Monday, May 04, 2009

Confessions of an Edgar Judge...

by Sean Chercover

The 2009 Edgar Awards have been awarded and the judging committees made public, so now it can be told...

I served as chair of the Best First Novel (by an American writer born on American soil) committee. The Edgar Award went to Francie Lin, for THE FOREIGNER. I loved it, and I recommend it without reservation.

Truth is, all of the nominated books were terrific. Here they are (in alphabetical order by author name):

THE KIND ONE - Tom Epperson
SWEETSMOKE - David Fuller
A CURE FOR NIGHT - Justin Peacock
CALUMET CITY - Charlie Newton

I hope you will click through the links and give these debut authors a try. You won't be sorry.

A few reflections on the judging process:

Every year, when nominees are announced, a few disgruntled people pop up in the comments section of various blogs to decry the process. These people have never served on a jury, but they claim to know that the awards are a popularity contest, that judges are voting for their friends, that they're influenced by reviews and/or publishers' hype, that they only consider books published by the big NYC publishers or books written by MWA members, and other such nonsense.

I can tell you that none of these claims are true. What we did is: we read the books. That's it. We didn't talk about buzz or hype or the personalities of the authors. We didn't read the reviews or even visit the author websites. We read the books. After reading the books, we voted.

Of course it is subjective. But it is the collective subjective reactions of five judges - young-ish and not-so-young, male and female, cozy and hardboiled and thriller and paranormal and humor writers. A very diverse group, giving their honest opinions, trying to select five books to honor as the best in that category, that year. You can't ask fairer than that.

The judges put in a hellish amount of time, put aside all their descretionary reading for the year, and they do it because they want to give back to the community. And then people show up on blogs and take pot-shots, claiming (with no knowledge whatsoever) that the whole thing was a "popularity contest". Phooey. I wonder if these naysayers even consider the fact that they're impuning the integrity of real human beings. I doubt it. People say stupid things on the Interwebs that they would never say face-to-face.

So, after you've bought and read the excellent debut novels listed above, check out the works of Annette Meyers, Bob Morris, Kat Richardson, and Greg Rucka. They served on the jury with me, and they all did a fantastic job.

Once again, congratulations to Francie Lin, and all the nominees. Well done. I can't wait to read your next books.


Guyot said...

I've been an Edgar judge and have had a different experience, Sean. While the majority of the judges were and did just as you say, we had one that refused to look at the submissions coming in because he "knew" what was the best in that particular category. His mind was made up before we began.

Luckily, myself and the other judges outnumbered him and were able to produce what I think was a very fair and accurate representation of "the best" of for that year.

To say all judges are unbiased and wonderful and hardworking, is just as inaccurate as saying they are all biased and have agendas.

Five people judging the best of anything is inherently flawed. That said, it is the way things are, and I would say that the majority of people given the responsibility of judging (especially the Edgars) do try to be fair and impartial.

I believe MWA and the people behind the Edgars do their very best to try and find the "best" judges they can. That process is as tough as the actual judging process.

But no matter what, there will always be unhappy Monday morning QB's - like myself re: this year' SS category - and until reading is no longer subjective, things are the way they are, and they certainly could be a lot worse.

Congrats to all the nominees. Every book I bought on May 1st was an Edgar nominee that I had never read before.

Sean Chercover said...

Flawed? Yes. Subjective? Of course. Just like people. And of course you'll have the occasional idiot.

I have no problem with Monday Morning QB-ing; I do it myself.

It's the folks who claim some inherent dishonesty, who claim that it's some secret club geared toward promoting their friends, that bug me.

Janet Reid said...

I represent several people who've served as Edgar judges in various categories. I know for a fact what a time suck it is. It can mean putting their own projects on hold for close to a year.

I'm profoundly grateful to everyone who agrees to take on this job, and darn glad they'll never ask me!

Thanks Sean.