22 Mar

Another Letter to RWA

As you may have heard, the finalists for Romance Writers of America’s RITA award were announced yesterday. As you may also have heard, the results again inspire hashtags such as #RitasSoWhite. RWA’s president is open to suggestions for this known, longstanding problem. Though I’m done with the organization for a multitude of reasons, I care enough about the systemic exclusion of authors of color to submit the following.


You asked the membership for ideas about changes to Rita judging. Given the specific nature of the problem, this is the most fit-to-print thing that came to mind.

The scoring system is nonsensical as it is. While I agonized about using “average published quality” as a standard and deducting/adding points according to the entry I was reading, I suspect most other people judge based on “this is/isn’t to my taste,” which leaves room for scoring entirely based on unacceptable prejudices.

I suggest more granular scoring to try to get more objective results, with each book judged on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being Poor, 10 being Excellent) in craft-specific categories, such as:

  • Copyediting
  • Characterization
  • Plot
  • Convincing Romance
  • Whatever other measures of craft and professional quality can be divorced from “I can’t relate to someone who’s not like me”

To avoid claims of confusion, include descriptions of what is to be rated for each heading on the judging form itself (i.e., Copyediting should ideally exhibit no spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors that can’t be accounted for by a character’s dialect or differences in American/British spelling).

Additionally, either keep all five scores and let the high and low moderate each other or only throw out the lowest to eliminate suspiciously negative outliers.

Yes, requiring multiple separate scores for each book would complicate the judging process, but deciding which books receive what’s supposed to be the genre’s highest honor should be a serious task, not a personal whim. Anyone who objects to treating it with the gravity it deserves isn’t qualified to serve as a judge.


Five seconds after hitting “send,” naturally, I wanted to add that the “Convincing Romance” judging criteria shouldn’t  mandate marriage and babies, which is the only outcome some members currently accept because they’re stuck in the 1950s, but ironing out the details isn’t my job.

6 comments on “Another Letter to RWA

    • *dubious noise*

      As a cishet white woman, I don’t have much cause to consider whether I’m being discriminated against (unless the person making the decision is a white man), so I always assume my failure is something else. Yeah, there was a great deal in that book a certain crowd wouldn’t appreciate (LGBT+ characters, brown people, disrespecting mama, addiction, no marriage and babies, liberal politics, profanity, and and and) and I’ve snapped on the forum in response to all the entitled whining and certainly don’t have any friends in that organization, but that’s not the same as this “I just can’t suspend my disbelief to accept a Black woman as a scientist, 1 point” bullshit that goes on.

      And I don’t care *for me.* I didn’t want to enter. It wasn’t my money. My feelings weren’t hurt. We’ve all been baffled for years about the finalists and winners, so what a “victory” signifies is questionable. It’s a marketing bullet point, but anyone familiar with the contest is more likely to side-eye the credential than be impressed at this point. It’s just not fucking fair that a damn Nazi romance receives that credential while books about intelligent, well-adjusted POC are consistently excluded because the judging body primarily consists of bigots.

    • There are 3 questions: Is it in the right category?, Does it have a central romance?, and Does it have an “emotionally satisfying” ending? If 3 of 5 judges answer “no” to any of those questions, the entry is disqualified. As you can imagine, particularly the last one is ripe for abuse by people who refuse to believe entire groups of people can or should live happily ever after, or that happily ever after is anything other than a marriage-and-babies epilogue.

      The actual score by which the finalists are determined is 1 to 10 (with decimals encouraged), the only guidance given is “7-8 is average,” but it’s entirely up to the judge’s whim. If you want to deduct 5 points from a perfectly competently written story because the hero has the same name as your son and it makes you uncomfortable to read about him having sex, or because gay is against your religion, or because you don’t believe a Black man can be a good father, or because first person is “triggering” to you (yes, that was actually said), or because you don’t like secret baby plots, or whatever, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you. You never have to EXPLAIN your score, so if you didn’t brag in public about being unfit for the responsibility, nobody would ever know.

      Fortunately(?), a lot of them can’t stop themselves from whining about how they’re the true victims, first by being subjected to such material and then by being criticized for their shitty behavior.

        • Yeah, it’s important to devote 67% of the scale to specifying how short of average an entry falls and leave only 22% to rate books that are better than average and thus perhaps worthy of an award because the potential winners are definitely not where it would be beneficial to be super granular.

          Like I said, nonsensical.

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