Tuesday, June 17, 2014

BEHIND THE SCENES: Organising the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards

After a fabulous evening spent at the recent Romantic Novel of the Year event we began to wonder how such talented authors became part of the short list and what was involved in the judging system.
We spoke to the four ladies who know about such things.

Pam Fudge (PF) is the outgoing organiser of the Romantic Novel of the Year and Nicola Cornick (NC) is the incoming organiser.
Chris Stovell (CS) is the outgoing RoNA Rose organiser with Tracy Hartshorn (TH) the new organiser.

Thank you, ladies for finding times in you busy schedules to answer our questions. Apologies for there being so many. It is an interesting subject that many of our members will be interested in reading.

What is the difference between the RoNA’s and the RoNA Rose?
CS: The RoNA Rose Award celebrates shorter/category fiction, for example Harlequin Mills & Boon or My Weekly Pocket Novels.  Entries may be modern, period or historical but the main focus must be on the central romantic relationship.  There is a minimum word length of 30,000 words.

PF: The categories for the RoNA’s are:
Romantic Comedy for romantic novels that are humorous or amusing
Contemporary for romantic novels set after 1960
Epic for romantic novels containing for grittier fiction including sagas/multi-generational
Historical for romantic novels set in a period before 1960
Young Adult for romantic novels where the main characters are teenagers/young adults.

It is the publishers who decide which category each book is entered for not the organiser – unless the book is entered by the author, in which case the author will decide

 Who reads the books during judging?

 PF: Each book is sent out to three readers. The readers are volunteers and members of the general public, not members of the RNA. Shortlisted books are read by RNA members who have no vested interest in that category or book. The winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year is then selected from the category winners by an independent panel of judges.

CS: A gallant and very hard-working panel of voluntary readers, spanning a variety of age groups and occupations, who do not belong to the Romantic Novelist’s Association

NC: The books go out initially to a reading panel. Three independent judges read and score each book. Those books that are awarded the highest scores then go through to the fourth round judging before the final judges make their choice of the Romantic Novel of the Year.

Can anyone apply to be a reader?

 PF: Anyone can apply to be a reader – as long as they do not belong to the RNA and they reside in the UK (because of the cost of postage)

TH: Readers can be from any walk of life, but they cannot be members of the RNA. This ensures there’s no bias towards RNA members who enter.

 NC: We welcome applications from anyone who reads and enjoys romantic fiction and can undertake to read the books within six weeks and exercise unbiased judgement. That said, members of the RNA cannot be readers in order to avoid any suggestion of a conflict of interest. It’s important that the whole process is seen to be fair and we pride ourselves on the rigorous nature of the judging. There is a reader application form here, for anyone who would be interested in joining the team:

 How many readers are there?

 PF: I was dealing with the RoNA books and I had a list of 100 readers

NC: I currently have over ninety readers standing by!

CS: For the 2014 RoNA Rose Award there were initially 21 readers, a good number, but bear in mind that these are unpaid volunteers with busy lives and differing tastes. One of my readers, for example, had been recently bereaved and requested not to be sent stories with medical themes. Some readers prefer historical novels, others contemporary. It was very important to me to be sensitive to the readers whilst doing my utmost to make sure that all entrants were judged on a fair and level basis.

Do you receive many entries?

PF: During my year I received 156 entries and, in spite of the work load, it was encouraging to see so many published books when authors are constantly told that books aren’t getting published!

CS: After a slow start, a total of 49 entries was received from 24 authors.  Many entries were not submitted until the last weeks of the competition.  Some were late because authors were waiting for copies, but, in some cases, authors needed a little encouragement to enter!

NC: I’m waiting to see! As this is my first year organising the RoNA it’s all a new experience for me, but as it’s such a well-known and prestigious award I’m prepared for a lot of interest in it.

How many times is each book read?

TH: In the first instance, the books are read by three readers. Then if a book is shortlisted, it goes to a fourth reader.

PF: The category winning books are read by a panel of independent judges who decide the overall winner of Romantic Novel of The Year

How many copies of each book does the entrant submit?

TH: They have to submit four copies of their books.
PF: The entrant – usually the publisher but sometimes the author – submits the four copies of each book

How do you cope with your home and writing life while juggling entries and arranging readers?

CS: Most of the time it was fine, but the volume of late entries meant that some readers were disappointed not to have books for their summer holidays, others were busy in September starting courses or otherwise occupied once their children returned to school. This did require some juggling and meant that organising the RONA Rose took first priority over everything else.

TH: It’s my first year organising the competition (though I was scorekeeper last year), so I’m still learning how to do this, but so far it’s going okay. I try and put by half an hour to an hour a day to deal with RoNA Rose admin, but I expect that time to rise when I have to start posting out books to readers and collating scores. Like with all things, this will be much busier towards the end, as last minute entries are coming in and we’re chasing up readers for scores.

PF: Luckily I live alone and I’m my own boss. During the busiest time – which was pretty much June through to December – my dining room was full of boxes of books. When I was actually sending books out to readers – which was constantly - my dining table was lined with piles of books all in their specific categories. There were two of us packing five books per parcel, each book was sent together with the appropriate score sheet. We worked from check sheets to ensure there were no mistakes made. I gave up trying to write at all during the busy months!

Also, I live on the coast of west Wales, a pretty far-flung part of the world, so the nearest post office is a car drive away and attending RNA committee meetings means a minimum of two, sometimes three days away from home because of the constraints of public transport here. However, I’d taken this into consideration before accepting the role and I wanted to give a bit back to the RNA.

NC: I’ve tried to be as organised in advance as I can be, setting aside time each day to deal with emails from readers and publishers, answer all the queries and do the paperwork. It reminds me of my time as NWS Organiser when I almost disappeared under a huge pile of manuscripts, only this time it’s a pile of books! Still, there are worse ways to go…

Are there times you wished you’d taken up knitting instead of organising such a prestigious competition?

PF: It was a steep learning curve and I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for when I took on the role of RoNA Organiser. The scale of work involved is huge and it is a massive responsibility. Luckily I was used to working with spreadsheets and that made life easier when it came to keeping track of the books coming in and going out, plus the scores. It takes over your life. However I did enjoy the contact with authors, publishers and readers.

 TH: There were certainly times when I was doing the scorekeeping last year that I wished I’d taken up knitting. The problem is getting people to do what you need them to do in the time you need them to do it. We appreciate that everyone is very busy, but becoming a reader is a big commitment, so I would suggest that anyone wanting to be a reader for the competitions makes sure they have the time and energy to devote to the competition. We’ve had people agree to read then say ‘But I’m going on holiday for (whatever time frame we needed to get the books back in!)’

CS: I had a few sleepless nights because I took my role as RoNA Rose Organiser very seriously and didn’t want to let anyone down

NC: I haven’t got to that stage yet but I have a sneaking suspicion it will have its stressful moments!

 How do you manage to work on your own novels whilst liaising between entrants and readers?

 PF: I actually stopped working on the book I was writing because it became impossible to get into any sort of routine because you never knew when books were going to arrive or how many. I got to know the postman and various delivery drivers by name!

 TH: It takes some discipline, but it is doable. The trick is to give yourself permission to wait to deal with the comp entries, and do your own writing first. At least that’s how I’m doing it this time. So in the morning I write, and in the afternoon I deal with RoNA Rose admin. This is easy because my post doesn’t come till around noon anyway. But I’m always arranging the RNA Parties so I’ve no idea how this is going to work when they overlap in November when it’s time to work out the shortlist and I also have to finish last minute party details. Like many committee members, I do more than one job in the organisation. Somehow it all works out.

CS: Well, my third novel, Follow A Star, has just been published so I did manage it… just!

NC: It’s already been quite tricky as the preparation for the award process does keep the organiser busy. I try to protect my writing time by allocating specific periods of time to it and not being tempted to read and respond to my emails etc until I’ve met my word count. Everyone who has a busy job or other commitments knows how tricky that can be!

How is each book judged?

CS:  Readers are sent a selection of up to five books and asked to read and judge them according to the score sheet. The Romantic Novel Awards are awards for excellence and the winning novel should reflect this.  Readers are reminded that they should try not to be biased one way or the other by big names.  They’re asked to consider whether or not love and romance is a major theme in the novel.  Is it a good read?  Is the writing of a high standard?  In short they’re asked to be critical in their approach so that it’s the outstanding books which reach the short list.

TH: Each book is sent to three readers, who are given a score sheet. They score based on characters, dialogue, setting, plot, romantic element etc, and each book can potentially earn 500 points in all. They can also earn minus points too! Then the first three sets of scores are added together, and the six books in each category that scores the most goes to a fourth read. Then all four scores are added together, and we should get one book that scores the most.

Where can we find the rules?

NC: The rules can be downloaded from the RNA website: http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org/awards/romantic_novel_of_the_year

 I’m also happy to send out a copy to anyone who is interested and would like to email me on ncornick@madasafish.com

How much does it cost to enter and does the publisher or the author pay the entry fee?

CS: There’s an administrative fee as follows:

Entries by publishers — £15 per book, irrespective of whether author is RNA member 
Entries by agent or author — £15 per book where author is RNA member
Entries by agent or author — £65 per book where author is NOT an RNA member

Rona Rose:
Entries by publishers — £10 per book, irrespective of whether author is RNA member
Entries by agent or author — £10 per book where author is RNA memberEntries by agent or author — £60 per book where author is NOT an RNA member.

What happens at the Awards event?
TH: It’s a very glitzy, enjoyable event, where we can all dress up and eat canap├ęs. There’s generally a celebrity prize giver. In the past we’ve used Richard and Judy and the glorious Darcey Bussell. The shortlists are read out, and then the winners announced and everyone goes away feeling very smiley and happy, even if they don’t win.

PF: The shortlisted authors will know who they are and the event commences with a photo call for the shortlisted authors in each category. Following the meal the winner in each of the categories – including the RoNA Rose category – is announced and they each collect their trophy (this year from Darcey Bussell) before the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year is announced.

NC: Its years since I’ve been to the Awards event and I am looking forward to next year’s ceremony very much indeed!

Is there a prize?
NC: There is a trophy for each category winner and a special trophy for the overall winners, plus a cheque for £5000.

PF: There was a trophy and £5,000 cheque for this year’s Romantic Novel of the Year winner, Veronica Henry, with her novel A Night on the Orient Express and a £1,000 cheque for the RoNA Rose winner, Kate Hardy.

Thank you, ladies for answering our questions in so much detail.

If you have a question for the organisers of the awards please add it to the comment section below and it will be answered.

This blog was brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleimman.

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