This is the email I wrote to the president of RWA in response to the recent RITA finalist announcements, and subsequent discussion online and on the PAN (Published Author Network) forum. Note – both RWA (USA) and RWA (Australia) use the same acronym, which can be confusing at times. In this case, RWA refers to the USA organisation.
Dear HelenKay Dimon,
With regards to the RITA awards, and the statement released today about the lack of representation in the 2019 RITA finalists (and in all previous years), I have been through the entire PAN thread relating to this issue and collated it into sections.
Of the 405 comments I had collated (up to end yesterday), 97 agreed there were bias in the judging, 69 discussed the #RITAsowhite finalists, and 47 proposed different solutions to these issues.
Many of the solutions, as I’m sure you are aware, are not workable given the high number of entrants. Having considered them all, and with my data background, I would like to propose a dual solution.
Keep the peer-judged system but extend to away from a simple 1-10 rating system. This system is virtually impossible to analyse and doesn’t allow for people to properly rate a book on a range of issues. In Australia, we have a 50 point judging system for our RuBY (Romance Book of the Year) with specific questions, and this allows more data to be analysed per book. Our system is eight questions scored 1-5:
- Is the opening gripping?
- Did the story hold your interest?
- Are the characters well developed?
- Did you find yourself emotionally involved with the book?
- Is the relationship between the main characters romantic?
- Is the dialogue convincing and true to the era of the book?
- Is the ending satisfying?
- Does the book have a wow factor?
Which gives a total of 40/50 points, and then an overall rating of 1-10 to give the book points out of 50. This system will not solve judge bias, and still allows racist, homophobic, and other biases to impact on a book. However, it does give RWA more data, and allows you to analyse judge’s responses with more accuracy. With the current 1-10 system, you are left chasing your tails due to lack of information.
This leads to the second half of my proposal – dealing with biased judges. I propose a feedback system that allows members to notify public occurrences of racism, homophobia, or any other instance of discrimination. If RWA build a simple form into the website, in the members section, where any RWA member can offer proof of discrimination, eg screen-shots of tweets, forum comments, blog posts, and these are evaluated by an RWA panel. The onus of proof will have to be on the RWA member sending in information, otherwise this becomes open abuse by people who want to gaslight members for a range of reasons that are outside the scope of how my brain works.
Ultimately, this could be a three strikes process. The first instance of someone being ‘called out’ and their discrimination being proven by the panel results in their scores for any books they judge in the RITA being quarantined. They count, but only after they’ve been checked by the panel. The second instance means their votes don’t count in the RITA. And the third instance means they can’t enter the RITA for a period of, say, three years. Each instance would have to be separate (not just three different people sending in the same tweet) and traceable by the RWA panel. Transparency would be the key to this process.
Secretary Romance Writers Australia
PAN member of RWA