Where Does RWA Go From Here?

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From Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

As of today, January 10, 2020, here’s where we are with the implosion of RWA:

  • Damon Suede has (finally) resigned…
  • after the recall petition filed by C. Chilove, the President of CIMRWA, Laurel Cremant, President-Elect, and Diana Neal, Treasurer, was certified and
  • after every major publisher pulled out of RWA Nationals
  • Executive Director Carol Ritter also resigned, except according to RWA’s January 9 statement, she’s staying on to assist with transition to new leadership.

. . . .

So things are sort of resolved: we got the first thing we asked for (repeatedly) which was that Suede step down and the leadership take some responsibility for the mess. They sort of did, and I think that is part of what makes this semi-resolution so unsatisfying for me.

There’s a lot of “sort of” in the RWA statement, too. There’s the continued presence of many of the people who contributed to the mess in the first place, such as remaining board members who were appointed by Suede, coupled with the onomatopology (term coined by author NPR host Linda Holmes) which doesn’t do nearly enough to address the valid concerns of the membership. I’m exhausted from mishegas that didn’t need to become as bad as it did, and dispirited as I ponder the next step.

Also: it is a lot easier to convince a publisher NOT to spend money than it is to convince them to spend money. So the loss of publisher participation and sponsorship is a BFD to the conference, the organization, and the future of writers who relied on RWA’s advocacy on their behalf when dealing with those same publishers.

. . . .

while discussing the destruction of RWA’s reputation over the past two weeks with people who aren’t part of the community, I was asked this question: Who does the organization serve?

That question is referenced in the RWA onomatopology released yesterday:

We know we have a lot more work to do to restore the trust we have lost – and we are going to do whatever it takes to get there so that we can focus on the mission of this organization: to promote the professional and common business interests of romance writers. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association so it can be an even stronger, better and more inclusive professional home and advocate for romance authors.

We hope you will join us – collaboratively and productively – in rebuilding an RWA that serves its diverse and talented members well into the future. We believe this community is worth saving. (Emphasis mine.)

I see a very large and tangled problem with that goal, to rebuild RWA into a “professional home and advocate for romance authors…that serves its diverse and talented members.”

Whom does RWA serve specifically?

“Diverse and talented romance authors” is not clear enough as a definition.

. . . .

In other words, if an organization wants to change, current members often represent the past, the status quo, or perhaps the opposite of that change.

People who aren’t members, and a portion of the current membership, might represent the future, the wished-for changes, the possibility that hasn’t happened yet.

Setting aside the question of leadership for a moment (and again, the current RWA board should be removed and re-elected in its entirety) it’s important to ask over and over: whom does this organization serve?

Who is the priority?

Because it cannot be both.

If RWA serves the current membership of RWA, well, that membership contains a substantial number of people who:

  • openly embrace and promote racist ideologies
  • post on RWA Facebook pages and in internal message boards about their homophobia and racist views on people of color
  • write transphobic and racist articles for and letters to the Romance Writers Report
  • …and I could keep going but it’s depressing.

A substantial part of the current membership of RWA is a substantial part of the problem with RWA.

If the organization wants to serve any marginalized writers, it can’t also serve that portion of the current membership. It’s impossible. One side has demonstrated in PAN forums, email messages, and social media posts that it refuses to recognize the humanity of the other, and refuses to recognize their culpability in maintaining a White supremacist, classist, heteronormative, racist culture inside RWA. Nor can it commit to changing that culture.

The organization also can’t serve marginalized writers if the leadership has a documented history of not acknowledging ethics complaints from marginalized individuals, and of publishing and allowing screeds against those individuals in print and online. RWA can’t serve anyone if the organization doesn’t fully reveal what happened in the specific case of the ethics complaint and process against Courtney Milan, and what happened to the complaints from every writer who has reported a problem.

RWA can’t maintain its current membership nor its leadership and at the same time say it’s going to rebuild. Rebuilding requires people in leadership positions who are trusted by current and prospective members. And it requires trust in fellow members of the community.

As Olivia Waite and others have pointed out, the January 9 statement from RWA was a word assemblage that scarcely resembled the appropriate level of apology, acknowledgement, and intent to act. It lists as next steps several actions they’ve already performed multiple times. More consultants, more town halls, more discussions are not going to fix RWA.

Link to the rest at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

PG is 100% an outsider in this mess, but he suspects that RWA is mortally wounded. Although he has actively participated in some non-profit legal organizations having nothing to do with writing and publishing in the past, he is not in any way an expert in this field.

However, such experiential shortcomings have never prevented PG (and many others) from expressing an opinion on all sorts of subjects.

He thinks it would probably be easier to build a new organization rather to deal with past complaints, slights, insults, leaders, stakeholders, etc. In metaphorical terms, RWA is a dirty slate which will require cleaning and reconstruction before it can begin to build a compelling new identity. It will require thoughtful and energetic work to demonstrate that all the bad/embarrassing/nasty pieces are gone and only a positive and energetic group remains.

An organization which is a clean slate can start working on structure, governance, solicitation of membership without having to spend any time or energy on past mistakes, bad feelings, etc. Those authors who have become angry and vowed to never have anything more to do with RWA would seem to be low-hanging fruit for a new organization.

In suggesting that a new organization is a better idea, PG is not minimizing the hard work necessary to build a successful non-profit with enough resources – leadership, financial, membership numbers, marketing and promotional talent, etc., to succeed. Any group thinking about starting a new organization will have to worry about competition from other groups that want to replace RWA as well.

7 thoughts on “Where Does RWA Go From Here?”

  1. Our goal is to ensure the successful future of this association

    Perhaps they might try, “Increase sales of members books?” It might have a wider appeal.

  2. Before people steer the conversation into racism and social justice, let’s just acknowledge one universal truth: romance writers be crazy.

  3. Any professional writers’ organization should be open to membership by and support any writer who writes in the genre(s) represented by that organization. The private opinions of the members should be kept to themselves, but when they aren’t, they should be dismissed with a passive shrug by those who don’t agree with them. Then they should all get back to doing their job: writing the next story. I agree with Anthony Hopkins. “[I]t’s none of my business what people … think of me.” My job is to write, not to force others to think one way or another.

  4. No word in any of this about their readers.

    Worry about what the Romance publishers think of RWA, yes. Readers, no.

    I used to envy Romance writers their access to supporters who buy so many books almost automatically, because they are such avid readers – and know what they want.

    But I have seen NO mention of the readers in most of what I’ve read about this mess. And I was fascinated, so I read a lot.

  5. The idea presented by SBTB that current members of RWA are racist, homophobic, etc., is patently ridiculous. I was a member of the RWA for several years, participated in a few different chapters, and never encountered a white supremicist, homophobia, or transphobia.

    I did, however, encounter plenty of anti-white racism and anti-heteronormative sentiment, which is exactly why I left. White, heteronormative, non-left-leaning authors were being pushed out and silenced. Books not containing at least one non-het character were deemed homophobic. There was a push by one very vocal member of a certain chapter for ALL books to be message fiction, rather than purely entertaining. And so on.

    I got tired of wading through discussions that had nothing to do with helping authors make a living with their words and everything to do with Proper Group Think and Virtue Signaling the appropriate amount of Woke.

    • “I got tired of wading through discussions that had nothing to do with helping authors make a living with their words and everything to do with Proper Group Think and Virtue Signaling the appropriate amount of Woke.” Bravo!

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