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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Good Things Can Come From the Golden Heart by Diane Gaston

Imagine this...
An editorial assistant at your most sought after publishing house finally reads your manuscript. She sticks a note on it to the senior editor, saying “Read this.” At a nearby cubicle, another editor in the same publishing house is judging Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest, and your manuscript is a finalist. That editor also slaps on a sticky note to the senior editor saying, “Read this.” The senior editor, sees these two rubber-banded stacks of white paper that contain your dreams and says, “I’m buying it!”

In 2003 this dream came true for Trish Morey. Her Golden Heart entry became The Greek Boss’s Demand (May, 2004), released in the hugely popular Mills & Boon Modern Romance /Harlequin Presents line.

Did being a Golden Heart finalist make the difference for Trish? Trish had been chasing the dream of publication for 11 years but only after she became a Golden Heart finalist did her dream come true.

Trish’s story is only one example of the good things that can happen if you enter the Golden Heart. All month the Wet Noodle Posse, Golden Heart finalists of 2003, are going to try to help you increase your chances of becoming a finalist. We can’t make any guarantees, but we’ll try our best to help.

One thing is for sure. If you enter the Golden Heart, good things can happen.

Terry McLaughlin received “The Call” from an editor a few days before RWA’s 2005 conference. The editor had judged Terry's manuscript for the Golden Heart and originally planned to meet with Terry at the conference to make the offer. The editor decided to phone Terry instead, so Terry could wear the special pink “First Sale” ribbon at the conference. Terry’s Learning Curve, a Harlquin Superromance, was released May 2006.

Two years ago, Lee McKenzie had an appointment with an editor at a conference. When Lee entered the room, the editor said, “I know you.” The editor remembered Lee because the editor had judged Lee’s manuscripts in the Golden Heart. Those manuscripts had not sold, but the editor bought the story Lee pitched to her that day. The Man for Maggie was a June 2007 American Romance.

Lest you think sales only happen in the Harlequin lines, oh, no! Anne Mallory received “The Call” from an Avon editor in 2003. Anne’s Golden Heart finalist became Masquerading the Marquess, an October 2004 Avon release.

Not only can the dream come true because an editor judged the Golden Heart, the mere prestige of being a Golden Heart finalist can make good things happen.

Karen Potter’s manuscript was languishing in an editor's slush pile when Karen informed her it had become a Golden Heart finalist. The editor pulled Karen's manuscript from that slush pile and moved it up the chain of command. When Karen met the senior editor of the line, she could break the ice by mentioning she was a finalist. That next October Karen's Daddy in Waiting (June 2005) sold to Silhouette Romance.

Senior Harlequin editor Brenda Chin once crossed the room at a Moonlight and Magnolias conference to congratulate Lorelle Marinello for being a Golden Heart finalist. Lorelle recently sold her first book, Waltzing with Alligators, which will be released in 2008 as an Avon trade paperback.

Norah Wilson discovered that being a Golden Heart finalist made it far more likely for editors and agents to request her manuscript. Of course, Norah sold in another “contest” way. Her paranormal, Lauren’s Eyes (August 2004) won the Dorchester/Romantic Times American Title contest.

Delle Jacobs has the distinction of having been a Golden Heart finalist seven times and winning three times. Because of the Golden Heart and her record-making success in the contest, Delle feels she has gone from a nameless newbie to being a recognized writing professional. Her editor, Jennifer Miller of Samhain Publishing, heard of Delle long before Delle heard of Jennifer. Delle’s Lady Scandalous will soon be a Samhain release, but Delle has other titles from Awe-Struck Ebooks.

We're not only talking about interesting editors. Agents perk their ears up at Golden Heart finalists, too.

Debra Holland won a Golden Heart and an agent. When she'd been chatting with a writer and mentioned that she'd won the Golden Heart, the writer introduced her to his agent and the agent signed Debra on.

Jill Monroe found that agents responded to her queries quickly when she mentioned being a Golden Heart finalist. One even mentioned the Golden Heart as the reason. Jill now writes for Temptation and Blaze. Her first book was Never Naughty Enough (Dec 2004).

Now my story, me, Diane Gaston.

The Golden Heart contest is entirely, wholly, 100 percent responsible for my first sale.

My manuscript was a Golden Heart finalist in 2001 and I made an all-out effort to market it to every agent and editor I could think of. It was rejected over and over and over, the most common reason being that the heroine starts the book as a Regency-era prostitute (of course, now that sort of heroine is all the rage). After I exhausted my every opportunity, I moved on, wrote another book and entered it in the 2003 Golden Heart. I thought, what the heck, I’ll enter my 2001 manuscript, too. It was eligible and all ready to go. Like the lottery, I’d double my chances.

That first manuscript became a finalist again, not the new one, but there was really nothing I could do with it; it had already been rejected everywhere.

Then out of the blue came a phone call from England. The Mills & Boon editor who judged my entry for the Golden Heart wanted to buy it. Mills & Boon? Never in my wildest dreams of finding a publisher did I ever consider Mills & Boon. They so rarely bought American writers, and I never dreamed they would buy a historical set in Regency England written by an American who had never set foot there. But they did.

That manuscript became The Mysterious Miss M, released by Mills & Boon, July 2004, and by Harlequin Historical, November 2005.

Oh, and it won the Golden Heart in 2003, too.

But maybe Esri Rose tells the BEST thing that can happen because of the Golden Heart. She says:

"The best thing I got out of finaling in the Golden Heart was the chance to meet other finalists. The GH brings together writers who are at a similar place in their careers, including some people who haven't quite made it to publication but who seem to know everything about the business. These are your peers and mentors -- a graduating class that can help with industry information, introductions, critiques, endorsement blurbs, or just sympathy and advice. Most GH finalists are serious about having a career as a writer. If you've never been active in a local chapter (as I wasn't), this may be your first, best chance to make connections that help you get published, and keep your sanity along the way."

Esri's urban-fantasy, romantic suspense with pointy ears, Bound to Love Her, will be released May 2008.

I know there are many more Good-Things-That-Happen-Because-of-the-Golden-Heart stories out there. Tell us some you have heard, or comment on these. Feel free to ask us questions about these experiences, too.

Remember. If you comment, you may be selected at random to win a critique of the first 5 pages of your Golden Heart entry by a member of the Wet Noodle Posse. If you refer someone to us and that person mentions you in their comment ("So and so referred me.") and that person is our random winner, we will also give you a critique. We’ll pick three names each week. See the entire critique giveaway rules and procedures here.

Now get to work on those Golden Heart entries!
Noodler Diane

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At 11:55 AM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

You know, I'm feeling a little stupid right now (or maybe just uninformed, that sounds better :)). I knew that if you were entering the Golden Heart, it was also a good thing if you offered to judge, so I didn't realize that editors were judges as well.

Do editors and agents judge both rounds?

Thanks for the success stories, it's such a mood booster. :)

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Editors and agents judge the final round. Mostly it's previous GH finalists and winners (plenty of them now published) who judge the first round.

At 12:14 PM, Blogger doglady said...

I agree with my Passion's Slave compatriot, Gillian. The success stories make the prospect of entering the GH a little less intimidating. Notice, I said "a little!" Can I just say that The Mysterious Miss M is one of my very favorite books. It is an absolute gem, as are the rest of the books in the series. This may sound like a really stupid question, but how do you KNOW your book is ready for the GH? I mean, I assume that if you enter and they think it is awful, it won't ruin your chances of ever being published, will it? I come from the opera field, where one crash and burn can really tank your career. Can you tell this whole thing scares me silly? Oh and Gillian's book is SO ready for the GH. Trust me!

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

doglady, you might be my new most favorite person! And that's saying a lot for a cat lady like me. Thank you so much for that endorsement of my books. I am very gratified.

All you have to lose from entering the Golden Heart is the $50, the postage, copying costs and time.

There is no negative effect at all in my opinion. Even if you reach the finals and don't win, those agents and editors remember your name and remember that you scored high. The differences at the top are very very slight.

If you don't reach the finals, it MEANS NOTHING!!!! If you score in the bottom 25% IT MEANS NOTHING! Great manuscripts somehow fail to make the finals.

In addition to the great judges of the GH who Esri mentioned are just regular RWA writers also entering (if you enter, RWA wants you to judge. I think that is still true).

So if you don't score well you just got bad judges. (and I've scored poorly on the GH more than once).

I just caution everyone to not take the scores of the GH as any kind of meaningful feedback. This contest is all about reaching the finals, not about getting feedback!(in my opinion, that is)

At 1:02 PM, Blogger CM said...

(India Carolina sent me here.)

Here's a question that I have never been able to get a straight answer on. Wait. Let me rephrase. I have gotten straight answers. They have just contradicted each other.

What, exactly, do the final editors judge? Do they judge the partial plus synopsis? Or do they judge the full manuscript?

If some editor is going to see the full, I'm obviously going to spend a lot more time killing myself on polishing the manuscript than I might otherwise.

At 1:14 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Thanks so much, Diane. That eases my mind. Oh, and by the way, gillian is the one who gave me the heads up on this great service the posse is providing for all of us nail biting, knee knocking beginners! And you are so welcome, Diane. I cannot tell you the number of people I have told about Miss M!

At 1:22 PM, Blogger CM said...

(Oh, and I should add ... if some editor is going to see the full if I final, which is obviously not very likely. I just realized I left that off--and didn't mean to come off as quite so arrogant!)

At 1:55 PM, Blogger India Carolina said...

Thanks for doing this guys! And thanks, CM, for mentioning me. CM referred me here!

What I've heard is that the editors judge the same 55 pages as the preliminary judges if you make it to the final round.

My question is whether or not, if you make it to the final round, AND the editor requests the full, would RWA submit what was on file, or would the editor contact the entrant for the most recent manuscript?

CM, please note my unbridled optimism! Waves at Passion's Slaves!

At 2:12 PM, Blogger banksofmillbrook said...

To enter or not to enter...

My husband (who is also my biggest supporter) says no, you've already done the local contest thing successfully. Concentrate on getting an agent. Don't waste more time and money on a contest. (But what about that bee-yoo-tiful golden necklace, I say ;-)).

But my gut says, yes, do it! I've already got a few fulls out there, one partial, and some queries. *drumming fingers impatiently on mouse pad*

Having one more possible route to a dream seems like a good thing. Right?

So, thanks Diane and Wet Noodle Posse! I needed some validation, motivation, and inspiration. You provided all at just the right time.

Questions -- does anyone know if the GH usually maxes out on entrants? Like, should I enter ASAP?

And is it a big no-no to estimate word count on the entry form? I'm still working on a few big scenes and I'm not at all sure what my final word count will be.

Thanks so much. Good luck fellow contestants!

Now...back to writing.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

Wow, you Noodlers are an inspiring lot! Congratulations to you all on your success - although I know a lot of you and have congratulated you in person, usually over champagne!

I feel I sold off the Golden Heart too. I'd never entered - never had a manuscript that was ready and polished for the contest. In 2006, I had TWO! So I bit the bullet (never accuse me of avoiding a good cliche if one's available!) and entered them both in short historical and long historical. And against all my expectations, they both finalled. I rang my agent who had NO ORDINARY DUCHESS but as yet hadn't sent it out. She got excited and started chasing editors. Because, you know, I was a DOUBLE GOLDEN HEART FINALIST! Within three weeks of that, I sold at auction to Avon and NOD became CLAIMING THE COURTESAN. I'll always be grateful to writing contests - they taught me so much and they gave me a great list of credentials. And that goes doubly for the Golden Heart.

Another absolutely wonderful side effect of those finals in 2006 was that I got to meet the other finalists. They're the best bunch of women (oh, all right, them and the Noodlers!) and they're people that under other circumstances I would never have come into contact with as I live in Australia. Banditas rock! Oh, OK, Noodlers rock too! ;-)

Good luck to everyone who enters the Golden Heart! It really can make your dreams come true!

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Banks of Millbrook, tell your hubby that finaling in/winning the GH is one of the surest ways you can get an agent to consider taking you on. Any agent -- not just one who judged the GH. It's like a Girl-Scout badge that says, "Yup. I can write." Agents know that there are plenty writers who can write a query but not a good book. The GH sets you apart from those folks.

Once you've reached a certain level of writing, I agree that bunches of contests are not the best way to spend your energy. At that point, stick with the GH and contests where the final judge is an editor or agent you're specifically interested. I got my agent through a local chapter contest, for crying out loud, and my first book comes out in May.

CM, I'm waiting for someone else to answer whether it's the full or partial that gets judged in the final round. My guess is that they ask for the full to make sure you've actually written the whole thing, but they judge the partial. If an editor asks RWA to see the full, however, I bet they'd send it along.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Anna Campbell said...

CM, I think they judge the partial (willing to be corrected on this) but RWA ask for the full manuscript so they know you've finished it and also so they can send it to any editor who requests it. Good luck!

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Banks of Millbrook: Yes, the contest usually maxes out, so get your entry form in. As for estimating your word count on the entry form... I believe I've done that myself. Just try to get close. And don't quote me.

At 4:15 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Anna is right. The final-round editor judges get the same partial that the first-round judges get. The full is there simply to prove the book is finished, and that's what is sent to editors should they request the entire ms.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger MaryF said...

Woot! We're going great guns over here! Hi, Margaret!!!!

Doglady, my rule of thumb is that my GH entry has finalled in at least one other contest before I send it to the GH. Before I enter any contest, I make sure my pages go through other eyes besides mine.

Banks, entering the GH is an important step toward publishing, IMHO. I've had so many more looks from editors and agents with those two magic words.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger CM said...

Thanks, Esri, Anna, and Trish. Nice to finally get a definitive answer!

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

Thanks so much for the advice and answers, ladies. I can't wait for tomorrow. :)

At 5:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MaryF rule of thumb is that my GH entry has finalled in at least one other contest before I send it to the GH.

Mary - this was an interesting comment to me. I have a MS that won one contest and received a wide range of scores in other contests (like 96, 94 and 68!). You have given me food for thought.

To others...if you've never judged the GH, you should. I judged it last year just to see the "quality" of the entries. None of the ones I read finaled, but it gave me "courage" to at least think about it.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

Newbie here. Doglady referred me. How bad is it if your partial for the GH is almost or more than 30% of your book? My WIP is a YA, and when finished (hopefully in time) will not be 125 formatted pages.

At 6:20 PM, Blogger Jacqueline Barbour said...

I am here at the behest of my friend, cm (aka Courtney Milan). And though I would love to win a critique of my first five pages of a GH entry, I have just discovered (much to my dismay) that I am almost certainly ineligible to enter. (I did send an email to RWA requesting clarification, but I'm not optimistic).

I did love reading all the success stories and look forward to many of my writer friends sharing similar stories in the future.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger beverley said...

Yay, what a great idea. I checked out Courtney Milan's blog and she said you guys were doing this. I'm prepping my manuscript for entry and I can use all the help I can get. This entry is very inspirational though. Love to see the success stories.

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Gaill, in some ways the contest is brand new this year. The categories and the rules have changed this year.
The rules define a novel as "A novel is typically over 40,000 words."

What "typically" means is the question!

Is your computer word count near 40,000? If so, I think you are all right.

Later in the month Trish Milburn, a YA GH winner will discuss issues specific to YA entries. She'll know!

Noodler Diane

At 8:11 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Thanks, MaryF. That is a good rule of thumb. My one and only almost finished novel has made finals in the Royal Ascot, the Molly and the Emerald City Opener. It won the RA. Still waiting to hear on the other two. I have received really helpful feedback from all ten of the contests I have entered. Glad to see my "seester" Gaill on the loop. She has written a phenomenal YA! This was such a great idea, ladies. Those of us who are complete nervous wrecks at even the thought of entering the GH really appreciate it. So glad to hear from my buddy from down under, Anna C. Is everyone else waiting for UNTOUCHED as anxiously as I am?

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous gaill said...

Hmm, 40K words, huh. Well, I guess I need to add some to it, I'm thinking I'm about at 32K. Thanks, though for addressing this, I look forward to the YA pro! Waving to doglady!

At 8:36 PM, Blogger Terry Stone said...

*Posting-but not wanting to win the critique away from someone who is entering the Golden Heart*

What a great blog, Ladies. It is very informative and showcases one of the things I love best about this industry-the generosity and willingness of others to share pivotal information for the betterment of their peers careers (good grief, I didn't mean to ryhme). Hats off to you Ladies for being such a great big hearted group.

At 8:42 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

Thanks for the pep talk, Diane!

My plan is to send off the package and fuhgeddaboudit, immersing myself in another manuscript. (Well, that's the plan...)

Any words of wisdom on the synopsis? It's judged, right?

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

What a great idea to focus on the GH for a month - thanks Noodlers! I'm still deciding on whether to enter, so I'll be following your posts closely.

At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so grateful y'all are spending the month showcasing the Golden Heart! I'm entering for the very first time, and the success stories are really heartening. Thanks also for the clarification on judging the partial vs full MS.


At 9:04 PM, Blogger Macy O'Neal said...

These stories give me hope. I've never entered before, but win, lose, or whatever, I'm entering this year.

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Gaill, check with RWA about how they are treating the "typically 40,000 words." It may not be a hard and fast word count. Definitely call them and ask.

Terry, even people who aren't entering are welcome here!

Margaret and Macy, you are engaging in a rite of passage! Entering means you are taking your writing seriously and that is a good thing!

At 9:32 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Forgot to say, HI RACHEL!

At 9:53 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

We have no hard-and-fast word counts anymore. The "typically" is just that, and it's used in part to distinguish novels from novellas.

As for YA, they are expected to often be shorter. There's no hard-and-fast word count there either, but most YA runs at least 200 pages. A 40,000-word manuscript would give you probably somewhere around 160 pages.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

banksofmillbrooks, I don't know if anyone else already answered your questions, but I estimate on my word count every year and it hasn't stopped me from finaling. And yes, the GH has maxed out before, so get your entry in as soon as you can. And I say, definitely go for the GH, especially if you've done well on the local contest circuit already!

Good luck!

At 11:22 PM, Blogger Sharon said...

Rachel sent me .... mmm, sounds rather cloak-and-dagger!

I'm so impressed with the wetnoodleposse's achievements. Obviously finalling in the GH is a very desirable addition to an unpublished writer's resume. I'm looking forward to your tips over the next month while I polish up my offering.

Thank you.

At 5:06 AM, Blogger MaryF said...

Doglady and Cyndi, sounds like you guys are on the right track!!!! I know all about that range of contest scores....the book I'm debating entering has had a WIDE range in the 2 contests I've entered it in.

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

So glad to see everyone here!

No worries janegeorger - we'll be covering the synopsis later in the month.

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Keri Ford said...

Reading comments this morning and just wanted to say that Trish is right on with her word count estimation. My WIP for the GH is currently 46,000 and I'm on pg. 177 using TNR 12pt. font/ 1"margins.

Good Luck Everybody

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

We can trust Trish when she tells us what RWA decided because she worked on what they did decide!!

BTW, Trish and Mary F are very very experienced and successful contest entrants. Lots of contest finals and wins for these ladies!

At 11:31 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

JaneGeorge, as a preliminary bit of advice about your synopsis, I consider it every bit as important as the excerpt. There have been GH entries I judged where the writing was engaging but the plot was so-so, and I thought, "Well, she might be able to pull it off, but I'm really not sure." And that was reflected in the score I gave. Whereas I remember an entry by Laurie Kellog where the excerpt absolutely SHONE, and then the synopsis made me cry at the end! The best piece of advice I ever heard was to write the synopsis like you're telling the plot of a great movie to someone who won't have a chance to see it.

Another thing to remember: That final round is judged by agents and editors, and it's a real chance to make a sale. Those folks look HARD at synopses, so don't lose the chance to hook 'em.

At 1:11 PM, Blogger Marianne Arkins said...

What an amazing and inspirational blog post... I've had the pleasure of dealing with several Noodlers -- and you ladies are the best!

Thanks for all these great posts.

At 9:54 AM, Blogger Amanda Brice said...

There's some great info on this blog! Thanks so much to posting about it on the WRW loop, Diane!


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