The Romance Writers of America 2012 Golden Heart® Contest for unpublished manuscripts is now open for entries. With 1200 entries each year, this is perhaps the biggest and most prestigious romance writing contest in the world. Contestants can compete in any of the romance subgenres. There are also categories for mainstream novels with strong romantic elements (NSRE) and Young Adult (YA) novels.
Each year we hear Cinderella stories of GH finalists who found agents and signed their first multi-book deals with major publishers. Finalists get priority on appointments with editors and agents at the RWA National Conference, and there are numerous receptions held in their honor, including a high profile award ceremony. But the greatest prize of all is the support of an enormous network of past and present Golden Heart® finalists. They even have their own RWA chapter, The Golden Network.
Here’s what you need to know before you plunk down your $50 and take a chance on the Golden Heart:
You won’t get any feedback: Golden Heart® entries are scored on a scale from one to nine. Entrants will receive their scores without any explanation of why they scored as they did. They will also receive information on how they finished in comparison to other entrants in their category. For example, they will be told if they finished in the top quarter, middle quarter, bottom quarter, etc. Yet, this information is no predictor of how their work will sell. There are plenty of best-selling writers who scored in the bottom quarter and went on to have amazing careers. Conversely, many writers who final repeatedly in the Golden Heart never sell.
Yes, you really do need a completed manuscript: Although only the partials are judged, you do need to send in the entire manuscript. You have the option of printing out your full or sending the file on a CD. I have heard stories of CD’s getting lost and the entrants being disqualified. So if you choose that option, be sure to label the CD clearly. If you final and one of the final editor judges requests the full, you should have an opportunity to send a revised version, but send a polished full anyway. You never know who might see it.
Enter Early: The deadlines for the Golden Heart® might be a little confusing for a new entrant. The first deadline, November 15, 2011, is for the entry form. Your actual entry: six copies of both the partial and the synopsis plus one copy of the full must be received at the RWA office in Houston by December 2, 2011. Yes, you do have to send it snail mail. Last year, I mailed mine ten days before the deadline and it arrived on the very last day possible. So plan ahead and allow twice as much time as you think you’ll need.
Enter Often: One of the things you’ll hear over and over again when you’re talking to Golden Heart® finalists, is that they’re often stunned by which of their manuscripts finaled. They thought a manuscript that didn’t final was stronger than the one that did. But many factors go into the selection of finalists. The score required to final in one category might be higher than the score required in another. You can never tell which manuscript is going to appeal to the judges. So if you can afford to enter more than one manuscript, do.
There are no guarantees: Your manuscript is flawless. You’ve gone through the checklist and met all the formatting requirements. You’ve paid your money and made all the deadlines. Perhaps you’ve even won some chapter contests. But even if you’re the greatest writer since Shakespeare, you might not final in the Golden Heart. The contest does have a system for eliminating scores outside the statistical norm. But judging is inherently subjective, and there’s no guarantee that the best entries will final.
I would love to hear your Golden Heart®advice. Is there anything I left out? Please share your questions or words of wisdom. Are you entering this year? Why or why not?