Do we care who wins the RITAs this year?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 9:40
Posted in category Ponderings

lynnec.jpgOver the past few weeks, one topic has engaged the writer message boards and forums. But, although I’ve read it as an author, it occurred to me that the reader hasn’t really said anything yet. So I thought I’d see what readers think about the current RWA ruckus. Yes, I’m a writer, but I’m a disinterested party, as I’m not a member of the RWA, and I don’t enter either the RITA or the Golden Heart. I want to look at this as a reader, an avid consumer of the product that the RWA members produce, if you will. So I don’t care about the rules and regs, or about the plight of the authors, not in this column, just in what I see as a reader. 

Yesterday, Jasmine Jade, which owns the Ellora’s Cave, Cerridwen, Lotus Circle and Exotika imprints, announced it would not be going to the RWA’s big conference, usually known as Nationals. It is no longer a recognized, or acknowledged, or whatever they’re calling it publisher, so it would have to pay for everything, and it’s simply not worth its while. So anyone wanted to pitch to them, or to learn more about them, or visit with their authors at the booksigning will be disappointed.

golden-heart.jpgrita.jpgAlongside this is a row about the RITA and the Golden Heart, the RWA’s two awards for published and unpublished writers respectively. E-published writers cannot enter either contest. The Golden Heart is for unpublished writers only, so they can’t enter that. But in order to enter the RITA, the book has to fulfill a number of criteria, one or more of which excludes e-published writers. Whether the intention was to do that or not, it’s impossible for an outsider to say, but that’s the effect. It’s all very complicated, and please, please, no more discussion of the actual rules and regulations. That’s none of our business, all of us who don’t belong to the RWA. What I’m concerned with is the effect.

In the past, I sometimes bought books because they were RITA winners. The award guaranteed a certain amount of quality, so it was safer to invest in a previously unknown or unexplored author. Readers would buy the whole of the list, winners and runners-up, to find the best of the best. That’s what the RITA seemed to represent.

autobuy-fail.jpgThese days, I don’t do autobuy anymore. Instead, there are authors I look for, and assess when I read more about the book. And these days there are as many e-published authors as there are mass-market paperback New York authors on my list. True, I live in the UK, so my ability to browse bookstores full of romance paperbacks is limited to my yearly visits to the States, but I have Amazon.

I’ve moved over to e-books as my format of choice. Only if the book isn’t available in e-book do I get the paperback. So I’ve discovered some new authors that I love. Joey W. Hill, especially her Natural Law books are musts for me, and Linda Winfree’s books are side by side with Suzanne Brockmann and Linda Howard. I eagerly look forward to new releases from all four.

half_dome.JPGBut if the RITAs are limited to the books from the big print publishers, then that halves my interest in the awards. I know there are books out there that equate with anything New York puts out, because I’ve read them. I love discovering new authors, whatever the format their books come out in. I don’t check the RWA list of approved publishers before I buy a book. I look at the cover art, read the blurb and an excerpt and maybe, if there’s an award like the RITA attached to it, I’ll pay a bit more interest in it, and maybe take a chance on a previously unknown author.

half-moon.jpgThe attitude of the people awarding the RITAs seems similarly strange to the publishers. All publishers are all increasingly putting books out in e-format, so it is fast becoming just another way you can buy books. I know there are serious ramifications for authors and contracts, but I’m trying to ignore that here, and look at it from the point of view of the consumer.

So, as a reader, would I attend RWA Nationals, or visit the big booksigning there? I’d be disappointed because some of my favorite authors won’t be there, and it’s so expensive to attend, so probably not. Would I buy a book based on the fact that it had been awarded a RITA? No, not any more. I can’t trust it anymore, because it excludes the books of some writers that I love.

The RWA is busy sidelining itself. It’s a shame, but it makes my choice of which conference to attend that much easier.

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