Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Really Radical RITA Suggestion

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big NY traditional print publishers are proclaiming that the future includes ebooks and POD, RWA’s attitude is clearly out of date and a detriment to the organization and its members.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 na├»ve 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)?


Debra Glass said...

Great suggestion! I am an RWA member. I think any RWA recognized publisher's authors should be allowed to submit their work to RITA. I'm tired of RWA making me feel like a red-headed step-child because I'm an ebook published author.

Anonymous said...

I dropped my membership to have many, many epublished authors...because of the tacky way these broads behave. Changing the rules at a whim to disqualify e-published authors smacks of prejudice and fear. Fear? Yes, fear! Fear the e-published authors are just as good as the traditional print authors and as such are taking money out of the hands of those NY-pubbed writers.

Are the RWA contests fair? No, they are not. And every time these snobby bigots put their pointed little thinking caps on their pointed little heads, e-pubs and their authors suffer the consequences. I believe these twits stay awake at night trying to think up ways to screw over the e-published authors. Must be terrible to be THAT afraid of change and losing your little portion of the pie.

When the authors hurt by this kind of arrogance finally wake up and begin to leave the organization in droves--taking their membership fees with them--all that will be left will be the myriad unpublished authors who make up the majority of the group in the first place. It's a shame many writers believe they must belong to this clique in order to be authors. They'll take the crap thrown at them, swallow it and then beg for more just to 'belong to the local chapter that supports me'. To me, that's a cop out but, hey, whatever gets your through...

I think you've made some great suggestions, Raelene, but unfortunately I doubt they will even be considered. Why? (1. Because they make sense. (2. They are fair and just. (3. They don't give any one group the advantage and (4. you would have every epub author behind it.

Gina Black said...

Raelene--this makes so much sense! I think that's exactly how the contest should be run.

This year I fall into the great chasm between the Golden Heart and the RITA due to the 'mass produced' requirement. (Note: they used to consider ebook published authors as unpub, so an epub author could enter the GH with an unpublished work.) I am annoyed enough and generally feeling unserved enough that I'm questioning my longstanding membership in the RWA. It could be that it's time for me to move on.

Ann Jacobs said...

Raelene, your suggestions seem fair and easy to implement, qualities RWA seems unwilling to embrace.

I still belong to the organization (have, for 18 years now, and contemplate dropping out each and every year). I'm a member of PAN by virtue of selling a book 13 years ago that earned me less in its original iteration than the same book has since it was reissued by Ellora's Cave.

I believe that if RWA is going to insist on having "classes" of members, the classes should be based on royalties earned, not the number of "mass-produced" print books created (many of which will end up in remainder bins when all is said and done). I like your idea better--make the RITA open to any author whose book is put out in any format by a non-vanity, royalty paying publisher.

I've become so disillusioned by RWA's arbitrary and Board-serving rule manipulation that I doubt I'll renew my membership next year. If I do, it will be because I feel I get enough from the local and online chapters to justify to putting out the $75 to keep my name on the rolls.

Spy Scribbler said...

I, too, dropped my membership, for a variety of reasons. One, I believe an organization should be inclusive, and not have policies of segregation (PRO, PAN, etc.). Two, their policies discriminate against hard-working writers and, as Debra said, make them feel like red-headed stepchildren. Three, they are thrilled to take the money of unpublished writers, but tell them they "do not need" information they share with PAN-only or PRO-only. Four, they actively hide the fact that all conference attendees pay the same rate, but PAN writers get extra, secret workshops that the rest "do not need" because they are "not at that level."

If they want a mass-market author-only organization, they should make it one, with my blessing. But don't take the money of 8,000+ unpublished writers and then tell them they are unworthy.

I loved, loved, loved my local chapter, and maintained my membership just for them. I miss having lunch with you guys! I miss the Punderson retreat.

But when finances got tight, I literally could not get myself to write a check to National. My hand refused. I really wanted to, but the National policies of segregation make me sick. I can honestly say that I was a more confident and happier writer before I joined.

ITW is doing the same thing. I don't understand it. If you can't treat unpublished or e-published writers as equals, then don't include them in your organization, and don't take their money.

Vicky B said...

Can't say as I disagree with you. I'm a member of RWA mostly because of the support I get from my local group. But the national group has relegated me to the back room. According to the rules, I'm published so I can't enter the Golden Heart. But I'm unpublished as far as the RITA is concerned so where do I fit? It's past time epublishers and micro presses are recognized as viable publishing options.

Anonymous said...

I thought RWA was an organization to promote writing romance. Why does it matter who publishes you and in what format. (vanity/subsidy aside)

I am soooo sick of this on going eBook vs Print or rather NY published vs anyone else. I have read more quality out of Small Press/ePress publishers than NY in the last year AND they aren't lowering the price on their eBooks to match the eBook market. They are cheating the authors and the consumer. (sorry... that is for a another rant)

Is RWA trying to keep the erotic out? LMAO They haven't been reading some of the newer NY Times Best Sellers have they.

They really need to look at their membership. I bet they would be totally shocked by the number of SUCESSFUL ebook/small press authors, that aren't even with EC.

Romance Books are looked at with derision enough, without RWA adding to it within it own ranks.

I really wish I knew how to change how the board sees smaller publishers. Maybe this year we can vote a small press author on to the board. Hopefully this author will write the hottest erotic out there too. *snicker*

Thanks for bring this up. Every member deserves to compete for a RITA or Golden Heart. That is one of the benefits of membership right?

Terry Odell said...

I just noticed that I responded to a comment I got in my email, but that it's been withdrawn -- so my answer doesn't make much sense now, does it!

But the comment spoke to dreams vs goals, and I expanded on it.

Francesca Hawley said...

Excellent suggestion, Raelene. I've remained a member of RWA for my contacts through my local chapter and the online chapters I belong to, most especially Passionate Ink. Still, the changes frustrate me no end. I wish RWA would join the 21st Century with the rest of us.

Oh, and anonymous, I appreciate your opinion but I do value my local organization and PI and I don't feel retaining membership for those things is a cop out. The only way to change an organization is from within...

Margaret Mead said,
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

ECPI Editors said...

I continue to be an RWA member - both representing Ellora's Cave and for myself. Two reasons:

~ As Francesca said, you can only change an organization from within. You have to be a member to participate in bringing about change. Unfortunately, industry professionals (editors, agents, publishers) can only be associate members, which means we can't vote or hold office.

~ Participation in the chapters. I am very active in my regional chapter, NEORWA. And I'm a member of Passionate Ink, the online erotic romance chapter.

Ask any RWA member about what they consider the best benefit of membership. Almost every single one will say "chapter membership". The national organization is viewed as pretty much a waste of the dues, there is not much individual benefit from it. But you have to be a national member in order to join a chapter. And most chapters are very supportive of their members, whether they be unpublished, print pubbed (small press or major NY pub), or e-pubbed.


Anonymous said...

Just curious. This is from an outsider...epubbed, but never part of the RWA organization, because I'm cheap and there is no local chapter, so didn't really see the point...

Why doesn't an epubbed author enter the Golden Heart? According to the RWA you aren't really 'published' are you? If you were, you could enter the RITA. If you are challenged as to your qualifications to enter the Golden Heart, you could then make the case that there IS no contest for you to you enter, and if your epublished book are not considered for the RITA, well, then you aren't really "published" at all according to the RWA standard. So therefore, you should qualify.

I think it would be an interesting test case. Someone should really try to shake them up.

What I find interesting is that the RWA is now okay with members getting PAN status if they are epubbed, but only if they make a certain amount of money off of one book. That could be another case to make. Why are these authors allowed PAN status, but not allowed to enter the RITA contest?

I must say, to me it all sounds very high school and cliquish. I think it is funny that when you group thousands of women together, some will always turn it into an us vs. them contest. Creating sub-groups and special pins and secret meetings. It makes me even happier I never spent a dime on it.

Anonymous said...

I think those who remain in RWA just to be in their local chapters are deluding themselves in thinking they can change anything. It isn't going to happen. Oh, they can try...and I know they will...but they really aren't accomplishing anything. National isn't listening to the local chapters who support e-authors. They don't give a rat's arse about them. As long as you pay your money, that's all that counts. That money goes to support the crapola that keeps getting shoveled down the pike onto the e-authors.

I'm not knocking those of you who staunchly defend your local. I'm sure you get great support from them or you wouldn't still belong but you're beating your head against a brick wall. It isn't always the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Sometimes its the girl who's told to bend over and take it whether she wants to or not.

Amy Ruttan said...

If it wasn't for my local chapter I wouldn't be an RWA member, even if I were "mass" produced.

I think it's a fabulous idea. That's how the Golden Heart is judged and that's how the RITA's should be.

You're a rebel, you know that. ;)

Anonymous said...

(In regards to trying to enter RITA instead of Golden Heart) - In Carol Ritter's, the RWA's Professional Relations Manager's words: "Unfortunately your book is not eligible for either contest. Since you are published in e-format with Cerridwen you are not eligible for GH. The RITA contest rules stipulate that books must be mass-produced in print book format."

At that point, I heard my $75 membership fee flush down the toilet. And here I could have put the funds toward a nice pair of shoes...

Hot Ash Romance Novels said...

That would be ideal and very fair. Unfortunately, not something the current RWA seems open to. With your permission, I'll suggest this--maybe in as RWR letter to the editor or to my presidents' loop and see what feedback I get -- just for giggles. Isn't it sad to know a good suggestion like this won't be taken seriously or even considered?

I'd love to see a professional writing organization run a contest like this. I'd be more likely to enter theirs instead of my own organization's biased contest.


Liddy Midnight said...

Raelene, I'm even more of a heretic than you. I see nothing wrong with a work that's published by a vanity or subsidy press being entered in the RITA.

The best romance is the best romance, isn't it? That should be true REGARDLESS OF PUBLISHER. No qualifications, no hurdles, no excuses.

Stephanie Julian said...

Another suggestion--those epubbed authors who are now ineligible to enter the RITA should consider taking their name off both judging lists. Let them get a taste of what they're going to miss when they lose a large segment of writers they should be embracing instead of denigrating.

I join RWA only for my local chapter. My only benefit now is the ability to go to lunch with friends once a month. Sometimes, the admission to PASIC is almost worth the price of RWA. Almost.

Kelly S. Bishop said...

I'm a RWA member - like others, mainly for the chapters.

Most of the epubs publish primarily erotic romance/erotica. So I wonder if it is really the steam in the stories they are trying to ban.

Stupid either way.

Kelly B.

Dal Jeanis said...

Some observations -

(1) As a general case, I don't think that everyone who submits to a contest - especially as you say a "vanity contest" - is qualified to judge that contest. And with non-expert judges, you would need at least 3-4 scores for each book to get a good discrimination of the quality.

(2) When a traditional publisher puts out a physical book, they have a whole lot more invested and at stake than an epub publisher. Thus it is fair to have a separate category for them.

(3) Perhaps your method could be experimented with? Perhaps you could create a separate group to award the ERITAs? Perhaps each entrant must score four novels, and the top ten (?) percent move on to be judged by the professional judges?

(4) In my opinion, the RWA bylaws need to be modified so that rule changes for the contest are discussed, announced and voted on by the membership a year in advance.

ECPI Editors said...

Anonymous said:
"Why doesn't an epubbed author enter the Golden Heart? According to the RWA you aren't really 'published' are you?"

Alas, RWA rules say if you are e-pubbed, then from the viewpoint of the Golden Heart, you are published and cannot enter. The RITA isn't saying you aren't published, it is saying that to enter the contest you must be published in print via a traditional mass print run.

Ashlyn Chase said:
"With your permission, I'll suggest this--maybe in as RWR letter to the editor or to my presidents' loop and see what feedback I get -- just for giggles."

Sure, you have my permission, feel free.

Dal Jeanis said:
"(1) As a general case, I don't think that everyone who submits to a contest - especially as you say a "vanity contest" - is qualified to judge that contest."

I agree with you. However, RWA allows any author to be a judge. They provide guidelines and "training". They are desperate for judges every year.

"(2) When a traditional publisher puts out a physical book, they have a whole lot more invested and at stake than an epub publisher. Thus it is fair to have a separate category for them."

Uh, no, you obviously don't know the cost involved. Ebooks cost the publisher the same as print books for development (acquisition, editing, cover art, etc) and cost a LOT more for website/online shopping cart/customer service. Any decent e-publisher has to invest massive amounts of money in that to sell ebooks successfully. Print publishers pay more to print and warehouse the books, but then they get that back in sales and in the tax write-off for returns. And they are all reducing print runs now to cut their losses from years of waste.

And what does that have to do with the RITA contest anyway? It's not a contest for publishers, it's not based on sales of a book. It is purely a judgement of the author's excellence in writing a romance story. Why separate out books by release format? Especially nowadays when you'll find the very best in some categories available as ebooks - quality exceeding the NY print books.

Kelly Bishop said:
"Most of the epubs publish primarily erotic romance/erotica. So I wonder if it is really the steam in the stories they are trying to ban."

It does have that effect. However, FYI, there are far more e-publishers of other genres and of non-erotic romance than there are of erotic romance. It's just that erotic romance is the hot market in both ebooks and print romances, and so gets the biggest notice and sales.

Stephanie Julian said:
"Another suggestion--those epubbed authors who are now ineligible to enter the RITA should consider taking their name off both judging lists. Let them get a taste of what they're going to miss when they lose a large segment of writers they should be embracing instead of denigrating."

Ooh, I like that idea! Hit 'em where it will hurt.


Anonymous said...

This topic--RWA's exclusionary practices, in general and when it comes to the RITAs, and their habit of chaning the rules in a way that repeatedly comes across as dishonest--always threatens to make me start foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.

So I will content myself with saying that I stand with Libby on this one. Come one, come all, let the best story rise to the top--whether it's NY, small press, e-published or self published.

Self published doesn't always mean unbearable ego, it can just as easily mean a belief in self coupled with amazing courage and the willingness to back it up financially; just as NY mass marketed doesn't always mean a readable book, much less a good one.

lynneconnolly said...

I am so glad I'm in the RNA! To be a full member, you have to be published, and you mustn't be vanity or self-published.
We do have prizes, but I'm ineligible for most of those because my books don't appear first in the UK. But I don't mind, because they haven't changed the rules, and to be honest, we don't take it quite as seriously. It's a mutual celebration of some great books by some great authors.
I was a member of the RWA, but the infighting bored me and since I live in the UK, there were no local chapters for me to join.
I choose to be epublished, because I get the kind of support from my publishers that print published authors can only dream of, neither do I want to leave it if I do get a contract from a big publisher.
But I do feel very sorry for everyone involved, for people who can't enter, to the winners, because the RWA is debasing its own award by treating it this way.

ECPI Editors said...

From the Nov. 23 RWA Board meeting:

< The Board formed a task force to investigate the language regarding the RITA entry qualifications in the P&PM.

A message from Diane Pershing, President of RWA

"The phrase "mass-produced" as it pertains to the RITA contest, is intended to define eligible books as those that are produced in sufficient quantity by the publisher to be offered for sale to the trade (booksellers and librarians) at standard discount rates and returnable. As the term has caused some confusion, the RWA board, during its meeting this past weekend, formed a task force to study the language further, but current rules and interpretation of those rules remain in place for this year’s contest. Contest rule changes—if any--never apply to contests in progress and are therefore only considered during the July meeting." >

Uh, POD books are offered (with immediate fulfillment) to the trade at standard discount rates, and most are returnabe. LSI does POD, Amazon's Booksurge is POD - but apparently RWA does not consider those to fit their definition.


Nicki Greenwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicki Greenwood said...

Thanks for this post! RWA's attitude toward E-published authors has been and is detrimental to the genre, creating a division in the ranks. It's just the sort of prejudice romance writers have been fighting for decades, and it's worse when the culprit perpetuating it is RWA, a genre purported to uphold the interests of all romance writers. E-pubbed is still pubbed!

Spy Scribbler said...

Raelene, I love every single person in the NEO chapter, and respect their rights to their opinion. While they are equally nice and supportive to everyone, which is wonderful, if you talk to them, you'll find that every PAN author I've discussed this with in the chapter believes that there should be separation between PRO/PAN/general. They fully support that everyone should pay the same conference fee, but PAN and PRO authors should get their own, private, extra sessions. They support that everyone should pay the same membership fee, and PRO and PAN should get their own private lists and their own private information from the website that is not shared with the general members.

Again, I adore them all and love them dearly. They are nice people, which is a large part of the reason why I gave up the effort to change anything.

Not to mention, when I thought I could be PAN (maybe I could, I really have no idea now), I wouldn't become PAN because I felt it was morally wrong. PAN members just accuse those against their divisive policies of being "jealous."

I stood up in the general meeting and spoke my mind. I stood up on the lists and tried to call for change. Although I had a few claps at the general meeting, not one person came up to me and said, "Yes, we need to make this change. Let's get together."

The people most compassionate to the problems say they pay for their local chapter and stay far away from national politics. How can you work change with that attitude? I really don't know.

The others don't seem to want PRO and PAN to go away, they just want to be one of the selected few.

I've been in many professional organizations over the years, and they have all been inclusive, with a general culture of "accept and respect every member as equal."

I just can't support RWA, but I loved my local chapter, which is why I paid my local chapter dues one month before I let my national dues expire. If I could just join the local chapter, I would.

Anonymous said...

What will be interesting is how RWA will pay the bills for the brand new building it purchased with membership dollars once the general 'unpubbed' membership wakes up and realizes THEY make up the majority of the org, not the ten percent of RWA members who are 'published' or members of PAN.

In other words, the unpubbed FUND RWA and make the hefty salaries paid to RWA executive employees possible. These unappreciated unpublished members should wake up and shake up the org.

RWA is NOT run by the 'volunteer' board members, but rather is run by the executive staff.

What need do ten thousand members have for an office building?

Why not spend the money spent on that building for a self funding insurance program for writers?

Or for something that actually benefits the entire membership rather than staff?

RWA memebers need to decide if the org exists for the members or for the paid staff that runs the org.

There will be no change from within due in part to the new changes in the AGM rules.

It is now virtually impossible to introduce rule changes from the floor by members.

Read roberts rules of order and compare that to the way the AGM actually functions and you'll see what I mean.