Monday, April 6, 2009


Every year Romance Writers of America announces its slate of finalists for the RITA award, given to the best romances of the year.

And every year there is a deluge of controversy (some years more than others). There are also questions--what is a RITA? Who is Rita? Why were those books picked to final? Why these categories and not those? Why are ebooks excluded? (the hottest of hot buttons right now).

So here is everything you ever wanted to know about the RITA contest but were afraid to ask. (If any of the below needs correcting, please, feel free to tell me [politely...]).

1. The RITA award was established I think about twenty years ago to honor excellence in romance fiction. The award is named for Rita Clay Estrada, founding member and RWA's first president.

2. The RITA was invented to give romance some recognition. At the time, romance got zero recognition, especially category romance. Romances were often not "counted" on bestseller lists (and category still isn't). To let romance authors be recognized as having some talent, thank you, the RITA was developed.

3. Unlike the Edgars, Nebulas, and Hugos, the RITA is a contest, with an entry fee. Books may be entered by either a. the author; b. the author's publisher. (I believe anyone can enter someone else's book but I'd have to ask about that.) Most publishers enter at least some of their authors' books.

4. Non-RWA members are allowed to enter the contest, but they pay a higher entry fee.

5. The entire contest is limited to 1200 entries.

6. Judges are authors who have a. joined RWA, and b. are in the Published Author Network (PAN). Judges may NOT judge a category in which they are entered.

7. Entries are broken down into categories, which are the subjects of many flame wars. In the past, categories reflected that most entries were category romances--as time passed and more and more single-title romances were published in more and more subgenres, the categories changed. Do I think the categories need more work? Definitely. The romance genre is ever-evolving. Imho, the RITA categories are always behind the power curve. I won't get into it, because, hoo boy.

8. Judges indicates the top three categories they are interested in judging and the judge gets a box of books that are a mix of those three categories. Each book is read by five judges and given a score. Judges score anywhere from six to nine books. Scores are anonymous, and are a number from 1 to 9.

9. The top scoring books in each category are finalists. I don't know how the scores are calculated or how they figure out how many finalists there are--it's math.

10. Finalists are called, names announced.

11. Another set of books are sent to final-round judges who again score the books, and the top scorer of each category is the winner.

12. Winners are announced at the big ceremony at RWA National, and the winner takes home a shiny statue.

What does it all mean--why are RITAs such a big deal?

The RITA contest is a peer-judged contest, writers judging writers. It's also a level field (in theory)--books that had low print runs compete against books that are mega bestsellers. Few readers might not have even seen a book with a 15K print run that sat on the shelves for three weeks, but that doesn't mean it was a bad book. The RITA gives that author the chance for some recognition. RITA winning does not necessarily mean bestselling. Bestsellers are a different ball of wax (read some of my previous entries on how a book becomes a bestseller).

Why do authors care so much?

Because of that peer review. We not only want to please readers, we want other writers, people who share our profession, to think we're good too!

Why should readers care?

It's up to readers whether they care or not. The RITA represents the best romances--that were qualified to enter in a certain year of people who bothered to enter. Many authors vehemently don't enter the contest, others vehemently do, others can go either way.

Do you enter, Jennifer?

I do. What the heck? I might win and get a pretty statue. Which is how I ended up with the one in 2007 (shown above). My publishers put a line on my book cover, and we sing la la la.

Do I think some books are unfairly excluded?

Yes, I do. See my above statment about the genre ever-evolving and how the contest needs to keep up. Also method of delivery is evolving (of course I'm talking about ebooks).

I won't go into all that controversy, because it's covered well elsewhere, plus I just don't wanna. Too much stress. The RITA is problematic and problems need to be fixed. Granted.

But there you have it. More about the contest rules can be found on the RWA National website ( under Contests & Awards.

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