Monday, April 18, 2016

Contests and Categories and Things

Sometimes I wait to post about things because, well, life and busy-ness, and sometimes I'm curious how the folks involve respond.  So, let's start by saying that the chapter involved responded and apologized. So this post is less chastisement, but discussion of how, should a similar issue occur again, this kind of thing could hopefully be avoided.
While I have not met Ann Gallagher, she writes under many pen names, including L.A. Witt and Lauren Gallagher, both of which I have read.  Semi-related to where we are going today, is that L. A. Witt's Covet Thy Neighbor is a great story that really only needed the words gay youth pastor to have me on board, but is about two men with very different experiences of Christianity and falling in love with someone who is deeply within the thing that hurt you, or has been deeply hurt by the thing that saved you.  In other words I found it a wonderful story of love and faith and confronting your past. 
This post about her recent experience with a contest moving her book due to judging issues came to my attention. I am actually currently working on a chapter contest for each of my chapters, and while the contests I am assisting with are for unpublished authors, I understand the following things: 
1. Category descriptions are often a nebulous thing.  As much as you think it makes perfect sense that all of these things go here, there is always someone else who has a slightly different interpretation, or isn't sure.  If you have a historical paranormal and there is no paranormal category, then it would be understandable if you placed your book in historical. Contests (like, for example my local WRW Marlene) often find people a little confused by the difference between single title and series contemporary which is essentially industry jargon - there is a difference in lines and shelving but for people used to dealing with more obvious things like books with cowboys vs. books with vampires, it can seem strange.
2. The sexual identity of the characters is not a genre.  (This is also true of YA but that's a discussion for another day.) But if your category specifies books that take place in the now, or books with paranormal or books with a faith journey, nothing about that implies that the characters involved must be heterosexual.  And yes, we've already been there as Gallagher/Witt mentions, if as an RWA chapter you want to exclude books based on the sexual identity of the characters, don't.  You can't as an RWA chapter.  And it is exactly the same as excluding characters based on their race, religion, and/or gender identity.  Don't.  (I also think you shouldn't as a non-RWA chapter, but admit that RWA rules do not apply to that.)
3. No one wants judges to read things they are not comfortable reading. I have had judges return entries because they had read the work previously*.  I have had people return an entry because it hit a hot button for them and they couldn't give it a fair shake. Here's the thing, I do not - as a writer, a reader, or an RWA member want people judging things they cannot judge fairly.  But that is not the book's fault.  In every contest I've volunteered with, judges are asked to check entries on receipt so if there are immediately obvious issues - be it format, be it I've read this, be it I could never read this, they can alert their category coordinator so that things can be reassigned as necessary.  If none of the judges for your category will read an entry, well, you may need to recruit more judges.
4. Don't move books without permission. There are reasons for moving a book.  If one category doesn't get enough books to move forward. If a book genuinely fits better in another category.  In each of those cases, you still need the author's permission.  Full stop. 
And here's where I speculate.  I don't know the people running the Colorado Romance contest.  I assume they meant well.  But this was mishandled. A book should not have been moved without the author's permission and quite honestly, the book should not have been moved just because the judges for a certain category didn't want to read it. It's unclear to me from their website if judges had to read multiple entries in a category but for the books to final, someone read them.  Given that the book finaled, the issue was not an ability to find judges to read them.  I hope the chapter has learned something useful from this.  It's a shame it had to happen at the expense of the author.

*Lots of writers make the rounds of contests, and for judges who volunteer widely this can be an issue. Most contests ask you if someone in their chapter has read it, but that doesn't really cover that judges outside of each chapter often get recruited.