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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Why You Should Enter the Golden Heart Contest

As November 17th rolls around, it’s time for unpublished writers to consider entering RWA’s Golden Heart contest. The Golden Heart is RWA’s most prestigious unpublished contest. Finaling not only opens doors for your writing career, but is a LOT of fun.

When the GH call comes, the good news gives you a happy, bubbly thrill. It’s a great feeling to share with your family and friends. The high can last for weeks. The days after the GH results are announced are a good time to send queries to agents and editors about your finaling manuscript. Finaling makes your queries stand out, leading to quicker responses. It also gives agents and editors more of a reason to request your book.

If your manuscript is already with an agent or editor, it’s good to call or email with the news. This can motivate the agent or editor to hunt through their slush pile to find your manuscript, instead of waiting the months, or even years, it might take them to get to it.

It’s not uncommon to have five to ten finalists sell their books in the months between the announcement and the national conference. During that time about the same amount of writers also sign with agents.

Sometimes an editor who is judging the contest likes what he or she is reading and directly buys the entry--before the winners are even announced at the awards ceremony in the national conference.

The finalists organize themselves into a yahoo group and begin to get to know each other. They share stories of their “call” and of their books. They support each other through rejections and acceptances and celebrate if one of them sells. By the time the conference rolls around, the group has become friends.

At the national conference, GH finalists get to wear pink finaling ribbons on their name badges and be princesses for five days. The ribbon identifies them to other conference attendees, agents, and editors, and they get a lot of people asking about their entry. There is also a special reception for the GH and Rita finalists.

At the awards night, the finalists dress up in beautiful formal gowns and sit in reserved seating in the front of the theatre. As each finalist’s name is announced, two overhead screens show her professional photo and the name of her book--a great way to build name recognition.
Winners receive a beautiful necklace with a golden heart. Once a winner places that necklace around her neck, she is forever a Golden Heart winner. The necklace is a symbol of her accomplishment that other writers can recognize whenever she wears it. However, it’s also a tangible reminder when future doubts creep in--yes, she is a good writer.

As I see it, there’s only two cons to entering the GH. One is the entry price. $50.00 can be a bit steep on an unpublished writer’s budget, especially in this economy. Multiple entries can really add up. Make sure you follow all the rules. If you break a rule, your manuscript will be disqualified, and your money won’t be refunded. The second drawback of the GH is that the only feedback you will receive are numerical scores. You’ll never know why you received a 9 from one judge and a 4 from another.

How do you know if you are ready to enter the Golden Heart contest?

Is your manuscript completed or nearly completed? A completed manuscript is a requirement for the GH, making it different from RWA chapter contests. This weeds out the people who have completely polished the first few chapters and synopsis of their books, and enter them in all the local contests, but have never completed the manuscripts. These entries might be multiple winners in local contests, but the GH is for finishers, which gives you a different caliber of competition, and much more respect when you final.

I have used entering the Golden Heart as a spur to completing a manuscript. As a finishing-the-book tool, this has worked very well. Actually there have been several years when I was writing right until the deadline to overnight the entry in order to have it arrive the next day. In other words, the ending was done, but not polished. However, one of these books still finaled, and the other finaled the next year when it was polished. But don’t do this unless you are confident you can finish. Otherwise, your entry will be disqualified.

Make sure the first fifty-five pages, including your synopsis, are polished. Have a critique partner or two or ten go over your entry. In the first round, it won’t matter how much you’ve edited the rest of your book. The first round of judges only sees the first fifty-five pages, which includes the synopsis. You probably won’t win if the quality of the rest of the manuscript isn’t as good as the beginning, but winning is just a bonus to being a finalist.

So challenge yourself. Get out those manuscripts, finish them, polish them, and enter the Golden Heart Contest!

Debra Holland is a three time Golden Heart finalist. In 2001, her book, Wild Montana Sky, won the short historical category.

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At 10:31 AM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Best primer EVAH. Thanks for starting us out with a bang, Deb!

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Sometimes an editor who is judging the contest likes what he or she is reading and directly buys the entry--before the winners are even announced at the awards ceremony in the national conference.

This is what happened to me! Read the story HERE

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Elyssa Papa said...

I've paid for the GH, so I'm entering it. I think I'm more prepared than last year because I know the stakes more after seeing a couple of friends of mine final.

It definitely seems to be those contests where finalling is just as good as winning.

And of course, I'd love to win the critique...another pair of new eyes is always awesome, especially in a contest of this caliber.

At 12:24 PM, Blogger Tiffany Kenzie said...

I love that you gals talk about the GH!

I'm entering again. A different manuscript. I tested the smaller contest waters a bit more than I did with my last book. I think the results will be a lot different. I scored low last year in the GH. Not obismal low, but low enough the my book was in the lowest average percentile. I'm hoping to correct that this year :) And I'm writing a different genre... straight historical!

Can't wait to see the topics and blogs over the next month!

At 1:45 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great advice, Debra, about using the Golden Heart to spur you on to finish a new manuscript. I use it every year and it works! I'm writing like crazy right now, trying to finish my newest thriller. I'm not sure how well it will do in the GH since it starts out in the point of vew of a sick-minded serial killer. But hey, it's worth a shot!

Good luck to all of you who enter this year!

Go, Elyssa and Tiffany! I hope you both final this year! What fun.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

I'm considering jumping on the entering-the-GH-as-an-impetus-to-finish-the-manuscript bandwagon.

But I have to admit, it makes me nervous. I will tell you this... If an editor requests your book based on your entry, I believe you have the opportunity to sumbit a more polished version. Does anyone here know the answer for sure?

If not, I'll touch base with National to find out.

Entering is great motivation to finish, but it's also a lot of stress. That's what's giving me second thoughts about entering. Writing is therapy, well, most of the time. It's a chance for me to get away from what's going on in my life, and focus on my characters.

I don't want that to turn into a negative because I've backed myself into a corner putting a deadline on myself that I can't meet.

It's a personal decision. Good luck to everyone who's considering. I'll keep you posted about what I decide. :-)


At 2:34 PM, Blogger M. said...

Helpful advice. If I've understood correctly: don'tenter if
-your MS isn't finished
-your synopsis isn't massively reviewed,
- your MS is uneven,
- you need more feedback than mere numbers *g*
Think I may need to wait another year...

At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm taking the plunge. The price is worth it when it motivates me to write every day. Even if I'm not pushing to finish a manuscript, I want to make sure the work I'm entering is the best it can be, so I polish and edit like crazy. Plus, I'm an incurable optimist, and princess for five days sounds like fun.


At 4:38 PM, Blogger Prisakiss said...

Imani, being "princess for 5 days", among a group of fellow "princesses" who you've come to know and care for is wonderful experience.

Best of luck to you!

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Frivolous question of the day: Would you be more likely to enter if all finalists got to wear a tiara?


At 7:03 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

LOL, Esri. I'm not big on wearing Tiaras, so I guess the answer for me would be NO. If there was a money prize, that would tempt me further...just to win my money back for entering! ha!

At 7:07 PM, Blogger M. said...


tiara - hee

I don't think that would be an incentive for me - now, promise me the shoes of my choice, and we'er talking...

At 7:37 PM, Blogger Anna said...

All great advice. This will be my first year both entering and judging. I am looking forward to participating in the experience.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Too true, Priss! My road to GH finalist started here on the Posse Blog! And yes, I used it to force me to finish my first book and I am doing the same for me second.

Our GH class is a group of fabulous ladies and we had a lot of fun at Nationals in San Francisco, didn't we. We were indeed princesses for five days and I will never forget it. And yes, I have the t-shirt to prove it, don't we, Priss!!

It was a truly great experience for me and encourage anyone to take that leap and enter. And yes, last year they did give us the opportunity to send a revised version if and editor/judge asked to read the whole manuscript.

At 8:24 PM, Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

If I put in 24/7 time on an MS, I could swing the contest (though, as a non-RWA member, that $150 fee is killer). Otherwise, it's most likely a no-go for me this year :(

Good luck to everyone who does enter!


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