Friday, September 8, 2017

RWA (Romance Writers of America) Should you Join? #Opinion by @KarynGerrard #RWA

This is my own opinion and I am not speaking as a member of the RWA or for the RWA as a whole.

A quick history, The RWA (Romance Writers of America) was formed in 1980, back in the days when gatekeepers stood at the doors of publishing, ready to skewer anyone they did not deem worthy of being traditionally published.

This is vital to remember, because this belief is still the linchpin of the RWA, at least in the minds of many romance writers, whether they are 'old school' members who loathe to open the door just a teeny bit to allow fresh air in, or the marginalized authors of colour and sexual orientation and disability (or a mixture therein) who feel the RWA is nothing but an exclusive country club, or a mean girl clique straight out of high school who boost each other's signals, but no one else's.These beliefs are so ingrained, I am not sure how the RWA can breach the wide divide.

An aside: I am a PAN member of the RWA. I joined in 2015, when I started to see positive changes. I am Canadian, so I am all for including everyone. Here's the thing, I didn't even know there was a PAN forum. The website is hard to navigate and information hard to find. (RWA says they will be working on that.) The main reason I joined is its around the time I decided to take my writing more seriously. Since then, I now have an agent and contracts from Kensington. Did the RWA help me to achieve my goal? Not directly. But being a member showed the publishing industry I was serious about my craft and eager to learn more. At least that is my belief.

I searched 'RWA' on Twitter recently, and found many authors say they had joined, but didn't feel welcome, (either at the chapter level or in general) because of what genre they wrote, what heat level, or how much money they earned (or didn't earn), or how they were published. And more disturbingly, because of the colour of their skin and/or sexual orientation. Many left after the first year of membership. Many are bitter about their experience. To me, this is a real problem. Let's face it, the RWA has been slow to adapt to the rapidly changing publishing landscape. It had stayed the same for so many years, no doubt many older members/authors can't or won't keep up with the changing times.

But that is no excuse for some authors wishing to remain an 'exclusive country club.' Yes, the RWA is an organization, and they have the right to set up their own rules and bylaws. Just like a romance author has the choice to join or not.
Frankly, I am appalled at the elitist, exclusionary air I have seen from certain romance authors. Hell, we are all in this together. The pie is growing smaller with each passing year. We should be supporting each other.

But until the RWA makes serious changes, and reaches out to those romance authors who feel—and are—excluded, they will NOT grow and prosper. My suggestions? Make a serious PR push on social media to show how all are welcome at the table. How about more articles in the RWR magazine focused on those who feel marginalized? Give them a voice. Same with workshops. Be more open to allow ALL to volunteer. More on-line chapters and workshops, please!

Here's the thing—and it gives me hope—there are plenty of members of the RWA who are eager to throw open the door and allow fresh air and sunshine in. Especially members of the RWA board.

Keep an open mind about the future of the RWA. It's far from perfect. But changes are being made and will continue to be made. Give it another look, and if you are so inclined, another chance. The more voices who speak out, the quicker change will come about.

Karyn Gerrard

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