The threads to the mondo-discussion in the previous entry that have caught my attention are: how would you revamp the RITA to solve your problems with it, and is there room for a reader-determined award, either from RWA or from another entity?
If readers are interested enough in the RITA and in the question of awarding the “best of” a year’s romance to titles they enjoyed, how do you accurately measure that? It seems to be as impossible as peer-judged awards.
Speaking solely on reader awards, we tried that last year with the BWAHA, a reader-nominated and reader-voted award. And based on our teeny-tiny sample, I have a feeling that word went out to more than one author’s rather rabid fanbase because two books got far and away more votes, and those votes were coming from email addresses and names I did not recognize as regular participants on our site. Plus, our referrals revealed more than a few links from those fanbase discussion boards. Coincidence? Hmm. And I don’t have a problem with fans awarding their favorite author. I just noticed the pattern.
If, for example, the SBTB BWAHA award (and really, I’m not proposing Candy and I start taking ourselves too seriously, here. I’m speaking purely in the hypothetical situation of trying to build a reader-determined award) voting was restricted to only SBTB members, then we’d be excluding those who participate regularly (and at length) but have not registered themselves with our site for whatever reason.
But if we leave it open, we run the risk of an author with an organized fanbase peppering the voting tally once the call goes out that Their Author is up for An Award. It becomes less of a competition between books and more of a competition between organized voter fanbases surrounding a particular author. And thus the judging process comes into question.
So really, how do we do it? And for that matter, how would the RWA do it, if a reader-driven award were to be added to the annual ceremony? Would that address the difference in opinions revealed in our comments? I don’t think so. I think it would create more problems than solutions. Moreover, there’s plenty of venues from which to gauge what readers think.
As for addressing changes to the RITA, first and foremost: there needs to be an erotica/romantica award, and there needs to be a gay/lesbian award. Period. I’ll volunteer right now to do whatever needs to be done, and to judge it, too, though I’m not a published writer (except for every time I hit “SUBMIT” on this here site). I’ll put my available time where my (big) mouth is.
But beyond that, how does one address the apparent disconnect between the RITA and the readers? Altering the categories? Changing the voting pool to include booksellers and others involved in the publication and marketing of a book, much like the Oscars® solicit consideration from various professions involved in the process of making and delivering a movie?
(I think it’s time for the comparison to the Oscars to stop, though the RWA makes the comparison on the page that describes the RITA so I doubt it will end soon.)
I’m looking for a logical place to start addressing why there are audibly dissatisfied readers grumbling about the quality of those books winning the RITA each year. There are enough of the grumbling folks, even here, that it seems a large issue. Add to that the fact that, as many have pointed out, the RITA does not garner the same attention or respect that other awards receive, from cover stickers to prominent bookseller reshelving, and it seems that there is room to ask, in practical terms, what to do? Certainly I’m not the first to ask that question.
My first preference would be for the criterion, or the judging rubric in general, to be made public. What are the guidelines used for judging the categories? Is it up to each judge, and is each judge expected to know what constitutes a good romance in that category? Is that a reasonable expectation? Apparently not.
Candy is right in her statement that readers, though not published authors, do understand the genre’s expectations and requirements and aren’t necessarily “outsiders.”
If readers’ understanding of those genre standards is markedly different the standards revealed by the RITA-winning books, then then somewhere inside the chasm between them is a potential answer to a good many of our questions. Perhaps revealing the judging rules and standards is a good place to start finding out how to at least narrow the divide.