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jenniferechols

If you don't enter, don't complain!

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Oct. 16th, 2014 | 08:36 am

This is the letter I sent to the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Board in December 2013, expressing my dismay that the YA category of the RITA was canceled last year. Many thanks to YA author and RWA Director-at-Large Lucy Connors/Alyssa Day for forwarding it to the Board for me. The letter is verbatim except for explanatory additions in [brackets].

The rules have been tweaked for this year, making it a little easier for the YA category to make (we need 50 entries rather than 100). I have noted this change in brackets. The fact remains that if YA authors want our category to make, we have to enter quickly.

I am not dissing on RWA or the RITAs in any way. I am speaking up within an organization I love and support, because that is what you do in an organization you love and support.

If you are a pubbed YA author and want the category to make, 1) enter and 2) tell your friends to enter. If you are pre-published, you can still help by encouraging YA folks to enter. Believe me, you want this category around when you do get published.

Here's the link to enter.

* * * * *

I have entered the RITA every year I have been eligible--that's all but one--since 2006. That year, the YA category was canceled, as it had been for many years prior. I knew going into the contest that the category would probably be canceled again, and that the secondary category I picked was as important as entering. I felt like a second-class member of RWA, even though all I have ever published or wanted to publish was romance.

Incidentally, Barb [Caridad Ferrer] won contemp that year for a YA book. With a really fantastic novel, of course anything is possible. But, as I'm sure you remember, there was also a lot of grumbling within RWA that books should not be allowed to switch categories. I certainly see that--if you set the parameters for a category, it doesn't make a lot of sense to change them just because your contest is not working correctly.

More recently, RWA has really embraced YA, and thanks to Rosemary [Clement-Moore] we have a YA chapter [YARWA]. YA authors have been a huge part of RWA and the RITA ceremony--as evidenced by Simone [Elkeles] being picked as the 2014 emcee. It is really a shame that the YA category has been canceled once again, and I foresee us returning to last decade when the category almost never made.

Some people on Twitter have opined that the demise of the category came because the rules have been refined so that a book must be a romance. I actually don't have any problem with this--romance is what RWA was formed to support, after all. But whether or not this rule change had an impact, the cards are stacked against the YA category like never before, and here's why:

-Self-published books are now allowed in the RITA.

-If I'm not mistaken (I don't see anything about this in the rules), there's no limit on how many books one author can enter.

-YA is a category that has NOT taken off in the self-published and small press world. Readers are buying New Adult and other romance categories electronically, but YA not so much. Ask editors at the major houses and they will tell you that print books and bookstore shelf space are still way more important in this sector of romance than in others.

-The way the contest is set up, the first 2000 entries are accepted no matter what. The checks and balances formerly imposed by the publishing industry--they could only put out so many books in each category--are gone now. So you could have a rush of self-published books in one category--this year I imagine it is contemporary, but another year maybe it will be something else. They can take up all the available slots in the RITAs without leaving space for the 100 [now 50] entries necessary for the YA category to make.

The best thing that ever happened to my publishing career was finaling in the RITA. Having your category always on the verge of not making is really demoralizing, let me tell you, especially when I have "grown up" through RWA and see myself as a romance author through and through.

I understand that RWA needs to reevaluate the RITA categories periodically to make sure they reflect what's currently going on in the publishing industry. To me, taking stock of what's being published and what's being entered in the categories--BEFORE the rules are set for the year--makes a lot more sense than announcing a category, appearing to support it, and then canceling it because of the way the contest is set up and what people are entering in other categories. Either have a category or don't.

Thanks for listening. I have the greatest respect for the Board and all the time you guys volunteer for an organization you believe in, and I have confidence you will take another look at the RITAs and do the right thing.

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