Each year after the Midwinter conference, YALSA releases a list of 25-30 Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults. The list is the result of hundreds of hours of listening, discussion and debate by the nine-member Amazing Audiobooks committee. The committee also names the top 10 best titles of the year. Committee members generally serve two year terms. We are librarians, professors, and retirees. We work for public libraries, universities, schools, and community colleges. In addition to the nine committee members, we have one extraordinarily hard-working administrative assistant who does not cast votes, but does receive titles and can listen as much as she chooses.
In February, the committee begins gathering possible titles for the next year’s list. We get audiobooks in a number of different ways. First, we make suggestions. Any audiobook published in the last two years with relevance for teens is eligible for the list, so we seek out recent titles. We love to get suggestions from other librarians! If you’d like to nominate a title for Amazing Audiobooks, the form is here. We also receive boxes (and boxes and boxes) of submissions directly from publishers.
Each title, regardless of how it comes to the committee, is first assigned to a single committee member. That member listens to the book and casts a vote: yes, no, or maybe. A no vote means that the title is dropped from consideration. If the first listener votes â€˜maybe,’ the book is assigned to a second listener. The two listeners then discuss the title, and either of them can cast a nominating â€˜yes’ vote. A yes vote is considered an official nomination. Titles that receive an initial â€˜yes’ are then assigned to 5 more members. Every nominated title is listened to by at least six members of the committee.
When the committee meets, first at Annual and then at Midwinter, we discuss all of the nominated titles and narrow our nominations down to the 25 to 30 that make up the final list.
Our evaluation criteria
Unlike some of the other selection committees, Amazing Audiobooks is not concerned with the literary quality of the titles on our list. In fact, aside from the consideration of teen appeal, we don’t care about story, plot, or character at all. Instead, we focus on the quality of the audiobook production. Production quality includes technical aspects of the recording but also factors like the success of the translation to audio from print, the match (or mismatch) of the performer and the text, and the use of voices, music, and sound effects.
When and where do you listen?
Each committee member listens a little differently. Many of us listen while commuting to work. Others listen on their computers at home. Because we listen so much (on average about 2 hours a day!), we tend to do other things at the same time. Sarah says, â€œI listen while cooking, cleaning, or gardening; I listen on the way to work, and then I listen at work before the branch is open.â€ Other committee members play computer games, work out, walk the dog, or even grocery shop while listening.
What tools do you use?
Some of our tools are listening tools, including different devices, headphones, and speakers.We often listen on our home computers, since it’s easier to take notes at home. Many of our members also listen while commuting, using the stereo or a portable device like an iPhone or MP3 player, paired with Bluetooth speakers. Most members use regular headphones or earbuds, but some of us have branched out and are using noise-isolating or noise-cancelling headphones.
In addition to listening tools, we use tools to record our notes. Most of our members use a checklist in order to keep track of evaluation criteria. We keep detailed notes as we listen. As Emily notes, â€œI try to be as specific as possible, writing down disc and track numbers for particularly great narration or production errors, mispronunciations or missed text cues.â€ Sometimes, when we’re listening while out and about, we use electronic note-taking methods. Kim uses Siri and Note on her iPhone, whereas Emily prefers to use Google Keep, which she can access on multiple devices. Sarah uses the voice recorder on her phone and transfers the notes to her computer when she gets home.
What do you listen for?
Evaluating audiobooks is complicated process. In order to stay focused, many of us have developed lists of what we listen for. Emily notes that she focuses first on evaluating the listening experience as a whole. She asks questions like, â€œIs the narrator a good fit for the text? Does she sound too young or too old? Does his interpretation of the characters match the author’s characterization? Does the narration highlight humor that might fall flat on the page?â€
It is also important for us to evaluate production quality. In Emily’s words, â€œI listen for audible breaths, distractingly long pauses, abrupt changes in volume, and hisses or pops that indicate poor recording quality.â€ Linda adds that she looks out for changes in volume or sound quality, and sticky mouth sounds as well as missed text cues. As Linda comments, â€œIf the character says something â€˜in a weepy voice,’ I need to hear weeping in the narrator’s voice.â€ Some of these errors are more difficult to spot than others. Sarah notes, â€œWet mouth sounds and the elusive p-pop are challenging, and I have to constantly remind myself to keep an eye out for them.â€ Production errors don’t necessarily knock a book out of the running, but we do want to make sure that flaws don’t prevent the reader from becoming truly immersed in the story.
Serving on YALSA’s Amazing Audiobooks committee is a real commitment, but it is also an incredibly rewarding experience. It is a privilege to work on behalf of teens and introduce them to some spectacular titles. If you have any questions about our committee, please don’t hesitate to contact our Committee Chair, Colleen Seisser.