How the National Book Awards Work

 

The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in America. Since 1989, they have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America. Although other categories have been recognized in the past, the Awards currently honors the best Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature published each year.

A panel of judges selects a Longlist of ten titles per category, which is then narrowed to five Finalists, and a Winner is announced at the Awards Ceremony in the fall. Each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a Judge’s citation. Winners receive $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. The Awards Ceremony is one of the most anticipated events for writers, publishers, and readers eager to celebrate the best books of the year.

 

How does the judging process work?

Each year, the Foundation assembles twenty-five distinguished writers, translators, critics, librarians, and booksellers to judge the National Book Awards. Submissions open in mid-March. For the Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature Awards, judges consider only books written by authors who are U.S. citizens and authors who have been approved via the petition process. For the Translated Literature Award, neither author nor translator are required to be U.S. citizens. All books under consideration must have been published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Only publishers may nominate books for the National Book Award, although Panel Chairs can request books publishers have not nominated.

Each category has a panel of five Judges who have expertise in that category. Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director. Each Judge receives an honorarium. The panel changes every year. Panels develop their own criteria for the National Book Award, and discussions are held independent of the Foundation. The National Book Foundation’s Board of Directors and staff take no part in these deliberations, except to help determine a submission’s eligibility.

The panel meets on the day of the National Book Awards Ceremony in November to select the Winners.

 

How do submissions work?

Submissions for the National Book Awards open each March. In order to be eligible for the National Book Award for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature, a book must be written by an American citizen or approved via the petition process. For the Translated Literature Award, neither author nor translator are required to be U.S. citizens. The book must have been published by a U.S. publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. The Foundation sends the official guidelines and submission forms to publishers in its database. (Publishers who have not received the materials may request them by email or by phone.) Authors cannot submit books directly, self-published books are only eligible if the author/publisher publishes the work of other authors in addition to their own.

Submissions are due by May 15, along with an entry fee of $135 per title. Publishers must also mail one copy of each entered book to the Foundation and each of the five judges in the appropriate category by July 1.

 

How are the Longlists, Finalists, and Winners chosen?

Each panel reads all of the books submitted in their category over the course of the summer. This number typically ranges from 150 titles (Poetry) to upwards of 500 titles (Nonfiction). As of 2013, each panel compiles a Longlist of ten titles, to be announced in mid-September. They will then narrow down that list to five Finalists, to be announced in mid-October. They may arrive at these choices using whatever criteria they deem appropriate, as long as they do not conflict with the official Award guidelines.

On the day of the Awards Ceremony, each panel meets to determine the winner in their category. No one else, not even the Foundation staff, learns who the Winners are until they are announced at the Ceremony that evening.

 

What do the Awards entail?

The night before the Awards, each Finalist receives a prize of $1,000, a medal, and a citation from the panel at a private Medal Ceremony. Immediately following the Medal Ceremony, all twenty-five Finalists read from their nominated books at the Finalists Reading. The five Winners in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Translated Literature, and Young People’s Literature are announced the following evening at the National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner, where each Winner receives $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. Once an author has been honored by the National Book Awards, they become a permanent member of the National Book Foundation family. We do our best to keep in touch with both the authors and publishers, promote the authors’ new books and upcoming readings, and include them in future National Book Awards-related events.