How the National Book Awards Work


The National Book Awards were established in 1950 to celebrate the best writing in the United States. Since 1989, the Awards have been overseen by the National Book Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate the best literature published in the United States, expand its audience, and ensure that books have a prominent place in our culture. 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 Judges’ 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 do submissions work?

Submissions for the National Book Awards open in mid-March and close in mid-May. To be eligible for consideration, books must have been published in the United States between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year.

For the Translated Literature Award, there are no citizenship or residency requirements for either author or translator.

When submissions open in March, the Foundation shares a copy of the official guidelines with publishers in its database, along with a link to the publicly available online entry form. Publishers who have not received the materials may request them by email or by phone. Only publishers may submit books for the National Book Award. Authors cannot submit books directly, and self-published books are only eligible if the author/publisher publishes the work of other authors in addition to their own. At their discretion, Panel Chairs may request books that were not submitted.

Publishers must submit titles via the online entry form by the mid-May deadline, along with an entry fee of $135 per title. Publishers must provide both digital and hard copies of each submitted title in order to guarantee consideration. For further details on the submissions process, please full please see our guidelines.

How are the Longlists, Finalists, and Winners chosen?

Each year, the Foundation assembles 25 distinguished writers, translators, critics, librarians, and booksellers to judge the National Book Awards. Judges are nominated by past National Book Award Winners, Finalists, and Judges, and then selected and recruited by the Foundation’s Executive Director. Each of the five categories is judged by a panel of five experts, one of whom serves as Panel Chair, and each Judge receives an honorarium for their work.

Each panel reads all of the books submitted in their category over the course of the summer. The number of submitted books typically ranges from 150 titles (Translated Literature) to upwards of 600 titles (Nonfiction). 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.

As of 2013, each panel selects a Longlist of ten titles, to be announced in mid-September. The Judges then narrow down that list to five Finalists, to be announced in early 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 from the stage at the Awards 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, the authors and translators read from all 25 Finalist titles at the public Finalist Reading event.

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. The Foundation aims 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 Foundation programming.