Judging Contests and the RWA Rita Awards

It’s that  time of year when published members of Romance Writers of America are are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the UPS man. The reason?  He comes bearing books!  A lot of us are judging the Rita Awards.  This is RWA’s annual writing contest with categories that cover contemporary romance, romantic suspense, historicals, regencies and inspirationals.

The Rita entries are limited to a total of 1,200 books for all categories.  An author picks the appropriate category and submits five copies of her book for judging. The RWA staff sifts and sorts and sends the 6,000 books out to volunteer judges all over the world.  Some years I’ve judged 9 books, other years only 5.  

The first year I judged, I got the crazy ideal to judge categories I rarely read. I thought it would be fun to explore. It was . . . but I discovered I’m not a paranormal reader.  Vampires just don’t do it for me like a good old cowboy.  Now I pick categories to judge as if I’m in a bookstore. What do I buy?  What do I like to read? It’s really fun to open that box from UPS and see that assortment of books. 

My books arrived yesterday.  I’m sworn to secrecy about titles, categories and opinions, but I can say a little about years past.  I’ve had the good fortune to judge a Rita winner and three finalists. There’s nothing better than starting to a book by a new-to-you author and thinking, “Wow! This is GREAT.” 

Well, there’s one thing . . .  it’s getting the call from an RWA board member who tells you that your book finaled.  I had that experience with Abbie’s Outlaw in 2006 and will always cherish the honor and the memories of that conference in Atlanta.  The other Fillies who have finaled in the Rita awards are Margaret for A Lady Like Sarah and Cheryl St.John.  Cheryl’s finaled more than once. I believe her first book got honors, and I know there have been others. (Cher, maybe you can give us all the titles?)   Any other Fillies who’ve finaled?  Chime in!

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Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

10 thoughts on “Judging Contests and the RWA Rita Awards”

  1. My books are here and they look fab! I’ve already started the first one.

    I’ve never been nommed – when you got the call, I was waiting to hear on the book that would turn out to be my debut Harlequin Romance. 🙂 But in 09 I “stood in” for a friend at the RITAs. She didn’t win, but it was still really cool sitting in the reserved section and I was very nervous about giving her speech if she did win…

    I can’t wait to see who finals this year!

  2. I am surprised I haven’t heard a group “squee!” from everyone finding their books at their door step recently! Such fun.

    Can’t wait to read as many of the winners and nominees as possible.

    Peace, Julie

  3. I signed up to be a Rita judge this year, but apparently they already had more than they needed because I was not assigned any books. So sad.

    Oh well, the good news is that I have more time to work on my next book. Maybe one of these years, I’ll know the joy of reaching the finals.

    Congrats on Abbie’s Outlaw, Vickie, and best of luck for future Bylin books reaching the finals!

  4. Hi Julie, They’re just starting to arrive, and with bad weather in some parts of the country, it can take awhile. The “squees!” are just getting started, then in March we’ll here SQUEE!” from the finalists. That’s a fun day.

  5. Hi Karen, Working on your next book is a good thing for everyone, especially your readers. Judging is fun, but it can be a distraction. Good luck to you! I’m guessing you entered the Inspirational category? The first-ever Rita winning book I read was “Beneath a Southern Sky” by Deb Raney. It changed me as a writer.

    Hi Margaret, I think you’re right about “Rain Shadow.” I know she finaled in 2006 and another time, I think? I love Cher’s books. Always have.

  6. Congrats to all. Good luck to all. Great post today.You all have such wonderful,throught provoking stories to tell.Thank you so much for your insight and your wonderful stories.

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