By Raelene Gorlinsky
The RWA RITA contest is again rousing controversy amongst romance authors. In case you are not an RWA member and are unfamiliar with the RITA, it is the organization’s annual vanity contest for best published romance books (in a number of romance subgenres) of the year.
The RWA administration, in its ongoing fear of change and the future, last year made an unannounced alteration to the contest rules. Without any input from or advance notice to their own general members, they added the words “in print” to the rules, in order to officially eliminate all ebooks. This year, the unadvertised change is the addition of the words “be mass-produced”, in order to eliminate almost all small-press and POD-produced books, including the print books from e-publishers.
This rule now reads: “Be mass-produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher in print book format.”
There is no definition of “mass-produced” in the rules. A number of authors have been reporting online that they’ve contacted RWA to ask what size print run qualifies, and they’ve received answers of 500, 1000, or 5000. Depends on whom you ask and when you ask them.
At a time when even the CEOs of big NY traditional print publishers are proclaiming that the future includes ebooks and POD, RWA’s attitude is clearly out of date and a detriment to the organization and its members.
Which leads me to my radical suggestion for what books should qualify for the RITA contest. It’s simple—just stick to the stated purpose of the contest.
From the RWA website: RITA Awards: Contest Rules
“The purpose of the RWA contests—RITA and Golden Heart—is to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance novels, novellas, and manuscripts.”
That seems straightforward and admirable. Please notice—the “purpose” of the contest has nothing to do with how or by whom or in what format the book is published. It’s just to recognize what the RWA judges rank as the best romance books.
So it seems simple to me. Any published romance book can be entered. “Published” just means available for sale to readers, it doesn’t have anything to do with how many copies in what format are out there.
(Note that I am not disputing the requirement that the book cannot be self-published or through a vanity or subsidy publisher. In other words, the author does not pay to produce the book.)
And make the contest fair by making it “blind”—all entries must be simply the text of the story, with NO identification of author, title, publisher or production format. Because of course that information influences the scoring—every time, every judge, every entry. It may be a negative or positive influence, but don’t be so naïve as to think it isn’t a factor. So no printed books sent to judges. Entries could be submitted as the electronic text file, or 8.5”x11” plain paper printed copies.
Oh, and for those who claim RWA has to cut out certain types of books in order to keep the number of qualified entries to within a limit, because they don’t have enough judges… Anything like that would always be unfair. Plus the contest exceeds the entry number even now with the qualification limitations. So the need is more judges, and the solution to that is simple. If you enter a book, you must sign up to be a judge. And if you do not fulfill your judging responsibilities by deadline, your entered book is automatically disqualified from the contest. After all, if the RITA contest is important to you as recognition from your peers, then you should be willing to participate in making the contest work.
It seems simple to me. Anyone see any problems with doing it this way? What are your thoughts, your suggestions (especially if you’re an RWA member)?