Wednesday, July 24, 2013

RWA: Talkin' the talk but not walkin' the walk?

After reading some very encouraging accounts of the recent Romance Writers of America conference (yes, THE be-there-or-be-square event staged by Romanceland's preeminent professional organization), I felt heartened. Attendees who represented the m/m romance (sub)genre said they were heartily welcomed, and treated with as much regard and even enthusiasm as their m/f romance counterparts.

This hasn't always been the case. Not that the ladies of RWA have ever behaved like members of Westboro Baptist Church at a gay soldier's funeral. I'm sure they were gracious about their initial aversion to GLBT romance. But there was an aversion in some quarters (likely still is), and a good deal of acrimony ensued as a result.

Now -- yippee! hurrah! huzzah! -- the tide seems to be turning.

Or is it?

Here's where I get confused. GLBT authors can join Rainbow Romance Writers, a "special interest chapter" of RWA. (Why the segregation?) This in turn means, from what I can gather, one must join RWA before joining RRW. (Does that entail paying double dues?)

Now let's examine RWA's two big awards competitions, the RITA and the Golden Heart. I checked the 2013 finalists for and winners of both. Here's what I found:

 The RITAs ("recognizing excellence in romance fiction" -- keep that phrase in mind)

11 categories
8 finalists (on average) in each category
88 total finalists (approximate)

The Golden Heart Awards ("[promoting] excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding romance manuscripts" -- also keep that phrase in mind)

6 categories
8 finalists (on average) in each category
48 total finalists (approximate)

This adds up to 136 finalists (approximate) in 17 separate categories. At first I wondered why there was no M/M or GLBT category for either award. Then I thought, Well, why should there be? Love is love and romance is romance and a good story is a good story, regardless of the gender(s) of the central characters.

But . . . But . . .

Out of +/-136 finalists in 17 categories, there wasn't a single title featuring a "nontraditional" couple or threesome. Not one. (Please, PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong! I didn't have time to read all the novels' blurbs.)

I know damned well that "excellent" GLBT romance fiction is published not just every year but every month. Why wasn't it represented? Why didn't, say, a dozen books final? Or even a half-dozen? What's up with that? Why are dues-paying, bona fide romance writers being squeezed out of these competitions? Are m/m authors and publishers simply not entering? If that's the case, why? Don't they have every right to enter? If not, does it have something to do with discriminatory definitions of publisher eligibility? If so, why are those standards in place?   

Might this rather dated statuette hold some answers? 

I doubt I've ever used so many question marks in one post. But honestly, I cannot fathom what's going on here. Sorry to say, my skepticism has returned.


Anne Tenino said...

I can't answer any of your questions (other than the dues one—yes, you not only pay RWA dues, but you pay dues for each chapter you join—I'm in two. For me, it make sense, since each chapter gives me different benefits, which are separate from being in RWA itself) except why I've never entered the RITA: because I perceived there to be discrimination. Whether that discrimination is real is something I didn't test, and I finally called myself on my hypocrisy, and plan on entering this year. said...

I can answer a couple of questions. First, RRW is just one of a number of genre-specific RWA chapters. And there was one RITA shortlisted book that had same-sex content, though I can't remember which title (it wasn't the primary pairing).

The thing is, RWA has over 10,000 members. RRW is about 120. That's a large chapter for RWA, but it's still only about 1% of the membership. Romance is the largest genre in publishing. Even with the growth of the past few years, LGBT romance is a tiny drop in that huge ocean.

RWA is making some changes for next year's awards that will probably widen options for several subgenres. I'm not saying RWA is perfect by any means, but as you noted, things HAVE changed, and they're continuing to change--for the better for everyone. :)

Tam said...

Well, I'm completely out of the loop on the whole thing. I have no clue what those organizations do. I don't have an interest in professional organizations as a whole, so not my thing.

But I'm trying to figure out how "excellent romance fiction" differs from "outstanding romance manuscript" What is the difference? Is that like "best movie" and "best film"? That way we can nominate 16 people in each category but pretend they are different?

Yeah, I'm not much of one for following awards and stuff either. *skips off into her little oblivious world*

Becky said...

The RITA is for published work. The Golden Heart is for unpublished.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks for the clarification, Anne and Shae. Might either of you know if any G, L, B, or T romances were even entered in those competitions? If the number is zero, I wonder what the explanation is.

Helena said...

If it is the case that the finalists are chosen from those books (or manuscripts) which are entered (as I believe it is), then it really is up to the LBGTQ writers and publishers to enter their books. Until they do so consistently and in significant numbers one cannot draw any conclusions from the absence of their books among the finalists.