Justine: The Romance Writing Olympics

golden heart, rwa, justine covington, writing contest, romance writing

Your type of jewelry? The Golden Heart® necklace, given to winners of the Golden Heart writing contest for unpublished romance writers.

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many of you read this (well, those of you west of Mountain Standard Time), I’ll have registered for the Olympics of unpublished romance writers: The Golden Heart®.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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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?
  4. 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.

12 thoughts on “Justine: The Romance Writing Olympics

  1. Whoo hoo, Justine! I’ll be entering today, too, in the contemporary category (so glad we are in different categories). I’d love to final, but I know that depends on not only writing a rocking good story, but being lucky with judges who ‘get’ it. In the last contest I entered, one judge gave me 99 out of 100, another couldn’t get into it at all and the grades she gave reflected that. I’ve also signed up as a judge and I’ll be taking my duties very seriously as I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a score sheet.

    I think there’s another benefit to being a finalist – it makes querying easier. If an agent or editor sees ‘GH Finalist’ on a query letter, chances are they’re going to take a peek sooner. Then the writing has to stand on its own merits, of course, but every little helps.

    I’d love to be sitting on a table with you in NY next July, all glammed up and sporting our ribbons. That would be amazing. If not – well, tant pis. I already got a lot of benefit from the GH, and it’s not even open for entries yet.

    • I am also judging and I’m with you on taking things seriously. While I may not like the story or get into it, if it’s well written, the scores should reflect that.

      Good point on the querying, too. I haven’t thought much about that (although I have just taped the business cards of the agents/eds who requested a full above my computer monitor, for motivation). That’ll come after Jan 12th. I’m actually excited to query, even though the odds are I’ll get a bunch of rejections. That’s okay. It’s good practice.

      Oooh, yes, sitting at a table near the front in July? Awesome. And like you said, if not, that’s okay, too. We’ll be a little less conspicuous in the back, anyway, as we’re tossing down glasses of wine.

      Good luck!

  2. I’m planning to enter, also, but I may not make it by the time the 1,200 have been received. I’m submitting my 2nd manuscript. I had intended to brush it up during November and got overwhelmed with school stuff. Oh well. Good luck to both of you. It has many benefits. A lot of the Golden Heart finalists do get contracts.

    • Michele, you have until Jan 12th to get your ms in. I’d go ahead and pay the registration fee. If nothing else, you’re out $25 (or $30, I forget how much). It will at least save you a place, and if you don’t finish, you don’t finish, but I have to admit, it’s a really good carrot to dangle in front of you.

      Either way, good luck and we can’t wait to read your story!

  3. When I read Neen’s post late last night, I thought, ‘Ooh, I want to play, too!’. But I’m either mis-remembering categories, or they have eliminated some, as there is no longer a women’s fiction with strong romantic elements category :-(. Oh well, I will be rooting for the 3 (or are there more?) ladies who are entering, and if you need readers before finalizing your submissions, I would love to be one of them!

    • They pared down the categories (and changed the scoring) two or three years ago. There used to be a separate Regency category, as well as Long Historical and Short Historical (that was years and years ago). The contest states that if there aren’t at least 25 entries in a given category, you’ll either be refunded your money or you can opt to enter in another category. They won’t judge a category with < 25 entries.

      Thanks for offering to read! My first 50 pages are up in Dropbox if you're so inclined.

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: Favourite Romantic Songs | Eight Ladies Writing

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