I’ve been the chair person of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award (R) Long Fiction Jury for two years and a jury member for another two. Each year I read hundreds of stories between 7500 and 40,000 words and select ten to nominate for superior achievement in long fiction.
Being a jury member is like being an acquisitions editor for a magazine or an anthology. You read through submissions and select the stories that appeal to you and nominate those stories for further consideration by the editorial board. Other editors have also selected their favorites from slush and make their own nominations. A good editor advocates for his or her own selections, and all editors eventually must agree on (or acquiesce to) which selections should be included in the final product.
The Stoker Jury Chairs are not the same as senior editors or editors in chief who make the final decisions. Chairs have only one vote, as do all jury members. The duty of the chair is to ensure the rules are followed and a list of ten superior stories will be presented by January 15th of the following year.
This year I have had the pleasure of reading many outstanding stories that should all receive recognition.I had to re-read several before making my decision which ones I liked best. I narrowed down my selections and sent my list to the other jury members. Now the jury deliberates and decides which to send to the HWA for inclusion on the preliminary ballot. The entire membership gets to vote and select the stories for a final ballot. Then we all get to vote again and the winners receive awards at the annual award ceremonies in May.
Reading great stories is a joy. It is also a very humbling learning experience for a writer in the same genre. Instead of saying “I could have written that” I find myself saying “I wish I had written that” or “I wish I could write like that.”
I have harbored mixed feelings about the value of awards. Award-winning stories can act as role models for other writers and give us something to strive to attain or possibly to surpass. When awards mean more than merely a popularity contest, they can motivate us to achieve our absolute best. Because the HWA Stokers have a juried component, they avoid being only a popularity contest.
Sitting on a professional jury is time-consuming and takes time away from one’s own writing. It’s especially hard when one also has a day job and a family demanding attention. But it is important work and somebody needs to do it.
I want to thank all of the other jury members and the HWA Awards co-chairs, as well as the HWA officers and board members, for volunteering their time. The Stokers are, and always have been, a labor of love.