OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Why the Golden Heart Awards Matter

I should have written this post months ago.

I meant to. Back in Denver in the summer when we gathered for our annual national Romance Writers of America conference, I was already planning this post in my mind, having watched the finalists of this year's Golden Heart Contest working so hard to put a brave face on what, for all of them, must have been a truly difficult experience.

Since RWA's board first announced it was doing away with the Golden Hearts, I've felt, very strongly, that our organization is making a mistake.

When I came home from Nationals, I started drafting open letters to the board, to try to tell them how I felt. To try to tell them why. I couldn't get the words right, and so here I am, on the same weekend the new board is holding its first meeting and I'm writing my long overdue open letter to all the board members, and anyone else who will listen.

Dear Board Members:

You've asked us to suggest what you should do that could replace the Golden Heart Contest.

And my answer is: Nothing.

I've read the data that was posted when this process all began--the fancy numbers used to justify the killing of the contest. Yes, the Golden Hearts cost more than they return, on paper. But so do the Ritas.

And for all the internal prestige we may place on the Ritas--and I'm saying this as someone who values that golden lady very highly, having had books final three times and win once--when it comes to fulfilling our actual mission "to advance the professional and common business interests of career-focused romance writers", the Golden Heart Contest wins hands-down.

The Ritas are for us individually. They don't help us sell more books (they really don't--ask your editor). They don't help us make friends within the organization. They are peer recognition, which is valuable and wonderful, but just for us.

The Golden Hearts help writers finish books, because only a completed manuscript can be entered. They help writers, especially shy new writers, connect with other writers. Look at the networking and camaraderie that happens among Golden Heart finalists. Nothing like that happens with Rita finalists.  Through the contest, writers pursuing a traditional publishing path have found agents and editors.

That all sounds like a pretty good use of my dues, to be honest.

I never entered the Golden Hearts. I had been published long before I joined RWA. But my first real success--the book that opened all the doors for me in 1993--was a book called Mariana, that won a contest for unpublished manuscripts. Maybe that's why this feel personal, to me. I know that feeling of having your world truly change overnight.

And the thought of us taking not only that feeling but that opportunity away from so many of our members, especially when the Golden Hearts are--of the contests that we run--the one that serves our mission best--seems wrong.

You can't replace it with anything because nothing could adequately replace it. If you want to do something positive, you could restore it to its former place of honor on awards night, alongside the Ritas, so all our finalists are on equal footing and we're not paying unnecessarily for two awards ceremonies with two emcees.

The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood has more suggestions--I hope you'll take the time to read them: http://tinyurl.com/y8qwzm72

Thanks for your service, and thanks for your time, and for listening.

I might be sending this too late to have any real effect, but I just couldn't stay silent.

If anyone reading this wants to add your own experience with the Golden Hearts in the comments, please do.




  1. Susanna,

    This is such a good point that I hadn't even thought about. Thank you for bringing it up!

    Part of the justification to cancel the Golden Heart is because "only 40+ people" (the finalists) benefit. But as you point out, that's not true at all! The motivation, the networking, etc. are all valid benefits as well, and those apply to far more members.

    In my case, I met my writing bestie because of the Golden Heart. A day or two before the GH deadline, I put out a call on Twitter for someone to read through my entry "one last time." ;) Angela Quarles, someone who I vaguely knew through Twitter, responded.

    She read my entry -- while she was at work! on her phone! -- and gave me several helpful comments. We continued as beta readers for each other since that time and have been RWA roomies and besties ever since. :)

    Sure, there are chapter contests, but none of those are big enough to affect the broad membership in a way that brings them together or gets them to root for each other to finish or help each other. I've entered over a dozen chapter contests too, unpublished and published, and none of them act as that motivation to the membership as a whole. None of them trigger a "rah-rah, you can do it" message from members as a whole to all who enter.

    Looking at my Twitter account, I notify my followers of GH entry notices and encourage people to enter. I don't do that for chapter contests because they're NOT the same.

    I owe the GH for bringing Angela and I together, and I'm sure I'm not alone with my experience. That's not something to dismiss as an unimportant benefit. So thank you for triggering that realization!

    1. So true, Jami! And I hadn't thought of the GH contest in exactly this way, but Susanna, you are so right! It does fulfill the mission and while the board does have a fiduciary responsibility, we're also not a for-profit organization that has to have a monetary ROI for everything.

      And yep, without GH, even though neither of us finaled, I would never have gotten where I am today because Jami is such an integral part of my writing journey!

  2. I agree, Susanna! Thank you for expressing this so eloquently and passionately. The Golden Heart is the heartbeat of RWA, part of what makes our organization so special. It should stay.

  3. Hi Susanna,

    Thank you for taking the time to compose and post this open letter. I've loved the GH. I was lucky enough to final in it twice. I've remained unpublished, but I still hope to publish some day. What the GH has given me is exactly what you describe:
    1) A community of writers with whom I've connected (I'm one of the Rubies) and from whom I've learned an incredible amount about the writing and publishing of romance;
    2) Hope. Finaling twice--even though I haven't published yet--has helped me continue to believe in myself as a writer and keep writing, keep trying. That's invaluable.
    3) Deadlines! Meeting the GH deadline has pushed me to put more time and effort into my manuscripts. And it's not just the submission deadline that counts. Once you submit, there's the hope that--if you final--you'll receive requests from agents and editors to see your work. You're thus continuing to work on polishing that draft (or at least I did!) up to the date of the GH finalist announcements. If you do become a finalist, you work even harder on your draft, again in the hopes that an agent or editor will ask to see it, based on its finalist status.

    I really, really hope RWA changes its mind about the GH--thank you for re-opening this conversation!

    Elise Hayes

  4. Thank you so much for posting this. I was a GH Finalist and that final led directly to my first publishing contract. Yes, it benefitted me as a finalist--I met an amazing group who have helped me throughout my career. It also benefitted me the year I didn't final, for exactly the reasons you stated. It was encouragement to finish that manuscript. I feel saddened and disappointed in the way this has gone.

  5. Excellent points - very similar to ones I brought up to RWA board. It is such a motivator to finish the manuscript. I'm even at the beach with crit partner now as she is pushing to finish her MS. And the way the Golden Heart finalists support each other and give back to other writers compounds the benefits way beyond the number of finalists. I can see making changes to it to keep up with changes in the industry, but fear they have no plans to revamp it to offer a contest for unpubbed authors. I would love to be wrong on this and will gladly admit I'm wrong if they wow us with an alternative. ;)

  6. Finaling in the Golden Heart jumpstarted my career and I'm very disappointed that such a vital contest is being cancelled.Thanks, Susanna, for your excellent post.

  7. I completely agree. I can't enter the Golden Hearts because I signed a contract on a book that never got published, but I have benefited hugely from contests for unpublished writers. I landed my agent from one. I absolutely believe the Golden Hearts has a bigger impact on writers than any other romance contest. Not being able to enter it is one of my biggest regrets.

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