Romance Writers of America (RWA) is a national non-profit genre writers association. It provides networking and support to individuals seriously pursuing a career in romance fiction and supports top authors such as Nora Roberts and Judith McNaught.
Founded in 1980 in Houston, Texas by romance editor Vivian Stephens and 37 authors in the romance genre, including Rita Clay Estrada and Parris Afton Bonds, first President and Vice President, the RWA has long been an advocacy group for their published members. It has persuaded Harlequin books to register copyrights for authors’ works and to allow writers to own their own pseudonyms. Previously, authors were forced to leave their pseudonym behind if they switched publishing houses, making it more difficult for their fans to follow. The current mission statement indicates that the purpose of the RWA is to “advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.”
In 2000, the RWA had an operating budget of over $1 million, the largest of any professional genre writers’ organization. As of 2007, the organization had over 9,000 members and over 150 chapters. These include chapters arranged geographically as well as special-interest online chapters that focus on themes such as medical romance. Approximately 2,000 of the members have had books published.
RWA offers two programs. The Published Author Network (PAN) consists of published authors. The PRO network is for authors who have completed a manuscript and can prove they’ve queried an editor or agent about submitting it. Approximately 2000 RWA members have joined the PRO program. Once a PRO member, they are able to view online workshops and booklets about the business of publishing.
RWA chapters allow members to come together for support and to learn more about the industry. They provide writers with the opportunity to meet, either in person or online, in order to critique and learn the art of writing. With this practice, “romance writers are the only authors who train their own competition and pride themselves on sharing what they know.”
General Membership in RWA is open to those actively pursuing a career in romance fiction regardless of publishing status. A writer does not need to be published to join but must be working toward that goal.
Associate membership is available to publishers, editors, agents and other industry professionals who work in the romance publishing field. Associate members do not have the right to vote and are ineligible to hold office.
Affiliate membership is available to librarians and booksellers.
The RWA was formed to assist authors of romance novels. According to the RWA, the main plot of a romance novel must revolve around the two people as they develop romantic love for each other and work to build a relationship together. Both the conflict and the climax of the novel should be directly related to that core theme of developing a romantic relationship, although the novel can also contain subplots that do not specifically relate to the main characters’ romantic love. Furthermore, a romance novel must have an “emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Some romance novel authors and readers believe the genre has additional restrictions, from plot considerations such as the protagonists meeting early on in the story, to avoiding themes such as adultery. Disagreements have centered on the firm requirement for a happy ending, or the place of same-sex relationships within the genre. Some readers admit stories without a happy ending, if the focus of the story is on the romantic love between the two main characters (e.g. Romeo and Juliet). Others believe the definition should be more strictly worded to include only heterosexual pairing. While the majority of romance novels meet the stricter criteria, there are also many books that are widely considered to be romance novels that deviate from these rules. Therefore, the general definition, as embraced by the RWA and publishers, includes only the focus on a developing romantic relationship and an optimistic ending.
As long as a romance novel meets that twin criteria, it can be set in any time period and in any location. There are no specific restrictions on what can or cannot be included in a romance novel. Even very controversial subjects are addressed in romance novels, including topics such as date rape, domestic violence, addiction, and disability. The combination of time frame, location, and plot elements does, however, help a novel to fit into one of several romance subgenres. Despite the numerous possibilities this framework allows, many people in the mainstream press claim that “all [romance novels] seem to read alike.”
Of the 9000 RWA members, approximately 2,000 have seen their novels published in print. An unknown number of other writers have published their books through electronic publishers. Eight percent of all electronic books are romances, the RWA does not recognize vanity publishers who offer little or no editing or promotional help.[clarification needed] Any RWA General or Honorary member in good standing who has earned at least: (1) $1,000 in the form of an advance on a single Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** (“Option One”); or (2) $1,000 in the form of royalties or a combination of advance plus royalties on a single published Eligible Novel* or Eligible Novella** (“Option Two”); or (3) $5,000 in the form of earnings for a Self-Published novel or novella (“Option Three”) that meets the definition of Romance Fiction shall be eligible for membership in PAN, the Published Author Network within RWA. In Spring 2010, because they’ve signed a contract to publish their manuscript, these published authors are not eligible to enter the unpublished Golden Heart contest.
Every summer, the RWA holds a national conference. In 2007, approximately 1900 members attended the conference in Dallas, Texas, participating in workshops and attending lectures designed for both published and unpublished authors. A Librarian’s Day started the conference, and, in 2007, over 150 librarians attended presentations by some of the more popular romance authors, including Jayne Ann Krentz, Suzanne Brockmann, Nora Roberts, Shana Abe, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Each year, some of the workshops are business-oriented, focusing on how to pitch a novel or write for multiple publishers. Other workshops focus on creative pursuits, including how to use swords and sword fights in a story line, how to use firefighter lingo, or how to pick the cover art for your book. The annual conference features a literacy signing, where the public is invited to meet close to 500 authors and gain autographs. In 2007, the event raised almost $60,000 for literacy charities. The conference ends with the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremony.
The RWA funds several scholarships for members to attend the national conference. The scholarships pay for travel, lodging, and registration fees.
First awarded in 1982 in four categories, the Golden Medallion award was the most prominent award given throughout the genre of romantic fiction. The categories expanded to six in 1983, eight by 1989 and eventually twelve. In 1990 the Golden Medallion was replaced with the RITA Award.
The most prominent award given throughout the genre of romantic fiction is the RWA RITA Award. Named for the RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada, the award signifies excellence in one of 12 categories of romantic fiction. Authors and editors submit published works for consideration in the fall. In mid-spring, finalists are announced. The winners are presented with a statuette in a ceremony held on the last day of the RWA National Conference each July.
The RWA also honors unpublished authors. Over 1000 manuscripts are submitted to the competition each year. The first round is judged by a panel of RWA members. One hundred manuscripts are chosen as finalists. The finalists’ manuscripts are judged by acquiring editors from romance publishing houses. The winners of the competition are announced on the last day of the RWA Annual National Conference. Generally, about 30% of Golden Heart finalists find their work accepted by print publishers.
The award itself is a gold medallion in a heart shape thus giving the award its name.
The RWA Hall of Fame was established as a way of honoring those authors that have won at least three RITA Awards in a specific category of romance (For example: Long Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, or Regency Romance). Formerly a novelist had to have won four RITA Awards in a specific category to be inducted into the Hall of Fame but the criteria for induction changed to require only three RITA Awards per category. The first RWA Hall of Fame inductee was Nora Roberts. Other authors honored include Jo Beverley and Jennifer Greene.