In the national market, you have a ton of prestigious book awards that are presented every year. You've got the Caldecott and the Newbury for children's books, the Edgar for mystery books, the Nebula and the Hugo for sci-fi, etc. The Whitney Awards honor excellence in LDS fiction. Established in 2007 by author Robison Wells, the Whitneys were created to help raise the bar in LDS fiction and showcase all the things that are so amazing about this market. It's been exciting to see how awareness of high-quality LDS books has risen since the awards program was launched.
How does it work? Let's say you've read a book by an LDS author recently that you really enjoyed. You head on over to the Whitney site, click "nominate," and fill out the form. If the book was published in 2011, it is eligible for this year's award. If it was published before ... sorry, too late, so be mindful of publication dates when nominating. The book can be national or LDS, in any genre - just so long as the author is LDS. The nomination goes in to the committee, and if that book gets five nominations, it's considered an official nominee.
All official nominees are read by the Whitney judges, who select the five most outstanding books in each genre. Then the vote goes out to the Whitney Academy, made up of authors, bookstore owners, and other industry professionals. It really is an amazing process, and if you click here, you can learn more about it, and, in fact, explained a whole lot better than I can here.
I really appreciate the Whitney Award program because it gives LDS authors something amazing to shoot for and validation in a field where validation is sometimes hard to get.
I spoke with three of last year's Whitney winners about what it means to them to have received this award for their work.
Julie Wright, winner of Best Romance for her novel Cross My Heart, said, "Receiving the Whitney Award was a huge validation. There have been lots of times I wondered what I was doing trying to be a writer, and lots of times where quitting felt like a good idea. For that one night—that one shining moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, and doing what I was supposed to be doing. As I held that award in my hands, I was immensely glad I hadn’t given up."
Stephanie Black, who won Best Mystery/Suspense for her novel Cold as Ice, said, "Being an author involves ups and downs. Book accepted--yay! Bad review--sigh. Great review--yay! Disappointing sales--sigh. And so on. There will always be potholes in the road. But because of the Whitney Awards, I can treasure the knowledge that a group of industry professionals found my work to be good--even award-worthy. That knowledge is incredibly validating."
Annette Lyon, who won Best General Fiction for her novel Band of Sisters, said: "At (and after) the first Whitney Awards gala, I found myself crying like a little girl. I didn't win that night, although I'd been a finalist, but the tears weren't because I didn't get an award. They were because I caught the vision of what the Whitney program could be, and I felt overwhelmed and honored to have had a small part in the inception of something that would, I was sure, become wonderful and historic.
"Ever since Robison Wells first told me about his idea for an awards program--and each year since--I wanted to receive a Whitney of my own, to have my work be considered good enough to be recognized by my peers as the best in its genre. Those at the gala for the 2010 awards (held May 2011) know that I was a pretty much a blubbering mess when my name was read and I received my very own Whitney Award. It now sits atop my writing desk, and I look at it often--whether I'm questioning my ability and needing a shot in the arm or sometimes even when I'm in a great mood. I glance up and smile. That night will always be a significant memory for me. I'm grateful to all those who have and who continue to work for the program---and maybe I'll manage to snag another gorgeous award some day in the future.
"I love that the Whitneys are doing the two things Robison hoped they would: first, to spread the word and bring to light the best fiction by LDS writers, and second, to raise the bar, encouraging LDS writers to get better and better at their craft. I believe that in the five years the Whitneys have existed, the quality of literature in the LDS market in particular has continued to go up, and that is immensely gratifying."
It was completely awesome to be one of the presenters to give Annette her Whitney. L-R: Danyelle Ferguson, my co-presenter; Annette, holding the beautiful award, and me, with my eyes closed, apparently.
Although still somewhat small, the Whitney Awards have grown every year. Now headed by chairperson Josi S. Kilpack, they are heading into their fifth year, with nominations being accepted now for books published in 2011.
Please take a moment to think about the superlative novels you've read this year that were penned by LDS authors, then head over to the Whitney site to nominate them. You can nominate as many books as you like, all on the same form, even. Each and every nomination is tallied by the Whitney committee. You can do your part to bring LDS authors more into the spotlight and celebrate the good literature being created in this market. You have until midnight on December 31st, 2011, to nominate books written in 2011, so be thinking! Time is running out.