Rita Nominations: Sandy and Lynn’s Take

Sandy’s Take

Results are in and the dust is settled.

The headline for me is I had fewer WTF reactions than in previous years.  Still:

  • No Blue-Eyed Devil?  Are they kidding?
  • Ditto Linda Howard’s Death Angel?
  • Are they absolutely certain they didn’t somehow get the names and titles mixed up in the It Happened One Night anthology because the stories nominated are the exact two that general consensus around here found w-a-a-a-a-y less worthy than the Hern and Balogh entries?
  • I’m all about spreading the love, but three nominations for Stephanie Laurens?  Reports are the author has never been nominated before, but, geez, some control here, people!
  • Why was The Spymaster’s Lady included in the historical category and not Regency historical?
  • I can’t help wondering if Rita voters get stuck in the same old ruts that Emmy voters do because…well, honestly, some of those perennial names on the Rita list seem to be stuck in ruts, too.

Now, what am I happy about?  The historical nominees contain every single title I wanted to see there and I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened.  It’s going to be a battle of titans (titanesses?) and I can’t wait to see who triumphs.  I’m delighted for Sherry Thomas who scored in both the historical category and Best First Book for Private Arrangements.

But I’ll also consider it a victory that I wasn’t WTF-ing every ten minutes yesterday.

-Sandy AAR

Lynn’s Take

In the past, I’ve read over RITA news in passing, but this year, I was at my desk as nominees were being announced and I found myself getting sucked into it as RWA posted nominees in little bits and pieces. I plan to actually go to RWA this year(my very first conference – yay!), so I wanted to see who would be waiting for the big announcements at the RITA ceremony.

Sandy and I both read historicals, and like some of the same authors. However, our tastes diverge somewhat from there. Sandy could have a very intelligent conversation with you about contemporaries, for example. I, on the other hand, consider it an accomplishment if I can contribute something to the conversation beyond the occasional Nora Roberts read. My reading interests are varied, but most of my contemporary settings tend to come with series numbers on the spine.

So, while Sandy is noticing the absence of books like Death Angel and Blue-Eyed Devil, I’m scratching my head and wondering, “Where’s Your Scandalous Ways? And why the hell isn’t Broken Wing listed under Best First Book? And why all the babies and ding-dong dillionaires for series books – what about Nocturne or the Steeple Hill Historicals and Suspense lines? There were some good books there last year.”

When I got to the historical categories, I couldn’t help feeling a little confused. RWA has a category for historicals, but they also have one for Regency-set historicals. That’s all well and good, but then they go and stick books with Regency settings in the regular historical category. That made little sense to me – plus I happen to be a champion of the “ANYTHING but the Regency” setting, so I didn’t entirely like seeing Regency England take up so many slots when it already has its own category. Still, I was happy to see some books I really enjoyed, such as The Spymaster’s Lady, To Seduce a Sinner, and Mr. Cavendish, I Presume all get nominations in the various historical camps.

After the historical lists, I found that with other categories, I felt happy for some of the authors who made it even as the rest of the list left me scratching my head. For instance, I was thrilled to see Nalini Singh’s book on the paranormal list and one of Karen Rose’s on the romantic suspense list, but I have to admit that I haven’t read most of the other books that made it on those lists – and two of the ones I tried I found…well..very putdownable, let’s say. Now I will own that my reading tastes are idiosyncratic, but I was somewhat startled to find myself familiar with so few of the RITA books.

Ah well. Just as the Oscar nominations make me put together a Netflix list of things I haven’t seen, I suspect that the RITA nominations will have me putting together a reading list – not to mention mining my TBR pile. I’ve already found 2 RITA nominees in there. So, what’s your take on the RITA nominations?

-Lynn Spencer

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34 Responses to Rita Nominations: Sandy and Lynn’s Take

  1. Anon author says:

    Interesting take on the noms (with which I mostly agree). Keep in mind, though, that not every author enters her (or his) book(s). I haven’t entered one of my romances in the RITAs in four years, for a variety of reasons, and I know several authors who don’t as well. (One of the Big Name Authors nominated this year just started entering her books again after several years of not doing so.) Then add to the mix that peers are judging instead of just “readers” and these two variables alone can offer a WTF moment when the nominees for each category are announced.

  2. Amy says:

    Sandy and Lynn, you did a great job of articulating my concerns. What frustrates me, is that this list should reflect the best the industry has to offer. Yet many of the nominated books were mediocre at best.
    To sum up my take on the nominations: What a FARCE. I wish I hadn’t read the nomination list!

  3. AAR Sandy says:

    Excellent insights and good point Anon author. I was all outraged for Colleen Gleason yesterday until she twitted that she hadn’t entered.

    Amy, it’s better this year than in previous years. My jaw has literally dropped to the floor by some nominations in past years. And, okay, there are a few jaw droppers this year, too. Popularity (in the personal Miss Congeniality sense) can clearly be a path to Rita success.

  4. Jane Granville says:

    A slightly irrelevant and possibly stupid question– but what does RITA even stand for? It is an acronym, right?

  5. Leigh says:

    I guess I was a glass half full this time. I was more intent on noticing the authors that I knew and whose books I had read. Karen Templeton, who always posts thoughtful, insightful insights here, Eloisa James, whose books which are always unpredictible (which I love) RaeAnne Thayne whose books I have enjoyed (I haven’t read this one), Rachel Gibson an auto buy author for me, Susan Mallery an author that I recently started reading again, Jane Graves, another auto buy author (when is her next book going to be released!) and Susanne Kearsley an author whose books I care enough to order from Canada (I haven’t read it yet)

  6. AAR Sandy says:

    Jane, the awards are named after Rita Clay Estrada, RWA’s first president.

  7. Lynn Spencer says:

    Anon Author – Good points. I knew that the pool of people entering the RITA was limited, and figured there were some authors who probably just didn’t enter(though surely the paranormal authors didn’t all skip the contest – I’d be curious to hear if that was the case). I was happy to see some books I enjoyed and authors I think are really talented on the list. Though, as with any awards list, one can’t help wondering. I’m looking forward to see the ceremony this summer!

  8. Susan/DC says:

    A question: in anthologies, do the authors have to enter their stories separately or does the book as a whole get entered? That may answer the question of why the Laurens and D’Alessandro stories were nominated but not the Balogh or Hern in “It Happened One Night”.

  9. Anon author says:


    Each author enters her own story, in the novella category. And (from what I remember) Balogh is one of those authors who doesn’t ever enter the RITAs due to a mix-up years ago. I don’t think she belongs to RWA anymore, either.

  10. AAR Sandy says:

    I think I’ve heard the same thing about Balogh, Anon author. But there is still the Hern mystery. I’d be interested to know if she entered because her entry seemed to hit all the right spots with everybody I saw talking about the book. There was also an excellent N. Singh story in a cat-themed anthology.

  11. MaryK says:

    Somebody at Dear Author made the comment that a lot of paranormals involve complex world building and relationships. So somebody picking up/judging book 5 of a series isn’t as likely to feel the love. Plenty of reviews include a warning to read the books in order.

  12. Yulie says:

    I’m not sure I’d consider The Spymaster’s Lady a regency historical. It takes place at the very beginning of the “expanded” regency (1802, I believe); much of it is set in France, and none of it has much to do with what I would associate with a regency historicals – the social whirl, doing the season, even the social issues of the time.

    Totally agree about it being like Emmy noms. Some of the selections just make no sense, as do a few of the omissions (Blue-Eyed Devil being the most obvious IMO).

  13. Katie Mack says:

    Well I was so happy to see Jane Graves get a nod for Tall Tales and Wedding Veils, which was my personal pick for best contemporary last year. I second Leigh’s question: when is her next book coming out? She’s terrible about keeping her website updated.

    As for the rest of it, I hadn’t read most of the books that were nominated so I can’t really comment. I think I spent a lot of 2008 catching up on my TBR pile from previous years…

  14. Ellie says:

    I cannot believe Broken Wing was omitted. It was my favorite romance of the year, certainly deserved a nomination for best new author. I’m eagerly awaiting her next book, whenever it comes out.

  15. Amy says:

    What an eye opener. I used to think an author having a RITA meant something meaningful! LOL

  16. LeeB. says:

    I think it would be beneficial for the RITA organziation to list all the books that were entered in each category and then everyone could figure out why certain books were nominated while others weren’t. I know quite a few authors aren’t members of RITA so that would offer up another explanation for missing books.

  17. Amanda says:

    Lee, an author does not need to be a member of RWA to enter the RITA competition. Though non RWA members do have to pay extra to enter their books. So that might put a damper on some non member entries.

    I was bummed not to see either of Julie Anne Long’s books from last year in the nominees list. Same for Sophia Nash’s The Kiss which I loved.

    Was anyone else surprised by the number of women’s fiction type books in the Contemporary category? With a few of exceptions (Rachel Gibson, Susan Mallery and Jane Grave) they all seemed to be chick-litty or women’s fictony. I almost wish they’d give WF its own category though I guess that’s what Novel with Strong Romantic Elements is for…

  18. Danielle D says:

    I was shocked that Broken Wing wasn’t nominated nor Just The Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James. Some of the books that were nominated I personally were not keepers for me this year.

  19. Jody says:

    Also remember the people voting in each category are those same published authors in that category. The RITA isn’t a readers award but an internal RWA award from their peers. I am glad that someone brought up the point that books aren’t nominated but entered by the author themselves. So that might exlain the anthology entries. What I find interesting is the categories: it seems that if they can pull out a Regency category and have a Historical category, then why not have a Vampire category along with the Paranormal. And why if they have an Inspirational Category, why don’t they also have an Erotica category. Some surprises, I was especially happy to see THE WINTER SEA by Susanna Kearsley but was confused as that book hasn’t been released in the US yet, it has a March 2008 copyright but is only available in the UK and Canada. Curious minds want to know?

  20. Jody says:

    Susan as far as I remember from my local group the anthologies are entered by the author for their story. So the anthologies are not reading the whole book. Again it is a peer review that may be has a different to what is a good book from a writers pov or at least those in that subgenre.

  21. Jody — the judges for each category are NOT entered in that category. Way too much potential for abuse that way.

    Instead, judges are asked to opt in to at least three categories, other than their own, they’d like to judge (we used to list our top three, and our whole judging packet would be in the same category; this way we get a mix, which is much more fun, IMO).

    And yes, anthologies are entered by each author. :)

    What finaling in the RITA means to me is that five random people all gave each book high enough scores for it to make the cut — no mean feat! And it’s hardly a popularity contest, IMO, since the handful of folks making up the judging packets really have no idea who knows whom. ;-) I didn’t know any of the authors whose books I got to judge this year, even by name — the organization is just too huge for everyone to know everyone else.

    And, because the judging is anonymous, there’s no pressure of any kind to give a book high marks simply because the author is a Big Name. But tastes differ, and — just as with any contest — often our faves don’t get nominated, or we shake our heads at those who do.

    ‘Twas ever thus. ;-)

  22. library addict says:

    The same things could be said about many of the books that won the AAR Readers Poll. Obviously those who voted for the books that won really liked them, but that doesn’t mean everyone did.

    I agree with Karen. Readers’ tastes simply differ, even if those readers are also writers.

    There are some books I was happy to see nominated, several I personally did not care for, and many I haven’t read. In a few instances I was happy to see an author nominated even though I feel they’ve written much better books than the ones they are currently nominated for.

    I’m psyched that Jennifer Greene is getting the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient this year.

  23. Jody, you have some facts wrong. While an author entered in the Ritas is required to judge, an author cannot judge in a category for which s/he is entered. Period. This has always been the case. So Stephanie Laurens for example, since she obviously entered in Regency Historical, Historical and Novella, would not judge in any of those categories, Instead she would have nominated other categories in which she was prepared to judge. Having judged in the Ritas myself in the years I have had a book entered, I know this to be the case.

    As for the Kearsley book, it has been published. There is no requirement for it to be published in the US to be eligible for the Rita. In fact authors have been known to use a Rita nomination to pressure publishers for a US release. Same with other US contests. I finalled in the HOLT with my third book and that was enough to get me a US release. This is one advantage of a contest where authors enter their books because it can give a chance for books that have not been widely read for one reason or another, to get some publicity and recognition.

    As for complaining about “control” in the nominations . . . Sandy, are you seriously advocating that some uber-panel looks at the potential nominations after the judges’ scores are in and “adjusts” them?? Surely not. Here’s how it works; each judge is sent a parcel of books in categories she has agreed to judge. She then reads them and scores them – and here’s the important bit – without discussing her books with anyone else. No ringing another author and saying, “Hey, I got so-and-so’s book. Gave it a nine. What about you?” Apart from the books in your package you don’t even know what other books are entered. I am not sure about this, but I suspect that even if you were judging in both Regency Historical and Historical, that you would be unlikely to be sent two books by the same author. The organisers do try to mix it up. The idea of some panel checking over the potential finalists in order to make sure no one is nominated more than once, or maybe twice, is counter-productive. If an author is good enough to garner several nominations, then good luck to her.
    As far as I know from general discussions with other authors, everyone tries to mark as honestly and fairly as they can. I agonised over one book last year that I found confronting. It was too hot for my tastes and I really struggled with it. I tried very hard to focus on style, writing, characterisation and plot – not my dropped jaw reaction to what was going on in the sex department. In fact I’ve often given top marks to books that were not entirely to my personal taste. And trust me, just because I might know an author personally and love her to bits, does NOT mean I will automatically give her book a free pass.

    There are plenty of Reader awards. If you think about it a reader award and vote can come down to how many people read the book. With the Rita at least, and all the other contests associated with RWA chapters, the same number of people are reading the book and judging it. You have in that regard a level playing field. Sure we pay to enter. Have you ever considered just how much all that postage costs? We enter from all over the world. For RWA to send packages of books to Australia for me to judge isn’t cheap. The entry fee is supposed to cover the costs.

    Every year when the AAR poll results are in there is a similar discussion about which books are “missing”. Why? Because we don’t all have the same tastes. We don’t all like the same books. Readers manage to accept this phenomenon over the AAR poll. Why should it be different for the Rita? Unsurprisingly it’s the same for writers. Anne Gracie and I both enjoyed the Harry Potter books. I love Tolkien. She can’t stand him for exactly the same reasons I love him. Is one of us right and the other wrong? No. We just have different tastes. AAR readers do not necessarily reflect the tastes of the entire romance reading world, let alone the romance writing word.

    There is no point worrying about which books are “missing” according to individual tastes. For a start the book might not have been entered. Tough. There has to be a limit on the number of entries because otherwise the logistics are impossible. Work it out. 1200 titles x 5 copies for the preliminary round of judging. That’s a lot of books to sort out and post especially when you consider that judges indicate which categories they are prepared to judge in and the sorters have to make sure they aren’t sending books to someone entered in that category.

    Let’s face it; would people be bouncing up and down over the result of a horse race if the horse that won wasn’t perceived to be as fast as a horse that wasn’t entered? Or won because another horse was boxed in at the rails (ie a couple of judges honestly and truly disliked an otherwise popular book?) No. I really do wish people would stop looking for conspiracy theories every year when the Rita results come out. For heavens sake, just go and look at the contest rules which I’ve included below instead of my own website. It’s really pretty straightforward. It’s an award for writers, judged by writers. Mileage will vary just as it does in any other contest of poll. As, in fact, it should.


  24. Jody, thanks for the kind words.

    You’re right, THE WINTER SEA hasn’t yet been picked up by a US publisher, but luckily we Canadians still count as North Americans so the book still had the required 2008 North American publication date for RITA eligibility, and after double-checking and triple-checking this with RWA headquarters, I went ahead and entered it…

    Believe me, I was as amazed as anyone to learn that it had finaled! :-)

  25. Just to clarify, this is what the contest rules say about eligibility:

    “Books entered in the 2009 RITA contest must:

    Have an original copyright date (printed on the copyright page) or a first printing date or a first North American printing date of 2008.”

    This means that even if the book has only been published say in the UK or Australia it can still be entered in the year of publication. Or it can be entered in the first year it is published or printed in North America.

    If you click on my name above my previous post you’ll find the contest rules. This post has my own website. And Susanna? Congrats! I haven’t read your book, but I’ll be looking for it.

  26. Elizabeth,

    Thanks for giving a much more complete and clear answer to Jody’s question than my muddled head could manage! And thanks also for the congratulations, they’re very much appreciated.

  27. AAR Sandy says:

    “As for complaining about “control” in the nominations . . . Sandy, are you seriously advocating that some uber-panel looks at the potential nominations after the judges’ scores are in and “adjusts” them?? ”

    Just got in from seeing Watchmen and this hit me out of the blue. (Ha!) Uber panel? Adjusting scores? I don’t know what to say to that other than no, I’m not.

  28. Susanna, I don’t think you’re supposed to be able to think clearly any time within 48 hours of getting a Rita nomination! Actually I was a bit shocked when I saw the length of my original post. A preview button, and I would have pruned a bit. Anyway, I hope we cleared up a few misconceptions.

  29. AAR Sandy says:

    Amanda, I, too, noticed the heavy presence of women’s fiction on the contemporary list. And no Blue-Eyed Devil either.

  30. “Just got in from seeing Watchmen and this hit me out of the blue. (Ha!) Uber panel? Adjusting scores? I don’t know what to say to that other than no, I’m not.”

    Colour me relieved. (Where are the emoticons when you need them?) But what did you mean by control then? It’s highly unlikely that any judges were sent more than one of the Stephanie Laurens entries for example. In fact, authors finalling with multiple books is not all that unusual. Bronwen Jameson a couple of years back had three. Anna Campbell last year with two. I’m pretty sure Anne Gracie had two as well. Memory might be wonky there. Marion Lennox has double finalled a couple of times as well. It happens.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that you were advocating rigging the results. (Where the hell are the emoticons anyway??)

  31. AAR Sandy says:

    I used the word control in a facetious sense. As in “get a hold of yourselves, people.” It is American slang.

    Is this three-fer mystifying to me? Yes, it is. Do I think the system needs changing in order to keep it from happening again? Nope, I don’t.

    Readers kvetch about Rita nominations every year and this year isn’t any different. At least we’re talking about the Ritas and that has to make RWA happy.

  32. Diana says:

    Oh, my. Every year we get the rules and methodology explained to us when we start opining on the nominations.

    Since this blog and website is by and for avid readers and lovers of romance, well, of course we have opinions! No one is saying the judging methodology smells fishy. But we are fairly bursting with opinions and questioning judge’s taste is fair.

    That’s what we do here. We opine. Yay for us.

  33. Thanks, Sandy. I’m glad you aren’t suggesting some sort of rule to say that an author can only final once in a year.

    I know there is discussion each year about which books made it and which books didn’t. That’s fine. Talking about books is always good. What bothers me is the suggestion that there is something improper about the judging process, because the final list doesn’t reflect an individual reader’s tastes and perceptions, and that it is somehow farcical. For example, plenty of people loved The Spymaster’s Lady, myself among them. Yet there was a lengthy thread on AAR where a lot of people explained why the book hadn’t worked for them and why they thought it was unbelievable. Presumably Joanna Bourne’s double nomination is a “jaw-dropper” for them?

    “And, okay, there are a few jaw droppers this year, too. Popularity (in the personal Miss Congeniality sense) can clearly be a path to Rita success.”

    Not clear at all. That sort of comment annoys me, because it does suggest impropriety. I’m not saying that absolutely no one would ever mark up a book just because they happened to know and like the author. That would be naive in the extreme. But I seriously doubt that it happens enough for an author to final once, let alone two or three times. As Karen T said; she didn’t have books by anyone she knew this year. And in the several years that I have judged I have only ever had one book by someone I know personally. Sure I’ve had books by authors I read regularly, but it’s a little hard to avoid that.

    Reviewers at AAR justifiably take great pride in reviewing books honestly and fairly without reference to whether or not they might happen to know the author. Writers are capable of the same level of integrity.

  34. AAR Sandy says:

    Elizabeth, not to overstate the case, but we’re going to continue to talk about the nominations whether or not those who judged the Ritas like it or not. Simple as that. And we might say things that you find personally annoying (I’m annoyed too, at this point, just to get it all on the table), but it just goes to show that readers are interested in the Ritas. And that’s good for RWA.

    Everyone at AAR understands that readers like different things. We all get that. But sometimes there are general consensual tidal waves amongst those of us who read the same books — and that might be positive or negative. And when nominations don’t make sense to an average reader — and clearly there are some we’re questioning — we’re going to discuss it,

    I’m an opinion journalist here at this blog. I expressed my opinion and some agreed with it and others did not. And that’s all cool.

    Off to bed now.

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