Friday, July 27, 2018

A STAB TO THE HEART AND WHO'S TO BLAME?


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the high of my double final in the Paranormal category of the Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® contest for unpublished manuscripts.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At one time, RWA® was unique because it encouraged newbie and unpublished writers to join and learn from the more experienced members of the organization as they came up.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.


Cheers, Donna

7 comments:

  1. Donna,
    thanks for sharing. I'm thinking about the same sort of thing. With the Hugos/Worldcon, it looks to me that writers of color are being pitted against established women authors. To make room for writers of color, the women are being pushed aside. It seems to me that the solution might be to make the podium bigger. I'm thinking about how to do that. I think reform of book categories is the way to go. We could change categorization from a branching hierarchy to a multi-dimensional matrix so that books aren't categorized as one or the other (either romance or science fiction) but as both(romance and science fiction) My concern is that the professional organizations are representing only established authors and so might advocate against such reform. Also such changes would require more cooperation between the professional organizations since they would have more members in common.

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  2. Oh boy, that is so sad. I'm actually lost for words. It seems to me to be incredibly short-sighted and stupid. The last thing we need is another 'professional' writers' group in the model of the SFWA. You can almost see how this mindset develops. A group is formed with good intentions, runs well for a long times - and then the leadership goes power-mad, and/or elitist - forgetting where they came from and why the group formed in the first place.

    I fear the only answer will be a group of outraged, energetic individuals breaking off into a new group which supports the way RWA used to run.

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  3. Donna, do you recall the conversation among the Firebirds that we'd seen the glory days of the Golden Heart Awards and that after 2012 it would be the "beginning of the end" for the GH?

    And here we are.

    Common sense would have told RWA that if they cut categories in 2013 forward, they'd have fewer entrants. And so they did. Common sense should have also told them if they split the GH from the RITAs and demoted it to luncheon status, it would not only lose prestige and popularity but be more expensive to conduct. And so it has, on both counts. The huge outcry from the members, even from those giving speeches at the ceremony this year to save the Golden Heart have also fallen on deaf ears. It seems the end of the GH was a foregone conclusion.

    I'm glad you, Sharon and I were all finalists in the years we were, because those were the heydays of what was once an amazing experience. I feel genuine sadness for all the writers who will never have the same opportunities or experiences that we did.

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  4. Speeches by RWA boardmembers suggested that they were bringing in ideas about a replacement for Golden Hearts. My understanding is that with most writers self-publishing, there's less interest in an award for not yet published manuscripts. A replacement might be for self-pub or something along those lines.
    I never took much interest in Golden Hearts because with the RWA contest system, my kind of books--science and technology romance didn't even make it to the finals of chapter contests. The inclusion of science and technology seemed to put books out of the running from the get go due judges who have little interest in or knowledge of the topics. Likewise a Golden Heart didn't seem like it would be an in with: Tor, Baen, Del Rey, and ACE. I don't know what is going to happen to these publishers now that their readers and stable of writers are aging. We live in interesting times.

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  5. Well Inherit the Stars (entered as P2PC) might have been the oddball finalist in the GH and on the contest circuit, because it's pretty heavy on technology but with a plot that gravitates around the romance.

    But yes, interesting times. If it's true that trad publishers are now accepting very few romances, RWA itself may be in jeopardy.

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    Replies
    1. There seems to be a polarization in the market. I'm engaged in research, and I'm finding very little science fiction(other than paranormal fiction) which is doing well as indie. I think I'm also seeing the aging of sci-fi readers and writers. I haven't found much New adult science fiction(other than paranormal) It's as if the genres, market, and readers are being divided up on political lines. RWA looks to be mostly red. I know that Romance is more popular in the red parts of the US and less popular in blue parts. Traditionally publishing and literary fiction mostly blue. Romance remains the biggest genre, so I don't see RWA going away, but loosening of RWA hold on the genre might be good. It might lead to greater acceptance by traditional publishers located in blue areas. I pray for a reduction in polarization in the fiction market.

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    2. Laurie, I looked into Inherit the Stars. It was difficult to find because of similarity of titles. I bought a copy and then looked for it on Yaziv. No titles point to it. This is the same thing I'm encountering with other self-published science fiction. ??? I'm not sure what do do about this, or if it relates to the topic of RWA direction.

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Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.