My sincere thanks to Audra for inviting me to be a guest at Seekerville. I’ve always admired, been awed by, and aspired to meet this great group. I’ve done so online, but at RWA® Nationals in Orlando, I got to meet six Seekers in person: Debby, Janet, Missy, Myra, Ruthy, and Sandra. What a thrill! I can vouch for the fact that they are every bit as wonderful as you’d expect. And they’re so nice. (Yes, even Ruthy! Although, don’t tell her I said that. I don’t want to ruin her reputation.)
Sandra, Myra, Janet, Keli, Ruthy, Missy
Anne Barton, Debby, Keli
Audra asked me to blog about my Golden Heart experience, so I’ll do my best to give you a feel for what it’s like to be a finalist in this well-known and well-run contest. Since I live in the heart of California’s Gold Country, I’m going to share what I refer to as nine nuggets, those nifty benefits I was blessed to receive because of my finalist status.
1) Polishing Skills
The GH entry is one of the longest contest entries out there, totaling 55 pages between the partial and the synopsis. Entrants get plenty of practice polishing those critical first chapters until they shine so brightly the judges are tempted to don sunglasses.
That’s not all. The GH is the only contest in the romance genre I know of that requires entrants to submit a complete manuscript. This forces entrants to edit their entire entries, giving them even more experience at making their stories sparkle.
If that’s not enough, RWA allows finalists to submit a revised copy of their manuscripts in the event that they receive requests from final round judges. Knowing an agent or editor may ask to see an entire entry spurs many a finalist to keep working on a story until it glints like the gem they envision it to be.
The GH entry is due in mid-November, and yet the finalists aren’t announced until the last week of March. Four months.
Once the finalists are announced on March 25, they have to wait until the end of the RWA conference to find out who the winners are. Four more months.
Eight months of waiting and wondering are good practice for the world of publishing. Novelists do plenty of both. So, the GH experience prepares the entrants for the writing life as they learn patience.
OK. Excitement is an understatement for the emotion experienced by most entrants whose phones ring on March 25. Exhilaration, elation, or euphoria is probably a more accurate description.
The thrill begins that day, but there are more to follow. As you’ll see in my next nuggets, a finalist is in for an amazing four months filled with unexpected joys.
4) New Friends
For me, what followed my first GH call in 2008 was a blessing beyond belief. I’d been writing in isolation for two years. I knew not one other writer. I’d spoken briefly with a friend of a friend who told me I needed to join RWA, which I did. I devoured each issue of the Romance Writers Report, which is where I learned about the contests, including the GH.
Even though I entered the GH, I had no idea what an accomplishment it was to final. My first hint that I’d done something special came on March 28, 2008. I received an email from the newsletter editor of my husband’s British sports car club saying someone named Tina Russo wanted her to pass on a message about “a Golden contest or something like that” and asked me if it were legit. Um, yeah!
A month later, Seekerville hosted the four inspirational GH finalists. I was such a newbie that Tina had to talk me through the process. I’d only visited one blog in my entire life and had no clue what a wonderful world of writers awaited me. Thank you, Tina and the rest of the Seekers!
The writer buddies I met through your awesome blog were some of my first. Since then, I’ve met many more. Truly, when it comes to the friends I’ve made because of my GH finals, I feel like I hit the Mother Lode.
5) Fellow Finalists
Two of my fellow GH finalists who met me here in Seekerville back in 2008 invited me to join the Yahoo! group, which had been set up the day the finalists were announced. Courtney Milan helped me make it through the steps involved in joining the loop and posting my first message. In spite of being a latecomer to the group, they gave me a warm welcome.
Over the next three months, I got to know this amazing group of women, who call ourselves the Pixie Chicks—or Pixies for short. We’re still a tight group, and I was delighted to see several of our members in Orlando.
In March of this year, I became part of a second group of finalists known as the Unsinkables. I had a blast meeting many of them at the various GH functions in Florida. Talk about talented. Five of them sold even before Nationals!
Being a Golden Heart finalist catapults a romance novelist from obscurity into the spotlight. RWA invites each finalist to submit information about their local media and sends out press releases. Some finalists find themselves featured in their local newspapers. One of the 2010 winners was invited to be a featured guest in her town’s annual parade.
Not all finalists make the news or wave to their adoring fans from a float, but most would agree that being able to tell others about their final lends credence to their calling. Family and friends seem to take them and their writing more seriously.
In the professional realm, being able to add Golden Heart Finalist to the subject line of a query can reap rewards. Those who’ve had work in agents’ or editors’ slush piles may find the publishing pros more eager to read their work.
Back in 2008, I watched in amazement as fellow finalists received requests. Some were the result of queries sent prior to the finalist announcement. Some resulted from queries sent after the GH calls went out. Still others came after the final round judges turned in their scores. The requests continued to pour in at Nationals as finalists met with the publishing pros.
The response this year has been similar to what I witnessed in 2008. While GH finalist status is no guarantee of a sale, it does get one noticed and can lead to requests.
8) Royal Treatment
I’d heard previous finalists talk about how much fun it is to attend Nationals as a GH finalist. I saw for myself what they meant when I went to San Francisco in 2008. RWA treats the finalists like royalty.
As soon as the finalists are announced, RWA sends out the GH pins via Fed-Ex. This shiny bit of bling dresses up one’s badge nicely. When a finalist arrives at Nationals, she or he will find a pretty pink Golden Heart Finalist ribbon to attach to the badge. I felt like a minor celebrity when other conferees would stop me to offer their congratulations.
There is a champagne reception where the GH finalists get to mingle with the published RITA finalists and receive their certificates. Being in the same room with some of the biggest names in romance is incredible.
Then comes the Awards Ceremony, where each finalist gets her or his moment in lights. Everyone is dressed in her or his best, creating a festive atmosphere. The GH finalists are seated in the VIP section with the RITA finalists, as well as the editors and agents. In Orlando, my awesome critique partner and dear friend Anne Barton and I were at the table next to Nora Roberts and her friends. And, no, I didn’t badger her to pose for a photo with me. But Anne did take one of me with the other inspirational finalists before the Awards Ceremony.
Keli, CJ Eernisse Chase, and Kristin Leigh Wallace
The ceremony begins with the GH presentation. Each finalist’s picture, book title, and name are displayed on four jumbotron screens placed around the room so each of the 2,000+ attendees has a good view by category, with the announcement of the winners coming afterward. Spotlights follow the winner to the stage. The evening has the feel of the Oscars. I marvel at all RWA does to make the event—and the entire GH experience—such a memorable one.
9) Hidden Blessings
I mentioned the fact that the family and friends of finalists often take them and their writing more seriously after a GH final. For me, I found that I took myself more seriously. After my first final, I felt like I’d received validation. I’d asked God if I were in His will in regard to my writing. I’d asked Him for writing pals. I’d asked Him to boost my confidence. I believe He used the GH as His answer.
I’ve alluded to the new friends I’ve made, but I haven’t talked about the most special connection of all. For me, meeting fellow 2008 GH finalist Anne Barton and forming our critique partnership was by far the best thing to come out of my GH experiences. I didn’t walk on stage in Orlando, and I’m fine with that. I firmly believe the Lord wanted CJ to win. She’d finaled six times, and I felt it was her turn to get a new necklace. I couldn’t be happier for her.
The only thing I was sad about that night was that I didn’t get to tell everyone how much Anne means to me. She’s an awesome critique partner, a treasured friend, and an example of class personified. I’m blessed—and I know it!
Keli and Anne Barton
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I know some of you may not have been able to attend Nationals, so I have a few mementos to share. One commenter will win a package containing a water bottle, notebook, and pen that commemorate the 30th anniversary of RWA. If you’d like to enter the drawing, just say so in your comment. Be sure to leave an email address so I can contact you—unless you know I already have yours.
If you have any questions about the Golden Heart, please feel free to ask. If I don’t know the answers, I’m sure there are others who will, since many of the Seekers and their friends have been GH finalists.
And now, I have a confession to make. I’m a lousy cook. Since I know y’all (that’s for you, Missy) don’t have the addiction to Taco Bell I do, I’ll refrain from subjecting you to seven layer burritos and such. Instead, I invite those of you who are great cooks to offer us some delectable cyber creations in the comments. One thing I do request, though, is that there is coffee—good coffee—available at any hour of the day. That way I know we can keep Anne and Ruthy happy.
Keli Gwyn is a writer of inspirational historical romance represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary and was a 2010 and 2008 Golden Heart® finalist. She's the wife of a British sports car enthusiast, mother of a college student, a member of Toastmasters, a scrapbooker, and a Taco Bell addict. She has a weakness for Coach handbags, collects hedgehog figurines, and has a hard time not singing along when 70s music is playing in the Dollar Store.