Changes to 2014 Golden Heart and RITA Awards
Posted by Amanda Brice Aug 22 2013, 12:40 am
You are probably aware that the RWA July hot sheet announced big changes to the 2014 Golden Heart® and RITA® contests. This is coming on the heels of the changes to the 2013 contest – and those were huge!
So with all the upheaval in our genre’s biggest contests, we decided to discuss these most recent changes to the rules and criteria for the Golden Heart and the RITA Awards. Like last year, we’ll again offer an open forum to debate the rules and criteria. But — and this is just my own opinion, and should not be construed as reflecting the official opinion of the Ruby-Slippered Sisterhood — this year’s changes aren’t anywhere near as controversial. However, we’re writers, so I’m sure we all have our own opinions and are ready for a debate!
The new rules for the Golden Heart and RITA appear in the public section of the RWA website. The July Board meeting minutes on myRWA (available to RWA members) give the legislative history of the changes, and perhaps explain some of the rationale. I won’t try to duplicate everything here. Instead, I’ll paraphrase the key points.
(Disclaimer: This is my personal summary. RWA did not assist or approve. Please visit the RWA website for complete and accurate content.)
These are just some of the big changes that jumped out at me:
- Self-published books are now eligible to enter the RITA. Previously, self-published books were ineligible for either the Golden Heart or the RITA contests. Last year, authors were granted admittance to PAN (the Published Author Network) on the basis of self-published books, but were still kept out of the RITA. A specific loophole that had previously allowed self-published authors to enter the Golden Heart was closed last year.
- The number of entries allowed in the RITA is raised to 2000. The Golden Heart remains capped at 1200 entries.
- All books entered in the RITA must be submitted in print format, but the print edition only must be “authorized” by the publisher, rather than “produced by” the publisher, as in past years. In other words, if you write for a digital press and your book won’t be going to print until next year (or possibly never), you can still enter the RITA as long as your publisher authorizes a print copy for the purposes of the contest. That print copy copy by produced by them (as in the case of, say, Avon Impulse, which does do special RITA editions of their ebooks), or could be produced by you (using a print-on-demand publisher such as Createspace), as long as you have their go-ahead and authorization.
- Books previously available as fan fiction are not eligible for the contests. To me, this says that “pull-to-publish” is a much more controversial topic to authors than it is to publishers. Perhaps we can call this the “E. L. James should not be eligible for a RITA” rule?
- Erotic Romance was added as a category to both the RITA and Golden Heart contests. (More on this later.)
- The Young Adult Romance definition was amended to clarify that it is a specific sub-genre that is defined by more than its readership. (More on this later.)
- The Contemporary Single Title Romance, Short Series Contemporary Romance, and Long Series Contemporary Romance categories have been replaced by Contemporary Romance (for books over 65,000 words) and Short Contemporary Romance (for books between 40,000 and 65,000 words). (More on this later.)
And here are some things that didn’t change from last year, even though many were hoping that they would:
- There is still only one Historical category. (In 2013 contest, Regency was eliminated as a category.)
- Novels with Strong Romantic Elements category is still gone. (In 2013 contest, it was eliminated as a category in the Golden Heart, but remained in the RITA for one year — scheduled to be eliminated starting in 2014.)
Okay, that’s the overview. You can stop right here if you want. Or you can continue, as I discuss some of the big definitional changes.
With respect to Erotic Romance, this is a brand new category beginning in 2014. For years authors had fought for such a category, but for years the Board declined, feeling it was undesirable. Erotic authors were told that they could enter whichever underlying category their book would otherwise belong in (Contemporary Single Title, Historical, Paranormal, Romantic Suspense, etc), but the creation of a whole category just for erotic fiction would not be possible because of judging shortage. It was believed that RWA would be unable to round up the judges for this category. However, that was a short-sighted arrangement, because if some general members were unwilling to read explicit love scenes, then these books were actually even more disadvantaged in the general categories. In fact, you’d probably be better off with a specific category so that members who don’t want to read erotic books could simply opt out of judging the Erotic Romance category, whereas when the books were entered in other categories there was no way to keep them out of the hands of judges who might be intolerant and/or uncomfortable.
The addition of this category was the most controversial element of the 2014 contests. This motion only passed by a single vote, in a 8-7 split.
Novels in which strong, often explicit, sexual interaction is an inherent part of the story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline. These novels may contain elements of other romance subgenres (such as paranormal, historical, etc.). In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, scenes of explicit sexual interaction are blended with and form a significant part of the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
With respect to Young Adult Romance, the definition changed yet again. This was the definition in the 2012 contests:
Novels/manuscripts with a strong romantic theme geared toward young adult readers. In this category, the love story is an important element of the novel, and the end of the book is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
It changed to this for the 2013 contest:
Romance manuscripts/novels geared toward young adult readers. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the manuscript, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
And here’s what it will be in the 2014 contest:
Novels/manuscripts that focus primarily on the romantic relationship between two adolescents. These novels are marketed to adolescents and young adults. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The love story remains the main focus of the novel (rather than “an important element of the novel”), but rather than the books being geared toward young adult readers, but sub-genre is categorized based on the fact that the protagonists are themselves adolescents. However, note the important addition of the wording “focus primarily” in the first sentence of the definition. This seems to suggest that although these stories must definitely be romances (rather than “romantic elements”), the teen characters can have more going on in their lives than simply falling in love. Which, let’s face it, is just being realistic. (See the comments section of last year’s post for a discussion as to why I and many other YA authors felt that last year’s definition was too restrictive and ultimately unhealthy.) The romance must be more than simply “an important element,” but doesn’t have to be the whole focus. It might be a “primary focus,” but there are other equally important things happening.
With respect to Contemporary Romance, well, this is a doozy and perhaps affects the greatest number of entrants. A little history…
When I attended my very first RWA conference back in 2006, I remember there being a large number of what I termed “the Harlequin categories” in the contests: Short Contemporary Romance, Long Contemporary Romance (which was different than Contemporary Single Title Romance — Long Contemporary was a Series Contemporary category, whereas ST was for single title romances), Short Historical (for category-length historicals, although many category Regencies actually entered the Regency category, such as that year’s winner Diane Gaston, with a Harlequin Historical), and Traditional Romance. (Obviously the Short Historical category isn’t a Contemporary Romance category, and it wasn’t solely for the Harlequin Historical line, because there were other “category historical” lines back then, such as Zebra’s Traditional Regencies, but I still lumped it in as a “Harlequin category” for the purposes of the contests.
By the time I first finaled in the Golden Heart in 2008, most of those categories were gone, or redefined. No more Short Historical, and the three category-length contemporary categories were reworked into Contemporary Series Romance and Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/Adventure. This new dichotomy based on theme remained in place through the 2012 contest, and was then replaced last year with a classification based on length: Long Contemporary Series Romance and Short Contemporary Series Romance (a return to the pre-2008 days, except no Traditional Romance category — which several contestants were actually using for their Young Adult entries once that category kept getting closed out). Many thought this was a bad move, as category-length “Contemporary Series Romance” novels comprise the largest number of romance novels published every year. Between all of Harlequin/Mills & Boon/Silhouette’s various lines, as well as Entangled’s, Montlake’s, Carina’s, Crimson Romance’s, and Wild Rose Press’s category romances, well, you could easily fill more than half of the then-1200 spots available in the RITAs. So for such a large market segment to be crunched into two small categories seemed challenging.
Flash forward to the 2014 contest. The phrases “Single Title” and “Series” have been removed from the wording. Now instead of three categories for Contemporary Romance, we have two: Contemporary Romance and Short Contemporary Romance.
Contemporary Romance — Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are greater than 65,000 words.
Judging guidelines: In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. Entrants determine whether this is the appropriate category to enter based on their own calculation of word count, not publisher definitions. As authors cannot always be certain of the final word count after editing, a small amount of flexibility (5 percent of the total word count) over or under the word limit is permissible.
Short Contemporary Romance — Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and that are less than 65,000 words in length.
Judging guidelines: In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. Entrants determine whether this is the appropriate category to enter based on their own calculation of word count, not publisher definitions. As authors cannot always be certain of the final word count after editing, a small amount of flexibility (5 percent of the total word count) over the 65,000 word limit is permissible.
If many thought that there were too many potential entries for the Series Contemporary Romance categories previously, it’s only going to be compounded now that the longer “category romances” will be entered in the same category as single titles. Then again…maybe not. The longest word count of the various category lines is Harlequin’s SuperRomance, with 85,000 words, which is billed as “Harlequin’s longest contemporary series with a big book feel.” Most Supers that I’ve read really do feel like Single Titles.
So…there you go. The rule change. What do you think? Discuss!