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The RWA Foofaraw

I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America.  On a regular basis, I write articles for their membership magazine, Romance Writers Report.  I occasionally attend meetings of my local chapter, the Washington Romance Writers.  I’ve attended about a half dozen annual meetings (although not this year’s — more about that momentarily), and I’ve submitted about a half dozen of my books for RITA awards (the “Oscar” of the romance writing field.)

In other words, I’m an RWA member with “average” participation.  (There are women who have been members for decades, who came up through the ranks of their local chapters, and who have relied on the organization — including its writing contests — for years, to hone their craft and to build their professional careers.)

The RITA awards work a bit differently than other genre awards that I know about.  For the RITAs, an author submits her work.  That novella or novel is read by multiple judges who rate the work on a scale of 1 to 9.  The highest-ranked works become finalists, which are read by different judges who also rate the work on that 1 to 9 scale.  The highest-ranked finalist wins.

RWA has recently changed the rules for the RITAs.  Those changes were announced at the General Meeting at the annual meeting in Anaheim a few weeks ago.  And the Romance-related Internet world has been in an uproar ever since.  Primary angst has involved:

1.  The Way Change Came About

I am actually sympathetic to this outcry.  While I knew that outside consultants were reviewing the contest, I did not know that any recommendations had been made, much less that any final decisions had been reached.  I certainly did not know that those final decisions were going to be unveiled at the General Meeting.  (All of that said, if I had known that the announcement was going to be made, I certainly would not have changed my travel plans to be there to hear it.)  I *do* wish that the consultants had consulted with membership (RWA takes surveys all the time, but I was not surveyed on this); it’s not clear to me who was interviewed as the changes were considered.

2.  Constriction of Categories

As a result of the consultants’ recommendations, RWA is eliminating some categories for the RITA and consolidating some categories.  For example, the “Regency Historical” award is being consolidated with the “Historical” award.  The “Category Romantic Suspense” award is being consolidated with the “Category” award (with a word-limitation also implemented.)  And (the source of most of the angst I have seen online), the “Novel with Strong Romantic Elements” category has been eliminated.

Just to be clear, let me explain.  Each of my Jane Madison Series novels and each of my As You Wish Series novels was submitted for a RITA in the category of “Novel with Strong Romantic Elements”.  I chose that category because my novels are not classic paranormal romances (my heroines do not fall in love with supernatural creatures).  In the case of that Jane Madison novels, I also chose that category because the novels are not classic romances — there isn’t the standard Black Moment, there isn’t the standard Happy Ever After.  They’re novels.  With Strong Romantic Elements.

If I wrote those novels after the RITA changes take effect, they would be ineligible for an award.

And yet — I am fully, 100% in support of RWA’s change.  RWA is the Romance Writers of America.  It has never made sense to me that they have an award for novels that they acknowledge, by definition, are not romances.  Eliminating the Strong Romantic Elements award highlights RWA’s brand, it returns the RITAs to the genre that is supposed to be represented by the organization making the award.

Would I like to win a RITA?  Absolutely.  But I wouldn’t expect GIRL’S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT to win a RITA in the revised categories, any more than I’d expect it to win an award from the Mystery Writers of America or the Horror Writers of America or the Western Writers of America.

3.  Guidance Toward Scoring

The third change that has caused much angst is the consultants’ recommendation that scoring be standardized, so that X points are awarded for plot and Y points for character (or some other specific guidance that has not yet been clearly explained to me.)  I am 100% on board with this change.  To me, it’s absurd to tell judges “go for it, 1 to 9, however you interpret that.”  Some judges assume that 9 is the default, and they subtract points for faults.  Some judges assume that 5 is the default, and they add and subtract from there.  Some judges start at 1 and add up points.  Some judges rank the books that they read, allocating scores on a full- or half-point basis across the spectrum.  Some judges pick a number that feels right for the specific book.

In all my years of judging, I held myself to my own system — up to 1 point for the development of the heroine’s character, up to 1 point for the hero’s, up to 1 point for the interaction of those characters’ essential natures.  Up to three points for the plot.  Up to three points for the quality of the writing.  I only allocated full points; I did not award partials.

The scores I awarded ended up being relatively low, compared to other judges.  (Yes, I know we’re not supposed to talk about scores.  But people do — in general terms, not naming specific books.  And I see my own scores and can tell where I fall in the quartile rankings.)

Now, we’ll all have the same methodology, even if we end up with very different reactions to specific works.  That has to be better for the awards, better for the RITAs, and better for RWA.

So, that’s my take on the sturm und drang.  Are you involved with RWA?  Do you agree or disagree with me?

Mindy, who would make some other changes, too…


Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 16th, 2012 10:12 am (UTC)
I always thought the Strong Romantic Elements award was bizarre anyway. :)
Aug. 17th, 2012 12:23 pm (UTC)
Aha! I'm not a voice in the wilderness! (At least, this post doesn't prove that I am :-) )
Aug. 16th, 2012 10:27 am (UTC)
Merging Regencies with other Historicals???

Just. Shoot. Me. Now. :D

Still, it says something about the changes in the Romance area.

(Maybe the category should have been renamed from 'Regency' to "Georgette Heyer Tribute' instead of eliminated/merged.)
Aug. 17th, 2012 12:25 pm (UTC)
It *does* say something about the changes in the field.

As an author of categories, I'm glad to see some of the other categories embiggened -- it's tremendously frustrating to think about one of my categories competing against 2499 other books, while some books compete against as few as 249...
Aug. 16th, 2012 12:23 pm (UTC)
My objections are more about the way they went about it than the end results. I believe that there was NO consultation of the actual members at all.

I agree with the change to the judging--I judged the Golden Heart (unpubbed) contest once, and it was next to impossible to figure out how to award scores. More guidance would have been very useful.

But I disagree about eliminating the "Novel with strong romantic elements" catagory. This year's winner, Barbara O'Neal, wrote an AMAZING book. And there was a serious romance at the core of the book, even though it didn't follow all of the convention romance tropes. This book easily counts as a romance in my mind, but there is no good category to put it in other than where it was (Contemporary is as close as you might get). I think that eliminating this category is a great disservice to the members and to readers everywhere.
Aug. 17th, 2012 12:27 pm (UTC)
Totally, completely agree about the failure of method -- I had no idea that these changes were in the works until after I started reading about the fallout.

I disagree about NSRE, though. I would *much* rather have the field expand its definition of romance to include amazing books like O'Neal's (which I haven't read, but I take your word for it.) To me, it either *is* romance (and therefore award-worthy) or it isn't.

The best SF book I read last year might have been WIND-UP GIRL. It was an *amazing* book. But it shouldn't have won best romance because it wasn't a romance! (There are some romantic elements -- or elements that might have been romantic if they weren't so damned creepy...)
Aug. 17th, 2012 12:35 pm (UTC)
Yes, expanding the definition would work too--but honestly, I thought that's what the NSRE was supposed to do.
Aug. 17th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
I definitely agree with standardizing the scoring for the reasons you stated.

I disagree with the removal of the "Novel with Strong Romantic Elements" category. Genre romance is so tightly constrained compared to most other genres that I think it's nice to acknowledge and show appreciation for well-written stories with strong romances that don't obey all of the classical romance rules.
Aug. 17th, 2012 12:29 pm (UTC)
My feeling is that I'd rather loosen the constraints and accept as "best contemporary" (or "best historical" or "best YA") novels that we formerly thought might not fit the romance rubric. To have a category of "best not-a-romance-but-we-like-it-anyway" seems strange to me. (I think this is my trademark-lawyer background; RWA dilutes its brand every time it gives an award to a book it distinctly proclaims is not a romance.)
Aug. 17th, 2012 06:02 pm (UTC)
I would see the loosening of constraints as more of a brand dilution, actually. You know what you're getting when you pick up a Harlequin or a Lisa Kleypas. To open up the romance genre to stories that might not have some of the traditional elements could result in some disappointed readers. But, at the same time, a lot of the love stories that people enjoy (like many of the books by Nicholas Sparks) just don't fit that mold.

When compared to other genres, especially fantasy, which stretches from LOTR to Anita Blake to some books that don't even have magic in them (like Kay's The Lions of al-Rassan), it just seems to have a very narrow definition (not a criticism, just the way the genre is right now). But it does make sense to me, as a latecomer to romance novels, to acknowledge the romantic stories that move people without conforming to the specific requirements of the genre. It would be weird to me if other genres did it (like science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, etc.) but for romance I can see the logic behind it.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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