Well, that was another hard-fought contest!! 

Once again, the judges struggled to choose their winners, and every entry had many strong supporters. Fabulous job, finalists!!

But in the end, we had to narrow it down to our top three. (And, as always, we’re really hoping we get to hear MORE of all of these stories SOON!!)

For those of you who may just be joining us, the MAKE IT GOLDEN Contest celebrates excellent beginnings in unpublished romance novel manuscripts. Round 1 asks for entries of the first 50 words (max) of the very opening of the book. Ten talented finalists emerged from that round, and expanded their entries for Round 2, extending each entry to the first 250 words max.

For maximum suspense, the winners will be listed in reverse order, after the jump:





Rachel Alexander Grilliot


“Can I ask you something,” Tim asked as he traced the roses that bloom down my back.

“I think you just did,” I mumbled into the pillow. I had to recognize the restraint he had shown in not asking about the tattoos in the six months we’d been sleeping together.

I was braced for the questions early on, the first time he saw the full extent of the tattoo that stretches from my right shoulder down my back and over to my left hip.

Of course, the first time he saw it was in a more official capacity and the purpose of the tattoo wasn’t as important as the fact of it.

“Why are the roses black?” It wasn’t exactly the question I was expecting, but still.

“Maybe I just like the aesthetic,” I responded. I was hoping I could still brush past this conversation that could only change everything.

“Rory, I think I know you well enough at this point to know you didn’t choose this design for the aesthetic,” he said.

“OK,” I rolled over and sat up, pulling the sheet around me as I did. “I can’t tell you this story if you’re going to react like a cop. There’s some things I’ve done and some things others have done for me that aren’t exactly legal.”

“And these illegal things have to do with your choice in tattoo color?”

“They have to do with what led me to get the tattoo in the first place.”


Congrats, Rachel!! We can’t wait to find out what story she tells, and what Tim’s cop instincts will do about it! Your prize is a $15 Starbucks gift card!!





Stephanie Wheeler


I noticed her smell before I ever saw her face.

That’s what drew me to her. I caught it in the air, mingled with moisture and salt, just beyond my ability to make sense of it. I lifted my nose a few inches and inhaled.

I immediately yearned for more.

I’d been on the prowl for my latest infatuation, a new boy I’d decided had to be mine. He was a pretty thing and I’d been making good progress drawing him in. Another surfer with shaggy brown hair curling over his ears, broad shoulders that lifted effortlessly as he paddled out to sea. He wore a leather cord around his neck with a shiny trinket dangling at his collar bone. But when I smelled her, I turned away from watching him. Even if only for the moment. He’d be there later. Where else did he have to go? What else did any of these boys have to do?

Her scent was deeper than anything I’d ever breathed. It was filled with pain and longing that drew me in. So, I rose to my feet on the edge of my jetty and dove into the water. I felt the familiar tingling rush over my hips, down my legs, past my toes. I kicked three times hard.What did I find when I came up for air? In some ways, just a girl. But as I swam closer, only my eyes skimming the surface, I found out all I needed to know.


Very edgy and intriguing, with a great sense of physical intensity!! Congrats, Stephanie!! Your prize is a $20 Amazon gift card!







Michelle McCraw

“Always late.”

Always critical. Sam didn’t say it out loud. She only reciprocated Mom’s hug, applying the same amount of pressure Mom used, counted to three, and backed away. Three seconds for family and close friends. One second sufficed for anyone else. Just one of the many rules Sam memorized.

Outside the lavender safe zone of Mom’s Burberry coat, the sounds and scents of the coffee shop smacked Sam. The pungency of coffee beans soaked into her skin. And because it was October, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg from the pumpkin spice syrup curled up into her nostrils. When the coffee grinder started, its whine jangled in her ears and through her whole body. Sam took a deep breath, held it for four seconds, and let it out.

Mom saw it. “Should we go outside?” Her eyes darted between Sam’s. Concern. Mom was always concerned about Sam. It was why Sam was here, in the cacophonous coffee shop, instead of snuggling with Bilbo Baggins in her apartment. Mom avoided Sam’s shabby apartment like it was infested. Not that it was, anymore. Sam had eradicated the fleas. Though there was nothing she could do about the dog hair.

“I’ll be fine. It’s raining outside.” Sam flicked the beads of water off her black canvas coat. Her finger caught in the hole in the sleeve.

“Then let’s sit. We don’t have to stay long if you start to feel uncomfortable.”

Too late for that.


Awesome excerpt, Michelle!! This entry pulled us in so strongly to Sam’s very specific sensory and emotional world–and we’re intrigued!! We really hope we’ll get to learn more about her story ASAP!!! 

Your prize is a $50 Amazon gift card!!




Thanks again to EVERYONE who entered the 2019 Make It Golden Contest!! What a fabulous and diverse display of talent, and wonderful new voices!! You didn’t make this choice easy AT ALL!!  

You’re all amazing!!!


  1. Darynda Jones says:

    CONGRATS TO OUR WINNERS!!! They were all so great. You guys should be super proud.

  2. Michelle McCraw says:

    Wow! Thanks so much, Rubies! There were so many good entries, and I agree, I can’t wait to read more of them all.

    Thanks, Rubies, for all you do for the romance writing community. Your encouragement means so much.

  3. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Congratulations, everyone!

  4. Congrats to our winners and to those who entered. You all are on the right path. Great works!

  5. Congratulations!
    These are all A++.

  6. Heather McCollum says:

    Woot! Congratulations! Thank you everyone for entering!

  7. Kate Parker says:

    These were terrific. I’m glad you shared these with the ruby sisters.

  8. Congrats! Great job! Thanks to everyone for entering.

  9. Stephanie Wheeler says:

    Thank you so much! I really enjoyed reading all the amazing entries and feel incredibly encouraged!

  10. Rachel Alexander Grilliot says:

    Wow! This is great. Thank you all so much!

  11. Elisa Beatty says:

    Super impressive story openings!!!

    Everybody made this another great year for MAKE IT GOLDEN!!

  12. Kirsty Fitzpatrick says:

    This was so much fun to enter (and a little terrifying… but you guys were really kind). The winners are AMAZING! I’m looking forward to reading more in the future. Well done! 👏👏👏

  13. Lydia Stevens says:

    Congratulations! How wonderful! ❤


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