After watching the somewhat heated debate on your post "Cliches and adverbs" I hoped you might be able to clear up another question. What exactly are the Whitney Award judges supposed to be looking for? Are the winners supposed to be the most compelling story in their category, or are the judges looking for the most literary work in each category?
It seems like my favorite authors are sometimes rated lower by the judges on sites like Goodreads than books that I found to be slow to develop and/or lacked the ability to keep me interested. (And no, my favorite authors don't include any that are prone to overusing cliches and adverbs!)
Whitney judges (aka, the Whitney Academy) are not given instruction on what to look for. We get the list of finalists. We read them. We choose the ones we think are best according to our own definition of best. Since there are gobs and gobs of Whitney judges, including authors, publishers, bookstores and others, you're going to have a wide variety of definitions of "best". When it all shakes out, I think the winners tend to be a pretty good sampling of LDS fiction.
As a Whitney judge, I look for a well-written story first. I'll accept some structural issues—typos, adverbs, cliches—but if there are too many, it loses points fast. If there are more than a few grammatical errors, it loses points regardless of how good the story is. If the story is hard to follow, changes POV incorrectly, or if I'm constantly being pulled out of the story due to other errors in writing, it loses points.
Second, I look at the story itself. Does it appeal to me? Does it touch me in some way? Does it capture my imagination? Do I laugh out loud (in appropriate places, of course)? Do my eyes tear up when they're supposed to? Does the story make me think, change me in any way? Does it entertain me? Am I surprised or amused? Was I sad that the story ended? Do I want to read more? Do I want to read it again? Do I want my children and/or friends to read it?
I take the overall impression of the story itself, add in the structural issues, and then go with a gut reaction.
And let me tell you, with two more books left to read, this year some of the categories have been truly difficult to judge. For me, I really liked all of the Youth Fiction books. I'd be satisfied if any of the five won. So far, I've narrowed it down to three, but I'm having a hard time choosing. Same with Mystery/Suspense. It was pretty easy for me to narrow it to three, but now I'm stuck. Ugh. Best Novel—same thing. Narrowed it to three, but then do I choose the one I enjoyed most or the one I think was better written? Haven't decided on that yet.
So. Other Whitney judges, feel free to jump in here and add your two cents worth if you like.