by Jean Roberta

Every writer who has hoped to win a prize, but didn’t, should serve a kind of literary jury duty by volunteering to be a judge in a book award contest. It’s much like being an editor, except that the only payment is fame, glamour, and a sense of accomplishment. 🙂

Last May, I went to the Bisexual Book Awards in New York City, a fun event at which the finalists read from their work. (My “bawdy novella,” The Flight of the Black Swan, was nominated, and so was Twice the Pleasure, an anthology of bisexual women’s erotica, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, in which I have a story, “Operetta,” which one reviewer called “a meringue.”) I didn’t seriously expect to win anything, since this is the best attitude to adopt at such times, and I didn’t. However, I was invited to be one of the judges in the “Erotica” category of the awards for books published in 2014. (The ceremony will be at the end of May 2015.)

I was grateful for the honour, and I accepted. Little did I know that over the coming months, 22 books (most in the form of PDFs) would arrive in my inbox and my actual mailbox. They were more diverse than some readers might expect, although writers of erotica generally know how broad our field is. Francesca Lia Block and Alison Tyler of Los Angeles were among the authors of nominated books, and one book was set in Canada. There was BDSM and a multicultural cast of characters. There was historical fiction and suspense. There was magic and shapeshifting, not all of it cute. There was lightness (more meringues) as well as heaviness and graphic murder. There were several self-published books, and several from publishers I hadn’t heard of before; I found this informative.

Meanwhile, in my actual life, there were student essays to grade, pets to feed, meals to cook, and floors to mop. (My spouse and I have been the official cleaning ladies of the local LGBT bar/watering hole for several months. We get paid in money and compliments from bar patrons who find relief in washrooms that show no signs of the previous night’s debauchery.)

The deadline for the Erotica judges’ decisions was March 15, a Sunday. This meant a three-day marathon of reading for me and, I suspect, for the other three judges, one of whom politely resigned due to a personal emergency.

Living in the imaginary world of one novel can be a delightful experience, best enjoyed on a beach or a luxury hotel room. Rushing from the imaginary world of one novel to the next, 22 times, is like being a lunatic or a mystic who can’t turn off the voices in her head. Some of the books were – ahem – more effective on my libido than others, but I didn’t want the state of my crotch to be the determining factor in my decisions.

I added criteria of my own to the official guidelines. I ruled out several books that were thinly-disguised (or undisguised) examples of m/m erotic romance with no sex scenes involving women. One of these novels, in particular, was well-written, moving, believable, and was part of a series starring intelligent, compassionate, three-dimensional characters who change over time. However, I needed a somewhat objective way to eliminate titles until I was left with a choice that could qualify as bisexual in every sense, as well as being quality literature.

None of the books I read seemed to dramatize the tired old joke that bisexuals will jump on anything that moves. Few of them seemed to be written by horny teenagers. Bisexuality, it seems, has come of age.

I asked for a time extension of one day, but I was reminded that the judging had to be wrapped up, sooner than later. When I exchanged emails with the remaining two judges and the organizer, I was surprised at how much overlap there was among our choices for the top five finalists. One novel, in particular, appealed to all of us, so we reached a bloodless agreement to name it the winner.

So now my role in the decision-making is over, and I’m waiting – along with all the authors of nominated books – for the public announcement of the winners in all the categories of the Bisexual Book Awards, which will undoubtedly be scheduled (as it was in 2014) close to the Lambdalit Awards so that writers and fans can attend both.

One thing I know beyond a doubt is that judging, no matter how many rules the judges impose on themselves, is always subjective. And of course, the more nominees there are, the more competition there is.

If your book was nominated for a book award of any kind, but you didn’t win, don’t fret. It’s not you, it’s us.