Romance Writers Ink Contest: An Exercise in Discrimination

Late last night, links and fiery tweets went around about Romance Writers, Ink, an Oklahome-based chapter of the RWA. They've stated  that for the 2012 “More than Magic” competition for published writers, they will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.”

Way to be bigoted!


Heidi Cullinan has a blog entry about the problem and cites an unnamed individual who may have received a response from the chapter saying that the reason was some discomfort in reading same-sex romance.

Courtney Milan found links to the specific individuals:

On Kari Gregg’s blog, Cathy Pegau notes that she e-mailed them and was told that they decided not to accept same-sex entries because the majority of the chapter felt uncomfortable with them.  Apparently, it’s possible for the MTM contest to get entrants’ books in the hands of diverse judges from multiple RWA chapters who are comfortable with all types of romances and heat levels. You can write M/F erotica. You can write M/M/F. You can write about aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs. You can write degrading rapes. None of those things are barred from entry in the More than Magic contest, and if you write them, they’ll try to find judges who are predisposed to like your books.

But they won’t do that if you write same sex romance–even if it’s a sweet romance with no sexual contact whatsoever. No–when it comes to same sex romance, the fact that they might be able to identify judges in their chapter or outside of it who would be willing to read same sex entries and judge them fairly somehow becomes irrelevant. In that instance, the majority gets to say that those entries don’t belong.

I have to wonder if Romance Writers Ink didn't think anyone would notice, or say anything. It's appalling that a chapter would limit their contest in such a way, and send a message that homophobia and discrimination is acceptable.

And it's rather awesome that all the comments to their contest rules page are from ping backs from other writers expressing their outrage about Romance Writers Ink's discriminatory rule.

If Romance Writers Ink wants to be a bigoted chapter, they can have that title. But there's a lot justified outrage and questions of how to respond to their decision.

Milan outlines a course of action that I think is entirely awesome: Romance Writers, Ink's decision is wrong, we should say that it's wrong, and we should discourage anyone from entering their contests:

I’m also asking that unpublished writers refuse to enter their contest for unpublished writers when it’s announced–the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. I’m asking editors and agents to refuse to act as final judges for the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. If you have already entered, please write to them and withdraw your entry. Editors and agents, if you’ve already agreed to serve as final judges, please withdraw. And for everyone–when the final judges–if the final judges are announced for the unpublished contest, please contact any editors and agents you know to inform them of the fact that the chapter discriminates, and ask them to withdraw.

I don’t know if we can change RWA’s policies, but we can make it costly–extremely costly–for chapters to choose to discriminate. It may be their right to choose intolerance. But it’s our right to refuse to tolerate it, and to make them feel the cost of their decision. This is not acceptable.

My understanding is that for some chapters, contests are a very lucrative enterprise. Judges are usually volunteers, and the entry fees more than cover the costs of distributing the manuscripts to the judges. I agree with Milan's strategy: their discrimination should be costly. 

But I also think that Romance Writers, Ink's decision comes with a larger consequence. As a wise person on Twitter said about the Komen foundation fiasco this week, just because you take the turd out the punchbowl doesn't mean we forget the turd was there to begin with. Same applies here: even if they change their policy, I know that the members of Romance Writers Ink are “comfortable” with discrimination, and I know that theirs is not a chapter I'd recommend for an aspiring writer of romance.

ETA: The Romance Writers Ink has cancelled their contest, posting the following:

After much consideration, RWI regretfully announces the MTM Published Author Contest has been cancelled. All monies received from entrants will be returned as soon as possible. We have heard and understood the issues raised, and will take those concerns into consideration should the chapter elect to hold contests in the future. Please note: our contest coordinator, Jackie, is a chapter member who graciously volunteered to collect entries and sort by category. It is unfortunate that she has become the object of personal ridicule and abuse. We recognize the decision to disallow same-sex entries is highly charged. We also opted not to accept YA entries. We do not condone discrimination against individuals of any sort.

I call bullshit. It's one thing to not include YA, as it could be argued that it is a different genre. Same-sex romance is still romance, and disallowing it is discrimination, especially when you openly respond to several people inquiring about the decision by saying that same-sex romance made people “uncomfortable.” 

I suggest that if RWI offers chapter-taught courses in PR and social media crisis management, no one sign up for those, either.


ETA II: As noted by Laura Vivanco below, RWA National has released a statement:

RWA members are served by 145 local and special interest chapters, and those chapters are individually incorporated and governed. So long as chapters fulfill their obligations under state law, as well as RWA and chapter bylaws, and their programs and services support the professional interests of career focused romance writers, policy affords them rather broad latitude in determining which programs and services to offer. Absent policy governing chapter-level contests, RWA's board cannot intervene in the decisions of individual chapters.


Romance Writers of America does not condone discrimination of any kind. RWA's policies regarding chapter programs and services will be discussed when the board reconvenes in March.

Board of Directors
Romance Writers of America



Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. I can understand the members being uncomfortable with reading same gender stories, or preferring to not read them, but refusing to find judges who are willing to participate is sad.

  2. this is so sickening, but i’m not really surprised.  this country seems to get more and more ignorant as time goes on.  the fact that this chapter used to accept same-sex romances is very telling.  it makes me wonder whether those in charge of the chapter felt it would be more acceptable now than it would have been in the past.

  3. Nicely said, Sarah. We’ve got a whole bunch of people working to change minds at RWA – and our campaign is growing.

    JM Cartwright
    Proud member of Rainbow Romance Writers

  4. Amy Denim says:

    I find discrimination and censorship in and organization (RWA) that I am a proud member of to be unacceptable. I joined Rainbow Romance Writers even though I’m not LGBT nor do I write it. I just wanted to stand up with them to cry foul.
    I’m an unpubbed author and I will certainly not be entering any of RWIs contests.

  5. Slc1106 says:

    It’s Oklahoma. Deplorable, but not entirely unexpected, based upon my relatives and friends living in that state.

  6. Barrett says:

    A well written summary, Thank you for shining a light on, yet another, egregious example of ignorance cloaked with righteousness.

    Barrett RWA/RRW member

  7. Interesting is that same-sex novels have entered—and won—their contests in the past. And these are just the names I recognize.

    http://rwimagiccontests.wordpr… (Sloan Parker,

    http://rwimagiccontests.wordpr… (Lara Bambauch and Josh Lanyon, erotic novel)

    http://rwimagiccontests.wordpr… (Ava March, Novella)

  8. Melissa Bradley says:

    I remember these! What hypocrites they are, now taking a discriminatory stance. Wonder if someone’s town council/school board/etc. started taking notice and pointing fingers. Thanks for sharing these Heidi. 🙂

  9. Heather says:

    Yeesh. Some of the best romances I’ve ever read were m/m romances! “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft, Lee Rowan’s “Royal Navy” quartet, “Faith and Fidelity” and “Duty and Devotion” by Tere Michaels…. the list goes on, but these aren’t just “gay romance”. They’re excellent, compelling, and emotionally-fulfilling stories. If those folks want to miss out on some truly excellent reading, let them. Their loss.

  10. Tania Kennedy says:

    I already was a fan of Courtney Milan for her novels, and now I’m even more of a fan for her social politics. Next stop: buying all her backlist. 🙂

  11. Heather says:

    By the way, could we start a thread about GLBT romance? It doesn’t get nearly the attention that hetero romance does. I’d love some new recommendations and to share the best of the ones I’ve read.

  12. Dontstopreading says:

    So…this is a big contest that happens to be run by the OK chapter? (sorry, not familiar)

  13. dick says:

    These kinds of situations are difficult.  Sex, whether kisses or intercourse, plays a big part in romance fiction.  If the chapters’ judges are uncomfortable reading a same-sex romance, isn’t it better that they state that rather than accept the entries and mis-judge because of the discomfort?  Or accept entry fees and not give the same-sex entry any attention?  That they did so shows a kind courage, don’t you think? 


  14. KJ Reed says:

    Is discrimination in this manner legal? Yes. Is it within their rights to make the rules so that they bar entries of same-sex couplings? Absolutely in their right. But hopefully, they will soon see, that the court of public opinion says this is far from okay.

  15. KJ Reed says:

    I think that it’s true, if a judge has a problem reading a same-sex romance, they should not be forced to read it. And it is up to them to be honest and up front about that from the beginning. I do not begrudge the judges being honest at this point and saying “I can’t fairly judge those entries, please don’t send those to me.” Not everyone is drawn to it. That’s okay.

    But the contest, from where I see it, had a chance to find judges who were qualified and were comfortable with reading same-sex couplings. It’s becoming more wide-spread as a genre, and far from impossible to find those who would be willing to read it.

    Could it have taken a little bit more time this year? I don’t know, maybe. Could it have taken extra effort that they weren’t anticipating? Maybe. But that’s what happens sometimes. And the adjustments should have been made. Or they COULD have been made, and they chose not to.

  16. Lori says:

    So apparently this was National Show Your Ass In Public week and no one told me. What is wrong with people?

  17. ?? keri ?? says:

    Heather – when Sarah tweeted about this, my first response was a similar question, but specifically for f/f romance. It’s easy to find m/m, but I’m having a really hard time with f/f, especially fluffier kinds. I love Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue, who are always suggested, but their writing tends to be more literary and heavy and less “romance novel”, and when I try to find others, I often just come across erotica meant for the male gaze. 🙁

  18. DreadPirateRachel says:

    Yes, please! I’d love to read some good f/f romances, and I’ve been searching for some erotica (ANY erotica) that features f/f/m. It seems like all group-sex erotica is m/m/f. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (far from it), but I’d like to see some quality examples of women deriving pleasure from each other.

    RE: the rest of this shitstorm, hell yeah, everyone who boycotts this contest! This type of discriminatory bullshit is unacceptable, and I’m a bit horrified that the RWA allows it.

  19. Barrett says:

    Check out Bella Books or Bold Stroke Books, or just check the publishers on the RRW website.

  20. azteclady says:

    That disregards this section (from the quote posted at Courtney Milan’s blog): “We recruit judges nationwide and even worldwide (for e-books) and our only requirement is that they are regular romance readers.

    They tell us which categories and what “heat” level they prefer to read, so our entrants’ books get into the hands of people who might give them the most favorable rating.”

    So no, I don’t think it shows courage. Just the opposite, in fact.

  21. DreadPirateRachel says:

    My thoughts exactly. As a bisexual woman, I have never, not once, read a romance that featured a heroine who is like me. I’ve found bisexual heroes and bisexual supporting cast, but never the heroine. It’s frustrating, to say the least. It doesn’t feel good to realize that mainstream romances like to pretend I don’t exist.

  22. Mara says:

    I’ve been asking myself this all week, too. Still hopping mad over the Komen business and now this breathtaking bit of complete bullshit. Just makes me want to go around shaking people until they gain some semblance of common sense and decency.

  23. isobel carr says:

    I simply don’t understand why this wouldn’t be dealt with the same way that erotic romance is: if you get an entry you feel unable to judge, send it back. I was so pleasantly surprised to get a F/F in this year’s RITA box, and then BAM, this crap happens.

  24. cleo says:

    Hear hear

  25. ?? keri ?? says:

    Yes! I read m/m romance and m/f and I’ve read m/m/f and I enjoy it all, but sometimes… I just want to read a f/f story that fits the romance genre. I also get tired of the objectifying of men (particular in certain m/m romance circles – BL manga, for ex) because, well, it does nothing for me and gets boring! But for the objectifying women side, it’s almost all male gaze and porny and makes me feel uncomfortable and kind of dirty (not the good kind of dirty, either).

    It’s frustrating to see “LGBT romance” or “same-sex romance” discussed, but it’s never the full spectrum – just m/m or maybe m/m/f. I don’t really follow niche blogs because it’s just one aspect of what I want to read, so I’d never heard of the publishers Barrett mentioned – I’m checking out Bella Books now and they have 29 pages x24 books in the Romance category, which is promising! (Too bad the covers are kind of blah – I’m one of those people who is drawn to covers if I don’t have recs.)

  26. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter and will mention in an upcoming blog post, I’m concerned about the broader issue here. I write GLBT romance and erotica. I identify as GLBT. I have been a dues-paying member for years now. I hesitated in joining my local chapter for exactly this reason: I wasn’t sure what their reaction would be when they saw what I wrote, much less who I am.

    If I were living in Tulsa, realizing the local chapter of RWA has decided they are “uncomfortable” enough with GLBT romance to completely exclude it from their chapter contest would make me think long and hard about joining that chapter—or, for that matter, joining RWA, because if RWA allows their chapters to discriminate in this manner, what does that say about the organization at the national level?

    To writers who identify as GLBT, this is much, much more than a chapter contest. This is personal. This is about a national organization that is happy to accept our dues while allowing its membership to say that our stories are not romances, that our relationships are inferior. I think that’s a big problem, one that RWA needs to address.

  27. Lee Rowan says:

    They can find judges to accept rape scenes, S&M, etc. But not same-sex. The answer is to find judges.  Elisa Rolle manages to round up a couple dozen of us for the Rainbow Awards; a call for volunteers would find them inundated.  This is a bogus argument.

  28. Lee Rowan says:

    Aha.  So gay romances HAVE won, and that’s what scared them silly. Heavens to Elizabeth, those undesirables are joining the country club!

    The Petition Site has a petition up over here:…

  29. Lee Rowan says:

    You might enjoy Lynn Kear’s Murder in a Buckhead Garden, from PD Publishing.  Good mystery with a lesbian in a committed relationship.  I lucked out with it while reading for the Rainbow Awards in 2010.

  30. Damon Suede says:

    Savvy and tart as always, Sarah! Thank you for pointing out what’s what and who’s keeping it on the down-low. 🙂

    I have zero problem with contests targeting entries. I have zero problem with chapters tailoring contests to meet the abilities of their volunteers and officers. I DO have a problem with a contest which has recognized LGBT titles in the past deciding that the E-Z worksaving fix is to just eliminate a whole category of romance which has for many years been not just included, but honored. I guess the potential LGBT winners are beneath attention or acknowledgement as of 2012. Good to know. The trouble is that no one forces you to BUY a book, but when an author is PAYING YOU to judge a book, quality should be the criteria not personal bias. I guess the folks who are skeeved out by LGBT characters need to be protected, and that’s fair if sorta sad. Hell, saved a bunch of authors the fee, right? And saved them from anything that isn’t within their comfort zone. Heaven forfend. Whatevs. It’s just another chapter contest…a source of income and a little promo mojo.

    It’s just so myopic and inexplicable as an official position. Marginalizing is the way you invent minorities and ghettos. It’s a foolish decision and one they cannot have thought about with any degree of depth. Imagine the outcry if the rules had been changed to state: NO JEWISH CHARACTERS PERMITTED or NO FAT HEROINES or ONLY WHITE RELATIONSHIPS ALLOWED. Any defense they offer comes apart like wet toilet paper.

  31. SB Sarah says:

    F/F GS vs STA – coming right up. Gimme 2 minutes.

  32. J P Bowie says:

    Try my website for size! LOL. Gay romance there along with some mysteries and vamps! Gotta love ‘em. Cheers, JP

  33. J P bowie says:

    Well said Lee, Elisa does a marvelous job with nary a squawk from her judges. I’m afraid all those excuses from the Oklahoma chapter are bogus right wing oriented claptrap and I hope they’re feeling ashamed right now – but somehow I doubt it!

  34. Alizamann1 says:

    Just seems like exclusionary practices have a tendency to grow. As an RWA member, I’m very disheartened by this decision. Particularly, as a writer that often uses diverse characters, I use contests as a way to gain exposure. What if no one will read my African American lesbian that’s in love with an Asian American? Sad.

  35. SB Sarah says:

    @Keri and @DreadPirateRachel: new entry for you!

    GS vs. STA: Lesbian Romance

  36. The Other Susan says:

    Yeah, nobody told me either.  Too bad – I’m sure I could have come up with something really good.  Not as good as what’s actually happened, though.

  37. Keziahhill says:

    At the risk of some shameless self promo, I have two f/f shorts in one ebook available from Kindle and other ebooks sellers. And I’d like to give a bouquet to my national romance writers’ organisation the Romance Writers of Australia who define in their contests rules that a romance is between the main protagonists not between (or not only between) a man and a woman.

  38. Jill shultz says:

    Thank you, Courtney and Sarah!

    I am outraged by this chapter’s behavior, but heartened by the response. Thank you for being on top of it, and offering such cogent replies.

  39. DreadPirateRachel says:

    Damn it. Commented on the wrong post.

  40. azteclady says:

    While totally agreeing with the wrongness of discrimination of any kind, and condemning this decision by whomever runs the Romance Writers Ink chapter of RWA, could we please not paint all of Oklahoma with that brush?

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