Monday, October 07, 2013

Me, Talking About Entering The RITA Contest

Elsewhere, somebody asked --
(I'm paraphrasing here):

"Why enter the RITA?  Readers don't care about the RITA.  It's nice to get approbation from your fellow romance-authors, but it's an expensive luxury. 

Does the RITA have any real impact on sales or on any aspect of a career?"

So I had some thoughts on this,
to wit:

Reader, not caring about the RITA
It is true that readers don't know or care about the RITA.  It's not like getting a HUGO or an Edgar, worse luck.  I don't know why the RITA gets so little respect.

Hey -- Look at some of the authors who've won the Historical Romance RITA in the last decade or so.  (Click on the name to see a book.)

Sarah MacLean, Sherry Thomas, Pam Rosenthal, Madeline Hunter, Julia Quinn, Liz Carlyle, Laura Kinsale, Connie Brockway, Jo Beverley, Laura Lee Guhrke, Pamela Morsi, Julie Garwood, LaVyrle Spencer, Mary Jo Putney ...

Can we say, "Really Good Writers, Folks"?
Can we say, "You should read these people"?

Why is the RITA not making a bigger noise?
I have no explanation. I am confounded and numbleswoggled.

Anyhow, talking about money.

There's a definite bump in sales with a RITA win -- but that bump would not cover the cost of entry for many people.  When I look at the economics of the RITA, I'm looking at the long tail. Any monetary value, IMO, lies in a secondary effect on the professionals in the field, rather than in immediate, direct sales.

This is how I see the long tail:

-- You're right about the RITAs being primarily for other writers. But this is not a bad thing.  Many Romance writers try out the RITA Finalists in the year after the win and sometimes they like what they read. The single best advertising for any writer is the recommendation of other writers.

Somewhat jaded reviewer
-- RWA Chapters and writing organizations notice the winners. If you like speaking engagements, this is a way to get wonderful invitations.

-- Reviewers often pick up the next books from RITA writers. Reviewers love good writing -- that's why they're in the business -- and take an interest in what Romance writers think is good writing.

-- And I think the publishers take note.
Publishers are endlessly interested in writers. We are 'the product' they're selling, as it were. I like to think that in some future marketing meeting, that RITA win or Final might be the little nudge that pushes a book into a more favorable printing slot or gives it a bit of the publicity budget.

So. Onward to expenses.  Does the RITA cost a writer too much?

This so much depends. Take an example of one sort of writer.
Let's say you're not an RWA member and would not normally become one; you wouldn't go to National; you have to pay for your own print books; you have to pay for your own entry to the RITA contest; and you make less than $2000 writing income after expenses.

In this case, to get the RITA at the National Convention, you'd be paying, soup to nuts:

$120 RWA membership
$100 to print up ten copies of your book
$50 to enter the RITA contest
$500 registration for National Conference
$400 plane fare to National Conference
$50 for a checked bag
$500 hotel at National Conference
$130 meals at National Conference
$100 dress to wear to the Awards dinner
$100 for professional clothing to wear at the conference

This is all ballpark, but we're flirting with $2000 overall. And you'd have to judge five books.

Another writer would be in a different situation.
For instance, until I fell into my recent snit with RWA over their latest revamping of the RITA, I paid for RWA membership every year. I judged the RITAs whether I entered or not. I attended the National Conference whenever I could scrape together money enough to do so.

The National Convention of RWA
Because I was already paying for so much, entering for the RITA cost me about nothing extra. Entering the RITA, then, is probably a good economic decision for any RWA member who plans to go to National. It's maybe not such a good economic decision for folks who aren't and don't.

But the economics are not the be-all and end-all of this contest.  For me, entering the RITA has never been about the economics. It's part of being in RWA and supporting Romance.  For many longterm RWA members, the RITA is 'our contest'. It seems natural to enter.

Finally, let me suggest one particular case when the payoff is worth the cost.

If you are Indie pubbed and you have just a hellaciously good book and you cannot seem to get anybody to notice it ... the RITA might be a good way to put your book in front of the world.

Hellaciously good Indie book
Is your book good enough to Final? Looking at it objectively, is your book better than most of those Finalists?   Do you have a supergreatwonderful book?
If so, and if you choose not to go to National with your Final, the RITA would cost:

$120 RWA membership
$100 to print up ten copies of your book
$50 to enter the RITA contest

That $270 seems cheap for that amount of publicity. 
There'd be special notice taken when an Indie book hit a Finalist position.


  1. Joanna - I'm a reader and I do know about the RITA and take note of the finalists and winners. Looking through the lists has helped me find authors new to me, and I'm always pleased when my favourite authors win and sorry when they don't.
    May I ask what it is about the RWA's " latest revamping of the RITA" which has put you in a snit?

    1. I think readers who are interested in good writing per se are more apt to note the RITA winners and Finalists.

      As to my snit --

      At one time, RITA judges had to do two things.

      (a) Decide whether a book fit into its judging category -- yes or no. Is this a Historical? Is this a Short Contemporary? Is this a Romance at all? If the book was miscategorized, they'd send it back

      (b) Rate books on a scale of one to eight. The basis of the rating -- How good is the book?

      The RITA contest was revamped two years ago. Some changes were right and necessary. It's now possible for self-published authors to enter, for instance.

      But the basis of judging is no longer -- "Is this a good book?"

      The basis of judging is now --

      The RITA judges -- and all the judges are published authors -- are now constrained to pluck out concepts like 'the characters' or 'the story' or 'the romance' and assign each of them numeric scores. Now the judges decide whether 'the characters' are good and 'the story' is good.

      It sounds like a well-intentioned High School teacher. "Do you like the characters in Othello better than the characters in King Lear? Provide a numerical rating."


      I am still angered by this.

    2. Anonymous10:12 PM

      You're right--what an odd way of judging a book's merit! I'm puzzled as how they can divorce the 'writing quality' rating from the 'plot'. Or how 'likeability' for the characters is a particularly valid criteria. Surely Hamlet would be rather low by this rating system--I mean the play might be 'the thing' Hamlet *likeable*? He whines a lot, you know, and he'd probably be a downer as a dinner guest. It's still considered perhaps the best English language play in history.

      Seriously though, I think there are better ways to judge the merits of a book than the structure they've devised here. I always just assumed that a handful of hand picked, highly respected industry folks chose ten books (or whatever) and all voted on which one they thought was best, and whoever got the most votes one. Had no idea this judging system was like this! I actually do pay attention to the RITA award winners as well. It helps me find new books, in the same way I'd trust the Nebula Awards, or the World Fantasy Awards. It's also shame the RITAs aren't considered more prestigious or viewed with more clout, given the fact that romance is a lucrative and popular genre, with its authors usually topping the trade paperback sales lists.

      I should also mention I've been on both sides of the judging table, albeit on a less exulted scale ;). In high school--many years ago-- I submitted and won runner up to a local scholastics writing contest, as an adult I volunteered as a judge in the same contest. Not to blow the lid off the contest or anything, but as a judge I can say it wasn't the most precise of judging methods there either. Stuck in a room with mostly local teachers on a Saturday afternoon in a library, in a closed-door room, with stacks and stacks of essays and stories. Each of us got, oh 50-100 pieces to read through in a clip (easily), each submission ranging between 8-20 pages, and you get multiple stacks as the afternoon progresses. I think we all started to get a little loopy (read: sloppy) by the end of it. Even I was more likely to judge a story favorably if it was at the beginning of the pile, then I was by the time I reached the bottom of the pile. We gave numerical ratings scribbled on the top of the page like a grade, and I think many judged on the concept of 'well not everyone can deserve an 8-10' and so by the end they were more stingy with the good numbers. I think they/we were also more apt to judge harshly by the end as we'd read more pieces and could get a sense of the ability of their peers. And yet, as I can tell, no one went back and re-graded after finishing each stack, based on the quality of the total submissions. Also, a piece I liked may have been tossed aside in the hands of another judge, or visa versa. But I guess these contests all have a level of subjectivity.

      And as a sidenote: I remember reading an interesting essay on the fact that the Pulitzer had 'no winner' in literature in 2012!

      I really appreciate her closing paragraph, which reminds me a bit of what you're talking about,

    3. There are a number of respected contests in various genre, all judged somewhat differently.

      The HUGO is a reader-judged contest, like the AAR Readers Polls.

      The Edgar is judged by 70 or so appointed folks, respected in the Mystery field.

      The Nebula is judged by the ~1500 SFFWA members, all published SF writers.

      What these contests have in common, and in common with all the major professional literary contests I know of, is that the judges weigh the effect of the whole book. They are not told to consider 'the plot' as twice the importance of 'the writing' or to decide how much of the book is 'the science fiction' and how much is 'the characters'.

      The new RITA judging rules seem to me amateurish, unworkable, and poorly considered. I see them as an embarrassment to the RWA and to the RITA.

  2. Wow, how did they come up with those rules? As a reader who pays only a small amount of attention to any award when choosing what I read (whether it's the RITA or the Man Booker), the only thing I really care about is whether the whole thing is good. A book can be written in exquisite prose, but have plot holes as big as a house or have likeable characters and plot but be written so poorly that it is painful to read. If the RITAs had no respect before, I think that this judging system is going to make them less credible.

    1. I have to agree with you. I don't know what they were thinking or who came up with these. The general membership were not consulted.

      My snit is deep and wide .... I don't know if it's justified, but it is mine own.