by Katie Sparrow
In 2013 I had the pleasure of being on the wonderful Andre Norton jury and getting to read a metric ton of young adult and middle grade books (there were vampires! Zombies! And multi-world theory adventures, sometimes with vampires and zombies!) This year, I am the chair of the jury and wanted to share with you how to throw your best hat in the ring.
For those who may not know, the Norton Award is the annual award given to the best young adult or middle grade science fiction and/or fantasy book. Half the books that get on the ballot come from a jury, and half are voted in by the SFWA membership. This makes for a broad and deep showcasing of the year’s best speculative fiction for young people.
So, dear reader, let’s get to it. How are you going to win this award?
1. Write a book for people roughly between the ages of 10-18. It can be short or long. It can be a graphic novel, a book in a series, and/or indy-pubbed. It can be any length. It can be wildly experimental, but it must be a book, people. No more decorative speculative fiction pineapples, please.
2. Get your book in the game. If it’s traditionally published, have your publisher contact me to get the jury some books. If it’s indy-pubbed, contact me yourself. A note on ebooks: the jury reads lots of them, of course, but I’ve found there is something about getting a lovely physical book in the mail that sits on the unread book shelf impatiently that always ensures a full read. If you don’t have physical books, don’t sweat it, of course.
3. Get it to us sooner rather than later. Last year there was a huge number of books that arrived in the mail in December, and wouldn’t you rather your book was read in the halcyon days of August by yet-to-be-exhausted jurors still unjaded and sighing over your cybernetic bad boy with a heart of gold?
4. Make you book fabulous in some way. Hopefully in lots of ways. Consider Michael Jackson’s classic hit, “Billy Jean”. Great beats? Check. Provocative topic? Check. Add in the je ne sais quoi of his grunts and this song had to be a hit. Is your book killing it on all kinds of levels? Does it grunt and moonwalk and wear one silver glove?
5. Play the long game, and do your homework the next time you are on the edge of starting to write a new YA and MG book, ie read books that made it onto the Norton ballot. Two books I recommend (though they are all completely and utterly fabulous). “The September Girls”: a quasi-mermaid book with an interesting twist where the dude gets metaphorically transformed by the mermaid. And was the wildly creative “Summer Prince” that not only had a matriarchal troubled Brazilian utopia, but also a plucky Banksy-esque girl trouble-maker.
6. And lastly, there is an element of luck in all this, as is all thing. But you knew that already, because you are a writer.
Katherine Sparrow is a writer, social worker, and (in)expert toddler-wrangler. She has been nominated for a Nebula Award, and her works have appeared in Giganatosaurus, Apex, and Fantasy Magazine. Her writing tends to focus on themes of power, revolution, true love, and terrible things happening to the nicest kids, and she has just such a novel seeking publication. She is represented by Linda Epstein of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out her website at katherinesparrow.net.