Wednesday, March 28, 2012


On Monday, March 26, RWA announced the finalists in the Rita (for books published in 2011) and the Golden Heart (for books by unpublished writers). This post is solely about the Rita--not the Golden Heart--and I am announcing at the outset that this is only my opinion and I may be prejudiced because, although several years ago a novel of mine was a finalist in the Golden Heart (Second Place they called it at that time), my published book wasn’t listed in the nominations for the Rita on Monday.

Considering what’s happening in publishing these days, it strikes me that other writers may have the same concerns as I do, and perhaps we need to bring the subject out into the open.

As has been the case for as many years as I’ve been a member of RWA, every book nominated in every category was a book which was published by the “Big 6 plus Harlequin” or a subsidiary. In fact, in two categories this year, every nominated book was a Harlequin release. No exceptions.

How could this still be true today when statistics show that as many independently published books are available (or may even outnumber) traditionally published books? Every week I read stories about authors whose novels were rejected by the big publishers, but, after they self-published them, they sold thousands, even millions, of copies. Why were they not nominated for the Rita?

Of course RWA has a criteria for when an Indie published book is eligible and perhaps none were even entered. There are probably an equal number of books published by small presses which also meet RWA guidelines. I know several authors besides me whose books were published by small houses and entered in the Rita but were not nominated. Yet, the guidelines for entering the Awards stated that members should enter long before the deadline because they expected an overwhelming number this year. Presumably books by new publishers. But none of them got nominated.

I was aware that in the past only novels published by big publishers ever gained these nominations, and hence the awards, but I hoped this year--thanks to all the new books by new publishers now available--it might be different. In addition, my book was a love story set on the Titanic, and this is the year of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ship. James Cameron is re-releasing his film, Titanic, and many national magazines carry articles about the disaster. Plus, my novel received three Five-Star reviews. In addition, many of my readers, and at least one of the reviewers, admitted to weeping as she read the scenes of husbands watching their wives get into lifeboats and knew they would never see them again.

Really, I’m perfectly okay with the assumption that my book was simply not good enough to be nominated for a Rita, but no small press books were good enough? Did the judges actually read those books?

I know judges are busy (I’ve been a judge but not for the Rita) and must work toward a deadline which might cause some to skim a book, or not finish reading it. I’m also aware that judges of contests are sometimes prejudiced from the start when they encounter a book from a heretofore unknown publisher. They simply assume that if it wasn’t published by the Big Six, it can’t possibly be any good, so why bother reading it?

I hope I’m wrong about that, but we’ll never know, will we?

Dear fellow-writers, What do you think about this? Did you have a book published by a small press and enter it in the Rita?

Big Six
Golden Heart


  1. Funny, we've been having the exact same discussion over here:


    1. Thanks for telling me about other authors thinking the saame thing this year. Also giving me the chance to read Inara's blog and the comments there.

  2. Hi, Phyllis! Very topical post. :)

    I did enter a book from Carina Press and a book from Entangled Publishing in the RITA this year. Carina is a subsidiary of Harlequin, but they had their first nomination ever this year, and it was the only finaling book published by a digital-first or "small" publisher.

    I found myself frustrated that there weren't more, after a decade and a half of such books being published and entered. Inara's post linked in the last comment did a good job of laying out some potential reasons for it. And the RWA requirement that for e-books, they must be submitted printed and bound by the publisher puts a lot of limitations on entries.

    But it really comes down to one thing: Only 7% of the total entries final. The competition is *fierce*. I like to think it's not because small-press books are assumed to be inferior, but because there are just so many books that score high, we can't all make it.

    Though I might feel less charitable when my scores arrive. We'll see. ;)

    1. Natalie: Good point that only 7% of entries final, but still...

  3. I write for The Wild Rose Press. I know the quality of their books, the dedication of contracted writers and the extent of our two and three rounds of edits. Many of our writers entered. I was one of them, hoping my debut book--nominated for Book of the Year at Long and Short Reviews--might have a chance in the first book category. Sadly, not so.

    If my writing didn't measure up, I can accept that. But when other small press publishers are widely ignored, it does raise eyebrows.

    There is a difference in size between mass market books the big pubs use and trade paperbacks by POD publishers, like mine, use. This is a dead giveaway and perhaps influences the judges before the book is firmly grasped in their hands. Racial profiling is in the media right now. Perhaps we're dealing with Publisher Profiling, too.

    1. Vonnie:
      Congratulatios on being chosen Book of the Year. You prove my point. As I said as well, I can accept that my book didn'r measure up, but that no books by small publishers made it is hard to understand. And I love your tag: Publisher Profiling.

  4. Maybe they should start having the judges read the e-book version so it wouldn't be as quickly evident who published it. Even better, they should have it go in without a publisher listed for the judges to see!

    1. That is an awesome idea Dawn!!! :)

    2. Dawn: Thanks for chuming in. Since actual books are entered, there seems to be no way to disguise the publisher. But, reading all enties as e-books might be a step in the right direction. Total hidden identification- as is the case in other contests - is he best way to ensure non-discrimination.

  5. Great post Phyllis! I also entered the RITA with a small press book and also didn't final.

    I do think the judges for the RITA make assumptions when they see the publisher on a book. I hope they actually read the books. The RWA members that I know who were judging did, but you never know. Everyone is busy, but it might also be that the perception is that it's a small press book because it couldn't make it in New York.

    It sucks, but it could also happen to you in the book store. After all these years though it would be encouraging if the RITAs were more open, but ah well... Hopefully my book was read and enjoyed.

    That's all we can hope for, right? :)


    1. Lisa:

      Many thanks for the comment. Do many people also choose big publishers over small ones in book stores? I think a good cover attracts them first, then the blurb on the back, and then the first page. And what about all those readers who just go straight to Amazon? Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog says readers really do not care who publishes a book; they just want to be entertained.

  6. Hi Phyllis,
    Great post! I entered the Golden Heart (with a ms that finaled in 5 chapter contests) and judged. I did not final. However, judging opened my eyes to the non-existent criteria given to judges who were somehow supposed to arrive at a score between 1.0-9.0 with no guidelines to follow. I'm all up for flexibility in scoring, but this took it to the other extreme.
    As someone who entered women's fiction (in Novel w/strong romantic elements) I knew this put me at a disadvantage right away because it's not 'typical' of romance but would be judged as such. Oh well.
    Oh top of that, judges entered their scores directly into the RWA website and were told once entered they could not be changed AND nobody at RWA wanted to see your final scoring paperwork. As a former computer systems nerd turned writer, garbage in garbage out...they should have done something to ensure intended scores were given to the right people. Especially when you think how much sweat goes into writing a book. I'd hate to think a data entry error could have brought my score down. I asked them about it and they brushed me off.
    Lesson learned. Those who final deserve accolade but I may save my entry fees for something else new time around.

    1. Sharon:

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Another friend - with fabulous numbers of five-star reviews - submitted her book under Womens Fiction with Romantic Elements, feeling the competition would be lower, but she also did not final. Some author blogs I follow suggest we leave awards to the Big 6; they'd rather have the extra money they get from self-publishing with Amazon. I think I'll save my entry fees next year too.


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