As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference

[This is the fifth update in a series which includes “Courtney Milan Suspended by RWA, Banned from Leadership”, “Courtney Milan Controversy Decimates RWA Leadership”, “As Criticism Snowballs, RWA Keeps Trying to Justify Treatment of Courtney Milan”, and “Kathryn Davis Says RWA Encouraged Her To File Ethics Complaint Against Courtney Milan”.]

Amid the continuing social media backlash galvanized by RWA’s decision to impose penalties on Courtney Milan, Damon Suede is out as President of Romance Writers of America and staff member Carolyn Ritter has tendered her resignation, the RITA Awards have been set aside for this year, and a host of publishers have pulled their sponsorship of RWA’s annual conference.

TURNOVER. Damon Suede, then RWA President Elect, succeeded Carolyn Jewel in December when she resigned as President.

Citing its “disagreement with the malicious actions, which lacked due process that were taken against RWA member Ms. Courtney Milan,” the Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of Romance Writers of America (CIMRWA) on December 26 called for the resignation of Suede and RWA staff member Executive Director Carol Ritter. And by December 31 they had gathered over 1000 signatures and submitted a petition to recall Suede from office.

Courtney Milan also listed experiences with Suede she believed showed his unfitness for office.  

Carol Ritter joined RWA in 2008, first as RWA’s professional relations manager, and then as deputy executive director. In November she moved up to Executive Director.

Today RWA announced that Suede and Ritter have resigned.

Damon has offered his resignation, effective immediately, and the Board has accepted it.  Damon, who has served on the RWA Board of Directors since 2015, as President-Elect from September 2019 through late December 2019, and then as President for the past two weeks, has been a passionate advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion issues for his entire life.  We thank Damon for his service and wish him all the best in the future.  

The Board of Directors has made a decision to not immediately fill the office of President while the Board – working transparently with its membership – determines an appropriate recruitment and selection process. 

The Board also has accepted the resignation of RWA Executive Director Carol Ritter, who has decided to step down from the role she assumed in November.  Carol, who has been a steady senior member of RWA management for well over a decade, has offered to stay on over the coming months to support a smooth transition to new staff leadership; the Board has accepted this offer.  Carol has been instrumental in keeping the operations of RWA running and we are deeply grateful to her for the commitment and leadership she has brought to our association.  The Board will appoint an interim Executive Director upon Carol’s departure and will form a search committee to identify Carol’s permanent replacement.

STUD PLANET PROBE. One of the most unexpected issues to surface before Suede resigned was the challenge to his basic eligibility for office. Did he really have the five published books he needed to be eligible to become President-Elect? One researcher said it looked like he only had four books —  

Did Stud Planet exist? Was it a qualifying book? Courtney Milan asked:

The research has suggested Suede’s qualifications were unconvincing. Courtney Milan tweeted some information here and  here, and wrote another thread here. Adrienne also dug into Dreamspinner’s publication announcements on the Wayback Machine and did not find evidence for the book at the time it supposedly came out (see here).  

Chuck Tingle was happy to get in the last word.

Speaking of Chuck Tingle, he noticed that the RWA apparently didn’t buy up the obvious alternate URLs. So he bought https://www.romancewritersofamerica.com and has created a parody site there. The test for applicants to the Board is brutally funny.

OTHER RESIGNATIONS. The RWA announced that Secretary Donna Alward and Director at Large Barbara Wallace and Director at Large Renee Ryan, all resigned from the Board effective January 8.

PUBLISHERS PULL SUPPORT FROM RWA CONFERENCE. RWA2020 is scheduled to be held in San Francisco from July 29 – August 1. However, many sponsors have been pulling out.

Publishers Weekly reported as of January 9 these publishers and imprints have announced they won’t support the conferece:

As of this morning, publishers including Avon, Berkley Romance, Entangled, HarperCollins Canada and Harlequin, Kensington, St. Martin’s, Gallery Books, and Tule Publishing have all pulled support from the RWA and the national conference, and a tweet citing an email allegedly sent by Sourcebooks says that that house will also not support the conference. The statements all cite increasing diversity and/or inclusion in publishing as a priority, as well as condemning recent events at the RWA.

Harlequin’s statement, released January 8, is representative of the reasons being given: “Letter to RWA Board of Directors”.

…As a leading global publisher of romance fiction that is committed to diversity and inclusion, we at Harlequin believe it is important that all authors feel included, respected and heard. Recently reported actions by RWA leadership have therefore led us to decide not to sponsor or attend the RWA2020 national conference. We will reevaluate our participation in 2021 as the organization works with its members to address concerns that have been raised.

Courtney Milan takes it all with a grain of salt:

The New York Times’ January 8 roundup of RWA developments notes —  

The event, held annually in the summer since the 1980s, typically attracts about 2,000 attendees. It is a major source of revenue for the R.W.A. as well as a key networking opportunity for romance writers, agents and editors looking for new talent.

…According to HelenKay Dimon, a former R.W.A. president, the departure of so many major romance publishers is a major blow to the organization. “RWA plans conferences years in advance,” she said in an email, adding that both Avon and Harlequin are major sponsors — “tens of thousands of dollars worth” — and that losing them will likely have a “cascading effect” in terms of the authors and editors who attend.

RWA CANCELS RITA AWARDS. The “Status of the 2020 RITA Contest” announces the RITA awards have also become casualties of the organization’s internecine strife. Reminiscent of how the Nobel Prize for Literature was handled, the RWA says two years’ awards will be given in 2021.

Due to recent events in RWA, many in the romance community have lost faith in RWA’s ability to administer the 2020 RITA contest fairly, causing numerous judges and entrants to cancel their participation. The contest will not reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas and thus will not be able to fulfill its purpose of recognizing excellence in the genre. For this reason, the Board has voted to cancel the contest for the current year. The plan is for next year’s contest to celebrate 2019 and 2020 romances.

Members who entered the 2020 contest will be refunded their full entry fee by January 22, 2020. We extend our deep appreciation to the judges who volunteered their time this year.

JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS. The controversy has gained a lot of attention from mainstream news, prompting Linda Holmes to offer advice to anyone covering it. Thread starts here.

RWA FORUMS. People are recommending standards for the RWA forums, too – aimed at a different set of problems.

Beverly Jenkins

Alyssa Day and Carrie Lomax

DISSENTING VOICE. Meanwhile, in an alternate universe that nevertheless has the same zip code as our own, Sarah A. Hoyt warns about “Letting the Wokescolds Win” at Mad Genius Club.

If you take away the right of people who write to amuse other people — and as far as I can tell, Romance still has the largest audience of people wanting to be amused — without bothering to police their every word lest literature majors and mean girls throw a fit, you might as well shutter the whole enterprise.

All you’ll have at the end of the day is mean — but exceedingly privileged and well educated — young women trying to force the “natives” of the fun regions of writing and reading into their version of propriety and utility.  All the colonialist Victorian women who forced natives of tropical regions to wear pants stand arrayed behind those missionaries of woke scolding and power to truth nodding in approval. Which is fine since many of the current wokescolds are descended from these women. I just wish the current missionaries would return to their great great grandmother’s fervor. I can always wear pants — possibly on my head — but I refuse to give them an inch on what I can write, what I can read, or what I can think.

ALTERNATIVE ORGANIZATION. According to Publishers Weekly, Romance Alliance seeks members among those disenchanted with RWA.

As a result of the turmoil, a number of RWA members have joined the Romance Alliance, a group formed in an effort to create an alternative to the RWA. In a newsletter sent to members and subscribers, the group wrote: “We WANT the people who write what RWA’s practices ignored. We WANT diverse personalities and perspectives. We WELCOME the chance to succeed where RWA has systematically failed so many. And we WELCOME any input or suggestions as to how we can achieve our mission better and more meaningfully to YOU.”

The Romance Alliance is careful, however, not to imply that it hopes to replace the RWA. “From the beginning we focused on ‘can there be an alternative organization for those who feel excluded from RWA?,” author Sue London said. “Because there are a lot of us who joined and left RWA for various reasons.”

OBLIGATION OWED. Courtney Milan today described the work of black women in founding RWA and through the current controversy as creating a debt, and what she plans to do to help repay it. Thread starts here.

40 thoughts on “As More Issues Raised, RWA President Resigns, RITA Awards Postponed, and Many Publishers Withdraw Sponsorship of RWA Conference

  1. RWA Forums: there’s also disemvoweling. If the comment is still there, but takes work to read, it discourages people from sh*t-posting.

  2. (Oh, sorry, I missed that it was already in the post.

    There is SO MUCH BIZARRO STUFF in this story.)

  3. Those are some serious delusions Hoyt is spouting. I wonder if she’s read The Phantom Tollbooth? She could jump to Conclusions without being anywhere near it, and then swim back without getting wet.

  4. Thanks for the roundup, @Mike Glyer! I love the Tingle site, especially the “Apply to the Board” bit. 😀

    @Chip Hitchcock: Nope, I’m not clicking on the Hoyt clickbait link. Not gonna do it. Stop trying to trick me! 😉 But I presume she is speaking stupidly and from ignorance, as usual? (It seems a safe bet, considering past history.)

  5. Well, it’s been some wild weeks. Not envious of the person who has to do the cleanup.

    I notice that Carol Ritter is going to stay for a few months to “help”. My guess is that it is part of a deal to give her financial stability while searching for a new job.

    On the good side, it shouldn’t be that hard to find capable board members. I hope at least some of those that resigned would accept to take their positions back.

  6. Well. What a busy week. Long live the lesbian takeover!*

    What a year Courtney Milan had, starting with the uncovering of CopyPasteCris’ plagiarism factory and finishing with being targeted by her own professional organization.

    How nice to know that Hoyt retains her ability to grab the wrong end of any stick.

    Will be interesting to see whether RWA survives and in what form. In a story that moved very fast and had a large number of moving parts, File770’s summary posts have been very useful. Thanks, Mike Glyer!

    when Nora Roberts was in a dispute with RWA in 2005, she was told that RWA had to hold the line, or “the lesbians would take over”.

  7. Does Hoyt recognise the stunning irony of a European living in Colorado describing authors of colour as missionaries and colonisers? I can never tell with her if she is being deliberately provocative or she really is as stupid as she appears.

  8. @Joe

    I assume it’s deliberate, not least because she’d normally be fine with missionaries and colonisers.

  9. There was suggestion of a financial review of RWA, does anyone think this will still go through now?
    It would be a shame if it didn’t because just on general principle, if an organisation is requesting money to be spent in particular things the people who give that money should have a right to know where it goes, in my view.

  10. The whole “a publisher retroactively helped an author fabricate a book publication credit by assigning them an ISBN so he could hide his lack of credentials to be president” is my new high bar for weird-ass organizational shenanigans.

    As Tessa Dare said, “He’s probably off to the next town to sell another monorail.

  11. I wonder if they’ll ever get around to properly adjudicating the original ethics complaint that started this whole mess. Despite all the subsequent dust that’s been raised, the complaint itself raised colorable allegations of wrongdoing by Milan. It would be to the detriment of the RWA if bad actions on the part of Milan were swept under the rug because of a procedural fumble.

  12. Miles Carter: It would be to the detriment of the RWA if bad actions on the part of Milan were swept under the rug because of a procedural fumble.

    It’s already been revealed that neither of the complaints were valid because they were filed by people as publishers rather than as authors, and that the substance of at least one of the complaints was almost completely fabricated. Milan didn’t do anything that was actionable by the RWA. Sorry you missed that update.

  13. JJ: You sound real sorry.

    The RWA can’t dismiss the complaints, either on procedural or substantive grounds, before they’ve been properly adjudicated, is my point. They haven’t been. I’m wondering if they ever will.

  14. Miles Carter: The RWA can’t dismiss the complaints, either on procedural or substantive grounds, before they’ve been properly adjudicated, is my point. They haven’t been. I’m wondering if they ever will.

    That’s true. And in order to adjudicate them properly, the organization is going to have to get its house in order, re-fill the board positions, and create a new Ethics committee, and deal with the investigation and audit which are almost certainly going to ensue.

    Then there’s the question of the changes which were made to the By-Laws in October with the apparent specific intent of using them against Milan. The new Board is going to have to review those By-Law changes and determine whether there was an impropriety in the way the changes were made (and it certainly sounds like there was). It’s clear now that at least some of the existing Board members were corrupt and/or improperly influenced by Suede, which calls into question any action taken by the Board in recent months.

    Then there’s the question of all of the secret “charges” which were presented to the Board or to the Shadow Ethics Committee created by Suede, which neither Courtney Milan nor the real Ethics Committee ever got to see. I’m betting that those documents have been shredded — but it’s slightly possible that someone who was on the Board or the Shadow Ethics Committee (no one seems to know who the members were) will be willing to admit it and pony up the documents they were given.

    I suspect that there will be a number of Board members who get their own attorneys and cooperate with the investigation which is almost certainly going to take place. They are likely to be willing to sing like canaries if it will get them out of personal liability, since this whole fiasco is almost certainly not going to be covered by the RWA’s D&O insurance.

  15. @Joe: It’s both; she’s as stupid as she appears, while trying to be provocative.

    @Annie: I suspect there won’t be a full forensic audit (of the type Courtney Milan was asking for) until there’s a new board, at least. But hopefully then!

    @Stephen Granade: I know, right? And the thing is, it was already too late to try to do that. People had it figured out and they couldn’t go back in time. Really absurd.

    @Miles Carter: Their ethics rules don’t apply to social media, so can’t the Board just completely throw out the complaint, like they reversed their acceptance of the Ethics committee finding? (I may be wrong about the Board’s powers here.) They definitely shouldn’t leave it hanging over Milan’s head as they did. According to Milan, it’s basically still able to be taken up by a future committee/Board (ETA: like an open case), and my impression from some of her Tweets was that the Board could officially throw it out and close the books on the complaint. I haven’t read their labyrinthian rules, though.

    But come on, they’re not sweeping any of Milan’s “bad actions” under the rug.

  16. in re: “Dissenting Voice” —

    — but I refuse to give them an inch on what I can write, what I can read, or what I can think.

    I am continually amazed at how lacking in self-awareness these folks are.

    Hoyt, for heaven’s sake — you have a right to write, read, and think in any way you like. And we have the right to write, read, and think in condemnation of what you produce. It works both ways, remember?

    One of my favorite axioms, which needs to be repeated frequently: “Free speech” is not the same thing as consequence-free speech.

  17. @ JJ:

    There’s also the thorny question of “should you judge an ethics complaint by the by-laws as they stood when the complaint was filed”(i), “… as they stood when the action leading to the complaint happened”(ii), or (as seems to have been done by the RWA extra-ordinary ethics committee) “… as they stand when you process the complaint”(iii).

    I think there’s an element of fairness to both (i) and (ii), although the fairness adheres to the person filing the complaint in (i) and to the subject of the complaint in (ii). At least after a quick consideration, I don’t consider (iii) to be fair (in the general case) to anyone except possibly the ethics committee.

  18. Hoyt, for heaven’s sake — you have a right to write, read, and think in any way you like. And we have the right to write, read, and think in condemnation of what you produce. It works both ways, remember?

    One of my favorite axioms, which needs to be repeated frequently: “Free speech” is not the same thing as consequence-free speech.

    This is a more complex question than it first appears. The culture clash goes to the heart of what’s expected in contemporary fiction.

  19. Miles Carter on January 10, 2020 at 7:02 am said:

    I wonder if they’ll ever get around to properly adjudicating the original ethics complaint that started this whole mess. Despite all the subsequent dust that’s been raised, the complaint itself raised colorable allegations of wrongdoing by Milan. It would be to the detriment of the RWA if bad actions on the part of Milan were swept under the rug because of a procedural fumble.

    The Ethics Committee established (apparently) to specifically find Courtney Milan guilty of something so as to suspend from ever holding officer found FOR Milan on each count that had any substance. The eventual ruling against Milan was a based on a very vague and poorly explained charge.

    The factual claims in the complaint and the claims against the RWA codes did not hold any water. Given, everything we’ve learnt since (i.e. that this was a process set up to target Milan) it beggars belief to imagine that there was a substantive and procedurally correct charge against Milan and that a process set up to find against Milan just forgot to do that one and went for vague hand waving at ‘invidious discrimination’ instead.

    Wayyyyyback many centuries ago (i.e. last Christmas day) before I knew the rest of the details I was pointing out that the complaint had no substance: https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/12/25/the-romance-writers-of-america-confusingly-rule-against-criticising-books-for-racism/

  20. Msb on January 10, 2020 at 1:44 am said:

    What a year Courtney Milan had, starting with the uncovering of CopyPasteCris’ plagiarism factory and finishing with being targeted by her own professional organization.

    Without getting too deep into the conspiratorial weeds, I wonder if, underneath all of this, Milan’s work on issues like CopyPasteCris played a part in the manoeuvres against her? There’s more than one thread here already (the right-wing backlash being one, Damon Suede’s ambitions being another and closely related The Dreamspinner Press issue being a third)

  21. @Lela —

    This is a more complex question than it first appears.

    No, it really isn’t.

    Authors have free speech — they get to write and think whatever they like (within previously established limits, like credible threats of violence and so on). That doesn’t mean that anyone has the responsibility to publish or purchase what they’ve written, or that anyone has the responsibility to refrain from criticizing what they’ve written.

    Authors also have the right to disagree with whatever someone says about their writing. But clutching one’s pearls and dramatically declaiming about “Muh Free Speech!” just because someone dares to criticize you is simply silly.

  22. Also, Sarah Hoyt is an indie author, which means she can write whatever she wants, unless she violates Amazon’s taboos, which mainly concern erotica anyway, a genre Hoyt does not write. And her traditionally published books are by Baen who have no editorial issues with rightwing viewpoints. So no one is stopping her from writing what she wants to write.

    Freedom of speech does not mean immunity from criticism, however.

  23. Lela: In what specific ways do you think it’s more complex? You need to back up an assertion like that and present your ideas.

    I have never yet seen an argument for it being “more complex” that didn’t seem to boil down to either “how dare you not give me(/them) money for my(/their) ideas!” or “How dare you say nasty things about what I said/wrote!”

    It might be genuinely illuminating if you can present an exception.

  24. Camestros Felapton, perhaps so. Add that issue (which led not only to Milan filing an ethics complaint against the plagiarist but also to the very deep-pocketed Nora Roberts suing her) to Milan’s history before and after she became a writer, and the reactionaries in RWA would have been fools not to recognize her as a formidable adversary. It looks very much like they tried to shut her up before she got too powerful to silence. (One of the complaints demands that RWA deprive Milan of a platform from which to express her views. I’d love to know whose idea that was.) But they were too late. So they “saved” the platform by burning it down.
    No idea where this goes from here. Starting a new organization from scratch would be really tough, but so would be rousting the reactionaries out of RWA and rebuilding all the links that this disaster has broken. RWA does have a structure and at least some resources; the question is, whether the former is too compromised and the latter are too much depleted. Good luck to the forces of change in choosing their future direction wisely.

  25. I am going to disagree on the free speech issue. In part, Hoyt is repeating a bad faith argument. But, there is a nut of truth to it that is worth addressing. People are facing social sanction, economic repercussions and non-trivial consequences for exercising for their speech. They actually are being told what to say, or at least what not to say. That is a perfectly fair reading of the observable evidence. We are actively discriminating against people because of what they say. That is only okay if speech is not a moral right (as opposed to a legal right). But you know what? Speech is not a right. There, I said it. Speech is not special. It is an action, and has all the same moral rights and restrictions as any other form of action. Not an iota more or less. Not acknowledging that only empowers Hoyt, Suede and others who use their speech to hurt others.

    And I have, in fact, read the XKCD comic which gets posted every time this subject comes up. You know, the one where a stick man lectures about “free speech”. Instead, let me suggest another XKCD comic. Because sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it.

    https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1216:_Sticks_and_Stones

  26. @Christopher —

    People are facing social sanction, economic repercussions and non-trivial consequences for exercising for their speech.

    Refer back to my earlier post — “Free Speech” is not the same thing as consequence-free speech.

    Too many people (I’m NOT saying that you’re one of them ) forget that ALL the First Amendment does is prevent ** government ** from limiting your speech. It says nothing at all about publishers, other writers, social clubs, professional organizations, social media or whoever might read your work.

  27. @ Camestros Felapton
    Me again. Rather than either of us speculating, a better source is Courtney Milan’s Twitter (https://twitter.com/courtneymilan/status/1215704064794624000). As she sees it, the start of the story is several people’s objections to racism shown by Sue Grimshaw, who worked for complainant Tisdale at Glenfinnan publishing (where complainant Davis also worked). Tisdale objected to the objections and a wide array of people, including Milan, provided receipts. This prompted a racist backlash targeting Milan.
    This makes much more sense than starting with “Courtney Milan criticized a book published in 1990”, which is a weird beginning if one thinks about it.

  28. A further thought: It’s pretty funny that free-market capitalists are all gung-ho about the marketplace of ideas until that marketplace decides their ideas are no longer in demand. Then all of a sudden it’s “Oh, no, the evil market is falling on me! I must be protected from the evil market forces!”

    😉

    Pick a side, people.

  29. @Msb
    And said book was reprinted in about 2014, without changes. I understand that’s the edition Milan saw.

  30. @Lela E. Buis:

    This is a more complex question than it first appears. The culture clash goes to the heart of what’s expected in contemporary fiction.

    Or it could just be a clash between culture and non-culture — a drum the Blooms and suchlike have been trying to beat for decades, but are finding can turn against them.

    @Christopher Hensley: people have always been told what to say; the difference is that instead of the power structure telling people they can’t say harmless things that entertain other people (e.g., erotica), the people are now telling those who think they should hold the reins that saying hurtful things will affect how many people buy their output. (AFAICT this is more like what started this tempest — someone claimed that they’d lost a deal, but the deal seems not to have actually existed.)

    @Contrarius: capitalism has always had people who demand that the system work in their favor. (I recall a satirical essay, possibly by Swift, in which candle makers demand that Parliament do something about competition from the sun.) Idea management has long been about whose ox was gored. (Ogden Nash covered this long ago: “If a friend is dogged by some awful hoodoo/He naturally don’t laugh, but you do.”) I’ve also seen this on a micro scale: local fans who felt free to put down other people’s efforts but got horribly sensitive if they were called on it.

  31. @Chip —

    @Contrarius: capitalism has always had people who demand that the system work in their favor.

    Yes! Also that “Free Speech” means only THEY can actually speak freely!

  32. The first link in “(see here and here)” is broken; the link is <a href=”here”>here</a>

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