Monday, August 6, 2012

Rita/Golden Heart changes - category elimination

Big changes are coming to the Rita and Golden Heart, Romance Writers of America's most prestigious awards for published and non-published romance, respectively. The judging system is changing from simply rating entries on a scale from 1 to 9 to a 50-point system broken down between romance, characters, writing, and plot. I am so opposed to this change that I am saving my annoyance for its own post.

The other big change is in the categories.  For 2013, the Rita will include the following categories:

  • Contemporary Single Title Romance
  • Historical Romance (includes Regency Romance)
  • Inspirational Romance
  • Long Contemporary Series Romance (more than 60,000 words)
  • Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Romance Novella
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Short Contemporary Series Romance (less than 60,000 words)
  • Young Adult Romance
  • Best First Book
Regency Romance and Series Romantic Suspense have been eliminated, and Novel With Strong Romantic Elements will be eliminated in 2014. 

On the Golden Heart side, the categories are:
  • Contemporary Series Romance
  • Contemporary Single Title Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Inspirational Romance
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Young Adult Romance
I have no opinion on getting rid of the Series Romantic Suspense category, since I neither read nor write it.  I assume such books can still be entered in either the Romantic Suspense or Contemporary Series categories, though how well they'd fare I have no idea.

I'm frankly stunned the Strong Romantic Elements category is being eliminated, and I'd love to hear the board's reasoning behind it.  I've heard rumors that it's something to do with our IRS status being jeopardized by including books outside the boundaries of romance, but that makes no sense to me at all.  Why should the IRS care whether or not we open our ranks to books (and their authors) where the romance is a major subplot rather than the dominant plot? Going by the number of finalists (which is based on a percentage of entries in a category), it's popular with authors, and I think the quality and variety of books making the finals speaks well for this subset of women's fiction.

As for the Regency category, I'm sure you expect me to be opposed to its elimination, given that everything I've written so far, published or not, falls between 1805 and 1815. But in this case I think the board made the right call. The Regency category made sense in the heyday of the traditional Regency romance.  A typical Regency trad, heavy on the comedy of manners and light on the sexual content, was an entirely different kind of book than the sexy saga-romances that dominated the rest of the historical field back in the day.  Now that's no longer the case, so I don't think it makes sense that a few decades at the beginning of the 19th century get a category all to themselves just because it's still the most popular time period while at the same time everything from Tang Dynasty China to Ancient Rome to the Wild Wild West to late Victorian England get lumped in together.

Plus, on a purely self-interested basis, I no longer have to angst over where my books fit.  They're certainly Regency in time period, but not so much in tone. Back before I was published, I was something of a contest slut, and I entered The Sergeant's Lady in every contest I could find. It finaled a few times and won once, but it typically got wildly varying scores--a phenomenon I named "Goldilocks feedback" after the time one judge thought my first chapter had too little sexual tension, a second thought it had too much, and the third declared it just right. 

But the worst it ever did was when I entered it in the Regency-only Royal Ascot contest. I fondly hoped to get high marks in the Regency-specific parts of the score sheet. If I do say so myself, I'd researched the hell out of my Peninsular War setting, after all. But when my score sheets came back, I found I'd fared terribly in the Regency-specific categories. According to my judges, if I wanted to make it a Regency story, I needed to move the whole thing to England and make it a reunion story, and probably bring my hero several rungs up the social ladder in the bargain. Since the cross-class romance and the war zone setting were what drew me to the story in the first place, I didn't even consider making those changes, but from then on I realized that an 1811 setting and a lot of historical detail did not by themselves a Regency make.

So when I entered The Sergeant's Lady in the Golden Heart and later in the Rita, I chose the Historical Romance category rather than Regency.  But I was always nervous my entry would be marked as Wrong Category, or just marked down by some judge who was hoping to find some nice Westerns and medievals opening it up and saying, "1811? Wellington's army? This is a Regency. I'm so sick of Regencies!" As far as I know that didn't happen--though I never finaled with it, my scores were pretty good, and a few judges of impeccable taste gave it perfect 9's.

However, I entered A Marriage of Inconvenience as a Regency, because the hero is a rich viscount and it's set at a house party. What's more Regency than a house party? But I was already worrying over where to put An Infamous Marriage, because it's somewhere in between my previous two books on the war-and-grit vs. aristocratic grandeur scale. But thanks to the changes, problem solved! I don't know how Regency it is, but it's for sure a historical.

All that said, historical romance is a huge subgenre to only get one Rita/Golden Heart. But the best way I can think of to divide it up is comedy vs. drama, like the Golden Globes or the Emmys. Yet I doubt I'd be happy with such a division, for the same reason it annoys me with TV and movies--a show like my beloved Castle is never going to win the big prizes no matter how well-written, well-acted, and well-executed it is because it's a dramedy, caught between the genres. Since I loves me some serious-at-the-core stories that still make me laugh and laugh, I don't want to keep them from being recognized as best of the best in romance.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the category changes?

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