Romance Novel Awards: Your In-Depth Guide

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Laura Sackton

Senior Contributor

Laura Sackton is a queer book nerd and freelance writer, known on the internet for loving winter, despising summer, and going overboard with extravagant baking projects. In addition to her work at Book Riot, she reviews for BookPage and AudioFile, and writes a weekly newsletter, Books & Bakes, celebrating queer lit and tasty treats. You can catch her on Instagram shouting about the queer books she loves and sharing photos of the walks she takes in the hills of Western Mass (while listening to audiobooks, of course).

Literary awards, no matter what kind, are imperfect at best. They’re always going to be subjective, no matter how fair and reasoned the nomination process is. They can be a great tool to help readers find new books, but paying too much attention to them means you can easily miss out on fantastic books, too. In that sense, romance novel awards are definitely a mixed bag.

There are a few big awards given out by organizations such as the Romance Writers of America, although the most prestigious romance novel awards, the RITA Awards, collapsed in 2019 (we’ll get to that, but we’re not sad about it). In addition to the newly minted Vivian Award (which replaces the RITAs), there are quite a few reader-hosted awards, as well as niche awards for particular kinds of romance.

I hope this guide will help you navigate your way through all the romance novel awards out there. I’ve highlighted what each award is, who hosts it, the kinds of books it recognizes, and why you might want to pay attention to it. My purpose isn’t to elevate any one award over another, but to help you find the awards that will speak to you and help you discover lots of new romances to love. Whether you’re looking for new books across various romance sub-genres, want to get more involved in the online romance community, or are just curious about what books your fellow readers are loving, these awards can be a great place to start.

I’ve highlighted a few must-read past winners of each award, but you can, of course, find many more recommendations in our Romance archives. Ready for some happily-ever-afters? Let’s go!

Romance Novel Awards Hosted by Organizations

The Vivian Award (RWA) (Formerly the RITA Awards)

The Vivian Award, hosted by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), replaces the controversial and now-defunct RITA Awards. There’s a lot of history here. The RITAs began in the 1980s and have long been considered the most prestigious romance awards out there (and the only major one). For years, members of the romance community have been criticizing the RITAs for the continued lack of BIPOC authors among the nominations and winners. It all came to a head in the fall of 2019, when prolific romance author Courtney Milan was sanctioned by the RWA for an “ethics violation.” The RWA collapsed, and in May 2020, they canceled the RITAs and announced a new award, named for the Black co-founder of the organization, Vivian Stephens.

2021 is The Vivian Award’s inaugural year. There are 18 categories, including long, mid-length and short entires in contemporary, historical, and speculative romance, as well as romantic suspense. Additional categories include YA, romance with religions or spiritual elements, mainstream fiction with a central romance, most anticipated romance, and best first published romance.

Must-Read Past Winners of the RITA Awards

Why Pay Attention?

Most of Romancelandia was eagerly waiting to see if the Vivian Awards would actually be an indication that the RWA is changing for the better. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The 2021 winners were announced in July, and it was a mess. The winner of the Vivian for Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements was a book with a genocidal “hero”. The RWA has since rescinded the award and released a statement regarding the category itself.

The takeaway: so far, it doesn’t seem like the revamped Vivian Award is doing much to address the underlying problems with the RWA. This award is worth paying attention to, especially if you’re an avid romance reader, if only to keep up with what’s happening in the romance book world. But it’s never going to be my go-to award for recommendations.

The Ripped Bodice Awards (The Ripped Bodice Bookstore)

The Ripped Bodice Awards for Excellence in Romantic Fiction were started in 2019 by Bea and Leah Koch, owners of the Ripped Bodice Bookstore. The awards are judged by a panel of experts, including romance writers, readers bloggers, and influencers. Book Riot’s own Jessica Pryde and Silvana Reyes have both been on the panel in years past! There are no categories; each year, several honorees are chosen (9 in 2019, 12 in 2020). Each honor receives $1000, plus a $100 donation to the charity of their choice.

Must-Read Past Winners

Of all the awards I researched while writing this article, this is the one that has the highest percentage of romances I’ve read and loved. A few recent favorites include:

Why Pay Attention?

This is a fun award that grew out of a desire many in the Romance community have for an inclusive award without barriers. If its first two years are any indication, it looks like it’s doing what it set out to do.

The RONA Awards (Romantic Novelists’ Association, UK Based)

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RONA) is basically the UK equivalent of the RWA. They have been issuing the Romantic Novel Awards annually since 1960! Currently, the award consists of nine categories, and nominations are judged by a panel of romance readers. Categories include contemporary, historical, romantic comedy, debut novel, fantasy, romantic thriller, romantic saga, romance novellas, and holiday romances. Any book with a central romantic element is eligible for a RONA Award. This includes genre romance as well as books in other genres with a strong romantic plot. It is only open to books by authors living and/or working in the UK.

Must-Read Past Winners

Why Pay Attention

Because this award isn’t strictly given to genre romance with guaranteed HEAs, it’s a good one to check out if you like books that blend romance with other plot elements.

Reader Hosted Romance Novel Awards

The Emma Awards (Romance Slam Jam)

The Emma Awards is an annual award hosted by the Romance Slam Jam Convention, a yearly convention that celebrates diversity in romance. The Emma Awards are open to all published authors, and recognize outstanding books featuring multicultural perspectives and non-white protagonists. It’s the only romance award that focuses specifically on books by and about BIPOC people. Categories include commercial romance, erotic romance, historical romance, interracial romance, and paranormal romance, among others.

Must-Read Past Winners

Why Pay Attention?

Mainstream romance awards do not have a great track record when it comes to inclusivity (see above). This is a great award to pay attention to if you’re looking for under-the-radar books by BIPOC authors. While there are, of course, lots of best-selling and big-name BIPOC romance authors, this award tends to focus on lesser known titles. It’s a great way to discover hidden gems!

Australian Romance Readers Awards (Australian Romance Readers Association)

The Australian Romance Readers Awards is an annual award hosted by the Australian Romance Readers Association (ARRA). ARRA is a reader-run organization founded in 2007 to celebrate all things romance. Members nominate and vote on books in several categories, including contemporary, historical, continuing series, paranormal, and debut author. The award also includes the Member’s Choice Awards, with fun categories that change annually. In the past, these have included Australian-set romance, small town romance, and romance with a laugh-out-loud moment. The winners are announced in February or March.

Must-Read Past Winners

  • Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh (Favorite Paranormal Romance, 2019)
  • Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews (Favorite SFF Romance, 2014)
  • Marry in Haste by Anne Gracie (Favorite Historical Romance, 2017)

Why Pay Attention?

If you’re a romance reader based outside Australia, this is a great way to discover more Australian authors! While books published in any country can be nominated, this award definitely focuses on Australian romance novels.

The Swoon Awards (Reader Hosted)

The Swoon Awards, affectionately known as The Swoonies, is a reader-hosted romance award that celebrates the romance community’s favorite reads each year. Founded in 2020 by a group of dedicated romance readers and book bloggers, the award features 15 subcategories, including standard categories like contemporary, historical, and fantasy romance, as well as YA romance, romance anthologies, holiday romance, and best romance cover. First, second, and third place winners are chosen in each category. This is a crowd-sourced award; any and all romance readers are encouraged to vote in three rounds.

Must-Read Past Winners

The inaugural winners of the 2020 Swoonies were announced in February 2021. The list includes far too many amazing titles to list! Some highlights include:

Why Pay Attention?

The Swoonies are a fantastic place to start if you’re just getting into romance. The above titles are all written by queer and/or BIPOC authors (yay!) So far, the Swoonies seem to capture the spirit, warmth, and diversity of Romancelandia — all the the things that make it great.

#ReadRChat Awards (Reader Hosted on Twitter)

#ReadRChat is a monthly romance book chat hosted on Twitter. The #ReadRChatAwards began as an offshoot of the hashtag in 2018. It’s an informal, inclusive award that celebrates the best of the romance community. Books are nominated and then voted on by readers; anyone can vote. You can view past winners by browsing the #ReadRChatAwards hashtag on Twitter.

Must-Read Past Winners

Why Pay Attention?

It can be hard to find information on this award, since there is no official website and it lives in Twitter threads. But if you’re an active member of Romancelandia, it’s a great one to check out. And if the nominations from past years are anything to go by, reading your way through them will give you a great introduction to some of the best romance authors working today.

Other Awards That Feature Romance Subcategories

While not strictly romance novel awards, these other literary awards feature romance categories. Browsing through past romance winners and nominees, you’ll find a whole lot of wonderful books.

The Goodreads Choice Awards

The Goodreads Choice Awards are the only major literary award decided entirely by readers. Readers vote in the fall, and winners are announced in December. There is just one romance category.

Must-Read Past Winners

Why Pay Attention?

This award isn’t going to introduce you to a whole lot of new or under-the-radar romances. It is an award that a lot of readers pay attention to, though, so I think it’s worth voting in the romance rounds, especially to bring more attention to amazing romances by LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors.

The Lambda Literary Awards

The Lammy Awards, hosted by Lambda Literary, is the biggest national award focused on LGBTQ+ books and authors. The Lammys were founded in 1988, although the romance categories weren’t introduced until the mid 2000s. Today, the Lammys include four distinct romance/erotica categories: Gay Romance, Gay Erotica, Lesbian Romance, and Lesbian Erotica. Awards are announced every year in June.

Must-Read Past Winners

Why Pay Attention?

I read a lot of queer romance, and it’s honestly pretty rare that I see my favorite titles show up in the Lammy nominations. That said, the nominations (and winners) are still worth checking out as one resource, among many, for finding LGBTQ+ romance.

The Audie Awards

The Audie Awards is the biggest audiobook award in the U.S. Winners across multiple categories are announced annually in March. There’s just one category for romance, which makes it easy to browse through past winners and runners-up.

Must-Listen Past Winners

Why Pay Attention?

If you’re an avid romance reader and audiobook listener, it’s worth perusing the list of Audie-nominated romance titles. It’s usually a small pool, and definitely not representative of the romance genre as a whole, but you’ll still find some great listens.