2019 RITA Contest Judging

The purpose of RWA’s RITA Contest is to promote excellence in the romance genre by recognizing outstanding published novels and novellas.

Online sign-up to judge the contest opens in October 2018.


All entrants are required to judge the preliminary round. Others eligible to judge are authors who are PAN-eligible.

The final-round RITA entries shall be evaluated by five judges. Individuals chosen shall be at the discretion of the RWA staff. Staff shall make every reasonable effort to have one of the five judges for each category come from one of the following groups, in no order of preference: past Librarians of the Year; past Booksellers of the Year; Lifetime Achievement Award Winners; Individuals nominated for Librarian of the Year or Bookseller of the Year who have a demonstrated understanding of the romance genre; former publishing professionals who are no longer actively acquiring manuscripts, who have no ongoing ties to a publishing house and who did not perform any work on any books which they are asked to judge. The remaining judges for each category will be chosen first from a group including, in no order of preference:


  • Honor Roll members
  • Past RITA Award winners
  • Past RITA Award finalists
  • General PAN members whose first book was published at least five years prior to the start of the contest.

The Staff, using the demographic information it has available, will make every reasonable effort to ensure diversity on the judging panels. The preference will be for no judge to judge the same category more than once every three years.

Judge Instructions and Scoring

The scoring procedures for the preliminary round shall be included in the judges’ instructions.

Each preliminary-round entry will be scored individually on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0, with 1.0 being the lowest (poor) and 10.0 being the highest (excellent). Decimals (from .1 to .9) are encouraged to help avoid the possibility of a tie. Judges are encouraged to think of the points system as equivalent to a classroom grading scale:

9.0–10.0:  Excellent
8.0–8.9:  Good
7.0–7.9:  Average
6.0–6.9:  Below average
5.0–5.9:  Marginal
4.0–4.9:  Poor
4.0–1.0:  Very poor
0:  Did Not Finish (DNF; see section below)

Preliminary-round judges will be required to answer the following three questions in addition to assigning one overall score:


  1. Does the entry contain a central love story?
  2. Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?
  3. Does the entry fall within the category description?

If there are 3 negative responses to any one question, the entry is disqualified.

Overall preliminary-round scores will be determined using a trimmed mean (the highest and lowest scores will be discarded and the remaining three scores will be averaged).

The top scoring 4 percent of each category’s entries (based on the number of qualified entries received) will advance to the final round; excepting that no category will have fewer than 4 finalists and no category will have more than 10 finalists. Any fraction will be rounded up to the next whole number, not to exceed 10 finalists.

Final-round entries for the RITA and Golden Heart contests shall be ranked from first place to last place (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.) with the lowest score signifying the winner.


Additional Judging Issues Regarding the RITA

All entrants must judge.

By entering a book in the RITA, the entrant agrees that, to the extent permitted by law, RWA may track the entrant’s judging scores.


  • In the event there is a concern about a judge’s scoring, repetitive use of the DNF score, or invidious discrimination against content, characters or authors, the judge may be contacted for more information and to elaborate on the reasoning behind the scores.
  • If the explanation given by an entrant pursuant to is unsatisfactory, RWA reserves the right to remove an entrant from the RITA contest and the future judging pool, which could be for any specified period, including a lifetime ban, depending on the seriousness of the judging issue. These decisions will be made by RWA staff. Decisions can be appealed to the RWA Board.


The DNF (Did Not Finish) Score

This score is to be used pursuant to the restrictions set out in this section.

A judge in the preliminary round may give an entry a DNF score if the judge believes the book is too flawed to final as defined in and

A DNF score is appropriate in the following circumstances:


  • The book’s grammatical or other mechanical errors are so numerous as to suggest the book was not ready to be made commercially available by a professional author. The use of slang or vernacular is not a grammatical error.
  • The book’s craft issues are so numerous or fundamental to suggest the book was not ready to be made commercially available by a professional author.

A DNF is not appropriate in the following circumstances:

  • The book is not the type of book the judge usually reads.
  • The judge is uncomfortable with this subgenre of romance.
  • The judge does not like or is uncomfortable with the plot.
  • The judge does not like or is uncomfortable with the subject matter.
  • The judge does not like or is uncomfortable with one or more of the characters.
  • The judge believes they have read better books in this subgenre.
  • The judge had a hard time “getting into” the book or finds it boring.
  • The judge does not like or is uncomfortable with the sexual content, or lack thereof.
  • The judge believes they cannot fairly score this type of book, in which case the judge should contact the RWA Office immediately.
  • The judge thinks the book is in the wrong category, in which case the judge should indicate that on the judging form and not DNF.
  • The judge thinks the book is not a romance, in which case the judge should indicate that on the judging form and not DNF.
  • The judge thinks the book deserves a low score, in which case the judge should assign an appropriate score and not DNF.
  • The judge does not like or is uncomfortable with the use of slang, vernacular, profanity or explicit language.
A DNF score will equal a score of zero (0).

Any book that receives two DNF scores will automatically be excluded from moving to the final round of judging.

A judge may give a DNF score, if appropriate, after reading at least 25% of the book or 50 pages, whichever is shorter.

If the judge believes the DNF score is appropriate, the judge is not obligated to read the entire book.

If, for any reason, a judge believes they are unable to fairly assess a book they should not provide a score and should, instead, immediately contact the RWA Office.

Have questions? Check out the Judging FAQ before emailing the Contest Coordinator