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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Click 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?