The RITA® Award – Is It Worth Entering?
I’ve been waffling for some about whether to do this post. I’ve debated it with writer friends – what would we do without them?? – and pondered it in the back of my mind. Mostly I was deciding whether or not to respond to various threads in Facebook groups or in author loops. Usually on those, when the question is “Should I comment?” the answer is No. That’s one of my social media rules of thumb: if it occurs to me that I *shouldn’t* say something, I don’t.
But I’m seeing this question come up a lot lately – is it “worth it” to enter a book in RWA’s RITA® Award contest?
I saw a lot of this discussion in the wake of the 2017 RITA® Awards in July – and before that when the finalists were announced – and now it’s heating up again because the contest opens on November 1.
Thus, I’m going to answer the question here. Whether I think it’s “worth it,” what my scores were, how I feel about them, and finally whether the award really affects sales.
Full disclosure: I’m speaking as someone who won the 2017 RITA® Award in Paranormal Romance for my book, The Pages of the Mind. That’s my RITA® statue in the top photo, in the bookshelf I had to buy especially to house her. More than one wag has compared her to a golden idol who gazes down on my writing desk – and I’m at peace with that.
So, you might say I’m biased because I did win, and you’re absolutely right. Winning a RITA® Award was one of the best, most transcendent moments of my life. Here’s the pic of me that my wonderful agent, Sarah Younger – recently promoted to Senior Agent at Nancy Yost Literary Agency, yay! – took of me at the moment they announced my book won.
That is sheer happiness, folks.
But I’ll tell you what – the photos you don’t see are all the times I cried because my book DIDN’T final. Which was a fair number of years, because I’ve been entering since 2009 and 2017 was the first year I had a book that made it to the finals. Which was exhilarating on its own! Let me tell you, I received so many congratulations and good-hearted celebration on my behalf that I felt like Cinderella at the ball – only I got something way better than a prince.
Believe me – I absolutely get the disappointment of not making the final rounds, year after year. But, I didn’t give up. I kept entering my books. And I kept studying what other authors were doing, and working to improve my craft.
And still, it’s a gamble. Judges’ taste varies. Reading is subjective. Different people score on varying scales, just as readers do. One person’s three-star rating is another’s five-star rating.
So, yes, The Pages of the Mind got amazingly good scores. I say “amazing” with intention because I have no idea why this book struck the chord that it did. Well… I can speculate, but I certainly never expected it. I see a lot of people throwing around comments to the effect of “you should only enter your best book.” I can vouch that I had no idea that this would be my RITA® Award-winning book. In fact, the book that I *did* think would at least final, The Mark of the Tala, which received the Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews and was nominated for Book of the Year, was marked as not a romance by one judge, on top of not making the finals.
Not only that, but I entered two books in the contest for 2017, the other being the next book in the series, The Edge of the Blade. I’m willing to share the scores for each because I think it’s illustrative and important.
The Pages of the Mind: 8.2, 9.8, 9.5, 9.0, 9.9 – Final Score: 9.433333333
The Edge of the Blade: 9.7, 3.3, 5.9, 9.0, 8.8 – Final Score: 7.9
For those doing the math at home, the highest and lowest scores are dropped to calculate the final score. I can tell you that getting such high scores for The Pages of the Mind is a first for me! And looking at that, I can see why it won. For whatever reason, people really like this book. Which, hooray!!
Now, am I obsessing at all about those very low scores for The Edge of the Blade? Nope. Not even a little bit. When I shared these with my local chapter, LERA, for the exact same reasons I’m sharing them here, there were people indignant on my behalf. It’s the same indignation I’ve seen online – that no published book could possibly deserve a 3.3, that it’s simply mean to score a book lower than 5 and so on. My take is, of course those are legit scores. Judges can score from 1.0 to 10.0, with increments of 0.1. I have no idea why those judges gave me 3.3 and 5.9, but it could be because that book has a pansexual heroine. It also could be that they really thought my book was poorly written, which is fair.
And yes, I’ve gotten scores that low in other years, too. I got them when was entering contests for unpublished manuscripts – both 2s and 10s on the same piece. I have a strong voice and that’s one of the effects, readers tend to either love or hate what I write. That’s also fair. I don’t expect everyone to love my work.
Who knows? Could be those judges didn’t like me personally, which colors things. That’s okay, too, because I don’t expect everyone to love ME, either. Plenty of people will never pick up my books, for one reason or another, and that’s fine because people should read what makes them happy.
So, then – did having The Pages of the Mind final for and then win the RITA® Award make a difference in sales?
Hard to say – mostly because this is a traditionally published book and I don’t have real-time access to sales. I also don’t look at sales and Amazon rankings much anyway because I think it interferes with the creative side of writing. But I can say anecdotally that I saw a lot of mentions of readers picking it up because the book finaled and won. I saw new reviewers tagging me on social media and saying I was a new-to-them author and they were reading because of the RITA® Award. Even better, I saw a lot of readers declaring that the book made them want to go back and read my other books. I think my sales have gone up, probably quite substantially.
More than that, I’ve been amazed at the boost both the final and the win gave to me personally and to my reputation overall. Writers not in romance – like in SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) – mention that I’m a RITA® Award-winning author, and say it with pride and admiration. The day after I won, at the St. Martin’s party – with whom I’d recently signed a three-book deal – the Publisher, Jennifer Enderlin told me that she’d sent an email to the higher ups that they should notice they’d just signed a RITA® Award-winning author. Other authors, big names in romance, congratulated me and knew who I was. I felt like I’d reached a new level in my career. A personal milestone achieved.
As for readers recognizing it or not – some do, some don’t. A lot of my readers sent me photos from their local bookstores and libraries, showing my book in with other RITA® finalists for read-along challenges and pools to pick the winners. And my waxer, an ardent romance reader, knew exactly what it was and actually cried when I took her my trophy to show it off, she was so proud of me and excited.
And then there’s this. That’s me reading MY name and MY book title on a RITA® statuette. Just like I can look up and see her looking down on my desk. When the writing isn’t going well, when some other author gets notice I haven’t gotten, I can look at that tangible evidence and remember the incredible feeling you can see in my face here.
Is it everything? No. Awards are one aspect of measuring success, and one only. I have many other books that have never received an award of any kind and I think they’re good, too. They tell the story I wanted to tell.
But was it “worth it?” If I count up all the money I spent entering books over the years, the tears I cried in disappointment, the certainty that not finaling meant I sucked as a writer, fighting jealousy over those who did final – was it worth it?
Absolutely. Do it. Put your hat in the ring. If it was easy, it wouldn’t feel so incredible when you finally make it there.
What Dangerous Topic Jeffe Longs to Write
Marcella, sister SFF Seven bordello mate and longtime crit partner, sent me this amazing glitter card. She’s been reading – and giving excellent insight on – this series from the very beginning. If I’d had more time, she would have been top in my thank you’s in the acceptance speech. I remember hitting midpoint on that book, The Pages of the Mind, panicking and sending it to Marcella. Braced for her to tell me I’d gone horribly wrong, down some twisted path of no return, I opened her email reply. In which she scolded me for stopping where I did and to keep going, dammit.
I tell you, folks, there’s nothing better to keep you sane than good writing friends.
Our topic this week at the SFF Seven regards Third Rails in Genre Fiction: What subjects are too dangerous for you to touch? Or do you touch them anyway? Come on over to the SFF Seven to find out what mine is.
What’s Your Core Story?
So, this happened.
And it was awesome.
Plus it’s apropos that this week’s topic at the SFF Seven is “What is your recurring theme and how does it manifest?” Come on over to find out about all of it!
Writing the Denouement – What’s the Right Amount of Wrap-up?
So… this is *MY* big news this week. How about you all?
Tee hee hee!
Yeah, okay, I’m still in a daze, totally gobsmacked, and running about in this kind of gleeful haze where I whisper to myself, “My fantasy romance, THE PAGES OF THE MIND, finaled in Paranormal Romance in RWA’s RITA® awards!!!”
To unpack that a little, for those not familiar, RWA is Romance Writers of America and the RITA Award® is our premiere award for published books in the romance genre. (There’s also the Golden Heart, for unpublished works.) Because romance is an enormous umbrella with many subgenres, there are thirteen categories. “Paranormal Romance” is basically all science fiction or fantasy style stories with romance in the story arc. Yeah, it’s a polyglot of a subgenre, but there you are. With entries capped at 2,000, and every entry read and ranked by five judges, it’s a tremendous effort. It’s basically the Academy Awards for romance authors. The winners will be announced at the very glam awards ceremony at the Annual Conference, which will be in Orlando this year, July 22-29.
Okay! Moving on…
Our topic this week on the SFF Seven is on story structure, specifically asking the SFF Seven about the Denouement: How long do you spend wrapping up a novel? Come on over for my take.
Thrilled to announce that THE PAGES OF THE MIND is a RITA finalist!! I am in total shock and over the moon. You can see all of the finalists on the RWA site here.
Are Pay-to-Play Published Book Contests Unethical?
To celebrate that THE TALON OF THE HAWK won Best Fantasy Romance of 2015 from RT Book Reviews, I got this amazing tattoo of Ursula’s sword. I’m thrilled with how it turned out. (Freshly finished and a little red here – it looks even better now!)
If you haven’t yet signed up for my newsletter, one went out today with an exclusive, never-seen-elsewhere, juicy deleted scene from TALON. If you sign up today, you can still see it. Yes, I’m totally luring you. Is it working?
You’ll see this in the newsletter (hint, hint) – Kensington is sponsoring a Goodreads Giveaway of 25 copies of THE PAGES OF THE MIND. Hie thee hence to enter!
Finally, I’m over at Word Whores this morning, setting forth the question of whether published books contests that require an entry fee, such as RWA’s RITA Awards, have less integrity than those where books must be nominated, such as SFWA’s Nebula Award.
Mug Shots, Book Forts and Major Awards
Last week I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) National Convention. My sixth, which is amazing to contemplate. As you can imagine, I’m sure, it’s begun to feel like a cross between a high school reunion and a grown-up slumber party. Many of these people I only see once a year – at this convention – and they are all my tribe. We spend an intense few days talking nothing but writing and career, exchanging all the gossip and pretty much going from one social event to another.
It’s unbelievably and wonderfully restorative.
The above “conference mug shot” was the brainchild of writing friend Christine D’Abo. She had everyone at the Carina Press Author Breakfast taking them. Hysterical idea.
I roomed again this year with my bestie, crit partner and all-around lovely person, Carolyn Crane. We took this selfie upon arrival, full of the delight at being in the same geographical location for once.
She was a finalist for the RITA awards this year, for her wonderful book, Off the Edge. Which means she got a pretty silver pin to wear on her badge.
I signed again this year at the Literacy Signing, this time with print copies of both The Mark of the Tala and Going Under. Kensington provided me with an absolute TOWER of books to sign. So much so that one of my friends, Katie Lane, sent someone walking around with a white board telling people to buy my book and free me from my fortress.
She thinks she’s funny.
We also raised over $56K for literacy – so fabulous.
While I schedule in a lot of meetings, parties and meals, to make sure to see people, I also love to leave some things up to serendipity. For the keynote luncheon, I had no one in particular to meet up with, but happened to run into Ericka Brooks of The Bookpushers and lovely writer Nalini Singh. They made terrific lunch dates.
The Kensington party was held off site at this amazing restaurant with probably the best anti-pasta I’ve ever had. (Aided by the fact that it tasted incredibly refreshing after the sweltering San Antonio heat and humidity. They also gave us the best party swag ever – mobile chargers. LOVE!
FF&P‘s Gathering theme was Steampunk Cowgirl this year. Here’s the lovely Veronica Scott and local chapter buddy/aspiring author Anna Philpott kicking it up. Also, Rogue’s Possession won third place in the PRISM awards – such a wonderful honor when it competed with so many fabulous books.
I, of course, attended the Harlequin Ball again this year, which was amazing fun as always. In the coming years, I’ll have to remember to do some training. The four hours of non-stop dancing took a toll on me this time and I limped around a bit the next morning. Also, rumors that I performed an exhibition dance of Beyoncé’s All the Single Ladies with RT’s Trent Hart are terrible, slanderous falsehoods. Besides it’s been days now and no video has cropped up, so I think we’re safe.
I wrote about this already on the Word Whores blog, but the highlight of the week was being Carolyn’s date to the RITA awards. She dubbed this pic of us as “the Busty Twins.”
AND THEN SHE WON!
I’m told she thanked me right off, though I was too busy crying and taking pics to really process it. Her achievement is made all the more spectacular because she’s the first to have a self-published book win what is our industry’s highest award. We spent hours in the bar afterward, during which she never let go of her trophy. Many members of the old guard came up to congratulate her on breaking the ceiling.
I couldn’t have been more proud and happy.
Or more revved for another exciting and successful year for us all!
Savoring the Outside Point of View
I’m over at Word Whores this morning, talking about the joys of being a spectator – and watching my friend, Carolyn Crane, win the RITA award!
Scrambling for those Awards
A flock of evening grosbeaks came through and hit our feeder hard for a couple of hours at the beginning of March. (Sorry – it’s been a busy month.) They descended like a brilliant yellow cloud, here and gone again, the proverbial ray of sunshine.
I grew up in a suburban housing development where most of the summer activities revolved around the pool. Many of my childhood memories involve long hot days – or chilly days, seeing as how it was Denver – swimming and splashing around. We created tricks to learn, like holding breath and doing handstands or consecutive summersaults with inflatable balls as the pivot.
For holidays and special events, the adults organized competitions. One year, for 4th of July, they lined up all the kids on the edges of the pool. Glittering on the bottom, were coins, all denominations, some real money, some tokens for prizes. When the whistle blew, we were to dive in and grab what we could.
You can imagine the chaos.
The water was icy cold and, though, I could dive down, it was difficult to resurface with so many kids in the pool. Flailing limbs hit me in the face. Water went up my nose. Scrambling hands seized the coins before I could reach them. I felt like I was drowning.
When I think about competition, this is the kind of visceral response I get. My heart strains, my chest clutches. I’m drowning again. Just to grab some quarters.
Today they’re announcing the finalists for the RITA and Golden Heart awards. The phone calls are going out this morning, rolling out to the east coast folks first and following the sun across the country. And yes, Sapphire could maybe be a finalist.
There are good reasons why it likely won’t be. Strongly erotic novels usually don’t final. I’m not sure one ever has. And the finalists already listed are BIG NAME authors. Nora Roberts is up there for one of her J.D. Robb novellas – a series that continues to be my favorite – so for Sapphire to final would be like a newbie actress being nominated for an Oscar along with Meryl Streep.
Or like me trying to grab that dollar coin from the bigger boys.
So, I really try not to dive in. I try to save my swimming for another day, when it’s all about the fun and not about striving for prizes. I realize this makes me the too-skinny girl sitting on the side of the pool. There are other ways to get shiny dollar coins.
For example, last week this gal tagged me on Twitter about a blog post she’d written. She discussed the phenomenon of the self published, formerly Twilight fan-fic BDSM book Fifty Shades of Grey. She also recommended two of my books – Petals and Thorns and Sapphire – instead.
Better than a shiny coin any day.
And I didn’t even have to half-drown for it.
Good luck, everyone!