Changes to 2014 Golden Heart and RITA Awards

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!

95 Responses to “Changes to 2014 Golden Heart and RITA Awards”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Wow…great summary, Amanda! Though my head is still kind of spinning.

    I’ll just never get over the loss of Novel With Strong Romantic Elements, and I still think the YA category is a little too insistent on the centrality of the love story. (I won’t even start on my sadness at seeing the Regency category go away.)

    But I’m thrilled self-published authors are eligible for the Rita!! It’s going to be a wild ride this year!

  2. Liz Talley says:

    Okay, I’ll go first and talk specifically on how this affects me…since that’s pretty much what everyone is thinking.

    My books will now be up against Kristin Higgans, Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips…and also Kim Law, Hope Ramsay, Addison Fox and a host of other contemporary writing Rubies. And I’m worried about my chances. Not because I think my quality is less than theirs.But more because I think Harlequin bears a certain stigma that carries over into how a reader sees the book. I do believe the prevailing theory is that HQ series are not quite up to snuff in comparison to other big name publisher books so I do wonder if there will already be a mark against my book by the very fact that it is a HQ series book.

    Also, I do have parameters I must work within. Series by definition has certain expectations from readers, so I do have some rules I have to follow. No using certain words, sex is a bit censored, etc. So is a Superromance essentially a single title? Yes and no.

    So if I’m up against authors with stellar reputations for delivering best selling books, should I even waste my money? I’m not sure. It’s going to be a huge category and will likely catch some of the romantic elements/women’s fiction overflow, too.

    I had thought with the advent of so many other “Category” books from Entangled, Loveswept, Crimson, etc, we’ve have more diversity and a stronger need for a Series Rita category, but I guess not. Will be really, really hard for me and other category authors to final, so then it makes me wonder if I should even waste the money for what is now a REALLY long shot. Might be better to enter smaller contests for published authors rather than the grandmother of them all.

    Nice post and I’ll check back to see what others have to say.

    • Terri Osburn says:


      I’m in the same boat you are in that my Single Title book will be up against Kristan, Jill, Nora, SEP and other phenoms. So is it worth trying? I say yes. Can’t win if we don’t buy the ticket, right? I bet Kim Law is happy she entered last year. :)

      Also, I don’t think Harlequins are considered lower quality at all. I don’t read a ton of them, but the ones I have read in the last couple years were pretty dang amazing. You have those parameters, but you ladies tell amazing stories all the same. Lots of emotion. If anything, I’d say you series authors have a great chance just because everyone knows how hard is to get in the door with your publisher.

      I say go for it. I know I am. :)

      • Amanda Brice says:

        I totally agree. I don’t read a lot of Harlequins, but those that I’ve read are just oozing with emotion and make me super jealous that someone can write something that “big” feeling with such a limited word count. I couldn’t do it!

    • Amanda Brice says:

      Jeannie made a great point earlier before her posts suddenly disappeared, and it’s that I forgot to mention perhaps the BIGGEST change of all, which is that now all entries that receive at least 90% of the possible point will final. There is no longer any limit as to how many entries will final. If there are 20 outstanding entries in a category, then all 20 will final.

      So I’m sure we’ll all be watching carefully to see what happens in the Contemporary categories this year. Those two categories will undoubtedly get the most entries, but they could also potentially have the lion’s share of all finalists in the entire contest.

      It’ll be a wild ride, that’s for sure.

      FWIW, I’ve always considered your books to be more Single Title than series, Liz, even if they are Supers.

      • Elise Hayes says:

        Wow, I’d somehow missed this detail, Amanda. It really will be interesting to see how many finalists there are next year, with this new rule.

        • Amanda Brice says:

          I wouldn’t be surprised if some categories end up with 20 or more finalists. It will truly be the Wild West this coming year.

          • Diane Gaston says:

            But there is still only ONE winner. Finaling is wonderful, but out of 20 finalists, isn’t it possible that more than one are winners? Only one person gets the statue.

            I think limiting the numbers of RITAs rather than expanding the numbers has been a BIG mistake.

    • Priakiss says:


      My first thoughts were pretty close to yours. My books are still GH entries, but they’re targeted to Harlequin SuperRomance. There’s a different “feel” between a longer category romance novel and a single title romance novel. Heck, that’s why we have those sub-genres within the industry.

      I don’t feel like my writing– and yours especially– is subpar to single titles. Not in the least little bit!

      I just think that readers will gravitate to a long category romance novel for specific reasons or tastes, and others will gravitate to single title for different reasons/tastes.

      I’m not too crazy about bunching us all together into one category, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens. I think there’ll be a slew of books entered in that one category. Hopefully it doesn’t max out and keep some entrants out.

      That’s a question: is there a limit on the number of entries per category or just for the contest as a whole (Rita or GH?)

  3. Thank you so much for breaking down the information, Amanda. YES, I know some of it is opinion, but you did it very well – and my opinions tend to agree with your opinions, so thank you for explaining the new rules in plain English for me.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      As someone who is often accused of legalese, it’s nice to be told I’m speaking Plain English. ;) Thanks!

  4. June Love says:

    Wow, Amanda, you’ve really done your homework. It will be interesting to see how all this plays out, especially with the series books.

    The series/category books have certain restrictions placed on them so to lump them in a category where authors have more freedom with regard to language, sexual content, etc., will make it tougher to compete. Not that these authors don’t have stellar books because they do. I think it’s like putting children in a sandbox. You give pails and shovels to one group and tell them to have it. The other group you instruct them not to get sand on them. Yes, they are both in the sandbox, but the rules are different.

    I believe it was the same way with the Harl Intrigues in the 2013 Rita’s. They had to compete in the RS category with authors who had more word count and free reign on their side.

    Thanks, Amanda, for this great post.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      Hmmm…good point about RS. I’m not sure why, but I think I’d assumed the Harl Intrigues were being entered into the either Short Series Contemporary or Long Series Contemporary (depending on word count) category last year instead of the Romantic Suspense (single title) category, but I’m not sure why I’d assumed that. Were they entered into the full RS category?

      OK, I just checked the RWA website. It looks like only one Intrigue finaled last year — Robin Perini with Cowboy in the Crossfire, and that was in the Short Contemporary Series Romance category.

      So that raises a very good point. Is the correct category for Intrigues now the Romantic Suspense category? Or the Short Contemporary Romance category?

      • Gail Barrett says:

        This is my question exactly. Where do I enter my Harlequin Romantic Suspense novels? In romantic suspense or contemporary? I think HRS and Intrigues have been severely handicapped this year. I’m disappointed.

        • Amanda Brice says:

          I really hadn’t even thought of it until the issue was raised yesterday, but you’re so right. It’s a good question! Ugh, I don’t envy you this.

  5. Elizabeth Langston says:

    It’s interesting that they added “two adolescents” to the YA description. I’m not sure if New Adult authors would have wanted to submit GH/RITA in the YA category–but the new definition precludes that now.

    I wonder how legalistic it will get. I have a book where heroine is in high school, but her beau has graduated early. He’s 18–but working at his first job. Has he aged out of adolescence?

    And does this eliminate “love triangles”?

    • Amanda Brice says:

      Yes, NA books shouldn’t be placed in the YA category, in my opinion. So I think that’s a good one.

      I’ll be curious to see how this affects love triangle stories. An argument can certainly be made that if the love triangle is of the Pride and Prejudice variety (where the heroine hates the hero at the start of the book and thinks she’s in love with one guy, but he turns out to be the wrong guy and the guy she thought was the wrong guy turns out to be Mr. Right) would fit into this definition, because of detour off with the wrong guy was an important part of the development of her relationship with Mr. Right, and thus it’s still the story of “the romantic relationship between two adolescents.” But obviously not all love triangles are like that, and triangles are such a big part of the YA market.

      • Judith Laik says:

        The YARWA chapter has been discussing the changes and one conclusion that they came to was that NA and YA should be included under the chapter umbrella. Many of the members write both. So I’m not sure these people would agree with your conclusions. They’re already struggling with the romance as a main focus because many members write stories where a different plot element is the main focus and romance is a subplot. YA/NA is deeply impacted by the changes, and we’ll have to see how that plays out. If YA entries are going to be seriously penalized in the RITA and GH for not having romance as the main focus, we’ll be losing members. NA will already have an uncomfortable fit in the other categories, especially in a Contemporary category that seems especially glutted now.

    • I also agree with New Adult not fitting with YA; if it’s different enough to merit its own category, then NA stories should be submitted to non-YA categories like contemporary. Bummer that the contemp category reduced though, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

      Also, I think it’s over-reaching to assume a love triangle is out because it mentions two adolescents. Imagine how many qualifiers we would need to encompass everything. “two adolescents EXCEPT love triangles count, and also ghosts are OK, if they can communicate they are not truly dead, and also mystical beings, zombies…” etc. Let’s not get stuck on such minor details that we drive ourselves bonkers! Tell the story you want to tell. :)

    • Keep in mind, it doesn’t say a relationship between “only” two. Think like an attorney!

      • Amanda Brice says:

        Oh don’t worry. I noticed that myself. But just because some people will think like an attorney doesn’t mean that the people judging it will.

  6. Diane Gaston says:

    The Harlequin Historical authors have had to face the same problems that series romance authors will be facing and, let me say, it is true that the chanced of reaching the finals in the RITAs just plummeted for series authors. It has pretty much disappeared for Harlequin Historical authors.
    So series romance authors, the authors who produce the most Romance novels in a year have the least chances of winning a RITA. That seems very unfair to me.

    It is also odd that a few years ago, when I worked on a committee to revamp the RITAs, our mandate was to eliminate “long” and “short” as RITA criteria because word count could not be verified and, apparently, some authors in Long and Short Historicals had fudged it. Now it is back. What I’d give to go back to Long Historical and Short Historical categories!

    I think the biggest mistake in the new RITA rules is limiting the number of RITAs awarded. Apparently this is to give the award more prestige, but I doubt that Romance awards will ever achieve prestige in the publishing world. They are important to us, the authors, more than anyone else. They are a way of celebrating the fact that we do write excellent books – and we write them in great numbers and in a great variety of ways.

    So I think that the number of RITAs awarded should reflect the diversity that is Romance Writing. The special sub-genres should be represented, especially for the series romance authors whose task in writing their books IS unique, and who do produce more books than anyone else.

    I’m not suggesting that the RITAs go the way of RT’s numerous awards (although the winners of those awards should feel proud of them!) I am for celebrating our diversity and recognizing our excellence in all its forms.

    Mostly, I want as many authors and writers to experience the thrill and gratification that I received, winning the GH and the RITA.

    • Terri Osburn says:

      With all due respect, I don’t understand why you think your chances have plummeted. Is it simply the number of entries in your category? I say if you write a great book, you have as much chance as anyone. (And we all know you write great books.) So I’m really curious on this.

      Also, according to the site, the number of finalists are not limited. “All entries with a minimum total score of at least 90 percent of the total possible score will advance to the final round.” If you have the score then you final. There is no limit as far as I can see. Am I missing something? (Which is highly possible.)

      • Evangeline says:

        I believe there used to be Short Historical Romance, Long Historical Romance, and Regency Romance categories in the RITA/GH contest. It was downsized to Historical Romance and Regency Romance a while back, until now, where there is just the Historical Romance category. That said, at least historicals, romantic suspense, and contemporary do or did have multiple slots–inspiration and now erotic romance all compete against one another, whether it be historical, contemporary, suspense, etc.

        • Diane Gaston says:

          You are right about Long Historical, Short Historical, and Regency being the categories in the past, Evangeline. I won the last RITA awarded for Best Regency.

          I don’t know the answer to this, but how many Inspirational Romances of all types are published in a year? How many Erotic romances? I’m not at all certain that writers of Inspirational and Erotic Romances are facing the same competition as authors of Contemporary Romance will this year. It seems to me that the numbers of books per year published in a sub-genre should be a factor in deciding how many RITAs and GHs to award.

      • Diane Gaston says:

        There is still only one winner.

        And the difference is, it does make a difference. It has made a difference. It is an extremely rare Harlequin Historical that has finaled since the changes and, believe me, the quality of the books has not changed.

      • Gail Barrett says:

        Short and long books are fundamentally different. In category you are limited first off by word length (which limits description, plot, number of characters, depth of characterization, etc.). There are also some constraints on the types of plots and characters, pacing, language usage, how graphic sex scenes can be, and so on. There are certain expectations within the lines that do not occur in single title. Both can be well done, and both have their drawbacks and merits, but the point is that they are different by their very nature.

      • Judith Laik says:

        Diane, I hope you’ll jump in and correct me if I’m wrong, but what I took your post to mean had nothing to do with excellence or perception of excellence of series Historicals vs single titles. It was simply what’s happened in the awards since the categories were combined. Let’s face it, in the end who wins depends as much on luck as on quality of the books. Wonderful books may not happen to be sent to judges who appreciate their quality, and mediocre books can reach judges for whom something appealed to them. Every time I’ve judged the RITAs, books I gave top scores to didn’t necessarily final; obviously the other judges weren’t as impressed. And books I’ve given lesser scores did make it. I’m not saying my judgment should have prevailed; just making the observation that individual differences in what we appreciate determine the final outcome.

        • Diane Gaston says:

          Hi, Judy!!! (my good friend!) I did not mean there was a difference in ACTUAL excellence, but there certainly may be a difference in PERCEPTION OF excellence. Reviewers have sometimes criticized the HH books for being too short, as if we had a choice.

          Gail (hi, Gail, my pal!) gave a spot-on description of the difference between long and short books, series books and single titles. Harlequin Historicals have more freedom than other series authors, but we are still constrained by length.

          Every year the instructions for the RITA tell judges not to judge one book against the other, but judge each book by the criteria. Problem is, it is human nature to compare.

          Think of judging two books The 2013 Single Title Contemp winner by Barbara Freethy THE WAY BACK HOME which tells the story of a marine returning home from war to help his deceased buddy’s family, and a Superromance with the same theme. How can you not help feel the shorter book is lacking? But judge 2 Superromances in your pile and you are apt to think differently.

          • Gail Barrett says:

            Think of it in terms of running. Could you judge a sprinter against a marathon runner? Both are runners, true, but one goes fast and short, while the other goes long, with lots of jostling for position and strategy along the way. Both races can be thrilling and exciting events, and one is not superior to the other. But they are fundamentally different. If you had to award one prize, which would you choose — the sprinter or the long distance runner, both of whom did phenomenal jobs?

  7. Wow, great information, Amanda – thanks for posting!

  8. Shea Berkley says:

    Thanks for the amazing post, Amanda. I have to say, I’m disappointed RWA isn’t looking at the bigger picture. Instead of pushing romance forward and allowing it to be included in many types of stories, thereby growing the genre, they’ve narrowed the focus once again and made it more difficult to expand and draw in new readers. If we say having a romantic element is a legitimate part of the romance genre experience, and most of us say it is, then who’s to say it isn’t? Allowing lawyers to define our organization is causing dissatisfaction with more than a few members.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I agree, Shea. I’m very upset that Romantic Elements is still gone. I don’t think it’s a good thing for the genre or the organization.

  9. Gail Hart says:

    Thanks for the great summary, Amanda!

    Just my $0.02 (and quite possible not worth even that much, LOL!):

    Getting rid of Romantic Elements is still a mistake.

    I think the Harlequin authors will continue to dominate the Short Contemporary category. While single title books keep getting shorter, they just don’t go as low as 65,000 words. Although some of the NA books might…

    I agree that the Superromance authors are probably out of luck, now that they’ve been pushed into the same category as the single title authors.

    An argument against series-type categories used to be that one publisher (Harlequin) shouldn’t get its own exclusive categories, but now that Entangled, etc. have series-style lines, this isn’t an issue any more.

    Although an erotic romance won the GH for Single Title this year, I’m happy to see a separate category. These books do extremely well in the marketplace and it makes no sense for RWA to shun them.

    I hadn’t noticed the “no former fan fiction” rule. It strikes me as both mean-spirited and very difficult to enforce.


    • Amanda Brice says:

      Re: erotic romance…I wonder how legalistic people are going to get. “Erotic Romance” is a very broad umbrella that encompasses many different romance subgenres — contemporary (both short and long), romantic suspense, historical, paranormal. Pretty much everything but Inspirational and Young Adult. And erotic novellas in particular are quite popular.

      So are we going to start seeing judges “Wrong Category” things if they feel it should have been entered in the Erotic category? What if the author feels it’s just a “hot historical”, not an erotic historical romance?

  10. Amanda Brice says:

    OK, I give up. I’d posted like 10 or 11 responses, and now they’re all gone. ARGH!

  11. Great explanation of the new rules, Amanda. Thanks for putting so much time into it.

  12. Terri Osburn says:

    My replies worked. I wondered why I was the only one chirping away.

    This is a great summary, but I never get the ire all this invokes. These are internal awards. As much as we’d like to think readers know what a RITA is or what it means, I don’t believe they do. Not having a category for every subgenre does not send the message (in my mind) to stop expanding and only write down the middle. I’ve judged the GH for the last couple years and the variety inside of the categories is wonderful.

    I just don’t think this is hindering anyone, but I understand that others see it a different way.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      It will be very interesting to see how the scoring change affects the number of finalists. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the bigger categories end up with a LOT of finalists, but I have a feeling that we could end up only seeing that this year. If we end up with a situation where a category has 20 finalists, I’m certain RWA will enact yet another rule change for the 2015 contest.

    • Terri, I agree. I didn’t know what a RITA or GH award was until I joined RWA. I’m excited about the changes.

  13. Jill James says:

    I’m still curious on the close vote for Erotic Romance. Wonder why it was so difficult?

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I think that it’s so difficult to get much participation in the elections. Very few RWA members even take the time to vote, but this just goes to show how important it is to know who is running for the board.

      I have no idea why it remained so controversial this year, but the board meeting minutes list who was for and who was against the change to add the erotic category.

      There were 8 ayes: Jeanne Adams, Claudia Dain, Dee Davis, Janelle Denison, Lori Handeland, Diane Kelly, Leslie Kelly, and Rhonda Nelson.

      And 7 nays: Tracy Garrett, Lorraine Heath, Terry McLaughlin, Gerri Russell, Karin Tabke, Jodi Thomas, and Vicki Lewis Thompson.

  14. Great summary, Amanda! This year’s contest will be a Wild West for sure. I’ve read through the comments–one thing to remember is that there is the potential for MORE finalists in each category this year than ever before. There will be no cap at 8, or in case of a tie for 8th place, 9 finalists. Any ms receiving 90% I think it is will be a finalist. This may help the Harlequin authors overcome any bias toward single titles in the contemporary categories.

    • Gail Barrett says:

      Gina, that’s assuming that the judge can evaluate both category and single titles equally. Someone who opts into judging romantic suspense, for example, is probably accustomed to reading single titles. Not everyone reads category. So, faced with a category length book, she is liable to think it falls short in various aspects compared to the single titles. That’s why we fear that lumping the formerly long category books with single title handicaps them.

  15. Kristi Lea says:

    I am happy to see that the e-published books now have at least half a hope of being able to enter.

    My first book came out digitally from a small e-pub in November of 2011, and for that year’s Rita contest, there was no way for me to enter it. Not that I had had great expectations of winning (or even finalling), but it was still disappointing that I would never get the chance to enter (and I will never be eligible for “best first book”). Even more awesome was that I had a signed publishing contract by the time the GH contest opened, so I couldn’t enter that either.

    The print version of that first book was available in December of 2012, and I think (though I could be wrong) that if I’d known far enough in advance that the printed copies would definitely exist, I could still have entered it since the first official print release was in 2012. Alas, by the time I got confirmation from the publisher that I’d have paper, the RITAs had long since filled. So still no go.

    I am, probably like many other startup authors, playing with combinations of e-publishing and trying to see what works best for me–to publish myself or to find a publishing house. It was frustrating the past two years to feel overlooked by an organization that was so supportive in other ways.

    It is nice to see that RWA has finally caught up with us. And nice to know that for my next release (no matter how it gets published), RWA will actually accept my money if I want to try the contest thing again.

  16. Vivi Andrews says:

    It is a constantly evolving contest and I’m excited to see how these changes play out. There could be thirty finalists in some categories! And how big are our judging packets going to be with such a big increase in entries? Wowza.

    I’m hoping my digital publisher grants permission for me to produce the books so I can finally put a horse in the race. Fingers crossed.

  17. Excellent summary, Amanda.

    As someone whose category was crunched in 2013 (Regency & Historical in one big category) I understand authors’ concerns about a level playing field. I worried that the Regency best-sellers would simply take over the category. But I will say that the RITA finalists in the Historical category were marvelously diverse, and all very well-deserved. And with no limit on the number of finalists, I think we will see both more finalists, and a more well-rounded selection of different publishers and books represented. A least I hope so.

    Fingers crossed!

  18. Wow, great recap. I might actually have a RITA entry to submit this year, YEAH! If I can get a print version since my book is digital first.

    I’m still sad over the elimination of Romantic Elements, too. Don’t understand it at all. The two categories for contemporary does seem tricky, too.

  19. Thanks for this summing up. This is really important news. Sweeping legalistic changes feel complicated to those of us who just write the books we love to write. It’s always painful and worrying when whole categories disappear (Regency … heck, I still love them!). But seriously, I am saddened by the removal of Strong Romantic Elements not just because that category gave me my GH nomination but because it draws Romance out into a wider publishing world. I completely get that publishing is changing, fast, and I’m happy to embrace those writers who self-publish. I suppose it’s inevitable that by including new categories, some established ones have to go. My prediction is that there will be more changes year on year until the system finally settles down. Let’s never lose faith in the value of Golden Hearts and Ritas. No other genre of writing puts so much effort, fanfare and energy into rewarding its writer base as the RWA. I say this as a Brit, involved, but also looking in from outside. It’s phenomenal and something to be proud of.

    • Agree; most of what I read prior to RWA would have fallen in romantic elements categories. I also had no idea what a RITA was until I joined RWA and I’m fairly widely read. Though, my wonderful local indie bookstore adds shelf markers to Rita winners, which is great to get the word out. :)

      • Amanda Brice says:

        Same here. I discovered RWA because membership was required in order to join the Chick Lit chapter (which is now basically defunct — rebranded as the Contemporary Romance chapter). Almost EVERYTHING I read previously would have fallen into Romantic Elements. It was only after joining RWA that I started reading Romance, per se. I really think that SRE can be a “gateway drug” to bring the genre to a more mainstream audience.

  20. I am such an RWA fangirl. I’ve learned so very much from this organization and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, so the new changes (both last year and this) have pained me. Because of the narrow definition of romance, the new scoresheets, and the ditching of the NSRE category, my chances of ever finaling again or slim to none.

    I’m so saddened by this. Even my YA is not 100% focused on the romance. I’ve been waffling since last year on if I will stay in RWA. I love it so much. It has done more for women writers than chocolate. (Okay, that might be exaggerating.) But you get the idea.

    Thanks for this recap, Amanda! You amaze!

    • Vivi Andrews says:

      I’m still hoping that Women’s Fic and Urban Fantasy and a less romance-centric YA can make a comeback. The contest changes all the time; hopefully we can change back in those respects.

    • What Darynda said. Exactly. I had the great thrill and honor of winning the NSRE award this year, and I’m sad that it’s the last one to be given out. I’ve decided to stay in RWA long enough to judge next year’s awards, even though I can’t enter, because I feel I should give back to a contest that was so good to me. After that, I don’t know…

  21. Thanks for the update, Amanda. I finally will be eligible to enter and they took away the Elements category. Ah well, as Vivi says the contest changes all the time.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I do hope that they’ll eventually bring Romantic Elements back. Those are some of my favorite books.

      I think a number of your books would arguably fit very well in the Contemporary Romance, by the way.

  22. Sarra Cannon says:

    I’m frustrated by the changes! I was excited when I heard self-published authors would be eligible, but then I realized that my YA books no longer count. /sadface. Technically, the only romance I write now is New Adult, which doesn’t really seem to have a home here either. I’m feeling alienated, to be honest.

    • Amanda Brice says:

      My current YA series doesn’t qualify (ironic, because I finaled in the GH with the first book in that series) under this rule. My new series starting this fall probably does, since that one is much more romance-centric. (The other books were romantic elements…this new series actually are YA romances.) But even there it’s debatable whether the romance is the primary focus (and the time travel/saving the world/yadda yadda yadda is an important element but secondary enough) or vice versa.

      As CJ Redwine said last year (or was it Carey Corp? I don’t remember), YA is always about the “and.” It’s romance AND dystopia. Romance AND coming of age. Romance AND mystery.

      As for NA, I don’t think it doesn’t have a home in the contests. Quite to the contrary, I can see several categories in which NAs could fit. No, it can’t go into YA because of the “two adolescents” language, but I think a key aspect of New Adult is the “adult” part of the designation. These are not stories about teenagers. I think that which category a story would fit in will vary from book to book, but for the majority, it will probably be either Short Contemporary (I’ve read several in the 50-60K range), Contemporary, or Erotic Romance, depending on the wordcount and the depth/intensity of sex scenes. (And no, I’m not implying that all NA is erotic or even sexy.)

      • Sarra Cannon says:

        Yes, I see what you’re saying, but not all NA fits in with other short contemporary romances. In the same way you’re saying YA is romance AND, I think a lot of NA is also romance AND. Mine certainly is. It has a lot more coming of age themes than your typical contemporary romance. /shrug. I’m just not sure it could compete since it’s not going to have the same tone as adult contemporary.

        Also, a lot of NAs buck the tradition of closing out the story in one book with a ‘satifsying ending’. That doesn’t mean the romance isn’t eventually resolved and satisfied, but it might not happen all in one book, but rather in book 2 or 3.

        I understand that a lot of the changes were made with the intention of bringing the focus back to more pure romance, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it or that I agree with it. To me, it narrows the definition and excludes those of us writing YA and NA that deal with more of a coming of age while also falling in love theme.

        • Amanda Brice says:

          I really dislike the part about the resolution of the romance needing to happen in one book. Really, really dislike it.

  23. Evangeline says:

    RWA and romance writers shouldn’t feel too anxious about these changes–at least it isn’t like the SFWA’s Nebula Awards. They only have four categories in which all entries are judged: Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Novel, and Best Short Story!

  24. Greta says:

    Hi, all.

    Amanda: thanks for your excellent summary! Does the no-limit-to-finalists rule apply to the Rita but not the GH?

    Thoughts: I wish the Strong Romantic Elements category would return. I’ve read a lot of novels with a secondary romance plotline that just wasn’t well handled. The mystery, suspense, SF, whatever was great, but the romance was clumsy. SRE gave us the chance to celebrate books that got it all right. (I say this as someone who’s never written SRE, btw.)

    Also–I was surprised to see so many people say they felt category novels would not do well against single titles. Don’t most RWA members read both? Maybe not …

    • Amanda Brice says:

      I wouldn’t necessarily say that most RWA members read both ST and category. I read very few category romances, but I will say that the ones I’ve read (usually only by friends of mine) have really impressed me by how much emotion can be packed into the limited word count and guidelines the authors are working with. Frankly, I think it’s HARDER to write a category romance than a single title because of the constraints.

      But the fact remains that there are constraints on the story lines, word counts, and a whole host of other things that make a Harlequin (or other imprint) category book part of that line, and ST authors just don’t have those constraints. They’re pretty much free to write what they want — the only constraint being that if it’s a Romance (capital R), then it requires a HEA.

      So yeah, I think there will be a subconscious bias towards single titles because the author is freer to explore much more.

  25. First. Thanks to Amanda for the fantastic breakdown.

    Second. YES!!!! I can finally enter! :)

    Third. As members of RWA, we have a voice. If the organization is moving in the perceived wrong direction, it is up to us, as members, to voice our opinions. The changes may not happen immediately, but if enough people get involved and stay the course, someone is bound to listen. I have voiced my discontent that self-published authors were not allowed into the RITA and now the changes, they are a-coming! If you’re passionate about it, let RWA know.

  26. Meg Kassel says:

    Amanda, thank you for this overview of RWA’s changes to the 2014 contests! You astutely point out the wording for the YA category, “…focus primarily on the romantic relationship.” But they mess with that. The last line states: “In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel.”

    Main focus. Nothing’s really changed there, except to explicitly exclude NA entries from filtering into the YA category. IMO, the last most appropriate definition of the YA category was 2012. It made clear the importance of the romance to the contests and was inclusive. I don’t get it. If it ain’t broke…

  27. Thanks very much for this comprehensive summary, Amanda. Last year I was in two minds about entering the GH because the love story was not the main focus of my ms. I entered anyway. I half-expected to get a tick in the “This is not a romance” box on my returned score sheet. (I didn’t, btw.)

  28. […] Changes to 2014 Golden Heart and RITA Awards – These awards are, for better or worse, the top honors in the romance genre and the RWA is changing the rules for them again. In a nutshell, self-published and ebook-only are now eligible for entry, there’s now a separate category for erotic romance, the category romance categories (god bless this ridiculous genre…) have been condensed and the Novel With Romantic Elements category is no more. […]

  29. Kat Latham says:

    I’m late to this party, but I have a question if anyone’s still reading the comments.

    It seems to me that there’s also been a change in authors’ chances of having their entry accepted in the first place. Last year, RWA prioritized entries from people who signed up to judge, and (as far as I understand) you could only judge if you were a member of PAN (or maybe it was PAN eligible). So almost anyone could enter, but because the contest was oversubscribed you had almost no chance of having your entry accepted unless you could prove you’ve made $1,000. That seems to severely limit new authors (and perhaps authors with digital-first books who are unlikely to receive advances, if advances are considered fine for PAN eligibility).

    This year, it seems like the rules for judging may have been extended, and I wonder if anyone can confirm that. This year, “author entrants” and PAN members can judge. Does that mean they’ve gone back to first-come, first-accepted? Or is it a chicken and egg situation, where non-PAN members can only sign up to judge if they have entered the contest, but they only have a chance of entering the contest if they’ve signed up to judge?

    I’m wondering because my debut novel came out earlier this month from Carina Press. I won’t get my first royalty statement until the end of the year, by which point the contest will be full. I would love to judge and I would love to enter, but I don’t know if there’s actually an inbuilt barrier that (intentionally or unintentionally) keeps newer, digital authors out of the running while making it *seem* as if they’re more than welcome to the party.

    Any ideas, thoughts or clarifications?

  30. Sofia Harpr says:

    Color me surprised by the close vote on Erotic Romance. It’s a sub-genre (within sub-genres) that’s been widely popular for a while. Not only that I started reading romance in 2002. The heat level in books has definitely gone up. Some words you’d never ever see in a category or even a “sweet” ST are being used. Even within the erotic rom community spotting an erotic rom comes down to the authors perspective. Or, you know it when you read it.

    I’m happy to see it have its own category, but I’m worried about the lumping. I write contemps so that’s my own baggage. And because of that I’d rather judge erotic historicals. And, I have to say, an erotic historical is not an erotic contemporary. The only thing they share is eroticism. But, I think that’s a problem with niche sub-genres (within a sub-genre). YA is another one. So is NA.

    I’m happy to see self-pubbers get a chance. My only fear is that they’ll have to be ten times better than a traditionally pubbed book to get a 1/4 of the same credit for being good.

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