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