Romance Writers of America Files Bankruptcy

Romance Writers of America Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday saying it has lost thousands of members in recent years and can’t pay hotel penalties it owes or expects to owe after failing to fill the contracted number of rooms at its keynote conferences.

According to U.S. News (“US Romance Writers’ Group Seeks Loving Embrace of Bankruptcy Court”):

…Before 2019, RWA had 10,000 members, but membership has dropped to about 2,000. The organization’s declining membership meant that its long-term conference commitments were “threatening RWA’s ability to continue to operate,” according to its court filings.

The organization estimated that it owes roughly $3 million to the hotels that host its annual writers’ conference and about $74,500 in cash to other creditors. It plans to use its bankruptcy to eliminate the debt to the hotels, and instead institute a three-year payment plan that directs all of the organization’s disposable income to the hotels and other creditors… 

Bloomberg Law reports:

The hotel that hosted RWA’s most recent conference has sought more than $700,000 from RWA because it sold fewer rooms than RWA had reserved, and the group expects to lose money on its upcoming 2024 conference in Austin, Texas, as well. RWA also faces a $1 million contract termination demand from the Philadelphia Marriott that is slated to host RWA’s 2025 conference….

…RWA’s lawyer, Carollynn H.G. Callari, said the organization doesn’t expect bankruptcy to impact its day-to-day operations. The Chapter 11 filing is necessary to restructure the group’s legacy obligations, including its conference contracts.

Five years ago, Romance Writers of America suffered a backlash of mass resignations of officers and loss of members following the board’s attempt to censure Courtney Milan. A new board hoped to signal their changing vision for the problem-ridden organization by remaking RWA’s annual awards and naming them after founder Vivian Stephens, an African-American woman (“The Vivian”). However, in their very first year (2020) a controversy led RWA to rescind one of the inaugural awards, given to a western romance whose male protagonist takes part in the Wounded Knee massacre and then is redeemed by religion and the love of a good woman. At the time Kymberlyn Reed tweeted: “A ‘romance’ in which the ‘hero’ commits genocide against Native Americans is honored with an award named after the pioneering Black woman founder of RWA is why the organization continues to bleed membership.” 

Bloomberg Law’s headline for its story about today’s court filing is: “Romance Writer Group Is Bankrupt After DEI Fight Decimates Ranks”. The ShelfLovePodcast reacted to the headline in a post at

I don’t agree with the framing of the headline – I left it intact here in quotes because…it’s a choice that speaks volumes. If you lose 70% of your membership to protect the values of the 30% that stays…leadership obviously isn’t representing the interests of the majority.

The case is Romance Writers of America Inc., case number 24-32447, in the US Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas.

[Thanks to ja for the story.]

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15 thoughts on “Romance Writers of America Files Bankruptcy

  1. Another organization torn apart by insistence that the only good books are those which are pure to someone’s ideology.

    Hotel penalties if a convention falls seriously short of its room block are murder.

  2. @Gary, it’s not a question of purity. RWA has had major issues with racism as well as financial management issues. Ironic because some of its most iconic members in the past have been women such as Beverly Jenkins, Alyssa Cole, and, yes, Courtney Milan, all of whom are women of color. There are many excellent romance writers out there who are people of color but they have been sidelined in the past.

    Additionally, there’s been significant financial shenanigans in the past which have created further problems. RWA had issues before Milan pointed out various problems. Covid just put this reckoning off by a few years.

  3. Gary, I’ve known smaller writer organizations that went out of existence because they had expenses that increased steadily but their membership declined without anything controversial happening. The reason this happened as much of the membership simply didn’t need them in the age of digital connectivity.

    It had absolutely nothing to with ideology in any of their cases.

  4. I strongly suspect that in addition to all the resignations, they failed to meet their hotel room block due to COVID, and the hotels’ staff are denying COVID had any affect at all on hotel room reservations. I, personally, know of a local con that happened to… but they only had one chapter go bankrupt, not the entire organization.

    There’s a reason Worldcon works the way it does.

  5. @ Gary
    True, if the ideology in question is “keeping white people happy”.

  6. Of course, y’all probably guessed I would want to comment on this…

    The Bloomberg headline stinks. There were a lot of factors at work. RWA is one of the few writing organizations of this type that accepts unpublished writers for membership — and they made a lot of money from those writers. (Some went on to become pros, some didn’t. Quite a few members paid the fees just to have a chance to meet their favorite writers.) But that was a different world — before Facebook groups and social media and all the other competing factors. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t already losing members. And then COVID hit, and they canceled their meeting — taking a huge loss.

    FWIW I joined for a year (starting in 2007) — I think it was a $25 fee plus $99 a year. I was interested in joining some of the RWA chapters (such as one for futuristic romance). But there was a fee to join each chapter — sometimes as high as $45 a year. So I didn’t end up joining any of the chapters, and I let my RWA membership lapse. (Even back then, I was getting just as much information about romance from free writing sites.)

    The controversies lost RWA a huge percentage of members. I don’t blame people for leaving. I know some people wish the two sides could have made peace — and that there were a lot of moderate people caught in the middle. But how can a queer writer “get along” with a fellow member who believes queer romances should not be allowed to be called romances (for example)? How is an erotic romance writer supposed to feel if they know their fellow member looks down on their work?

    On top of that, RWA never really seemed to have the helpful assets of other groups, such as SFWA, MWA, etc. For example, RWA didn’t have the equivalent of Writer Beware, Griefcom, grants programs, and other things that SFWA can offer.

    But RWA did have writing contests — with entry fees. For example, entering the Golden Heart Award was $65 for members and $195 for nonmembers! Those are high fees! And you had no way to guarantee that you’d get a suitable judge. So you often heard about writers who submitted their books and then were told the judge didn’t think their book was really a romance — because it was a queer romance or an erotic romance or a vampire romance or whatever.

  7. I hadn’t realized that RWA’s membership had become that “small” (though it’s still double the size of the organization I belong to, Novelists, Inc.) But I was aware that many people were leaving RWA for years over various controversies and unforced errors, including many of my friends.

    Some people left because of recurrent issues with racism (no, it’s not about enforcing “purity” to someone’s “ideology,” there were genuine problems in the organization which many members tried many times to address), and others left RWA for the same reason I left SFWA years ago: years after year, internal quarreling seemed to be the main focus of the organization. I still have many friends in the romance genre, but I’m not sure I know anyone who’s still an RWA member.

  8. @Anne Marble: You raise some interesting points.

    Many published writers were dissatisfied with RWA in the early 1990s because it seemed to be wholly focused on teaching aspiring writers how to get published, offering very little to published writers while simultaneously demanding a great deal of them.

    It was treated as an OBLIGATION in RWA for those of us who were published (I sold two romance novels before I’d ever even heard of RWA, then joined at my editor’s suggestion) to teach how-to workshops, write how-to articles, and do whatever we could to help “pre-published” writers (i.e. aspiring writers, many of whom hadn’t completed a manuscript, some of whom had never even started a manuscript) to get published. Chapters like PAN (Published Authors Network) and PASIC (I don’t remember what the acronym stood for) were eventually formed in response to published authors indicating that they needed to get something out of RWA, not just belong to teach others.

    But, of course, that was many years ago. A LOT has changed since then. The internet is chock full of information about writing and publishing, and the self-publishing revolution also means someone can put her book out there in the market without a traditional publisher.

    It hadn’t occurred to me, since I haven’t thought about RWA in years, but all those changes were bound to have an effect on the organization, which I remember being very much as you’ve described it—in addition to the various controversies that have occurred over the past few years. Given that they’ve lost some 8,000 members, I think your observations probably explain even more about that drop in numbers than the various controversies that led to waves of mass departures.

  9. Much of the 2019-20 controversy was exacerbated by RWA’s poor execution of its own rules. Personally I was astounded that a writers association took action against a writer on behalf of a publisher, and that that writer was sanctioned for social media posts even though RWA’s code of conduct specifically exempted personal social media posts. It’s difficult for a struggling writer to have confidence in an organisation that behaves like that to writers, and it proved impossible for RWA to earn that confidence back.

  10. I’m reminded of the discussion earlier in the year about the WSFS and people insisting that it was obvious an organisation needed a more conventional structure with a strong central executive and some full-time staff (the recurring controversies around Worldcon and the Hugo Awards being offered as why this idea was obvious). Perhaps that is what the WSFS needs but as the RWA demonstrates, such structures not only do not prevent controversies but such organisations can be surprisingly lacking in resilience.

  11. Somewhat sideways to this, but connected to fandom’s long tradition of “Regency” dancing: the Regency special interest subgroup of the RWA, Beau Monde, reconstituted itself as an independent volunteer-run association a few years ago and is now plugging along nicely as Regency Fiction Writers. Along with the usual promo opportunities, they offer spectacularly good short online courses on different aspects of the Regency era as well as writing courses of various sorts and an annual online conference. They have a lively discussion forum on their website as well. I don’t know what their membership numbers are, but they seem sufficient for their goals, and they have definitely embraced diversity and inclusion.

    Note: I’m a member, but I have no official role or financial interest in the group.

  12. I was a member of RWA, joining it and my local, much-missed chapter in 2017 or so. RWA and the local chapter offered me so much!

    Then the group began tearing itself apart, culminating in the board not following its own rules and contradicting itself including having a president (Damon Suede) who wasn’t actually eligible to be president. That year was an example of what not to do, over and over and over.

    Our local chapter folded in December of 2021, because members fled until we couldn’t manage a quorum to meet RWA’s rules.

    LOADS of chapters experienced the same things.

    I believe RWA held on as long as it did because when a chapter folds, it’s supposed to return its treasury to the organization. That’s what we did. We were far too small and didn’t have enough lawyer members to take on RWA in court to keep our treasury and go on as independents.

    No one has replaced RWA. They were so helpful to new writers. The local chapters, if mine was anything to go by, were helpful, supportive, and wanted their members to succeed.

  13. @Laura Resnick

    Belated response 🙂

    When the membership has a huge number of aspiring authors, it’s not surprising to see the pros pushed into doing more and more. As if the pros didn’t have deadlines to meet and lives to lead. From everything I’ve read about the process, judging for the Golden Heart must have been a huge burden.

    I remember that some small press authors were upset when PAN was formed because their publishers didn’t meet the qualifications. But sheesh… you have to draw the line somewhere.

    OTOH I did learn a lot from the sessions at the RWA convention I attended. Somewhere, I still have the recordings of the sessions I bought after attending. Those would make great drivetime listening…

  14. I belonged to RWA for several years from the late 1990s through 2014. Our local chapter was forced to disband because we were very small, and could not meet RWA national’s new requirements involving chapter boards. We were required to “term limit” out all of our board members (who had served faithfully for many years), and we simply did not have enough members willing to step up and serve as a new board. (Yes, I was a board member. I was the secretary.) One thing we did have, however, was a healthy amount in our treasury. Our final chapter meeting was a one-day writing retreat at a high-end hotel where we rented a meeting room (which included breakfast and lunch and snacks) and our VP handed out some very nice swag. (I’m still using the lovely tote bag and the coffee mug.) I think we had about $35 left to turn over to national when we officially disbanded…. We muddled along for a couple more years as an independent writers’ group, but after several long-term members either moved away or left the group for personal reasons, we decided to just shut it down.

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