In late July six years ago I was still coming off the high of my double final in the Paranormal category of the Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts. I attended the conference with all my fellow GH finalists (the Firebirds, one of whom was also my blog partner Laurie Green) and basked in the glow of attention and good wishes from some 2000 romance writers and industry pros all that week.
A few weeks later I actually got “the call” from one of the hundreds of agents I’d queried in my years of hunting. That GH final had done the trick, catapulting me past all the other poor shlubs in the slush pile to put me in front of the right pair of eyes. Someone who liked me, really liked me!
Now I’m actually a published author, with four books out there that I can honestly say I’m proud of. I have a few reviews, almost all of them good. I have a little bit of a presence in the social media world. Sales? Meh. But at least I haven’t fallen off the cliff in the Amazon rankings. I’m not entirely invisible.
Some goals I’ve given up on—I won’t be published traditionally. Don’t think I want that anymore; don’t think I want to give up the control I have over my creativity now in return for a dubious promise of promotion and sales. Other goals stay out of reach—I’d dearly love to kick my sales up a notch (or ten). And I’m not ashamed to say I want to final in the RITAs® before the RWA® puts them forever out of my league.
And, mark my words, that day will come for those of us who work the indie side of the street. RWA®, in its recent misdirected attempts to become more “professional” will eventually make it so that any but the most prolific and profitable authors will be unwelcome, just like every other writers’ organization on the planet.
At one time, RWA® was unique because it encouraged newbie and unpublished writers to join and learn from the more experienced members of the organization as they came up. Once you had worked your way to the top, mentoring your younger, less successful peers, was expected and applauded. “A hand reaching up and a hand reaching down” was an unofficial motto.
And, believe it or not, people really did take that seriously. I can’t tell you how many well-known authors took the time to give me free advice in the hectic minutes before the literacy signings, or between panel discussions at Conference. I benefited from free writing critiques in online seminars conducted by Linnea Sinclair and Angela Knight. I met people. I heard people share their expertise in panels and roundtables.
But a few years ago, RWA® began to change. Requirements for becoming a member of the Professional Authors Network were raised, then raised again, primarily, it seemed to me, to make it harder for anyone who was not traditionally published to join. The award ceremony for the Golden Heart® contest at Conference was demoted from an event happening along with the glamorous RITAs® (the Academy Awards of romance!) to a separate luncheon in the middle of the busy Conference schedule.
And, now, predictably, the Golden Hearts® have been eliminated altogether. The contest that has launched so many careers, that is essentially the biggest Golden Ticket for aspiring romance writers in the world, will be discontinued after the 2019 contest.
I am disappointed. I am saddened. I am outraged. I am frustrated. But I can’t say I am surprised. I saw this coming years ago.
Oh, the RWA® “leadership” says this decision has been made on purely economic grounds. The GH contest has been losing money for years, they say, with fewer and fewer entries and not enough judges. It doesn’t pay for itself; it takes too much administrative time; and, worst of all, aspiring writers aren’t interested in it anymore in this day of self-publication.
The problem is, of course, that for years the leadership has been ignoring suggestions from the membership of RWA® for how these issues could be addressed: raise the entry fee; insist, as we do for RITA, that entrants serve as judges; look to successful chapter contests for better ways to encourage entrants; change the categories(for God’s sake!) that are as moribund as a library card catalog from the Sixties. And, most importantly, reinstate the award ceremony. Entrants dropped off precipitously as soon as they saw they would be seated at the kiddie table even if they won.
But none of these changes will be made and none of them were ever going to be made because RWA® has set out to remake itself in the image (God forbid) of the Science Fiction Writers of America® or the Mystery Writers of America®, organizations for which “professional author” status is a prerequisite to membership. For those organizations, education is not a part of their mission; mentorship is not a part of their makeup. And, for damn sure, collaboration is not what they are about. Competition, yes. Collaboration, cooperation and comradery, um, no. Just look at how they are treating Hugo winners who happen to be female and/or of color in assigning panel slots this year at SFWA’s WorldCon to see the future of RWA®.
What’s the answer? I’m not sure. A revolution from the inside of RWA® seems unlikely. We may have to look for a visionary organizer to establish a new kind of group outside the confines of traditional publishing, without the entanglements of the back-stabbing, book-stuffing, algorithm-manipulating indie shark scammer crowd. Right now, that seems like a lot to ask.
So, maybe just look at this pretty picture and try to breathe.