Tuesday, December 04, 2012

More (Probably Way Too Many) Thoughts on Change

I just read a great blog post by Laura Drake, and equally great comments, over at Writer Unboxed. As often happens, it sparked a lot of thoughts and rather than hijack the comments with my own opinions, I decided to bring them home. After all, that's why I have this blog in the first place! So I can listen to myself talk! LOL

Here's the background:

RWA is Romance Writers of America, a national organization that is exactly what its name suggests: an organization created for writers of romance in the United States of America. It has a very specific charter defining the purpose of the organization, and is obligated to stay close to that charter in order to maintain its nonprofit status with the IRS. RWA chapters are also required to stick to the purpose of the umbrella organization, because RWA's nonprofit status extends to us—and trust me, we want to keep it that way! :)

RWA is one of the very few writers organizations that allows unpublished members and doesn't (currently) require us to prove anything. A group of 12,000 people tends to evolve in certain ways, and periodically, RWA is forced to haul its policies and practices back in line, almost always in response to adjustments in IRS regulations or attention.

Several years ago, the romance genre burst out in different directions. Chick lit, adventure, fantasy, and urban fantasy all took off. But the more you add to a story, the less "focused" it might become. All of those stories had romance in them but stretched certain conventions of the genre. The heroine might have multiple romantic interests over time, or the romance may be a smaller part of the story. RWA members found homes for these books by creating chapters focused on certain subgenres (like the Women's Fiction chapter discussed in the post linked above) and by adding categories to the genre's top contests.

This year, RWA's board decided to remove the Novel with Romantic Elements categories from those contests and eventually notified chapters that their bylaws must match RWA's: "To advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy . . .”

Laura's description of the WF chapter's decision made me very happy. (I really encourage you to read that post, but essentially, they've elected to disband under RWA's umbrella but continue in a new incarnation outside of it.) So often when something like this occurs, the response is purely negative, even acrimonious. When we heard that the young adult category of the contests would require the entered books to contain a romance, many comments were along the lines of "how dare RWA dictate what I can put in my books!"

But that's the thing. RWA doesn't dictate anything. The organization doesn't tell readers what to read or publishers what they can publish, and it doesn't tell writers what to write. There is nothing wrong with an author or group of authors deciding RWA doesn't meet their needs. I just don't understand why, when that happens, there's so much hostility toward the organization for being what it is instead of what the individual or group of individuals wants it to be.

Look at it this way. Chiropractors and nurses work in the medical field and serve a similar purpose to medical doctors in keeping people healthy. But do they attack the American Medical Association, calling them names and accusing them of nefarious intentions because they aren't allowed to join? No! They created their own organizations to meet their own needs, instead!

I think RWA makes it too easy for us. They do their job—providing opportunities for networking and advocacy—so well that we get lazy. We "find our people" and don't want to let go of them, so when our personal needs deviate from the boundaries of the organization, we want to change them to fit us instead of clearing our own place in the world.

It takes very special people with unique traits to be able to do that kind of clearing. To have the strength and dedication and passion to work that hard and face the challenges that come with it. The founding members of RWA had that. Perhaps the members of the Women's Fiction chapter and their leadership have it, too. I think the publishing world can only benefit from having more organizations dedicated to specific groups of writers and the genres in which they write. Let's use RWA as a template instead of a target. It can only strengthen us all!


Laura Drake said...

Oh Natalie, brilliantly said!
Just because we're moving out from under the RWA umbrella, it doesn't make RWA wrong to keep their organization more narrowly focused.

Thanks so much for being a voice of temperance.

Cynthia D'Alba said...

Well said. so much better than I could have voiced it!

I'll just say DITTO!

Unknown said...

Agree with you wholeheartedly, especially that RWA has the right to stick to its policy. As the women's fiction group defines its new policies, we will also have to adhere to them. Great post, Natalie! Thanks!

Patricia said...

Very well said, Natalie, and I appreciate your clarifying the entire brouhaha that is happening right now. I happen to agree with you. We are not going to change RWA, however we can form our own group to fit "us".

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

You guys are all too kind. Thank you for coming over and reading, commenting, and being awesome. :) If I wrote women's fiction, I'd be all over your group! :)

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

This is why I think of you as the 'go to' girl. You think things through and then share your thoughts with clarity and reason.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Aw, thanks, Sue!

Pamela Hearon said...

You and Laura summed up my feelings perfectly--and brilliantly! Thanks to both of you for being the Voices of Reason in the midst of this brouhaha.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Thanks, Pam! :)