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2008 RITA Finalists Open Thread

Yesterday, the 2008 RITA Finalists were announced. We posted the results and encouraged others to provide congratulations. This post and the comments that follow will likely be critical of the process, the finalists, the judging. Please be aware of this. I do not mean to diminish anyone’s accomplishments, but I am going to be giving an unvarnished opinion about what I think and some may be offended. You’ve been warned. Don’t click on the more link if you want to simply celebrate the RITA finalists.

Anonymous comments are okay.

Barbara Samuels asked us readers to start caring about the RITAs because she felt that it was an award that honored the best in the industry. The sad and ironic truth is that if there ever was a portion of the romance readership that could be brought to honor the RITA results, it is the internet community simply because we are high information readers, bright and well informed.

The problem is that the RITA judging process awards books, in my opinion, that are competent but not excellent. It doesn’t exactly award mediocrity but it does not generally award excellence either.

According to Samuels, the process is as follows:

It begins in the fall of each year, when hundreds and hundreds of published novels are entered into 14 categories. In January, these books are divided into small panels of around 6-8 books, which are then mailed to volunteer judges, all published romance authors themselves, who have about two months to read the books, and give each one a score between 1-9. Each book in the preliminary round is read by five judges.

The scores are returned to the contest coordinator, who tallies the scores. The top percentage (I think it’s ten percent, but am not completely sure) of books in each of those 14 categories are then announced as RITA finalists.

The RITAs were rejiggered this year to eliminate some categories and include a new one: Regency Historical Romance Finalists. The foolish part about the Regency Historical romance is the fact that if a book is a regency, it can be entered into either Regency Historical or the main historical category. There are 5 finalists in the Regency Historical category meaning that there were 50 books entered as Regency Historical books.

Another example of the broken system is the fact that Allison Brennan has one book, Speak No Evil, in the Romantic Suspense category and another, See No Evil, in the Novel with Romantic Elements. Is the romance in Speak No Evil that much stronger than See No Evil that one could be a romance but the other only “with Romantic Elements”? Further, High Noon by Nora Roberts is a romance, not a Novel with Romantic Elements. Roberts herself has repeatedly said she writes romance. What is the book doing in that category?

The non finalists often say more to me about the contest than the finalists. I think the general consensus here at Dear Author was that the last Anne Stuart book, Ice Storm, was competent, but not earth shattering and not one of Stuart’s better efforts. Janine rated it a B- and Jayne a C. I haven’t always agreed with the inclusion of the JD Robb books every year, but last year’s Innocent in Death harkened back to the early days of the in Death series when it was, in my estimation, at its very best. Why the inclusion of earlier and weaker Robb books and the exclusion of Innocent in Death? I tried Cherry Adair’s White Heat and was unable to finish it.

The 2008 Historical category had a weak showing. I thought the exclusion of Caroline Linden’s work was sad given that her writing is every bit as good as the finalists, if not better. I did read Surrender to a Scoundrel and rated it a C. I found it to be average with the author failing to actually write out important scenes and connections in the book, relying on the reader to make those emotional leaps based on what should happen. Of Elizabeth Hoyt’s work, I thought Leopard Prince was the weakest. It had the least emotional appeal and the strongest anachronistic writing of the set. The Serpent Prince was the best of that series.

I’ll save my harshest criticism for the paranormal nominees. With the exception of possibly Ward and Sinclair, the remainder of the paranormals are paranormal lite. I’ve read or tried all but Demons Kiss by Maggie Shayne. I couldn’t get past the first couple chapters of Dead Girls Are Easy. Games of Command was okay. Jayne really liked it and Jan thought it was derivative. He Loves Me, He Loves Me Hot was funny but not as good as the first Rowe. Lover Revealed, I read during my high romance crack consuming days. Prince of Magic I tried but found boring and didn’t finish. The entire Raintree series was a hot mess in terms of world building.

Most of the books in the paranormal category are for readers who don’t like paranormal. To not include books like Driven by Eve Kenin or one of Meljean Brook or Nalini Singh’s novels is a tragedy. Lara Adrian’s Midnight Awakening was great and on par with the Ward books released in 2007. Even though I enjoyed Christina Dodd’s Touch of Darkness, her world building skills are simply not on par with someone like Kenin, Brook or Singh. In the paranormal category, I think the ability to worldbuild and include the worldbuilding as the source of conflict rather than a mere backdrop should be weighted higher. It’s what separates the paranormal from the other categories.

An interesting theory was floated to me yesterday and that was the finalists in many of the categories have something in common and that is these books have a category feel to them. Dodd’s book, for example, is a fun riff off the boss/secretary theme. Debra Webb, Linda Winstead Jones, Maggie Shayne and others are all former category writers. It could be that the vast majority of RITA judges are most familiar with the category meme/theme/formulas and thus those tropes are more recognizable and easier to consume for these readers. Category novels showed up in virtually every category of RITA finalists. (Please remember that I am a big fan of category romances and think that they are really well written at times).

The current way of judging books is simply not, in my opinion, allowing the exemplary of the genre to show up. I know that a judge can say that there are certain categories of books that they do not read and it is probably, based on the results in the paranormal category, that paranormals is one area that has readers who don’t understand or appreciate the true speculative fiction categories.

In all, there is nothing in the 2008 RITA Finalists announcement that make me believe that it represents the best in the genre. I think the process awards competent but not spectacular books. It’s an industry award given by industry folks that isn’t reflective on this online readership nor the more populas offline readership.

I’m sure that there are readers and authors and others who would disagree with my assessments and I encourage you all to do so.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

75 Comments

  1. Kathryn S
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:23:01

    Jane, you don’t need me to say this, but I just want to remind everyone that authors have to enter their books in the Ritas — so some of the authors you feel were overlooked simply might not have entered.

    That said — I entered. Will no one feel for me? lol.

    For me the Ritas are about peer recognition, and if I can be totally honest, I’d much rather win a contest driven by readers or reviewers. As much as I was disappointed to not make the cut this year, I’m happy for those who did. It’s a lovely thing for those nominated, to know their work is liked and respected by their peers. Ultimately, I don’t think it affects sales or your bottom line by much, so does it affect your career? I don’t think so, but it must be terribly cool calling yourself a Rita winner. And I think the statue is nice. I know I wouldn’t turn one down. :-)

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  2. Jaci Burton
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:27:19

    The RITAs, like many open contests, are reader based. What one person loves might not be another person’s cuppa. Subjective, ya know. For example, last year I had Kristan Higgins Fools Rush In in my pile of RITA books to judge and absolutely loved it. But she didn’t final. So maybe some of the other judges who had that book didn’t love it as much as I did. This year, her book Catch of the Day did final, and I’m really happy about that because I loved that book just as much.

    In addition, some authors with books we love might not be RWA members and don’t enter their books in the RITA contest, or even if they are members still don’t enter their books in the contest, so even though we think they wrote great books and should have finaled, it could be some of those books weren’t even under consideration because they weren’t entered. Don’t know unless you ask the author.

    And the authors and/or their editors/publishers are the ones who enter books in a specific category. RWA has nothing to do with it.

    Are the RITAs the best in the industry? It’s up to a handful of reader judges who decide that in any given year, this is what they loved based on the books they were given to judge. Is it subjective? Of course. Aren’t all contests like this?

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  3. colleen gleason
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:37:27

    One thing that should be considered, in re: the judging, is that authors cannot judge in the category in which they enter their books.

    This means, for example, that someone who has entered their books in the paranormal category cannot judge that same category. Which implies to me that the judges of the paranormal category aren’t necessarily paranormal romance readers.

    Thus it follows that category books are not judged by category authors, and romantic suspense books aren’t judged by romantic suspense authors. Category authors then judge single title novels, and single title novelists often judge category novels.

    I say this in general, because most RWA authors that I know do submit their eligible releases each year, which means that they’re judging categories that they might not read or be familiar with.

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  4. Leslie Dicken
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:43:37

    In addition, some authors with books we love might not be RWA members and don't enter their books in the RITA contest, or even if they are members still don't enter their books in the contest, so even though we think they wrote great books and should have finaled, it could be some of those books weren't even under consideration because they weren't entered.

    Jaci nailed it. Not just that the contest is subjective, but that what could be THE BEST BOOK EVER was not even entered in the contest. So what the RITAS really are – the “best” of books entered, not the “best” of ones published.

    Don’t think I’m crying sour grapes…I didn’t even enter (or have anything eligible). This is just my opinion on this whole contest thing!

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  5. Lisa
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:44:13

    I’m happy to see someone is at least talking about Eve Kenin’s DRIVEN and Lara Adrian’s MIDNIGHT series. I loved both.

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  6. Mrs Giggles
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:45:09

    Jane, if you don’t mind me saying so, I am not too fond of this portion of your article:

    The sad and ironic truth is that if there ever was a portion of the romance readership that could be brought to honor the RITA results, it is the internet community simply because we are high information readers, bright and well informed.

    This comes off dangerously like hubris, if not a broad generalization that seems self-serving and self-congratulatory in nature. I’m also not sure what you want to say here.

    Are you proposing that RWA opens the judging of RITA entries to online folks? The problem with voting systems open to the public is, as we can see on any reality TV show from American Idol to Dancing With The Has-Beens, a contest based on merit inevitably becomes a popularity contest. Let me put it this way: regardless of whether or not Nora Roberts writes well, judging from her active online presence as well as her vast fanbase, I have a feeling that she will easily trounce the competition in any contest that allows public voting.

    I personally view RWA the same way as I view any other “best of” award contests – it’s not something I’d pay any significant attention to since I know I will rarely agree with what they consider the “best”. What does winning an award in these things prove? Nothing more than the judges on the panel like those books/movies/music/TV show best.

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  7. Wendy
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:45:59

    A couple of things I’d like to see – a list of every book that was entered for consideration. Like Kathryn already said, I can bitch and moan about Book A not getting nominated, but how do I even know that Book A was even entered in the contest? I don’t. Also, I wish judging was open to all RWA members. I’m a member and would LOVE to judge. Of course since I’m not a writer, and have no interest in writing (I’m an RWA member because of my job), that kind of detracts from the whole “peer recognition” angle.

    Also, I’m not sure how wild I am about a separate Regency Historical category. In theory, I think it’s existence should/would open up “other settings” for the general Historical category – but what do we have? More English settings (OK, yeah – the Potter is a Scottish historical but it’s still on that darn island!). I haven’t read it, but dang I’m rooting for Jade Lee here just because her story takes place in China. Silly of me, I know. I know “everyone” keeps telling me that “westerns don’t sell” but there were some very good westerns published last year. Ah well, at least my favorite sub genre got a little love in the novella category. But again, how do I know my favorite westerns from last year were even entered in the contest? I don’t.

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  8. BevQB
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:00:20

    Yet the Passionate Plumes’ (the erotic chapter of RWA) first round judging is open to readers and reviewers who have filled out a preference sheet. Now, I don’t know this for a fact, just what I gathered from the Passionate Ink website, but it appears that each book entered is scored by 4 different judges in this first round. And those books with the highest composite grade move on to final judging from a panel of “multi-published authors and reviewers.”

    Yes, it still has the problem that only those books entered are judged, but it seems like Passionate Ink’s methods eliminate many of the problems associated with judges scoring books in genres they aren’t familiar with or do not care for.

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  9. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:14:25

    I view the RITA award contest like the Oscars, they are judged by their peers and industry folk (correct me if I am wrong) and readers have nothing to do with the process. Never have. Thereby, such contests are viewed as informative (for me). It’s good PR for their hard work, something to put on the jacket/cover of their book. It doesn’t hurt either but I don’t give the RITA award much credence when picking my books. I trust my fellow readers for that, to help guide me along. [g]

    You should do your Reader Rita Contest (try saying that three times in a row), let readers nominate and vote on the books the online community deems as the “best”, like your People Choice Awards, sorta speak. Let’s match that to the most popular categories (of the RITA nominations and winners) and see how they differ (if anyone cares).

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  10. Joyce
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:18:55

    Question here. When a book is being judged, is the author of the book anonymous or known? I always thought it was anonymous, but now I’m wondering….

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  11. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:22:19

    This means, for example, that someone who has entered their books in the paranormal category cannot judge that same category. Which implies to me that the judges of the paranormal category aren't necessarily paranormal romance readers.

    Thus it follows that category books are not judged by category authors, and romantic suspense books aren't judged by romantic suspense authors. Category authors then judge single title novels, and single title novelists often judge category novels.

    I say this in general, because most RWA authors that I know do submit their eligible releases each year, which means that they're judging categories that they might not read or be familiar with

    Good to know. Sounds like a flawed process. I don’t even see the logic in that. At all.

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  12. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:23:59

    Yeah, Jaci definitely nailed it.

    If books aren’t entered, they can’t win. A lot of writers don’t enter them.

    More, even books that are entered, while the judge may have love one book, a lot of readers might have hated it. Vice versa. Contests are subjective. That’s not going to change.

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  13. GrowlyCub
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:25:21

    I understand that books are entered into categories by authors or publishers, but I also thought the judges are supposed to rate the book on how well it fits the category. I was rather surprised by where some of the titles turned up.

    One that stuck out was Quinn’s Sara’s Son. Excellent read, absolutely one of the best of hers, but suspense? Not so… not so at all. I’m glad it’s a finalist, but I really wonder at all the judges who read it and judged it to be romantic suspense.

    I think there ought to be an extra category for woowoo categories or they ought to be in with the other paranormals. Bruhns’ Nocturne title seemed odd in the contemp cat category to me, but I didn’t really see another place where it would have fit.

    I know 25 of the authors by name, of 15 I have read other books, of the finalists I read 1 and have 1 more in my TBR.

    I was surprised to see two Stuarts as finalists, since the reviews I had seen were universally very negative.

    This is the first year, I’ve paid any attention to this award and it’s interesting to see the inner workings or maybe not so workings. :)

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  14. Caroline
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:27:48

    This means, for example, that someone who has entered their books in the paranormal category cannot judge that same category. Which implies to me that the judges of the paranormal category aren't necessarily paranormal romance readers.

    I have long thought this a bit of a weakness–that the people who know the category best are excluded from judging. Obviously people shouldn’t be allowed to judge their OWN books, but we’re already expected (rightly) to be fair and objective when judging our peers’ books in other categories, so why not in our own?

    Also, I *believe* the addition of the Regency Historical category was actually meant to open up the Historical category by pulling all the Regency-era books out–although the time periods did overlap enough that it might not have had much effect that way. I don’t even remember which one I entered myself. It’s the authors who choose their category, btw, not the judges.

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  15. Jaci Burton
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:32:45

    Actually as far as the categories you judge in, you are allowed to choose the top categories you wish to judge in prior to your books being assigned to you. And I imagine that many authors, like myself, read outside the categories in which they write. So judging outside the category you entered isn’t a problem. Choosing the top categories you wish to judge in also alleviates the problem of being given books in categories you definitely don’t ever read in.

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  16. Jody W.
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:33:12

    I would disagree with the theory that, since judges cannot judge the category they entered, it automatically means they are likely to be unfamiliar with the categories they do wind up judging. Romance readers frequently read in many subgenres. All authors I know are widely read as well, and familiar with subgenres other than the one(s) in which they happened to publish AND enter that particular year. I doubt a total disconnect between RITA judges and their assigned categories occurs enough to totally skew results in favor of readers who are ignorant of said category. And I’ve read that several times and just hope it makes sense outside my brain!

    When the books we liked don’t wind up as finalists and books we didn’t enjoy do wind up as finalists, I think it’s a mistake to wonder if that means the system is flawed. Personal preferences are so disparate. How many judges does each RITA novel have? 6? More? You will rarely find 6 random romance readers who adored and disliked the same books. Yeah, you might find 6 with similar preferences amongst your particular group of friends (or your online community), but when the only common denominator for the RITA judges is the fact they’re in PAN, you’re not going to run into that much harmony, IMO.

    As to whether the RITAs should be opened up to nonPAN judges, I think that would be an interesting experiment.

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  17. Janet
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:46:02

    But aren’t the Oscars handed out based on a more democratic voting process? That is, everyone in the Academy can vote on every submission?

    Ultimately the only way I can respond to the RITAs is as a reader, and therefore in response to Samuel’s insistence that the awards matter to me, I have to say that they don’t, really. As peer to peer awards among books that have been entered with full knowledge of how the contest proceeds and is judged they obviously have validity. Authors who are nominated and win have much to be proud of.

    But for me, a lowly reader, the meaning of the awards is nothing more than a recognition of the process. And because the process is based on a) authors entering their own books, b) readers judging outside their own area of specialty, c) whatever pool of volunteer judges exists from year to year, and d) scores by individual judges that form an average, I can’t see the process guaranteeing anything but a sorting process defined by that context.

    That these books prevailed in the judging I can recognize, but whether or not these books appeal to *me* AS A READER, is another thing entirely. And I don’t, frankly, think it comes down to me valuing different things than authors, because this contest is not the universal voice of authors, nor a level playing field for all genre books (since eligibility is defined by who enters).

    That the contest may bring books I had not heard of into my view is one potentially positive thing for me as a reader. But that’s kind of it, for me, especially if the judging criteria is still undefined, as it has been in the past.

    As for the historical division, I think it’s an imperfect solution to a real problem (Regency historicals could easily dominate the historical category since so many historicals are Regencies). But it still seems kind of wonky to me, as does the paranormal category (which pushes together SF, Fantasy, and paranormal Romance). I know this process of classification is always an imperfect science, but I find it even more so vis a vis the historical and paranormal RITA categories.

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  18. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:48:43

    I thought this post was rather informative, as I’m no-where near as well-read as you Ja(y)nes are, and I’m also relatively new to RWA. My thoughts, however?

    1) I had never even HEARD of a RITA before I started writing. All those “award-winning” stamps on books meant absolutely nothing to me, so I totally disregarded them. I’m wondering if I was a typical non-writing reader, or not? This doesn’t factor into the equation of who wins, but it might, perhaps, factor in what a RITA really means to the reading public.

    2) I realized last year that the process must be flawed, when I saw the book that won the Inspirational category. I, personally, felt that the writing in it was very disjointed… a bunch of scenes strung together poorly, written in modern English with tons of “forsooths” thrown in. Obviously, others disagreed with me… but it did make me doubt whether I should return to my old habit of ignoring any stamp of having won a RITA. It is, at least, no guarantee that I would like the book.

    Finally, I didn’t realize the problem that Colleen mentioned, re: the judges are most likely reading books that aren’t their favorite genres. (Since they most likely write in their favorite genres and have their own submission.) There’s GOT to be a way for paranormal fans to judge paranormal books, and Inspirational fans to judge Inspirational books, and so forth! How can you accurately judge what makes a book appeal to its readers, when you’re not one of them?

    Why can’t previous Golden Heart finalists do the judging for the RITAs, to throw out one idea. If Golden Heart finalists are judged by authors who are published in the genres they judge, then those authors, while not published, still apparently know enough about a well-written book to please published authors. (But maybe there’s not enough of them.)

    I don’t know, but there’s got to be some way.

    BTW… what is the reasoning behind an author not judging a category they’ve entered? Shouldn’t it be simple to make sure they don’t get their own, to judge? Or are they worried that people will be so petty as to score everyone low because they’re competition?

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  19. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:51:41

    I think we can all agree that contests are subjective. How readers tend to view these contests is completely up to them. I use it for informative purposes only.

    As for the contest process, the more I learn about it, the more I don’t like it. As a reader, I see it as flawed. First, there’s no way to know which authors submitted their work and which didn’t (more importance on the latter). Somebody just stated in this thread, that they didn’t bother to enter. Isn’t there a fee to enter? Does the author pay or the publisher? Another fact to consider. Another problem is that these types of contests tend to be political (another reason why I don’t give contests much credit).

    I’ll give or concede the point that readers read all types of genres and some are more well read than others. But there will usually be a disparity of views when you compare a new reader to genre A to a seasoned reader of genre A. Just sayin. I can love a book all up and down but if I give my friend the same book, someone who is more well versed in these types of novels in that particular genre, it may not impress them much. Who would you give more credit to, the newbie reader or the seasoned reader?

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  20. Jody W.
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:57:47

    Authors judging the category they entered, ie judging their immediate competition = lawsuit waiting to happen.

    Also, as Jaci pointed out, authors get to pick 3 categories to judge, and who’s going to deliberately pick a category they don’t like or don’t know anything about? And once again, not all authors rush to enter the RITAs. I could have and I didn’t. I may never. I know a lot of authors who could have entered and didn’t. And a lot who did :).

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  21. Gennita Low
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 12:59:29

    I’m an avid paranormal, fantasy, historical and category reader. In fact I read more books that aren’t the genre I write (romantic suspense/elements). So those are the books I get when I judge the RITAs. However, I must say that very few of the books I love ever make it to the finals.

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  22. Charlene Teglia
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:02:59

    Keishon, there’s a fee to enter. I’ve never entered the Rita, and cost is a factor. (In addition to the entry fee, there’s postage and the copies of books to provide, so it can add up.) Some publishers pay the fee, not all. And no, I’m not griping about the cost of entry, just saying you have to weigh all the costs and decide if it’s worth it to you to throw your name in the ring.

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  23. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:03:36

    Also, as Jaci pointed out, authors get to pick 3 categories to judge, and who's going to deliberately pick a category they don't like or don't know anything about?

    Well, who gets those? [g]

    Also, when everybody gets done picking their top 3, who reads what’s left? Are all the categories picked by members, equally popular? I don’t think so. Does anyone care to list the categories that don’t get picked? Or have few interests for judging?

    At the end of the day, it just doesn’t sound very democratic.

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  24. Kathleen MacIver
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:04:09

    Ah-hahhhh… as usual, I didn’t think of the potential lawsuit aspect of it. (Oh, what a lawsuit-loving nation we are!)

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  25. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:04:47

    However, I must say that very few of the books I love ever make it to the finals.

    I assume that the logic is that the final books have garnered a consensus vote, but my question is whether it’s a consensus somewhere in the high middle, because all those books that drew very high and very low grades (i.e. someone gave book A a 1 and another judge gives it a 9) get knocked out of competition. In other words, is the process set up to reward the books that most impress or those that least offend?

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  26. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:04:56

    Keishon, there's a fee to enter. I've never entered the Rita, and cost is a factor. (In addition to the entry fee, there's postage and the copies of books to provide, so it can add up.) Some publishers pay the fee, not all. And no, I'm not griping about the cost of entry, just saying you have to weigh all the costs and decide if it's worth it to you to throw your name in the ring.

    Ah, thank you. That does make a difference.

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  27. Jill D.
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:17:39

    When I first started reading romance, about three years ago, I went to the RWA website to see what books they recommended for romance. I was new to the genre and wasn’t sure where to start. From there I found the RITA winners from past contests and started reading the winners of the categories that interested me. Quite a few of the books were really great and I found several authors that I now consider my favorites. On the other hand, I read a couple of books that I didn’t quite appeal to me either. I think it can be a good way to introduce readers to books and new authors that they normally may not have heard of or read before.

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  28. GrowlyCub
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:20:00

    On the topic of judges picking which categories they want to judge in:

    I’m judging a RWA connected contest this year and I only picked categories I thought I would enjoy.

    One book I sent back right away because I knew I could never do justice to it (it had paranormal elements but was classified as contemporary), one of the category titles is something I’d NEVER in a million years pick up myself and over my dead body would I agree that it even qualifies as a romance, one I have no idea whatsoever why it’s in a romance judging contest (I guess it falls under that nebulous heading ‘with romantic elements’) and one is a romantic suspense but not classified as such (I expressly excluded that category because I don’t enjoy reading romantic suspense). The other two were category romances and were what I expected to read when I gave the categories I was interested in judging.

    I’m having a heck of a time a) reading/finishing the books and b) trying to judge them on the merit of their writing instead of the utter lack of enjoyment they are giving me. But how can I give a high rating to a stylistically okay book that left me utterly cold or that I actively disliked. That would be misleading readers and authors alike. Dilemma!

    If the RITA judges are facing anything remotely similar when they read in their top 3 categories, I don’t envy them one bit and experiencing this myself, I have to wonder how representative, all subjectivity aside, the finalists are of ‘the best’ in the genre.

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  29. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:25:59

    But how can I give a high rating to a stylistically okay book that left me utterly cold or that I actively disliked.

    Well, if the judging included specific categories of assessment and individual scores for those categories, you wouldn’t really have to make that kind of decision. I’ve always thought that one numerical score per book is woefully inadequate in evaluating all the aspects of an outstanding novel.

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  30. Jade
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:29:52

    I've been loosely following the RITA awards for a few years now. Much like I follow the daily lottery numbers. I always hope for the best and expect to be disappointed. Not that the RITA nominees or finalists are the worse…I'm digging myself in here, aren't I?

    Let me try again. It's like the dueling proverbs arguments. On the one hand, an industry/peer contest isn't exactly the best representation of anything (books, films, etc.) because, IMO, the results are often far from what the public thinks is best. Industry/peer recognition is good for the people inside the industry and sometimes it's interesting to see from an outsider's POV (i.e. the Oscars), but, again IMHO, it just amounts to a whole bunch of backslapping. And, it seems as though us outsiders, are left scratching our heads at who's getting their back slapped.

    On the other hand, reader/viewer contests are just as flawed because it almost always ends with the Popularity Contest vibe. Hello Marie Osmond fans! I can even say that when I've voted in online contests in the past, I've often been swayed by a contestant's past contribution and my vote was biased based on what they've contributed in the past, etc. I admit it; I'm not perfect, it's hard to be objective (although I really do think my son was a beautiful baby).

    I do think there are things that RWA can do to improve the process. If the judges aren't being sent blind copies, that should start. Even if the judges may know who the entries are, it's seems an attempt at anonymity should be maintained. After all, what if you're a member of the California RWA and you're a suspense writer, but you're really good friends with an historical writer, etc., you get my drift?

    And I do think that at some point the judges should have to conference, whether in person or via phone, on if the books they narrow down to really fit the criteria. I once sat on a scholarship committee and we all received blind, numbered copies. After reading all the entries, we narrowed the entries down independently. Next we met up as a group, not to present our finalists, but to discuss the entries in terms of did that entry address the topic, did it provide explanations, etc. I remember walking away from that meeting feeling like I had to re-critique because some of my finalists had been eliminated based on the discussions, but ultimately the group was right.

    In the end, I view most contests for what they are: a representation on one group's opinion. I think the RITA's are probably real fun for authors to be nominated, attend and win, but it really has no impact on my reading or buying trends. I vote with my wallet, my favorite authors know who they are.

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  31. Lisa
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:39:13

    Janet said:

    But it still seems kind of wonky to me, as does the paranormal category (which pushes together SF, Fantasy, and paranormal Romance).

    At least I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I read and enjoy pretty much the gamut of books that usually get lumped into the Paranormal category, but it doesn’t seem like an apples-to-apples comparison to pit stories about vampires and werewolves up against stories about warp drives and binary stars, in any contest.

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  32. Tracy
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:42:46

    Just to show the subjectiveness of judging a book~Jane said:

    Of Elizabeth Hoyt's work, I thought Leopard Prince was the weakest. It had the least emotional appeal and the strongest anachronistic writing of the set. The Serpent Prince was the best of that series.

    Now, I will qualify my next statements with this: when I read historical romances I really don’t pay too much attention to how accurate the historical aspects are. Unless someone in 1850 used a cell phone~that would annoy me LOL

    So, with that disclaimer: The Leopard Prince was my favorite of the series and The Serpent Prince was my least favorite. I do not think that The Leopard Prince had the least emotional appeal. That is just my opinion though, Jane obviously feels differently. So, as far as these books qualifying and winning, it seems that it just depends on which judge reads the books.

    Like Robin said above, one number is really a hard thing to give out when judging a book. Jane was bothered by the historical inaccuracies, but I didn’t really care so much. My grade would be higher b/c I’d be judging purely on writing and how the story drew me in. Jane’s would be lower b/c of the historical aspect. Maybe different numbers based on different aspects of the book would be more accurate.

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  33. Cathy in AK
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:44:22

    Having an author-judge given entries in the category they have entered themselves is just asking for all kinds of trouble, so I have no doubt it doesn’t happen. And I think there are enough judges not entered at all. If they typically write in a category, they can judge it, thereby giving the entries a fair shake by an author who knows their stuff.

    Like any reviewer, the author-judge is giving their OPINION. We don’t always agree with opinions, and that’s okay. It certainly makes for a lively discussion, doesn’t it? ; )

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  34. Chicklet
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:44:27

    Question here. When a book is being judged, is the author of the book anonymous or known? I always thought it was anonymous, but now I'm wondering….

    Excellent question; I don’t know the answer, since I’m not in RWA. From what I know, though, the submitted books have to be the printed version, with a perfect-type binding, and I can’t imagine any publisher would be willing to redo even a small print run to have the author’s identity hidden for the RITA judging. Therefore, my guess is that the authors’ identities are known to the judges, from the books the judges are holding, as well as from general knowledge of what’s going on in the industry.

    As to the Regency-historical categorization, I’m fine with it, assuming it’s meant to keep the Regency books from thoroughly dominating the Historical category. I’m familiar with the practice from my time in fanfiction circles; it’s rather common for stories about an uber-popular pairing to be given their own mailing list or community. In my current fandom, the daily newsletter has a separate category for the pairing I read, because day-to-day, the stories featuring that pairing tend to outnumber the stories about all of the other slash pairings combined.

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  35. Alison Kent
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 13:45:10

    Barbara Samuels asked us readers to start caring about the RITAs because she felt that it was an award that honored the best in the industry.

    I have to disagree (and I haven’t read the whole thread yet, so this may have been mentioned). What it honors is the best in the industry of those books authors or their publishers paid to enter in the contest.

    Someone on one of my lists recently calculated that there are around 700 series romances published each year between the 11 or so HQ/Silhouette/M&B lines. (11 lines with 4 – 12 books a month x 12 equals that much.) Yet there are only what? SIXTEEN finalists in the two series category divisions? And since (I believe, please correct me if I’m wrong) the number of finalists is 10% of the entrants, that means there were only 160 or so series category books entered out of a possible 700.

    So, yeah. Not the best in the industry, but the best of those that were entered.

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  36. Jane
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 14:07:43

    Alison Kent – that’s a very good point. It is the best of those that are entered.

    Mrs. Giggles – I hear what you are saying and I am sorry if it came off that way. I didn’t intend for the internet readership to be involved in the RITA judging. Instead, I was saying that, in response to people wanting readers to care about the RITAs, that I would think the internet community would be the best segment of the readership to convince to care.

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  37. Teddypig
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 14:27:56

    All contests are based on popularity with bias and politicking positioning and so on. So why act like that is a bad or unexpected thing when it is human nature?

    My thing is I always liked contests where nominations were based on all the input of all the members making it more representative of the group as a whole in deciding who gets to be in the running for each category. Despite the publisher or even the authors knowing of the contest, how to enter or it’s rules.

    In my opinion that is the membership’s decision anyway.

    A specific group of expert judges could then select the final choices and qualified nominations to go forward in the selection process.

    If the contest truly is “an overall indication of the best” then simply being nominated is way cool because then the recognition can even go outside the groups membership but the nominations qualifications and vote and final outcome are controlled by the membership since it is their award.

    The contest then would become more inclusive which in my opinion is some of the problem right now for the RITA and every members vote should count in my simplistic mind.

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  38. Amanda
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 14:56:42

    Alison Kent said: And since (I believe, please correct me if I'm wrong) the number of finalists is 10% of the entrants, that means there were only 160 or so series category books entered out of a possible 700.

    The number of finalists is the top 10% of the entrants up to 8 total finalists. So the cut off for finalists is 8 no matter how many the top ten percent turns out to be.

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  39. Alison Kent
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:18:40

    Thanks, Amanda. I didn’t know that, and stand corrected. I only enter once in awhile, and am admittedly not up to speed on how the finalists are determined. I do think it got really silly when they changed from a 1 – 10 scoring method to adding decimal points. I mean, what’s the difference between an 8.2 and an 8.3, LOL? I also hated when they dropped scoring criteria. The judging sheets that came back in the day of the 1 – 10 system gave judges more of a guideline for scoring.

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  40. Janet Mullany
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:20:12

    A couple of things that haven’t been mentioned (I think): the RITAs were overhauled last year by a committee, and one of those changes involved the split of the Historical categories. I really can’t remember what the others were, but I know a lot of the issues that came up–who should judge what, unpubbed judging RITAs, pubbed judging GH–were turned down (because of legal implications of the “she stole my plot” sort; this is also why both contests offer only a score sheet with numbers from 1 [low] to 9 [high]); also the suggestion of creating an erotic romance category or categories was rejected. To me the RITA doesn’t seem much changed this year from previous years; it’s certainly still a place for my books to bomb (oh, really, I’m trying to be brave about it. Honest. I had the official pity party yesterday, eating carbs all day).

    One of the judging options is that a book can be classified as being in the wrong category, and then it’s out. You can have four perfect scores and if judge #5 decides it shouldn’t be a paranormal or whatever, you’re plumb out of luck. You choose where your book belongs when you enter.

    Judging is supposed to be anonymous. Well, yeah. Sure it is. And that’s sorta frustrating, because for those of us with low gossip radar, it would be nice to be able to thank people.

    As for some sort of “democratic” vote–well, I think the whole thing could turn into a “love me, love my book” orgy, and the squeakiest wheels would get the highest number of votes. I always find that very difficult, for instance, in the American Title contest–Person A on loop B begging me to vote for her best friend and Person C on loop D doing the same for her best friend.

    Ultimately, it should be about the writing. You’d think.

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  41. Teddypig
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:36:48

    You can have four perfect scores and if judge #5 decides it shouldn't be a paranormal or whatever, you're plumb out of luck. You choose where your book belongs when you enter.

    That is what is strange in my opinion since the publishers decides the category to market the book as and does this not make the judge too powerful. That just seem off to me but maybe some of that is confusing application problems and if so maybe that would be better filtered through the membership making that nomination instead of the publisher or author applying.

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  42. Robin
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:44:14

    Judging is supposed to be anonymous. Well, yeah. Sure it is. And that's sorta frustrating, because for those of us with low gossip radar, it would be nice to be able to thank people.

    I also wonder about this from the other direction. That is, if these books were judged BEFORE being released into the public (i.e. like the GH’s, but already a contracted release), would the scores remain the same?

    Again, I think the contest is fine for what it is, and for whatever those who participate decide it to be FOR THEMSELVES (i.e. the RWA, author judges, author entrants, etc.). But for me, as a reader, I don’t know if it’s ever going to matter, not even in the way the Oscars have value to me. Or the Pulitzer, which was one of Barbara Samuel’s original comparisons, but which doesn’t seem quite the same to me.

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  43. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 15:51:43

    Games of Command was okay. Jayne really liked it and Jan thought it was derivative.

    I wonder if you are confusing Games of Command with Sinclair’s more recent book, The Down Home Zombie Blues, which Jayne and Jan reviewed (and which I haven’t read)? I think I was the only one here to review Games of Command, and I gave it a B+. I liked it very much — especially the unusual cyborg hero. And I also recall that it also got a lot of enthusiasm on the AAR boards. So I would classify it as significantly better than “okay” and I think other readers might, too.

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  44. Sandra Schwab
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 16:02:05

    Jade wrote:
    And I do think that at some point the judges should have to conference, whether in person or via phone, on if the books they narrow down to really fit the criteria. I once sat on a scholarship committee and we all received blind, numbered copies. After reading all the entries, we narrowed the entries down independently. Next we met up as a group, not to present our finalists, but to discuss the entries in terms of did that entry address the topic, did it provide explanations, etc.

    Jade, this would be impossible to do for either the Golden Hearts or the RITAs because of the sheer numbers of entries. After all, we’re talking about several hundreds of books here.

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  45. Nora Roberts
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 16:28:26

    I can tell you, as a judge, I’m not going to conference with other judges. In person? Who has time? On the phone? Why? This is MY opinion of the book. And I do my very best to be careful and objective and open when I judge.

    Maybe the Ritas shouldn’t be compared to The Oscars (though we inside it think of that way). Maybe more like the quieter Screen Actor’s Guild award. I dunno. But I do know no matter how it was set up, no matter what the rules and regs, there would still be complaints, still be people who’d say it would be better done THIS way.

    Maybe yes, maybe no.

    I disagreed with Barbara Samuels in her article last year. The Rita is not The Pulitzer. It is like the Oscars in that it’s peer-to-peer, but it will never have that kind of glamor–we’re not celebs–exposure or cache. It’s just a really nice award from our organization. And while I can certainly see readers would have some interest and some opinion, I don’t expect them to get all excited about it, unless maybe their favorite book is up.

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  46. Miki
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 16:30:45

    I wonder if anyone’s ever done any research into the judges’ top choices, and where those books fell in their reading order.

    I can’t imagine reading 8 books from any genre, one after the other, without suffering some genre burnout after the first few. Unless a book really stands out (good or bad), I would think the books read later would start to feel repetitive or “derivative” just because it’s “paranormal book 5″ (instead of the “paranormal book 1″ or “… 2″).

    I know that I have to mix up my genres as I read to be able to fully enjoy books – with the rare exception of when a series sucks me in and I have to glom on the whole thing.

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  47. Leslie Kelly
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 16:34:05

    You can have four perfect scores and if judge #5 decides it shouldn't be a paranormal or whatever, you're plumb out of luck

    I’m not 100% sure on this, but I think it takes more than one “WC” (wrong category) notation for a book to be kicked. In fact, I’m thinking it might be 3 of the 5 judges.

    I’m a finalist this year. Do I think my book was one of the best 8 contemporary romances published last year? Hardly!! Honestly, that book had highly mixed reviews–some people loved it, some hated it (hi Mrs. G!) Fortunately, I had the tremendous luck to have my book land in the hands of five judges who really liked it, and I am very appreciative of that. But it so easily could have gone the other way. And that’s all it really comes down to.

    That said, I’m thrilled to have finaled again. Absolutely delighted. I certainly don’t expect it’s going to be a life-changing experience, win or lose. It’s not going to affect my sales or suddenly make me famous or anything. But it gave me a smile and it gave me another silver pin and I get a green ribbon at conference, and in this business, especially during the crappy times, you’ve got to take the lovely perks when you can get them. Tuesday gave me an all-day smile and I am more grateful for that than I can say.

    PS: I have judged in the final round of the Ritas, and one year, the book I ranked 2nd to the last ended up winning. Just goes to show, you have no idea how things are going to turn out! I have absolutely no illusions that I might actually win, given the magnificent competition, but it’s nice to fantasize.

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  48. Julie Hurwitz
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 17:20:12

    I’m not necessarily sure a comparison with the Oscars is an accurate one. To correct Janet from upstream who said:

    But aren't the Oscars handed out based on a more democratic voting process? That is, everyone in the Academy can vote on every submission

    I don’t believe that everyone in the Acadmy votes in every category except for Best Picture. So that means writers vote for writers, makeup artists for makeup, sound editors for sound editing, etc. Although, I do think that the nominations process is open to every Academy member.

    But not every actor/writer/producer is an Academy member. Most of them are, but not every single one.

    Julie

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  49. Terry Odell
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 17:35:42

    In case I missed the response — the books arrive for judging exactly as they are printed for sale. Nothing special, so there’s nothing anonymous about them. Of course, judges are supposed to be ethical enough to return books written by friends, I think. I didn’t recognize any of the authors in the 8 books I judged. For the record, had I not had to finish them, I would have thrown six of them against the wall. Once kept me going for 3/4 of the book then ignored obstacles she’d thrown in the hero’s path when they were inconvenient to the story. The last, which was one I’d NEVER have chosen on my own was fantastic.

    I also know that if I had chosen to enter, I would have paid for the books, postage and entry fees out of pocket.

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  50. Kristie(J)
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:11:35

    My thoughts aren’t so much with who was nominated or wasn’t. Some categories I hadn’t read any of them so really don’t feel I can comment. I do know there are a lot of books I did read and enjoy that aren’t on the list, but as others have said, they may not even have been entered. But what I find a bit odd are the categories themselves. I don’t think they are really keeping up with the times. For example, the paranormal category has only the one and these days there are all kinds of paranormal. There is a breakdown in historical categories; at least two the I can figure out, there are two for RS – again from what I can figure out but only one for paranormal. How can you have Games of Command competing against Lover Revealed and also against Raintree: Haunted? One takes place in a different galaxy in a different universe, one takes place in present day time and one is a category romance. It makes absolutely no sense to me. It’s almost like throwing a lemon, an orange and a grape into the same group and asking what is the best fruit

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  51. Helen
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:11:35

    It’s finally been driven home to me after entering for 10 years and only being a finalist once that I don’t have what RWA wants. I’m sure my comments will be viewed as sour grapes but I think if you’re active in RWA your chance is better to become a finalist. If you’re interviewed, if you write a column, if you advertise often, I think it makes a difference.

    I’m not bothering with this nonsense any more.

    And, at the risk of sounding truly like a fuddy-duddy, anyone who says that RWA doesn’t embrace erotica didn’t have to judge two of the books I did. Lord love a duck.

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  52. Karen Scott
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:15:43

    me if I am wrong) and readers have nothing to do with the process. Never have. Thereby, such contests are viewed as informative (for me). It's good PR for their hard work, something to put on the jacket/cover of their book. It doesn't hurt either but I don't give the RITA award much credence when picking my books.

    What Keishon said.

    I’m pretty sure there’s a fee involved for authors who wish to enter, I seem to think this put off a lot of authors from entering, in the past.

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  53. Julie Leto
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:25:57

    I read 8 books this year. I knew only one author…and I did not give the book a high score. It wasn’t my taste. One book I rated a 9 made the finals, one did not. I considered myself the luckiest woman in the world because I had two books that were that good. Not because I think a lot of books are bad, but because taste is very subjective and I know what I like to read and what I don’t.

    On that note, however, the book that did make the finals utterly surprised me. I didn’t think it was a book I would like, but the author totally sucked me in and I couldn’t put it down. To me, that is the ideal RITA book. Clearly, four other people agreed with me.

    On the other hand, the other book I rated just as high did not make the finals. I found that book really different and unique, as well as completely spellbinding. I suppose the setting and situation might have put some readers off–but it was classic “me.”

    It’s all subjective. I’ve been a finalist and it was fabulous to celebrate that week with my peers. I’m proud of my final. This year, I didn’t enter because I wasn’t quite sure where my books fit with the new categories. Will I enter next year? No clue. To me, making the finals should be lauded and celebrated…but NOT making the finals doesn’t mean a thing. Don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s my opinion.

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  54. Janine
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:37:58

    I would love to ask those of you who found great reads among the books you were judging what those books were. Obviously, if talking about this is not allowed or if you think it is a bad idea, don’t reply to this question. But if you feel you can do so, I would love to hear about those wonderful books you discovered while judging for the RITAs — whether or not they made the list of finalists.

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  55. Allison Brennan
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:39:12

    The RITAs are a peer contest, not a reader contest. I value reader email above all others, but to be recognized by your peers is a special honor.

    First, I agree with Alison Kent. Not everyone enters the RITAs. I choose to, others don’t. There are fabulous books that are never entered (therefore don’t final) and fabulous books that are entered and don’t final. Judging is subjective and based on so many different things . . . but as a judge, I read a book and give it the score I think based on other books I’ve read in that tone and flavor. Still, with five judges you’re going to get a consensus and the result are books that are good, even if not everyone loves them.

    As far as why I finaled in two categories . . . it might not make sense to anyone but me.

    I write romantic suspense. I love romantic suspense and feel that my books are representative of romantic suspense, or at least part of the genre. Still, since I read a lot of RS I know that my books tend to be heavier on the suspense and lighter on the romance. I know that the RITAs are judged by a wide range of readers, but they are all ROMANCE writers and the truth is that most romantic suspense WRITERS are not going to be judging their category because they may have entered it. I didn’t particularly WANT to enter the Strong Romantic Elements category, because I felt that is more a women’s fiction/chick lit category (Susan Wiggs, Barbara Samuels, et. al.–great writers who have romance in their stories but their books are more about the heroine’s journey.) But, I looked at my three books critically because, yes, I wanted to final.

    I felt that SPEAK NO EVIL had a “higher” romance quotient in the sense that there was more together time with the h/h. I didn’t plan it that way; it’s the way the story went. They investigated the crimes together. SEE NO EVIL, which I still consider a romantic suspense, the hero and heroine spent more time apart, investigating the crime parallel with each other rather than together. And, there were several sub-plots going on and multiple points of view, so there was less face time with the h/h. The book that didn’t final, FEAR NO EVIL, I felt the same way. I had three main characters, not just the h/h, and because the romance really didn’t start until past the midpoint, I felt it fit better in the SRE category.

    For me and my story promise to readers, I have a growing relationship and an HEA and the bad guy gets what’s coming to him, but anything else goes.

    As an author, I don’t plan how the stories go–they just go the way they go. Some are more romantic than others. The characters drive the train, and I write their story as best I can. Thinking ahead to the books I’ve written for 2008 . . . I plan to do the same thing, split them between the two categories. The first book in the trilogy is definitely more romantic suspense, and the second book, while I think is the most romantic book I’ve written, I’ll put in SRE because the h/h aren’t even on the same back until the midpoint, and the book is really about the heroine’s journey (amidst all the violence and dead bodies.)

    Regarding the judging process again, I was the Chief Judge of Best First Novel for the Thrillers. Last year I was on the Best Novel committee. Five people reading dozens of books, scoring them, discussing them when we get a short list, scoring the short list, etc. It’s a labor intensive process, and we all have strong opinions because we all love books. But again, it’s a peer award, given to the “best” (of those entered) in the genre. Just like the Edgars and other genre awards.

    If readers want to have a reader’s choice award, great. The RITAs are what they are. I’m honored to final, I’m honored to be in such terrific company. I’ve read a lot of the books I’m up against and I know they are as good or better than mine. Winning would be icing on the cake.

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  56. Helen
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 18:48:11

    Okay, so an author finals for the Rita. That does not mean she is a better writer than anyone else. It simply means on this day, at this time, she won a contest. Period.

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  57. Bron
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 19:06:44

    Regarding the question as to what happens if four judges score a book highly and one very low, for the Golden Heart – and I’m assuming for the RITAs – there is a process of determining the final score that addresses this issue. I don’t understand the whole thing – because there’s complex mathemnatical terms that make my eyes glaze over – but basically if there is a significant difference between one score and the other four, then the lowest score is dropped. Or something. Anyway, however it’s calculated, an entry can still final if there is one lousy score and four high scores.

    Re judging outside of one’s category – my understanding is the only bar is that you can’t judge a category you’re also an entrant in. So, one could be a published romantic suspense author, who hasn’t entered the contest that year, and still judge romsus. An entrant in the Regency historical category can judge in the other historical category.

    As others have pointed out, authors read across multiple sub-genres, just as most readers do. Many authors also write in multiple sub-genres. So I don’t see that judging in a preferred category outside the one/s in which one may be an entrant in a particular year is problematic at all.

    Helen wrote:

    if you're active in RWA your chance is better to become a finalist. If you're interviewed, if you write a column, if you advertise often, I think it makes a difference.

    I’m not going to argue that a high profile or popularity never has impact – however, I will argue that it’s NOT the driving force for the vast majority of the judges’ assessments. (As an example, there’s a least one book that has finalled this year that has not yet been published in the US, by an author who is at this stage not widely known in the US.)

    No contest is perfect. Assessment of books is always subjective to a degree – there’s no magic formula, no one-size fits all, no way everyone will agree. The authors I know who are involved in judging the RITAs take their role very seriously and thoughtfully, and give up many, many hours of their own time to contribute to the industry in this way. For a book to final in the RITAs, it has to have highly impressed at least four of its judges – and, imperfect or not, that’s no mean feat.

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  58. Bronwyn Jameson
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 19:44:31

    To me, making the finals should be lauded and celebrated…but NOT making the finals doesn't mean a thing. Don't know if that makes sense, but that's my opinion.

    Makes sense to me, Julie, I agree 100% with all yr points. Judging in RITA has put some outstanding books in my hands, books I would not have picked up because they were outside my usual reading genre, some of which went on to final (and I get as excited as if they were my mates’ books) and some which didn’t (commensurate disappointment.) But I now have some new autobuy authors, so win-win.

    Re judging apples against grapes against pineapples: not only in the Paranormal category. Most of my judging bundle this yr were in the Best Series (Category) Book, were you get to judge Medicals against Presents against Everlasting Love against Nascar against Blaze against Harlequin Romance against SuperRomance etc etc. A whole fruit basket right there. But you’re not judging one book against another. You might have 8 outstanding books and score them all 8 and 9. You might get 8 meh books and score them all 5. That’s the theory, anyway.

    my question is whether it's a consensus somewhere in the high middle, because all those books that drew very high and very low grades (i.e. someone gave book A a 1 and another judge gives it a 9) get knocked out of competition.

    I had this happen with one of my finalist books — 4 high scores, 1 very low. The low one was dropped and replaced with the average of the other 4. So, yeah, there’s a system in place to guard against that one out-of-the-box score.

    Oh, I just read (the other) Bron’s comment. What she said, about the scoring and about judges’ possible motives. :-)

    Bron

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  59. Allison Brennan
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 19:55:35

    Bron, I didn’t mean to imply that those who don’t write romantic suspense don’t read it or wouldn’t be a good judge of RS. I didn’t say what I wanted well enough (even though I read it twice!) We know that romance readers are the best read of all readers, and that goes for romance writers as well.

    I often put my foot in my mouth, and that goes for the keyboard as well :)

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  60. Bronwyn Parry
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 21:07:58

    Allison, I wasn’t criticising your comment, and my apologies if it came across that way. I was just commenting in general to make the point that entries can be judged by people who write in the subgenre – but I also totally agree that authors are very well read and capable of assessing across numerous sub-genres.

    I just used RS as an example because it’s what I’m currently writing :-)

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  61. JulieLeto
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 07:54:39

    FWIW, I judge several categories and we can change year to year. I judge romantic suspense. I don’t write it, but I read it all the time. I don’t write historicals, but I have previously signed up to judge them (didn’t this year) and I read them quite a bit. The only categories I do not judge are those I don’t ever read in–Inspirational, for example. I didn’t judge paranormal this year because I thought I might enter in that category (I didn’t because I didn’t think a slightly paranormal Blaze could compete against heavy-hitters like JR Ward–so sour grapes, just made an informed decision, IMO) and I won’t next year because I will enter my single titles, but I read paranormal romances as well.

    I agree that most of us are pretty well read and most of us also write in several different subgenres, so we’re pretty familiar with the whole kit and kaboodle. If we’re not familiar, we can opt out of that category, which I and others have done.

    It’s not a perfect process or a perfect contest, but I still believe that the cream rises to the top. I’ve discovered so many great books by judging!

    Janine, I don’t think I can talk about the books I read this year (Can I? Does anyone know?) but I will tell you that I discovered Suzanne Brockmann years ago through the RITAs. Also, Elizabeth Thornton. I know there are others, but those two stick in my mind as authors I “met” through judging, who both made the finals and might, I believe, have won…and I’ve been a fan of both of them ever since.

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  62. Julie Leto
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:40:08

    That does not mean she is a better writer than anyone else. It simply means on this day, at this time, she won a contest. Period.

    Helen, I disagree. I’ve said it before, the cream does rise to the top. I believe every single finalist is a very good writer. Are all those books my personal cup of tea? No. But I don’t think that a subpar or even average writer could make it as far as the finals. I believe those authors deserve the kudos 100%.

    However, that doesn’t mean that very good books DIDN’T make the finals, too.

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  63. Alison Kent
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 09:52:56

    I've said it before, the cream does rise to the top. I believe every single finalist is a very good writer.

    I’m not sure I agree with this completely simply because the books are only read by five people. An author can get five fans, or five haters, or five judges who try to be neutral and judge w/o prejudice – even a judging pool combination. But it’s still only five people who’ve marked it high enough to be a finalist.

    There happens to be one finalist book that I actually threw in the trash after getting halfway through because I felt manipulated beyond belief by the choices the author made. (This was last year when it came out, not during the contest.) If I had judged that book (which, to be clear, I did not; I chose to read it for pleasure), my score would most likely have knocked it out of the running. This wasn’t about it being my cuppa tea, because I was intrigued enough to pick it up to read. The execution, imo, was so poor – and subpar – that I was shocked to see it in the finals.

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  64. Sarah McCarty
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 11:57:29

    Every year the poor Rita gets beat up, but I actually think it’s a good contest that suits its purpose. No, it’s not a contest geared toward readers. No, it’s not a contest geared toward best of the best. No, it’s not overly geared toward impartiality. What the Rita is is a voluntary opportunity for authors to have their work judged by their peers. At the VERY least (meaning I’m sure the value stretches further), the award has value to those running and participating in the contest, and that’s who the Ritas are geared toward. So while it may not be a perfect award out of context, I think it’s a very efficiently run and worthwhile contest.

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  65. Ann Bruce
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 12:27:53

    What I want to know is does winning a RITA translate into more sales?

    Personally, I didn’t know about it until DA brought it up last year and, to be honest, a book winning a contest/award doesn’t make me want to buy it, just like I don’t feel the urge to watch every movie that wins an Oscar.

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  66. Allison Brennan
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 12:38:40

    Sarah, I agree with your comments 100%. I wish the Ritas had the same cache as the Edgars (for example, Mystery bookstores will often feature Edgar nominees for the few months between the announcement and the Edgar ceremonies) but we don’t have as many romance indies as there are mystery indies, and while some individual stores within the chains will do something, they are few and far between.

    That said, it’s never been a consideration for me whether the Rita final or win would garner more sales. I doubt it does, beyond a few people who may buy all the finalists in one category (for example, last year I bought all the RS finalists that I hadn’t already read; I’ll do the same this year but there’s only one or two books I haven’t read.) Finaling is fun. It makes the conference more exciting. It’s a perk. But it’s not the goal.

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  67. Jane
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 13:05:34

    Yes, I agree that the contest is worthwhile to those who enter and participate, but I think its measurement as the best of the genre is questionable as it relates to the measurement of readers.

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  68. Sarah McCarty
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 14:57:26

    Despite being a long term member of RWA, I don’t follow the Rita’s. Is RWA now marketing the awards the best of the genre? I think it used to be “some of the best” of the genre.

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  69. Paranormal Romance novels nominated for RITAs! « Harlequin’s Paranormal Romance Blog
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 15:29:12

    [...] Author has an interesting open thread on the RITAs, with some discussion of the world-building required in paranormal [...]

  70. Janine
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 16:37:02

    Janine, I don't think I can talk about the books I read this year (Can I? Does anyone know?) but I will tell you that I discovered Suzanne Brockmann years ago through the RITAs. Also, Elizabeth Thornton. I know there are others, but those two stick in my mind as authors I “met” through judging, who both made the finals and might, I believe, have won…and I've been a fan of both of them ever since.

    Thanks! The reason I asked the question was because I remember discovering a book I really loved years ago, Merely Married by Patricia Coughlin, when it was a finalist in the RITAs. IIRC, the book did not get reviewed that well at AAR, so I would probably never have read it if the list of RITA finalists hadn’t brought it to my attention. I was grateful to discover it, which goes to show that reviews aren’t the only way to find a good book.

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  71. Ardeatine
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 09:21:04

    Was googling around the Rita’s and found this link – http://www.samanthasommersby.com/
    The Rita’s now have categories for Erotic romance?

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  72. Jane
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 10:40:41

    No, I don’t think so.

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  73. Karen Templeton
    Apr 03, 2008 @ 22:08:38

    No, there’s no Erotic romance category in the RITAs, although several chapter contests do have an ER category.

    I was on the RITA overhaul committee last year; we did recommend a separate ER category, but as it was felt ER books would fit within already existing categories, our suggestion was overruled.

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  74. Ardeatine
    Apr 04, 2008 @ 06:34:01

    Oh, thanks Jane and Karen for the clarification. Maybe there’s another award out there calling itself RITA? The author’s post confused me a bit.

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  75. Karen Templeton
    Apr 04, 2008 @ 09:25:38

    Ardeatine — Samantha earned a RITES award, not a RITA. :)

    Confusing is right. :)

    ReplyReply

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