Go for the Gold! Tips for Turning Your GH Entry Into a Potential Finalist

Call it cliché, but speaking as a five-time finalist in Romance Writers of America’s® Golden Heart® contest, I must admit it was an honor just to be nominated.  (Especially the first time when the GH fairy instantly transformed me from a wanna-be into a gonna-be author).  More importantly, I can’t deny it was even more thrilling to actually WIN in 2004 & 2006 and be ranked in the top one or two percent of unpublished romance writers—not just once but twice.  (But alas, as of this writing, I’ve yet to sell a book.)

Double GH TiltedIt’s true winning a Golden Heart (or even two) may not be the key to landing a publishing contract.  As an award-winning author of fence-sitter romances, I can attest that a manuscript’s sale depends more on the marketability and fitting into a niche than on the book’s quality.

Despite this painful fact, I can promise being nominated as a finalist will give you professional credibility as a yet-to-be-published author and the opportunity to make a lot of new friends who will understand you like others can’t.  These incredible pals will kick you in the butt when you need it most and send cyber-hugs when  editors, agents, or family members fail to notice how damn spectacular and talented you are!  🙂

Since the November 16th deadline to enter the GH is rapidly approaching, I thought this would be a good time to offer tips on how to revise and polish your first few chapters into an entry that has the potential to become a finalist.  I say potential because, like all contests, the GH is subjective.  Even if you follow all of my suggestions and have written a future bestseller, there is no guarantee your work will make the cut.

In this prestigious contest (with five tough preliminary round judges), just a single East-German  score can lower your average enough to knock you out of the running by only a fraction of a point.  So, unfortunately, excellence doesn’t always stand out.  Lady luck is definitely involved.

Nonetheless, mediocre manuscripts will find it impossible to rise to the top or even make it into the upper 25th percentile.  However, if you follow the advice below, you’ll have an excellent shot at being nominated for the Golden Heart.

Naturally you’ll start by using proper rhetoric, writing techniques and mechanics:

All scenes should have a purpose and include conflict as well as other elements that build plot and develop characterization.

Ensure the story is told in stimulus/reaction/decision units that will drive the plot forward and provide good pacing.

Maintain character point of view and develop smooth transitions.

Avoid passive voice and be sure to SHOW the story instead of TELLING it.

Make clarity and proper cause/effect sequence a priority so as not to confuse the reader.  For example, a character won’t flinch before a car backfires.

Choose powerful/precise/vivid nouns and verbs rather than adjectives and adverbs.

Vary sentence structure and length.

(Check out Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer for help honing your writing skills.) After you’re certain your entry is clean, properly formatted, and void of mechanical (spelling/grammar/punctuation) errors and typos, use the following checklist to analyze and improve it.  There are many elements to be considered and it will probably require several revisions to polish your book into one that shines.  The trick is not to expect to do it all in one pass.

Have you begun with an intriguing opening sentence and tried to end your first page (which is actually only 2/3 of a page) with a paragraph that compels the reader to continue?  You can do this by adjusting what line you start on (somewhere between lines 6 and 9).  Does every scene thereafter begin and end with a hook (a sentence that raises questions or elicits a reaction for the reader), and does each chapter close with a POWER hook (a hook that does double duty, raising questions AND causing a visceral reaction)?  Do most of these hooks mirror the tone of your story?

Note: If you’re writing comedy, most of your hooks should be humorous.  If you’re writing action, adventure, or suspense your hooks should be cliffhangers.  Paranormal hooks should be spooky and make the reader shiver, etc.

The reason I mentioned hooks as the first point on this checklist is because they can’t be stressed enough.  The hooks at the beginning and end of your entry and the frequency they occur in between can mean the difference between your book becoming a Golden Heart finalist or not.  You want to leave the judges howling when they realize there isn’t any more.

Is the setting established ASAP?  Have you sprinkled in the description gradually instead of setting the stage in one long passage?  Have you been selective and chosen details that will characterize your hero and heroine or set a mood?

Is the back-story fed in slowly, giving the reader only what is absolutely necessary to understand the current action, dialogue, and reactions?  Have flashbacks been utilized sparingly, and is the story told in the present as much as possible?  If there is a prologue, is it vital to understanding the story that follows, or could the information be presented just as effectively as back-story?

Have you eliminated as many echoes (repetition of complex words, which suggest the author is too lazy to find a suitable synonym) and clichés from your entry as possible—focus especially on descriptions, visceral reactions, metaphors and similes.  For example, instead of leaving tired phrases like her heart pounded in your manuscript, have you revised it to make it fresh?  Her jackhammer heart threatened to pound a hole right through her chest.

Do your metaphors, similes, and characters’ thoughts reflect their life experiences, professions, and personalities?  A jaded cop will not view the world the same way or make the same comparisons as an optimistic surgeon.


Have you read each character’s dialogue and inner monologues out loud to ensure they sound natural, unique, and appropriate to their social station, age, educational level, region, and gender?  Men will speak in much shorter sentences than women.  Have you kept speech tags simple and used them as little as possible?  Relevant beats (character’s actions or thoughts) are as just as effective as speaker cues, and they also anchor the reader to the setting.

Are pronouns used judiciously?  Are character’s names used in dialogue too often?  It’s important not to confuse the reader by using too many pronouns and to make sure pronouns refer to the proper antecedents.

Does the syntax and paragraphing creatively showcase your voice and make it distinctive?  Have you used short paragraphs and sentences to speed up the pacing and make reading easier?  Editors and readers love lots of white space.  Have you tried to limit paragraphs to no more than 8-10 lines (in Times New Roman 12 font)?

Note: Readers notice what starts and ends a paragraph more than what’s buried in the middle, so make the first and last sentence of each paragraph the most important.  Reader’s eyes naturally scan for dialogue, so try to position quotation marks at the beginning or end of paragraphs rather than sticking them in the middle. In general, first is good, but if you want to leave a lasting impression, last is better.  Whenever possible, rework sentences and paragraphs to end with a vibrant, muscle word that resonates and evokes a response in the reader.

Is your synopsis short and concise (preferably 5 pages or less) and does it include the hero’s and heroine’s goals, motivation, and conflict (read Debra Dixon’s GMC), character growth, black moment, and the resolution?

Note: Judges and editors hate reading synopses, so if you give them a well-written summary that offers a broad overview of the story, they’ll enjoy your entry more than if you give them a ten-page blow-by-blow laundry list of events. The most important part of your synopsis is giving a good sense of the character’s goals, motivation, and conflict.

When it comes to synopses, less is more and vague is generally better than specific as long as it makes sense and doesn’t leave important questions unanswered.  A good synopsis is essential, but judges tend to concentrate more on the manuscript.  Therefore, if you’re short on time, your efforts are better directed toward your chapter pages.

Are you certain your entry is as perfect as possible—particularly the opening pages?  Have you proofread the first scene several times?  Have at least two other writers line-edited that section?

Note: As with editors and agents, GH judges also form first impressions within the first three or four pages before they get caught up in reading.  If a judge finds grammar and punctuation errors as soon as she starts reading, her attitude toward your entire entry will be biased.

I just started reading a novel from a major NY house in which the opening sentence has a comma before the conjunction connecting an independent and dependent clause.  In every grammar book I’ve ever read, coordinating commas are the first and most basic type of comma covered. I admit, if this error had occurred further into the book, I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it.  However, as a writer who is struggling to sell (which is exactly who judges the initial round of the Golden Heart), such an amateurish and unprofessional mistake in the introduction to the story of a published book irritated me.  It immediately shoved me into editor-mode, searching for other grammatical blunders the author AND editor failed to correct.

IMPORTANT:  Follow all of RWA’s® rules for the contest.

Many entries are disqualified each year because entrants fail to submit within the guidelines.  However, your GH entry does not have to be exactly the same as your full manuscript.  If you need to make minor changes to fit your work into the contest parameters or to end at the optimum moment in the story, feel free to do so.

Key to Success

I believe the key to success in this competition is the entertainment factor.  Judges are asked to rank entries according to how much they’ve enjoyed them and how eager they are to read more, which is why a strong final hook is vital.  Try to imagine the hooks at the end of each of your scenes as a drummer’s ba-dum-bump during an old-time burlesque show, and then turn the final hook of your GH entry into an elaborate curtsy that elicits a standing ovation and screams for an encore.  Good luck to all who enter.

Now I’d like to read your concerns and questions about entering the Golden Heart.  What’s holding you back from entering?  What will be your biggest challenge in preparing your entry?  Are you a first timer or a veteran?  If you’ve entered before, do you have any suggestions I may have forgotten or overlooked?

I will be giving away a first chapter critique (up to 25 pages) or a fabulous Ruby Slippered Sisterhood mug to one lucky commenter.

103 responses to “Go for the Gold! Tips for Turning Your GH Entry Into a Potential Finalist”

  1. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    I still recall going over my story with you for my first GH entry, and you advising me to move something from the next chapter onto the end of chapter three because of the hook. That seemed so unethical to me, but I did it and realized you were not only right, but the paragraph fit so much better into that scene. As you know, it never moved back to chapter four.

    I bring this up only because, being a contest newbie at the time, the idea of shuffling what already existed never would have occurred to me. That great closing hook lacked power while lost within the conversation where originally written. Moving it upped the impact substantially.

    The advantage of objective eyes cannot be overstated. When objectivity is joined by knowledge, that’s even better.

    • You are so right, CP. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve changed a manuscript for a contest only to realize afterward how much stronger it made the story. When I first began entering contests, I would put my manuscript in several competitions requiring different length entries. (Which meant I needed a strong hook in different places.) Little by little extra hooks were added to my manuscript or moved, which only made the book more compelling. Eventually the light bulb went on in my head, and I realized I didn’t just need a hook at the end of each chapter. I needed them at the beginning and end of each scene, and if a few were scattered in between those, it was even better.

      • Shoshana Brown says:

        So true. I don’t know how many times I’ve made changes, telling myself they were just for a contest entry, and then realized the manuscript was much stronger that way.

  2. […] hard at work and I thought I was getting the job done. Then I read today’s entry over at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. Now I’m not so […]

    • As I said over at your blog, it feels wonderful to hear my tips made you reevaluate your work and the hours I spent writing this blog weren’t wasted. Deb Dixon’s GMC transformed my writing. Before I read her book (way too many years ago) my stories didn’t have enough meat on their bones. As for kicking up your actual narrative, dialogue, etc., take one of Margie Lawson’s on-line courses. She’s an incredible teacher. What category will you be entering in the GH? Good luck in the drawing for the 1st chapter critique today (which by the way should establish your protagonist’s goals and motivations and include a hook that at least hints at his/her conflict. I would consider it an honor to read it.

      • Wow! Thanks for checking out my blog. I must admit, I was a little overwhelmed last night … but now I’m coming around. When I read for all those items on your list, I’m sure it will be a stronger story.

        • And I’ll be entering Series Contemporary … this one’s a shorter MS. The one I stopped writing on to edit this one for the contest (because I THOUGHT it would be easier than writing another 40,000 words!) would have been single-title contemporary.

  3. Karen Steele says:

    I love this – so much great advice. And I think the importance of the “hook” can’t be over-stated. I’ve seen some clean, well written contest entries that would have been great entries if they’d had that powerful hook to pull a reader in, then leave her wanting more.

    And of course that means my biggest challenge is fine tuning my own hooks 🙂 In 50 pages I’ve got three opening hooks and three ending hooks, and I want each of them to be as strong as they can be.

    This is my first year to enter, so I’m soaking up all the advice and suggestions I can. Thank you for another great post!

    • You’re absolutely right, Karen. Great Hooks are key to becoming a finalist. To give you an idea of what a winning ending hook is like. Here’s the excerpt from the last hook on my entry for my first GH winner A Little Bit of Deja Vu.
      Spending an entire evening squirming under Jake Manion’s bone-melting gaze ranked extremely high on her list of tortures to avoid. Like somewhere between having a tooth pulled and a Brazilian bikini wax.
      And having unwanted hair ripped from her privates was sounding better and better.

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        “having unwanted hair pulled from her privates was sounding better and better”

        ROTFL, Laurie!

  4. Laurie, This is fanastic advice. You really layed it all out there. If everyone takes your words to heart, the judges are going to be throughly entertained. Good job!


  5. Laurie, thank you for putting this all in one place. It’s clear that you know what you’re doing. This:

    “If a judge finds grammar and punctuation errors as soon as she starts reading, her attitude toward your entire entry will be biased.”

    …is sad but true! I’ll give familiar authors more leeway, but if I’m reading an author for the first time (as is the case in contests) and I find a problem very early in the manuscript/book, it negatively colors my reading. The importance of the first impression cannot be overstated, whether in the GH or on the shelves.

    • AMEN! I don’t have a problem with finding typos and punctuation errors after the third page or so, but if an author has them in the opening pages of a contest entry she should’ve proofread a hundred times, you know the whole rest of the manuscript will be riddled with them. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. June Love says:

    Where were you last year when I made my GH debut? Oh yeah, we hadn’t met yet. Thank goodness fate took care of that. Laurie, your post is what every contest entrant needs. Great job!

  7. Jeannie Lin says:

    “Do your metaphors, similes, and characters’ thoughts reflect their life experiences, professions, and personalities? A jaded cop will not view the world the same way or make the same comparisons as an optimistic surgeon.”

    This was something that took me forever to learn.

    This is awesome Laurie! I so with I’d had this list when I was revising last year. This is great info for anyone submitting to an agent or editor, not just the Golden Heart contest.

    Thanks so much for laying it out.

  8. Nadia Lee says:

    Speech tags are so important. I’m reading this book that uses so many “shouted” “roared” “bit out” “admonished” “whispered” “said angrily” “said loudly” “pontificated”, etc. etc. etc. that the tags are lessening the full impact of every line of dialogue.

  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    Wow! This post is full of riches, Laurie! A writing course in one neat package…thanks for taking the time to pull it all together!

  10. Nice post, Laurie. Very thorough. I’m not sure my manuscript measures up. Even if I could enter the Golden Heart again, I’m not sure I would, because I’d be terrified it wouldn’t final again. You’re very brave and the fact you do keep finaling over and over again (with multiple manuscripts, I’m assuming) is a true testiment to your talent.

    • Thank you, Kelly. I’ve had five nominations with four manuscripts. The one that was a finalist twice was pitted against the book I won the GH with the first time, so I entered again to see how it would’ve done if my other manuscript hadn’t been in the running.

  11. Speaking as a contest judge for several RWA contests, I can say that Laurie’s advice is on the money here.

    I can’t tell you have many people approach me and say they’ve finished their book and are ready to send it to an editor. And when I’ve “proofed” a few pages for them, I notice they didn’t edit at all.

    Going beyond that first draft is huge. Following Laurie’s clearly laid out points will ensure you a second glance by contest judges and publishing professionals. It can be the difference between playing the game or riding the bench. The rest, unfortunately, is an odd mix of dumb luck, synchronicity, and coveted publishing slots.

    Maggie Toussaint
    romance and mystery author

  12. This is fantastic, Laurie!!! Great post! And I’m so glad you received good news this week.

    Double shot of cheer all around!

  13. rita says:

    Brilliant Laurie. I suggested to my chapter mates they save and use this as a reference when entering contests

  14. Laurie, very informative post!!! As I get ready to enter the Golden Heart, I’ll try to keep it all in mnd. *G* Thanks so much for sharing. Hopefully lots of people entering the GH will read it too. It will definitely make judging the GH this year very exciting.

  15. Jennifer Hilt says:

    What an wonderfully detailed post. Just LOVED all the juicy nuggets. Thank you for saying that the entry can be slightly altered to make it end on a hook. I was fussing about that. You put alot of thought into this essay and it showed. Best of luck to you.

  16. Dara says:

    This year what’s holding me back is not having a complete manuscript 😛 However, I have a goal of getting my ms polished enough to submit it next November.

    I think the thing that worries me most is grammar. I’ve always struggled with it (despite being an English major) and no matter how many classes I take, most of the rules just don’t stick. So that’s definitely big worry of mine!

    I’ll worry more about it as the time comes; for now I’m just focusing on getting the draft I’m on completed 🙂

    • Dara, if you’re still on your first draft, forget about everything I said in my blog and just focus on your characters’ GMC and write, write, write! But when you begin editing, all the rest comes into play.

  17. Sara Ramsey says:

    This is such a fantastic post, Laurie – a lot of great advice for newbies and veterans of the contest wars alike! Thanks so much for pulling this together; it was clearly a labor of love 🙂

  18. Addison Fox says:

    Wow, Laurie! This is a fantastic post. The time and effort you put into this is so evident – thank you!

    And thank you for wrapping up the post with the actual rules for the GH contest. I know my first entry, many many moons ago, was disqualified because I didn’t read the rules properly. It’s a good reminder, for the GH or any contest, that the final check an author needs to make is that they are following the rules set by *that* contest.


  19. Anne Barton says:

    What a great list, Laurie. I’ll definitely keep this list and refer to it often. Thanks!

  20. Donnell says:

    Laurie, thanks for sharing your expert opinions. I hope everyone reading this will take it to heart, and share with their fellow GH entrants. Well done, Laurie.

    • Thanks, Donnell. I don’t know how ‘expert’ my advice is, but blog is basically an list of what I’ve learned in the last ten years. I hope everyone can benefit.

  21. Shea Berkley says:

    You’ve done an amazing job, Laurie! Your advice is clear and thorough and something everyone should print out and paste near their computer.

    I have to admit, for me, story is everything, so I’ll ignore a lot of flaws if the story engages me. But with that said, it’s always nice when I see a clean manuscript. My advice for writers is, if you’re a horrible speller like me or aren’t good at grammar, find someone who has a firm grasp of those basics. Sometimes it has nothing to do with not knowing the basics, but being too close to our work and reading over the mistakes. That’s why a lot of writers read their stories aloud, but even then not everything is caught. I’ve had my critique partners (3 of them) plus a beta reader and then my agent go over my work, and even after all that, I’ve found mispelled words and silly grammar issues that no one caught. No one is perfect, so just do the very best you can. That’s all any of us can do.

  22. Diana Layne says:

    Thanks for the list, Laurie, it took me years to develop something similar, but it’s all in my head, not written down so concisely!!

    As for the scene/chapter hooks, it would bear asking, what if the book is a thriller with humorous and paranormal elements and a romance subplot? This book is kicking my butt as I’m having to really think about just how to balance everything, even moreso than the romantic suspense stories I usually write.

  23. It sounds like your manuscripts suffer from the same hybrid ailment mine do, Diana. I believe my mixture of tone is part of what’s kept me from selling. Editors and agents love my stories and writing, but they don’t know how to market them. My best advice is to decide how you want to target the story and aim most of your hooks toward that subgenre. If you want it to be considered a comedy, make your hooks funny, if you want it to be a thriller, keep the comedy between the hooks and end on dangerous tension.

    • Diana Layne says:

      yes, yes, good points. I think it boils down to my hooks still aren’t strong enough. thanks!

  24. December says:

    You know what I’m most nervous about at this point? My synopsis. I’ve had people flat out laugh at it and tell me it was horrible, which of course makes me terrified of trying it again.

    I refuse to back down, but its quite a scary prospect.

    • December, start your synopsis with a hook. If you’re writing a romance focus on the relationship rather external plot conflicts. Give each of your characters goals and motivation and then explain the conflict or what’s stopping them from achieving their goals. (and in a romance the hero and heroine better be at cross purposes. Study the movie the American President. It has great romantic GMC.) Once you explain the conflict, tell some of what happens to make your characters grow or change to the point that they can overcome the crisis or black moment (which they wouldn’t have been able to do at the beginning) then tell the black moment and the resolution that includes a happy-ever-after. Keep it simple and don’t try to include more detail than you really need in order to give the gist of the premise. Editors and agents really don’t want to know everything that happens and why. In the query workshops I’ve attended, most of editors and agents have stopped reading about a project because of minor details. The less details you include the less there is to object to. Keep it as short, broad, and as vague as possible while still making it clear why your hero and heroine shouldn’t be able to find happiness together and how they beat the odds and find a way to make their relationship work.

    • Jeannie Lin says:

      Maybe it’s just me, but as Laurie mentioned in her post, all I’m looking for is a passable synopsis. As a judge, I focuse on the pages and even a dry and boring won’t make me take away points.

      Other judges may be different as I don’t think there’s specific direction on how to weight the synopsis. I just figured it’s there to make sure there’s a viable plotline following the opening.

  25. Laurie, it’s exciting to read about this again. There is nothing like turning in a GH sub and dreaming about get that call in March telling you that you’re in the running, you’re gold, you’ve jumped the next step in the publishing ladder. Good luck to all entering this year!

  26. I agree, Trish. No matter how many times you get that call it’s exciting.

  27. Caroline says:

    Hi Laurie!!

    I enjoyed this post very much! You really put your (golden heart *ggg* ) into it. So much great information in one spot. A virtual shopping mall for all the 2010 Golden Heart hopefuls. Good luck to everyone…..
    The excitement alone makes it all worthwhile.
    Big hugs,

  28. Fabulous! I was hoping to see a post like this – thank you! I finished writing the novel a week ago in case I’m able to enter (still debating the GH fees); I’m just trying to gear myself up to start a heavy revision process.
    Thanks again for such a great post!

    • You’re very welcome, Rosalind. I hope it helps you. Remember don’t try to concentrate on it all at the same time. Make several passes through your manuscript.

  29. Walt M says:

    I read through this post twice. I find myself nervous about submitting to GH, as I’ve totally rewritten my first chapter and want to submit it to a contest where I’ll get more feedback than the GH. (i.e. I’m afraid of submitting something cold.)

    • You’d be smart to wait, Walt, if you’ve never entered your work in a competition. I advise people to enter chapter contests first and to wait to enter the Golden Heart until after their work is a finalist in at least one contest with more than 20 entries in the category. That means you’re placing in approximately the top 15 percent. The Golden Heart nominations go to manuscripts that score in the top 10 percent.

  30. Christine Ashworth says:

    This was fantastic, Laurie! I’m printing it out and keeping it with me as I polish my first 50 pages!

  31. Good luck in the GH, Christine!

  32. Anna G. says:

    I’m not adding anything new here, but what a great post! This is not just a blog entry, but will be useful to refer back to.

    I would have been seriously annoyed by that comma error in the first line of a NY published book. You’re way nicer about it than I would have been, at least as you’ve spelled it out here. 😉

    I hope this is your year to sell, Laurie!!!

    • Anna G. says:

      Oh, and I’m on the fence about entering the GH. My completed MS has been either a hit or a miss with the few contests I’ve entered it in. My biggest challenge in prepping my MS is catching grammar/typos. I’m quite good at catching them in the work of others, but complete crap at catching them in my own to the point that it’s actually pretty mortifying. (My boyfriend did a fancypants publishing course at Columbia and worked in their academic publishing house for two years — he will read my stuff pretty carefully, but he doesn’t catch it all either.) I have yet to really get a great CP, unfortunately.

      • Thanks, Anna. It’s really tough finding a good CP. I never had one until I began making the finalist lists in chapter contests. The contest boards are a great place to network and find other writers of similar expertise who are in need of a CP. Believe it or not, people who are slow readers are great at catching typos because they read one word at a time.

  33. Awesome, awesome post, Laurie! It’s a gold mine for any writers wanting to enter contests. I especially loved how you stressed the importance of hooks. It’s such a simple thing to end a chapter on a high note that leaves readers wanting more and can make all the difference between a finaling entry and a non-finaling one.

  34. Hi Laurie – Wonderful, concise and timely advice. I’m in the midst of editing my manuscript and contemplating entering for the first time. Thank you. 🙂

  35. Thanks for the great post!!

    I have two possible enteries, one YA, one paranormal, only I’m a little wary, because they’re both steampunk and I’ve gotten confused feedback from judges who don’t get steampunk/don’t know what it is. The YA one is also dark/edgy, and well, that’s hit or miss. Money’s super tight right now and it’s a lot of money to get an “east-german” score because someone didn’t get the steampunk genre. It’s not up everyone’s ally and alot of people don’t know what it is. I wish I could give judges who are unfamiliar with the genre an article on “what is steampunk” so they don’t scratch their head at brass goggles, corsets, hoydens, flying cars, and hovercops all in the same paragraph, LOL. Sorry! I don’t mean to vent! I guess I’m just a little afraid to risk a contest again because i’ve been burned (you really can mix those elements! I promise) and I could buy my daugther a nice xmas present with that kind of money….
    ..but then if I get lucky….
    ah! The decisions! LOL

    Thanks again for the stellar post.


    • Addison Fox says:


      If you feel it’s ready, I’d start querying that baby. Steampunk is hot, hot, hot. Not all judges may know what it is, but agents sure do!


    • Addison is right Suzanne. I was told by a NYT author in the know that the houses want DARK right now. Good luck.

  36. Ronempress says:

    OUTSTANDING blog and so helpful! I can tell you not only know your business, but are generous with your knowledge. Thank you. I will save this info so I can use it as a checklist. ;D

  37. Laura says:

    Great post, Laurie! You summed it up very well.

    When I think I have my entry all done, there’s one final step that I go through– I use TextAloud to read my entry to me as I follow along on my printout. I can’t tell you how many times I have found a typo even after I’ve read through my chapters countless times! I have also found that this is a useful tool for pointing out when I have too much internal narrative or need to sharpen my dialogue.

    For some reason, when I’m listening to my story instead of reading it, a different part of my brain goes to work, and I often find myself having plot epiphanies while I’m listening!

    Laura (2X finalist)

    • Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

      My computer guy put that application on my machine, Laura, but I’ve never used it. I’ll be trying it out now! Thanks, doll.

    • I agree, Laura. Reading your manuscript out loud helps point out a lot of problems. I’m looking forward to seeing you in NJ!

      • Laura says:

        Laurie, for some reason, reading it out loud doesn’t do the same thing for me. My brain still corrects the stuff I’m reading. But the computer is painfully accurate! 🙂

        Gwynlyn, I can’t wait to see you & Laurie in NJ!


  38. Tina Joyce says:

    Love the list, Laurie! So concise and well laid out. And as others have said, it’s useful for a whole lot more than just the Golden Heart! I think people will be cutting and pasting this to use later…speaking of which, I need to do myself!

    Great job!

  39. Pamela Turner says:

    Excellent list! Thanks for posting.

    Like many people, I’ll be saving this list. Unfortunately, I’ve had to undo some bad habits that even my writer CPs didn’t catch. Hopefully, my subconscious will absorb this advice and I’ll be able to reeducate my brain. 🙂

  40. Brilliant post, Laurie! Yes, proofread, proofread, proofread– preferably on paper so it’s easier to nab those comma mishaps and a host of other mechanical problems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read entries where a misplaced comma put a whole new meaning on the sentence.

  41. Beppie Harrison says:

    You’re not the first person who’s advocated reading a MS aloud, but in the middle of all your great advice it hit me with particular force, because I’ve joined a critique group where we all read aloud and it’s amazing what you pick up when you hear it.

    Anyhow, thank you for taking the time to distill such a lot of wisdom into a relatively short space!

  42. Hi Laurie,

    This is a great post! I’m entering the GH for the 2nd time this year but with a new manuscript. It never occurred to me to think about where the end of that first page fell or to punch up the final hook. I’m going to use this as a checklist as I get my entry ready for this year. Thanks so much!


  43. Good luck in the contest, Alexis. I hope to see your name on the finalist list in March!

  44. Katrina says:

    Laurie, thank you so much for this post. As everyone else has said, it’s incredibly helpful and answers so many questions I have about my manuscript. I wrote a blog post trying to figure out what I should be asking my early readers to look out for, and now I know I’m just going to print out your post and hand it over to them! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this!

  45. Judi Fennell says:

    Good advice, Laurie! I’d wish you luck this year, but I’m hoping you sell instead!!! 🙂

  46. […] On Acquiring Glamorousness in Four Months Flat To GH or not to GH: Do YOU Have What It Takes? Go for the Gold! Tips for Turning Your GH Entry Into a Potential Finalist Golden Heart: Stepping Stone or Stumbling […]

  47. Laura says:

    This was really helpful, and gave me useful hands-on advice about hooks and paragraph length that I’d not seen spelled out so clearly before. So thanks! I’m entering for the first time in the paranormal category….

  48. Grace says:

    Laurie – So much wonderful information. I have what feels like a small question, but each time I enter a contest, I get different feedback about whether to italicize or underline. Once, I did both and that didn’t go over well, either. What did you do for your GH wins?


    • Grace, the old rule of submission is to underline for italics. Since the advent of e-pub, using italics has become acceptable. I would choose one or the other. Both would be confusing. I underline because I’m from the old school, however, I don’t think it would make a difference either way.

  49. Rebecca Neely says:

    Dear Laurie-
    Wow! so much great advice. Dwight Swain is a constant companion of mine. Thanks for taking the time to share.

    I’m shocked you haven’t sold a book! I always thought the GH was the Holy Grail of unpubbed authors; kind of like writing your own ticket. I guess that’s not the case. 🙂 I wish you all the best.

    Beckie Neely

  50. Thanks Beckie–As I said in the blog, a quality manuscript isn’t always a ‘marketable’ one. I tend to write fence sitters. Single title editors consider them too category because they have home & family plot lines, and series editors consider my voice too single title. Not to mention, when it comes to selling a contemporary romance, if it’s not a paranormal or thriller/suspense, no one is interested.

  51. Ruth says:

    Laurie, congratulations on all of your successes!

    What is your opinion on re-entering a GH entry that scored in the top quarter? If you were to re-enter, would you send as is, or revise in some way?
    (I’ve received other feedback on the ms; some love it as is, some suggest changes, but not the same ones, so I’m stymied…)
    Thank you.

    • Ruth, definitely reenter! You may have had some judges the first time around who scored your entry lower than they should have. Only revise if you believe the changes will make the manuscript stronger. Sometimes you have to trust your gut. Use my checklist for polishing, if you see ways to improve it, but all means do so.


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