Monday, April 28, 2008

The Golden Heart Journey

An inside look at the magical journey from contest entrant to contest finalist and maybe winner!

RWA has a total of more than 150 combined, local, foreign and special interest chapters with almost as many chapter contests. But the Golden Heart is considered hands down to be the top tier of contests for unpublished romance writers. Because of the scoring system, it is also in this writer's opinion, one of the most subjective contests for unpublished romance writers.

Every year the Golden Heart allows entrants to reserve their spot and then send the complete manuscript and six partials, consisting of the beginning of the manuscript and synopsis for a total of 55 pages for judging.

With scores arriving in the mail right now this is a perfect time to dissect the contest. The current GH rules call for a cap of 1200 entries across all ten categories. The finalist are the top ten percent of the entrants in their category or per the RWA Policy and Procedures:

"The top 10 percent of each category’s entries, but no fewer than three or
more than eight, provided the minimum total score for each finalist equals
80 percent of the total possible score, shall advance to the final round.

A letter from RWA will say:
Below please find the scores for you manuscript X, in the preliminary round in the 200X Golden Heart Contest. Scores are listed, from one of the 5 judges. (There are also the boxes that may be checked: not a romance, wrong category and not properly formatted)

The rest of the score sheet states:

RWA applies a standard deviation method for determining finalists and winners, meaning if the lowest score for this work was found to be outside the range limits, the lowest score was replaced by the average score to determine the final score of the manuscript.
You may refer to the following standard deviation method for determining the ranking of your score.

Top quarter; final scores equal to or greater than __
Second quarter; final scores between ____ and ___.
Lower half; final scores equal to or less than ____.

I pulled out two of my scoresheets from previous years for the
same manuscript, unchanged.

1. Scenario one: scores, 6-7-9-8-6 Total 36.00
Top quarter equal or greater than 37.10
Second quarter between 34.60 and 37.00
Lower half scores equal or less than 34.00

2. Scenario two: scores, 8.8-9-8-6.8-7.9 Total 40.4
Top quarter equal or greater than 37.7
Second quarter between 37.5 and 33.6
Lower half scores equal or less than 32.5

I'm not going to speculate on the whys and hows nor am I going to GH bash. It's a contest. The nature of the beast is that it is subjective. NOT a crap shoot. I resent that term. It is a competition. This post is merely to share information so you can go into the Golden Heart informed, and so you can know the upside and the downside.

The RWA Policy and Procedure lists all of the of the judging criteria for the first round of the Golden Heart, here is just a portion:

"In selecting judges for the preliminary round of the Golden Heart contest,
priority should be given based on the following criteria and in the following
order:PAN or PAN-eligible authors (after the RITA judging pool has been
staffed), previous Golden Heart winners and finalists, PRO members, and
other interested RWA members."

If you do final, notification will arrive via Fed-Ex. Included is a letter from the RWA staff instructing you to submit a photo and you will also find the wonderful and amazing Golden Heart lapel pin to wear during your conference adventures or until the end of eternity. These apparently have no value on EBay. They are not real gold. But they look really great on your conference badge.

Second round judging has now begun! From the RWA Policy and Procedure here is some of the judging criteria for the second round of the Golden Heart:

"The final-round Golden Heart entries shall be judged by a panel consisting
of (in order of preference): Three editors, or Two editors and a PAN-eligible published member."

Looking back at the history of the Golden Heart. The first award was presented in 1983. Over the years categories have not only been changed but have been eliminated in particular years due to low entry.

A very partial list of some names you will recognize who began their careers as GH winners: (Again, the list of those with stellar careers who never entered or finaled in the GH is equally amazing; however this post is not about that, it is a celebration of the Golden Heart.) For a complete list see the RWA web site.

1983 Kathleen Eagle
1984 Barbara Dawson Smith
1985 Lauraine Snelling
1990 Christina Dodd
1994 Kate Welsh
1994 Rachel Gibson
1995 Roxanne Rustand
1998 Jane Porter
2003 Merrillee Whren
2004 Pam Hillman
2005 Myra Johnson
2007 Carla Capshaw

Even more spectacular is the Golden Network Hall of Gold, those members who finaled more than three times. Some highlights:

Linda Rooks, 5 time finalist, Theresa Ragan, 6 time finalist, Delle Jacobs, 7 time finalist and Trish Milburn 8 time finalist.

Why do they do it? Some of the multiple finalist's names are only seen on the Golden Heart roll call and not regional contests. So is it for the challenge, the PR, the thrill?

The Golden Heart doesn't deliver a contract to unpublished authors but it does offer a window of opportunity to heavily market yourself using the Golden Heart as your launching pad.

Plus, frankly, being a Golden Heart Finalist is a lot of fun.

Events to add to your calendar when you final:

  • An invitation to join The Golden Network, a special interest chapter of RWA, whose membership is only open to Golden Heart finalists. The Golden Network offers a Yahoo group for networking and support. At RWA Nationals this chapter provides a dessert reception for Golden Heart Finalists with an opportunity to network with industry professionals. In recent years they have provided a mini conference with great agents and editors present. They also have a "booting" out ceremony for members who sell. The chapter also has a contest, The Golden Pen, which most closely resembles the Golden Heart with only Golden Heart finalists/winners as judges. This is a great way to prepare for next year's Golden Heart.
  • Since 2000, the individual Golden Heart classes have begun their own Yahoo Group for support.
  • RWA National's provides Golden Heart recognition with the lavender Golden Heart ribbon for finalists. Per RWA Policy and Procedure those not attending nationals may still receive their ribbon by writing to RWA and requesting one. RWA hosts a champagn reception for Golden Heart and Rita Finalists which is a little bit of fairy dust when you consider you are in the same room with authors you want to be when you grow up.
All in all the national convention treats Golden Heart finalists very kindly. Members are generous with their congratulations and lavish with their praise. After months holed up in your office in ratty pajamas, this is very nice.

The climax of the Golden Heart journey is sitting in the audience with one guest, in those up front seats waiting to hear your category called. Attendees look as glamorous as any Oscar gala.

Afterwards, finalists and winners receive a certificate. But those coveted Golden Heart necklaces go to the winners. And by the way, here's a link to what the real Golden Heart necklace looks like from the 2005 Winner, Seekerville's own Myra Johnson.

The Golden Heart journey is by no means a guaranteed path, or the only path to publication, as many multiple finalists who have not yet sold can attest. It is however a thrill to be acknowledged by your peers as a one of the top writers in your organization.

Congratulations to this year's Golden Heart finalists. Please join us Tuesday and Wednesday as Seekerville welcomes the 2008 Inspirational Golden Heart finalists. We'd like to applaud them and support them on this year's journey.


  1. For me, I entered all contests, GH and chapter ones, for the opportunity to final and get in front of a specific editor who was judging the final round. The GH is the top in the field, so it was also a bit of PR there too. This business is so full of people trying to sell that you have to do what you can to stand out -- write great books, enter contests if you can, etc.

    Good luck to this year's finalists.

  2. Wonderfully comprehensive post, Tina. I confess, I have been guilty of using the term "crap shoot" about contests in general. By that term, I simply mean that you pay your money and you take your chances. We have no way of controlling who our prelim judges will be, or what mood they'll be in by the time they get to our ms., or what their personal reading tastes are.

    And even though there are certain "rules" for good writing, any given judge's interpretation of how well you adhered to their understanding of the rules is going to be subjective.

    There's an interesting article in the most recent Romance Writers Report that offers insight into interpreting your GH scores. The author compares the range of scoring to the kind of reception a published book might get from a variety of readers. Some will love it, some will merely like it, others won't get it at all.

    Yes, there's a lot of glitz and glamor to enjoy as a GH finalist and winner, but as Tina said, it's no guarantee of getting a contract. We still have to find the right editor, the one who finally "gets" our writing and is willing to invest in us.

    Praying that editor is just around the corner for each of us!

  3. Last month I attended a local ACFW meeting in the city I live. During our "tell us who you are" time, I said my name and my genre of writing. That's about me in a nutshell.

    Well, later we got to talking about contests, particularly the Genesis because first round judging was going on at the time. One gal then mentioned the Golden Heart as the premier contest for unpublished romance writers to final in.

    I quite embarrassinly held up my hand and mentioned I'd finaled in the GH last year.


    Why I didn't think to mention that in my introductory time, I'll never know. I'm so silly sometimes.

    My word verifaction is...well, I can't even read it today. How do I type in mumbojumbo scrawl? I thouth it was a backward c, but maybe it's an x, so that would make the next letter a j or a twisted i. Hmmm...

  4. When you consider that you finaled in a field of 1200 entrants it is a huge accomplishment. Heck, printing off the darn partials is a huge in itself.

    Lots of people want to be writers but few follow through because if it was easy we'd all be published..yesterday.

  5. Okay, Tina, I guess I've offended you, too! :) But I'm like Myra in using the term crap shoot because sometimes the very same manuscript will final and do well, other times it won't. It sometimes depends on the luck of the draw on how generous of a judge you get.

    But like you said, it is a competition. And a badly written manuscript isn't going to final (even if a great manuscript doesn't--if that makes sense). So I don't want to devalue a finaling manuscript by saying it's a crap shoot. (Okay, so maybe I've said it's crap shoot on the years I haven't finaled or when my friends haven't finaled!) :)

    Thanks for all the wonderful background info, Tina. You amaze me. I learned so much!!

    I can't wait to meet the finalists this week!


  6. Oops. Tina, I also meant to issue an apology for the times I've thrown around the term crap shoot.

    Hey, Gina, I didn't get a verification today. I guess I signed in earlier??

    Howdy, Trish!! Are you busy cranking out your contracted books these days? :) By the way, if you're still around, would you mind telling us how many of those 8GH finaling manuscripts are ones that you've now sold?


  7. I'm not offended, I just don't like the term :) Kinda like the word lugie for spit. I envision guys in black pin striped suits with black and white shoes in a corner alley throwing dice.

    One must wonder if those GH finalists sold did so with their GH msc or not?

  8. LOL, Tina. I can see those guys in the alley, too. :)

  9. Thanks, Tina. Oh, and I was wondering when you guys are going to tell us where to send our proof of all the contests we've entered from Jan. 1 to April 30. I think I've entered 9 contests. Does it count double if we entered two manuscripts in each contest?

    I still have not entered the GH. Hopefully this year. But printing off 55 pages times 6 sounds kind of daunting. Though not as daunting as starting my new book. Will softball season ever be over?

  10. I'm not to keen on the word chunky.

    My sis-in-law hates the phrase "that dress flatters you." It's code for you don't look so fat when you wear it.

    Crap shoot is...well, can be annoying. I've never been bothered by calling contests crap shoots, but I think that's because I see the underlying message. No matter how well written your entry is, it has to fall into the hands of the right judges. Wrong judge...*sigh*

    With my GH-finaling ms, I'd entered it the year before in the mainstream historical category. Not much changed in the entry from that version to the one I entered in the inspirational category in 2007. But my scores...lemme go find them.

    2006 GH scores for my medieval

    7, 8, 5.3, 7.2, 7.8 = 35.30

    Top quarter 37.40+
    Mid quarter 37.40-34.90
    Lower half 34.70

    I'm not sure what RWA considered to be outside the standard deviation, but that 5.3 would seem to be IMHO. Oh well. I figured my entry did fairly well even though it didn't final.

    2007 GH scores for my medieval that had a few too-edgy-for-CBA word choices removed (ex. breasts changed to chest) but was pretty much the same, although my synopsis was much better and my entry was in TNR12 instead of CN12 so I sent in more story.

    8, 8.5, 8.5, 9, 9 = 43

    My entry didn't win. Carla's did. But by finaling, I met Tina, which is worth far more to me than a GH win would be. Or so I think. Then gain, I've never won the GH, so I'm assuming that's how I'd feel.


    Odds are an undeserving entry isn't going to final in the GH. And that's usually the case in most contests. Note: usually.

    Since we have five GH inspy finalists this year, then that means the category had 50-60 entries. The more entries a category has, the more finalists. Could be one for every ten entries or one for every fifteen or twenty, but I think it's ten. Not sure where I heard that.

    Of those, 50-60 entries, odds are 15 of them are what the general consensus would say are written well enough to final. So who finals comes down to who had the most judges who liked the entry the most. So I think we can safely say the entries that final are the ones who had both quality writing and the right judges.

    Fortunately with the Golden Heart, RWA will drop a score outside the standard. I admire that.

    But some contests don't.

    One contest I entered recently averaged the three scores instead of dropping the lowest. Looking at the odds and statistics, all it takes is one really low score to kick a deserving entry out of finaling.

    I know a gal who had two scores in the 90s and a third in the 50s. She didn't final because that third score severely lowered her average.

    My entry wasn't hurt too bad, although my average was 5 points lower. Who knows if the lowest score was dropped if that would have propelled my entry into the finals. I'm pretending it would have because my ego likes to be deluded.

    I understand the reasoning that averaging affects everyone, but average these.

    Entry 1:: 100, 90, 90 = 93.3

    Entry 2:: 99, 98, 50 = 82.3

    Entry 3:: 89, 85, 82 = 85.3

    Odds are, Entry 2 is probably better written than Entry 3, but because one judges absolutely hated the story, then Entry 2 is SOL.

    That's why I say if a contest averages scores verses dropping the lowest score or substituting the average if the lowest score is outside the standard deviation (like the GH does) or bringing in a descrepancy judge if the two scores are vastly different, then you may want to reconsider entering that contest. Especially if your entry tends to be one judges either love or hate.

    BTW, I have a friend (not me) who entered her GH finaling ms in the GH the next year with a few changes made (nothing major) and didn't final. Didn't even make the upper tier.

    So it's not just about quality writing.

    Who you get for your judges weighs just as much as how well your entry is written. Or at least I think it does.

    And I have no sour grapes about the GH this year. My entry was disqualified so I'm very unbiased in my views. ;-)

  11. Gina, the only way I like the word 'chunky' is in reference to peanut butter.

    We can all understand that one!

    Crap shoot?

    Hey, gals, some of those dice throwers are also flame throwers, so I'm not sure that's such a bad image, LOL!

    Every contest offers a chance to be recognized, moved on, noticed, rewarded and awarded...

    And the strong chance to never see any of the above, but that's okay. Life is full of chances, and you're guaranteed to lose 100% of the contests you never enter, so crap shoot or not, you gotta' go for the "gold", either in the GH or otherwise.

    And if you miss the gold ring (or heart, in this instance) you keep trying.

    Quitters quit.

    Winners didn't.

    Simple concept.

    Every time you feel like quitting, like letting that soccer ball drift to the opposing team, or not jumping to catch Derek Jeter's straight shot over the center field wall, imagine how much better it feels to make the save. Make the catch.

    Then pull up your big girl panties and get on with it.

    We're tough. We're cool.

    In and out of the winner's circle.


  12. Ruthy, I'm not too keen on chunky in relation to peanut butter either.

    What's weird is I can think of a word that I don't mind it's use when describing how you feel. But I abhor it when it's an action verb.

    Yesterday my almost five-year-old stepped out on to the deck and said, "Shocking reindeers, it's cold out there."

    I think the Word Verification Guy didn't like me making fun of his words because now he's sending me things that look like Jackson Pollack artwork.

  13. Tina, great stats on the Golden Heart. Proof again of how organized and informed you are!

    Being a GH finalist was a blast. And a bummer. The first time, my expectations soared to the moom. By Fall I'd crash landed back on planet earth, having learned the GH isn't a sure ticket to a sale or an agent. But I met Tina, Julie and Myra--the Golden Girls and that compensated for the disappointment...mostly. :-) Seriously their friendship last lots longer than any short-lived fame.

    Orphaned Hearts sold because Steeple Hill made the decision to launch an historical line, not because it had been a Golden Heart finalist. But I'll always treasure my golden heart pins and the happy memories they jog.


  14. That should be moon, not moom.

    My word verification resembled burper, Gina. Aren't you glad I shared? :-)


  15. Brilliant Ruthy said: Life is full of chances, and you're guaranteed to lose 100% of the contests you never enter...

    I love this!! So true.

    Okay, who's bringing food today?? I'm hungry for an afernoon snack. :)

  16. Gina, your 4/5 year old said that??!! LOL! So cute!! Smart kid.

    Melanie, tennis season just ended for me (2 kids involved), plus chorus just ended for the other child. I'm celebrating this week!! :)


  17. I had no idea how Golden Heart worked. I'm inclined to look for contests that give feed-back at this point in my life.

    How many are members of RWA? Is it beneficial?

    Now I need my big-girl bifocals rather than my big-girl panties for this w.v. item. It's in two different typefaces ...

  18. I have a post on Friday, Contest Update reminding everyone about the 2008 Challenge. You can send it to my email addy. Every single entry counts as one. If you enter Tara twice you get to count it twice.

  19. Oh Gina you are so sweet. What a nice thing to say, and when I have a COWD too. I appreciate that.

  20. Have some Hershey bars, everybody. Left over from teh cook-out last night.

    BTW -- I just fixed a pot of chocolate carmel chai. Would you like it with cream and sugar? Or sweetened condensed milk?

    It's all good :-)

  21. All right, I've got food right here, gals, an odd assortment but I couldn't get to market so we have peanut butter and mashed banana sandwiches (with crushed potato chips on top), two-day old chicken salad with a cole slaw garnish, and fried bologna on rye with mustard.

    And strawberry croissants, delicate little pastries that are made by piping whipped cream (real heavy cream, please) onto a split croissant, then dabbing vanilla custard into the middle, topping that with sliced fresh berries , then more whipped cream. Replace the top of the croissant and dust with confectioner's sugar....

    Forget the sandwiches, let's just gobble up these babies.


  22. Dessert first. Brava.

    I hope you plan to save SOMETHING for when the guests arrive tomorrow.

  23. Technically, you can have 5 finalists with as low as 46 entrants, which is 4.6 finalists rounded to 5...

    OR, you can actually have 5 finalists if there is a tie for last place. Say there were 37entrants...that's 4 finalists, but if there are 3 clear top scorers and 2 tied for "4th" place, then there should be 5 finalists.

    Regardless, I want to err on the side that the Inspirational catgory had a bumper crop of entrants and will have more than ever next year!

    Go GH'ers!!!

  24. I DO hope y'all saved me some of those to-die-for croissants!

  25. Pam is the number cruncher in our group. We still love her.

    I too would love to see 5 inspy finalists.

  26. Ann, I'm a member of RWA and have learned so much there. I love the organization and the national conference. I'm also a member of a couple of local chapters.

    I'm also a card-carrying member of the bifocal club! :)


  27. Food and writing, two of my favorite things.

    I had no idea the GH was so...mathematical.

    Tina, thanks for explaining. Gina, thanks for sharing your experiences. And Ruth is right, one must enter...although it does get a bit pricey.

  28. I actually tried to answer Ann earlier and Blogger blocked me as an alien.

    RWA is wonderful for networking, advocacy and resources. ACFW is a very useful organization. I think you have to give them a shot and see which meets your needs.

  29. Ugggh. Kit said "mathematical" and "Gina" in the same post. That's like saying Mary and nice in the same post.

    So so wrong.

    Where is anonymouse today?

  30. Wow, Tina, deja vu on this post, my friend -- you took me back! The GH was one of the best experiences of my life, but like Janet said, mostly because of the incredible friendships forged with you, Myra and Janet.

    Also like Janet said, I can't say that the GH landed me my agent, but it certainly motivated me to send out those queries en masse, which resulted in my signing with Natasha. Did the GH have an impact on her signing me? Honestly? She told me no, but I believe otherwise. The GH is THE contest for unpublished writers, and the acclaim of it may not, in and of itself, get you a contract, but it sure in the heck looks good on the old resume and NOBODY will convince me otherwise.

  31. LOL, Gina! Mary's at a conference for work. I almost posted as anonymous so we wouldn't miss her so badly. But I didn't think I could be funny enough. :)


  32. I enjoyed your post, Tina. Very informative.

    I also enjoyed reading the comments. How wonderful that the GH has led to such rich and rewarding friendships.

    I look forward to meeting Susan, Denise and Kit and sharing the experience of Nationals with them. I hope all of you Seekers in attendance will introduce yourselves as well.

  33. you know looking at those golden hearts reminds me of chocolates we get here they are heart shaped and wrapped in gold foil and i really want one about now.

    good post, and i did recognise a few of those names.

    Gina, ruth, here we have chunky chocolate bars i like it in that

    i get the wv right and password wrong.

    Im really hungry now. big question whats for tea.