To Romance or Not To Romance: What is RWA Doing?

There has been a disturbing development over at Romance Writers of America. Before I get into it, let me talk about why this organization is important to me.

I write science fiction because I love the idea of space travel and civilizations on other planets. I grew up reading the writers of SF’s “golden age,” and Star Trek was the coolest show to ever hit TV when I was young.

I write fantasy because I love magic and fairy tales, and elves. I love the quest nature of fantasies, and I love the (usually) nature-centric fantasy worlds. Tolkien was a hero of my youth.

I don’t see a contradiction in loving both of these genres. I’m a big believer in the saying that “one person’s magic is someone else’s science.”  Sorry if I didn’t get the quote exactly right.

What does all this have to do with RWA? Well, darn it, I also write romance. Not romance, you understand, as in girl meets hot guy, does he love me, does he not, bodice-ripper kind of stories. But my books all have romance in them. Relationships are part of life. Stories are about life. For me, it’s impossible to explore a world or idea with characters who have no connections to other characters.

So somewhere in my stories, there are always people falling in love. Or being in love already. And these relationships are an important part of the story. Maybe not the most important part. But more than what you would find in a book of regular space-type SF.

So I joined RWA. They have chapters for SF Romance, and Fantasy Romance, and best of all, something called Novels with a Strong Romance Element (NSRE). That’s me! And RWA is a large, respected organization. Being a member adds professionalism and clout to one’s resume. They have lots of workshops, chapter meetings, an annual conference, a magazine, and loads of contests. Including two of the most respected contests in fiction writing: the RITA (for published novels) and the Golden Heart (for unpublished manuscripts).

These two contest carry a lot of clout. Winning the RITA really boosts sales. If a new author places as a finalist in the Golden Heart, she will almost certainly land an agent, and probably a publishing deal. Winning the GH is practically a publishing guarantee.

So I had no doubt that my $95 membership fee was worth the price. That’s why the board’s latest decision knocked me right over into the gutter.

RWA board just voted to eliminate the NSRE category from the RITA and GH contests.

No warning. No discussion. Just… wham. 

Mind you, they’ll let me pay the $95 and be a member. I just can’t enter their very prestigious contest. Because the books I write are not really romance.

To me, this is a step backward. This says that RWA wants to represent only those bodice-ripper type stories. The ones with the simple plot that you can write with your eyes closed.    (Edited to add: I don’t mean to be insulting. Take in the spirit of frustration with the board. If you write or read normal romance, it’s because you like it, same as I like SF & F. That’s all that matters).

The story can be in outer space. It can be in a witch’s cottage. But evidently, it can’t have more story than “will they or won’t they?”

I think that’s sad. I’m not alone in that thought, either. There are thousands of RWA members like me, and they are all upset about this. I know that I can enter my novel in the category for Paranormal Romance (which encompasses SF). But all those other bothersome “things” going on in my stories will not compete well against books using the basic romance template.

I’m waiting to see how this all pans out. I already paid my dues for the next year before this happened, so I’m still in RWA, for now. But the future is in doubt.

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9 thoughts on “To Romance or Not To Romance: What is RWA Doing?”

  1. How awful! I would be pissed! I disagree with this totally and if they don’t reverse it, you should vote with your feet.

    In other news…I GOT A PUBLISHING DEAL!!! Details at seven lol.

  2. Well, I think it’s a bit insulting to say that RWA only wants to represent books with a “simple plot you can write with your eyes closed.” I don’t think that describes my novel.

    re: the changes, they are definitely unpopular with the membership. I don’t think I’ve heard from a single person who is in favor of them. The YA folks are upset because an excessive focus on romance is not really appropriate for teen novels, and the historical folks are upset because the Regency category has been eliminated, much to everyone’s surprise, because the historical finalists are the most courted of all finalists by publishers. Why cut the number of them in half when they are so greatly in demand?

    And then there’s NSRE. I do have mixed feelings on this one because I judged it one year, thinking I would received mostly urban fantasy and mystery entries, and instead all but one of the entries I received were women’s fiction. When I asked some questions, I learned that this category has been all but taken over by women’s fiction. If most of the judges are expecting women’s fiction, paranormal and mystery entries may not have much of a chance of finaling and might be better off entered in the paranormal or suspense category anyway.

    There is a thread on the issue with over 300 comments here:

    http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/changes-to-the-rita-golden-heart-awards/

    1. You’re right, Amy. My comment was not polite. I’ll add an edit to clarify. I didn’t mean to be insulting so much as to talk about what I like to read (and write). The standard, uni-plot romance is boring to read (to me). But I know millions of women love them, so I’m can’t say that they are intrinsically bad. They are just something I’m not interested in. For that matter, I’m not interested in most women’s fiction, either. So good point – SRE is probably not a good category for SF or fantasy. If I enter anything else in GH, it will be in Paranormal. Is that the category you entered?

      1. Yes, Paranormal. I’ve come to believe it’s the best place to enter anything with a Paranormal or SFF element, even if the romance isn’t the primary focus of the book. It may still be at a disadvantage (because the romance is important, and now judges are specifically asked to score for it), but I think it’s better than trying to impress a women’s fiction judge with a paranormal manuscript that may not be at all to her taste.

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