Elizabeth: RWA 2.0?

As we talked about here and here, the Romance Writers of America trade organization had an implosion at the end of 2019 and its 2020 has thus far been no better.  The last of the remaining Board members resigned on February 12th and the organization is currently on life-support, being kept alive through the efforts of the Leslie Scantlebury, the interim Executive Director (who seems to be doing a bang-up job).

A few days ago, the independent auditors, who were hired to investigate specific issues within the organization, released their report (accessible to RWA members only).  The results were not good – citing missteps, flaws in understanding, and gaps between policy/procedures and actions.  The report should not be a surprise to anyone who has been following along since December.  There were numerous recommendations regarding what RWA could do next, including the excerpted bit below which seemed to say that “there wouldn’t have been such a problem if people had just kept things secret.”

The publicity surrounding the handling of the ethics complaints against Ms. Milan has harmed the organization, created concerns among Ethics Committee members and candidates about participating in the process, and magnified the negative attention and reputational harm experienced by Ms. Tisdale and Ms. Davis.

I’m hoping that wasn’t really the intention of that bit, but I’ve read a lot of posts and comments by others who had that same interpretation.

So, what happens now?

Since under Texas law, where RWA was incorporated, the organization must have at least a President one other board member in order to continue to exist, the last thing the recent Board did before resigning was to set a special election to begin on Friday, March 13th and run through Friday, March 20th.  The “new” board will only be in place until the next General Meeting in August, when a completely new permanent board will be elected.

Members interested in running for a Board position must declare their intent to run, in writing, by March 2, 2020. Declarations or questions on running for the Board of Directors may be sent to elections@rwa.orgClick here for more information.

Since there appear to be 8,523 RWA members remaining, one can hope there will be a good slate of candidates willing and able to run and serve (there are 18 candidates so far).   If you think the answer to the question, “can this organization be saved?” is yes, and you’re interested in being part of the rebuilding, check out the link above for position requirements and other details.

The new board will have its work cut out and a very short runway to work with.  The annual RWA conference is still scheduled to go on in July as planned (because of contractual obligations), though the interim Executive Director has reiterated that it will definitely not be “business as usual”.  Reduced pricing was announced a few weeks ago, but the lowest rate – $199 – is only available to those who sign up on March 10/11, before there is a new board in place and before any actual information about the conference is available.

That feels pretty risky.

Frankly, I’m still mulling the “can this organization be saved?” question.

When I joined RWA and went to my first conference in New York, I was thrilled to find a group of like-minded writers who totally believed in the value of the romance genre.  It was especially great since I had just come from a graduate writing program where the “literary” writers sneered at all forms of genre fiction (especially those dreaded romance novels).   I saw then, and still see now, the value in the advocacy, training, and networking aspects of the organization.

But on the flip side, when I read posts in the RWA forums or by authors on social media, I can clearly see that those like-minded writers are only like-minded for some and that there are deep, foundational issues that need solving.

Sometimes I think that those issues can be solved but then I see comments like the one paraphrased below and I think it will never happen.

Instead of complaining about not finaling for the RITAs, those marginalized authors should just write better books.

We’re specifically talking about RWA here, but the problem applies to society in general.  Can people change their beliefs and biases? Can RWA members who think marginalized writers are just making a fuss about nothing or blowing things out of control really change?  Can people truly understand that, even if they have not experienced something someone else may have and that those individuals deserve to be heard?

I really don’t know.

On my better days, I think people have the ability to learn and change and grow; that the organization can be rebuilt and be far stronger than it was before;  and that real progress is possible.

But on other days (usually when I’ve been reading the Forums), I’m not so sure.

So, what do you think?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: RWA 2.0?

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful column.

    YES! resoundingly, we have the ability to change–but first, we must turn our lens INWARD and see that there’s a problem, and that MANY of us, unintentional or not, are part of the problem or enabling the problem or both. I am on that journey of change, some three years or so. On 12/23, I went from my small steps to bigger steps.

    I don’t know if RWA can change.

    I finally sent my manuscript to RWA and had it accepted for PRO status. I can finally say, proudly, that I write romance. But, I don’t meet the minimum requirement for time as a General Pro member to run for office. That said, I can still be part of the change. It’s on me to call out racist statements, abelist statements, and any other statements that “other.” And try my hardest not to make them myself. Apologize when I do, whether I realize it on my own, or someone lets me know I made that mistake.

    This is a lifetime journey on us, to change both the culture around us; and the culture within RWA, however long it exists or we are members.

    • Thanks and congratulations on PRO status. Onward!

      And yes, we can all be part of the change. It’s just discouraging sometimes to see how far we have to go and to see others who either can’t see the problem or think it is “someone else’s problem”. I’m hopeful that starting with a brand new board will help the organization move in a brand-new direction. I think it is going to take a lot of effort to counter the reputational damage that the organization has suffered though. I haven’t heard/seen anything from the major publishers since they pulled away from RWA during the height of the implosion. I wonder what their thoughts and intentions are regarding RWA at this point.

  2. What I suspect will happen is that one group (either the old guard who want things to stay the same, or the new guard who want to see the organization change will take over and the other will leave the organization.

    My own chapter is looking into disaffiliation with the intention of voting, by the end of the year, on whether to stay or go . We are thinking about building a new organization that encompasses all genre fiction. Without the barrier of the $99/year dues for RWA National, we hope to be able to grow our membership, which has steadily trended downwards for the past number of years. Our mission would still be to provide craft and business training for people who want to earn money as fiction writers.

    • That’s great that your chapter is looking for ways to evolve and grow, regardless of what happens with RWA. I like the idea of an organization that encompasses all genre fiction.

  3. I hope RWA can get it together and that will require changing/opening some minds. Selfishly, I get a lot of energy from the conferences and want them to continue (although, once again this year, I can’t afford to go). But if it can’t survive, I hope a more inclusive organization comes along and takes its place so that there is a place where writers of the most dissed genre can commune. IMO, it’s critical that leadership be diverse otherwise the actions won’t change. Of course, I feel that way about all the old white men running for president.

    • I second all of that, Michille. I have found that most of the past conferences were very helpful in terms of getting me back in the writing mindset and triggering creative ideas and whatnot. I’ve had some hope, reading posts in the RWA forums from some of the writers intending to run for the new board.

  4. Pingback: Michille: Definitions of the Romance Novel – Eight Ladies Writing

  5. (NOTE: the “you” in the following comment is the general “you” — not anyone specific.)

    I’ve been following this mostly from Courtney Milan’s Twitter, and seeing the controversy from her friends’ sides. Being the president of a national organization like this isn’t really a job for amateurs. Not only do you need to know romance and the industry well, but you have to have a good idea about the laws, marketing, accounting, sensitivity to diversity and a whole slew of things. Especially in the next year or two, law is going to a very important part of the organization. At least one former president was a former lawyer. I don’t know if the RWA can just dig up a new president on such short notice.

    Another big point is that when you are busy being president of the RWA, you sacrifice time that could be going to your writing career.

    I think a lot can be done on the local level — things can be smaller and more personal, and more easily resolved by frequent face-to-face meetings.

    I think, though, if several smaller organizations are around, they can negotiate for writers’ rights much more effectively. I think there’s an anti-trust or some sort of anti-monopoly thing in place that prevents the RWA from, say, creating a union and standardizing pay and hours. Courtney replied, “I probably said they can’t engage in collective bargaining because it would be a violation of section one of the Sherman Act (section two is the monopolization section).” IDK, I’m not a lawyer. Maybe the anti-competitive aspects would hold true no matter what — there already are several national writing organizations, but they aren’t seen as being in direct competition for their markets (the SFWA, for example).

    I do hope someone with a really thick skin, balanced viewpoint and a sharp and analytical mind does step forward to guide RWA through the next few years, but . . . if s/he steps forward, the membership must support him/her, and scold the vocal minority (I hope it’s a minority) that’s trying to kneecap other minorities and keep the status quo of institutional -isms in place.

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