Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Rita Rumble

The Oscars are coming soon. And so are the Ritas. What? You've never heard of a Rita? It's only the Oscar of the romance writing world! Sure, there's no glitzy TV coverage, but there will definitely be a red carpet for the nominees at RWA Nationals in Nashville this summer. This is the contest for published authors that's judged by our peers and our readers. It carries a ton of prestige in romance circles.

And yet, I hear grumbling from some about the fact that the same superstars' names end up being nominated and they usually take home the trophy year after year. Well, they would, wouldn't they? This is about publishing excellence. Of course, the leading authors in each category are going to be well known.

But why after winning time and again do these authors keep entering? Why, I've heard some moan, can't they give someone else a chance?

First, not all authors enter themselves. Some of their publishers do it for them. If they are nominated, the exposure is terrific and doesn't cost the publisher a dime. Sometimes, fans have even been known to enter a book.

After she won her second Rita, Susan Elizabeth Phillips announced that she wouldn't be entering again. She got lots of "Wow! Isn't she gracious?" buzz over it. But I would argue that not having her in the contemporary category cheapens the award for the next person. Eliminating the competition eliminates the value of the Rita.

Nora Roberts takes lots of criticism for being nominated each year, usually in multiple categories. How could she not be? She's the 800 pound publishing gorilla. If, please God, I'm ever nominated for a Rita, I would hope to see the names of the most popular authors in my sub-genre nominated with me.

When I used to sing professionally, each time I auditioned, I knew I was competing against not just the others in the cattle call. I was competing against every soprano who could sing that aria in the world. In the case of books, it should be every title ever written but the Rita limits it to those published in one calendar year.

Romance authors are the most supportive bunch of people you'll ever want to meet. They typically out-nice Minnesotans (which is saying something!) But when it comes to the Rita, let the bloodbath begin. The best book should win, regardless of whether or not the author already has so many of those coveted little statues she uses them for doorstops. Rock on, Nora.

What do you think? Feel free to disagree.

40 comments:

Obe said...

You are so right, it should be about the best book and not the author. Perhaps they should rip the covers off and let the work stand on its own. I hope I get to Nationals this year and can stand by the "red carpet" and take pictures.

Nan

EmilyBryan said...

The Golden Heart is anonymous, but I don't know how they could make the Ritas. Even if you rip off the cover, most authors names are at the top of every other page. And titles become well known. It would take turning them into pdfs with no identifiers and no title.

Nynke said...

I totally agree!

how do the RITAs get awarded, by thew way? I take it there's a jury; who's on it?

Shannon McKelden said...

I agree they should NOT have to step down after winning. Those award-winning authors set the bar for the rest of us. And while Nora may be nominated in several categories, she doesn't always win! Can you imagine how awesome that feels to the author who does win and realizes that, in this instance, this book she poured her heart and soul into, was loved over and above one of Nora's?

Asking them to step down would be like barring an Olympic athlete from competing again after winning the gold. Ridiculous! No one would suggest such a thing. Because those who come after have their eye on that gold, and beating out a former gold-medal winner would make the victory that much sweeter.

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

If we want to compare the Rita's to the Oscars, does someone want to tell Meryl Streep she can't be nominated again?

Best book for that year is best book, no matter who wrote it or how many Rita's they may have already won or finaled for. If I were ever to be a finalist, I'd be thrilled to have them in my category. Bummed I might not win, but still thrilled people thought my writing was as good as an author like NR or SEP!

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--To enter the Rita, an author (or her publisher or fans) has to send in 5 copies of the book. These are distributed to readers who have volunteered to judge. The final nominees are determined by the score sheets (the top 10% advance with a limit of 8 in each category) the judges fill out. So not all judges will read all the entries.

Once a book reaches the nominee stage there are only a handful in each category. I'm not sure how the final determination is made. But the winners are announced in a big whoop-la extravaganza at Nationals.

EmilyBryan said...

Shannon--Agreed. Imagine a snowboard competition without Shaun Miller. Ridiculous, indeed.

Sherri Browning Erwin said...

I agree to keep the superstars and repeat winners in there. It adds panache. And who wouldn't want to beat Nora Roberts or Susan Elizabeth Phillips? I'm happy for them when they win, too.

I don't want to win just to win. I want to compete against the best and the brightest, and maybe even win one day. I love the RITAs. I love the ceremony and the fun of it all. I love judging!

EmilyBryan said...

Stacey--Meryl Streep is only the best living American actress! Glad you picked her to illustrate your point.

EmilyBryan said...

Sherry- Part of the fun of the awards show is the energy of a couple thousand attendees feeding their own dream. You can almost hear the hope hovering over the crowd. Maybe next year . . .

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Whether you win or not, people are going to find something to grumble about.

After I won, I had people grumbling that I should have withdrawn after my original category didn't make its minimum number of entries (young adult, so I entered Contemporary Single Title as my backup).

Apparently, I "stole" or "took" the award away from a legitimate single title author by not graciously withdrawing myself. Never mind that it was my one and only shot at potentially finaling in Best New Book, which was the reason I chose to remain in the RITA in the first place, not because I thought I had any shot of winning Single Title.

Long-winded way of saying anyone who wants to take their shot, go for it. But by the same token, the people judging should judge the books, not the names on the covers. :)

Christie Craig said...

Great post Emily!

And I agree, may the best book win.

CC

EmilyBryan said...

Barbara--For Pete's sake, the 2nd choice category rule is there for everyone to see when they enter. Of course, you were eligible to compete in that category.

Congrats on your achievement. You go, girl!

EmilyBryan said...

Hey Christie! Thanks for stopping by! Maybe we'll see you on the stage this year.

chelleyreads said...

great post emily! i agree with you about big-name authors not stepping down after winning a bunch of times. but wow, how exciting! you gotta post some pictures here afterward ;)

Diana Peterfreund said...

The only reason RWA members can even complain about this is because it's something that you CAN choose to enter. The RITAs don't nominate the best books of the year. They nominate the best books that the authors or publishers chose to spend $50-$150 bucks to enter. An SF author doesn't DECIDE to enter the Hugos, or not. It's up to the membership to decide to honor them. "Bowing out gracefully" is not an option.

Sandy said...

I would want to compete against the best, especially if I win. lol What would be the point of not competing against the very best.

One other thing that bugs me is the voter who says she will not vote for Nora or someone of her stature because they've won too many times. Why do that? It's stupid to do that. You're supposed to be voting for the best. Do the voters even read the books? If not it's even more illogical than I thought.

EmilyBryan said...

Diana--Interesting. How do the Hugos work? Does the SF organization poll its membership?

However, if we didn't allow authors to enter the Ritas, the chance that a new midlister would ever be nominated is slim because the writer with the best sales and distribution would naturally receive more votes. The way it stands, the award is supposed to be about the actual writing.

EmilyBryan said...

Sandy--I have a name for the practice of not rating the well known author high just because of her notoriety ~ "Reader Nullification."

Toni Anderson said...

Well said, Emily.

Katherine Allred said...

I agree with Emily, but there seems to be some confusion as to how the RITA is judged.

Published authors volunteer to judge first round and/or final round novels in specific categories. They choose 3 categories and are sent 7 or 8 books to read. The judge gives each book a score between 1 and nine, with nine being the high score.

The top 10% then goes on to the final round, which is also judged by published authors.

So anyone who says they won't judge Nora's books doesn't know how the contest works. At best, they could give her a low score, but I think most of us are honest enough to judge the books on their own merit and not based on who wrote them.

For us authors, judging the RITA is a labor of love, because it means taking time from our own writing to read these books. And we're all thrilled to find a book worthy of winning our highest award. I've found some auto-buy authors through the contest that I probably never would have found without it.

Nynke said...

thank you, Emily and Katherine, for the explanation.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

This was my first year entering the Ritas, and I completely agree with you. No one should ever have to step down from entering. I would want to final because my book was judged one of the best, no matter who else was in my category. And how sweet would it be to final in the same category as someone like Nora, or SEP...not that I have my hopes up. *grin* But what a rush that would be.

GH entrants can put their name on their entry if they want to, it's optional. One of the entries I judged had the author's name, so I checked the rules. I do think it should be anonymous, though.

Abby Gaines said...

great post, Emily, I agree!

RowenaBCherry said...

I agree with you, Emily. An award doesn't mean much if the best in the industry are excluded

Glynis said...

I would moan if I had to keep polishing those Rita's!
I agree, I think if the author has it, then they deserve the prize.

Janet Kay Gallagher said...

Hi Emily,
I would think entering each book would spur the writer to try to make each one better. A writer puts a lot of effort into creating a book. They should be rewarded according to their merit. Being happy for the winner and trying harder next year to win should help you improve your writing too.
Some great books may be edged out by someone else, so an author needs to have the confidence to know their own worth and just enjoy the awards as an extra boost to their ego.

librarypat said...

I have to agree with you. If there is no competition, then you haven't really won anything. It is more like a forfeit. I can understand a writer wanting to be gracious and give others their chance. However, the best way to have them proud of it is to let them truly earn it.

EmilyBryan said...

Chelley--I'll definitely have my camera ready!

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks for stopping by, Toni! Congrats on your new contract with Carina!

EmilyBryan said...

Katherine--Thanks for that clarification on how the Ritas are judged. I've judged Golden Heart before, but not the Rita.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--I'm always grateful when someone who knows more than me leaves a comment. Thanks again, Katherine!

EmilyBryan said...

Donna Marie--Good luck with your entry! Hope to see you on the stage!

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Abby and thanks for stopping by!

EmilyBryan said...

Hi Rowena! Thanks for stopping by.

I'm always looking for ways to make my website more entertaining, but I can't hold a candle to your cover model jigsaw puzzles!

EmilyBryan said...

Glynis--I'm not big on dusting, but I bet I'd make an exception for a Rita statue!

EmilyBryan said...

Janet--I've heard that a RITA doesn't necessarily translate into increased sales, but it does carry lots of prestige within the industry. Every publisher wants as many RITA winners in their stable as possible.

EmilyBryan said...

LibraryPat--I didn't mean to imply a criticism of Susan Elizabeth Phillips. My midwestern heart applauds her gracious gesture. No one likes a grabby child, but if her work is judged the best, it needs to continue to win!

No one told Tiger Woods to ease up and let the others have a chance (I'm talking golf here. We won't go into where he should have eased up!) Excellence shouldn't feel awkward about its superlative quality. It should keep raising the bar for the rest of us.

librarypat said...

I didn't consider your comment a criticism of SEP. I agree with you. Competing with the best brings out the best in anyone - writer or athlete. It was a nice gesture on her part, but she shouldn't be hesitant to receive awards she earned and deserves.

EmilyBryan said...

Oh good. Sometimes I worry about my online comments because so much of our communication isn't just words. It's easy to be misunderstood.