What to Expect When You Final in the Golden Heart®

19 Mar

Next Monday, March 26th, the Romance Writers of America® will announce the 2012 Golden Heart® and Rita® finalists. These awards recognize excellence in romance writing, YA’s, and other novels with strong romantic elements. While the Rita celebrates published novels, the Golden Heart is a great opportunity for unpublished authors to promote their manuscripts. Each year, thousands of entrants hope to see their names on the finalist list.

For those of you sitting on the edge of your seats, waiting for The GH Call, here’s a little preview of what you can expect if you final, along with some tips on how to prepare for the GH whirlwind.

The Call: Finalists usually get a phone call before the official announcement is made. Those living overseas get their calls first, and then it moves across the country from east to west. It’s fun to watch the names trickle in as the calls go out.

 Tip: Be prepared. When they call you, they will want to know if you want the announcement under your real name or a pseudonym.

The Flood: I was absolutely stunned by the number of people who took the time to congratulate me after I finaled, and those who invited me to guest blog. At the same time, the GH finalists were all contacting one another to figure out what they were supposed to be doing. It was impossible to keep up with the flurry of emails.

Luckily, there’s The Golden Network, an RWA special interest chapter for GH finalists. Their members do a wonderful job of guiding the finalists through the GH process.

The Name: Every class of GH finalists adopts a nickname. If you’re bored waiting for the announcements, you might think of one for this year’s group. But chances are, that name will come from something you experience together. The “Unsinkables” came out of solidarity with the Nashville flood victims.

The List: After all the joyful squeals die down, you get the official to-do list from RWA.This includes things like submitting a professional photo and choosing newspapers to receive your press release.

Tip: Might as well get that picture ready now. The List has deadlines.

The Preparation: Preparing for Nationals as a GH finalist can be a little overwhelming. Finalists have wonderful opportunities to sign up for special receptions, retreats, and pitch sessions. As a conference first-timer, I found it challenging to sort through all the events, get signed up for them, and pack appropriate clothing. Luckily, I had my wonderful GH sisters to explain everything. They were also there for my horrible, hideous hair disaster, and all the drama that went with finding The Dress.

The Submissions: If all that doesn’t sound overwhelming, it’s because I forgot to mention this is also the time to submit your queries to editors and agents. You may find the agent who’s rejected you five times on query letters alone is suddenly willing to read your pages. Go for it.

Tip: Finish polishing that full now. Conference is sooner than you think.

The Weird: Agents aren’t the only ones who will treat you differently when you’re a GH finalist. Other writers will have their own emotional responses to the announcement. Be prepared for some odd behavior from both friends and strangers.

Tip: Remember that this has nothing to do with you. It’s about how they feel about their own writing.

The Conference: As a finalist, it’s easy to go into panic mode at Nationals. You may feel like this is it, make or break, your one big chance to get published. It can be frustrating to realize everything is scheduled at the same time, your feet hurt, and you can’t attend every function.

In reality, the tough work is over. You’ve written the book and made it the best it can be. Pitch sessions aside, there’s nothing more you can do. Try to relax and enjoy yourself. The hardest part might be choosing who’ll sit up front with you at the awards ceremony.

Tip: Skip the workshops and focus on the people. You can always listen to the workshops on tape, but this may be your only chance to meet your online friends, your agent, and possibly, your future editor.

The Prize: No one wants to be a perpetual GH finalist. Most would much rather be published. But the truth is that not every finalist will ink a deal. The real prize for GH finalists is the camaraderie of the GH class. It’s having a group of kindred spirits beside you on the road to publication. And knowing, that no matter how your writing career turns out, you will always have the support of your GH sisters along the way.

Have I left anything out? For those who have finaled, what was your favorite perk of being a finalist? And for those who hope to final, what perk are you most looking forward to?



29 responses to “What to Expect When You Final in the Golden Heart®

  1. Marsha R. West

    March 19, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    Great post, Clarissa. The second RWA conference I attended was the one in Orlando. I was Pres-elect for our chapter, and we had two members in the running in different categories. Angi Morgan won for her RS now pubbed with Harlequin. Very exciting night. Entering the GH is a lot of work, and I haven’t done it since then. Better feedback from smaller contests. Do you enter every year?

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 10:55 AM

      Thanks for the comment, Marsha. Wasn’t Angi’s win fantastic? It is a lot of work, but definitely worth it if you final. Most of the finalists have spent the entire year entering contests and preparing.

      Having finaled twice, I would only enter again if I had written something new and exciting. It’s very rare for the same manuscript to final twice.

  2. Liz Flaherty

    March 19, 2012 at 6:01 AM

    I was never a finalist–sigh!–but this is a great post!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 10:56 AM

      Liz, Thank you for the comment. May your career bring you many other equally exciting moments 🙂

  3. Janis McCurry

    March 19, 2012 at 7:13 AM

    Great tips on how to stay grounded during the madness that is the national conference.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 10:57 AM

      Ah, yes, the madness. How to describe it to someone who’s never been? I can’t. It’s like no other conference I’ve ever attended.

  4. ramblingsfromtheleft

    March 19, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    Clarissa, how perfectly sweet to post this topic. Someone out there is happy to know that what they feel is not odd, they will thank you for your taking the time to prepare them for this amazing honor. Great post 🙂

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 10:58 AM

      Thank you, Florence. I always appreciate your kind comments 🙂

  5. Peggy Staggs

    March 19, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    You always have the best tips. These are great to keep in mind no matter what contest you win.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 10:59 AM

      Thank you, Peggy. I think I’ve only entered RWA contests, but I’ve picked up a few tips along the way. I hope they are useful to non-romance writers too 🙂

  6. Julie Brannagh

    March 19, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    Clarissa, what a wonderful blog post! I am a 2011 GH finalist. It took five years of stubborn — oops, dogged determination. I was entering till I achieved my goal. To say that my life changed with a five minute phone call is an understatement. I’m still working towards publication, but one’s query letters and submissions get read a LOT faster when “Golden Heart finalist” is attached! If that wasn’t enough, you’ll treasure the congratulations and happy tears from family and friends for the rest of your life. I love my GH finalist sisters, the Starcatchers. They’re there in good times and bad. The best advice I can offer to anyone else who finals in 2012 is to enjoy every minute, and to make the extra effort to attend National. There’s nothing like attending National as a Golden Heart finalist or winner!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 11:00 AM

      Great advice from someone who’s been there. Thanks, Julie 🙂

  7. Liz Fredericks

    March 19, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Another great post, Clarissa!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      March 19, 2012 at 3:14 PM

      Thanks, Liz!

  8. Ashlyn Macnamara

    March 19, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    Yes, yes, yes on having the full polished and the queries ready to go. This time last year, I didn’t have an agent. I got the call last March 25, and that same night, I queried my entire A list. Being able to put Golden Heart finalist in the subject line does wonders for getting you requests. By mid-April last year, I had more than one offer and had to choose my agent. It was wild.

    Secondly, if you have a web presence (and you definitely SHOULD), make sure you can be contacted through your website/blog in some manner. Agents will check the finalist list and they will Google you and contact you if your writing interests them. So make sure they can find you, make sure they can read about what you write, and make sure they can contact you.

    Lastly, if you’re anything like me, you won’t sleep for a few days. I couldn’t sleep the night before the calls went out, and I couldn’t manage it for a few days after, I was so keyed up. It’s good practice, though, for when you go on submission!

  9. ellaquinnauthor

    March 19, 2012 at 9:27 AM


    Thanks for posting this. I have no hopes of finaling. Judges either love me or hate me. However, the entry I submitted did net me an agent.

  10. Ally Broadfield

    March 19, 2012 at 9:44 AM

    This is a very thoughtful post. I’ve never entered, but I’m sending out positive vibes for all of my HHRW chaptermates.

  11. Meredith Allen Conner

    March 19, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    Another excellent post Clarissa! Great advice. I’m rooting for you again this year!

  12. Peggy Staggs

    March 19, 2012 at 10:52 AM


  13. Jane Perrine

    March 19, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    Great post! Hope every finalist can go to RWA. I was a finalist in 1999 and felt like a princess the entire week. It’s such a boost to your esteem and made people think, “Maybe she can write.” You have wonderful ideas, but my suggestion is: just enjoy!

  14. Gail Barrett

    March 19, 2012 at 3:43 PM

    Prepare for a huge adrenaline rush! You’ll feel giddy for days. My advice is to start shopping for the dress right away. Once you have that, the major stress is over. And then try to relax and enjoy the conference!!! You are going to feel so special! It’s really an amazing experience to be a finalist!!!

  15. Jean Willett

    March 19, 2012 at 4:36 PM

    Wonderful post! A a two-time GH Finalist all I can say is get ready for the rush and savor the moment. After the call, Laurie Kellogg usually sets up the email loop, so prepare to spread the word to fellow finalists so that all of you come together fast. This loop will help you settle your nerves and chat about the positives you’re experiencing. It’s the place and time to ask questions.
    My first GH was before loops were created and names given. My second, I’m an Unsinkable with Clarrisa.
    And don’t confuse TGN [The Golden Network] with anything RWA sets up for the Finalists. The TGN chapter hosts a retreat for its members and the new GH Finalists who choose to join. It’s a wonderful time to be celebrated by current and former GH chapter mates. All the information will be on your loop.

    Good luck to all.

  16. Mary Vine

    March 19, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    Great information. Thanks, Clarissa!

  17. triszalray

    March 19, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    I not only finaled last year, I won the 2011 Golden Heart in the Paranormal category. I would like to say that I was prepared but I honestly didn’t have any idea what a prestigious contest the Golden Heart was.
    I had just finishing my first novel at the the beginning of November 2010. I went on line to look for publishing opportunities for romance writers and the RWA website popped up. Exploring the site, I found information about the Golden Heart and decided to enter the contest.
    I am an ER doctor and the holidays are a very busy time of year. I had not written the ending of the novel and by December 1, I decided I would not submit the novel even though I had already completed the registration, entered the contest and paid the fee. I had just completed a 24 hour shift on Nov 30 and I had worked almost non-stop from just before Thanksgiving to Dec 1. I was exhausted.
    I got home about 2am Dec 1 and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and I showered and did just that. But as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking about the contest. I got up and started writing the end. I quit at least 10 times because I just didn’t think I’d get the novel finished and I hadn’t even read the beginning of the book since that summer. Every time I quit that day, something pulled me back to the novel.
    I missed the Tulsa Fed Ex pick up at 5:30pm. My daughter suggested we drive to Oklahoma City for the 9pm pick up. It’s a 1.5 hour drive. I finished the novel just before we exited the Turner Turnpike into OKC and I made the pickup.
    I was really proud of myself for just finishing the novel. I felt such a sense of accomplishment.
    I was at work when RWA called. I missed the call but they called me back about an hour later.
    Until I arrived in New York, I still had no idea how prestigious the contest was even though I was part of the Starcatcher network.
    I was very overwhelmed. I had sent out only to queries to agents when I finaled and was rejected by both. Just those two rejections really shattered my confidence. Even though I’d read numerous comments from other writers who’d been rejected, I was not prepared for the rejection. I felt like the novel wasn’t good enough so I started re-writing the whole thing. By the time I won the Golden heart, the novel was a mess and so was I. I had two judge requests for the full right before nationals.
    I had never read the completed novel in its entirety until May. It was 160,000 words and a lot of it, I didn’t even remember. I kept writing and rewriting, editing and revising. At one point, I had four different beginnings and in two versions, I had removed the first five chapters completely.
    In the beginning, I was my own worst enemy and harshest critic. Even after winning, I still didn’t think the novel was good enough. One of the GH final judges who requested a full called me a few weeks later with suggestions for revisions (Editor from Berkely) but by then I was so frustrated with myself and the entire process, I never got the revisions back to her and I’ve since filed the GH winning manuscript away and started working on a second novel which I finished in time and entered in the 2012 GH contest.
    My advice to new writers is BE PREPARED. If you’ve entered a novel in the GH, start revising and editing NOW just in case you final and get those final judge requests. Have a list of your top 5 agents and your top 5 editors because once you do final, you’ll want to submit queries as a 2012 GH Finalist. Go ahead and draft a query letter NOW and pretend you are a GH finalist so that in the excitement and pressure of the entire process you are not so overwhelmed trying to fulfill requests for your ms. Go on-line and learn what your top 5 agents and editors want when you do submit. Keep a calendar of important dates and deadlines and keep it separate from other day to day appointments and activities.
    Most important, do not become your own worst enemy. Talk to your fellow writers, friends and family. Learn your craft. Do whatever it takes to hold on to your confidence and figure out how to silence that inner critic NOW.
    Don’t wait to nationals/finals to start battling those inner demons. Know what inspires you and strengthens you and HOLD onto to it as tightly as you can. It’s going to be a wild and crazy ride.

  18. Mia Celeste/ Brenda ND

    March 20, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Thanks for this post. I didn’t know you were a GH finalist, but having read your wonderful stories I’m not surprised.

  19. Greta

    March 20, 2012 at 12:39 PM

    Great post, Clarissa. Nothing but good advice there.

    Also, loved Trisza’s comments–what a story.

  20. Karen Ware

    March 21, 2012 at 5:29 PM

    Love reading the wonderful advice! My intention is to submit to more contests this year and I hope even to submit to GH in the very near future. Thank you for letting us know what to expect…love this post!

  21. Carol Dunford

    March 22, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    All good advice. All contests teach you something. The GH actually gives much less feedback than other contests, so may not be the right contest for everyone. But if you final, it’s worth going to National and going along for the ride. I’ve finaled twice–and then stopped writing and went back to college. But I entered again this year with a new ms, so we’ll see how this story does in the changed marketplace. Good luck to everyone who entered!

  22. Nikki Weston

    March 25, 2012 at 3:02 AM

    Clarissa, thanks for updating the blog (though it was great last time too!). There was one GH occasion where I considered entering my manuscript, but I felt it just wasn’t strong enough at the time. I am very glad that I’ve put in the years and months of what I call my writing apprenticeship, it’s strengthened my work a lot more. Maybe I’ll submit this coming winter…!

    It is such a prestigious contest, I wish all entries the very best of luck over the coming weeks!

    Nikki Weston
    LinkedIn: Nikki Weston
    Finalist in ‘From The Heart’s’ 2011 Wallflower contest


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