The Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) is holding a member's vote on an organisational restructure this summer, after the current chair and vice-chair said they would be stepping down after only six months owing to the "demands" of the role.
In a statement to members, the RNA described an "unprecedented situation" where chair Imogen Howson and vice-chair Jean Fullerton "are no longer willing to stand for re-election owing to the extreme, unreasonable and unrelenting pressures of the job", which is unpaid and voluntary. It described an environment where committee members were "bombarded" with demands on social media and subjected to "unprecedented" personal attacks that left the entire committee on the verge of resigning too.
The organisation said: "As a committee, we have taken on more and more, for many years. However, the unique situation of the pandemic has crystallised this and brought it into sharper focus. The situation has been exacerbated by social media and the perceived accessibility of committee members who are bombarded on personal social media channels and emails with people’s grievances, problems and demands. For the chair and vice-chair especially, this has been relentless.
"The number of personal attacks and complaints is unprecedented and makes further demands on what are already stressful roles. In late April, the RNA received a solicitor’s letter relating to certain advice and guidance that the RNA had provided to its members. The letter threatened legal action against the RNA, and the chair personally. While our solicitors refuted the claims in question, this has led to a financial cost in terms of legal expenses as well as obvious personal stress on the part of the members of the committee."
The association celebrated its 60th anniversary last year and has a membership of more than 1,000 people. The RNA said: "It was only after a period of reflection that the remaining committee members, after the chair and vice-chair resigned, did not resign en masse in solidarity." It added: "In short, the committee are at breaking point, physically and mentally. The increasing workload, combined with the growing demands of members, the explosion of social media and the recent spate of incidents means that none of the remaining committee members are willing to serve as chair without fundamental changes in the RNA."
Shortly, voting members of the RNA will receive a ballot with two options. These are to vote for a root and branch restructure of the RNA or to significantly scale it back to the aims and objectives currently laid out in its constitution at the end of this membership year. The RNA said the root and branch restructure is the preferred option "as it not only future-proofs our organisation but will move us forward in the wide-reaching and professional direction that we need to go". It will involve investing in a full review of all aspects of the association's governance and constitution to be undertaken by an outside consultant recruited by the committee.
The RNA said the second option "would mean the RNA would cease to continue in its current state and would not be able to offer all of the additional services to members that it currently does".
It added: "This scenario is obviously not our preferred choice. However as a committee we are unanimous that our current model of governance is unsustainable and outdated, relies too much on the goodwill of a few and puts too much pressure on our volunteers."
The statement concluded: "We are duty-bound to put all constitutional changes to our membership and must abide by their decision—whichever one they choose" but added "if no suitable volunteers come forward, especially for the roles of chair and vice-chair, according to our current constitution, we cannot exist and this must be borne in mind if you choose this option".
Members are encouraged to ask questions at its virtual annual general meeting on 16th July, but the committee will not be engaging in debates or discussions before that online or on any social media channels. On 2nd August 2021, a paper ballot with a reply-paid envelope will be posted to the home addresses of all members with voting rights.
A spokesperson for RNA told The Bookseller: "After rapid growth and an expansion of its many writers' services the RNA is looking at an organisational restructure in the near future. This will be carried out after a members' vote during August."