Don’t enter More than Magic

There has been news going around about Romance Writers, Ink., a chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Their annual contest, “More than Magic” judges published romance novels. As the contest rules explain:

Our judges are all romance readers. Within that group are RWI chapter members and members of other RWA chapters. We recruit judges nationwide and even worldwide (for e-books) and our only requirement is that they are regular romance readers.

They tell us which categories and what “heat” level they prefer to read, so our entrants’ books get into the hands of people who might give them the most favorable rating.

Our final round judges are chosen for the diversity of their romance reading interests and enjoyment, sense of fair comparison across all categories, and knowledge of the romance genre.

Oh, wait. That’s not the part that I meant to quote. The contest rules also say this:

– Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.


On Kari Gregg’s blog, Cathy Pegau notes that she e-mailed them and was told that they decided not to accept same-sex entries because the majority of the chapter felt uncomfortable with them.  Apparently, it’s possible for the MTM contest to get entrants’ books in the hands of diverse judges from multiple RWA chapters who are comfortable with all types of romances and heat levels. You can write M/F erotica. You can write M/M/F. You can write about aliens from another planet who have tentacles, or barbed sexual organs. You can write degrading rapes. None of those things are barred from entry in the More than Magic contest, and if you write them, they’ll try to find judges who are predisposed to like your books.

But they won’t do that if you write same sex romance–even if it’s a sweet romance with no sexual contact whatsoever. No–when it comes to same sex romance, the fact that they might be able to identify judges in their chapter or outside of it who would be willing to read same sex entries and judge them fairly somehow becomes irrelevant. In that instance, the majority gets to say that those entries don’t belong.

Others have taken a variety of tactics. They’ve written to RWA (who apparently sanctioned this nonsense). They’ve written to the contest directly. I suspect that writing to RWA and the contest will result in much handwringing–there’s nothing in the P&PM or the Bylaws that prevent this, not without stretching overly much. There’s nothing in the P&PM that prevents a chapter from barring interracial romance, either. What should prevent such things from happening–is good sense and common human decency.

While we can put pressure on RWA to create and maintain more egalitarian guidelines, RWA as an organization moves at a snail’s pace.

But just because something’s allowed doesn’t mean that it must be accepted blindly. This is not okay. And just because we’re working on a longer-term solution by discussing policy changes doesn’t mean that we have to let the instant behavior slide.

And so I’d like to suggest something simple: I’m asking that people don’t enter the More than Magic contest, and e-mail the contest coordinator at to let her know why. You don’t need to be rude or uncivil. Just clear and concise.

The message I sent was this:

Dear Romance Writers, Ink:

I will not be entering your More than Magic contest because, while you state in your judging guidelines that you make an effort to find judges who are compatible with diverse romance works, you exclude same-sex romances. This is unacceptable to me, and it irreparably poisons the value of the contest itself. I have forwarded my reasons for refusing to enter the contest to my chapter-mates.

I hope that you reconsider your guidelines in upcoming years, and find a way to make accommodations for all romances.

I’m also asking that unpublished writers refuse to enter their contest for unpublished writers when it’s announced–the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. I’m asking editors and agents to refuse to act as final judges for the “Where the Magic Begins” contest. If you have already entered, please write to them and withdraw your entry. Editors and agents, if you’ve already agreed to serve as final judges, please withdraw. And for everyone–when the final judges–if the final judges are announced for the unpublished contest, please contact any editors and agents you know to inform them of the fact that the chapter discriminates, and ask them to withdraw.

I don’t know if we can change RWA’s policies, but we can make it costly–extremely costly–for chapters to choose to discriminate. It may be their right to choose intolerance. But it’s our right to refuse to tolerate it, and to make them feel the cost of their decision. This is not acceptable.

I will be sending the text of this post to the RWA-PAN loop and my local chapter loops. Forwarding encouraged.

Courtney Milan writes historical romances, which might lead people to think that she could be cool. In reality, she's about four different kinds of geeky. At present, this blog is where Courtney applies semi-dormant geek skills to publishing.

56 thoughts on “Don’t enter More than Magic

  1. Thank you for this. As a writer of same-sex romances and as a LGBT person myself, it means a lot that those who aren’t affected personally are still taking a stand with those of us being discriminated against. We need all the allies we can get, so many, many thanks to you and anyone who chooses to stand with us.

  2. Wow. Seriously? In this day and age where forward-thinking is a MUST, this has “backwards” written all over it. I am surprised that they could not find enough judges who felt comfortable with same-sex romance – and that they flat-out refuse to accept these entries. Like you said, M/M/F and F/F/M are still acceptable – but in my mind, if RWA are saying what they are saying, then they really shouldn’t be in case something happens.

    This is all sorts of wrong on so many levels.

  3. I read this same announcement on another blog yesterday and I was really disappointed. I was always so proud of the romance community for being so supportive of the same sex stories. I was very surprised with that announcement.
    I am not a writer. At all. I am a book review blogger for the romance genre. Yes, that includes same sex books.

    Is there any weight in book bloggers writing in complaining?

    Thank you for taking the time to write in.

    Michelle Kelly

  4. Aside from the obvious discriminatory aspects of this, it’s also unfair that this impacts writers who pay dues to RWA, and yet they are being told they cannot participate in an RWA chapter contest. Those judges are ‘uncomfortable’ with same-sex romance? Well, I’m ‘uncomfortable’ with homophobics.

  5. I emailed RWA last night since I feel that the Board should clarify what happened and what chapters can do. The P&P do say that members are entitled to all benefits and privileges (both at the national level and the chapter level). There isn’t actually any “fairness” language, but maybe there should be. I’d like to see that added to the P&P.

    But I love your suggesting about writing to the contest coordinator and explaining why I won’t be entering my two eligible books. Because I won’t be. And I have just come back from sending my own email to the contest.

  6. @MichelleKCanada (@AnotherLookBook): One thing bloggers can do is talk about this. If we get posts up about the discrimination, people searching for info on the contest will find out that some of us object. Strongly. We can help spread the word to potential entrants and judges, so they know.

    As always, I am proud to see authors who write some of my favorite books standing up and doing what I feel is the right thing. We hear a lot about authors behaving badly; thanks, Courtney and Carolyn for behaving well.

  7. Thanks for writing this – I’ve been following the blogs of Heidi Cullinan, Kari Gregg and others. The more we get this out in the news, the more people will become aware of it and hopefully something will be done about it

  8. Courtney, my sister used to have a little poster in her kitchen that read: “Stand up for what’s right, even if it means you’re the only one standing.”

    I was thinking of that poster when I read your post, and just want to say thanks for standing up so very eloquently.

    I’m standing up, too, right behind you.

  9. I posted about this today on my blog.

    I will no longer support RWA or any chapter until there is more acceptance of GLBT romance. I have disregarded my PAN status, which I was surprised I was allowed to have in the first place because I got it based on one of my lesbian romances.

    As an author of GLBT I’m ashamed by RWA and those chapters who frown down upon same sex romances.

    I will never, ever again submit any of my future work to RWA and I don’t need them to recognize me as an author.

  10. I detest censorship of any kind. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean you can tell others what they can or cannot like!

  11. Thank you for posting this timely and well written response to the discrimination and bigotry that is perpetuated by this contest. I find that RWA’s willingness to accept and LGBT chapter and take their dues and then stand back and say they can’t control the actions of a local chapter is the height of hyopocrasy. I too have written to RWA president Linda Jones and to this chapter but I am also encourage discussion on a number of special interest chapters I am on as well as my own local. I have posted about this on my facebook page and will tweet about it. That this chapter has chosen to single out only one element on the flimsy excuse they can’t get judges, really shows an underlying bigotry that shouldn’t be tolerated in RWA as a whole.

  12. I wonder if maybe we should start VOLUNTEERING AS JUDGES. I’m a writer and editor, and I’ve served as a judge on the Rainbow Awards for two or three years now… there ARE people out here who are quite comfortable reading same-sex love stories, and many of us can tell quality from rubbish.

    I suspect a call for volunteers on Elisa Rolle’s blog, Jessewave’s Reviews, or Speak Its Name would glean far more judges than needed for the event.

  13. I didn’t know that the RWA used judges from outside the US. I thought it was US only (I’m in Australia but I have no other reason than assumption for that belief).

    Given that they apparently do use non US judges and as I read a fair bit of m/m romance of pretty much all heat levels, I’d be happy to put up my hand too.

  14. Courtney,

    Thank you for speaking out so eloquently. I’m delighted there are members working to reform RWA.

  15. So I live under a rock (aka, went no-mail on the PAN loop and forgot to check blogs/twitter for a day) and just caught up on this. In a word, ugh! In two words, not cool. I wrote the contest coordinator and RWA. I hope RWA will act quickly. Not only is the blanket label of same-sex romance as “offensive” …well, offensive and just wrong–but if we start playing the “offensive to some” game, every single romance novelist is in trouble. I can imagine few things more anathema to RWA’s mission than endorsing a message that basically says, “Books some people find offensive aren’t worthy of recognition.” Thanks for bringing attention to the issue.

  16. There is no excuse for this.

    I don’t belong to RWA, though I do write stories with M/F, M/M, F/F relationships and trans* characters.

    Let me clarify further: As a result of this incident, there is no chance I will ever join RWA, and I will discourage others from doing so and allowing dues to pay for discrimination.

  17. This is appalling to me. How can anyone still feeling this way? Its 2012, people, not the Stone Age. As an author, this kind of hypocritical censorship is insulting to authors and readers, and a disservice to everyone. An organization who takes dues from its members has an obligation to serve those members equally, and accepting their money with one hand while holding them back with another is outrageous. What’s next, banning interracial relationships in romance because some people are uncomfortable with that? This is ridiculous!

  18. I have also written a letter to the contest coordinator for MTM at Romance Writers Ink.

    However, I disagree with the blanket disapproval of RWA in general. RWA does not have any control over a chapter’s contest rules, and so I do not see how they can be held responsible for RWI’s bigotry.

    I do think the way they’ve handled this particular case was poorly managed, and I will be encouraging them to remedy that by writing to RWA headquarters.

    They should make it clear that while they cannot force a chapter to change its contest rules, that RWI’s rules in no way reflect the attitudes of RWA in general and its members. They should also include language that condemns the unfair exclusion of any romance author, etc.

    But again, I don’t think they have the authority or right to swoop in and demand a chapter change its policies. (If a chapter decided to exclude erotica from its contests, should it be RWA’s job to demand otherwise?)

    I think the better course of action is the one Courtney suggests here. Make your own voice heard. If you want to make changes to RWA, get more involved. If you want to show RWI how offensive their policy is, then tell them. Behavior like this is only successful if we allow it to be. By making our voices heard, we are helping to make RWA an organization that LGBT authors can be proud of.

  19. I wrote to the contest coordinator and volunteered to be a judge for LGBTQ entries, if they should change their mind. I also mentioned that this was their opportunity to come down on the right side of morals, ethics and history.

    To RWA, I pointed out that my membership is expired, and asked if they are able to represent me equally as an author in situations such as this. I mentioned that as the daughter of a Native American man, I’d grown up with people “uncomfortable” around my family, and that it felt really bad. This is no different.

    If you opt to take action in the boycott, or by letting your RWA membership lapse, let them know why. RWA is allegedly addressing this issue in their March meeting, lets make sure they have lots of input from members, non-members and readers.

    I also suggest sending your letters via snail mail as well as email. Opening envelopes has a significant impact.

  20. Just FYI — this was never about a lack of judges. I wrote to the MTM contest coordinator and not only volunteered to judge, but offered to round up dozens more (I had at least a dozen already,) and this was the response:

    “Thank you, Larissa, but it was never a lack of judges that made our determination. It was that the majority of our members were uncomfortable with being a contest that takes same-sex entries.”

    I’m not ready to give up on RWA — I want to give them a chance to address this issue, but I’m very disappointed in the RWI chapter and in the responses of several RWA members in general.

  21. By the way, I want to add that I do not advocate RWA putting down rules about chapter contests. The chapters were de-regulated years ago and it is up to US to police ourselves. If you don’t like RWI’s policy, don’t enter the contest. Do like Courtney suggests and encourage others not to enter, too. Encourage editors/agents not to judge. RWA doesn’t need to get more involved in chapter business and probably can’t legally. It’s up to the members to say THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

  22. Julie, with all due respect and much love, I disagree. I understand that no one wants RWA National micromanaging chapter contests, but I don’t think it’s micromanaging for the National organization to say something along the lines of “RWA-affiliated chapters may not create rules that exclude on the basis of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or ability.”

    It’s sad that RWA should need such a policy, but apparently we do.

    And yes, I know they are not prohibiting entries by gay authors. Just gay romances. It’s still exclusionary.

    Discrimination against fiction with gay characters (or any class of characters determined by race, creed, gender, etc.) may not be a legal issue of any kind, but it certainly can (and in my opinion, should) be an ethical issue for a professional organization of writers.

    In the larger publishing world, our genre struggles continually against marginalization and dismissive attitudes because our books are mainly written by and for women. Those of us affected by such attitudes are not just seeking acceptance for ourselves as individual authors, but for the work we create. RWA’s advocacy activities are all premised on the notion that both the author and the work are worthy of respect and recognition.

    On the RWA page labeled “About the Romance Genre”, these are the first few lines:

    “Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there’s a romance novel waiting for you!”

    This is RWA’s public statement to the world about who we are and what we do. As a member, I’m proud to be associated with that statement. I hope RWA takes steps to ensure individual chapters don’t undermine it by engaging in discrimination while using the RWA name.

  23. I have to agree with Tessa. I don’t think RWA should be in the business of regulating contests entirely–that should be left up to the chapter–but it doesn’t have to be a choice between “micromanage everything” and “regulate nothing.”

    I think it’s quite possible to promulgate guidelines for the fair and efficient running of a contest.

    One of the reasons I’ve said so little about it at present is that I feel that I’m in a conflict of interest–I am on RWA’s Bylaws committee, and the Bylaws are coming up for a vote at the upcoming General Election, and because I have that prior commitment, there is a great deal that I cannot suggest without running afoul of my commitment there.

    That said, I think that asking RWA for an institutional response is entirely appropriate. What member chapters do or do not do can tarnish the image of the organization as a whole. Exerting just enough control to avoid that, while still having a light hand, seems perfectly reasonable to me.

  24. My problem is that I’m already hearing this issue being lumped together with other issues…I’m hearing authors saying that they are “discriminated against” because they write erotica, for instance. I do not see this as the same issue at ALL.

    Look, I agree 100% that this same-sex exclusion is wrong on all fronts. However I think making this public and calling for a boycott is an excellent way to handle it–get them at their bottom line.

    The chapters are not children. We’re adults and we SHOULD be able to make intelligent decisions on our own, without having to have big-sister tell us what to do. When one makes a mistake, the mistake should be pointed out…but that doesn’t mean the rest of the chapters should have to jump through new hoops because one made a stupid and wrong decision.

    I’m not saying RWA shouldn’t counsel this chapter on the damage they have done to themselves and do the whole organization…but that doesn’t mean they should have to enact any new rules or have chapters submit their rules for approval or anything else that will impede on the chapter’s ability to run their own contests their own way.

    I’m heavily involved in my chapter’s contest and have been for years. This issue has never come up, but I know we’d have the good sense not to make such an asinine rule. We don’t need RWA to tell us.

  25. @Julie Leto: I don’t think that RWA should have to monitor chapter contest rules–any more than they should have to monitor a lot of things that chapters do.

    But that doesn’t mean they can’t exert some oversight.

  26. @KT Grant: I’m pretty sure that’s been there the whole time and is what started the whole dustup. It was added this year where in previous years same-sex romance was allowed (and has placed and even won the contest, I believe).

  27. Julie, I completely agree that RWA *shouldn’t* need this kind of policy. I’m stunned that this would even happen.

    To me it’s not about treating chapters like children. It’s about giving RWA National a way to do exactly what you suggest – talk to the chapter and counsel them to change their rules, for the good of all. Unfortunately, I don’t think National can take any action unless there’s something in the bylaws that gives them to power to do so. At least, that’s what I was told when I wrote the RWA President about this.

    I honestly don’t think any “hoops” or special rule approvals would be necessary. It could just be in the chapter affiliation agreement that chapters agree not to engage in discrimination in any of their events and contests. That way, in the rare instance where something like this occurs, RWA National has some way to get involved.

  28. They do exert some oversight. Chapters have to submit their Bylaws for review, if I remember correctly and they are told certain things that have to be in the Bylaws whether or not the chapter agrees, it doesn’t matter.

    I do believe that RWA should say that the chapters can’t discriminate against members…that’s law. But to say they can’t “discriminate” against fictional characters…well, that’s stupid. The chapter SHOULD HAVE realized that excluding same-sex books from their chosen categories would be all sorts of wrong…and by boycotting and talking about it, we’re showing them this is so.

    I think the chapter should take the heat for this. I think RWA should advise them that this was a really unwise decision and give them all the reasons why. But they shouldn’t have to make a dictate when 99.9% of the chapters have more sense.

  29. @Julie Leto: I have to respectfully disagree with the idea that RWA doesn’t deserve any of the heat for this. According to Heidi Cullinan (the president of the RWA LGBT chapter) she was told by the RWA that: “When I asked about this, I was told the board made a ruling on same-sex entries in contests and said basically that chapters could make their own judgments based on genre. The heading of the issue was labeled “same-sex entries in contests,” so there’s no question this is the clause that made RWI feel they could pop that line I opened with onto their website, sigh in relief, and move on with their day. Make no mistake. RWA national said this is kosher.”

    RWA had a chance to say “Chapters need to be inclusive of same-sex romances in contests” when they were voting on that issue but instead basically said “Well, you guys can discriminate if you want, we don’t really care either way.” This is where they have some culpability, imo. Rather than vote to simply allow same-sex entries across the board, they apparently instead voted to, in effect, allow those chapters who wanted to discriminate do so with their approval. At least that’s how it reads to me.

  30. Julie, I disagree that all that is happening here is that RWI is “discriminating” against fictional characters.

    It’s sending a message–a very clear message–that they do not want to hold out same-sex relationships as worthy of recognition.

    The characters that we have in our fiction are important. If the only characters we ever have are white and straight, that is a form of discrimination. And if you look at Larissa Ione’s comment, it’s clear that this is happening because of an animus against gays and lesbians. The chapter isn’t comfortable having a contest that points the spotlight on, and highlights as valuable, the relationships between gays and lesbians.

    The message that RWI is sending is that they are personally uncomfortable with LGBT people. Not just books that have LGBT people–LGBT people and their relationships themselves.

    That’s a message that is clearly encompassing not just RWI but RWA. It breaks my heart to think that gays and lesbians are being made to feel that they are unwelcome at RWA and that their relationships are not important.

    That is what is happening here.

  31. Again, I agree that same-sex books should be able to enter all categories of contests. Please stop trying to argue that point with me because that is NOT my issue. I agree with you. AGREE.

    I just don’t think RWA should have to make more rules for the chapters. RWI should be held 100% accountable for their decision and should have to take the heat.

    How many other chapter contests are out there that do NOT have this rule? 99.9% of them, right? The GH and the RITA don’t discriminate. To say that this one tiny chapter’s stupid choice tarnishes all of RWA is an insult to the rest of the chapters who have more compassion and more sense.

  32. @Julie Leto: Okay, I’m sorry about that–it’s just a hot button right now, and I may have an itchy trigger finger.

    I agree that this shouldn’t tarnish those parts of RWA that have been inclusive. But I can’t effect how people see it, and I see a lot of people who are responding with, “Well, that’s just RWA–the conservative bastion of heterosexual privilege.”

    And so whether it should tarnish RWA, it does to outsiders. And that’s a shame to my mind.

  33. I don’t disagree that it’s a shame. But again, I think it’s up to the RWA membership to stand up and say THIS IS WRONG by not entering and supporting a chapter who has made a bad choice.

    Contests are, 100%, fundraisers for chapters. There is no other reason a chapter puts forth the incredible amounts of work it takes to organize and pull off a contest. If you stop the flow of $$, then they’ll get the message.

    But the chapters are de-regulated and public perception cannot change the fact that RWA cannot control what the chapters do in this regard. But throwing aspersions at an organization that does NOT discriminate in the national contests isn’t fair.

  34. Julie, I think the only point we disagree on is whether National has a stake in this. I believe they do. So long as RWI is affiliated with RWA, their policy reflects on the entire organization.

    Also, while excluding an entire class of fictional characters and relationships is indeed a different thing from discriminating against a class of real-live people, I don’t agree that it’s “stupid” to make it an issue within a professional writers organization. I’m not proposing there should be a law about it anywhere. THAT would be stupid, perhaps. But we are writers, and the organization exists to represent not only us, but our work.

  35. I do believe RWA has a stake and that they should counsel this chapter about the effects of their choice on the whole organization. But I think that asking the Nat’l organization to make rules for chapter contests is a slippery slope and could very quickly devolve into draconian rules that 99.9% of the chapters do not need.

  36. The fact that they likened their non-acceptance of GLBT stories to those of YA stories is telling…really…

  37. @Dee: I found the analogy between YA and same-sex telling as well. Somehow I doubt their members were “uncomfortable” with YA romances.

    LGBT romances are not — or *should* not be — their own subgenre, in my opinion. They’re simply romances like any other (historical, contemporary, paranormal, etc.), but featuring LGBT characters.

    Courtney, thanks for blogging about this.

  38. I addressed this on my FB page and directed readers to your blog. Thank you for taking such a proactive stance. Walking away from RWA will not change anything IMHO.

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