The Golden Heart Awards: A Newbie’s Experience

The coveted Golden Heart necklace
The Golden Heart necklace

Apparently when I decide to put myself out there, I go all in. Why else would I enter the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest, also known as the Oscars of the romance world? OK, maybe the Oscar part refers more to the RITA contest, run at the same time, which awards published authors with one of the most coveted recognitions in the romance writing arena, but still – winning a Golden Heart is HUGE and often leads into one’s manuscript actually getting published.

Why would I enter such a prestigious contest? Because I’m a noob and didn’t know any better? Maybe. But also because I said I would send A Man of Character out this year. I promised myself that I would pursue publication in one form or other by the end of 2014, and I wanted an early start. It was a good deadline to set, and a great learning experience.

Was I surprised that I didn’t final? No, especially once I read that a) those who final must earn scores of 9 and above (out of 10) across all categories, and that b) one probably shouldn’t enter unless they’ve won other smaller writing contests and gotten lots of feedback from a variety of people. Of course a teensy weensy part of me had hoped I’d magically grab that brass ring, but no such luck. I’m good with that. I have a long ways to go in this career, and I’m still very much a beginner. This is my first book, and while I love it, I KNOW I have lots of room for improvement across the board.

Last week I got the judge’s scores back. I’d forgotten about that – I knew this wasn’t a contest that provided feedback, so I figured once I didn’t get that phone call on March 26th, that it was just done. Nope. While you don’t get detailed commentary, or any commentary at all, you do get the basic scores from the five judges who read your work. I’m not allowed to reveal them in detail, but after communicating with RWA for clearance, they told me it’s OK for me to speak of the scores in a general sense while discussing my experiences.

Let’s just say my scores are an excellent reminder that a lot of this writing business really IS subjective. Because one judge, whom I’ve affectionately nicknamed the Paula Abdul judge, loved me across the board. A second, my own Simon Cowell, was apparently not a fan. The other three judges had me at what I’m assuming is in the C range for most things (not sure if I’m interpreting the middle ones correctly, but we’re going with that) – enough to maybe – maybe – make it through a 1st audition on American Idol, but not to get me anywhere close to the Hollywood rounds, much less the Top 20.

What struck me most was the discrepancy in scores for my writing ability. Apparently one either loves my writing style, or…doesn’t. Well, OK, again, that was mostly the Paula vs Simon scenario. Still, it was a good reminder that you can’t please everyone (and that I have much to learn).

What I wouldn’t give to know what was behind the scores – to know why I got the scores I did. But for that, this isn’t the right contest. In fact, it was a pretty big leap to jump into this contest at all, considering how little real-world experience I’ve had with my writing being out there for judgment/critical review. So I’m proud of each and every one of my scores. Because they are affirmations that I’m trying, that I’m working, that I’m willing to DO this.

In the meantime, I’ve started a local critique group, have entered a contest sponsored by the Virginia Romance Writers, and will be looking for other ways to get feedback on my work.

And rather than focusing on the Simon Cowell scores, I’m going to highlight the Paula Abdul ones and hang them up near my desk, to remind myself that at this stage of the game, someone already loved my book. Straight up.

2 Replies to “The Golden Heart Awards: A Newbie’s Experience”

  1. As you point out: not every style is for everyone and trying to please on that level when it comes down to personal preferences… it’s hard.

    Still, for getting your story out there: you totally rock!

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