Monday, October 13, 2014

Here's A Shocker - The Romance Writers of America Is About Romance Writing

Over the last several years, the Romance Writers of America have been fine-tuning the wording on many of their documents and certainly the two major contests - The Golden Heart and The Rita. Of course, in the process of that fine tuning, there have been many authors out there complaining that the RWA is preventing them from writing what they want. Many of these authors are also complaining that the RWA is attempting to push people out of the organization because of what they write. This cannot be further from the truth

How can I say this? Well, let's start at the beginning.

The last time I checked, RWA stood for ROMANCE Writers of America. As the name implies, this is an organization that is focusing its attention on a specific genre - romance. The assumption is that if someone decides to join this chapter, this is the genre they are interested in and networking with other authors who share the same passion. If you aren't someone who writes or works with the romance genre, then the odds are you wouldn't be writing a check each year for membership.

The Greyhaus Literary Agency is one that represents romance and women's fiction. This is why I am a member of the organization. I am not a member of the Mystery Writers of America or some of these other organizations because they do not meet the needs of the agency or my clients.

But let's go a little further. When we look at the central mission of the RWA, it says:

Romance Writers of America® (RWA) is a nonprofit trade association whose mission is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy. RWA works to support the efforts of its members to earn a living, to make a full-time career out of writing romance—or a part-time one that generously supplements his/her main income.

Again, note the wording. This is a professional organization focusing on romance. I don't think that can be any clearer.

I know what some of you are saying now, "But Scott, what about the RITA's and The Golden Heart contests? My story doesn't fit those categories so they are keeping me from entering." Ummm, let's think about that for a minute. Yes, the contests are pretty clear. The description, as listed on page 9 of the October edition of the RWR says it is to "promote excellence in the romance genre" and it goes on to identify on page 10 under the entry requirements: A book of original Romance Fiction which means the work contains a central love story and the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic In other words the infamous HEA.

The issue I believe I see are those authors who are branching out with their writing. We had, for a while, a division in the contest for Novels With Romantic Elements. Personally, I never understood this category other than it was there for those people who had written a book with maybe a love interest thrown in to spice things up. Sorry, but adding a sex scene or a bit where two characters randomly fall in love does not make this a romance novel. It IS the central story arc that defines the story. If your central story arc is about solving a crime, then it is a crime novel. If the central story arc is about saving the Galactic Rebellion, then the odds are it is a science fiction story.

Now the twist comes in with what some are calling Women's Fiction. Are these stories romance? Well, the issue once again comes down to the central story arc. In Women's Fiction, the focus is to see the world through the female perspective. These are stories that give us an insight into the female psyche. Back in January of 2010 I did a piece for Writer's Digest identify the differences between romance and women's fiction  In that article I stated:

In women’s fiction, is there no happily-ever-after? Does this mean there is no romance? No. Women’s fiction is about something much more. I have always tried to define this genre as a story that shows the female journey. The goal and the intent of this genre is to be able to relate to the character and understand her own life. We want to know what it is to be a woman. Like romance, this can occur in any time period, but the goal is still the same – to understand the female psyche. The story can be multicultural, like Amy Tan, or historical, like Philippa Gregory. It really doesn’t matter other than making the heroine the central focus of the story. It may be contemporary. One of my favorite stories that I believe fits this the best is A Summer All Her Own by Rosanne Keller.

So, does this mean that a women's fiction piece cannot be a romance. Absolutely not. As long as the story's central story arc is a romance, then you are good to go. For it to be women's fiction, the story just uses the lens of that female perspective as its driving force. 

Now, let's get back to the issue of the RWA. This organization is in no way telling people what they can and cannot write. This organization is not even saying you cannot be a member of the organization. If you happen to write something else, as well as your romance, then this is the place for you. It is open to anyone if that is your interest. But again, I would ask, if it is not your interest, why would you join in the first place?

I do think many of these issues developed as authors started into this cross-genre writing. Again, please note there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, if your story fails to keep a foot in both genres and shifts into the other genre, then you cannot call it a cross-genre book any more. 

So, for those of you who have moved on from the romance genre, it is OK. We all want you to be successful. But this might also mean that for you, the RWA isn't the place for you. It doesn't mean you cannot come back. It doesn't mean the RWA hates you. It simply means that at this moment in time, you need something else. We just cannot blame an organization for your movement into other genres. 

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