"Mass Produced" Confusion

Barbara Vey -- January 20th, 2009

RWA Rita Award
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.

                                                                             ~ ~ ~

Romance Writers of AmericaI 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.
                                                           ~ ~ ~
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.

79 thoughts on “"Mass Produced" Confusion

  1. gwen hayes

    I would sort of just no like to be disqualified from the Golden Heart because I wrote a short story of 27,000 words. Really. The national contests are a huge benefit to members. If you can qualify.

  2. Shelli Stevens

    I write for NY and a small press. I am equally proud of all my books. I don’t consider some inferior because they are with a smaller pub. No. I still sweated over those books. Tweaked it until they were just right. Sent them out there with hope that others would love them. Just like my NY books (which are not out yet). I am also the president of the Seattle RWA chapter. And I hate to see all the RWA bashing going on. I think it is a great organization. There is great information, support, and opportunities available. Though, like any organization, it is not without its flaws. I also feel I get most of my mileage from the local level. My home chapter. And I hear that a lot. So yes, those who don’t have a local chapter and only get the magazine, may not feel the RWA is not be as beneficial to you. I can understand that. I will agree the Rita/Golden Heart has some serious issues and needs to be looked at. The rules are confusing. People are being excluded. This is why I signed the petition and quite honestly have never considered entering the Rita or Golden Heart. That may change in the future (for Rita, I can no longer enter Golden Heart)…but for now, it’s just worth the headache. But I just wanted to speak out and say I’m a big supporter of the RWA. I’ve been serving on my local board for 4 years now.

  3. Susan

    The board meetings aren’t private, they’re open to the members. The dates and locations are posted beforehand. Afterward, the high points of the meeting are posted in the Hot Sheet, to give members an overview, then the more detailed report comes in the minutes, which are also available to all the members, if they care to look. Most don’t. Then when they trip over a change, they say they weren’t notified.

  4. Briana

    Sigh, I’m not saying that they were right with what they did, but I refuse to attack them and I will be respectful when I argue. Which was the whole point of my response. Just because you don’t agree with a person doesn’t mean that name calling is the next mode of comminication. Right, Yet Another Anon? Because responses like yours are so very grown up and I’m sure your point will be made and understood. NOT.

  5. Robin Bayne

    RWA made the same sort of decision years ago when New Concepts achieved the needed number of trade paperback sales to qualify for recognition. RWA decided that the exact dimensions of NCP’s trades weren’t quite right, though there was nothing in writing or any sort of standards available. It was an arbitrary decision to keep a small press unrecognized, and it reminds me of what’s going on now with the “

  6. Chaeya

    Up above it is mentioned that since it’s an RWA event, shouldn’t they have the right to make the rules. Well yes, they do. However, what bothers me is the “intention” behind the rule. This is not simply a “can’t make everybody happy” issue or even a “whine” as some coward put forth above. E-pubs are taking a prominent place in the market of bookselling today, so I cannot see any worthwhile reason to make a rule that I see as completely “outdated” to fit the times that we’re in. In other words, they need to get with the program and take steps to keep up with the times and not take steps back for pompous reasons. The reason I say this, as a book buyer, I try to avoid print books wherever possible now and I try to get e-book formats. I’m not a member yet, so I feel this is something that needs to change before I will consider membership.

  7. TMR

    It seems to me, if the goal is to limit the number of entries because so many books were pub’d in 2008, they would simply state “First come first serve” and when the 1200 entries are received, stop accepting. Isn’t that what we do with conferences and other events? This is a very specific step to eliminate the epubs and smaller press authors from being acknowledged in the RITA’s and has nothing to do with limiting the number of entries. For those who think this is whining, take a step back and look at the big picture. It’s a matter of a business organization (RWA) designed to help your career, that you pay membership for, limiting your ability to move forward. That’s unacceptable. RWA lists their purpose on their website (Copied/pasted from rwanational.org): Romance Writers of America is dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. But it seems they are making the across the board decision that small presses and epubs do not advance people’s careers so the books published by those organizations/businesses are not as worthy as those not. Just as a few other authors mentioned, because of this gray area, they are pushing out authors who are otherwise excellent at their craft. They are unable to enter contests to get the recognition they need, because they are both published and unpublished in the eyes of RWA. RWA needs to swallow their pride and acknowledge small presses and epubs are not the enemy. They are a stepping stone. Or is RWA saying those who pub in Epubs or small presses aren’t interested in a career? If so, they are missing the boat…. and the century.

  8. TMR

    To the person who said most who signed the petition are anonymous, you have the choice to show your name on the website and the choice to not. That does not mean the name was not given, and provided to RWA. It means some people don’t want everyone knowing their real name vs. pen name, or their RWA numbers, etc, which many gave during the petition signatures!

  9. AWriter

    @Robin Bayne – From what I’ve been reading on the interwebs NCP is not at all on the recommended publishers to write for list. These seem to have a lot of complaints from authors about dodgy practices. Selling books via amazon sellers to get round paying royalties, taking the first three chapters from an author and then turning it into a full story without the authors permission…

  10. Robin Bayne

    To AWriter, yes things have changed since I first pubbed with NCP in the mid 90′s. My experience with them was much better than what writers are reporting today, but my point was that they qualified at that time for RWA recognition.

  11. Amanda Brice

    How can the Rita truly recognize excellence in romance fiction if the RWA systematically denies entrance to a large segment of romance fiction? As it currently stands, many writers fall into a no-man’s-land where they cannot enter the Golden Heart because RWA considers them published, yet they can’t enter the Rita because RWA considers them unpublished. Which is it? You’re either published or unpublished.

  12. Amanda Brice

    How can the Rita truly recognize excellence in romance fiction if the RWA systematically denies entrance to a large segment of romance fiction? As it currently stands, many writers fall into a no-man’s-land where they cannot enter the Golden Heart because RWA considers them published, yet they can’t enter the Rita because RWA considers them unpublished. Which is it? You’re either published or unpublished.

  13. Cynic

    Hey, guys, keep your entry fees next year and don’t buy books by the winners. Forget the contests. They don’t really mean anything outside your club, anyway. Use this as an impetus to write a book that will be a bestseller. Attend a pitch conference and go for it. Success is the best revenge. How do you know what will be a bestseller? Well, I assume you all are addicted to romances. Imagine yours on a table with all the other new books at Borders (not just the romances–all the hot new releases). Would you wait in line for your book? Make that your standard and forget the other guys. Most of us out here have never heard of any of them. That said, it does stink that, under the circumstances, they won’t refund your money. I’m neither a romance reader nor a romance writer, but I used to respect that organization.

  14. Cynic

    Hey, guys, keep your entry fees next year and don’t buy books by the winners. Forget the contests. They don’t really mean anything outside your club, anyway. Use this as an impetus to write a book that will be a bestseller. Attend a pitch conference and go for it. Success is the best revenge. How do you know what will be a bestseller? Well, I assume you all are addicted to romances. Imagine yours on a table with all the other new books at Borders (not just the romances–all the hot new releases). Would you wait in line for your book? Make that your standard and forget the other guys. Most of us out here have never heard of any of them. That said, it does stink that, under the circumstances, they won’t refund your money. I’m neither a romance reader nor a romance writer, but I used to respect that organization.

  15. Jen

    Would you rather have a book shelf load of awards or would you rather have touched a few of your fans instead? Personally.. I would rather touch fans, instead of being worried about awards or any organization. The fans are the ones that really matter.. Nothing else does.

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    Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.

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