Open Letter to RWA from a RITA Nominee

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It Stings So SweetYesterday I got the exciting news that I am a finalist for this year’s RITA award, sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I am deeply honored because the RITAs are a peer-judged award and because my 1920s historical erotic romance, IT STINGS SO SWEET was a true labor of love.

I am also deeply grateful, because RWA has not only exposed me to the most talented, hard-working, intelligent authors in the industry, but also recognized my work and advanced my career.

The RITAs themselves take an enormous amount of coordination and work by the staff and the RWA board–thankless tasks that they undertake with more patience and grace than seems humanly possible. Then there is the yearly conference, which is always spectacular. Amongst professional organizations for writers, RWA is a giant in terms of size, educational opportunities, and, generally speaking, a forward-thinking attitude that embraces rather than excludes.

I was thrilled by this year’s decision to accept non-traditionally published works into the RITA awards. And I was particularly overjoyed with the addition of an erotic romance category because I advocated for erotic romances long before I ever dared to write one.

One reason I feel so strongly about it is that erotic romance is a cutting edge sub-genre that has helped float the industry with the success of authors like EL James, Sylvia Day, J. Kenner, Maya Banks, Megan Hart, Joey Hill, Tiffany Reisz, Shayla Black, Kate Pearce, Eden Bradley, and many, many more. It’s also a sub-genre that has allowed for an evolution in authorial technique and an expansion of emotional horizons for the genre as a whole.

Some of the most beautiful books ever written are erotic romances, and I can think of several that have touched me deeply enough to make me cry. This is because erotic romances are often about the human connection found at the boundaries of propriety, about the virtue under the vice, about acceptance not found in the mainstream society, about two people (or more than two) who find a way to forge an unbreakable bond of love that other people may not understand, but must honor.

Those are pretty worthy things for literature to explore and I’m so very proud of RWA for rewarding that. Having an erotic romance category is, in my opinion, a huge step forward for the organization. And I am humbled to have been nominated for a RITA in this category the very first time it is to be awarded. (Let’s face it, who else but my fellow romance authors would recognize initiating a menage a trois with a stranger as the profoundly romantic gesture my hero meant it to be? :P)

All that said, I’m saddened that only three books made the final cut in the erotic romance category. And I am afraid it’s a symptom of a problematic trend that I would like to see turned around.

Allow me to explain.

As flattering as it is for me and J. Kenner and Samanthe Beck to be the only representatives of erotic romance in the RITAs this year–I don’t personally believe that this result can be taken as an accurate representation of the level of excellence to be found in the genre. Nor do I believe it is a reflection of the number of submissions or interest in the category.

Rather, the limited number of finalists appears to be the natural outgrowth of some changes we’ve made in the RWA. To my mind, the re-organization of the RITA contest itself (including the elimination and collapsing of categories, a new scoring system, and the subsequent quibbling over membership) has done some damage; I’ve said so before, with varying degrees of eloquence, efficacy and persistence, but always with an awareness that the Board’s goal was to make the organization stronger, the award more prestigious and to advance the careers of romance authors.

All changes come with growing pains. Unfortunately, we’re having some now.

One of the changes made to the RITAs was to the way finalists are chosen. As I understand it, only books receiving  scores of 90% of the possible points available qualified to win any category. On the surface, there’s a lot of merit to this idea. It means, theoretically, that only the best of the best will be recognized. And a quick look at the list of finalists this year in all categories reveals a glittering array of literary stars. I congratulate every single one of them and encourage readers to run out and buy these incredibly deserving books!

As for the awards, however, we’re not comparing apples to apples. The scoring theory as implemented appears to have skewed the results such that one would have to believe that some categories of romance are simply more meritorious than others. Erotic Romance wasn’t the only category to feel the pinch. Inspirational Romance and Romantic Suspense–categories with very few nominees–are juxtaposed against categories like Contemporary Romance which netted eighteen finalists. 

Lots of folks are saying that something ought to be done about that. Probably so.

The most obvious answer people come up with is to ditch the 90% rule and replace it with one in which the top-scorers in any category will be finalists. That might help. Another suggestion is to divide the big categories up again so that readers know who the stars are in their particular favorite flavor of romance. That might help too.

But to me, neither of these suggestions go far enough, nor do they address increasing insularity and homogenization.

Here I direct your attention to the new scoring system for the RITAs. It was once considered sufficient to ask professional romance authors to simply disqualify books that they did not consider to be romances, and then score the others on a scale of 1-9 for quality. Now, however, we are asked to score entries with elements in isolation. For example, “Writing” is worth up to ten points, but the “Romance” is worth up to twenty.

In practice, a book that has terrible writing is probably going to have a terrible romance, even in isolation. If you can’t write an opening hook, you probably can’t write a kiss, and if you can’t write a decent plot, the reader is unlikely to care how many flowers your hero brings your heroine. Judging at the far ends of the spectrum, this scoring system just isn’t going to make a difference.

But it’s in the close cases, particularly between books that might or might not qualify to win a RITA award, that this new scoring paradigm can take an already subjective system and make it more arbitrary. In the category of Romantic Suspense, for example, where the chasing down of a serial killer might dominate the sexy-times of the detective and her hunky hero…many excellent books of the sub-genre may fall through the cracks. Similarly, in a category like Inspirational Romance, the emotional component of a religious epiphany as a necessary part of the romance may skew the results.

And the skew is always in favor of what some are now calling pure romance.

This is a label that ought to alarm us when we remember that the change to the scoring system for the RITAs was made in conjunction with the decision to remove altogether the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category and to disqualify romances that resolve happily/optimistically only over the course of several books, such as is common in YA and Urban Fantasy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must point out that my alter-ego was nominated for a RITA in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category in 2012, so I am not an entirely disinterested observer when it comes to that. However, it isn’t the elimination of the category, but the pattern of all these changes and their non-contest-related consequences that worries me.

In short, I worry that pattern encourages, and projects, a Romancier-than-thou attitude.

Given that we’re talking about the Romance Writers of America, some people think this is a good thing. In fact, when the changes were made, some folks spoke up to say that they wanted a contest that celebrated a much more narrow and dogmatic view of romance–one that “made them feel safe.” I don’t attribute this kind of myopia to members of the Board, who I always assume to be operating from an adult, professional and altruistic motive.

But to a large degree, motive is irrelevant. What should concern us is result. And because I like to sell books more than I like to have arguments about genre purity, I think these changes, taken in total, deserve reconsideration.

When an outside consultant was hired to revamp the RITAs and these changes were propagated, I feared that in combination with the debate about who exactly qualified as a career-focused romance author, we would alienate the romance genre’s closest allies; that power-house cross-over authors would be less likely to attend, support, and promote RWA, our book signings, or serve as ambassadors for the merits of more mainstream romances. I also feared that we would alienate the YA genre, which is creating our readers and book buyers of the future.

Unfortunately, these fears have been borne out. The women’s fiction chapter (of which I am not nor ever was a member) has confronted disbandment. Some have left the organization. The YA category for the RITAs was dropped this year due to insufficient entries. YARWA has fielded expressions of authors feeling unwelcome. The consequence may be a celebration of purer romance, but in an industry where reaching readers is increasingly job #1, it seems short-sighted.

The optics alone are not good. And as a writer of not only “pure romance,” but also fantasy, YA, erotic romance, women’s fiction and historical fiction, I have been witness to a sharp erosion of respect for RWA and romance authors in those other literary communities and amongst readers at large. This is the very opposite result intended when we set out to bring more prestige to our award and more respect to our genre.

So, with that in mind, I hope we’ll consider returning to policies that celebrate all sub-genres of romance and foster excellence within those sub-genres. I urge a scoring system that encourages judges to look at each book as a whole, and with a consideration for its own sub-genre rules and expectations. And I urge policies that educate and expand our horizons in an ever-changing literary landscape. Because ours is a beautifully diverse genre backed up by the best professional organization in the industry; it deserves to be viewed as such.

Any ideas on how we can get this done?


Comments

Open Letter to RWA from a RITA Nominee — 121 Comments

  1. Thank you for this letter, Stephanie. It was eloquently stated and hit on all the points I’ve been feeling since the RITA nominations were announced. I encourage everyone who feels the same to email their concerns to the RWA board of directors.

  2. Well stated! We faced these same scoring issues with the Golden Heart last year and hoped things would have changed for this year, but no. In fact, as a judge, I *hated* the new Golden Heart scoring system so much that I didn’t judge this year for the first time since I joined RWA.

    In Paranormal Romance at the Golden Heart level, we noted last year that the new scoring system of separating out the elements and giving the biggest chunk to “romance” elevates those stories that are primarily contemporary romances and have merely a paranormal “wallpaper” element. Those stories with strong worldbuilding and a paranormal save-the-world external plot suffer in this scoring system because the romance in that style is usually a slow build. Heck, in many cases, the hero and heroine start off as enemies and don’t necessarily have that instant “chemistry” (or if they do, they’re so deep in denial that it doesn’t surface in the first 50 pages).

    For years, “wallpaper” has been used as an insult in the historical romance sub-genre, but now in paranormal romance, this seems to be the preferred style (at least as far as the scoring system seems to think). This is especially the case in the Golden Heart, where only the first 50 pages are judged.

    We noted the irregularities in the GH scoring system last year and that many fantastic stories were essentially cut out from the possibility of winning. In other words, as you said, the lack of entries at the 90% level says NOTHING about the quality of the other stories. More likely, many of those other stories simply weren’t “wallpaper”-y enough for the scoring system.

    In my opinion, this is not a good style to encourage. Romance should be about all things related to a HEA/HFN love story. Our characters might find love *because* of those deeper, non-wallpaper elements, and it short-changes the genre to limit or dismiss them.

    In addition, once we know the eventual RITA winners, a win in some categories will seem “more valuable” than others, simply because of the amount of competition. This attitude of some RITA wins not being “as special” undermines the whole award.

    If all wins aren’t seen as stupendous achievements, the award itself is less valuable. This isn’t a good direction for RWA to take with their centerpiece.

    RWA didn’t listen to our complaints last year with the Golden Heart. I hope with the added clout of the RITA participants, nominees, and eventual winners, RWA will take these other perspectives into consideration.

    Thanks for letting me vent. ;)

    • Well said, Jami! In fact, it was because of the new scoring system that I opted to save my money and not enter MUST LOVE BREECHES. I knew that with the scoring system, it had little chance of finaling, despite it being a 13-time chapter contest finalist. It seems the new scoring favors those plots that more closely resemble category-style romances where the romance thread is the main-one-and-only plot thread.

    • It seems to me that when you only have fifty pages to judge, any story that does not front-load the qualities sought out on the scoring sheet may suffer. Perhaps guidance could substitute for equation in this case so that the work could be considered in total.

    • Ella pointed out below that this comment of mine could be insulting to GH finalists. I truly didn’t mean for that to be my message, yet I can see how my comment might come off that way. For that, I deeply apologize.

      In other words, I wasn’t trying to say that the nominees WERE “wallpaper” romances, only that the scoring system could have resulted in that outcome. Again, I apologize that I didn’t make the differentiation between the *possibilities* of the scoring system and the *actual results* more clear.

      I certainly wouldn’t claim that the nominees this year or last were in any way not deserving, or less than the other entries. As a judge for the GH for many years, I know the outstanding quality of the entries–last year included. In fact, one of those I judged–and loved!–last year was a finalist. :)

      I just wanted to clarify my comment, as I’d hate for it to insult well-deserving nominees or finalists. Thank you!

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  4. Thank you, Stephanie. This is an issue that is close to the hearts of those who love the diversity within the romance community and those who believe we can continue to support and inspire each other. I’m proud to be part of this group of writers, and I appreciate how well you have expressed my concerns over the recent changes to the RITA awards.

  5. Yes, a thousand times, yes. As a romantic suspense author, I was also shocked with the slim number of RITA finalists. Like you, I believe the scoring rubric is broken (among other things). You, however, expressed the same sentiments much more eloquently than I. Thank you.

  6. So beautifully, well said, Steph. And you know I share all of these concerns. I’ve sent my letter onto the RWA board, too, and hope others will do the same. Jami – really interesting perspective and I couldn’t agree with you more.

  7. Your argument about Young Adult readers as the future romance audience is so true. Reading Betty Cavanna romances (and many others) was my gateway. My own daughters (now in their twenties) developed a love for romance novels through inhaling the YA shelves, and still love YA.

  8. I was never sure where the push to revamp the RITAs so they were more externally prestigious came from. I’ve NEVER heard an author say, “Gee, I know I’m likely to win a RITA (because it’s really pretty easy), but it won’t mean anything unless CNN broadcasts it, Time does a feature story, and the Wall Street Journal covers it above the fold.”

    If romance doesn’t have that kind of prestige, it can’t be superimposed on the RITAs by virtue of peculiar scoring algorithms, contracted categories, or other tweaks. I honestly don’t care what the greater world thinks of the RITAs or my books. I care what romance readers think, what other romance authors think, and what I think.

    That said, I generally like the 90 percent rule. A less than stellar book should NOT final just because entries in a category were light, or none of the truly skilled authors in that category had a book out that year.

    Similarly, a high scoring book SHOULD final, regardless that a lot of high scoring books came out that year. In my category (historical), EVERY other author nominated has consistently been doing excellent work (though historical is dead, of course). The problem there is that RWA collapsed several categories into one, just as the range of entries grew by leaps.

    I do NOT approve of authors having to judge their own categories, though. Talk about undermining the integrity of an award process…

    Would I want to sort this out? Erm, nope. No matter what system you choose, somebody will be loudly unhappy with it. I’d rather be writing love stories that end HEA.

    • I’m not sure where the impetus to change the RITAs came from either–but there must have been good reasons. Unfortunately, I think the solutions arrived at make it look as if we were trying to fix something that wasn’t very broken.

      • There were MANY stellar erotic romances this year, BUT We don’t know who entered, we don’t how many entered, we don’t know if these fell into the judging-your-own-category entries, or if historical and contemp ended up with a lot of that kind of judging (I had two historicals to judge) and that affected the scoring (up or down). WE DON’T KNOW.

        We are hopping–madly–to a LOT of conclusions about how the judging worked on an individual and collective bases. I for one, interpreted the romance points category to mean the romance as it applied to that category. An erotic romance should still BE a wonderful, central romance, but I will expect it to show up on the page differently from a YA romance.

        • Well, you make fair points, Grace, and I am trying not to jump to any mad conclusions–certainly not about any individuals or individual decisions. Insofaras RWA would like to release information that might change our conclusions, I would be happy to re-evaluate my point of view. In the absence of that, however, I think the aggregate results speak for themselves as evidence that something is askew. And ultimately, it’s the results and the impact those results have on our whole genre that should concern us.

          • We can’t know WHAT the results speak for until we SEE THE DATA. Could be only THREE entries were made to the erotic category and they were all stellar, in which case all this hue’in and cryin’ about the judging is off base.

            DATA DATA DATA. We should not have to guess, but we should not treat assumptions as fact either.

            Sad thing is, we’ll never get to see that data. Sadder thing? RWA used a non-inclusive process to arrive at their decision to change the RITA and to implement their changes. Even if we get the RITA back on footing more of the membership supports, we have process issues that will haunt the organization well beyond the RITAs.

            • I agree wholeheartedly with your first comment, Grace! I am neutral on a lot of this, though I don’t like the scoring itself and I do like the 90% rule.

              But part of what we-as-a-collective see as a problem can ONLY be based on assumptions because data doesn’t exist. If we could poll every judge to find out why they scored each entry the way they did, I would be extremely surprised if any pattern developed. Even stuff we think should be objective is not–what I think is well motivated, another reader/author thinks is weak.

              So we can discuss and debate forever (which is a good thing) but won’t ever arrive at any kind of “truth.”

              Also, we’re all hampered because the RWA board can only make decisions after one contest concludes and the next one ends. That means it can only happen at the July board meeting. There’s no time for open discussion on proposals because they have to be presented between the March meeting and the July meeting. That’s why it’s always trial and error and learning by doing, and why the contests are always changing.

  9. “Romancier-than-thou” Ha! I LOVE you!

    An extremely thought-provoking post. I have to admit that your argument here is different than what I thought it was going to be when I began reading. Your point about YA readers being future romance readers is an excellent one. Thanks for making me think.

  10. First of all, congratulations on the nominations!!! I’m so happy that one of the erotic nominations is a historical.

    Second, thank you for putting your thoughts down on this so well. Forgive my essay, but I’ve been ruminating on this as well as some thoughts about romance beyond the contest. I pasted a conversation I had on a loop here. They also seem to align with some of your arguments. Cause you know…great minds and all *grins*

    I had a revelation recently while on a Facebook historical discussion group where I asked people whether they gravitated towards historical settings where there was a sense of comfort — physicial comfort, not necessarily familiarity — because that held up the romantic fantasy. This is why medievals and westerns and perhaps WWII set novels are not as popular. Because readers in the back of their mind might think that these are dangerous or unpleasant times and it ruins the romantic fantasy.

    The takeaways I had from that conversation seem to align with how the RITAs and the emphasis on romance in judging played out…WITH the exception of paranormal…which I’ll have to chew over. Over and over, we see that things that are not adopted in other sub-genres, i.e. multicultural romances, non-white characters, are adopted in paranormal. It’s food for thought as to why.

    But here’s the gist of what my current thought is: In stories, settings and frameworks that are familiar, the romance becomes more prevalent. Thus it feels more romantic — even if only on a subconscious level.

    What spawned this thought was when people on the historical thread were saying candidly (with full knowledge of who I was and what I write) that they don’t read historical romance to learn about different times and places. They read it for the romance and thus, prefer Regencies and within that even more light Regencies because then there’s nothing to concentrate on but the romance because everything else is so familiar.

    If we extrapolate that, we see that the two largest RITA categories were contemporary and historical.

    This is NOT to say the stories aren’t exceptional or pushing the boundaries. This is also not considering the fact that these two categories are mainstays in romance and the authors who write in them, likely more experienced as a population.

    But that point also shows that readers — the readers here being authors — are also more familiar with those two mainstays. This is what romance looks like — these categories don’t raise the question of “is this romance enough” as much as the other sub-genres.

    We see that short contemporary, though small, still had six nominations. Perhaps it can be argued that a shorter book does not serve the romance as well? However, the novella category did flourish–but there readers are expecting certain elements like a shorter timeframe.

    The sub-genres like romantic suspense, inspirational, erotic suffered from a startlingly low number of nominees. It can be argued that in each of these cases, there are other elements – suspense plot, emphasis on God and faith, emphasis on sex–that in essence detracts from the central focus of the romance in readers eyes. But in each of these cases, these are necessary elements of the sub-genre.

    I would then argue that the current prevalence of romance in the guidelines does not broaden the genre, but in effect narrows it, edging out books that are “different” in any significant way. Because if you have a secondary romance involving a minister, if you have a POC character, if you have a strong intrigue/espionage plot, all these things are detracting from the romance as readers THINK about other things. Do they amount to weaker stories? No — they amount to stronger, richer stories. But that’s not what’s being judged. These stories, by design, are unfamiliar, raise other questions, and engage parts of our brain that don’t scream – romance, romance, romance! And certainly not romance in the “traditional” sense of the word.

    Prior to yesterday, it was my hope that good stories would still win out. And I think good stories were indeed selected…BUT…a certain type of good story. What we see is the old school, traditional monoliths of contemporary/historical propped up and the sub-genres that give romance a broader reach downplayed.

    Perhaps this is not too different from what’s happened in the past — but overall we do see a move to an even narrower field of representation for romance in this years’ awards.

    That’s my soapbox for the day!

    • Really interesting thoughts, Jeannie. Given that IT STINGS SO SWEET is actually set in an unfamiliar time period, exploring alternate sexuality, and edgy sexual situations, it may seem ridiculous of me to say that the new system, “does not broaden the genre, but in effect narrows it, edging out books that are “different” in any significant way.” But I think that the general trend, rather than my specific experience, confirms your argument.

      • But your story was JUST THAT GOOD dahling! *winks*

        I certainly didn’t go through each nominee to conclude whether the story is indeed more mainstream, because I don’t that proves anything. I was looking at the broader view of the categories in my observations.

    • Jeannie Lin said: “It can be argued that in each of these cases, there are other elements – suspense plot, emphasis on God and faith, emphasis on sex–that in essence detracts from the central focus of the romance in readers eyes. But in each of these cases, these are necessary elements of the sub-genre. … all these things are detracting from the romance as readers THINK about other things. Do they amount to weaker stories? No — they amount to stronger, richer stories. But that’s not what’s being judged. These stories, by design, are unfamiliar, raise other questions, and engage parts of our brain that don’t scream – romance, romance, romance! … I think good stories were indeed selected…BUT…a certain type of good story.”

      YES! This was what I was trying to say about the style favored in the paranormal romance subgenre in this new scoring system. Thank you for improving on what I meant! :)

      • I should mention that my knowledge of the scoring system is based on the Golden Heart side of things and not RITA. Golden Heart implemented the new scoring system last year, and I saw entries that had been entered the previous year (and *just miss* finaling) drop to a 70% or so score.

        There’s no way a given manuscript should go from an almost 90% score under the old scoring system in one year to a 70% score in the next year. The QUALITY of the story did NOT drop that severely over the year–not when it had been racking up other RWA contest wins in the meantime. Instead, some stories were punished by scoring system, especially in certain subgenres.

        Unlike RITA, where a story is only eligible for one year (so we can’t make year-to-year comparisons), Golden Heart allows for re-entering. So we were able to compare old system to new system scores directly, and see the effect it had on the STYLE of stories chosen.

        Again, none of this is meant to suggest that the nominated stories aren’t fantastic. Their quality is phenomenal, I’m sure. However, as Jeannie says, the scoring system favors a certain STYLE of stories that hurts subgenres that include other elements.

    • I realize that much of this debate is rightly placed on sub-genres, especially since RWA seems to be so narrow-minded about some sub-genres. And Jeannie I think your comments are really spot-on.

      But I think it’s also important to note that the judging rubric narrows all sub-genres, even contemporary romance, which had a zillion finalists this year. The standard does not value storytelling. That means the more complicated, single-title kind of contemporary is equally penalized. In those books there might be more than one love story, there are always multiple points of view, and usually there is something else going on besides a girl meets boy story. So it’s not just an inspirational or a RS problem. It’s a universal problem when the judging criteria does not ask judges to rate the quality of the story.

      Readers want good stories. They don’t read books and grade them on the quality of the writing or the romance.

  11. Wonderful letter, Stephanie.

    As a newer member to RWA (only a year now), I joined because of the great programs and several friends recommended I try it out. But now, I must admit, I’m disappointed by the categorization of “real members” vs. “associate members”. If I attend meetings and conferences, support romance readers and writers, why would I be considered a “less-than” member?

    I’m bummed the board eliminated the novels with strong romance elements category, as my books would certainly be considered crossovers and would fall in that category. Also, I talk up organizations I believe strongly in and like to encourage other writers to join. I’m less likely to do so if we aren’t able to participate in the contests or other awards because we aren’t “romance-y” enough, when, in fact, all of my books contain some sort of love story. YA & women’s fiction elimination is a big issue in my view.

    In short, I share your concerns about the categories and the future readers of not only romance, but well-written books, and believe RWA is cutting themselves off at the knees.

    I hope you forward this letter on to the board, including your listed comments.

    • I think you will find broad sympathy for your point of view in the organization, Heather. The Board is empowered to make these decisions on their own initiative–and why shouldn’t they, when they so seldom get a quorum at the national meetings?–but it cuts so closely to who we are as an organization that one might desire to see a consensus on the matter, and that is at the heart of the controversy, IMO.

  12. The scoring system is BS. As a judge, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of it, and it seemed to have little bearing on my reaction as a reader. I had no idea there were EIGHTEEN finalists in CR. That’s ridiculous. If the RITA continues to make such a mockery of itself, it will fall further and further into obsolescence.

  13. As a consumer, I look to the RITAs for suggestions- what I may have missed & what to read next. I was dismayed to see a saturation of novels in some categories and too few in others. It feels unbalanced and reads: “Everyone’s a Winner!” or “We Reluctantly Scraped Up a Few Nomination for Your Lesser Sub-Genre”. This new voting system discredits the entire process.

  14. Stephanie, congrats on your final. Your writing is beautiful so it’s not a shock at all.

    As a YA writer, I have spent this year trying to figure out where and IF I still fit into RWA. I think right now we’re seeing membership continue to float instead of drop off because there’s so many writers like me who remember that our formative writing years were shaped by the membership when it was far more inclusive.

    To walk away from that history is hard.

    But memberships are built on the future, not the past. If there is no place for YA in RWA’s future, then perhaps there is no place for me. And that’s a difficult statement to make as someone who has held chairs on the local level. To go from wanting to give back to am I welcome is… disconcerting.

    I’ve had people in other sub-genres tell me they feel the same way.

    So, now we’re left at a cross-roads where boiling down the genre to its purest form looks like going backward to many of us. Isn’t literature meant to evolve with society and culture?

    I truly hope that the former inclusiveness can be rebuilt. But, sadly, I think we’re seeing the writing on the wall: Clear-cut, pure romance as defined by the old-school view will push out the newer forms of the genre.

    And that isn’t good for writers OR readers.

    Again, congrats on the final — no matter what’s going on in the membership it’s a wonderful and well-deserved accomplishment.

  15. This is clearly and thoughtfully expressed, Stephanie. Thank you. As someone who also writes erotic romance, “with romantic elements”, and young adult, I’ve seen RWA morph from an organization where all my identities felt safe to one where only Karenna Colcroft is really welcome, and that just barely since that’s my erotic romance pen name.

    I’m a proud member of YARWA, a chapter made up of many RWA members who write young adult, under my YA pen name, and I’ve seen the comments and responses about the exclusion of YA because “it isn’t real romance.” How many people find their one true love and happily-ever-after in high school?? Of course it happens. Anything’s possible. But when YA is supposed to reflect a true teen experience, a happy FOREVER ending is somewhat unrealistic. RWA–or at least some members–don’t take that into account in their insistence that ALL romance must have happily-ever-after endings.

    I haven’t entered any RWA contests since one of my novels placed third in the New England chapter’s Bean Pot in 2012, in part because when I consider entering I find rules that prohibit the book I wanted to enter. I do understand the logic of making RWA a true *romance* organization. I just don’t entirely agree with their definition of “true romance.”

    • Thanks for your kind words. Many YA novels, as I understand them, have a romance element that resolves happily by the end of a trilogy. In my mind, whether a story is broken up into one, two, three, four, or five parts…that’s all a publishing construct. I’m not sure I understand the rationale behind the requirement that the ending be contained in one print binding, but perhaps more educated people can weigh in on this.

  16. I have to say, in arguing this subject this week, I have learned that there seem to be two different schools of thought:

    1- The RITAs should highlight exceptional authors no matter the genre
    2- The RITAs should highlight the best of the best for each category.

    I am staunchly in the second school of thought. I think it is appalling that the Inspy, RS, and erotic genres were so terribly under-represented, and I absolutely agree that the new scoring system is to blame (for the record, I am a historical romance author). How can a book that, by genre definition, requires elements outside of romance compete toe to toe with a straight-up romance in this scoring system? I strongly believe that the top 10% of *each genre* should final. Otherwise, why are we even breaking up the categories?

    Huge props to all the finalists this year, no matter the genre. You guys are awesome, and I raise my glass to you! It is my hope, however, that this system can be ironed out sooner rather than later so that we may celebrate the best of each category in the the future.

  17. Thanks so much for this Stephanie. I don’t think I have heard it expressed better. It’s so hard to complain when I am truly happy for the finalists and I don’t want to take away from their joy, so I really appreciate that you’re willing to stand up.

    • I think a lot of folks are afraid to speak up for fear of being accused of sour grapes. That made me feel as if I had a responsibility to say something, given that I was nominated. I just hope that no one infers from this that I am an ungrateful harpie.

  18. Thank you for such a clear discussion of the problems.

    One of my difficulties with the judging categories is that I find them impossible to separate. I can’t believe in the romance if I can’t believe in the characters, I can’t find the characters convincing if I can’t find the story convincing (and vice versa), and I can’t find anything convincing if the writing fails.

    And I’m not convinced that narrowing the definition of what is considered romance is the way to go. However I’m not a long-time member with a ton of credits to my name, so I’m not sure I’m in a position to comment on that.

  19. Sorry for the late arrival. I have been enlightened by your post, as well as the exceptional comments. First, congratulations on your nomination, Stephanie, and to all those who entered, regardless of the final outcome. Entering the RITA is no small feat. I am glad Erotica is finally getting it’s own spotlight. I echo Bria Quinlan’s comment in that as a YA author, I too am not sure if RWA holds anything worthwhile for my future. YARWA has a strong following, but again, we’re kind of like the bastard child invited to the family party, but kept at a table in the back of the room. Thanks you for your acknowledgment as to the important role YA authors play in developing a readership that will evolve into future fanbases for other genres. I was saddened that the YA category had to be dropped, but the stringent guidelines set up don’t fit the majority of YA. None of my YA books qualified. The realism of YA isn’t finding true love and riding off into the sunset on the white steed, still wearing your cap and gown from high school graduation. It’s about the evolution of romance from it’s beginning stages and the self-discovery process along the way. HFN is the realistic ending, not HEA. Hopefully, RWA will look at our letters and revisit the RITA and Golden Heart guidelines before next year so that a more fair, broader representation of all elements of the romance genre will be shown. Until then, good luck to all the nominees.

  20. Thank you for a thought-provoking post. I have a different perspective though on a couple of the points you mention.

    First, “Romance Writers of America® (RWA) is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.” This is how RWA defined itself to the IRS. I know nothing about tax laws, but my question is–if RWA did NOT focus on romance and the IRS questioned our purpose, would RWA have to disband and reform under a different mission, one that was more inclusive and not romance specific? What would that do to our organization and membership as a whole?

    Second, the scoring change last year to give priority to the romance element worried me. I write paranormal historical romance. I KILL the heroine of my book in the first 50 pages. The reincarnated heroine and the hero don’t meet until after page 55. Not a typical romance, and definitely not a romance with wallpaper paranormal elements. Despite all this, my manuscript “Demon’s Bane” finaled in the 2013 GH. When I judge the GH, I use the synopsis to make my final determination of whether or not a book is a romance. Since I finaled last year, I have to suppose I’m not the only one.

    I agree with you that the 90% rule should be abolished. Yes, we want quality. However, if entries have judges who tend to score low, that alone would be enough to keep excellent entries from finaling.

    My thoughts.

    • Thank you for adding to this discussion. Let me address two of your points.

      First, I’m so glad you brought up the IRS, because there’s been a lot of misinformation spread about this topic–the misinformation itself becoming a hot topic on the published author’s network last year. In point of fact, the IRS does not have a branch dedicated to the definition of literary genre. For tax purposes, the romance genre is whatever we say it is and our Articles of Incorporation specifically empower the Board of Directors to make such calls under Article 5.

      None of the recent changes to that definition were compelled by force of law. Once changes are made, however, the law compels us to comply with them, until we change them again.

      Clearly a line must be drawn between our genre and others, and we may not all agree on that line. But I believe we’ve drawn the line in the wrong place and continue to do so.

      As for your second point, it’s well taken. (And congratulations!) As I mentioned to Jeannie Lin, above, I’m a strange person to be arguing against conformity in an organization that has rewarded me not once, but twice, for doing something that does not conform. One of the reasons I love RWA so much is because it DOES try to embrace diversity. I am just of the opinion that the changes taken in aggregate will frustrate that intention.

  21. Thanks for this post! It says a lot of what I want to say and reflects my frustrations with the scoring system. First of all, just taking any book the scored “over 90″ is a bit ridiculous. Each judge’s scoresheet needs to be weighted against itself. People have a tendency to calibrate based on what they have in hand, and one judge might have felt that, say, giving books scores of 91, 89, and 85 was a huge difference between them while another judge who felt the same about those books might come up with 80, 70, 60. If all we’re doing is taking those whose average score topped 90, without any weighting, anyone unlucky enough to have a judge with a greater calibration range won’t make finalist.

    Another point about erotic romance. I didn’t even realize the rule about the romance needing to wrap up within one bound book. That is going to eliminate a HUGE portion of what is being published by the Big Six publishers right now. More than half of the books I looked at last year when mine launched were part of trilogies or series. I was literally told by my publisher when I pitched a standalone novel they weren’t interested unless it was a trilogy like 50 Shades , and it had to have breakup cliffhangers at the ends of books 1 & 2. I’m with a major house. What the publishers are insisting on therefore disqualifies a large swath from even being considered!

    With YA and romantic suspense also being largely published as series, no wonder YA nominations were down so low the category didn’t run, and I wonder if that was the case with others genres, too. How can we discount series books when that’s the dominant format for some genres?

    • Cecilia, I really appreciate your perspective in this as someone who has been at the forefront of erotic romance. Thank you for all you’ve done to break boundaries.

      To play devil’s advocate, I imagine that the argument must run that a judge has no way of knowing for sure that the romance is going to end happily at the end of a trilogy if they are only reading the first book, and therefore, books that are not actually romances might be rewarded. I think that’s an obstacle to be got around, rather than one that should shut out whole sub-genres, but I suspect that is the argument behind it. Hopefully someone who knows better than chime in.

  22. Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to write about this and congratulations for finalling. Although I still must confess to not understanding the changes, I can completely agree that this format is not working. But I don’t have an answer. I wish I did.
    I appreciate that RWA is always trying to improve the system. Thank you, RWA. But if an outside organization was hired to revamp this contest, I’m afraid we didn’t get a good return on our investment.
    I am wondering if that company didn’t fully understand the intricacies of judging a romance. Maybe that 90% thing needs to be changed? I judged this year and was shocked to see one book I felt was a winner not even listed, in fact, only TWO books were listed as good enough in that category?
    Something’s wrong and I don’t think it’s just lousy writing.

  23. Stephanie, thanks for a terrific essay, and for giving me a soap box to sound off.

    I write contemporary romance so I don’t have the beef that others do about categories collapsing or disappearing.

    But I do think the disappeared categories in conjunction with the new scoring system adds up to one thing: The RITA no longer values good storytelling.

    It values a bunch of components one of which — The Romance — is not even something I think about when I plan a book. Sure, I’m writing about couples (I have more than one in every book) but I’m interested in telling their STORY, which is driven by their backstory, their families, their goals, their conflicts, the community at large, and 19 other things that are usually considered plot, but which are really only story elements.

    This business of scoring separate elements is too complicated and deeply flawed. So when I judged this year, I gave the books with great stories 90% scores. I just made sure the scores came out that way. I didn’t evaluate the books on any other criteria. It was my silent protest against a scoring system that I, quite frankly, have little respect for.

    I think when we allow our genre to focus on anything that isn’t related to good storytelling, then we’ve missed the boat. I write fiction. I tell stories. That’s what fiction is supposed to be about. And I wish RWA would recognize this simple truth and revise their method of scoring the RITA. It’s pretty simple, just go back to the singe number score and leave it at that.

    • Hope Ramsey said: “I think when we allow our genre to focus on anything that isn’t related to good storytelling, then we’ve missed the boat. I write fiction. I tell stories. That’s what fiction is supposed to be about.”

      This. Thank you, Hope. Yes, I’m a pantser, so the romance evolves naturally out of the characters as they interact and is informed by all those backstory, goals, conflicts, etc. elements.

      Romance should be important within RWA, but it grows out of good storytelling and can’t be separated. Thank you, and I hope they change the GH scoring system too. ;)

  24. Stephanie, thanks for an excellent, well-presented post about the problem with this year’s RITAs. As an inspirational author, you can imagine my feelings when I saw only two finalists in that category. It makes it look as if there weren’t plenty of entries (there always are) or that the rest just don’t measure up (definitely not true).

    I disliked the new scoring system the instant I saw it last year. In my letter to the RWA board which I sent yesterday, I said this: “The worst part of the judging experience for me this year was that I am now expected to judge a book like a teacher (singling out four elements and rating each) rather than as a reader (where I score on the overall experience). One concern that has been mentioned to me is that judges tend to count down the romance score when other elements carry equal story weight (i.e. faith elements in Inspirationals). I am not alone in my dislike of the new scoring system. I hope those who have shared their opinions with me and the many who have shared their opinions online are also sharing them with the board.”

    Thanks again for stating the case so well.

    Robin Lee Hatcher

  25. Great post and discussion thread.

    I don’t think RWA has done itself any favors with the new scoring system or by eliminating categories. One of the things here to now I’d always admired about us is how welcoming we’ve been of various subgenres – what a waste of good talent to grow smaller in spirit. Very disappointing.

    • In this publishing climate, Romance should be innovating, not narrowing options.

      I was so disappointed and angry when they dropped the Romantic Elements category.

  26. I left RWA after the whole Romantic Elements debacle. I also wrote YA now, not just love stories. RWA no longer offers me a place within the organization to hone my craft. I sadly saw this coming. Good luck!

  27. I’m in agreement with most of your post.

    RWA is an organization of commercial writers. The working definition of Romance should be what fills the bookstore shelves. The RITA should be awarded to the best writing found on those shelves.

    I’m totally opposed to the new judging standards. I find them unwieldy and anti-intuitive. They are a nanny-ish interference with the judges no other national writing contest imposes.

    These new rules fix a problem that never, in fact, existed. The RITA has always excluded books that are not genre Romances. Now the RITA penalizes books that are most certainly Romances, but are not sufficiently ‘Romanc-y’ Romances.

    Now, I like that the top 10% of entries earn a finalist position. That seems fair to me.

    I’d suggest the contest give no prize in categories with fewer than five entrants. (Finalists in closed categories could compete in another if they choose.)

    • Sorry. Sent the post before I finished it:

      I’d suggest the contest give no prize in categories with fewer than five entrants. (Finalists in closed categories could compete in another if they choose.) It’s just not fair to have some finalists ten times more likely to win than others.

      I think the low number of finalists in RS, YA and Inspie is related to the weird judging criteria. That’s more unfairness, IMO.

  28. As a new member to the organization, (though a seasoned academic specialist in the genre), I find myself dazed both by the assessment criteria employed in the latest contests and the responses to them.

    The genre of the romance in the U.S. has historically served as
    a deliberate break with literary convention to follow “a road less traveled”, thereby requiring within the very essence of the genre, a call for individuality, literary experimentation, and
    through these, the creation of romantic literary ‘art’.

    What has happened to the genre?

    Based on the latest assessment criteria,
    not only have exemplars of the genre today been dismissed, but the very ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ of the genre would never have made the 90% mandatory scoring as finalists: The Scarlet Letter, Hope Leslie, Wuthering Heights, The Last of the Mohicans. . . (sorry–no italics)

    Why?

    We have translated the attitudinal essence of the genre, —the exploration of the truths of the heart—into a series of proscriptive directives.

    Perhaps the current wave of disappointment in these new assessment criteria might initiate a sea-change, —by charting new unexplored, romantic courses of literary exploration.

    As a committed romantic loyal to the spirit of the genre, I await a Hopeful resolution. Let’s remember that Hope springs from many different directions, —HEA not necessary.

    It’s the thought—from the heart—that counts.

  29. Thank you for posting this, Stephanie. As I was reading, I felt a bit like I was at a revival, I kept thinking, Amen! :-) You hit on so many points that I’ve been concerned with. I was just speaking to one of my writer buds this morning (a past RITA winner as a matter of fact) and we mentioned the same thing – the two genres I was most concerned with was Romantic Suspense and YA considering these are two of our biggest cross-over genres. I know that many of my friends who write YA didn’t even bother entering b/c they felt certain their books would be disqualified as not having enough romance. Since when is there a concrete measurement of romance? How are we to break out of the stereotype of writing formulaic books when we have judging standards such as these?

    It’s a shame that to those outside of RWA the RITA’s must look like a photograph of what’s what in romance. Guess that means erotic romance, inspirational romance and romantic suspense are less popular and not as well written as Contemporary, historical and paranormal. I think not. I’ll definitely be writing a letter to the board to express my concerns.

    Thanks again for this blog!

  30. Congratulations on your Rita final, Stephanie! And congrats to all of the other finalists. Well done!
    I’ve been watching the changes in the Ritas over the past couple of years and I’m continually perplexed at the direction the contest is taking.
    The loss of the romantic elements category was a head scratcher. Books like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series used to fall under the romantic elements category because the mystery story line is given more page time than the romance story lines.
    But what do readers talk about when they talk about that series?
    The Joe/Ranger romance story lines. Does anyone even remember the mystery in the last Stephanie Plum novel they read?
    While considered minor by RWA standards, the Joe/Ranger story lines are what have helped to drive that series. Clearly the total page time a romance is given isn’t as important to a reader as the *quality* of the romance story lines.
    Not to sound like a Bitter Bear, but only one out of my 5 new releases this year will qualify for the Rita’s under the new rules. All 3 of my romantic suspense novellas are too short (under 20k) and my cozy mystery with the start of 2 different romances and a wedding in the last scene would’ve fallen into the now nonexistent romantic elements category. My romantic suspense novel is the only one out of the five that would qualify. And it will, ironically, be my only self-published title this year. None of my publisher published books qualify for the Ritas.
    I consider myself a romance writer. Every single one of my books has a romance in them. Every single one. But they just don’t ‘fit’ the new Rita categories. Quite a few of my favorite books don’t either, so I’m in very good company. :-)
    Thanks for your letter, Stephanie. I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments as well. So many good points and so eloquently delivered.

  31. I didn’t understand how they were having RS authors judging other RS books. Judging your competition doesn’t generally work to too well. Nobody votes themselves off the island! Its lead me to believe that is why there’s only four maybe five in the RS category? Where as they said had so many RS entries there wasn’t enough judges for them, and that’s all that made the cut? Doesn’t make any sense to me.
    Congrats to all the finalists!

  32. Very, very well put, Stephanie! I’d just like to add one other aspect of the awards this year that seemed “off” — I’m a member of the Rainbow Romance Writers chapter of RWA (full disclosure: I had m/m entries in both Erotic Romance and Novella this year), and I’ve been asking around on the forums there — apparently, not one LGBT romance finaled in any category this year. We don’t want a separate LGBT category, it makes no sense to have LGBT historicals, contemporaries, erotic romances etc. going head to head, but I know my fellow authors, and I’m astonished that not one LGBT romance was deemed worthy of 90 points out of 100 in any category…

  33. Thank you for this terrific letter, Stephanie. I agree completely with your comments. I did not have entries in the competition, so this didn’t impact me directly this year. But I read widely in erotic romance and I thought last year was particularly strong for books published in that category. I was quite surprised to see so few finalists (having been aware of some excellent entries–in my entirely subjective opinion, of course, although these were books that received rave reviews across the board from the reviewing blog heavyweights). It does seem as if the new judging rules, unintentional as it may be, have effectively punished those romances with additional elements.

    I also strongly wish for the return of the YA and Romantic Elements categories. One of the things that I have loved about our genre and our professional organization is how welcoming and broad our open door has been. Whereas a SFF novel with strong romantic elements frequently receives a less than generous welcome in the SFF community (I consider myself a member of that community too, as a reader, and we’re working on it), I was always glad that that same book would be welcomed in the romance community and by RWA. It’s disappointing to see that change.

    Thank you very much for writing with such eloquence!

  34. I was a member of RWA for 12 years. I published my first book under my real name in 2005 with very little success. In 2011 I published two erotic romances with a small e publisher under the name Mercy Celeste. My second book Wicked Game earned the first honorable mention place in the RWA erotic romance chapter Passionate Ink’s Passionate Plume contest. But because it was not published in print I could not enter it in the RITA. Since then I’ve changed genres yet again and now write almost exclusively Male Male romance. I am an Amazon number one best selling author many times over, and an All Romance number one best seller as well. That said after twelve years of membership in RWA I chose not to renew last year. Despite my personal gains, I feel that my MF erotic and my MM romance and erotic romance are not welcome at RWA. I couldn’t continue to support an organization that offered me as a small press and now self published author much beyond the basic membership. I haven’t paid attention to the new changes this year but I’m saddened to read that instead of becoming more inclusive it seems RWA is moving toward a more exclusive form of membership. I was hoping to re-evaluate my decision to let my long time membership go but…well, maybe not. Maybe next year.

  35. Fantastic post, Stephanie. It’s so important that we have these discussions in public! I hope you also sent it to the RWA for RWR.

    Thanks for writing. And congrats on the nomination!

  36. Thanks for writing this. As someone new to romance and the RWA, with my first book coming out in September, this is good background information. RWA has been a huge help to me in my professional process so far, but as I write material that has significant queer and erotic content and that tends to focus on the hard work it takes to get to HEA in real life, I know that finding my place both in the community and organization may at times feel challenging. I’m glad this discussion is happening, and I’m glad it’s happening in a way that seems accessible, clear, and open. The situation may be negative and concerning, but how we’re doing the discussion around it is actually making me feel pretty good.

  37. Congratulations on your nomination, Stephanie, and thank you for taking the time to think through these issues on a day that should have been one of nothing but celebration for you. I so appreciate both your clarity and the dialogue on this thread. I’m reminded all over again how smart and creative romance writers truly are.

  38. Well said, Stephanie! The lopsidedness of the finalists was shocking and a bit disconcerting. I’m not sure what would help or why we really had to change it. I’m glad to see some self published titles on the list. It seems like in some way we are making progress while at the same time taking some steps backwards. But I’m sure in the end they’ll figure it out. Fingers crossed, anyway!

  39. I have to be honest and say I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with the new judging system. As a single author in a vast organization, it probably doesn’t matter whether I agree or not. However, as someone who was a GH finalist last year (in the paranormal category), after reading through this post and seeing certain comments, I do believe there are a few things to consider.

    First—and most definitely foremost—there are a lot of suppositions here. Without having read not just every book that was a finalist, but the books that came close (and my scientific husband would probably insist every entry, period), there is no way to know if the new scoring techniques did, in fact, favor those whose books were more “pure” romance. In fact, you have three points of evidence that disagree. First, Stephanie’s book, which by her admission is out of the box and doesn’t necessarily fit into what should be favored by the new scoring system.

    Second, Jami Gold’s supposition that paranormal finalists last year were merely wallpapered romances. As with India Powers’ description of her book above, my GH manuscript began with a save-the-world problem, and my hero and heroine did not hold a true conversation until the scene that ends on page 50. My hero actually has a scene with his lover (not the heroine) in the first 50 pages. I, in fact, worried myself sick that I would not final because the romance wasn’t strong enough in the first 50 pages. Yet I still finalled. And we aren’t the only ones. So the idea that last year’s scoring for the GH, a precursor to this new RITA scoring, set the contest up to hinder strong paranormal elements (or any other subgenre elements) and favor stronger romances appears, in this case, to be incorrect. Keep in mind also that different judges see books/book elements differently, which could account for a change in scoring from year to year (not to mention changes to the manuscript itself from year to year, and a number of other factors that cannot be determined accurately). Without having read each and every entry that finalled, and the manuscripts they went up against, assuming manuscripts that finalled had watered down the paranormal element in favor of the romance is pure conjecture and personal feeling anyway (not to mention insulting to last year’s finalists, in any category, since they all used the same scoring criteria).

    And third, for all that we say the new scoring system must be purely used in order for its purpose to be carried out (i.e., every single judge must score to the letter as instructed for only heavily romance-centric books to final), there seems to be quite a bit of “that’s how you’re supposed to do it, but I didn’t.” If one will admit they didn’t follow the “rules,” many may follow. I myself have heard authors who judged say they adjusted scores to more correctly reflect the overall impression they received from a book. Doing so actually undermines the new scoring system, making it less effective. Not only that, but reading is a subjective process. How one reader interprets a romance and how another interprets the same romance may differ. We’ve seen that mentioned in some of the above comments. How judges interpreted the instructions of the rubric differ, as seen by the commenter who said she applied the “romance” to the subgenre as it would fit that subgenre (erotic, YA, etc.). Though the new rules are in fact a more systematic approach to judging, it is by no means exact and does not seem to have been applied uniformly, making the supposition that the new judging rules are the only reason for whatever problem you see with the results seriously flawed.

    By their nature, rubrics make it more difficult to get a higher score because they force the grader to see individual aspects separately. Every schoolteacher knows this. So a 7 out of 10 in one category isn’t so bad, but if every category loses 3 points and there are ten categories? That’s a 70. As a teacher I experienced this all the time and actually had to adjust my scoring consciously to get my students’ scores somewhere in the vicinity of where I felt they should be overall. The same is true with using a rubric for judging contests (something the majority of romance contests use, by the way). We’ve gone from a single overall impression for a score to a rubric that forces you to individualize the components of the story. It isn’t just that romance is more heavily weighted, which I would think would be a given in a romance competition, but that you are using a rubric instead of just a single-number impression. The fact that it is more difficult to get a finalling score would seem to me to add more prestige to the award, not less. The sheer subjectiveness of a single-number impression translates into a more subjective award, does it not? So we’ve gone from an award based on how enjoyable a book was overall (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), to an award that tries to more accurately choose books that excel at certain elements of writing. It’s a shift in perspective, but that doesn’t make it necessarily a bad thing. Especially not on its first run. Could the new system be tweaked? Maybe. But jumping to do so without both perspective and thought (far more thought than two days after finalists are announced) would not seem to be the wisest choice an organization this large could make.

    The simplest explanation for the wide variance in number of finalists is the number of entries in each category. Contemporary is a general category, historical the largest subgenre in romance; it makes sense that these categories would have more entries and, therefore, more chances for a finalist to rise to the top. Erotic romance, while becoming more widespread, is still a primarily e-published genre. The majority of e-publishers do not print those books for a good year after the publication date (and no, most of them do not provide their authors print arcs for contest entries, though there are a very few exceptions). E-pubbed authors can have their stories printed and professionally bound, yes, but how many will spend hundreds of dollars for this? Not many that I know, and I’m one of them. That issue will naturally reduce the number of entries in this category. The same is true for inspirationals, if on the flip side. The majority of inspirational authors are traditionally published, which means they tend to release one, maybe two books a year. Though that is a good amount, the indie contemporary authors I am familiar with are releasing anywhere from three to six or seven books in a year. The sheer volume means contemporary will have more entries than inspirational. And therefore more finalists.

    All that to say, good or bad, the new scoring methods aren’t the only issue affecting the outcome of this contest this year. Discussion surrounding the issue is not necessarily a bad thing, but discussion without facts and based on supposition and feelings isn’t helpful. In fact, it can hurt a process that needs time to understand thoroughly, and it can hurt the people caught in the process in the meantime. Stephanie has openly acknowledged that her book seems to be an exception to what she believes the results of the RITA judging to be. Are the other entries, in all categories, “not the exception”? I wish we as professionals and fellow authors would consider what we’re truly saying when we make arguments like this. I doubt any of this year’s RITA finalists want to be seen as downplaying or watering down their subgenres in favor of “pure romance” any more than the GH finalists last year appreciate their manuscripts being labeled “wallpaper romances.”

    • Hi Ella,

      I’m extremely glad to hear you share your experiences. I hope my comments of what the scoring system *COULD* cause didn’t insult any of the finalists from last year or this year. I truly didn’t mean for that to be my message, yet I can see how my comments might have come off that way. For that, I deeply apologize.

      My concerns are simply–like what Stephanie pointed out–that in the aggregate, the big picture, the scoring system seems to emphasize certain elements over other elements that might make an equally satisfying romance.

      In other words, I wasn’t trying to say that the nominees WERE “wallpaper” romances, only that the scoring system could have resulted in that outcome. Again, I apologize that I didn’t make the differentiation between the *possibilities* of the scoring system and the *actual results* more clear.

      I certainly wouldn’t claim that the nominees this year or last were in any way not deserving, or less than the other entries. As a judge for GH for many years, I know the outstanding quality of the entries–last year included. :)

      In fact, one of those I judged–and loved!–last year was a finalist. I’m glad the scoring system didn’t negatively affect you and that your story was recognized. Belated congratulations!

      I hope these discussions will help RWA find a way to enhance the GH and RITA awards. As my original points weren’t much different from those of other commenters (like Jeannie Lin’s), I’m more concerned that the IMPRESSION of what the scoring system could do or emphasize exposes a problem. None of us want the prestige of these awards undermined by doubts about a scoring system or, as was apparently the case with RITA this year, authors judging their own category, etc.

      Perhaps there will always be doubts with any new system, but as you pointed it, there’s so much we don’t know, and that hurts overall trust levels as well. Thank you for letting me clarify my original point, and I again apologize for any insult. I truly did not mean for my comment to come off that way. Take care!

      • Thank you for the explanation, Jami. This is a complicated subject, but hopefully, over time, things will be clearer.

        • Thank YOU for listening, Ella! I added the main point of my reply to you under my original reply, so hopefully others won’t have to experience that insult.

          Also, thank you for pointing it out. To be honest, I’m rather horrified that I spoke so unclearly. LOL!

          Chalk it up to me knowing so clearly in my mind (from personal experience even!) that the finalists WERE worthy that I didn’t think to clarify that distinction between possibilities and actual results in my original post. So I’m grateful for the opportunity to clarify that point. :)

    • I’ve continued to think about this comment and the issues over the past few days. There are some good points here. I don’t agree that it’s harder to final *for everyone* under the 90% rule. There are 77 nominees this year vs. 84 last year, and 2 fewer categories.

      But maybe the categories with more nominees DID simply have more entries. Each category requires 5% of the total, which means at least 100 books (of 2000 max) entered per category. That’s why YA was cancelled. Contemp and Historical might have had 500 entries, so it follows logic that we’d see 5 times as many nominees there.

      It’s possible that Inspie, RS and ER had lower numbers. I don’t know about Short Contemp, but it’s possible. If some categories had 200 each, vs. 400, I’d expect to see twice the number of nominees in those areas.

      No matter how the numbers fall exactly, the percentages still favor some categories over others. Around 1-2% of entrants finaled in inspie, RS and ER vs. 3-4% of contemp. If the # of entries were roughly equal (250 each) the discrepancy is much larger. Less than 1% for inspie vs. 7% in contemp.

      One solution I might propose, other than instituting a minimum and maximum number of finalists (5-10?) is an “Alternate” category for those books that don’t fit in other places. Non-traditional romance, GLBT, even YA and SRE could enter here. I know it sounds like a hodgepodge, but I think that a step towards more inclusion is necessary.

      Opening the YA category up to NA might boost those numbers too.

      • Without knowing anything about the actual number of entries, it’s hard to tell what percentage the final numbers represent. But I can say from personal experience that Ellora’s Cave was very proactive about encouraging entries into the Erotic Romance category, and from some of the other comments on this thread, I’m guessing other publishers of erotic romance were the same. And again, I can only speak from my own experience (which means I don’t know anything about non-traditional romance, YA, or SRE), but to my way of thinking it wouldn’t make any sense to have LGBT contemporary, historical, romantic suspense, erotic, and inspirational (I have an amazing idea for a m/m/ inspie I think I’m going to work on during the next year, assuming I can figure out how to do without sleep) competing against each other in an “alternate” category…

        • The alternate category isn’t ideal, I agree. But the authors can decide where they want to compete, with alt being one option. Does LGBT have a chance anywhere else? I don’t see any among the finalists.

          • That’s kind of my point, Jill. “LGBT” ought to have a chance in any category, as there are LGBT books in every category. We shouldn’t need a separate LGBT category, any more than we should need, say, categories for interracial romance. I think the problem with LGBT entries is separate from the problem with types of romance that incorporate non-romantic elements, and the solution, if there is one, is probably going to be different.

            • You’re right. We shouldn’t need a category for MC or LGBT, but I can only think of one AA finalist (Farrah Rochon). Many of the categories have overlap–Stephanie’s erotic is also a historical. When erotic rom had to compete in other categories, it did poorly. This year as well.

              I know my catch-all solution isn’t perfect, but I want to do something to help underrepresented authors. There is no perfect solution that everyone will agree on.

  40. Hi Stephanie!

    Thank you for the shout-out. I didn’t even enter the RITAs this year for one reason only. The Mistress was book four in an ongoing series and I doubt many of the judges would have read the previous three books so book four would be made no sense to them. I told Andrew recently I would enter one of my non-series books into the RITAs but entering a series book (continuing series) seemed pointless.

    Great post! Lots of food for thought.
    Tiffany Reisz

  41. First off, congratulations, Stephanie!!! I’m thrilled for your nomination. So well deserved!

    And thank you for your thoughtful, articulate post. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Thank you for speaking up!

  42. Great post, Stephanie.

    I was initially supportive of the new scoring rubric even though I thought it might hurt my chances as an RS author. I also stood by the decision to eliminate SRE, but I never expected this outcome. Maybe I was wrong to have sided with RWA as they moved in this direction. I thought–yes, it is a romance contest, so it makes sense to focus on romance, and exclude books that don’t fit the genre description. Some YA and SRE novels aren’t romances with happy endings. Should non-romances be eligible for a RITA? I still don’t know. Long series with light romantic threads (JD Robb) fit my personal definition.

    But now that I’ve seen the results of going too far in the opposite direction, I think…I’ve been wrong all along. We should be open to a broader view of romance and bring in readers/writers on the fringes instead of excluding them. I’m sorry I didn’t see that before.

    If the RS category was cancelled due to lack of entries, I wouldn’t want to compete in contemporary. I can’t compete there. And yet, that’s what we’re all doing, because the 90% rule has made the categories irrelevant. If the RITA doesn’t allow a minimum/maximum number of finalists per category, I don’t know that I’ll enter again. Which is sad, because I love the awards. I love judging and the call day. I never expect to be nominated, and don’t care if I am, but I want to compete against the best authors in my subgenre.

    I didn’t have any trouble using the new rubric. I don’t mind the 20/50 points for romance even though it limits my chances. The 90% rule and lack of categories is my main issue.

    Thanks for this space.

    Can I ask about the unique elements in your erotic romance? I love that time period and any hint of f/f makes my ears perk up.

    Thanks!
    Jill

    • Thank you so much for your willingness to consider a different point of view. You are a perfect example of what makes this organization so powerful and impressive.

      As for the unique elements of my own work, it should go without saying that I am not trying to present myself as a special-special snowflake. I am just acknowledging the fact that RWA has recognized me, twice, for work that doesn’t conform to the mainstream.

      (SONG OF THE NILE’s romance was an incestuous one between a brother and sister–in ancient Egypt, when they did that kind of thing–and IT STINGS SO SWEET is set in the Jazz Age, is told in three intersecting but stand-alone pieces, involves BDSM elements before there was a name for such a thing, has M/f/M and F/f elements, and resolves quite happily in three couples and a vaguely polyamorous quadrangle.)

      I love RWA for seeking to honor diverse work, and encourage it to keep doing so, which should, in no way, be taken as a criticism of the mainstream.

      Thanks for asking!

      • Thanks for the reply! Congrats on your nomination.

        I’ve always thought that a RITA book needed to be great AND get in front of the right judges. I’m sure this is still true, but I agree that the skewed results show favor for “pure” romance. There is a perceived quality issue with category/short romance, so fewer nominations there. Jeannie Lin’s comments about familiar, traditional elements/settings being seen as more romantic resonate with me also. Unique books (like yours) will still be nominated, but with less frequency, perhaps. The system has always rewarded non-polarizing books and I don’t see any way around that.

        The bottom line is that I’d like to see the RITAs be more inclusive, not less. I’d like to see GLBT nominees and characters of color. I can’t fight for these things in the genre (and I was very critical of RWA’s former one man/woman definition) but not in the contest.

  43. I realize that commenting on the books that didn’t final due to the scoring system can be seen as an indirect slight on the books that DID final. That wasn’t my intention at all.

    Just to clarify my thoughts:
    Books with elements outside of the hero/heroine romance can distract from the romance; atypical characters, complicated plotlines, unusual settings. However do I feel that anything should be done in terms of the judging to counteract that? No, I don’t — these are the same challenges those books face in the market when readers pick up the book. This is just the reality of writing in the genre and was in play with old rules, new rules, any rules.

    But when very strong and popular sub-genres in romance — inspirational, romantic suspense and erotic — become underrepresented; And when huge segments like YA and romantic elements are left out completely–Then it seems to me that the new guidelines narrow the genre rather than broaden it.

    One of the negative views of romance as a genre is that there’s a formula and it encompasses one type of stereotypical plot. That’s why I’m for the broadening of the genre vs. narrowing of it in terms of membership and inclusion in the RITAs. And, as Joanna Bourne very nicely pointed out, the RITA this year doesn’t reflect what’s out there in the market for romance right now.

    I’ll try to put my thoughts in a letter to RWA.

  44. Thanks, Stephanie.
    Well said. This whole debacle reminds me of the Affordable Care Act. Big changes always come with unanticipated side effects and complications.

  45. Great comments, I very much agree with the post. I hope you shared this directly with the board since your voice, and all our member voices, matter.
    Side note, I bought your book at Nationals last year, so glad you finaled!

  46. Hear, hear, Stephanie. I think there are many problems with the scoring and process and the organization as a whole.

    I was thrilled that my novel “The Darling Strumpet,” submitted in the category of Fiction with Strong Romantic Elements, was a 2012 RITA finalist for Best First Book. But I was hurt and dismayed by comments I read and heard that my book shouldn’t have been a finalist anyway, as it wasn’t “romancey enough.” One blog that was reviewing all the finalists gave my book an A- as a novel and D as a romance–but it never claimed to be a romance. I’ve never encountered this kind of “not our kind” sneering in the Historical Novel Society.

    I was even more unhappy when the category of fiction with strong romantic elements was eliminated for the following year’s RITAs. At least so far, that’s the category into which all my books fall, and having them qualify to be considered for RITAs, and thus exposed to RWA members as readers, is certainly a strong reason I joined the organization, at the urging of my agent.

    I was also appalled by lengthy discussions last year on RWA forums in which people misunderstood the IRS’s examination of RWA to mean that the IRA was examining or care whether books had a certain amount of romantic content rather than that the RWA adheres to requirements that apply to any non-profit. (People seemed to believe almost literally that IRS auditors would be counting the number of kisses and sex acts, or flagging books because they didn’t end happily or whatever else someone might consider “romance.”)

    The requirements that are affecting local chapters are also disturbing.

    All of the above are certainly making me question whether there’s a reason for me to renew my membership.

    At this point, the strongest reason for me to do so would be because I very much enjoy the monthly meetings and getting to know my fellow members at the San Francisco Bay Area chapter, which requires national membership to belong, but I’m not sure it’s going to be worth it, especially if the RWA continues in the direction it’s heading.

    • Gillian, you should have been at the HNS conference in Manchester a few years ago when Allison Weir told us that writers of historical romance were just fluff, and that research was the last thing on our minds. She even got a hiss or two, before she realised, that, shock, horror, there were several rows of the despised historical romance authors listening to her.

  47. Well said!
    It’s like you crawled into my head and wrote down my thoughts.

    As someone who entered the RITA in the Erotic category and didn’t place I didn’t want to open up this can of worms because I didn’t want people to think I had sour grapes. I knew when I entered that it was a long shot.

    I LOVE RWA! If it wasn’t for all the support from the talented authors in my local chapter I would NEVER had been published.

    The sad facts are RWA thinks of Erotic Romance as it’s dirty cousin they have to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. I was hopping that was changing when they allowed erotic romance in the RITA, but obviously it isn’t. I think they bent from the pressure when they allowed Erotic romance in the contest but didn’t really want it to work.

    Also I find it very interesting that not one story from an erotic publisher made it to the finals and one of the finalist’s publishers do not take erotic romance and have never have.

  48. I couldn’t agree more. As we want to encourage more readers to read romance, we should make it possible for good books, whichever subgenre of romance they fall in to be recognized. Some readers of mainstream fiction, inspirational fiction, young adult novels or suspense may cross over because they read an inpirational novel with romance, a women’s fiction novel with romance or a suspense novel with romance to other types of romance novels. Growing our market of readers benefits us all.
    Carolyn Rae Williamson
    Carolyn Rae, author of Romancing the Gold, a romantic suspense novel coming in the fall from MuseItUp.

  49. Well done on finalling to everyone who entered! The thing that concerns me about these competitions is that in order to win you have to enter. That means the results aren’t “the best of the best,” they are the best of a limited pool – the people who chose to enter and the people who were eligible to enter.
    It’s one of the reasons I don’t enter contests any more, the other being that I don’t feel comfortable winning. I used to enter contests in the past, and came to the conclusion that a lot of the results are down to variables, so much that it’s almost a lottery.
    I felt that even more when I started winning. I do have a nice glass cabinet in my office which is comfortably filled with awards and winner certificates. Two of the awards are considered major ones. But when I won, I felt as bad as when I didn’t. Because I’d read the other finalists’s work, and decided it was just as good, if not better, than mine.
    I’m not supposed to think that, am I? Or to feel that winning felt almost as bad as losing, because I felt bad about the people I was supposedly “better than.” But I know a few authors who don’t enter contests, for similar reasons to mine.
    I do think the RWA is doing its best now to come up with an equitable system for the people who enjoy entering and it will probably take a few years before the problems in instituting a new system get ironed out. But IMO it would be a mistake if it lost sight of the fact that it’s primarily a romance organisation for romance authors and readers. It would be nice to see the “romance elements” category returning, however.

  50. BTW, I’m not sure the readers pay an awful lot of attention to the winners of RITAs. Some, although avid readers, don’t know what a RITA is. However, its efficacy in the industry is very much more pronounced.

  51. Congrats on your nomination, Stephanie, and thank you for the well stated argument. Congratulations to all the nominees who wrote great books and who are trying to celebrate as a sea of controversy surrounds this year’s results. Don’t let that take away anything from the thrill of being nominated. It’s well deserved in every instance.

    As an RWA member who came THIS close to leaving the organization because of how long it took to recognize self-published authors as legitimately published (and who has quit her local old-school chapter over the same issue), I was thrilled to see so many self-published finalists. That’s a fantastic step in the right direction, and I hope at least one of them actually wins.

    However, as a romantic suspense author, I was sad to see that only three books in my genre were deemed “good enough” for RITA nods. Same with inspirational and erotica. Many great books in these sub-genres are going to be hurt by the huge emphasis on romance over storytelling. My romantic suspense series contains an enduring, long-standing romance that is front and center in every book, but is it strong enough in each individual book to meet the new exacting RITA standards for romance? Probably not. Do I honestly care if RWA thinks my book is RITA worthy when it’s a NYT bestseller and part of a series that’s extremely popular with readers? Not so much. After all, we’re in the business of selling books, and most of our readers don’t even know what the RITA is. But it does make me realize there’s probably no point in entering future books in this series if the judging criteria remains the same as it was this year, and that takes me right back to the same feeling of exclusion I experienced when self-published authors weren’t welcome to enter. If a NYT bestselling romance author feels her book doesn’t stand a chance in the romance industry’s top contest, something is broken.

    I also want to say that I was extremely uncomfortable judging books in categories in which I was competing. We’re all human here, and as hard as we try to be fair, it’s an added challenge when you are competing in the same category as a book you are judging. Personally, I think this one change discredits the entire process and should be reconsidered before next year.

  52. Hi, I saw Laura had reposted your post and am moved by what you said. I was never happy with the big changes and saw many good people leave. And then the contest revamp–Lordy! I write short romantic comedy. Why can’t we have a category for short other than novella? Sadly, this will not be added.

  53. Stephanie, congratulations on being a finalist! And congratulations to all the other finalists, too!

    Thank you for your well thought out and expressed post! Since others have made so many well expressed arguments, there’s not much more to be said, but I did want to express my alarm at the small number of finalists in several categories, including my own:erotic romance.

    I do hope that the 90% rule is changed. Judging is subjective, and some people judge harder than others.

    Many commenters suggested that the categories with fewer finalists had fewer entries. FYI, using a bell curve calculator to determine how many students out of one hundred would place between 84-100%, the answer was 16. I find it odd that only 2 or 3 of those 16 would actually reach 90%, as we saw in some categories.

  54. Thanks for this post. I was one of the erotic romance entrants, and entered both my 2013 books (both historical erotic romances). I was a little bummed that I did not final, but as I’ve received some 5-star reviews for each title, I’m okay with that. ;) That said, I would love to see my scores just to know, of the 4 elements, which was considered the weakest – it’s always about improvement, isn’t it? – or just to know if I was knocked out by one judge and the others really liked my work – writers always need validation, don’t they?

    I have two comments:

    1) I read and judged 5 books, not one of which finaled. One of the books was really well written but was not a romance – it was more of a Strong Romantic Elements story. It did bother me that I had to mark this title “NR” (Not a Romance), but as I am a first-time judge, I wanted to adhere to the letter of the rules. Another book I gave a score of 95%, so I’m curious to know why it did not final. Somewhere there is a judge out there who has wildly divergent ideas from mine as to how good this story is. Which, I guess, is the luck of the draw with any contest. (Before I was published I received wildly divergent scores in RWA chapter contests for some of my entries!)

    2) Whether to allow authors to judge their own categories – this is a tough one, especially for erotic romance writers, although that’s what I am, so I’m sure authors in other categories have analogous opinions. If an author-judge is unfamiliar with the genre and is presented with a plot element they find shocking, there is the chance they will lower the score for that reason alone. Or, if the author-judge is unfamiliar with the dynamics of, say, D/s or polyamorous relationships, they might not see how those could possibly be romances. I generally don’t read paranormal, so I excused myself from judging paranormal. I do wonder, however, if other author-judges do this. Maybe some author-judges thought “oh, erotic romance is new, I’ll elect to judge that” without really understanding the genre?

    Congratulations, Stephanie!

    • There’s an interesting “FAQ” page up on the RWA Web site that addresses some of these issues, in response to the reaction from the romance community, in particular the issue of what the “romance” score was supposed to be getting at. The RWA avers that it wasn’t intended as a measurement of how “romance-y” the story was, but as a measurement of how well the author developed the romance element within the story. Which is how I, as a first-time judge, interpreted it, but I’m beginning to think my response might not have been the norm. But the site also mentions the fact that judges weren’t given instructions as to what the scores DID refer to, apparently taking for granted that all judges would apply the “romance” score the way they claim to have had in mind. And justified the changes in the scoring and finaling systems, in part, by saying that librarians and bookstores and readers were entitled to assume that a RITA finalist was a “real” romance. Which kind of begs the question, what definition of “real” romance are they using? And the FAQ didn’t address the issue of the absence of LGBT romance from the finals at all.

  55. Not only Amen but Halleluliah! Thank you Stephanie for writing such a well considered and eloquent post, and for having the courage to use the limelight of your well-deserved nomination to voice your point of view and draw attention to these issues. I’m encouraged to read the extensive and passionate views of the various members who have commented. I’ve felt nothing but admiration and gratitude for this organization since I joined for all it has done and continues to do for its members and in representing our genre in the broader industry and society. Notwithstanding, I’ve also always felt marginalized as my personal vision as a romance writer is non-conformist. I write the stories of my heart, and they never were and never will be typical. That being said, there is nowhere else for me to go. Now that the rules and policies have changed, I fit in even less. (I write mostly what I call Romantic Women’s Fiction, as well as some SF). Like our YA writers and many others, I also have abandoned the GH because there really is no point. I have to agree with so many of the commenters, as well as yourself, that the RWA does not serve us, the members, well, nor does it serve the genre, as long as it continually narrows the definition of who belongs and what kind of stories qualify. I believe the romance writing industry, and the careers of many talented writers, are being harmed. These changes are parochial and backward looking, and I hope this discussion triggers changes in a more forward-looking and inclusive direction.

  56. Beware my bias — as a one-time winner of the “Strong Romantic Elements” Rita, I certainly have one! And I have little more to add to the brilliant discussion that your beautifully written (and fair-minded) post elicited, except to say that oh yes, I share some of your fears about exclusion. I’ve belonged to RWA since 1984 (yes, that was an “8” — I have a 4-digit membership number!) And I have only respect and admiration for the writers who stay involved in, and the board members with the usually thankless task of running this gem of an organization. But I’ve seen the romance genre changing, a lot, with the inclusion of erotica, YA, and series (usually trilogies) that string the romance over several books. I’ve also seen some publishers refuse to change along with the genre, and hemorrhage readers because of it. I do not want to see that happen to RWA — but in the meantime, the organization as structured speaks less and less for (or to) me and my work.

    There was a time when judges told me, “I loved your work, but first person doesn’t sell.” Now we’re hearing that LGBT romance isn’t romance. The first changed, and I fully expect the second (among many other things) to change as well. We’ve moved from a society with four TV networks to a society with nearly a thousand TV networks to choose from. From a society in which music and books were homogeneous enough to fit in a store in the mall to one where they are so many and varied that only the Cloud can hold them all. Some writers out there may be fearful (or just uncomfortable) about those changes, but some were equally fearful (or just uncomfortable) about sex in contemporary romance, about characters using condoms, etc. I know. I participated in the debates.

    May posts like yours (and letters to our board members) help ease us into not simply riding out our changing world but embracing and thriving in it.

  57. What a well-written and thoughtful post! I agree that a bigger tent than just “pure” romance is a good thing, and that narrowing the organization’s focus to exclude most YA, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, etc., is not in the organization’s best interest. There are some books in those genres that really aren’t romances at all, and I admit that it’s a slippery slope to allow those in that do have enough romantic elements and exclude those that aren’t romances at all. However, I’ve always thought that was the role of the judging box that allows you to mark, “not a romance.” I judged the contest this year in line with RWA’s guidelines (and gave an erotica my highest score), but if everyone didn’t judge that way, at the very least some clarification is in order. I also think you shouldn’t be able to judge in a category in which you’ve entered. I know that’s a headache to police. The only thing I DON’T agree with is starting the “short” categories again. This was mainly confined to contemporary. But isn’t a good novel a good novel? If it’s not long enough to be a novel, there’s the novella category. And if contemporary gets a “short” category, why not others? Short Paranormal, short erotica, etc.? This smacks of making special categories for series books and that seems to cater to certain publishers more than be a real demarcation of a different kind of book. It just never made sense to me, unless certain publishers demanded it. I read a series book in the Ritas that I thought would stand against any longer book in skill and emotional depth. (It won the short contemporary category, by the way.) If there are a lot of contemporaries, and the competition is stiff, so what? I think where the Ritas lose respect is in the number of categories for winning they have now. Other genre contests don’t do that. Best is best, period.
    So, my two cents, for what it’s worth.
    And good going, Stephanie.

    • There’s so much that I’d like to respond to in this, and I want to thank you for weighing in. I just want to quickly say, while it’s on my mind and coherent, that having written both short and long, they often feel like different art forms to me. My last historical weighed in at 190k. My first novella weighed in at 17k, which doesn’t even meet the RITA guidelines. I felt like an entirely different skill set was involved in writing each, so I wonder if the division by length has more to do with that?

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