The RITAs are coming! The RITAs are coming!

Can you feel the anticipation?

This Friday, March 25th, Romance Writers of America will announce the finalists for the various RITA and Golden Heart categories.  Every author on this blog knows how it feels to be a Golden Heart finalist (Ahhh…those were the days!) as it was through the Golden Heart contest that we all met.  However, the RITAs, the peer-judged contest for published Romance, is a step above as the entire book is judged and the competition is fierce.

RIta statueSo that’s what I’d like to talk about today.  The RITA  contest and the quest for the golden statue on the left.  How it all works and which of us are in the running this year.  I’m scattering the bandita books entered throughout the post.  Be sure to look for your favorites.  If you click on the title, it should take you straight to Amazon for purchase 🙂 .

Everything starts in October of the preceding year.  That’s when the entry process begins.  Registration opens promptly at 9:00 am central time and there’s a mad crush to get one’s book entered.  You see, the contest can only accomodate 2,000 entries.  Everyone with a book that has a copyright date of 2015 is eligible to enter.  This is the only opportunity to enter the RITA contest, as a 2015 book can’t be entered in a later year.  Self-published titles as well as traditionally published titles are eligible to enter one of 11 different categories.  Those are Short Contemporary Romance, Mid-length Contemporary Romance, Long ContemporaryCharming the Professor final Romance, Erotic Romance, Historical Romance Long, Historical Romance Short, Inspirational Romance, Paranormal Romance, Romance novella, Romantic Suspense, and Young Adult Romance

This year, I’ve entered my New Orleans time-travel, Charming the Professor, in the Paranormal category.  In the past, I’ve had books in the historical categories so this is a bit of a first for me.

The next step is to turn in five printed books (no ebooks are accepted) so that five published author judges can read the work.  An author can not judge a book entered into a category they’ve entered themselves, so it’s possible that one CapitolDangerfinalrevisedforBarnesandNobleis assigned a judge that is not a fan of your particular genre.  Hopefully, the book is strong enough to win them over.  A cone of silence surrounds the books one is assigned to read.  A judge can’t divulge the titles or the authors so no one knows who is reading what.

Jeanne Adams entered her novella Death Under Glass in Capitol Danger. A connected series of novellas by banditas Suzanne Ferrell, Nancy Northcott and bandita friend JD Tyler.

Each of the five judges is allowed to give a score from 1.0 to 10.0 (with 10.0 being the highest).  Currently, no guidelines are given on how to judge the works.  Each judge makes up their own system, but, in general, if the book is excellent, it will receive all high scores.  Currently, the top score and the lowest score are dropped, so only the three median scores count.  In 2014, I about cried when my one 10.0 score was tossed out for The Whisky Laird’s Bed but as Turner's+Visionthe top scores are tossed out on all books, the work must be excellant to more than one judge.  In addition, each judge must answer two questions:  Does the story contain a central love story?  Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optomistic?  if the story receives three negatives responses to either question, the book is disqualified.

Taking a turn from her normal thrilling romantic suspense books, Suzanne Ferrell has entered  Turner’s Vision  in Long Historical.

The scores must be turned into RWA by Early March where they tabulate the scores.  The top 4% become finalists. However, no category can have fewer than four finalists, and no category can have more than 10 finalists.  That means that in the popular categories, those scores have to be super high, while there’s some leeway in the less popular categories.  This pool of the top 4% make up the finalists that will be announced this Friday.  Truly being a finalist is a distinct honor as being Doctor's Cowboythe best of the best, but this is not the end of the contest.

Trish Milburn has three books in this year’s RITAs.  All are entered in Contemporary Cowboy GroomCowboy HeartRomance- Short  The Doctor’s Cowboy,  Her Cowboy Groom, and The Heart of a Cowboy  Those are some great looking cowboys!

Which is a good thing as a great cover is important in winning a judge’s favor.

After the finalists are announced, a panel of judges takes over.  All the finalists books in a category are read and scored in ordinal order: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd.  The books winning the 1st designation are a highly guarded secret and isn’t unveiled until the bigTime for Trouble final ceremony in July.

Susan Sey has entered Time for Trouble in Long Contemporary.  Love this cover as well 🙂

I’ll tell you all right here that my dream is to win the golden statue, but I’d really be content with the finalist’s flag.  You see, at the Literacy Signing on the Wednesday before the official start of the July convention, this year in San Diego, all the finalist get a red flag.  I’ve been lucky enough to sit by RITA finalist during the signing (Sarah MacLean, and Sally MacKenzie – lovely, lovely ladies) and the line of people wanting to purchase their books is always long.  Being a RITA Ruarcfinalist is truly a distinct honor that follows you everywhere in your writing career.

Joan Kayse has entered her Irish Fantasy, Ruarc: Bound by Stone in the Paranormal category.

Finally, the Saturday night award ceremony arrives.  There’s numerous parties before the actual ceremony.  The ceremony offers the chance to dress up in sequins and glitter.  The award presenters are often the winners from the previous year.  Nora Roberts always presents the RITA statue to the winner of the Best First Book category.  We’re talking major drum rolls while the presenter opens the envelope and announces  THE WINNER IS…A Perfect Catch

Man, I hope it’s one of us.  One really cool thing, as a member of the RWA board, I get to call the finalists and let them know that their book was chosen as one of top 4% of all the books entered in their category.  Not a small feat, but an excellent feeling.  Cross your fingers for us.  Let’s not forget:

Anna Sugden has entered A Perfect Catch in Contemporary…but I’m not sure what length.  Anna?

My question to you:  If you were a RITA judge, what quality would you look for in a finalist?



Posted in , , , , , , , ,



  • Jane says:

    Good luck to the Banditas. I would find it hard to be impartial if I’m judging a book in a category I don’t read/have no interest in.

    • Hi Jane-

      That’s the cool thing. Even if you have no interest in the genre, a masterful book will draw you in. I’ve read some books that ended up as finalists in a category that I don’t normally read – and I loved them. More often, of course, I read so-so books that are a struggle to finish because it’s not my preferred genre. Still there’s lessons to be learned even from that reading. It’s one of the reasons I love judging the RITAs. Time-consuming but worth it.

      When you get your box of books to judge, there’s a tendency to make an immediate judgment about which ones you’re going to enjoy and which ones you figure you will read only because you have to. I love it when that pre-judgment is so wrong and the book you were prepared not to like completely blows you away. 🙂

  • Debbie Oxier says:

    For me to like a book, the characters have to capture my attention. If I don’t like a character then the book just doesn’t do it for me. I like to be able to relate to them. They have to be interesting enough for me to want to keep reading about them, to want to know more about them. The plot can be something I’ve read before, like a marriage of convenience (one of my favorites), but it’s the characters that really bring the book to life for me. Sometimes it might take awhile to warm up to a character so I don’t discard them offhand. I always give them a chance to redeem themselves. If I get halfway through a book and I still can’t get into the characters, then chances are I won’t finish reading it.

    • Hi Debbie –

      LOL. That is one problem with judging the RITAs – you have to finish the darn book 🙂 . Sometimes there’s a temptation not to, but as it’s part of the commitment to judge, you have to keep reading.

      I agree. Characters make a huge difference in the book – and as I learned in one of my RITA books – you have to present significant challenges to really test the character and show what they’re made of. Weak conflict yields weak characters IMO.

      • Jeanne Adams says:

        Donna, this is the part that gets me. Sometimes it’s hard to finish the book….sigh. But as you say, it’s what we agree to as RITA judges. This year I had some really good entries, so no hardship to finish. Grins.

  • Good Luck to all of the entered Banditas! I entered in the novella category this year, but the competition is pretty steep in that category so we’ll see ! And, Donna, like you I had a 9.9 dropped as my high score last year. Sob!

    And this year the book I thought I’d be slogging through had me from page one and blew me away, so you never, ever know!

    • Oh Louisa –

      Sending hugs. That’s so hard. Just when you get that fated high score, it’s snatched away from you. Hoping you get five straight 9+ scores this time around – that way you’re destined for those three high scores.

      Isn’t it funny how that works? Every year I get either a book that I think will be crappy that turns out to be wonderful, or a book that I think will be wonderful – and I save for a treat – turn out to be just so-so, You really start to get a sense about the importance of covers and good editing, don’t you :-)?

      Hope I get to call you or any of the other banditas to tell you you’re a finalist. Fingers crossed!

      • Jeanne Adams says:

        This happens to me every year! I stack ’em up in order of “appeal” and go from least-appealing (genre, trope, whatever) to most. And like Louisa, this year I had one that wasn’t at ALL what I was expecting and it was good! :>

  • Helen says:

    Hi Donna

    Woohoo to all of those who have entered I have my fingers crossed for you 🙂

    For me that it would have to be a book that pulls me in from the start that the characters are real and that I am feeling the emotions as I read 🙂

    Have Fun

    • Hi Helen –

      I really think the characters are the key. Everything hinges on them. But plot, pacing, conflict, world building and historical accuracies all play a part as well. Still it all comes down to character.

      Have a happy Easter, Helen!

    • Jeanne Adams says:

      Thanks, Helen! Fingers crossed indeed! Thank you so much for all your support for the Banditas!!!

  • Jeanne Adams says:

    Hey Donna!

    I’m both dreading/anticipating tomorrow. I know some GREAT books are going to be nominated. I’m eager to see who makes the cut. :> Let’s hope ALL the Banditas are “in”!!

    • Oh well Jeanne –

      By now you know that none of the banditas made the cut. Big Sigh. Every year I really, really hope this will be the one, but so far – no cigar.
      But five people read my book that probably hadn’t before so that’s good. Maybe next year we’ll snag that red flag 🙂