I recently read on Kristen Painter’s blog about her concerns regarding the new wording for entering the Rita Awards, given out by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), to published authors. Since it affects a friend of her’s, Kristen wrote this letter to RWA that will appear in their March magazine with her take on the matter:
Recently a friend received a letter from RWA stating the books she’d submitted for the RITAs had been disqualified due to them being "not mass produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity publisher in print-book format." Last year, she entered the RITA without incident. Her publisher has not changed since last year.
By RWA’s definitions, her publisher is neither a subsidy publisher nor a vanity publisher. In fact, her publisher is listed on RWA’s Non-Subsidy, Non-Vanity Publisher Chart.
The problem is the phrase "mass-produced" which didn’t exist in last year’s rules. When and where was this addition announced? I searched various hot sheets and alerts, but couldn’t find it. Seems this change merely showed up in some minutes, then in the RITA rules. RWA’s take on mass-produced: “The phrase mass-produced in print book format as it pertains to the RITA contest, is intended to define eligible books as those that are produced in sufficient quantity by the publisher to be offered for sale to the trade (booksellers and librarians) at standard discount rates and returnable.” Yet many POD books carry these discounts and are returnable. It seems RWA doesn’t know enough about the difference between mass produced and print on demand to actually clarify and enforce their own rules.
The great injustice is that she is recognized by RWA as a published author, but not allowed to enter RWA’s published author contest. Where’s the equality in that? Where’s the unity so proudly lauded in the January 2009 RWR issue? This us vs. them mentality has gone on long enough. Epubs are here to stay. Treating them like redheaded stepchildren isn’t going to make them disappear. Shouldn’t an award for the best book be based on the writing and not the method of print production?
My friend is out approx. $250 dollars (entry fees, cost of books, shipping) and so far, RWA won’t even return her books. (Which she’d be willing to pay for.) She’s heartbroken and I’m disappointed in RWA. This organization may claim to be the voice of romantic fiction, but on this issue, they certainly don’t speak for me.
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I contacted RWA and, while they feel this is an internal matter, they were kind enough to offer their side of the debate. From Allison Kelley, Executive Director, CAE:
8,090 romances were published in 2007 according to Business of Consumer Book Publishing. Stats are not yet available for last year, but every indication is that the number is probably higher in 2008. Unlike other awards that are selected by committee, each RITA entry is read and judged by five published romance authors. Based on the number of qualified judges, 1,200 was set as the maximum number of entries.
Books entered in the 2009 RITA contest must:
· Have an original copyright date (printed on the copyright page) or a first printing date or a first North American printing date of 2008.
· Not have been previously entered.
· Be mass-produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher in print book format.
· Meet the requirements for the category in which it was entered.
· Be a work of original fictional narrative prose.
It is an unfortunate consequence that having any rules effectively disqualifies some works. The same is true for every major book award.
The rules were posted in the October issue of Romance Writers Report and on RWA’s website. Authors were required to attest that they reviewed and understood the rules of entry. Prior to disqualifying any book, RWA staff researched the books to determine if they met the guidelines. Approximately 2% of the total number of entries were either withdrawn or disqualified because of the “mass-produced” requirement.
A rumor is circulating that RWA refused to return disqualified books. That is not true. They have either been returned or are in the process of being returned. The mailing of the RITA books to judges was a priority for the staff, delaying some returns, but any member who contacted the office with this question was told that her books would be returned.
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Now, I’m not a member of RWA and both sides make valid points. What do you think? Were the rules clearly stated? Does the term "mass-produced" discriminate against valid books? Since RWA gives the award, shouldn’t they be allowed to make the rules the same as any other organization?
Bottom Line: Yesterday was National Popcorn Day and I missed it, so I’m celebrating today by having popcorn twice.