How Events Are Selected
Thank you for your support and interest in the AWP Conference & Bookfair. Our members have encouraged certain kinds of conference events and have wondered how events are selected. The sections below explain the role of the Conference Subcommittee members and Literary Partners, who shape the schedule of events. Please see the Event Proposal Guidelines page for an explanation of how to propose an event.
- Who Selects the Events?
- How Competitive Is the Process?
- Selection and Scoring Process
- Conflict of Interest Policy
- Proposal Acceptance Rate, 2016–2020
- A Few Qualities of Successful Proposals
- How Are Featured Events Selected?
Who Selects the Events?
The events for the conference are chosen by individuals who represent AWP’s general membership. These individuals ensure pluralism in literary evaluations and serve on a city-specific Conference Subcommittee, which ranks the proposals for that city’s conference. In populating this subcommittee, we choose people who provide the process with:
- fairness and discernment in evaluating literary excellence for the many communities of literature;
- regional representation—individuals who appreciate the accomplishments of the writers, presses, and literary organizations in the region hosting the conference;
- balance by literary genre—authors who represent the full variety of literary genres;
- diversity—individuals who embody various literary professions, aesthetics, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender expressions or identities, socioeconomic statuses, ages, disabilities, and religious and political beliefs;
- representation of AWP’s membership generally—individuals who represent the wide range of AWP’s programs and the concerns of our writers, teachers, students, administrators, graduates, and publishers.
Among the 19 people who are on the city-specific Conference Subcommittee, only 2 are board members. No AWP staff member ranks or judges any of the proposals. Each year's subcommittee has 18 new members, with the small minority of board members providing continuity. This structure gives more AWP members an opportunity to build our conference programming.
Members of the 2020 Subcommittee and in subcommittees for future conferences are listed online.
How Competitive Is the Process?
As is the case with most literary magazines, we receive many submissions, and relatively few make the cut. For the 2020 San Antonio conference, we received 1,359 proposals, and we accepted 480 of them. Even though we maxed out our available meeting space to accept as many proposals as possible, we were only able to accept 35%. Every year there are many worthy proposals we do not have the space to accept.
Keep in mind the subcommittee that evaluates the proposals changes every year. The process in this regard is similar to how a guest editor works for a literary magazine, but we have, in effect, 19 guest editors to evaluate the proposals, and 17 of them change every year. The preferences of the subcommittee change annually. Over three or four years, those preferences are receptive to the teeming plurality of today’s literary interests. If your proposal is rejected, it may be worth your while to revise it and submit it again the next year.
Given the vast array of today’s literary concerns, it is unlikely that we will ever be able to create a single schedule that satisfies everyone, but we work hard to include as many voices as possible. If one year’s conference omits a certain subject, another year’s conference will surely address it. Over a period of several conferences, the programming of the AWP Conference & Bookfair offers a wonderful and unmatched reflection of today’s vast literary field. The AWP Conference & Bookfair is the most inclusive literary event in the United States, and we are always working on ways to improve those efforts.
Selection & Scoring Process
Only the conference subcommittee selects the conference events. These subcommittee members represent strands of AWP’s membership: writers, educators, editors, publishers, and administrators. Each subcommittee member spends approximately four weeks reading, reviewing, and ranking between 300 and 500 proposals. Each proposal is reviewed by at least four subcommittee members. All events are grouped, reviewed, and ranked alongside proposals of the same event type. Incomplete proposals are removed from consideration.
Using a scale of 1, 3, and 5 only—with 5 being the highest score—the subcommittee evaluates the proposal by its four components as defined below. The final score for each proposal is a product of the weighted component scores of 1 (poor), 3 (average), and 5 (good). Subcommittee members’ scores are then averaged based upon these totals and the top-ranked proposals in each event are marked for acceptance.
Four Criteria for Evaluation (and Percentage Weight for Scoring)
The components for evaluation, described below, are weighted similarly to the way state agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts weight their components by varying amounts.
- Artistic or Academic Merit (45%)
Subcommittee members evaluate the artistic value, pedagogical value, intellectual value, or (for administrative discussions for program directors and publishers) business value of the proposal. High-scoring panels should be artistically meritorious, intellectually significant, with a roster of talented artists or accomplished experts on the topic.
- Importance to Members (25%)
How important is it to our attendees that our conference offers this event? Subcommittee members evaluate how useful the presentation would be to one or more of AWP’s constituencies: students, young writers, mid-career writers, adjunct faculty, tenured faculty, program directors, editors, publishers, etc. The program may be something we see every year, such as “How to organize your first book of short fiction,” because it will be new and important to a significant number of our attendees.
- Diversity (20%)
Subcommittee members evaluate whether or not the panel will offer artistic, intellectual, regional, political, ethnic, and cultural diversity to the conference, and whether or not it addresses the needs of all communities working in literature.
- Proposal Integrity (10%)
Is the necessary information (event description, statement of merit, biographical notes) complete and useful? Are the moderator and presenters reliable professionals? Subcommittee members evaluate both the panel’s intentions and the ability of the presenters to fulfill those intentions.
Conflict of Interest Policy
Subcommittee members recuse themselves from adjudicating proposals for the following reasons:
- When they have proposed, helped organize, or agreed to serve as a participant on any proposal.
- When proposals are organized or sponsored by any organizations or for which they serve on the board of directors or for which they serve as a consultant, faculty, or employee.
- When proposals are organized by or feature any writer for which they serve as publisher or editor.
- When proposals are organized or sponsored by their book publisher or any publisher where their work is currently under consideration.
- When proposals are organized or sponsored by any organizations for which they have received a fellowship, residency, financial or professional assistance, or by any organization for which they are currently under consideration to receive a fellowship, residency, or financial or professional assistance.
- When proposals feature one or more close personal friend, lover, spouse, domestic partner, family member, current or former student, or workplace colleague.
The Subcommittee Chair reserves the right to reevaluate proposals that receive a recusal or proposals that receive unusually disparate scores.
Proposal Acceptance Rate, 2016–2020
(click above graph for a larger version)
A Few Qualities of Successful Proposals
The proposals that most often rank the highest are those that involve panelists diverse in their backgrounds, aesthetics, specialties, affiliations, and stages of their careers. The subcommittee understands these events will enable the best discussions. An event populated by five writers from the same university seems insular, and it will fare poorly. An event that demonstrates interscholastic play, inter-generational collaboration, and diversity has a far greater chance of appealing to a large audience and providing an issue with the lively analysis it deserves.
If you feel that a certain subject is missing from the schedule, please submit a proposal. If you are concerned about that subject, there’s a high chance that others are, too. Just keep in mind that our subcommittee strongly prefers proposals that reach beyond one campus or group to a greater diversity of people who also embody your concerns.
Successful proposals also observe the guidelines and modules by which we receive and review proposals. Please read the Event Proposal Guidelines carefully before you prepare your proposal.
How Are Featured Events Selected?
AWP enters into literary partnerships with allied literary organizations to serve our association’s various constituencies and to provide the outstanding featured programming at the conference. A list of current literary partners may be viewed on the sponsorship page. For more information about these partnerships, including eligibility requirements, please review the Policy on Literary Partnerships.
Two or three featured events, including the keynote address, are created by the Conference Steering Committee of the AWP Board of Directors.