thank you, publishers! This one goes out to you. :) And it was really nice because we could eliminate which books had been read by 5, 4, 3, and 2 panelists so we could cover as much ground as fast as possible. We also had a separate tab where we kept our "personal" or working shortlist (this changed frequently, and it was supposed to as we read more and more books). Then there was a tab where it would show everyone's shortlists combined together so you could see how many times a book was on a personal list. This gave us a rough idea of where the judging was headed and where we might want to focus some of our reading. But this was by no means conclusive.

There were some books that were nominated by 3 panelists (half the judges) or more that did not make it as a finalist. This is where the discussion became so important, because we each had different ideas and viewpoints and when one brought out a certain point, it could change our entire perspective of how we related and felt about that book. And our lists combined was long. So if your book did not make it, do not think it was not a contender or that it just barely didn't make it. So go ahead and think it was your book. :) We also had a message board where we held all of our pre-discussions, where we could squee and scream to politely tell everyone else on the panel to read a book, or just what we did or did not like about a certain story. This went on for two and a half months. Then came The Grand Council of Elrond *ahem* Book Judging.

This was a live chat, and really could not be done any other way. There are so many nuances you can miss when you are not screaming them at others in the heat of the moment. :) As a seasoned vetran, Tanita over at Finding Wonderland has a fabulous and hilarious post that tells it better than I can. Yes, there was indeed quite a bit Zac Effron talk (don't ask why. Really). We also joked and laughed and poked fun at one another. But we also discussed predestination and author agenda, worldbuilding and cop-outs, endings and accurate representation of cultures and characters, mortality and samurai swords.

And Tanita is a serious trouper. Living over across the pond, she was up until 5 in the morning while we discussed and passionately fumed (and cyberly stomped) when a favorite of ours was not picked. *uh... raises hand*

I'm kind of sad that it was not more fight club than book club, but it gave us a chance to really examine the books in different ways, and that was really cool. And there was still minor bloodshed on behalf of our favorites, let me assure you. :) It's probably good these are done over chats. Police involvement might be needed otherwise. Even though this was my first time judging, I don't think any book panel emerges without some bloodshed given and taken from every corner. Also take comfort in that authors and readers. We are fighting just as passionately for the books as you.

Total time elapsed from start to finish for the discussion? 4.5 hours. Yeah, that's passion in a nutshell.

This was one crazy experience, perhaps one of the craziest I've ever had, but man, it was so much fun. And seeing everything from the nominations pouring in and reading all of these amazing worlds and the characters who inhabit them to the final discussion reminded me again just how much I love stories and everyone in, and behind, them. So this post is for you.


Unknown said...

What an incredible experience!!! I have always been so curious about what goes on with the actual real-life judges of these fabulous book contests. Thank you so much for giving us some of the inside info.

And a book a day for 90 days??? Whoa. Go, girl. That's pretty amazing.

Cheryl Reif said...

How cool! Thanks for letting us vicariously experience the craziness!

Heather Zundel said...

Katie - It really was! I loved it so much. And I never heard any of the insider info and I always wanted to know (as a reader). So I'm happy I could oblige. :)

Cheryl Reif - You are most welcome! Crazy describes it really well!