The RITA awards are pretty much the Oscars for romance writers. Books are submitted and judged by fellow authors. It's by the industry, for the industry, not necessarily reflecting popularity or sales. There are 2000 entries (although authors are allowed to submit more than one book each year), with various categories. It's one of the more expensive contest to enter, although there have been efforts made lately to allow people to submit ebooks rather than having to mail physical copies.
I entered my first book in the RITAs and it did very well. I didn't final, but when I looked at my score vs the average score of the finalists, I was within 0.5 of them (on a 10 point scale). It made me feel very proud and accepted.
But there are problems with the contest and how it is structured. Last week RWA sent out an announcement letting all authors know that it had been brought to their attention that authors of color were hugely underrepresented. They've committed to fixing the issue which has sparked a lot of discussion about how the contest could be revised. (And also awareness that this is not the only diversity barrier.) For a closer look at the issue, please check out Courtney Milan (@courtneymilan) or Robin Covington (@RobinCovington) or The Ripped Bodice (@TheRippedBodice) or Rebekah Weatherspoon (@RdotSpoon) who are all far more eloquent than I would be.
Right now, any author who submits a book must also sign up as a judge. People have rightfully pointed out that this means that unconscious or conscious bias could be influencing the scores that judges give. There have also been suggestions that authors of color are deliberately avoiding entering because they have not felt accepted by RWA, and many have cited personal experiences of prejudice at RWA chapters and conferences.
I'm proud that RWA has acknowledged the problem and is working on fixing it. I'm not okay with people feeling unwelcome within a professional organization that exists to support all of its members. There are some amazing authors out there who are not getting recognized, which is not good for either the organization, the writers, or the readers. I hope that RWA will take the time to figure out what the barriers have been (and I'm sure there have been more than one) and how best to effectively eliminate them. Some people have been pushing for immediate action but that could end up making the situation worse if the wrong assumptions are made.
I didn't enter the RITAs this year, but I will be there to applaud my fellow authors at the awards ceremony. To be meaningful, the RITA should represent the very best of the romance genre, not just a small corner of it. I want all of our amazing stories to be awarded and recognized and I feel that this announcement is a good first step in making that happen.
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My fourth book, Judgment, is coming out soon. You can pre-order your copy now or pick up Book One: Revelations on sale to find out how it all began.