Looking to the Future: the RITA Contest

Each year, the RITA Awards celebrate the best of our genre. As the premier award for romance fiction, the RITAs are a reflection of all of us, both cumulatively as an organization and individually as romance writers. By highlighting excellent examples of the genre, the RITA Awards are a primary means of promoting romance fiction to booksellers, librarians, and the reading public. 

However, the structure for administering the RITA Awards was created at a time when there were fewer paths to publication and, thus, a predictable and manageable number of entries. In the near future, the RITA is likely in danger of not meeting its purpose because this structure does not accommodate the more open publishing environment we find ourselves in today. RWA leadership feels it is important that the RITA be open to all books that meet standard criteria set forth in the rules. At the same time, we must find ways to alleviate judge fatigue.

The Board has been listening to members’ concerns and is committed to finding solutions that optimize both the entrants’ and the judges’ experiences, as well as increasing member satisfaction and overall public perception.

Discussion of the RITA contest during the November board meeting centered on three areas:

  • Tiered entry for number of books and cost of submission;
  • Rethinking the judging process; and
  • Potentially redefining eligible judges so as to expand the judging pool.


Tiered Entry and Cost of Submission

These changes were approved by the Board previously and have been implemented. In 2016, the RITA contest closed for entries in 29 hours, and 1,273 authors were represented. In 2017, thanks to tiered entry and staggered submission costs, the contest remained open for entries for 8 days, and 1327 authors were entered. As we can see by the numbers, with the implementation of this new process, we were able to relieve some of the pressure on the contest, but unfortunately this did not resolve all of the issues.


Rethinking the Judging Process

We are considering a move to three rounds of judging, which would include the addition of a qualifying round based on a partial read with defined criteria for those pages. This round would be considered an up/down round, with a set number of down votes preventing a book from moving on. If such a scenario were adopted, books that pass the qualifying round would proceed to a round of full judging to determine which books are finalists. Finalists would proceed to the finalist round and would be judged by another panel of judges.


Expanding the Judging Pool

For a three-round judging process to work, we would need to expand the judging pool beyond the entrants, who are required to judge. To do this, we would not only have to call upon our PAN membership to commit to the contest by volunteering to judge, we would also need to find supplemental volunteer sources to expand the judging pool. Ideas for ways in which this could happen include: (a) allowing Golden Heart winners and/or finalists to join either the first or second rounds of judging, (b) having only Honor Roll members and past Booksellers and Librarians of the Year judge the final round, and (c) allowing previous years’ Service Award winners and/or other outside industry professionals to judge. 

The goal is to present a plan to the board in March, to be tweaked for a motion in July.

The best way to solve a tricky problem is often to think outside the box. By introducing a qualifying round and expanding the kinds of members/professionals allowed to judge at various levels, there is potential to meet the challenges set forth above. But as you can see, it isn’t easy to decide the proper course or to guarantee the outcome of such changes.

The RITA Award has always reflected the best our genre has to offer, and our goal is to have it grow so that this will always be true. Only by working together can we find the right solutions. To that end, your thoughts on the direction we’re considering would be appreciated. Nothing will be finalized until July, so there is time for both input and discussion. Please feel free to write me directly at president@rwa.org or to the entire Board at board@RWA.org.


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