Reading the RITAs

Posted by on January 19, 2012 in business of writing | Comments Off on Reading the RITAs

Earlier this week, I received a great big box o’ books from the Romance Writers of America.  The books are candidates for RWA’s annual writing awards, the RITAs.

RWA does awards a bit differently than SFWA (and, I’m sure than the mystery writers or the horror writers or the western writers or whatever other genre writers — I’m only familiar with SFWA and RWA procedures.)  Any author of a print (not e-only) novel can submit her work for a RITA, sending in a $40 payment and five copies of the book.  RWA parcels out the books to RWA “published author network” members, asking those members to rate the books on a scale from 1 to 9, or to determine that the books are not a romance or were in the wrong category.

Every year, there’s a fair amount of squawking among the membership about the RITA rules and the categories.  Some categories (e.g., novella) are rather sparsely populated — there just aren’t that many novellas published in print.  Other categories (e.g., contemporary series romance) are heavily populated — Harlequin alone publishes at least six books a month in more than a dozen eligible series.  Authors’ names are obvious from their bound books, and some authors have long-standing reputations built over hundreds of novels while others are newcomers without any special cachet.  There are 12 separate categories, with somewhat arcane divisions between them (e.g., “historical romance” is a separate category from “historical regency romance”).  This year, judges have been warned that a large number of the entrants may not actually be writing romances; they might have submitted their non-romance works in hopes of getting recognition from RWA and increasing their sales to the avid group of romance readers.

Some years back, I read the preliminary round, and then I read the final round (for contemporary series romance – before my own MOGUL’S MAYBE MARRIAGE and DADDY DANCE were out in that category).  While I did not find all the books in the final round to be of equally high caliber, I did agree that the book that won was the best of the lot.  (Of course, there might have been better-to-me books that didn’t make the finals; in fact, I thought that two books I read in preliminary round were better than some of the finalists.)

In short, the RITAs are messy, most people have quibbles about the process, and many people have grave reservations.  (And that’s completely separate from the people who don’t believe that any awards should ever be made for any books, because books are art.)

Nevertheless, I think that the system generally works.  And I think the system works better than one based on recommendations from members (as is the SFWA system) – it’s open to more people and fights against quid pro quo recommendations.

I have eight books to read in the next seven weeks.  I won’t be able to comment on any of them.  Some would say that I’ve already commented too much on the process.

So, what do you think?  If you’re involved with the RITAs, do you think the system should be changed?  If you’re experienced with other awards programs, how do you think literary awards should be made?

Mindy, rolling up her sleeves