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A Small but Irritable Thing in the Grand Scheme of Things

December 13, 2013

I just learned that, due to arcane submission rules, my new book is ineligible for the Organization of American Historian’s “first book” prize, the Frederick Jackson Turner Award.

This is really disappointing.

It’s not disappointing because I expected to win anything. I know my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses. I also know that prizes are awarded for criteria that are subjective as much as objective. Winning often depends on circumstances as much as the quality of one’s work. Plus, I’m not the kind of person that just wins awards. The competition has to be super weak, or my competitors have to die or be disqualified.

In this case, however, we’ll never know. I can’t even get on the field of play. I can’t enter my book in the competition for the FJT award, and the reason I can’t is downright silly.

My non-scientific observation is that most book awards, for any given year of publication, have deadlines early into the next year. To be eligible, for instance, a 2014 award, a book would normally have to be published anywhere in the 2013 calendar year. To enter the competition your publisher sends finished copies of the book to the awards committee by, say, Feb. 1 of the next year.

But the submission timeline for the OAH’s Frederick Jackson Turner Award are remarkably different. The deadline for applications for the next year’s award is October 1. Because of that early deadline, notice this clause from the FJT award page:

Each committee member must receive all submissions by October 1, 2013. Bound page proofs may be used for books to be published after October 1, 2013 and before January 1, 2014. If a bound page proof is submitted, a bound copy of the book must be received no later than January 7, 2014.

My book was released November 26, but I didn’t know about this clause.

This is a ridiculous, anomalous state of affairs for first-time authors. How many of us non-egotistical first-timers are going around checking all awards submission criteria before setting up their production schedule? And why would an organization that is trying to be helpful to young scholars create a singularly awkward submission timeline?

How would anyone know, or suspect this early date, unless you were warned by a really astute colleague or advisor? This exceptional deadline means that you have to covet this particular award. You or your publisher would have to meticulously plan your (very contingent) writing, revisions, and submissions process to consciously make yourself eligible. Why make it hard on those who publish in the last quarter of the year?

Moreover, if a “bound copy MUST be received” by January 7, why not just make January 7 the deadline for everyone? Better yet, the real solution is for the OAH to restructure the award committee’s timeline so that submission occurs after the new year. Just make the deadline February 1.

I know, I know. This is small thing in the grand scheme of things. But it sure is disappointing to discover that your hard work can’t even get in the game. I have a great deal of respect for the OAH. I have maintained my membership during some lean years recently. But it’s a bummer that I can’t even enter my book in a prize competition geared for my professional status. – TL

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