2013 RITA awards, the top honor given to love stories with happily ever afters. This year RITAs are slated be awarded in eleven different categories, with seven or eight finalists vying for each award (the one exception the Young Adult category, which named only four finalists). Since the romance field is such a massive one, I shouldn't be so surprised to see that I've not read the majority of the finalists. But I was disappointed that none of the RNFF Best of 2012 made the cut (although Ruthie Knox's About Last Night, which I read and reviewed in January of this year, did, yeah!). Laura Florand, Cecilia Grant, Juliana Gray, and Molly O'Keefe all deserve to be RITA finalists for work published this past year, in this reviewer's humble opinion. What 2012 favorites of yours were overlooked?
RWA's announcement states that the RITA is "the highest award of distinction in romance fiction." But I wonder if the process the RITA judging uses to winnow down the list of nominated books, at least as I've had it explained to me by fellow RWA members, really allows the cream of the genre to rise to the top of the finalist list? The RITA is a peer award; published romance writers serve as the judges in both the preliminary, and in the final, round. This in itself is not a problem; writers are usually readers, too, and know what works best in their own field. But judges in the preliminary round are volunteers, rather than nominated or elected to judge based on the respect of their colleagues, which means, alas, there is little control over the quality of the judging. Also, each submitted book is read by only five judges; each one only reads between five and ten books; and judges are advised not to judge the books against one another: "each entry should be judged on its own merits without comparison to other entries." Without being able to compare the books they are judging one to another, and with no opportunity to compare all the books submitted, judges score each book against an absolute, idealized model, rather than against the actual books published during one particular year.
The top ten percent, or top eight entries (whichever is smaller), in each category are named to the RITA finalist list. If an outstanding book is read by one or two judges who give lower scores to all the books they judge, while a less distinguished book is read by those who hand out higher numbers to all the books they score, it seems likely that at least some of the best books of the year are likely to be passed by. And since books that push the envelope, books that may not please everyone (feminist romances, perhaps?) are likely to push at least one judge's "I have a problem with this" button, won't they have a harder time finding their way to the final judging round than books that are less edgy, more homogenous in their construction of romance, sexuality, and/or gender, even if they are not as well-written?
Coming to romance from the field of children's literature, where the top awards are given by librarians, not by children's book writers, and the award process is quite different (a committee of fifteen judges, judges meeting in person twice during the year to talk over the books they are considering), perhaps I'm unfairly biased against RWA's process. Do you think the current RWA system is fair or flawed? If you were creating a design for judging an award such as the RITA, what would it look like, and why?
One last question: Of the books on the 2013 RITA finalist list that you've read, which ones would you say are feminist, and why? Does the list include books that are decidedly not feminist? And which books do you think should be on the list, but aren't?
Next time on RNFF:
Kristan Higgins' My One and Only