Within minutes of receiving the companywide e-mail that the 2014 Christianity Today Book Award nominations were available for the taking, employees came into the Christianity Today editorial hallway to "go shopping." They had been waiting patiently: galleys and books had filled a couple of bookcases for over six months.
The book award process takes up a good chunk of time for some staff members, such as editorial administrator Becky Custer. Submissions are accepted from June to August. Becky corresponds with publicists, checks in the books, and processes them for the appropriate shelves. Once all the entries are in, editors make preliminary nominations. Each one is assigned to a category (which often takes up a shelf or two) and selects four titles. It can be quite a challenging and uncomfortable task: some stand in front of the shelf until it's done, others cart books between the shelves and their work space, all while balancing other daily tasks. So this year, associate editor Matt Reynolds set up a more relaxing atmosphere: all the books were displayed in executive vice president Terumi Echols's office for the day so editors could spread out comfortably with the titles and munch on doughnuts. (Needless to say, Terumi is a gracious hostess.)
After the nominations, Matt checks them, "sparingly and gently" using his "veto power" if necessary. Judges outside CT receive the nominated books and make their own selections from there. Matt then tallies the votes to figure out the final winners, presented in the January/February issue. When Becky and I talked in early January, she just completed the final part of the awards: sending the certificates to the winning publishers and authors. It takes a lot of time and work, but Becky and Matt enjoy doing it. Becky, who has been overseen the process for 10-12 years, tries to beat her record every year, to get more books sent in for nominations. And Matt, who is in charge of books for CT, likes the surprises of what turns up. "I might have a hunch of what will rise to the top," says Matt. But judges sometimes come to very different—and opposing—decisions. All of them, Matt says, are "willing to appreciate truth and good writing."
While the book award process is "very much a team effort," as Matt says, one group that took on more responsibility this year was the marketing team. One of their ideas was having a logo for book covers, which the CT designers created. Matt points out that past winners still make note of the honor on their cover or through digital means, like Amazon. A seal on the cover "enhances" that feature.
"It's surprising how little things make a big difference," says Jake Walsh, marketing director. He explained that the seals help the publishers first in marketing their books; in a secondary way, the seals heighten the visibility of the CT books awards themselves, encouraging other publishers and writers to submit their work the following year.
"Year after year, I'm amazed at the number of quality books. It's more than I can read, it's more than anyone can read, maybe save John Wilson," Matt says. "It increases your appreciation for the amount of good book writing being done."
Elissa Cooper is assistant editor of Christianity Todaymagazine.