By the time many of you read this (well, those of you west of Mountain Standard Time), I’ll have registered for the Olympics of unpublished romance writers: The Golden Heart®. I’ve been training for this competition for years — both as a reader and as a writer.
Sponsored by Romance Writers of America®, it is THE contest for unpubbed romance writers. They cap the entries at 1,200. Yes, 1,200! It’s that popular.
There are several categories, including Contemporary, Erotic, Historical (mine!), Inspirational, Paranormal, Romantic Suspense, Short Contemporary, and Young Adult.
A couple years ago, they changed the judging guidelines. Now, the top 10% in each category make it to the final round (but you must have a minimum score of 80%). There are five judges per entry; scores are calculated by dropping the highest and lowest, then averaging the three remaining scores.
As with any contest, your score is entirely dependent on the judge, and almost any RWA member can judge. If you get someone who just doesn’t connect with your story (which has happened to me), you’re potentially screwed. It doesn’t mean you have a bad story, but it does mean you might not qualify as a finalist, and unlike Michael Phelps, my goal isn’t really to win…it’s to final.
There are a few benefits to being a finalist — some are more important than others:
- Your manuscript will be read by agents and editors. It’s great exposure. It doesn’t mean you’ll get a contract or there will be a bidding war over your book, but it has happened that GH finalists have found their agent or editor.
- At Nationals, you get a little ribbon for your badge that says “Golden Heart Finalist.” This is a pure vanity thing. Everyone will know you wrote a good story. You won’t have to actually tell them. It’s like bragging without actually bragging. And we all like to brag when something great happens, especially if it’s related to our writing!
- You become part the Golden Heart chapter of RWA, an online chapter. Although not a member, I’ve heard and read that it’s an instant support/mentor group of other finalists. Many friendships have been made through the group and everyone is everyone else’s cheerleader. Who couldn’t use that?
- The satisfaction of knowing you wrote a pretty good story. It’s a wonderful payoff to have your hard work vindicated. It doesn’t mean everyone will love your work, but there are at least a few folks out there who do.
Just because finaling is my goal doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to win. I’m sure plenty of people have done the award speech thing in the shower or while in front of the mirror (not me). If you haven’t, you’ve at least thought about who you’d thank and maybe even what you’d wear (okay, I have done this). It’s a natural thing to do. Some folks (not me…ahem) have gone so far as to Photoshop their name and picture onto the back cover of this year’s RWA trade magazine award issue as a way to “think positive” and visualize their win.
Ultimately, what the Golden Heart comes down to (for me, anyway) is the momentum and impetus to write a f***cking good story. I’ve been banging this story around for two years. I need to finish it. The GH deadline is what I need to push me to get it done and get it done well. It’s a big carrot and I’m determined to take a huge bite out of it.
For those of you entering, good luck to you. I hope to see you in NYC at Nationals wearing the Golden Heart Finalist ribbon on your badge. And if you’re not, that’s okay, too.
There’s always next year.