Building a Better Book Blog

Cybils2011-Web-Button As of this writing, the Cybils judging panels are nearly complete, with just Young Adult Fiction and Science Fiction/Fantasy still up in the air. Many of you have already gotten a "can't wait to work with you email" from an organizer. Many more have or are about to get a "thanks for playing" email instead. Which, by the way, made me feel like crap while writing it. Probably not as badly as you felt reading it, but at least you know I hung my head in shame with every heartbreaking word. 

We can't expand Cybils to take everyone who wishes to judge. I can't make the process of selecting judges any fairer without simply drawing names out of a hat. That might indeed be the most evenhanded way, but it wouldn't necessarily give me the best short list of books in the blogging universe.

And that's my bottom line. It's not about having a sweet time hanging out together online with the cool kids. It's about ruthlessly weeding out less-than-superb titles to come up with an eye-popping list of finalists and rush-to-the-bookstore-and-get-this winners. If my organizers aren't convinced you can give me that, they're under orders to give you a "pass" this time around.

But the reason I feel crappy is because I know how rotten it feels to get rejected and you never learn why. So I asked my organizers to explain why. What resulted is a list of dos and don'ts that I hope will give you some tools to build a better book blog, or at least fill out our application more thoroughly. They're not absolutes, just insights. Picking judges will always be a subjective process and will always strike some as decidedly unfair.

The list follows the break. Best of luck to you, and please don't be so miffed that you fail to show up in early October to nominate a few books. We still need you.

–Anne Levy, Cybils Administrator


  • Take the time to fill out our questionnaire for the judging applicants. We also want to know about your kidlit activities outside of blogging.
  • Choose three different categories to volunteer for. This gives us more options to place you, and therefore ups your chances of being chosen.
  • Trust the application process to follow its normal course. People have applied with three categories only to DM an organizer and say they want to be on THAT panel … but it wasn't in their list.
  • Respond to panel discussions, provide information on the database, etc. in a timely manner if chosen as a judge. We do keep track of such things so we know whom to invite back next year.
  • Do express a preference for Round One or Two on our application. Not doing so can leave the organizers unsure if you know what is really involved in each round, as there are very different time commitments and skill sets involved. Reading maniacs and reviewaholics will love the ten-week intensity of Round One, while folks who are looking for more in-depth analysis and debate will enjoy the after-the-holidays discussions in Round Two.
  • Chase down books at the library or through friends if the publisher doesn’t send it while you’re judging for us. You may even have to share a book you do own and do a postal round robin with fellow panelists.  
  • Show us (on your blog) that you have a reading diet that includes books in at least the top two categories you're applying for. We usually read roughly three months deep into your blog (often more) and it’s important to see a digital trail of books you’ve read, whether you write reviews or not.
  • Make sure if you write reviews that you post some in the genre you’d like to judge. Organizers are looking for your sense of what works and what doesn't in the genre, and why. We’d like to see a wide diversity of views represented on our committees.
  • Make sure your blog demonstrates specific expertise and interest in the categories for which you are applying. If you have expertise that doesn't show on your blog, please provide some explanation for the discrepancy in the "Provide any additional information…" field. (ie., "My blog is a work blog and I'm required to blog about X, but I also have expertise in Y due to…")
  • This bears repeating:
  • Demonstrate expertise in the genres for which you’d like to judge. No one’s going to take your word for it that you love book apps if there’s no evidence on your blog that you’ve seen any. The same holds true for fantasy, YA, poetry … any of them.
  • Demonstrate your ability to think critically about books, especially those in the categories you've applied for. Go beyond plot summaries. When we visit your blog we want to see that you understand what makes a book great.
  • Play well with others. We love people with strong opinions, but please learn to express them diplomatically, at least while you’re judging for us.


  • Choose "no preference" unless you truly understand the amount and type of work that goes into each round. Neither you nor we like to be disappointed.
  • Mistakenly think judging for the Cybils is all about cachet. If you get chosen, you will have to read a TON of books, chase down said books, be expected to discuss those books at length with other panelists, fill in spreadsheets, and write lots of emails. We basically own you until January.
  • Gush about the hunky characters in book X. Learn to write a critical review. Note that critical isn’t a synonym for negative. It’s the first word in the term "critical thinking skills" and we need to see you demonstrate that in your writing before we ask you to judge anyone else’s writing.
  • Treat your fellow panelists like they’re flat-out wrong for disagreeing with you. This is vital when discussing so-called Culture War issues that can be an emotional tinderbox, and applies to both sides.

Lists of the 2011 judging panels will begin running on Monday, with two genres posted each day.