I’m a proud disillusioned card-carrying member of Romance Writers of America (RWA). An organization started decades ago (long before writing was a twinkle in my eye) that was established to support the writing careers of authors, specifically (as the title suggests), writers in the romance genre. I don’t know their exact mission, you can look it up. But really, this is going to be a little rant story about an organization that is just sorta pissing me off.

Once upon a time a bunch of authors banded together and decided to create an organization that would support those writing romance and give it credibility in the publishing industry. They wrote by-laws and set membership dues and invited people with like goals to come be part of this wonderfully supportive organization. And they did. They came in huge numbers bringing with them all the shiny enthusiasm new members always bring to organizations.

Then it became apparent that the members didn’t all write the same type of love story. Little groups formed within this larger organization and chapters were born. Chapters could focus on different things like romance with suspense or paranormal elements or historical or erotic themes. Some chapters formed so writers in a particular area could get together and talk about all the wonderful aspects of writing romance and to show others the path to publication. Everyone was happy.

Then came small press publishers and epublishers.

Whisperings began in the back room as members showed up claiming to be published, but you couldn’t buy their book at Barnes and Noble or hold it in your hand. Well, they certainly shouldn’t get to sit at the “adult” table with the “real” authors, now should they?

So RWA quietly went about making these new enthusiastic authors feel just a little smaller. “Come play when you have a real book,” they said “… oh, and where’s your check for membership in the mean time?” The epubbed and small press authors shrugged, smiled, and continued to write their wonderful romances. They had readers clamoring for their next release.

At some point RWA decided to start two contests; one that would allow unpublished authors to submit manuscripts for judging called the Golden Heart and another to judge published books called the RITA (I don’t know if it’s an acronym people … but it’s not relevant to my rant, errr … I mean story.) Anyhow, everyone was happy to pay a VERY high entry fee to be judged against the best of the best.

Then … the epubbed and small press authors slapped down their money and handed their book to the judge. “No, no,” said the judge. “This isn’t a real book. You can’t be part of the RITA’s.”

So the author smiled and went back to her WIP’s and chose a manuscript worthy of being judged. With a big smile she handed her manuscript and a check to the Golden Heart judge. “No, no,” said the judge. “You are published. It wouldn’t be fair for you to compete against unpublished authors. Silly writer. Oh, but don’t you owe RWA dues?”

Now, the epubbed/small press author is very sad. She is proud of her accomplishments, but has to sit at the “kiddie” table and isn’t allowed to play with other authors. She’s published … but not. Guess what? She dropped out of RWA because it wasn’t supporting her dreams and aspirations. RWA said her career was just pretend.

The moral of the story … RWA needs to wake up and support small press and epubbed authors. The president claims that she doesn’t want the organization to be an “us” vs “them”. But RWA continues to exclude a large number of authors from their ranks.

It’s shameful. It hurts.

To add insult to injury, this year many authors entered the RITA contest for published authors in good faith. They have been told they didn’t read the rules carefully enough and their book has been disqualified and won’t be judged … and too bad for them, their entry fee won’t be refunded. WTF?

Silly RWA … you are alienating a WHOLE bunch of writers. In a time when authors need support, you make it an exclusive club. I would drop my membership if I didn’t have several RWA chapters that support and encourage my writing career.

I am blogging about this travesty, but I have also taken time to email my district representative on the RWA board. If you’re a member of RWA I would suggest you do the same. Changes won’t happen until enough people stand up on the kiddie table and shout “WE”RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE!”

24 Responses to Really … Do you want to go there RWA?

  • Way to go. Us e-pubbeds have sat around and taken slaps in the face over and over again. I have a friend who was a PAN member, based on her e-book, then was unPANned. She was not alone. Same thing happened to other RWA members–having paid their dues in good faith–around the First Sale ribbon/recognition. At this point, with three sales under my belt, no way would I take their stupid First Sale dealiebopper if they suddenly change their criteria. My first sale happened a long time ago.

  • “Well, they certainly shouldn’t get to sit at the “adult” table with the “real” authors, now should they?”



    I hear you on all points–that book you begged me to enter in the RITA, would have been disqualified. I have a “grown up book”. I am distrubuted by Ingram. I can be on the shelves in B&N–should the individual book buyer elect to pick my title.

    In this case.. size does NOT matter. Quality of our quills do.

  • I dropped my membership with RWA a long time ago. I am nobody’s red-headed step-child, yanno?

  • I keep my national membership only because of my local chapter. Otherwise, I’d be gone. However, I love the Diamond State Romance Authors. I am a charter and founding member. I can’t leave the baby in it’s foundling stages so I pay to be in RWA. Sad to say but that’s all RWA is to me now.

  • Judi – I’ve heard about them “unPANning” some members. Really, how can this happen?

    Jen – I was thinking of you. 🙁 So silly your book didn’t qualify. Hugs to you. It would have done well.

    Darr – You are not alone. Lots of writers are leaving RWA. The organization is only hurting themselves with some of the decisions they’re making. And I love your “red hair”. You can sit at my table any day.

    Shayla – Same for me. I don’t bother with them. RWA is a means for me to hang around in my local chapter. And I lubs my home-girls!

  • I’ve also ranted…er, calmly discussed this situation. It’s been going on for years and every year a new slight. I dropped my membership last summer and oddly enough made enough money that I would’ve been eligible to play with the adults in PAN or PRO. Funny how it soooo didn’t bother me. I find I have plenty of support in other venues. And honestly, I just don’t need them. I fear, however, a day will come considering the bad economy, they will need us and it’ll be too late.

  • Nina – I think I love you a little bit right now. Like sloppy dog kisses and pouncing hugs kind of love.

    Your take, while lighthearted and fun to read, is EXACTLY the reasons I haven’t bothered to renew since the carnival— I mean conference was in Dallas. I loved the conference, but really, what did it do for me? I met all my friends. It was an online reunion. The agent meeting was shall we say a bust, and as for the rest, they didn’t even do my registration right. I was shafted my Friday lunchbox lunch.

    I wish I had a chapter close enough, but alas, I do not. Either is two hours North or South, take your pick.

    I hope they can fix it. I have signed and posted the petition and shared it. Whether it works or not, I can only hope so. The nit-picking changes every year is getting irksome to say the least.

  • I belonged to RWA for many years and only quit when I realized sane and logical argument will never change what they consider to be their God-given right to decide who is published and who is not. However, I do not understand why anyone who has been subjected to their elitist tricks would continue to pay dues and thus keep them in business. I’ve heard every reason in the book as to “Why I still belong to RWA”, but not one person seems to understand those reasons are just excuses and that so long as people keep paying their dues RWA can and will continue to use the money to keep up the fight.

    They’re behaving like anyone else who has something you want, but won’t let you have. And so long as people pay them money and try to change their mind instead of ignoring them, they’ll never stop. Why should they? They’re having a ton of fun.

    Chris Grover aka Christiane France

  • Great discussion Nina. I honestly had no idea that RWA was de-panning members. I can’t imagine how cruel that is! I have never entered the Golden Heart contest (and I probably won’t enter RITA if any of my books manage to qualify by being “mass-produced”).

    I have heard in the past about how strict the rules are for entering either contest, and that a lot of people were previously disqualified for not following the “rules” about the spacing on their cover pages. That was enough for me.

    I am saddened by RWA’s response. What harm would come of refunding the money to those members? I think a lot of outrage has also been sparked because members who qualify for PAN do not — for some reason–qualify to enter their PAN-eligible books in the RITA.

    I really hope RWA steps up and does the honorable thing. This issue isn’t going away and it’s doing the organization a major disservice by shutting out any portion of their membership.

  • A writer is a writer is a writer. RWA needs to wake up. They should not discriminate… because that is what it is. Epublished authors need to start breaking away, making it known to RWA that we do count. A new organization for romance authors/writers needs to be born… one who embraces ALL in the romance genre.

  • The only reason I’m staying in RWA is because of my local chapter. If not for them, I wouldn’t have any face-to-face contact with other writers.

    However, I might have to reconsider if RWA makes good on its threat to raise its dues. Being told you’re not a “real” writer is bad enough, but I draw the line at paying that kind of money to be insulted every time I look at my RWR.

  • Regina – You’re not alone in dropping your membership. Many have done the same. I know I wouldn’t miss any of the direct “benefits” from RWA since I don’t personally use any of their services.

    Diana – My chapter meeting is 4 hours from me. But they are such a supportive and educational group that it is worth the drive for me. But other than that … I don’t need anything from RWA. (And I lubs you right back!)

    Chris – I hear your argument and continue to wrestle with my decision to pay dues this year. But the specialty chapters to which I belong are part of RWA and I do receive lots of support from them. It’s a trade-off at this point. I’m not sure what next year will bring. After some of my letters, I may not be allowed back. 😉

  • Michelle – The whole PAN qualification in and of itself is becoming an issue. But it is really silly that an author qualifies for PAN and can’t enter that book in the RITA’s. It’s just sad.

    Jeanne – I think that’s what’s going to happen. Some sort of new organization. Authors aren’t going to put up with this obvious discrimination.

    Cat – I love the authors in my local chapter. They keep me going. But I may have to give it all up if dues go up. I don’t read the RWR though it arrives in my mailbox every month.

  • >>>I don’t read the RWR though it arrives in my mailbox every month.<<<

    Once upon a time, I couldn’t wait for the RWR to show up every month. Now every time I try to read it I end up with steam coming out my ears, so I don’t bother anymore.

  • I’ve never joined the RWA. I’m one of those red-headed step children who writes epubbed *the horror* m/m erotic romance novels. I also write m/f but they tend toward a bit of fem dom, something else that’s frowned upon.

    I do wish they’d take the hint, but that’s not going to happen.

    Maybe it’s time we banded together and did something for ourselves, like our own organization. I know I’m hearing rumors of something on this order in the works… Maybe I’ll find more information about it soon.

  • Like Michael, I write m/m erotic romance, so I never saw the point of joining RWA. Even a local chapter would be of little to no use to me, because it’s very unlikely there would be others writing in my genre there.

    Eh, well. I’m happier keeping my money anyway, and RWA can keep shooting itself in the foot.

  • Here via RLF, and another name to the “wouldn’t join RWA if you paid me.

    Well, maybe if they paid me a LOT… and changed their cliquish rules… I was eligible for a year, apparently, since Ransom hit the payoff mark, but they’ve changed the rules again.. but my Running Press contract meets their new standards, but it’s for m/m… Sorry, I don’t see any point in playing Charlie Brown to the RWA/Lucy football game.

    I’ve been watching this discussion since I was first published, and it is such a–I suppose since the folks involved are all “ladies” I can’t fairly call it a circle-jerk–but it certainly seems to jerk around the people they claim to be supporting.

    And I’ve read any number of posts along the lines of “I only stay in RWA because my local chapter is so wonderful.” I’m sure those local chapters, and the folks in them, are indeed wonderful, and inclusive, and well in advance of the conservative RWA core… so what I’m wondering is… at what point do the colonies declare their independence from Big Mommy? Sticking to RWA no matter what is like… I don’t know, like a lesbian staying in the Catholic Church because she hopes one day she can be ordained. What is everyone waiting for?

    I’m sure there are some promo advantages to the umbrella organization, and I’ve helped organize small sci-fi conventions. I know there’s a tremendous amount of work in putting that sort of shindig together. BUT… How many people keep sending in their money, and being good girls, and hoping Mommy will relent, maybe next year…? And next year comes, and it’s one small step forward, and two more back.

    How long does it have to be before the people in the RWA local chapters, who DO believe in inclusivity, who DO believe in the future of E-publishing, and who DO know that we are all, as writers, just as legitimate as the ladies who write conventional, fade-to-black, boy-meets-girl?

    Throwing a convention is not easy, but it isn’t like sending humans into space. I have a friend who has run a convention-organizing service for a couple of decades; she has all the skills necessary and has thrown events for everything from CPAs to computer geeks. I’m convinced that if a solid core of writers who have the courage to untie mommy’s apron strings and throw a party welcoming ALL forms of romance, we could throw a convention that would amaze and delight the world.

    I know that m/m writers have been talking about throwing an inclusive romance con, and so have writers who are e-book published. It would probably take at least a year to organize, but isn’t it about time writers of romance for grown-ups stopped asking Mommy’s permission?

    Sorry if this sounds too rabble-rousatious. I’m looking forward to some significant change in the US and it would be nice to see romance writing take a step into the 21st Century, too. (Or at least the Century of the Fruitbat…)

    my email’s not listed here, but if anyone would like to discuss this, it’s lee. rowan (at) yahoo.com. So many people seem to be saying “we should do an event” that I think it may be time to start exploring the possibilities.

  • Cat – Many people are energized by it. But it leaves me disillusioned and angry. It’s just not worth it. But I must say, it’s the most expensive magazine subscription I’ve ever had!

    Michael – It’s the red-headed step-children that add spice to our family! I know for a fact that (just like Darr) you’re an amazing writer.

    Cassandra – It’s so silly that organizations are turning their nose up at writers whose books are among the top selling genre in erotica. Silly, silly them. We at least know our market.

    Lee – I do think there are small conventions out there that accept writers of all genres. I’m not sure it’s the fear of leaving the “mother ship” that slows people down. It’s the expense. There are so many great gatherings I for one, on my meager budget can’t afford to go to so many that I know I would enjoy. (Of course I live in the middle of nowheres-ville and getting anywhere near civilization is–at minimum–a three hour drive … but I digress.)

    I have stayed in my local chapter and I’m glad I did. I think there was a little nose turning when I first arrived — an unpublished author with a big dream. There were a couple who had epubbed, but the majority of published authors were with the bigger guys. I am so happy I found Liquid Silver Books. They are a fabulous publisher and I can’t say enough wonderful things about them. Through them I have learned so much about good writing and the market. Now, other writers are turning to me and asking advice about publishers and ebooks. I’m happy to be there to share the word.

    Sometimes it’s a matter of education and starting at the ground floor isn’t a bad place to start.

    But truth be told. This may be my last year with RWA. *sigh* My “local” chapter is a 4 hour drive one way and as much as I love those ladies (and one gent) I’m not sure it’s worth it for me to renew my membership.

  • I never joined RWA for the very reasons you’re describing. I believe that the only way RWA will sit up and take notice is if they’re hit where it hurts…in their wallets. If everyone they ‘disqualified’ would drop membership and they lost all those dues, I believe it will be an eye opener for them. Of course, by then, no one will want to join their antiquated organization any more.

  • Jolie – I think you’re right. But for every writer dropping their membership I think there’s someone new joining. One can only hope that the general membership can make enough noise to make some changes.

  • That is the type of behavior that makes me not want to join the RWA.

  • Selena – You’re not alone in feeling that way. Which is too bad since I don’t think the founders of RWA intended for so many romance authors to feel alienated.

  • I see I’m not alone in feeling alienated, and I’m tired of being quiet about this. I’ve been RWA for almost 9 years, and this is the 2nd time around for me. The first time I was in the mid ’90s for only a few years then I left due to non-support. My membership is due up in a few months, and I’m seriously considering my options. And like many have said, I love my home chapters (one local, one online) and my specialty chapter.

    I support all of my chapters, and I judge at least 5-7 other RWA Chapters contests per year as time permits. I run a listserve for one of my chapters and help monitor another. I teach, assist, mentor, and lecture. I have been supported by so many wonderful writers, and I support where I can to give back, so to speak. And I really LOVE doing all this. I also have fantastic friends and supportive CPs, promo opportunities, and great social lunches after my local chapter meetings.

    Almost two years ago I sold my first story then found out it didn’t “qualify” for the “First Sale” column in the RWR. (grrr…) Outside of my chapters, my DH and a few friends, not many people I talked to cared, because they couldn’t buy the book in a regular book store. I was even told by a family member, “let me know when you REALLY get published and I’ll buy your print book.” Ahem. Rant alert.

    Well. I’m a big supporter of going green, recycling, and all that stuff especially with all the concerns about resources in the world today, plus I have limited bookshelf space. Naturally I fell in with the e-pub idea, and years ago began buying and reading electronic books. After all, what’s wrong with them? Nothing! I’ve read a lot of fantastic stories (and a few stinkers) and have had countless hours of entertainment. Now about 85% of the books I purchase are ebooks. No kidding.

    I’ve also been rejected (and snubbed on occasion) by most all the big NY boys and lots of agents. I loved the idea of e-publishing from the beginning and that small presses were also available to unknown writers who were seriously pursuing a career (versus writing in their spare time just for fun). I got lucky and I’m epublished with great reviews for my story.

    Then with the dissolution/change of wording of the “officially RWA recognized” status for publishers, the mixed signals and crossed information started. At the ’07 Dallas RWA Conference I wasn’t allowed a pink “First Sale” ribbon when I registered, because my published length wasn’t long enough. Okay. But when I got to the conference, I found out all first sales were supposed to have had pink ribbons. Since I didn’t put it in when I registered, I didn’t get the stupid ribbon.

    And THEN came the big debate about erotic romance at the AGM that yielded no helpful content or made any stride toward betterment for writers of this subgenre. I was disappointed, but I dealt with all this and thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Passionate Ink luncheon.

    Everyone makes a big deal about “The Call.” All I got was an email with a contract attached. Yippee. After hearing all the wonderful stories of friends getting their Call, my experience was very lack-luster and again, disappointing. But that’s in the past. I enjoyed the moment, celebrated and went to dinner with my family, and my local chapter did give me a white “First Sale” rose (though later someone lost my email saying I wanted to keep it and it got given to someone else). To remember the event, I bought my own white rose and attached the name of my book to it.

    Now all this “Us versus Them” crap is getting to me. The RWA Pres said, “no more us versus them,” but it’s gotten even worse since with all the RITA confusion and DQs and greediness about no refunds. Like, huh? RWA refunded last year’s entry fees when there was a problem. Why can’t they do it NOW when it’s clearly their manipulative strategy to drive the industry in a predestined direction geared to NY pubs? When is all this posturing going to end?

    I’m beginning to think it won’t, and I’ve been pushedto the limit of my tolerance for crap. The whole RWA “Us versus Them” issue makes me cranky. I’m in, but I’m out. I’m pubbed, but I’m not. I’m PRO, but I’m pubbed! Ridiculous. Insane. Unfair, cliche, and hypocritical.

    Wake up RWA board and look at who you’re alienating. On the bottom of my RWRs it says, “The Voice Of Romance Fiction.” I beg to differ. How is ousting an entire group of (epubbed and small press pubbed) authors to the benefit of RWA members? RWA is NOT the voice of Romance Fiction, it is the voice of traditionally published and acceptable print fiction.

    I can’t believe an organization I once believed in whole-heartedly is shafting loyal members. Yep. Seriously considering my options right now.

  • Raquel – I’ve only been a member of RWA for three years. The whole “first sale” is a big thorn in my side since they consider me published in terms of the Golden Heart, but not published enough to acknowledge my debut novel (which has won several awards). I don’t have the ties you seem to have, but I do love the writers of my local chapter. It would make me very sad not to be part of that community. But if things don’t change, I certainly won’t be renewing my membership with RWA at the end of this year. And really, besides them, there’s nothing I will miss.

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