MWSA is a writing group designed to encourage active military, veterans, their families, and historians to write. Our focus is on the stories themselves. Our goal is to create a body of work that will support historians in the future. To that end, we recognize the efforts of our members—whether they are professional writers or beginners or those who simply want a legacy for their families—using the same standards for all.
We are happy when our recognition helps authors sell their books and we try to provide as much information and publicity as possible to that end. However, book promotion is NOT our mission. Our programs focus on education—both for our members and their communities. We want to help our writers produce better books. Reviews and awards constitute only one part of this effort.
MWSA member volunteers read and review fellow members books. This service is free. However, if an author wishes his/her book to be considered for an award, there is a $25 fee which is collected at the time of submission. Reviewers score books which have been submitted for the awards program against a standard.
Reviewers are provided with spreadsheets which ask 20 questions. They comment on applicable issues of technique or approach in a general way in the public review. However, they are encouraged to provide more detailed notes/comments to boost or detract from the general score.
The standard measures quality in five areas - content, style, visual, and technique.
- Content: These criteria evaluate plot, characterization, message or theme, believability, intent of book, storytelling, and construction.
- Style: These criteria evaluate readability, book structure, language, % dialogue to narration, % description to action, % passive to active voice.
- Visual: These criteria evaluate cover design, cover art, book block layout, font size, font serif, use of illustration.
- Technical: These criteria evaluate redundancies, spelling, grammar, word usage, sentence structure, adverb and verb tense usage.
- Comments: This is an opened-ended area where reviewers are encouraged to provide details about their decisions. They are also encouraged to tell us why they believe a book should win an award or why it should NOT receive an award.
- The relative weights are: Content - 5, Technique - 4, Style - 3, & Visual - 2.
The public review is posted to the website. If the reviewer is enthusiastic about a book, he may post it on Amazon, Goodreads.com or any other site, provided they wait until it is published to our website. Authors can use reviews any way they wish. An author may appeal the review if he/she feels it doesn't represent the value of his/her book. In that case, a new reviewer will be selected by the Lead Reviewer. The second review will be posted and the two scores will be averaged for ranking. Both reviewers’ comments are evaluated during the awards process. The detailed analysis and score is stored in a spreadsheet and ranked with others in the same category.
Author of the Month, Book of the Month & Quarterly Reading Lists reflect those books that reviewers have ranked highest in the period before publication.
At the end of the Award Year (July 15th. of each year), reviewer scores of books entered into the Awards Contest are ranked within their individual categories and the top finishers are named as "Finalists.". At that point, a committee assigns books to judges. Neither the President nor any of the officers know who judges which book ahead of time. The nominees are asked to provide two additional books for judging (one to each of the two judges). Judges are provided with spreadsheets that mirror the spreadsheets used by the reviewers but the questions are designed to confirm specific criteria required for awards.
Award winners receive a medal and one-hundred award stickers to be placed on their books at the Awards Banquet. If a member wins and does not attend the conference they need to forward a check to; MWSA, P.O. Box 264, Bridgeville, PA 15017 in the amount of $6.00 to cover shipping/handling.
When judges complete their inspection of the books and submit their spreadsheets, those numbers are compiled. At that point, four different people have examined each nominated book and assessed its quality based on the criteria defined above—content, style, visual, & technique. The final score consists of 25% for each judge plus 50% for reviewer. To be recognized, a book must have a minimum technical score of 16 for Bronze, 17 for Silver, and 19 for Gold. Minimum total score for Bronze is >49, for Silver 55, and 64 for Gold. Those books with scores that qualify for awards are then ranked. The winner in each category has the top score. If two books have the exact same score, that category will be called a tie and both will receive the same award.
It must be noted that this process only allows us to reach a consensus of opinion about the quality of a book. The spreadsheets focus reviewers & judges on the specific criteria that we have decided to recognize with awards. The comments and the scoring also give us an idea of the kinds of classes, articles, & blogs we need to provide our membership to help our authors grow. If individual authors want more specific critiques, that would be a different process which hasn't yet been defined.
MWSA encourages reviewers and judges to measure against a standard rather than a more general, "I like this book better than that one." In fact, judges aren't asked to make a choice between one author or another. We only want to know how well they think a given book fits the criteria. That way, authors know the criteria they will be judged against and can work to improve their writing before they submit a book for review.
These techniques are based on the principles of Critical Analysis which are widely recognized in the writing industry.
The top three books go through the same process. However, they are pulled and awarded special recognition because they represent important aspects of the MWSA mission. They may or may not be nominated for an award so the first time an author knows his/her book has received such an award may be at the awards banquet at the annual conference. Also, if no book qualifies for one of these awards in a given year, they won't be given.
General Awards Program (Contest). Consists of Gold, Silver and Bronze Medals.
The Founder's Award. Founder Bill McDonald selects the book that most represents the values of the organization—it must be well-written and inspiring. He accepts suggestions of book that meet his criteria from the Lead Reviewer and from the individual members.
The President's Award. This award goes to either a person or a book (or both) that focuses on forwarding MWSA's mission. If it is awarded for a book, it must be of the highest quality (at least Gold Medal rated based on the judging criteria) and then have content or message that furthers the goals of MWSA. If it is awarded to a person, it represents his/her leadership in thought and deed and how he/she impacts MWSA as an organization. It's about quality, passion and achievement.
The Author of the Year. This award is new and is about quality of writing and a body of work. If timing permits, MWSA may submit this author’s work for other awards in other organizations like the Pulitzer or Pushcart Prizes. This author’s work will be used as an example for teaching certain principles about writing or storytelling throughout the year of the award and beyond. The work may be honored for historical relevance and/or new thinking as well.
Not every category will have a winner every year. It depends on what is submitted. Even if a book is nominated, it may not win an award or even a recognition. The judge’s role is to confirm or refute the opinion of the reviewer and his/her opinions can remove a book from contention in highly-competitive categories. Even if your book is the only nominee in a given category, that doesn't guarantee it will win a Gold Medal. The medal it wins or if it wins anything, depends on the final score. Finally, a book may be slotted into a different category if deemed appropriate by the President & Lead Reviewer. (Both have to agree.)
Our goal is to make sure that the process produces recognition for those books that represent our view of quality. We want to insure that we judge every book on the same criteria and that judges are scoring the same issues the same way. The process is now part of our bylaws and once the President confirms an award, there is no appeal.
NOTE: The details of these criteria may change from time to time and when/if they do, they will be posted on the website and discussed in Dispatches.