17 May 2007

Rita/Golden Heart and Historicals

As many of you may know, the board of the Romance Writers of America is currently debating changing its parameters for its premiere prizes -- the Golden Heart and the Rita. The consultation period with members lasts until 1 June, and you can find the email address on the RWA website.

One of the major changes is the move to judge historicals by time period instead of the long and short. The traditional Regency category is being axed.

At the moment, as it stands, there is a problem with the long and short categories as there is no definitive way in which the word count of a book can be quickly determined. Many things such as the heavy use of dialogue, the font size can all affect how long a book appears to be. In recent years, as the move to computer count has taken hold, the price of pulp paper has skyrocketed and publisher become aware of failing eyesight, there has been an overall decrease in word count. My own publisher, Harlequin Mills and Boon recently has decreased word count to 70 - 80 k. I understand that a number of the other mainstream houses are also looking at decreased word count as well. In other words, you are unlikely to see the 150k door stops that you used to.

The RWA board in its wisdom proposes two historicals -- one up to 1820 and the other 1790 - 1945. In doing so, they chose to ignore the advice of the sub committee for three non over lapping time periods -- up to 1790, 1790-1840 and 1840-1945. The major problem with the overlapping approach is that you are creating two classes of authors -- one who can chose which category to submit to, and ones who can't. there is the possibility that an author could chose not to compete against herself if she had two eligible books out in the overlap period. Whereas another would be forced to by the virtue of her chosen time period. In other words, there could easily be a perception of it not being fair.

The Georgian/Regency time period makes up about 50% of the total historical output. If you include Victorian, you are looking at closer to 75-80%. This is unlikely to change in the near term. Some might say divide into two then 1790-1840 and all the rest. However this does a disservice to the historical reader.

There can be a case made that three time periods are needed as the time periods give very different reads. The pre-1745 is very much warrior as hero. Medieval if you will. 1745-1830 is the Industrial revolution and its manners as best typified by Georgette Heyer. After 1830, you have a more modern age with railways etc and slightly different type of hero.

Alternatively, you could say that it should be divided on the basis of complexity. Some writers chose to keep their works tightly focused on the romance, and other s explore different themes and the romance becomes but one strand. The challenge here would be to come up with a workable definition, one that can be clearly understood by judges and submitting authors.

However, nothing can happen if RWA members do not comment on the proposals. So if you are a RWA member and have not yet commented, do so before it is too late. Unless RWA members take the time to write, the current overlapping proposals will stand.