Friday, March 25, 2011

Not A Golden Heart Finalist: What Does It Mean?

We all know what making the finals in the crème de la crème of romance contests means. Becoming a Golden Heart finalist means recognition and requests from professionals in the industry (agents and editors). Not to mention joining the prestigious ranks of previous finalists and earning the respect of your peers. It is the one romance award pre-pubs go Goo-Goo Ga-Ga over, and some lose sleep in anticipation of the announcement of the finalists.

I entered the GH in Nov 2010, and then put it out of my head. Constantly focusing on the outcome would only lead to stress, and in the event I didn’t make it also heartbreak. Well, I didn’t make the finals and I’m completely bummed. Having recently landed an agent does help, but I’ll be honest, previous contest wins no longer hold the same weight. At the end of the day, what does it mean?

For starters, the world is not over. If you didn’t make the finals, spend the weekend acknowledging your disappointment. Eat that pint of Ben and Jerry’s, have more wine than you should, drown your sorrows in a scented bubble bath, or get a massage like I plan to tomorrow. Then on Monday morning, let it go and take a reality check.

There are lots of successful authors who have entered contests and never won any of them. It does not mean your writing is sub-par. How many times have you heard of writers who entered the exact same manuscript two years in a row in the GH and only finaled once? Okay, you have the rare heavy-hitter out there, like Sharon Lynn Fisher who keeps making the finals and her talent clearly can’t be denied. BTW, Huge Congratulations to Sharon for making the finals yet again! For those who don’t know, Sharon has a phenomenal “Untouchable” agent, Robin Rue.

Getting back on track, if you didn’t receive the GH call, the same manuscript can still be published. In 2010, Erica Ridley’s Too Wicked To Kiss didn’t make the finals, but her agent sold it later that year to Kensington in a two book deal. It’s also a book club pick,

When Anne Marsh entered the Golden Heart, she scored in the bottom 25%. Six months after not getting the GH call, she landed agent Roberta Brown and had a contract for a different book. Her manuscript, which didn’t make the GH cut, Bond With Me, was published in 2010, Vicky Dreiling entered How To Marry A Duke in the GH twice and didn’t final either time. Her book was published by Grand Central this past January,

To all those wondering why the novel you rushed to complete simply to enter the GH or poured your soul into didn’t earn the scores to become a finalist, I say take HEART. Your “baby” is not ugly. Publication is still possible and so is landing an agent. Last year, Wendy Marcus was exactly where you are today, disappointed she didn’t get the call. Less than a month later, she had an agent, You never know what wonderful news is just around the corner. So keep writing, querying, and yes, entering contests. And don’t forget to stay positive!

Congratulations to Aislinn MacNamara, Laurie A. Green, and all other GH finalists.


  1. Alice Duncan's wonderful "One Bright Morning" was a GH finalist, not a winner. By the time she reached the conference she'd already sold

  2. Monica, there are tons of stories just like hers and the ones I posted about. Some make the finals and never see that particular book published. I hope people will feel encouraged and not so disappointed if they didn't make the finals this year.

  3. Isis, what heartwarming stories. Thanks a bunch. I'm so glad to hear Erica Ridley is published at last. Good for her.

    Congratulations to all of the authors you mentioned who agents and went on to be published.

  4. Thanks so much for the congrats, Isis. I didn't final in 2010 GH either, but decided not to give up. I think anyone who enters the GH is already winner, because that accomplishment alone is something to be very proud of. So few writers ever reach that point.

    And yes, yay for Sharon Lynn Fisher! This is her third and final GH, because she's now sold her first novel--Ghost Planet--to Tor.

  5. This is a great post many writers will appreciate today. I think winning a contest is a lot like the agent search--sometimes you catch them on a good and sometimes you don't.

    Many congrats to the finalists!

  6. I hope those who didn't make it this year won't despair. Laurie has been burning up the contest circuit for a while and didn't make the finals last year, but persevered and received the GH call this year.

    Woo-Hoo to Sharon for selling to Tor! Those who plan to enter the GH in the paranormal category for 2012 can take a deep breath of relief :).

  7. Thanks for the post, Isis. Great job putting the GH disappointment into perspective.

  8. I judged in the GH this year (as well as entered, in a different category), and I have to tell you that judging was an eye-opener.

    Judges are given absolutely NO criteria. You're not asked to give X points for characterization and X for plot. You're not told the difference between a 9 and a 5 and a 2. All you are told is to give the novel what you "feel" is the right score after reading the entry. If you couldn't forget it, score it high. If it didn't hold your attention, score it lower. Which means that how your entry scored depends entirely on which judges you got, whether your story resonated with them, and how they chose to translate their feelings into scores.

    That is NOT to say that the finalists didn't deserve to be finalists. I'm sure their work is all wonderful, and I'm thrilled for each and every one of them. I know a few of them personally, I've read their work, and I think it deserves recognition. If the judges who read an entry agreed that a single work is unforgettable, it clearly deserves to final. But I'm also sure that some other wonderful work was passed over, as Monica's blog makes clear.

    So as you wait for your scores, remember: Each score is just one person's opinion. A different group of judges might have "felt" something entirely different. Yes, those of us who entered and didn't final can all probably do more to make our work better. But final or not final, score low or high, It's somewhat the luck of the draw. And no one should feel devastated by that.

  9. McKenna,

    Thanks so much for sharing your insight and giving some of us a judge's perspective. It is quite revealing and explains a lot. Hope some, like me, will find comfort in this.

  10. Thank you for the congratulations. I feel extremely fortunate to be among the finalists. Emphasis on fortunate. I've entered my MS in enough other contests to know there are judges who love my writing and others who can't stand it. I could just as easily gotten a few of the latter and finshed with dismal scores. But that doesn't change one iota of my MS. Don't pin all your worth as a writer on one contest that's based on luck as much as anything. You'll still sell if you've got the goods. And I'm pretty sure you do.

  11. This post may be too old for you to notice a new comment, but I am just now stumbling across it. Thanks very much for not one but two very kind shout-outs! :) I hope you entered this year, Isis, and if so I will await the good news!