Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Playing Calvinball

So, do we have any Calvin and Hobbes fans here? Remember Calvinball? You never play it the same way twice, and the rules are whatever Calvin says they are. These rules sometimes change midstream and often make no sense.

So, why on a romance blog, would I suddenly start reminiscing about Calvinball? Actually, I was reading a piece on Barbara Vey’s blog about the new rules for RITA entrants. Romance Writers of America (RWA) has several rules for entrants including that books “(b)e mass-produced by a non-Subsidy, non-Vanity Publisher in print book format.”

Aside from the obvious problem for ebook authors, mentioned previously by Jane over at Dear Author, there seems to be some controversy over what the term “mass-produced” means. While the contest rules define “Subsidy Publisher” and “Vanity Publisher”, no definition of “mass-produced” is given.

This has caused problems for some authors because while they were eligible last year, RWA has disqualified them this year. According to the Vey piece, RWA has acknowledged disqualifying 2% of entrants due to failure to comply with the undefined “mass-produced” requirement. Even more problematic, it appears that these authors have not received a refund on their entrance fee. It’s RWA’s contest and they have every right to make their own rules. However, when the organization fails to clearly define its own rules, it seems unfair to penalize published authors who seemingly have tried to follow the rules in good faith.

After all, how many books does one need in order for their work to be considered “mass-produced”? Does the organization base this on the size of the print run, or do they look at the number of copies sold? I researched the issue online, but could find no clarification. If RWA does not address the issue of the RITA rules at its upcoming conference, there may be more problems in the future. At the moment, ebook authors appear to have had the most problems. However, there is no guarantee that RWA will not also start enforcing this rule against small presses who deal primarily in printed works. Without a clarification of the rules and/or an official definition of the term “mass-produced”, trying to determine whether or not a book fits within the RITA eligibility rules is like trying to hit a moving target. The term can only mean whatever the folks in charge claim it to mean for any given year.

Personally, I would like to see the “mass-produced” language taken out of the rule or at least defined in such a manner that it does not penalize small press authors who at least sold enough books to achieve PAN status (published authors who have earned at least $1000 through advances and/or royalties on a single work). There are some very good, innovative authors out there. Some write for large, well-established houses and some write for smaller presses. In my view, they should all get a chance to compete for the honors.

-Lynn Spencer

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9 Responses to “Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Playing Calvinball”

  1. Margaret says:

    I really don’t care about the Rita’s…but have to comment on my love of Calvin and Hobbes. I love Calvinball, we used the term often around here…just when I think I have my daughter figured out, she changes the rules…hence, Calvinball. I have the entire collection. Aside from being funny Calvin and his Tiger made me tear up more than once with their relationship.

  2. Anne Marble says:

    Also, IIRC e-book and small press authors don’t qualify for the Golden Heart because they’re considered published. This means they’re in limbo –considered “too published” for one award and “not published enough” for another.

    I wonder what “mass-produced” means, too. There are a lot of respectable small presses that sell quite a few books, but they often sell them over a long period of time. Would they qualify? Or do they only want thousands (or tends of thousands) of books printed at once? What about a book like Angela Knight’s first novel with Red Sage (dang I can’t remember the name)? From what I understand, that one sold a lot of copies, but it probably sold it over time. I don’t think I ever saw it in stores at first (they sold a lot of books by mail), so the initial print runs may have been small.

  3. Keira says:

    Well dictionary.com says mass produced means “to produce or manufacture (goods) in large quantities, esp. by machinery.”

    So wouldn’t using a computer, software, and the internet to make a book count as mass produced? Hell it’s more mass produced than real books because the novel can be replicated an infinite amount of times and sold… plus there’s no real waste in production.

  4. AAR Lynn says:

    I see your points. It’s a shame RWA doesn’t have an official definition so we know what they mean by this large, mass-produced quantity – or over what time period they’re counting sales.

  5. Jessa Slade says:

    I think my biggest concern over the way RWA handles its contests (even at the chapter level) is that rules are made to create a relatively level playing field, not to crush storytellers. What I like best about RWA is its openness and generosity to writers. I realize we need rules, but honestly, a good story formatted in Courier New 12 point with one-inch margins will beat out a poor story that sneaks in extra pages of material in TNR 12 with .75 margins. I want fair, not draconian — and worse yet, undefined — rules.

  6. Kristen says:

    If you’re really interested in helping to bring about change, stop by and sign the petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/ChangeRWA/index.html

    2% of 1200 (which is, I believe, the limit on RITA entrants) equals 24 people disqualified. Not an excess number, no, but that also means RWA made $1200 off those disqualified members. Just throwing that out there.

  7. natalie says:

    For someone like me who aspires to be a romance novelist it is just another reason not to join the RWA. For all their “friendliness” they are at their heart a group of elitists. Their conitinued rejection of smaller presses and e-books highlights their predjudices.

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