“We offer a sense of community that is as unique as braaivleis and pap.”
ROSA (Romance writers Organisation of South Africa) is a non-profit, volunteer-run professional association for romance writers.
Before its official founding, it existed as a Yahoo group, started in 2010 by Romy Sommer and Mandy Verbaan. Over the years, the group’s numbers grew substantially, and, in 2014, they officially registered as a non-profit organisation in order to host their first conference.
Today, the organisation has chapters in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, the Garden Route and Durban. Their membership is spread across the country, and includes members in neighbouring countries, as well as South African expats living abroad. In addition to chapter meetings, they also arrange an annual conference, hold writing retreats, run awards and mentorship programmes, and maintain an active online community to enable their members to connect with one another.
Cliffordene Norton talks to Romy Sommer about this organisation’s origin, 100-membership mark and future projects.
Congratulations, ROSA is celebrating its fifth anniversary. What inspired you and Mandy Verbaan to start ROSA?
When Mandy and I first met, we felt as if we were the only romance writers in South Africa. With so much emphasis in this country on literary fiction, we felt very alone and ostracised by the South African literary community.
So, we reached out to anyone we could find who wrote what we did, and slowly gathered a group of like-minded writers to encourage and support one another. ROSA was registered as a non-profit professional association in 2014, with only about 30 members, and today, just five years later, we have over 100 members, at least 70 of whom are published.
ROSA aims to provide support, encouragement and professional development for romance writers. How does the organisation do that?
Our biggest emphasis is on creating a community for authors through online networking and local chapters, which meet for workshops and social events. Our members very generously share information and advice with one another, and we have a quarterly newsletter exclusive to members.
We offer professional development through the newsletter, workshops, conferences, retreats, mentorship programmes for aspiring writers, and, most recently, through webinars that are open to the public as well as to our members.
ROSA welcomes authors at all stages of their journey (from traditionally published to unpublished authors). How difficult is it to offer assistance to authors who are in such different stages in their careers?
It is very difficult to be all things to all people! As with many other author organisations around the world, we struggle to provide value to our most experienced authors, those who have already built successful careers in publishing.
“Even more exciting is the fact that more than 70% of our membership are already published, across a wide variety of genres, and with a very balanced mix of traditional and indie published authors.”
However, these are our most valuable members, because they are the ones who give back the most to ROSA, who are actively paying it forward to the aspiring writers coming up behind them. We are incredibly grateful to them for their generosity and willingness to help other writers.
We have found, in recent years, that most of the organisation’s efforts have been focused on developing new writers, and we are currently looking at how to improve the value we offer to our more experienced members. But it is a constant balancing act, and we always welcome suggestions that could help us to grow as an organisation!
ROSA is based on Romance Writers of America. How involved is the RWA with ROSA?
While we look to other author organisations around the world to learn what works and doesn’t work for them, we are not in any way affiliated to RWA or any other author association.
ROSA is uniquely South African, and offers something very different to local writers that none of the other organisations are able to do. We offer a sense of community that is as unique as braaivleis and pap.
We understand that South African authors face very different challenges to those of authors in other countries, such as how to get books printed locally and how to receive payments from abroad. We do not have the resources of the larger international organisations, and are unable to offer the same benefits, but our small size enables us to offer our members something even more special: a more personal touch.
In 2019, ROSA launched its scholarship programme. Tell us more about the programme.
We previously offered scholarships for our annual conference, giving writers who could not otherwise afford to attend, the opportunity to participate. However, this limited the scholarships to those in the geographical region of the conference, and we wanted to extend it to writers living anywhere in South Africa.
This was made possible by the success of our first anthology, Wedding season, published in 2019, which brought in funds that we allocated to extending the scholarship programme.
“Even though our focus is, naturally, on writers of romantic fiction, we welcome authors of all genres and at all stages of their writing journey.”
In 2020, four scholarship recipients will be able to access funds to the value of up to R2 000 each, to participate in our Strelitzia mentorship programme, to attend local ROSA workshops and conferences or to attend the new online webinars we have started. Each year, we will re-evaluate the programme to ensure that it is able to offer value to aspiring writers.
ROSA’s first-ever Wedding Season anthology was published in 2019. Please take us through the process of creating this anthology.
The anthology began as an idea discussed around the table at ROSA’s 2018 conference in Johannesburg. Several of our published authors were discussing ways to cross-promote their books, and decided to experiment by creating an anthology that could be used to market our books to one another’s readers.
Ten of our published members contributed short stories to the anthology, and since we had no idea yet whether this would be a success, or how to divide the royalties, the authors agreed to donate any profits to two charities: the Athol Williams Read to Rise literacy charity and ROSA’s own scholarship fund.
The anthology was a steep learning curve for us, but the experiment worked, and we are now looking to publish three anthologies in 2020, opening up participation to all our membership.
ROSA is planning to publish three anthologies in 2020. Tell us more about these anthologies.
In 2020, ROSA will be releasing three themed anthologies, which will group similar stories and similar writers together. In June (which is Pride Month), we will release Love hope acceptance, an LGBTQ anthology, followed by a collection of steamier romances, entitled Summer singles, in July (to be marketed during the northern hemisphere summer), and a sweeter collection, entitled Sweet songs of summer, in August. These are the e-book release dates, as we have not yet finalised plans to issue the books in print.
How many members does ROSA currently have? What are the requirements to become a ROSA member?
ROSA recently topped the 100-member mark, which was a very exciting milestone for us, and one we never expected to reach, let alone reach it so soon! Even more exciting is the fact that more than 70% of our membership are already published, across a wide variety of genres, and with a very balanced mix of traditional and indie published authors.
Our membership fees are currently R250 per year, and anyone can join simply by filling out the registration form at https://forms.gle/Zr4P7hZDFxHMozJ77.
Even though our focus is, naturally, on writers of romantic fiction, we welcome authors of all genres and at all stages of their writing journey.
What does ROSA hope to accomplish in the next five years?
Over the next five years, we hope to continue to build on the foundation we created in the first five years. We don’t measure our success in numbers, so our focus is less on growing our membership numbers and more on providing better value to our existing members.
We hope to build a stronger sense of community among our members; provide up-to-date information, support and recognition for our published authors; and help as many as we can of our as-yet-unpublished members to join the ranks of our published authors.