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:
- 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.