As You Consider a Run for the NBCC Board
Thank you for considering a run for the board of the National Book Critics Circle! When people think of the NBCC board, they usually focus on the public-facing things we do–our panels at literary events, our website, and, of course, our awards. But behind the scenes, the board is responsible for a host of other things: fundraising, recruiting and retaining members, creating and updating member resources, mentoring Emerging Critics, running the organization’s website and social media platforms, envisioning what book criticism will look like in the coming years–and decide how best to serve our members in light of those changes.
Serving on the board is greatly rewarding but enormously time-consuming, with the bulk of the work coming in the autumn and over the winter holidays. We estimate that board work and reading takes about 10-15 hours a month between late March and early October, and from mid-October, to mid-March, it can take as much as 30-60 hours a month.
How We Work
The NBCC is led by a board of 24 members. Every year, eight people are elected to a three-year term. Board members can be re-elected once but then must cycle off the board for at least a year. The board is required by its bylaws to meet three times a year. We meet in New York in September, January, and March. Air/train and hotel expenses are subsidized, but we’re an organization on a tight budget; board members should expect to cover a portion of travel costs themselves. (We do meet virtually, but prefer to meet in person for the January and March meetings, when we discuss what will be on the shortlist, and who will win.)
Committees are at the heart of the NBCC’s work. There are two kinds: reading committees, which read books in six genres in order to choose the award winners, and administrative committees, which keep us going in all other ways.
Each board member is required to serve on at least two reading committees. Your committee chair will order books for you monthly and will conduct conversations via email or Slack throughout the year. You are asked to read as widely as possible within your two genres. This is time-consuming but crucial work; because books are not nominated by their authors or publishers but are added to the list by board members, you will be expected to seek out books for consideration.
The lists are winnowed down to long lists of 10-15 titles in December, and in January the board meets in New York to choose the finalists. That list is made public, and the board members are expected to read all 30 finalists. In March, the board meets in New York once again to select the winners. The awards are presented that evening, and the next day the new board convenes to start the process anew.
In addition to serving on two (or more) reading committees, board members are expected to volunteer for one or more of the action committees that keep the organization running smoothly. Here are the main ones, though there are others:
Awards Administers the annual award and reception. It’s a substantial logistical lift, requiring contact with venues, handling food and beverage, ticketing, and so on.
Emerging Critics Considers and chooses applicants for the annual Emerging Critics program, which connects writers early in their careers with seasoned critics. Works with these new critics throughout the year.
Events Helps plan events beyond the awards, such as the panels at AWP, BEA, and elsewhere.
Fundraising Charged with brainstorming and executing ways to generate funds for the NBCC outside of dues: grants, donations, sponsorships, and so forth. If you have experience in grant-writing or fund-raising, this committee would be a good place for you.
Online Handles the content of our website, particularly the Critical Mass blog, which is home to Critical Notes, the weekly roundup of member work. The committee also maintains our social media presence and newsletters.
As You Plan Your Run
Craft a statement that emphasizes the particular skills you can bring to the NBCC. Don’t waste precious space in expressing your enthusiasm for the NBCC or your passion for criticism. Tell members what problems you can solve, and what experience you have that can help the NBCC.
If you want more clarity about what the job entails, contact current and/or past board members about their experiences. A complete list of current board members, with contact information, is on the NBCC website. If you are willing to work hard, serving on the board is one of the most validating experiences NBCC members have had in their professional lives. So:
If you have the energy and enthusiasm to help a small organization grow, we need you.
If you have a knack for leadership, fundraising, and engaging with people, we need you.
If you are committed to building a diverse community of critics, we need you.
If you thrive on working with a group of passionate professionals with strong opinions, we need you.
If you care about literary culture and recognize the NBCC’s unique role in it, we need you.
We hope this is not a daunting document to read but that it will help you decide if you have the time and dedication to become a member of the NBCC board. We hope so. Good luck.