Sunday, May 20, 2018

Considering The Golden Heart...

For those of you in the Romance Industry, two awards have stood out as representing top achievements in writing - The Golden Heart and The RITA. As many of you saw just recently, the Board of Directors of the Romance Writers of America are looking to eliminate the Golden Heart due to a decrease in submissions and the cost of running the award. While I fully understand the reason the Board is looking at making this tough decision, I do personally believe that there may be an even bigger underlying reason for this decline.

The Board noted that these are just "changing times" in the industry. I contend, however, that there is a bigger reason to consider, and this has something to do with how the two contests are being run and, more importantly, being judged. This is something that I have argued for some time, and it has always fallen on deaf ears.

Let's start first with the how these are judged.

Both awards have essentially one criteria to look at the book. "Did I like the book?" That's it. Now, to be fair, in the directions for both awards, they do try to suggest things to consider when looking at the book, but it is still a purely subjective call. To add to this, the books that people judge are often books in genres they do not normally read, or may not be familiar with at all.

If you give someone who only reads sweet romances or inspirational romance a book with a high heat level or even erotica, how will that book score? The answer is simple, not well. If I don't like reading that genre, I will never score it high.

The solution to this is easy. Score it with a standard rubric. Look at things such as plot development, character development, setting, dialogue and so forth. Using a standard criteria would allow someone to look at the project objectively. I can rate something on character development, even if I do not like what that character may be doing.

I do know many have said they do not believe a rubric like this would work because each genre is different. That, I am sorry to say is wrong. Yes, if I write a rubric that says, "Is this piece of historical fiction accurate?" it would not work for a contemporary. But the writers of that criteria. do not have to be that specific.

The key is to get rid of that subjectivity.

The second reason is who does the judging. I get that we want the membership to read the books and do the judging. But if we have authors who are not published, or who are just self publishing books that are not that high in quality, you have a situation of the blind leading the blind. Add in that vague criteria, and the contest becomes what I have heard so many authors argue, "A Crap Shoot." You get judges who don't know their butt from a hot rock and you are screwed.

The RITA is also no different, but in this case, you have one additional factor that comes into play. When these books show up to be judged, we see the covers, publishers and authors. You cannot tell me that there are judges (and I am betting far more than you would think) who open up that box and say, "Hey, I got Jane Smith's book! She has won this award before! I like her books!" Um, far from objective. I think you will also have authors who open that box up, and see the publishers and already start making decisions. "Oh, that's a Harlequin! I'm not a fan."

This solution is so easy. Submit a manuscript free of names and covers. Make it fair.

Now, let's add in the cost. These are expensive! You are spending a ton of money just for a crap shoot? Not a worthwhile investment.

I do believe that the lower numbers of submissions are not due to the changing times, but the lack of return on investment. I do believe authors would continue to support the program if they knew they would be judged fairly and those that win really do represent the best of the best and not those lucky enough to get judges who are either liberal with the scoring, or just like a particular genre of book.

Just something to consider.

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