There are six awards to books published in the U.S. during the preceding calendar year, in six categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Memoir/Autobiography, Biography, and Criticism. Four of them span the entire NBCC award history; Memoir/Autobiography and Biography were recognized by one "Autobiography/Biography" award for publication years 1983 to 2004, then replaced by two awards. Beginning in 2014, the NBCC also presents a special "first book" award across all 6 categories, named the John Leonard Award in honor of literary critic and NBCC founding member John Leonard, who died in 2008.
Books previously published in English are not eligible, such as re-issues and paperback editions. Nor does the NBC Circle consider "cookbooks, self help books (including inspirational literature), reference books, picture books or children's books". They do consider "translations, short story and essay collections, self published books, and any titles that fall under the general categories".
The judges are the volunteer directors of the NBCC who are 24 members serving rotating three-year terms, with eight elected annually by the voting members, namely "professional book review editors and book reviewers".
Award for a best first book in any genre.