Monday, April 29, 2013

What I learned by entering the Golden Heart contest 2013

The Golden Heart scores have now been released. If you're unaware, the Golden Heart contest is sponsored by RWA (Romance Writers of America) each year for aspiring writers in the romance genre. Entries are separated into six different categories: series contemporary, single title contemporary; series historical, single title historical; romantic suspense, and young adult.

After a preliminary round of judging, the top ten percent of each category's entries, with a limit of eight in each category, provided the minimum total score for each finalist equals 80 percent of the total possible score, moves into the finalist category, which is judged by acquiring editors. Therefore, having a manuscript final in the Golden Heart is a big deal. Many finalists become published authors not long afterwards.

Preliminary round judges are themselves contest entrants but, obviously, in a different category than they are judging. Most contest entrants are at the level of having completed at least one manuscript and are members of RWA PRO, which means they've submitted one or more manuscripts to editors, and have proof. I.e. rejections! (Yes, I am a member of PRO.)

There are many RWA contests throughout the year that provide great feedback, however this contest provides none, only the entrant's raw scores. Also unlike all other RWA contests, this one requires that a completed manuscript be sent along with the contest submission, although only the actual submission is judged. The submission includes sample chapters and a synopsis, with the combined total not to exceed 55 pages.

So why, if you get no feedback whatsoever, should you enter? The truth is, you probably shouldn't. I wish I hadn't.

I wish I had entered feedback-providing contests prior to the GH. Based on the feedback, I could've honed my manuscript a bit more before entering The Big Kahuna. Due to the flow of my life at the time, it just wasn't something I had grasped. But with my next manuscript, guess what I'll be doing instead?

Even so, I did learn a few things by entering the GH. 

I was judged by a total of five judges, which was cool. I got five different opinions about my manuscript's market readiness. The manuscript sample was judged on four criteria:

1. The Romance (20 points possible)
2. The Story/Plot (10 points possible)
3. The Characters (10 points possible)
4. The Writing (10 points possible)

Overall, the highest and the lowest judges' total scores were dropped, and the three middle scores averaged.

In all, I actually didn't do too bad. Although I wasn't a finalist, I missed being one by only 2.3 points.

See where entering prior contests might have made a serious difference to me? As stated before, I should've entered some of the other feedback giving RWA contests, gotten some great feedback, and revised my contest entry BEFORE throwing it into the GH pool. Had I done that, I *might* be a finalist. (GH winners will be announced at the national convention in August.)

As it turned out, two of the judges put me in the finalist category for overall score, but there was one that didn't like my entry, and gave me middling scores in every category.

But I did see that three out of the five judges believed the Romance was at finalist level. Three of the judges thought my Story/Plot was at finalist level. Three of the judges thought my Writing was at finalist level, and three of the judges thought my Characters were at finalist level. In fact, three of the judges gave me a perfect score of 10 for my Characters.

Expensive lesson learned. Others, please take heed: Enter other contests BEFORE entering the Golden Heart!


  1. Catherine,
    My scores were so close to your scores. It is frustrating because there is something missing that I just haven't figured out yet. One thing I would recommend is that you enter the Golden Pen:
    It uses the exact same rules as the Golden Heart, but you received great feedback from the judges. I didn't final this year either with the Golden Heart, but I love the feedback I received from the Golden Pen to get ready for the Golden Heart. Best of Luck---just don't ever give up.

  2. Hi Cathy, I'm a fellow RWA-er too! I entered 3 chapter contests last year, but elected not to enter the Golden Heart; it was more of a timing issue for me as I was editing with a timeline to submit requested material to an agent, all of which overlapped with the GH deadline.

    I do think that the smaller chapter contests with feedback are helpful. The first one I entered signaled me that my story didn't have enough of a plot--and that early version the story arc started way too late. I revised, read books on plotting, etc. and ended up winning 1st place in a YA category later that year! (yayy). Then, I entered a 3rd contest and didn't final at all. With the same MS after even more edits. One comment from that last contest said that they didn't think teens could relate to a story told about a past era. Apparently historicals are only for adults?

    Contest feedback is so varied. From my experience w/ RWA for the past year, I think YA is still emerging, so some chapters might not have representation there, and may not be as familiar with stories for that age range than say category romance. Also, writing is so subjective. I also found those who gave the most detailed, helpful feedback were all unpublished authors. The published authors either commented very little or not at all.

    I entered NW Houston's Lone Star which I'd recommend. There are tons of them. My chapter contest is in the fall, September or October, for Windy City RWA :)

  3. As if I didn't already say enough, didn't the GH change the scoring rules this year? I guess time will tell if the scoring methods and lack of feedback are the appropriate format. I've heard mixed things from my chapter mates.


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