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PRIDE WEEK: Book Awards and GLBT Books

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In 2009, the Lambda Literary Fund changed the criteria for entries to their literary awards. Rather than reward great books with LGBT content, the Lammies now require LGBT authorship as well: “it should be noted that the Lambda Literary Awards are based principally on the LGBT content, the sexual orientation of the author, and the literary merit of the work” (emphasis and Cambridge comma added). Despite the fact that quite a few previous Lammie honorees are/were distinctly NOT LGBT but wrote brilliant books about LGBT people, the Lammies are now only for LGBT authors who ALSO write about LGBT topics. (Edward Albee, this year’s Lammie honoree for Lifetime Achievement, apparently made a big deal of this in his speech, saying, in effect, that although he is, indeed, gay, he doesn’t write about gay topics. He writes about people and he happens to be gay. Basically he was calling Lambda to the carpet, asking them WTF they thought they were doing.)

Anyway…most people think this change happened because of the commercial success of m/m romance and the literary value of some of those novels. Here were a bunch of (it is assumed) straight women, writing for straight women, about gay men. How dare they? (Ridiculous wankage alert on that link. For a MUCH better Lambda-sponsored editorial on the issue, see this one by Lizzy Shramko. But avoid the comments with their kneejerk responses.) The fact that most of the best m/m authors I know are NOT, in fact, straight or cisgendered seems to have been lost on Lambda. So even though Lee Rowan (historical m/m romance) and K.A. Mitchell (contemporary m/m romance) are both lesbians, I doubt they’ll ever win for one of their m/m romances. Even though they fulfill the outward requirements for entry, they’re not writing about the lesbian experience in their books, so they probably don’t count, no matter how good they might be.

So, if m/m romance can’t enter the Lammies, what about RWA’s RITAs? Well, the issue there is that RWA doesn’t have any LGBT-specific categories. So authors are free to enter their paranormal LGBT romance into the paranormal RITA category, or their contemporary LGBT romance into the contemporary category, or their LGBT romantic suspense into the romantic suspense category — you get the idea. But, honestly, what are the odds that they’ll final, let alone win?

Many people would say that if books with LGBT characters aren’t finaling, then books with LGBT characters obviously aren’t good enough to final yet. If better LGBT books were entered into the RITAs, they’d be recognized. So my whole argument is a false one because obviously it’s the fault of the books.

But if these books scared Lambda so much they changed their entire eligibility criteria just in case one of them won, I personally don’t think quality is the issue. There’s no way to measure this, but my gut instinct is that brilliant books like Heidi Cullinan’s Special Delivery or Alex Beecroft’s False Colors don’t final in the RITAs because of their LGBT content, which overrides any consideration of quality in the eyes of enough judges (not all, note, but enough) that the books are either marked down or disqualified because of it.

So why not a separate LGBT category for the RITAs? There’s an “Inspirational” category, after all, so the RITAs are definitely open to classifying their books based on political content (and yes, I think “Inspirational” is a political category as much as it is a content category like Paranormal or Romantic suspense). But then, there’s not an “Erotic” category, despite a decade of agitation for one. And the split here, from what I’ve heard from authors, is within the communities of erotic or LGBT authors themselves — many authors want their books to compete against other books in their content genre (paranormal, contemporary, romantic suspense, etc.), no matter the gender pairing or heat level of the book. So while some authors advocate for separate erotic and/or LGBT categories, other authors want their paranormal LGBT book to go up against other paranormal books, no matter the gender pairing, rather than up against a contemporary LGBT book or a LGBT romantic suspense.

I understand that impulse. I really really do. A romance should absolutely be judged on the basis of its genre, not its gender pairing. But what do we do when that doesn’t work? LGBT books, no matter how brilliant, do NOT final in the RITAs under their genre classification, and I firmly believe this is because of their LGBT content. What do we do about that? Do we wait the decade or more (and I think it’ll take that long) for this to change (and it will, eventually)? Or do we advocate for an LGBT RITA category in order to honor these books before they can compete against their genre regardless of gender pairing? (Not that I have any power either way. But I’m curious.)

(And, having asked that question, I’m going to let y’all discuss it amongst yourselves. I’m traveling today, so although I can read all your responses on my phone, I won’t be able to respond myself, although I’m sure Sunita will contribute!)

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

42 Comments

  1. KB/KT Grant
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 05:44:33

    I noticed this year that not one digitally published book was nominated for the RITAS. And only one last year was up for a nomination. This may be a problem seeing as the RITAS are geared more toward traditionally published books, IMO. If they have a LGBT category, would they only nominate traditionally published books?

    Plus, many dig pubbed books are series length, and yet the books nominated in those category are all Harlequin and Mills & Boon. What’s up with that?

    I think a LGBT category for the RITAS would be an excellent idea perhaps along with a category for just digitally published books from the on-line epublishers?

    And I agree 100% that a book should be based by the merits of the work and not the person writing it, but unfortunately that is not always the case.

    Great post, Sarah.

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  2. Sean Kennedy
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 07:13:11

    Oh, Jeebus, not the Lambda wank AGAIN.

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  3. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 08:20:09

    @Sean Kennedy: I’m not Sarah, so I won’t speak for her, but I don’t think the column is intended to rehash the LLF stuff as much as think about what the award options are for a lot of LGBT romance. Given they are statutorily excluded from Lambda awards and de facto excluded from RITAs (and RT for that matter), what path do we pursue to integrate LGBT into the latter? There are real tradeoffs between the separate-category approach (which segregates from the beginning and sets a precedent) and the integrative approach (which is unlikely to produce winners soon given the past history).

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  4. Mari
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 08:28:47

    I feel that the RWA is a very conservative organization in more ways than one. Conservative and downright hostile in terms of change and overwhelmingly conservative in terms of what constitutes romance. ALmost feel these writers deserve their own organizationa and awards (thought LAMBDA was on it but o well). Really, how else are these writers going to get acknowledged or get their needs met professionally? I know RWA is very powerful and certainly there is benefit in agitating for change. These authors want acess to all RWA has to offer and who can blame them?
    On another note….LGBT is so odd….its the only “minority group” solely defined by its sexuality It feels strange to me to lump all these writers under one label, regardless of cultural background and I don’t understand how something with, for example, two African-American male protaganists, both of whom are Christain and gay would be dumped into the LGBT category, regardless of everything else. But then I see what happens when they get put into the “inspirational” category at RWA. No way would they ever final, rather than win!

    In an ideal world, none of this would matter, and romances would only be judged based on quality, regardless on minority status….this world is far from ideal.

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  5. jmc
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 08:44:16

    From an industry perspective, I can understand the value of being able to label a book as “Lamda Award Winner” or, to a lesser extent, “RITA Award” winner. I understand they both bring an increase in sales and carry some internal industry value.

    From my individual perspective, both awards are irrelevant: when I skim the nominee and winner lists annually, they don’t represent what I’m reading or what I’m interested in reading.

    RWA is inherently conservative and resistant to change, as we’ve seen when it comes to e-publishing, self-publishing, and other controversies that have arisen in the last few years. While I think there is value in making efforts to change RWA from within, both gradually and more immediately, I wonder what value a grudging, dragged-kicking-and-screaming RITA award would have, in practical terms. Part of me wonders if ignoring Lamda and RWA and building their own professional organization with their own awards would not be more satisfactory to LGBT authors.

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  6. Sean Kennedy
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:35:47

    Hey Sunita

    Sorry, that wasn’t a personal attack but more a here-we-go-again reaction. It usually just rehashes all the same old arguments that never get settled.

    And by saying that it could be ironic that I may have started it. Whether it is true irony or Alanis Morrissette irony, I’m still not sure ;)

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  7. Josh Lanyon
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:38:29

    Are there any m/m or f/f books that do not deal on some level with a romantic/love relationship between two people of the same sex? Because if it is true that m/m and f/f are about love and romance, then it makes sense (to me) that GLBT should have it’s own category and awards at RWA.

    That said, I think it still makes sense for GLBT titles to be entered into the main categories, even if they don’t final or win, because that’s part of the process of getting things to change. Sometimes you have to push in where you’re not wanted but still have a right to be.

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  8. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:56:11

    I have no problem with the Lambda awards celebrating GLBT authors and excluding straight authors. I really don’t get the controversy. Should straight people be allowed to judge the Lambda, as well as enter? Why or why not?

    As far as the RITA goes, I’m in favor of fewer categories rather than more. Judges can indicate which categories they prefer and what content they’re comfortable with (erotic, inspirational etc). Do I think LGBT romance can get a fair shake in the RITA? Yes, as long as the book is being judged by authors who are open to reading it.

    With both of these awards, I’m assuming that the author has to *enter* to be considered. I know that’s the case for the RITA. When digital or erotic or LBGT romances are not represented, I have to wonder how many authors of those types of books actually entered.

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  9. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 09:58:39

    @Sean Kennedy: No problem, I know what you mean! And we are keeping those worms right there in that can where they belong.

    @jmc: I am a bit surprised that LGBT doesn’t have its own awards; there are e-book awards that have been around for a while (as a point of comparison).

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  10. Liz Mc
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 10:42:02

    The question of whether writers of LGBT romance should push for their own awards category or keep submitting to “regular” categories (or both) is too tough for me.

    But, while I understand Sarah’s point that Inspirational is “political” category, I think YA is a more politically useful comparison for those who want to advocate for an LGBT RITA award. The Inspy parallel runs the risk of saying, “You bigots have your award, so we we should get yours” (which may be true, but isn’t persuasive). YA, like m/m or f/f romance, is a category that contains all romance sub-genres (paranormal, historical, contemporary, etc). What they have in common is a particular trait of their characters, age or sexuality. And it is a trait that will affect the romance–teenagers falling in love face different issues from adults, and in a society like ours, sadly LGBT people face some different issues from straight ones.

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  11. Josephine Myles
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 10:56:14

    I was just thinking about how GLBT romances don’t stand a chance against het ones in an open contest, as I noticed that All Romance eBooks are running their Just One Bite contest again. Last year there were six m/m stories in the running, but every time one of them was pitted against a het story it only had a fraction of the votes, and I swear it wasn’t down to the quality of the writing (okay, one of those m/m stories was mine so this may be a case of sour grapes!)

    I’m all for LGBT romances having a separate category – otherwise they’ll always come last simply because there are far more readers of het romance out there.

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  12. Jane
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 11:00:21

    For the DABWAHA, we eliminated an erotic romance category and placed the Ero Rom in with the various other categories (ie if it was a paranormal or a category or a contemporary) but in this year’s event, we had a lot of complaints that we didn’t have a separate category for it. We do have a separate category for GLBT. It’s a tough call as to what to do.

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  13. Cris
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 12:05:46

    I would think of it like the Grammy’s. They have separate categories for Rock, Rap, Heavy Metal, Latin, etc., but any one of those could win Song of the Year/ Album of the Year/ Best New Artist, or a few other all inclusive categories.

    So at RWA there should be an LGBT category for those books – as they do for YA, but they should still be able to compete in the other relevant categories – Paranormal, Inspirational, whatever, as the author chooses.

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  14. Tasha
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 12:31:44

    I’d like to point that one of the finalists in the lesbian debut fiction category of the Lambda Awards this year was a gay man. The lines aren’t nearly as cut and dried as you’ve made them out to be in your essay.

    Furthermore, I’m seeing a lot of misconceptions in the comments above. To the person who claims that LGBT romance is “statutorily excluded” from the Lammies–where did you get that idea? There are two romance categories in the Lammies, gay and lesbian. This year’s finalists were really good books.

    I still don’t understand why people here are so upset that the LGBT community wants to have an award for LGBT authors. Why is this controversial?

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  15. chanceofbooks
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:09:10

    I absolutely want to see an LGBT RITA category. It makes sense–readers of LGBT romances have different sensibilities than readers who only read straight romances. In the same way, I really think that it makes sense to have an erotic category as well. I’ve really evolved in who I am as a reader, but plenty of others are very genre limited, and that’s okay. If someone signs up to judge “contemporary” and usually sticks to Kristan Higgins and Jennifer Crusie et al, they’re not going to give a Lorelei James or K.A. Mitchell high marks, b/c that reader isn’t really the target audience. But, if you have judges who signed up to judge an LGBT or Erotic category, you’d be more likely to get judges who “get” that sub-genre. I’m very new to m/m romances, but I’ve spent the last month blowing through Marie Sexton and K.A. Mitchell’s entire back lists. I’ve made it a point to read as many RITA winners as possible in the last 6 years. And at their best, Sexton and Mitchell are right up with the best of the best, and it kills me that there’s not a category for them. Mitchell’s Bad Company and Sexton’s Sinners and Saints are totally worthy of a RITA nod, but I would be shocked to see either of them on next March’s lists, which is a shame in a lot of different ways.

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  16. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:26:36

    @Tasha: I got that idea from the Lambda policy position that eligible authors are those who openly self-recognize as part of the LGBT community. My phrase in my previous comment was “a lot of LGBT romance.” I know you have categories for lesbian and gay romance; I have the winner in the gay romance category in my TBR pile and hope to review it in the next couple of months.

    Your policy position appears to exclude those authors who are not open about their sexual orientation (at least so far as I can tell; please correct me if I’m wrong) in addition, of course, non-LGBT writers who write gay or lesbian romance. You have every right to determine eligibility as you wish and I am not contesting that right.

    What I *am* saying is that the m/m and f/f romance community, which overlaps with gay and lesbian romance, includes the latter two groups. If writers see themselves as part of this community, then some of them may feel somewhat conflicted about submitting their work for an award for which some of their community members are de jure ineligible. Others may not. But either way, there is no award, at the moment, for which every author in this community can choose to compete.

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  17. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:32:30

    @Liz Mc: Awesome analogy. That makes such sense.

    On reflection, I like the DABWAHA approach, in part because there are so many more het romance readers than any other group. Books compete first in their subgenre and then the best of the best go head to head. Kind of like the Westminster Dog Show (sorry to offend any authors, just using the competition analogy). :-)

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  18. Tasha
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:42:52

    @Sunita: I don’t understand why you are saying “your policy position” and “you have every right to determine eligibility.” I am not a representative of the LLF.

    I would argue that some gay romance is excluded because it’s written by non-GLBT folk. But I’ve seen no evidence that “a lot of” lesbian/trans romance is being excluded.

    If LGBT writers want to exclude themselves from an LGBT award because straight authors aren’t eligible, that’s their decision.

    But you’re wrong when you say “there is no award, at the moment, for which every author in this community can choose to compete.” Elisa Rolle’s Rainbow Awards for LGBT fiction and nonfiction are in their third year. These awards have a number of categories (including contemporary romance, historical, mystery, paranormal, young adult, and the list goes on) and are open for submissions right now.

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  19. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:43:49

    I noticed a few interesting things at this year’s RT Awards in LA. An African-American author won for Erotic Fiction (not multicultural, which is another category). Also, a GLBT novel was nominated for YA. To me that was proof that these authors/books can compete in broader categories.

    It’s also important to note that the RITA awards are judged by authors, not readers. Each author scores 5-10 entries based on individual merit. In the right (sets of) hands, a GLBT romance could do very well.

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  20. Mara
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:47:06

    @Sunita:

    Don’t forget Elisa Rolle’s Rainbow Award, an award contest open to all authors of glbt fiction, which was established a couple of years ago and is still going strong.

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  21. Sunita
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 13:56:49

    Sorry, that was sloppy of me to refer to you as a rep. of Lambda. For some reason your name rang a bell but I should have stuck to the impersonal pronouns.

    Whether it’s a lot or a little isn’t quantifiable without evidence neither one of us has provided. I’m going by what I’ve observed over the last few years.

    And thanks to you and Mara for reminding me of Elisa’s awards. Elisa is an incomparable provider to the community and her awards are just a part if that. I don’t think she’d disagree, though, that they are not equivalent to awards from a professional association just as the DABWAHA is not the same as the RITAs.

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  22. Tasha
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 14:13:52

    @Sunita: I forgot to mention–the Rainbow Romance Chapter of the RWA has a contest that is open, I believe, to members and non-members. I am not sure if they’re going to have a contest this year; there’s been no announcement that I know of.

    Considering that RWA was ready to limit romance to one man, one woman less than ten years ago, I think it’s amazing the RRW chapter exists at all. LGBT entries are finaling and even winning in RWA chapter contests. Change is slow, that’s true, but it is happening.

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  23. John
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 14:41:29

    Ah, the Lambda discussion. I hated this when it came out. *pinches nose*

    My biggest issue with that side of things is that the award changed. It wouldn’t have been an issue if it was a new award, but Lambda’s policy change effectively said that any winners who weren’t LGBTQ wouldn’t have won under the new rules. That’s kind of insulting.

    I also think it takes the focus away from the books. For a BOOK award, I think the book should be the focus. You are judging a book based on its content, style, and worth. The author should hardly factor into that equation. Not to mention it means greats like Ellen Wittlinger on the YA front would have gotten less attention for breaking down barriers on the LGBTQ YA front in the first place.

    As to the RITAs, it could go either way. I’m glad the nominations are broadening, but I also wouldn’t mind having a separate award. Because whether or not most authors are progressive with that stuff, I DO think the lack of books getting far in the RITAs with LGBTQ couples is a problem. Some are beyond awesome and never see the light of day at those competitions.

    A damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. The point is that these awards are professional and carry a lot of prestige. The case of prejudice is in both of them at this point (because I do believe the Lambda switch shows some prejudice against heterosexual writers – who are advocating the community and deserve just as much attention as the gay people advocating it.) Awards aren’t in our control, but I think it’s important to discuss them and try to bring people to an understanding as to why the award undermines parts of the thing it’s supposed to be examining in the first place.

    This is, of course, all my opinion. The organizations can do as they please, but I’m certainly not in board with how they’re going about it.

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  24. Maili
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 15:01:28

    For the record, I agree with @Jill Sorenson and @Tasha where the Lambda awards are concerned.

    @Sunita:

    I’m not exactly keen on pushing for an LGBT RITA award category because, as you know, LGBT Romance covers almost all possible sub-genres; from a simple friends-turn-lovers romance to action-driven romantic suspense, and from erotic romance to kisses only.

    (It’s a personal issue, I admit. I’m just tired of seeing, for instance, one romantic suspense novel referred as “m/m romance” when I prefer it to be referred as “romantic suspense novel”. That tells me more about the book, but I digress.)

    However, as @Josephine Myles notes, a m/m or f/f romance doesn’t quite stand a chance next to a heterosexual romance if it were entered in a sub-genre category for a contest, even if the majority of judges are prepared to judge by the quality of each submission only. I mean, the majority of submissions feature white characters and those that don’t, get chucked under “multicultural” or whatever they come up with these days. We all like to think that each book is judged by its quality of writing and blah blah, but I think, in reality, each book is judged by a judge’s familiarity or/and comfort zone.

    With this in mind, I vote for a RITA category of LGBT romances. At least until the mainstream mindset changes (as in, no one says “my gay friend”, “my lesbian neighbour”, “a friend of mine — she’s a m2f trangender by the way — is coming to our party tonight,” or “I love this m/m romance!” any more).

    Erotic romances used to be categorically left out until it finally had its own category, and now it seems to be placed in any category while strictly erotic romances continue to be placed in Erotic Romance. (Or did I misremember?) I’m hoping LGBT *and* so-called multicultural romances will have chances to have similar routes to being accepted as mainstream romances.

    On a slightly different note: I’m also somewhat disappointed that the focus is still on m/m romance, so I’m hoping that a new LGBT category, should it ever happen, will truly reflect its true name: LGBTQIA* (LGBT is generally a short cut).

    Thanks.

    *LGBTQIA = Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual.

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  25. mfred
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 16:06:17

    I agree with Jill Sorenson, Tasha, et al.; I don’t think Lambda did anything wrong by changing their policy.

    And I don’t really think it is an equal comparison – Lambda choosing to give awards only to out queer writers and LGBT books not wining RITAs.

    One has to do with queer identity- how we see, and reward, ourselves, and how we present/represent ourselves, through awards, to the world around us.

    The other has to do with a majority-based community (Romance, capital R) not quite willing to treat all members (LGBT content) equally. It perhaps involves conservatism, homophobia, even economics, popularity, publishing politics, etc., etc.

    I think the real battle is with RWA and the RITA awards, not Lambda. When I see these stuff about the Lammies pop up in Romance communities, I start to hear a lot of majority voices drowning out marginalized, queer voices. We’re already pretty hard to hear in real life– factor in the probability that many of the voices that ARE heard are allies speaking on our behalf.

    And I totally get the argument that it’s LGBT content that is getting punished– “even the gay awards can’t be given to some gay books” if you will. But queer content isn’t created in a vacuum. There is a long and horrible history of exploitation of queer sexuality. If Lambda says, we want to award only that content created by us, for us, I think it has more to do with preserving a shared community/identity in a period of intense social change than it does trying to push out or freeze out m/m romance.

    Also, and this is kind of an aside, but I read Edward Albee’s speech as having a lot more to do with his discomfort at being seen as gay than with Lambda’s judging criteria. There is a lot of WTF-ery in that speech. It’s reductive to summarize it as just another example of disagreeing with Lambda.

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  26. Chicklet
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 16:57:56

    In changing the eligibility rules, the Lambda Literary Foundation decided to use a double-decker qualification: The work must not only depict the GLBT community, it must be created by a person in the GLBT community. That’s their prerogative, but if that criteria were applied to the GLAAD Awards or to the Emmys, then Eric Stonestreet would be ineligible for his work on Modern Family because his character is gay, but he himself is straight.

    As for the RITAs, I myself would like to see categories for both GLBT and for Erotic Romance, because while I believe in the philosophy of them competing in the Open categories, in practice I think they have a very difficult time getting a fair appraisal when included in a judging bundle of, for example, contemporary romance, most of which are about heterosexual couples. If GLBT and Erotic had their own categories, the judges for those categories would be self-selecting and therefore more likely to judge the books on their own merits.

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  27. LizJ
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 20:43:04

    LizMe wrote,

    The Inspy parallel runs the risk of saying, “You bigots have your award, so we should get yours” (which may be true, but isn’t persuasive).
    ——

    Wow, just wow (shakes head). Am I interpreting this correctly, that you’re calling all inspry writers (or readers, for that matter) bigots? And here I thought that this week was supposed to really be about accepting other people….even if you disagree with them.

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  28. Liz Mc
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 22:01:35

    @LizJ: Actually, my point was a political one: that saying “If there’s an Inspirational category, there should be an LGBT one” could be seen as suggesting that the choice of award categories is driven by religious prejudices (it’s us vs. them) and that presenting it this way was unlikely to persuade the RWA to change. I could have made this point better without the parenthetical aside which risked turning this into a flame war about religion(but when I said “MAY be true,” I meant may be, not that I am certain it is true).

    I imagine that Inspirational readers and writers, who may or may not be religious, are like religious people and hold a variety of views on homosexuality (and on the depiction of various other sex acts which may appear in erotic romance).

    Although I’m not saying I believe this myself, frankly I DO think that a reasonable person could look at an organization which offers an “Inspirational” award but not an erotic or LGBT award is influenced by the religious views of some of its members, views which some reasonable people may object to and view as bigoted. And last time I checked, Pride week is about accepting and celebrating LGBTQ people, not “everyone we disagree with.”

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  29. Janine
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 22:50:07

    @ Jill Sorenson:

    As far as the RITA goes, I’m in favor of fewer categories rather than more.

    I’m not opposed to a GLBT award category in the RITAs per se, anymore than I am to a YA category, an inspy category, or any other RITA award category. But I am opposed, in a general way, to the proliferation of award categories in the RITAs. I think the greater the number of award categories, the more diffuse the meaning of such an award becomes for readers. If we had an award for every possible characteristic a book could have, all books would receive an award, which would render them pretty much meaningless.

    I wish there were an overall award category, for which every single one of that year’s romantic novels could compete against each other: Best Romantic Novel of 2011, or something like that. If there were such a category, I don’t think I would care how many other categories there were, but so long as there isn’t, and we continue to subdivide the number of books competing against one another by adding more and more categories, readers will rightfully continue to shrug and ignore the RITAs.

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  30. Ridley
    Jun 21, 2011 @ 23:03:56

    Maybe this is a debate for another thread, but the RITA is meaningless to me as a reader. The books nominated are generally average at best and the winners are never books that readers were raving about.

    There isn’t any good award out there for any romance genre book. DABWAHA is about Twitter shenanigans, RITA about who cared to pay and submit and Lambda about gay/lesbian street cred. Even if there were a GLBT RITA category, it wouldn’t reward excellent books. It would reward the best publicist/sales figures.

    What I wouldn’t give for a romance version of the Hugo. I shudder to think of people grabbing a RITA winning novel as their first romance novel, and thinking it’s the best the genre has to offer. They must think the rest of the genre is dreadful if that’s award-winning.

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  31. KA Mitchell
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 08:11:21

    tl;dr warning: I had to break it into two parts.

    Awards, particularly those that demonstrate the recognition of colleagues and come with a tangible display item–oo, look at my statue, are definitely nice. But as anyone who’s ever watched an award show can tell you, there’s no accounting for taste.

    As an author, I get a great deal of validation from reader email and other responses–and when those come from a respected colleague, it’s something to be treasured.Having an audience for my work still leaves me in awe and royalty checks are the sweetest validation I can think of.

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  32. KA Mitchell
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 08:14:45

    I only have a working knowledge of contest in the RWA. When I sign up to judge chapter contests, it’s with a goal of helping other writers. What gets to me is when I’m asked as a judge if I’m comfortable judging erotic work. No one ever asks me if I’m comfortable with a closed-door romance.

    I’m of two minds regarding the RITA (and yes, it’s all about what hands the book gets into). There are books that transcend all sub-genres and are worthy of recognition. That argues for fewer categories. However, as long as there are categories, I don’t understand how erotic romance can be judged without its own category. If it’s truly an erotic romance, the character growth derives from the sex scenes. If those scenes aren’t there, the book doesn’t make sense. Only if there were an erotic category would it be worth my time, money and effort to submit and offer to judge the RITAs.

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  33. Sunita
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 10:37:23

    @Maili: I share your frustration on all m/m being lumped into the same category. I find myself creating sub-categories (erotic, sweet, mystery, SFF, etc.) that just reproduce the m/f categories. It’s the same problem we run into with multicultural romance, and both are increasingly hard to defend, in my opinion.

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  34. LizJ
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 13:51:56

    Ridley wrote, “Maybe this is a debate for another thread, but the RITA is meaningless to me as a reader.”

    Well, I agree. It’s pretty meaningless to me as well. Based on my rather limited knowledge and looking at the award winners each year, it appears in my opinion to be as much a popularity contest as an award for excellence in writing.

    But…do authors (especially those whose genres and/or thematic material are excluded) feel that being involved with the RITA awards really makes that much difference? How? Book sales? Respect of your fellow authors? Future book deals?

    Liz Me, it was the use of the term “bigot” and the apparent application across the board that was offensive. You’ve clarified that somewhat in your response, but…the term bigotry, IMO, applies when any group is treated with hatred and intoleranc.

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  35. Ridley
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 15:45:12

    @LizJ:

    That isn’t what Liz is getting at, but you seem pretty determined to be offended. But, I will say that excluding GLBT books as a sub-genre while including inspirationals, especially when the official position for a while was that only m/f “counted” as “real” romance, does look pretty freaking bigoted to me. Clearly someone’s politics are at work here, though I’m not sure whose.

    If that makes you sad, I’m sorry, but I have a hard time seeing christians as some sort of victim here. Calling an organization’s decision bigoted doesn’t really equate to pointing the finger at christians everywhere. And calling someone out like that isn’t treating them with “hatred and intolerance.” It’s calling someone out for their choices. That shit’s fair game.

    And, even though I think the RITA is garbage, it bugs me to see inspirationals get lauded while GLBT books are summarily ignored. I want all romance to be subject to their shitty judgement. Excluding GLBT romance feels like a judgement call, like it’s not “real” romance and so publishers should continue to consider it a niche genre. I don’t like RWA’s politics and so long as they ignore m/m and epublishers and the like, they remain irrelevant to me as a reader.

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  36. Mfred
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 15:53:17

    @Ridley

    And calling someone out like that isn’t treating them with “hatred and intolerance.” It’s calling someone out for their choices. That shit’s fair game.

    Awesome.

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  37. Liz Mc
    Jun 22, 2011 @ 16:06:44

    @LizJ: I actually meant only that framing the discussion in a certain way could appear to be calling some people bigots.

    I don’t know enough about RWA to say any members are bigots. However, I do not think that prejudiced/bigoted views deserve respect or tolerance. People are welcome to hold them; it’s a free country. But they do not deserve my respect for doing so, even if their prejudices are backed by an appeal to religious authority. For the record, I don’t hate Christians or see them all as bigots. I am a Christian. I do think people who oppose gay rights are bigots, and I do not respect their views.

    Also, your response kind of proves my initial point about the problem with framing this rhetorically as “Inspirational vs. LGBT”. It derails the conversation and makes it about whether religious people are offended and are being called bigots.

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  38. Elisa
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 23:13:39

    Thank you to Mara and Tasha to remember the Rainbow Awards. Yes, indeed, they are not the Lambda Literary Awards (Lammies) or the RITA, but I have to admit I was surprised myself when many previous judges for both of these awards joined the Jury, plus publishers, editors, authors, most of the time from unexpected places (I have right this year joining an editor from Ellora’s Cave as well as a publisher from Canada of very few but very good LGBT mainstream novels, I had a bunch of professional readers (authors and librarian) joining from Australia). Another point that I like is that at the third year the number of publishers submitting books is increasing, and that gives a very good competition. I’d like for more Lesbian and Bisexual/Transgender novels to be submitted, but I hope this will get better in the future. At today, more or less still 3 months to closing submissions, more than 200 books are already in the hands of judges to be read. And I forgot to mention this year Kensington, Random and Simon&Schuster submitted books as well.

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  39. Sunita
    Jun 23, 2011 @ 23:56:41

    @Elisa: Thanks for commenting, Elisa, and providing more information on the Rainbow Awards. There is a lot of support for them in the community and you have put in an enormous amount of work in making them comprehensive and inclusive. I still think it’s worth working toward greater inclusion in RWA, but I don’t see these two efforts as a zero-sum game.

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  40. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Linkity for a dark and rainy and workity week
    Jun 24, 2011 @ 19:27:00

    [...] Dear Author on book awards and GLBT books. [...]

  41. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 10:09:57

    @Janine: I agree that the number of categories reduces the importance of the RITAs for readers. I find the awards meaningful, but I’m a longtime RWA member who has seen the ceremony in person. It’s impossible not to be excited for the winners.

    I also understand that Sarah’s motivation behind this post is to see excellent m/m books recognized because she is passionate about her favorite authors, like most avid readers are. But I seriously doubt that many LGBT books have entered the RITA. The more authors submit, the greater chances one will final or win. We just need entrants and open-minded judges. It’s not a matter of gay competing with straight because each book is scored individually, to my understanding.

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  42. Janine
    Jun 25, 2011 @ 12:52:46

    @Jill Sorenson:

    I agree that the number of categories reduces the importance of the RITAs for readers. I find the awards meaningful, but I’m a longtime RWA member who has seen the ceremony in person. It’s impossible not to be excited for the winners.

    Yes, same here. It’s very exciting when you’re there in person for the ceremony, especially if you have a friend who is up for an award.

    I also understand that Sarah’s motivation behind this post is to see excellent m/m books recognized because she is passionate about her favorite authors, like most avid readers are. But I seriously doubt that many LGBT books have entered the RITA. The more authors submit, the greater chances one will final or win. We just need entrants and open-minded judges. It’s not a matter of gay competing with straight because each book is scored individually, to my understanding.

    I don’t disagree with any of what you said and yet when there are so many other categories in the RITAs, it becomes difficult to justify not having an LGBT category as well.

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