Earlier this week, the Best Fiction For Young Adults committee members received an unexpected email from our diligent chair informing us of a YALSA policy we had been neglecting. Evidently, selection committee members are not permitted to nominate from pre-publication copies of books, but must read and evaluate only the finished final product. I, for one, was surprised, since I have done pretty much all of my nominating from galleys and ARCs. In fact, I had been viewing it as my responsibility to stay ahead of the publishing curve, trying to read ahead books that may not come out for a few months. And this information came to me on the same day as an ARC for the new Corey Doctorow book Pirate Cinema, a book I was really looking forward to reading and evaluating.
Although this thankfully won't erase nominations that are already in, I got to thinking about the reasons for this policy and its possible effects. Most of the ARCs I have encountered differ only slightly from the finished books. A notation of "Artwork TK" or a mis-drawn graph here and there, maybe a missing author's bio, but if the book isn't heavily illustrated, nothing major. But when I think of the electronic galleys I have been reading, I have to say that the difference between that and the finished product is huge. Formatting matters for your experience of a book, and having random page numbers in the middle of paragraphs is distracting at best.
What about cover art? I know the old adage, but the marketing of a book can be another crucial part of the experience. Many ARCs come with no cover art, or a version that is extremely different from the ultimate design. Look at the nominee The Difference Between You and Me by Madeline George. This is the ARC cover, and here is the final version. Somewhat different feeling, I'd say. Although I don't know what the ARC cover looked like on nominee Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, the hard sci fi cover design doesn't really reflect the broad appeal of this adventure. How much does the design of the book color our reading of it? Enough to disqualify a book we would otherwise nominate, or vice versa?
Publishers clearly think that the ARCs and galleys they make available are in good enough shape for the industry. This is how titles get pull quotes, reviews in major journals, and interest prior to release. There's the fun that many of us, committee or not, have trying to get ARCs at various conferences where there is a publisher presence. I'm fortunate to live in a major city with access to multiple excellent library networks, and since I live on the East coast, publishers are better about sending me boxes of books for consideration regularly. But for some of my co-committee members, sites like NetGalley are the best way for them to get access to enough titles quickly enough to do the volume of reading required to do this job properly. Even for me, having electronic galleys available means I can have one book on the go on my phone and iPad and another in a physical copy, allowing me to squeeze in reading at random moments. However, ARCs aren't generally available to teens, who are the ultimate audience for these books, and whose feedback the committee really values. I'm going out of my way to solicit reviews of eligible titles from my students, and the teen feedback sessions at Midwinter and Annual are the most important three hours of ALA. If we nominate something that won't be available to teens for months, how will we be able to tell if it has genuine appeal for the intended audience? Finally, how will this affect titles published later in the year? Although the eligible publication windows for BFYA years overlap, as the nomination window closes, committee members often focus on reading the titles that are already nominated so they can deliberate thoughtfully.
So what do you think? This is a policy laid down by the YALSA board, who are always open to member input. Do you think that pre-publication editions of titles are close enough to the finished product to be considered for nomination? Or should we hold off until we've got the real deal in our hands? Is there something in between that makes more sense to you?