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Sunday, August 5, 2012

2012 RWA Conference...and the Aftermath

It was the Best of Times... 

I don't have a lot to add to Donna's excellent blog on the 2012 RWA National Conference except to echo her thoughts on what a wonderful event it is...and was.

I had a number of happy meet-ups including a very enjoyable first face-to-face with my agent, Amanda Luedeke (we talked and laughed for hours!), with my Fabulous Firebirds co-finalists that even included an impromptu tattoo party (not as painful as it sounds--we branded ourselves with temporary Firebird tattoos), and various get-togethers with the Firebirds, Starcatchers, members of the SFR Brigade, and fun-to-run-into-you's with members of my longtime critique site, CritiqueCircle, Dixie Lee Taylor and Lorensj.

And of course, it was fantastic to final in the Golden Heart with Donna this year, and have Sharon fly in for the Saturday Awards Ceremony. The Spacefreighters Lounge crew together again. We were just missing Pippa!

The Awards Ceremony was it's usual glitzy glamorous high energy nerve-fest, but being the first category up and getting over those thrills and chills early on meant I could just sit back and -- big sigh -- relax while watching the other categories announced. It was so fun seeing other Firebirds I'd gotten to know step up to the mic, including chapter-mate Tamra Baumann. And then to watch the fun as the authors got their turn in the spotlight for the RITA Awards, including a win by another chapter-mate, Darynda Jones, for First Grave on the Right (which I've raved about in the past).

Samhain Publishing even threw an amazing After Party this year with great food and music, where we got to say our final "congrats," "attagirls," and "so longs" before stumbling back to our rooms in the wee hours to pack for the next day's flight. The highlight for me was getting to hold a RITA that one of the authors with MacGregor Lit, Serena Miller (for The Measure of Katie Calloway) won. Wow! I touched a RITA! And you can't appreciate the artistry until you've seen one close up and shiny! 

So...

Atlanta.

No, I wasn't planning to attend next year, but there's no better arm-twister than having a great conference experience. I'm going to keep my options open for now. We shall see.

It Was the Worst of Times... 

A recent rule change and the controversy it's generated brought back this scene from the close of the movie Terminator.

Little boy: "Mira! Mira la tormenta!"
Sarah Connor (to station attendant): "What did he say?"
Station Attendant: "He said, 'There's a storm coming.'"
Sarah Connor: "I know."

What spawned this coming storm? Some major rule changes for the Golden Heart and RITA Awards for 2013 and forward.

To recap (loosely paraphrased):

- The Golden Heart will now be electronic entries
- The entry date has been moved back a month
- The Romantic Elements category has been eliminated
- The Regency Historical category has also been eliminated
- The scoring system has been totally revised into a "four tier system"
- Romance will now count for 20% of the score, other elements only 10%
- If the file can't be opened, the entry will be disqualified
- You must be a member of RWA to enter
- Your novel can not be released for sale at any point prior to the awards ceremony

What does this mean?

RWA has chosen to take a new direction toward supporting primarily "romance" in its contests. But by eliminating the Novel with Romantic Elements categories is it closing the door to stories that don't center around a central romance? This might include Mystery Romance, Women's Fiction, and other manuscripts that aren't solidly aboard the romance wagon. And what does it mean for Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and Young Adult Romance where the romance is not always the main focus of the story? The jury's still out.

What does seem clear is that many of this year's Golden Heart and Rita finalist--and WINNERS--may not even be eligible to enter their novels in future years.

Additionally, chapters are being asked to re-evaluate the status of their members, which suggests those not writing 100% clear-cut romance might be asked to become associate (non-voting, non-office holding) members. But the dues are the same.

Is this a controversial turn of events? Judge for yourself in the vigorous discussion on the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood site this past week. Is there a general feeling of discontent and dismay among members? You can judge that for yourself too, by reading through some of the many, many comments.

As for me, I have a sinking feeling that these new rules are ushering in a different era for these long-standing awards, not to mention the organization as a whole. Not all change is good. Are the Golden Years of the Golden Heart--and RWA--behind us? If great storytelling is now going to take second seat to romance elements in a novel, it will forever change the face and spirit of both this prestigious contest and the writer's organization that sponsors it. There's an old saying about leaving well enough alone. I think that advice should apply doubly for leaving excellence alone.

The first two rule changes (electronic entries and later date) are welcome changes to update the process, but in my opinion, the balance of these new rules are tearing down a very solid contest to build something very different, and not necessarily better, in its place. When the wheel is happily rolling along why decide to reinvent it?

Of course there are other lines of thoughts on this issues, and if you're interested in reading more, please refer to the discussion linked above.

Have you heard about the rule changes? Do you think they'll affect you? What are your thoughts on the changes?

5 comments:

  1. I actually felt a little tearful on missing out and reading your posts. But as the fledgling member, I do have a lot of catching up to do!
    I read the changes to the contest with a little trepidation. I had considered trying for a Golden Heart of my own next year, but I'm wondering if the new system will put a stop to that before I can start. Perhaps they'll change things again after seeing how the first of the newly structured contests go.

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  2. I think the scoring changes are definitely going to create some issues. A book can have a central romance, but take more than 50 pages (length of the entry) to really get it going. Yes, judges should be able to determine whether there's a romantic plot from the synopsis. But is it really fair to base 20% of the scoring on what is revealed in the synopsis?

    And what IS a central romance, anyway? Who defines it? Many folks who've read GHOST PLANET have defined it as half romance, half sci-fi. Yet the story would not work without the romance. One of my favorite romances, Outlander, breaks many romance rules, but the story would not work without the romance. Are we really going to expect contest judges to sort through all this? Seems pretty subjective to me.

    I assume this was motivated by some being afraid RWA's brand was being diluted. That the romance focus had been stretched to allow books that are not traditional romances. I get that, actually. But I'm wondering if it wouldn't be better to look at reframing the organization to allow it to continue being more broad and inclusive. Does a narrower focus serve readers, or writers, or the organization itself?

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  3. Pippa, I really really hope you'll think about going to Atlanta, GH or no GH entry. The networking is priceless, and the workshops and contacts you make with editors, agents, publishers, etc. is phenomenal. Besides it's fun!!!

    Sharon, I've been giving this a lot of thought. To my way of thinking "Must have romantic elements and a satisfying conclusion" was plenty definitive for the broader romance spectrum. That eliminates books that have romantic elements but are definitely not a romance ala Nicholas Sparks and works like The Time Traveler's Wife. Do they contain romance, yes, but tragic endings do not a romance make.

    So I question why they are making this move to be more exclusive rather than remaining inclusive--which has worked well for them and their membership. They are enjoying a healthy membership and a large number of entries. Why narrow both the books represented and authors who write them in favor of this "romance purist" stance.

    I'm feeling like I'm on very thin ice. My SFRs take time to build the relationships between the hero and heroine, and although they satisfy all the the previous criteria, I'm not sure how they'll fair if romance is 20% of the score. Like Ghost Planet, the romance MUST be there for the story to work, but SFR sometimes breaks the traditional rules of romance, so would that now translate to lower scores?

    And will I be asked to become an associate member because I don't write "pure" romance?

    Yup, batten down the hatches. I think it's going to be a bumpy ride.

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  4. Here's a great blog post on the subject by author Deanna Raybourn:

    In Which RWA is Breaking Up With Me

    http://www.deannaraybourn.com/blog/content/which-rwa-breaking-me

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  5. I'm not a member of RWA and I'm not a competition entering type of person but it seems to me that this is not needed. Judging is so subjective anyway - why start tightening in this way. As has been said, the romance might not be evident at the start.. it does sound a contentious issue.

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