The big news in the romance writing world this week is the Romance Writers of America® national conference going on now in New York City. Although the event may not attract as many authors, agents, publishers and hangers-on as in the days when traditional publishing ruled (or maybe it has—romance just keeps growing!), it is sure to be a glittery, exciting week for both newbies and veterans alike.
Sadly, the last ever Golden Heart® Finalists will celebrate their nominations in the contest for unpublished manuscripts. And this year’s class of RITA® nominees will wait to hear who has won the award for best romance novel (or novella) in each of several categories after the judging process drew controversy over a lack of fairness, objectivity and diversity.
For those of us who are members of RWA® but are unable to attend, the news out of the conference has already been stunning. The Board of Directors has announced changes for next year’s RITA® contest reflecting the broad, sometimes heated, discussions held within the membership concerning RITA® judging this year. The rule changes can be read here.
What they show is that, for once, the RWA® leadership appears to have taken the outcry from its membership to heart. RITA® entrants will no longer be required to be first-round judges in the contest. Instead, the pool of those eligible to judge the first round of the contest will be expanded to all General RWA members, Associate Writer RWA members, non-member RITA entrants, current or former booksellers and librarians, and romance reviewers with an interest in, and knowledge of, the romance genre. Anyone of those eligible who is interested in serving as a judge must fill out a Judge Volunteer Questionnaire, then, if selected, must complete special judge training. (Italics mine.)
I never received an answer to my email to the Board on what should be done to fix RITA®, but it seems someone did read it (or something like it). Training for judges was my Number One suggestion, so I’m over the moon about this.
The contest will remain limited to 1200 entries, but individual authors will be limited to one entry in the first seven days. After that time, if there is still room, an author can submit no more than one additional entry at a higher entry fee. (That is, for a total of two entries.) This new rule will give more authors a chance to enter, widening and, hopefully, diversifying the base of entries.
I won’t be entering RITA® in 2020. I’m way too far behind in my writing to produce a book by the end of 2019 due to the focus on production and promo in my turn to self-publishing for my earlier books. But I will be judging under the new rules. I actually look forward to it.
However, I have some advice for those who may have misgivings. This past weekend I attended the 40th Annual Isshinryu Hall of Fame Tournament and Awards Banquet in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where my karate teacher, Renchi Ray Blazer, received the prestigious Instructor of the Year Award. I had already decided I wouldn’t judge in the tournament, despite being eligible at fourth-degree black belt rank. I hadn’t been in the dojo (gym) for four years, and I figured it wouldn’t be fair to the competitors. When I heard some of the new rules for sparring, it turns out I was right to decide to sit this one out. I didn’t agree with some of the changes designed to make our traditional style more “competitive” with mixed martial arts. Times had passed me by—better for me to keep my “old-school” thoughts to myself. After all, there were at least 100 black belts of my rank and above to serve as judges.
Perhaps a bit of that same kind of soul-searching is required with the new RITA® judging rules. Not everyone will be comfortable with what’s taught in the training, for example, or even with the idea of training at all. If the new judging rules can’t be embraced whole-heartedly, maybe it’s best to sit this one out as a judge. With a bigger pool of eligible judges to draw from, others will be eager to take on the task.
And let’s see how far these changes can take us toward a better future.