by Debra Holland
It’s Autumn, the time of year for unpublished writers to consider entering the RWA Golden Heart contest. The entry forms are due on November 16. The Golden Heart is RWA’s most prestigious unpublished contest.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. Debra's website is www.drdebraholland.com and you can also follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/drdebraholland