Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More changes I wish I could make in the Rita/GH

I judge several unpublished romance contests a year. Contest judges helped me immensely in my early days as an aspiring writer. I remember one judge in particular, reading the first version of what would eventually become A Marriage of Inconvenience, who encouraged me by raving about how BEAUTIFUL my writing was...before telling me firmly, in no uncertain terms, that I must NOT indulge myself by putting my heroine's entire backstory, however fascinating, in Chapter One, and that I must further refrain from allowing my heroine to go to sleep at the end of said chapter, unless I wanted my readers to feel justified in putting the book down and turning out the lights themselves.

Thank you, ma'am. Lesson learned.

So I like to give back, and generally do my part to support the writer community. Five years ago, whenever I signed up to judge a contest an overstuffed priority mail envelope would soon arrive filled with entries and scoresheets. Some judges, myself among them, suggested it'd save postage, trees, and trouble to move to electronic entries, and after some experimentation, that's exactly what happened. All the unpublished contests I've judged in the past two years have arrived as Word or RTF files in my inbox...with one exception. The Golden Heart.

I don't see any good reason why this should be so anymore. Even as late as 2005 or 2006, paper entries made sense. Half or more of the editors and agents I was submitting to back then even wanted paper instead of email. But that's changed. Even if the ultimate outcome is still a printed book, we've become an electronic industry. Writers have become much more savvy about converting their manuscripts to formats like RTF that are readily readable across a variety of word processing programs. So IMHO it's past time for RWA to save us all some postage and spare a few trees by switching to electronic entries.

The Rita also accepts only printed books. Electronic books like mine are eligible, but only if the publisher is willing to provide professionally bound printed copies for the contest. Carina was generous enough to do so for those of us who wished to enter this year's contest, but I think they're the exception rather than the rule among e-first publishers. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

I doubt it will surprise you to learn I think this rule should change, too. Let's level the playing field for the e-pubs by permitting electronic entries. I'd even go so far as to say let's make it ALL-electronic, because we've reached the point where any print publisher is simultaneously releasing electronic editions of all their books, at least for popular fiction. I might be getting ahead of myself on the all-electronic part, but I know I'd rather receive a bunch of PDFs that I could download to my Kindle than a stack of paperbacks to add to the mountains of clutter in my office. Sure, not everyone has an e-reader yet, but their market share is growing every day. And everyone in the judging pool, or as near to it as makes no nevermind, DOES have a computer they can read PDFs on in a pinch.

What do you think? Are you with me, or do I go too far?


  1. Totally agree. I refused to enter contests that weren't electronic. It's such a waste of time, paper, and money. I almost didn't enter the GH because I didn't want to go to all the hassle.

  2. I can understand why the national organization has been slower to change than the local chapters--it's like turning an aircraft carrier vs. turning a speedboat--but I think it's becoming overdue.

  3. In order to switch to electronic submissions and open the RITAs to e-published authors, they would have to redefine their PAN Network criteria (and I've heard that whenever the RWA lowered the threshold, advances dipped). Members are too wedded to the politics of being a member of PAN, and the RWA has too long a history with helping authors become traditionally published, to get rid of the criteria and declare everyone with a book release or two as "published".

    Plus, with so many e-published books released each month, each week, and each day, how would judges even tackle the thousands of submissions you know would flood the RITAs. I know it sounds harsh, but if you've chosen to go the self or e-pub route, the RWA does not have an obligation to change its bylaws and rules. Yes, technology has changed drastically, and you (general) are a dues-paying member, but the choices are to be happy that you're published and making a living, start another romance writers' organization, and/or fit into the rules.

    If you're a successful e-published author, and you're obtaining excellent reviews and feedback from readers and your peers, what is a RITA except a statue and a plaque?

    - Gigi

  4. The number of entries for the RITA contest are limited just as they are for the Golden Heart, so opening the contest to more books would not increase the number of entries to be judged.

    The RITA is supposed to be an award based on the quality of the book, not how much money the book has made. It is not tied to the PAN and PRO levels so allowing authors e-published but only in the PRO level would not hurt anything.

    To say, "You are a paying member of our organization with a published (meaning available for sale to the public through a professional publishing company) book but we don't approve of the way in which you chose to publish so we are not allowing you to enter a contest that is supposed to be based solely on the quality of your work" is insulting and elitist.

    NOW, I am a member of RWA and I appreciate everything they do for authors. I understand they're purpose is to advocate for authors to make sure they are treated and compensated fairly for their work. But the RITA competition is an internal event to celebrate the work and not the packaging or the name of the publisher on the spine. To dismiss excluded authors with a "too bad deal with it attitude" just rubs me the wrong way.