A week from today, RWA will announce the finalists for its two big contests: the RITA for published authors and the Golden Heart for the unpublished. I'm entered in the GH with The Sergeant's Lady. I'm not really expecting to final. Last year the same manuscript didn't even come close, and I haven't made major changes beyond improving the synopsis quite a bit. On the other hand, it's finaled and gotten high scores in local contests in the past, so who knows? It all depends on the judge draw really, whether your writing is to their taste, once you've passed a certain threshold of basic competence WRT craft.
In a way, it shouldn't matter if I final or not. I've already decided to do the Historical Novel Society conference this year instead of RWA National, so I won't get to enjoy the perks of being a finalist at the conference. But, you know what? I want to final. I can't help it. I'm competitive, for starters. And I love that story and those characters, so I want everyone who reads it to love them, too! So I'll take my cell phone to church with me next Sunday (set to vibrate, of course) and try to get an outside aisle seat. Just in case, you know.
There's been some discussion in the blogosphere the past few days, not quite rising to the level of a kerfuffle yet, IMO, about the value of the published award, the RITA. It started with this post by Barbara Samuel at Romancing the Blog and has continued over at the Smart Bitches (where Nora Roberts and Jennifer Crusie have both weighed in). In some ways, it's the kind of discussion you could have about the Oscars, the Emmys, the Booker Prize, Olympic figure skating--anything subjective. Do the best stories win, or the safest middle-of-the-road ones by authors with established fanbases? Why doesn't the RITA have the same status in romance reader eyes as the Hugo and Nebula have for sf/f readers?
Most of those questions don't apply to the GH. We're unpublished, so there's no question of winning the GH because you're popular or as sort of a "lifetime achievement award" for a mediocre book because people belatedly realize you ought to have won several times in the past. And while a GH makes a nice credit when querying editors and agents, as an unpublished award it's obviously meaningless to the reading public. But there's also discussion of categories and judging, which are equally relevant to the GH.
There are currently 12 categories common to both contests, with two additional for the RITA only (Best Romantic Novella and Best First Book). Some of the category divisions are obvious--it makes complete intuitive sense to me that Young Adult and Inspirational romances are categories apart. But there are fully three categories for historical romance (Long Historical, Short Historical, and Regency, the latter being for the unfortunately-nearly-extinct traditional Regency rather than the highly popular Regency historicals, which compete in LH and SH). FOUR for contemporary romance (Single Title Contemporary, Short Contemporary, Long Contemporary, and Traditional, the latter three basically for the various Harlequin/Silhouette lines). And I really feel like those need some streamlining. I don't read enough contemporary to feel like I have a right to speak to how to trim the categories, but as a historical reader and writer I don't see the point of three categories. Regencies, much as I love them, are on life support. There simply aren't anything like enough of them being published to warrant a separate segment of the contests. And as for short and long historicals, I just don't get the point of the distinction. Maybe it's rooted in some bit of genre history from before my time, but length has nothing to do with how I evaluate a book, as long as it doesn't feel too pared down or padded out for the amount of story the author has to tell.
This is getting long, so I'll put my thoughts on judging in a second post.