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Save the Golden Heart!!!

During our rather rollicking interview yesterday, 2018 Golden Heart Finalists D. Murphy Ryan and Eileen Emerson and I got into a conversation about the Golden Heart. That discussion got so long, I decided to split it into a separate post for today, which would help us get a larger discussion going about the future of the contest.

We’re very concerned by a June announcement by the RWA Board that they’re considering discontinuing the Golden Heart. The Board cited the following reasons for possibly ending the contest:

  • A steep decline in entries starting in 2013, with only 424 distinct individuals entering in 2018, which they say is only 5% of total RWA membership. (Though it should certainly be noted that published authors are ineligible to enter, and many newer members aren’t able to enter because they haven’t completed a manuscript yet. What would the percentage be of unpublished members, or PRO members? Presumably significantly higher than 5%.)
  • The fact that the contest no longer creates profit for RWA (in 2018, the cost, including the awards ceremony, is said to be $17,747 more than came in in entry fees).
  • A lack of members volunteering to judge (only 350 last year, which created logistical difficulties in getting all entries judged. Before 2012, an average of more than 800 judges volunteered each year. C’mon, volunteers!!)
  • As the Board sees it, the idea that “the benefits of the contest are limited to those who final—typically 40-45 individuals.”

Eileen, Dawn, and I all want to start by saying how much we both like and respect our Board, and how grateful we are for their service. We all believe deeply that the Board members are motivated by genuine concern for the good of RWA members, and that they are trying to responsibly and thoughtfully address real problems that have arisen with the Golden Heart.

Today, though, we want to bring up some considerations that weren’t reflected in the Board’s June announcement, and propose some alternative solutions, as well as give our readers a forum to express their thoughts.

Again, Elisa’s comments are in red, Dawn’s are in blue, and Eileens’ are in black. 

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Let’s start with some practical ideas for addressing the drop in entries. Eileen, as Chapter President for Valley Forge Romance Writers, I know you have some good practical experience with taking a struggling contest and making it profitable again. What advice would you give the RWA Board?

Eileen: What I would beg the Board to do is to do what VFRW did when our Sheila Contest was in danger of not getting enough entrants and not making enough money. We made some simple graphics and created an ad program to boost our visibility. And we distributed those graphics all through social media, no paid advertising at all.

We had a huge influx of new members because of that. And we made more money for our writing contest this year than we had in many years, in fact the second highest ever in chapter history, after years of declining income, while other chapters are struggling to keep their contests alive. We actually had to beg for extra judges to read all the entries, there were so many!

I wish RWA would advertise the Golden Heart! I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve said they’ve never seen any announcements about it.

Dawn: Yes! I didn’t know anything about it, until last year we went to the Golden Heart luncheon at Nationals, since our chapter-mate Beth was a finalist. But I had no idea what the competition was about, or what a big deal it was.

Eileen: You didn’t know about the Jumbotrons!

Dawn: I didn’t know about the Jumbotrons! Afterwards, I actually wrote a letter to the Board and said you need to do a better job of getting the word out. And do more to promote the authors, like the Rubies are doing with this interview series, right? Do more to build up interest in the winners.

Eileen: And since networking and mentoring is RWA’s main mission for unpublished members (and published members, too, really!), as soon as the competition’s done and you know the winners, have the RITA winner of that category and the Golden Heart winner of that category do a simple YouTube thing together—a conversation like we’re having right here. Do it on Twitch, do it on Skype, do it on YouTube. Priscilla Oliveras just did a similar thing, so I know there are Board members who know the technology.

Yes! The new Two-Minute Tips series! RWA even has its own YouTube channel now. 

Eileen: So both the RITA winner and the Golden Heart winner could use that interview to market themselves, and market the contests. They could even have a list of ten questions they have to ask each other. Cinemax does those with actors all the time—the “60 Seconds With” series. Just do a 60 Second thing!

Then in October, do social media advertising: “Hey, you have 30 days until Golden Heart opens! Have you finished your book? Have you written your synopsis?” It can be a combination of simple graphics for Facebook and Twitter, and quick videos on YouTube. Writers would share the heck out of those!

We could have that upwelling, and help people train and prep.

Generate awareness and excitement! Have a “Golden Heart Challenge!” to help people finish their books and synopses by the deadlines.

And advertise more for judges, too! A couple commenters on the June RWA announcement said they would have judged, but missed the call for judges, or had difficulty with the new online sign-up system, or indicated they’d judge more than 10 if needed, but were never contacted back. The decline in volunteers might not actually reflect unwillingness, just logistical issues.

Eileen: But to me, much more important than the logistical issues is the claim that “only 45 people a year get the benefit” of Golden Heart; that’s just incredibly short-sighted. I defy them to find just 45 people who finished a manuscript in order to enter the contest. I finished two manuscripts just to enter the Golden Heart.

Yes, I did, too.

Dawn: I did, too.

My first two completed books were finished specifically for the Golden Heart.

Eileen: That deadline gives people a goal.

I think the reason so many aspiring writers finish their first book for the Golden Heart is that most contest don’t require complete manuscripts, just the first 25 pages. The Golden Heart says, “Finish the damn book!”

And those who enter multiple years usually finish multiple books in the process. So when they do make the leap to publishing, they’ve got more than one book ready to go. That’s huge!

Dawn: Yes!

And, as we know from many, many comments we’ve had over the years on the Ruby blog, even for those who aren’t ready to enter yet, entering the Golden Heart is an aspirational goal. Lots of our blog commenters say things like “I’m working to have my first book ready for the Golden Heart within the next two years.” And for a new writer, that goal feels much more do-able, much less overwhelming and intimidating, than saying, “I’m going to have a book ready to submit to a publisher.” I think it keeps a lot of people on course who might otherwise just stop writing.

Eileen: I agree. So many people are pulled forward by the goal of entering the Golden Heart.

How many people attend Nationals? Out of 10,000 total members (and that includes non-writing industry professionals, according to RWA.org…which makes that “5% enter Golden Heart” figure even less accurate), maybe two or three thousand a year? That event costs a heck of a lot more than Golden Heart does, and no one’s talking about canceling Nationals because it only serves a minority of our members. In the comments on the June announcement, one accounting-savvy person even pointed out that, based on RWA’s published audits, the RITA apparently loses money, too. And RITA’s not on the chopping block.

Eileen: I happen to work in an Accounting field—and I have problems with the way the Board presented the numbers on the cost of running Golden Heart. For instance, they counted a $4,950 cost for comping final-round judges’ Nationals registration as a cost for Golden Heart, but in accounting, that’s not a cost, that’s “lost income.”

And having those editors and agents present at Conference is a bit part of the appeal for attendees! It benefits so many writers who attend, not just the Golden Heart finalists.

Eileen: And what about the cost of splitting the RITA and Golden Heart awards ceremonies into two separate events? The Board lists a $2500 cost for the M.C. alone, as well as some part of $1,100 for AV labor. Put the ceremonies back together and you save a lot of money.

In the comments on the June RWA newsletter, the number one thing members said was that the Board’s decision to split the ceremonies and to move them from the climactic Saturday night killed the magic and glamor, and made them or their friends decide not to bother to enter any more. I know the move was intended to make the Golden Heart ceremony more special…but if it backfired, and it seems like it did, why not try going back to the old Final Night Gala approach before making any big decisions?

Eileen: Yes, please! I just don’t understand why they’re giving up on the contest so soon. It really hurts me that they’re talking about abandoning it.

Dawn: It HURTS!! It does definitely hurt that this is happening right now.

Supporting unpublished authors is a huge part of RWA’s mission statement, and abandoning Golden Heart feels like an abandonment of unpublished authors.

Dawn: I’m hoping this is going to be a phoenix kind of moment, that somehow from the ashes something new is going to be born.

Or that RWA members will rally behind Golden Heart and rejuvenate it rather than let it die. The June announcement did mention a possible “re-envisioning” of the contest, rather than discontinuing it. Commenters on the RWA June announcement had lots of ideas for changes:

  • adding an “Honorable Mention” to the list of finalists in order to expand the number of writers who get recognition
  • having some random number of entries get “bonus prize” critiques from judges willing to give critiques, or asking judges to do a “mini-critique” (just 100 or 200 words per entry)
  •  changing eligibility requirements (include those who’ve published only in non-romance genres, or those who haven’t published for X number of years, or those who haven’t yet hit the PAN threshold)
  •  raising the cost of entry a bit (perhaps just for multiple entries).

And if staffing costs are the bulk of that $17,000 shortfall, what about getting some volunteer help with coordinating the contest? Even restoring priority scheduling for agent and editor pitch sessions would help keep Golden Heart desirable. And certainly get a survey out to all members seeking detailed input on all these issues before making any decisions.

Eileen: I think it would be a terrible mistake if they didn’t continue this contest. And instead of discounting the value of the contest because some finalists repeat in subsequent years, I think they should actually encourage the repeat finalists, because we keep learning each time.

Dawn: And teaching the new people! This experience has been so eye-opening! If I hadn’t finaled in Golden Heart, I’d be so lost! I’d still be ages behind where I am now. Now I have business cards, I have a website, I’ve got all kinds of stuff in the works that I’d never have known I needed without the repeat finalists acting as mentors!

Eileen: Those Golden Heart groups are amazing as mentor communities!! People who aren’t inside those groups have no idea how powerful they are for newer writers.

Absolutely! Lord knows I’d have dropped out of writing romance long ago without my Ruby Sisters pulling me along through the ups and downs.

Eileen: This is my third final, so I have three groups. The Mermaids from 2016, and the Firebirds from 2012, those are still people I rely on. I just came up with the log-line for this new book, and emailed them and said, “What do you think of this?” and they helped me refine it. They helped me create my author log-line. They’re sisters, and they will be sisters for a long dang time.

Dawn: And it works exponentially, because not only am I part of the Persisters, which is my class, but I’m also benefiting from Eileen’s previous classes through The Golden Network.

Eileen: The Golden Network has actually put together a mentorship program. And that’s doing very well for the people who signed up. The mentors, who are all published, either traditionally or self-pubbed or both, are invaluable to this new class. Helping them figure out their next steps.

Lighting the rocky way.

Dawn: It’s also a little overwhelming, because it’s a lot of information to absorb. And sometimes it comes in bursts. And I get overwhelmed, and say, “Okay, I’m going to go read 10,000 romance novels over here in a corner and cry.” But then I will come back when I’m ready for more. And it’s fabulous, and everyone is so supportive and so wonderful.

You’re not wandering alone in the woods anymore. This is how RWA nurtures its strongest new talent. Golden Heart is an important means for identifying some of the strongest new talent. And then making sure they’re getting the support they need.

Dawn: And I can’t say enough about Shelly Chalmers!

Eileen: Shelly Chalmers! Oh, my gosh! She’s amazing! Running the Golden Network Facebook Group!

Dawn: Oh, my lord, is she a doll!

Eileen: That Facebook Group is phenomenal! All these weekly check-ins. It’s probably one of my most active Facebook Groups.

Dawn: Mine, too. It’s fantastic.

So it does seem that it’s not just the immediate contest itself, but all the connections that come out of the contest, all the support groups born of it, that make it so powerful for aspiring writers.

For writers who have great talent, but aren’t quite ready to launch yet—that’s the launch pad. Golden Heart provides the best launch pad in the publishing industry. There’s nothing else like it out there. How awful if RWA just kills it over a few thousand dollars, when overall organization revenues are over $2 million a year.

Eileen: For the last two years, the finalists didn’t get the priority for pitch sessions that they used to get. So Golden Network stepped in. Someone in the Network said, “My agent says she gets 90% of her people from contacting Golden Heart finalists. They’re the first people she wants to talk to every year.” After that, Golden Network managed to pull together at least two or three agents or editors each week who are willing to an online pitch session. And it happens through the Facebook group.

Dawn: I’ve pitched the hell out of mine. To every single person. It’s been amazing. I didn’t necessarily do it well—I was learning as I went—but I pitched the hell out of it.

Eileen: It was like Pitch Wars. People would comment and help and everybody’s pitches got better.

And would you even have known about pitching and what you need to have prepared to pitch without this?

Dawn: Not really. I had some vague ideas, but I didn’t even know where to start. And I waited until I watched a couple of other people’s pitches before I did my own. The idea that you’re supposed to have two sentences to start with—to condense however many thousands of words from your book into something that could intrigue an editor or agent into wanting to read it. I didn’t know that. But I learned. And several agents and editors asked to see more!

Eileen: And it’s not just the finalists each year who benefit. We all share what we’re learning with our chaptermates, with our critique partners. So, yes, just 45 people each year get the little gold pin and the ceremony and the chance to be up on stage, but the benefits keep rippling out to our personal networks. We read and recommend each others’ books once finalists get published. And we make introductions: “Hey, you don’t know Terri Osburn, but I know her through Golden Network and I love her! You write like her, let me introduce you to her at conference.” It expands outwards all the time.

Dawn: Which is what a network does. It increases exponentially.

After all, that’s the originary mission that started the Ruby blog! We’ve been paying it forward to the new-writer community for nine years now, doing our blogs on writing and the writing life, offering advice and critiques, running our free Make It Golden Contest to help people hone their story openings, running our free Winter Writing Festival and year-round sprints. And doing these interviews with each year’s finalists!

Dawn: Yes! That’s fabulous. And part of the generous spirit of the romance community!

E: Like we were saying yesterday: Instead of “hole-hearted,” we become “whole hearted.” It’s our goal for our characters, and we do it for other writers as well.

Yes! Yes! Save the Golden Heart!

What do you think, readers? What has Golden Heart meant to you? Should the contest be saved? How do we save it? What ideas do you have for “re-envisioning” it?

109 responses to “Save the Golden Heart!!!”

  1. I love the Golden Heart for the invaluable writer connections it has brought into my life – and I agree with much of what you’ve said here.

    Personally, I miss the Saturday night combined ceremonies – but separating them has separated the GH costs from the RITA costs. I felt like the cost breakdown they released was designed to make the argument that the GH isn’t worth the expense anymore easier. To make it more palatable when they get rid of it – but I for one, would be very sad to see it go. I think for many writers it represents a milestone – but perhaps as the industry changes, those milestones change as well? I don’t know. I will be watching next week to see what the verdict is.

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    • Exactly! I believe their intentions were good, but separating the two ceremonies only increased expenditures without significantly boosting either event. (Changing away from Saturday night did, reportedly, make the RITA ceremony better attended — because people seem to fly out Saturday mornings, and weren’t staying to attend the Saturday night event. So, keep that change!)

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      It’s likely that the RITA also operated at a loss.

      This is from the comment Susannah Erwin made in response to RWA’s original announcement in June:

      “The 2016 audit report shows that RWA took in $119,250 in contest fees but spent $174,144 on contests. Using the (very imperfect, I know) assumption that Golden Heart expenses, as calculated in the cost breakdown, remained consistent from 2016 to 2017, then the Golden Heart would have accounted for $32,837 of these expenses, of which $17,747 would be a net loss. This means the RITA would have cost RWA $141,307 in 2016, with a net loss of $37,147 – and the RITA provided a career benefit to only sixty or so authors.

      Yet no one called for the abolition of the RITA. Instead, the RITA was modified to eliminate expenses such as shipping physical books, while tiered entry and staggered submission costs were introduced to alleviate pressure on entries and increase the number of individual authors. Contrast that with Golden Heart statement, in which the board jumped to eliminating the contest as the first and only concrete solution given.”

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      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Would be great to get some clarification / confirmation of this from RWA.

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        • Paula Huffman says:

          Somewhere there should be a detailed accounting of the funds spent on each contest. Has anyone asked for that? Just curious! For all the reasons mentioned here, I think it would be a huge mistake to eliminate the Golden Heart, especially without an open and fully transparent explanation of the contest finances in clear comparison with the other expenditures of the organization. Also, there are bound to be multiple ways to cut expenses without sacrificing the contest. For example, I would think a board member or RWA officer would be a wonderful MC for a combined GH and Rita ceremony… which would, in theory, save nearly $5,000 in one quick move. ($2,400 for each paid MC?) Surely with a little effort and creativity we could find a way to save this valuable program.

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          • Elisa Beatty says:

            Yes! Board members as M.C.s would be lovely!

            And, yes, given that audits say revenues for RWA are in the millions, looking at the cost of this contest in the largest financial picture would be useful.

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          • Tracy Brody says:

            And majority of people prefer to skip the skits to keep things moving in awards ceremony.

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  2. I’m so with you on this. The GH network is such an incredible incubator for baby writers and I can’t fathom where I’d be without it. I would love to see it promoted better so it can reach more writers – there are so few silver bullets in publishing and this is about as close as it comes. I wish more people knew about it!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, yes, yes!! Incubator / silver bullet, both apt metaphors!!

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    • As I said in the post, my brother in law is a writer, and has ZERO opportunities to hone his craft and get advice for moving toward publication.

      What RWA has built as a network to achieve this is astounding and oh-so-needed by writers! And I truly believe that the Golden Heart is instrumental in prompting unpubbed writers to write, finish, and hone a manuscript just to be able to enter this contest with the hope of finaling.

      But, if they do not final, they have a product they can now market.

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  3. Kay Hudson says:

    I have made so many friends through my GH groups, and they are a large part of the reason I make it to the conference most years. I agree with the comments on advertising – I didn’t realize so many people actually didn’t know about the contest, but I’ve talked to a lot of people who missed the poorly-publicized window for signing up to judge (and some of the on-line software problems haven’t helped there).

    Like many people, I remain unhappy with the schedule changes. I was a finalist in years when we dressed up and shared the limelight with the RITA finalists. Lunch is no substitute, and removing the suspense by moving both ceremonies to Thursday was a terribly idea, however well-intentioned it may have been (and that’s really hard to figure out). No wonder so many people are leaving on Saturday.

    I would hate to see the contest end. RWA is one of the few professional writers’ organizations that truly works to help and encourage unpublished members, and the GH is a big part of that. Unpublished members are the backbone of the group and they – we – deserve respect and recognition.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes! Better advertising, simple way for judges to sign up, make the GH ceremony part of the gala again.

      Could really help turn things around!

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  4. So many great points. And I agree 100% that promoting the Golden Heart would make a huge difference. Also, to promote the Golden Network since I had no idea it was a thing and it has turned out to be one of the biggest benefits. Actually, I entered the Golden Heart because of my nationals roommate last year who urged me to enter but I honestly thought it was just another contest albeit one that got you better seating and a chance to walk on stage. There is SO MUCH MORE to the GH that I had no clue about, appeal that would strengthen any traditional, self-pub, or hybrid author.

    I’m looking forward to the annual meeting and hope many from the Golden Network and my Persisters class will attend.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Absolutely…if people really understood the enormous behind-the-scenes perks of becoming a finalist, they wouldn’t care at all about the lack of critiques.

      Other contests offer critiques. Golden Heart offers the possibility of sisterhood.

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    • RWA National seems to be upping their game recently with social media promotion — witness all the great videos they’ve released about Conference workshops!

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      • I’ve noticed the ads, too. How easy it would be to do the same thing in the fall, as was mentioned in the post, to remind people about the entry opening, to urge writers to finish that manuscript!

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    • Paula Huffman says:

      I’ve never been a GH finalist, but my critique partner has, and thus I’m one of those writers who has benefited from the contest without even entering! I’ve learned from her and from her GH sisters, who have graciously included me in conversation, critiques and gatherings. I’ve been witness to the amazing network GH finalists share, and seen the opportunities that come their way because of it. I may never make it to the finals–in fact, if the contest is eliminated, I may never have that chance, but I’ve reaped many rewards from the program. I’d be willing to bet I’m not alone in the experience. I hope to enter next year… if I still have the opportunity.

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  5. Jacie Floyd says:

    As a repeat GH finalist over repeat years, I would have been lost without the GH and the friends and contacts I made from it. RWA seems to have forgotten their message and that the value received from the GH goes far beyond the financial aspect. It is a huge springboard or touchstone for the unpublished members of RWA community.

    Could the contest use some updates and even an overhaul? Absolutely. Great ideas from today’s Persisters. Online publicity is the name of the game for authors these days. So much more could be done to publicize the contest, the finalists, and the winners. RWA seems to make a few announcements then dust off their hands and say “done” which doesn’t make it appealing to unpublished authors, entrants, or judges. Widening the pool of eligible entrants would draw more interest as well.

    The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. Make some changes to the GH to reflect that. Don’t throw out the immense goodwill that RWA derives from it based on a downtrend of entrants.

    3+
    • And online publicity (via YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is free! It’s also easily shareable and accessible to the masses.

      From writers, to street teams, to friends & family, we can all promote the contests, RWA and he Romance genre with very little effort beyond the initial ad/video creation.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      So many of us feel we’d have “been lost” without that mentorship and sisterhood of our GH groups.

      Again, as we advertise and promote the contest, we need to talk about those incredibly important behind-the-scenes benefits of finaling in Golden Heart.

      And those benefits are as important for authors who plan to self-pub as they are for those seeking traditional publication. Maybe more, since self-pubbed authors need to figure everything out for themselves.

      Assuming there will be a 2019 contest, I’m going to be sure we run a series here on the blog on what the Golden Heart sisterhood really offers.

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  6. Another thing to consider:

    If National does away with the Golden Heart, what will be the cascading effect to local chapter contests?

    My guess is local contests will continue the downward spiral until this vital funding resource causes chapters to shutter their doors.

    From the top down, we all need to promote chapter contests and National contests for the health and longevity of RWA as a whole.

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  7. Thanks so much for posting this discussion. As a former multiple finalist, this competition means the world to me. There is just no experience like it for a “pre-published” author.

    I think re-combining the GH with the RITA is key to both reducing costs and increasing entries. I also agree that free online promotion could go a long way toward awareness of the Golden Heart Awards. I know if I saw notices and announcements online, I’d definitely share them to my blog, FB page and profile, and RT on Twitter.

    I love that The Golden Network has gotten involved. If there was ever a “Save the Golden Heart” FB group formed, I’d definitely be interested in joining.

    5+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Honestly, I’ve heard almost no one say they liked the separate of the two ceremonies.

      I know the Board truly thought having a separate GH ceremony would raise its prestige, but it’s very very clear the opposite has happened.

      If entries fell as that new policy was put into effect, logic would dictate looking into the possibility that it was causal.

      The Board shouldn’t say “we tried this, and it didn’t work, so the contest is doomed.” They should say, “We tried this, and got a negative result, and so we should change back and see whether the negative continues or is reversed.”

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      • Tracy Brody says:

        As a member of the 2017 Golden Heart when the separation was initiated, the consensus was that it felt like a demotion (and demotivator) rather than being “spotlighted.” Having experienced the combined RITA/GH as a finalist in 2015 & 2016, the glamour and excitement were definitely lacking for me as a finalist.

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        • Elisa Beatty says:

          That’s what I’ve heard from absolutely everybody.

          People who finaled under both the old and the new ceremony approach seem to be unanimous in feeling the new version was a huge fall from grace.

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  8. McCall Hoyle says:

    Great post, ladies! The Golden Heart changed my life for all the reasons you mentioned. I don’t really have anything new to add except to say thanks for starting and maintaining the dialogue. I loved the line about “rising from the ashes.” I too hope that the Golden Heart can be revised and re-imagined to make it sustainable and relevant. <3

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  9. Melonie says:

    A fantastic and thoughtful look at that troubling announcement from the RWA Board regarding the Golden Heart. In so many ways, I feel the Board manipulated the information in that announcement and it felt…wrong. If change needs to happen, let’s work to make it happen, but don’t base the need for change on misinformation. There was a spin in the presentation of “facts” that felt very biased and I perceived the general tone of the post from the board was negative toward GH finalists. The timing (not long after the announcement of this year’s GH class) was horrible as well. The Persisters certainly chose an apt name! I too, like many many others as you said above, used the GH deadline as personal goal, and my Golden Heart final without a doubt helped me get to where I am today. And I also know, without a doubt, that is true of many authors. Your list of suggestions for how to increase awareness about the GH are smart and simple to implement – I hope the board is listening.

    7+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I hope so, too!

      2+
    • I agree. It does seem disingenuous to list the cost of the GH (with some inconsistencies in reporting mentioned in the blog post above) without also mentioning the annual RWA budget of close to one million dollars.

      $15k for the GH is a drop in the bucket!

      But presented to a membership whose published authors probably don’t see $15k per year from their writing, the way it was presented feels skewed to me.

      6+
    • Tracy Brody says:

      AGREED! The wording and timing of the announcement and financial information was damaging to the contest and the finalists.

      5+
  10. Jennifer Bray-Weber says:

    I’d like to see the actuals in the cost of the Golden Heart, not a general breakdown. I find the financial argument weak.
    I think it is a huge mistake letting it go. There is great value to the contest and removing it dilutes the mission of RWA of enhancing careers. It’s a huge honor to be a GH finalist and for so many an important stepping stone on the road to publication.

    If we treat it with as much esteem and enthusiasm as we have in the past, perhaps more people would enter. Touting it and giving it the respect and airtime it deserves would certainly help.

    8+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, we could use considerably more detail about exactly where the dollars go.

      It seems like at least some of that expense can be cut…quite a bit of it just from ending the split into two ceremonies.

      1+
  11. Amy DeLuca says:

    I’m a two-time finalist, and I’d be exactly nowhere without the GH contest. As you discussed, I’ve taken what I learned from my sisters and former finalists and passed it on widely throughout my various contact within the writing world. I hear from so many writers that they aspire to enter the GH, and it keeps them going when the writing gets tough to have that goal. I pray the board will not get rid of it. Scores of unpublished authors will lose a valuable resource and very likely leave the organization.

    7+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, I believe this will lead to a drop in RWA membership overall.

      As Eileen experienced, promoting their contest brought in new members.

      Why would unpublished authors stay in RWA if they are made to feel they don’t count as much as published ones?

      1+
  12. sarah andre says:

    The GH was an incredible step up the career ladder, and although it’s one ceremony, it’s always been the way the class gels together and supports each others’ endeavors for years afterward. In the 14 years I’ve been an RWA member there is no other event that gives unpublished writers this kind of opportunity.

    5+
    • Absolutely agree, Sarah. The residual value of being a Golden Heart finalist doesn’t show up in the bottom line, but the peership experience has been extremely valuable–and even life-changing–for so many.

      3+
  13. C.R. Grissom says:

    Every point already made is a reason to keep the contest alive.

    I’m a two-time finalist and have never taken it for granted. I agree with Melonie as to tone and timing.

    I’m a Rebelle and a Persister, and the right answer isn’t to kill it, but to improve it. Merge the two ceremonies to save costs. Allow non-PAN edible authors to enter in order to broaden the spectrum of authors who can enter.

    I lost weeks of sleep getting my entry ready for the Golden Heart. I didn’t final. I revised and spent months improving it. The next time I did final. The deadline makes you keep your butt in the chair. The contest helps you improve your writing.

    Each class is memorable. There is no other contest that births a sisterhood and an amazing network of authors at your disposal. The hive mind alone… <3

    The Golden Heart is an incredibly special contest. I hope RWA recognizes what we all know to be true.

    7+
    • Tracy Brody says:

      Jinx, I owe a few people a soda. Couldn’t get my reply to post and by time I did, I’m parroting several other members comments. Course that might show RWA there is a consensus on changes.

      2+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      ” lost weeks of sleep getting my entry ready for the Golden Heart. I didn’t final. I revised and spent months improving it. The next time I did final. The deadline makes you keep your butt in the chair. The contest helps you improve your writing.”

      ^^^^
      THIS!!!!!

      I know this is true for many, many, many of us, and for lots of people who have not yet finaled…and for those who have not entered yet, but are working hard to be able to enter soon.

      IT’S NOT JUST 46 PEOPLE A YEAR!!!

      7+
      • C.R. Grissom says:

        No it’s not just 46.

        This contest is vital to unpublished romance authors. What other method can get your ms in front of industry professionals and beyond the slush pile? There is a certain cache to being a finalist in a National contest. That benefits all unpublished Romance authors who enter and final.

        And if you market your contest and expand it to allow non-PAN authors, you’ve got even more opportunity to benefit more of your membership.

        Stay Golden, RWA…

        3+
        • I love that phrase, C.R!

          You know, that would look great on a button that could be worn by those attending RWA to show support for the awards. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t time now to get it done.

          1+
  14. Tracy Brody says:

    As, Eileen mentioned, RWA is unique among writing organizations in it’s support of unpublished authors. The Golden Heart is a big part of that difference in that it recognizes authors who are on their way to being published.

    I agree that the contest needs to be promoted and marketed better. Also, changes are needed to keep up with the evolving world of publishing. Opening it up to non-Pan members is one way to increase the number of RWA members eligible to enter the Golden Heart and help ease the overload on the RITA.

    There are easy solutions for recruiting judges:
    * REQUIRE entrants to judge like in the RITA to start.
    * I’m mystified at the method of assigning entrants as some people get the max # and others get one or two manuscripts. A simple software program can be written to assign equal numbers based on category preferences. (Heck, I’ll volunteer my software engineer son to write it for minimal cost.;) )
    * Offer some incentives to judges – free GH or RITA entry the next year, $25 credit off RWA membership, swag, or critique from a prior GH winner. Let us pay it forward and increase the number of judges/entrants who benefit beyond the motivation to finish the book which can’t be measured in dollars.

    Obviously, as a multi-time finalist, I’m a fan of the Golden Heart and want it to continue. I feel a bit sorry for those who never got/took the opportunity to enter the Golden Heart. It’s not just another contest. The prestige of being a finalist opens doors to agents and editors. Even if you don’t score an agent or deal immediately, it’s affirmation that you have talent and aren’t an imposter. It’s the relationships within the Golden Heart group that is the biggest win for all the finalists and why I continued to write more books and enter while eligible. It’s support that carries forward in giving back to RWA members in our other chapters. The Golden Heart helps bring in and retain RWA members which is certainly not accounted for in the cost figures provided which were questionable as others have already touched on.

    I think the focus should be on ways to improve the Golden Heart and increase it’s value, rather than say “we tried” after a half-hearted effort to make changes that weren’t well received – like separating the Golden Heart & RITA awards. I hope the board will take the input given and implement suggestions from RWA members on what they’ve said would increase the Golden Heart’s appeal and value to them — the future Golden Heart entrants, finalists, and winners.

    7+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      It really does seem that the enormous drop-of in judges (from a norm of 800+ to a norm of around 300-350) has a lot to do with the new online sign-up system, which seems to have baffled and frustrated lots of people.

      I think we could easily double the number of judges if signing up was a bit more streamlined.

      And there wasn’t much of a call for additional judges. I saw one notice, and didn’t jump in because I had RITA judging to do, but if there’d been a second notice, I’d have done it.

      I’ll certainly sign up to judge both RITA and Golden Heart for 2019, assuming both contests run. And I’m willing to do quick 100-200 word critiques for the Golden Heart entries. It wouldn’t be that hard.

      1+
  15. Gwynne Jackson says:

    For unpublished romance writers, the Golden Heart is THE thing to reach for. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, and a door that opens up whole new rounds of possibilities. Not just for finalists and winners — it takes nerve to submit your manuscript. It’s daunting. But so is publishing, which makes the GH great practice for everything else in a writer’s career.

    I am a huge advocate for having a Golden Heart street team, willing to share the task of promoting the contest. As others have mentioned, there is barely any visibility to it. If you’re not an RWA member who reads the newsletter, you might not even know it’s going on. But publicizing it would bring not only more entries to the contest itself; it’s likely it would bring more members to RWA as well.

    It’s not difficult to create a positive buzz about this or any contest. All we need are enthusiastic and vocal people. The contest is a shining light of hope for all aspiring romance authors. To take it away would be like shutting a door in the face of all those authors and telling them their participation in RWA isn’t particularly valuable. I’m sure that’s not the intended message.

    6+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      STREET TEAM, yes!!!

      That’s what the Golden Heart needs!

      to get the word out about its value, to drum up more judges, to get writers excited about taking part!

      2+
  16. Seana Kelly says:

    The ‘Let’s Ditch the GH Contest’ article made me so angry I considered canceling Nationals and stepping away from RWA. The Golden Heart is a career-maker. It’s that simple. I have an agent and have published my GH-finaling book because of that contest.

    The GH WAS the prestige award. Was, until RWA’s president decided to announce that the hundreds of entries we’d thought we’d bested to be finalists were really only 40-ish. Maybe. Many of those entries were submitted by the same people, so probably not even 40. Hey, RWA, thanks for running down our achievements to the publishing world! You guys are Aces! Way to have our backs! The BS around making the GH ‘special’ was ridiculous from the beginning. No matter how strongly they swore they were trying to help the GH, the writing was on the wall. They made the contest less prestigious and then acted as though they were shocked that entries were down. If they need to cut costs, cancel the RITA (and so nice of them to only publish the #s on the GH, not the RITA). The RITA serves as a source of accolades for already published authors. The RITA doesn’t make careers. That’s the Golden Heart.

    I’m especially angry on the behalf of this year’s finalists. They were told they were finalists, and they cheered and cried and dreamed of what it could mean. They researched who they wanted to query and worked on letters and synopses and then RWA broadcasted to the publishing world that these finalists weren’t really all that special, that the contest was such a waste it should probably be dropped. I agree with a lot of the comments above. The contest awards should be reunited on Saturday night, so we don’t have finalists pitching AFTER everyone knows they didn’t win–Seriously, WTF with that? There should be A LOT more advertising of the GH in order to encourage more people to enter. I’m no longer eligible for the GH, but that’s not the point. Dropping the GH would tell me all I needed to know about the value RWA places on its unpublished authors.

    10+
  17. NAN DIXON says:

    I love the Golden Heart! I know it got me my agent. I have looked at the numbers and this isn’t the first time entities have dropped, nor is it the lowest number of entries. I love the advertising suggestions. And I think the grassroots need to start in each chapter. I volunteer to review entries for my chapter because I believe in this contest.
    I will be attending the Annual Meeting. Unfortunately, I will miss some of the TGN retreat but board decisions are important. I’d encourage everyone to go to the Annual Meeting and voice their opinion.

    4+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I believe the Annual Meeting is scheduled against both the required Golden Heart ceremony rehearsal AND the TGN retreat!!!

      Hopefully that was not a deliberate move….

      But I’m definitely planning to be there at the General Meeting and speak up loud and clear!!!

      2+
      • The timing of the annual meeting is frustrating to me, too. I don’t want to be rude and leave TGN retreat early, but I feel that we should all be present at the meeting…and then get to the required rehearsal. Too many places to be at one time!

        1+
        • Paula Huffman says:

          I wonder if the attendees at TGN retreat would consider going to the Annual Meeting as a group, as a show of solidarity in support of the Golden Heart? it would be a powerful statement.

          2+
          • Elisa Beatty says:

            Awesome idea…though it really sucks to have to miss any of that fabulous retreat!

            2+
          • Paula Huffman says:

            It does. But it really sucks that you even have to make that kind of choice at all. It’s a shame that you/we have to lobby for the very contest that established The Golden Network. I would prefer to believe the scheduling conflict is a simple oversight, but it is certainly an unfortunate one.

            1+
  18. The separation of the GH and Rita events may not have helped the GH entry count, but it wasn’t a causal event. The numbers were:
    2008 – 1004
    2009 – 901
    2010 – 1130
    2011 – 1001
    2012 – 873
    2013 – 581
    2014 – 414
    2015 – 476
    <>
    2016 – 471
    2017 – 439
    2018– > 424

    The separation of the events was a misguided attempt to check the loss of entries.

    The suggestions made here, including recombining the events, and maybe moving to Friday night, before everyone starts taking off but late in the week to build the suspense, would help, I think.

    I hope the Board decides it’s worth another try.

    0
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      You’re right, Jeanne. The split of ceremonies didn’t cause the drop off, but it certainly hasn’t helped or reversed it at all, so it wasn’t a successful experiment.

      I think we all understand that the biggest causal factor in the decrease in entries is the rise of self-publishing.

      Before self-pubbing existed, Golden Heart was
      a powerful spring board for getting the attention of acquiring editors and agents–the closest thing to a golden ticket there was. Now writers can bypass those editors and agents entirely.

      We’ll never go back to those pre-self-pubbing days. BUT I think that if we got the word out about all the behind-the-scenes benefits of being a finalist, the prize of finaling would seem more valuable and unusual again.

      And I think RWA should definitely look at the possibility of allowing non-PAN-eligible writers to enter. Those writers are “published” but in a bit of a limbo–not selling many books, not getting attention. They could really benefit from the opportunity to draw attention to the most excellent of their books, to help them stand out from the pack.

      Of my four Lara Archer books, the one that says WINNER OF THE GOLDEN HEART in the blurb outsells the other three combined, month after month after month.

      Let non-PAN-eligible writers enter, and entries would soar again.

      Even if RWA wanted to continue the rule that actual manuscripts submitted to the Golden Heart have to remain unpublished until finalists are announced, or (in the case of those that final) until after the awards ceremony, I still think lots of non-PAN-eligible writers would think it worth their while to hold back on publishing their latest book to see if it could get that Golden Heart imprimatur.

      1+
  19. NAN DIXON says:

    This is such a wonderful post. I love the Golden Heart. I got my agent because I was a finalist and that got me a publishing contract. I believe in the Golden Heart so much that I volunteer to read my chaptermates submissions for the contest.
    As a previous financial executive, there were too many questions I had about the numbers and the cost calculations. Having gotten hold of the actual entry counts back to the origination of the contest, this entry drop is not the first, nor is it the deepest drop. Recovery has taken longer than previous declines. But the advertising ideas are stellar. I didn’t know about the contest when I joined RWA. didn’t know about it for years. And I believe a push from National to have all the chapters discuss the value of the GH would be very beneficial.
    When looking at how costs have been allocated to the Golden Heart contest, my question is on the staffing. I don’t believe that staffing will be reduced if the GH contest is stopped. So it isn’t right to penalize the contest unless we can see all components that make up RWAs expenses. Does the anthology make money? Does advocacy make money? Should we stop fighting all the crazy trademarks because it only benefits 1 or 2 people? (Even fewer than the GH)
    I agree with the assertion that the GH contest inspires more than the people who final. This is the pinnacle of unpublished contests in romance.
    Don’t kill the contest!!

    3+
  20. NAN DIXON says:

    Tried to cut and paste graphs here. But not working.

    In 1990 there were 1090 GH entries
    by 1992 this dropped to 357!
    It took until 2010 to get entries back above 1000 (1130)

    Since inception (1981) there have only been 4 years when the entries were greater than 1000.
    Average entries through all time are 652
    Average entries since 1992 (the low point) is 701.

    Entries for 2018 — 490.

    How many entries does it take to break even??

    If Elisa knows a way to get the graph posted I can do that.

    1+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Wow! “In 1990 there were 1090 GH entries
      by 1992 this dropped to 357!
      It took until 2010 to get entries back above 1000 (1130).” I had no idea that there was such a massive dip in the past, too.

      That certainly implies that we can overcome the decline again!!!

      If you email me the graph, I can add it at the bottom of the post. (We can’t put images in our comments, sorry!)

      1+
  21. Elizabeth Langston says:

    The Golden Heart has meant a lot to my career. It got my book read by an agent faster–who offered rep. It gave me an amazing, close-knit group of sisters who support me in so many ways, both online and in-person. (One of the reasons I go to Nationals most years is for our annual Ruby Night dinner.) And I know this is just a little thing–but I love to put my golden heart pins on my badge holder. People notice. For other GHers, it’s instant connection. For other writers, it often results in smiles or congrats. In a biz as hard as ours, any small win can be lovely.

    Some possible ideas for boosting participation:

    Chapters could hold a “GH Boot Camp” at a chapter meeting, in August or Sept. GHers in the chapter could give advice on first pages, writing synopses, catchy titles, etc. (In 2009, my daughter predicted with 70% accuracy the winners just by the titles.)

    At next year’s Nationals, maybe we could have a Golden Heart prep workshop or a 20/20 session on the ins-and-outs of polishing a 55-page entry.

    The Rubies have a Winter Writing Festival. Maybe we could have a “draft the damn GH entry” track.

    4+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Brilliant ideas about getting Chapters involved in boosting interest in the contest!! Most chapters must have at least a couple Golden Hearters, I would think.

      And, YES, a Golden-Heart-focused workshop or two at Nationals would be fabulous!! Get the repeat finalists in on that!!

      (Your daughter’s ability to predict winners from titles is FASCINATING, too!!)

      1+
  22. I am where I am today because of the GH. It would break my heart to see it end.

    Everyone has given such great ideas for the continuation of the contest. One thing that my chapter did when our contest numbers began dropping off was to implement an entirely different reason for entering. We have changed the name from the Rebecca to The Writer (like The Voice) and the winner of each category is mentored by a celebrity judge and then entered into the final where one first place winner takes home the grand prize, aka The Writer.

    I think a switch to a mentorship type of platform where the winners are coached by bestselling authors in their genre could create a more exciting reason for entering, especially since there is no feedback offered.

    Anywho, fantastic post! I hope the right people see this and take note.

    6+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Wow!! What a great idea with The Voice approach!

      I’m sure there are all sorts of creative approaches possible. We’ve got to try more than just “let’s split the ceremonies” before deciding it can’t be fixed.

      1+
    • Paula Huffman says:

      YES! I was fortunate to have Darynda as my mentor through last year’s Rebecca/The Writer contest, and I learned so much from her! My manuscript is stronger, cleaner, tighter and smarter thanks to her insights, and when I finish my rather extensive revisions, I hope to enter it in this year’s Golden Heart. A mentorship would be a wonderful prize for any aspiring author… it was for me! The possibility of working with Darynda inspired me to enter every manuscript I had in The Writer, and I bet it would do the same for others if mentorships were offered with the Golden Heart. Great idea, Darynda! And thank you again for all of your help with Casualty!

      2+
      • Elisa Beatty says:

        You had Darynda as your mentor!!! You lucky, lucky dog!!

        And, yeah, I have no doubt we could find a published former Golden Heart finalist from each category to mentor the new winner of that category! Fabulous prize, and a powerful incentive to enter!!

        One way to look at re-invigorating the contest is “how do we increase its value when getting in front of acquiring editors and agents isn’t as absolute a draw as it once was”

        2+
      • You were so amazing, Paula!!! It was an honor working with you!

        2+
    • Yes, I thought LERA’s contest change was brilliant. It highlights what every writer, no matter what track they chose, needs…mentors and colleagues to support you. The Golden Heart does this but so few know about the perks beyond being highlighted at a luncheon and some agent/editor time.

      1+
  23. Elise Hayes says:

    I LOVE all the brainstorming y’all did on how to make the Golden Heart more financially viable and attract more entries. The contest is near and dear to my heart…I hope the Board takes a long look at this post!!

    1+
  24. Great post! Kudos for taking on this topic.

    Entering the GH was a turning point for me. I finaled in March 2016, signed with my agent in April 2016 (I confess I had been working with her previously but the final didn’t hurt!), won in July 2016 and in December 2016, Harlequin offered me a 2 book contract.

    I agree about more publicity for the contest. What about publicizing finalists who have gone on to get publishing contracts or have made strides in their careers to show what can happen?

    2+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes!! We’ve done a few “Where Are They Now?” features with Golden Heart classes, and the successes are fabulous!!

      Wouldn’t be too hard to put together quick YouTube videos for classes every few years to show how far their members have come!

      1+
      • Elisa Beatty says:

        In terms of the success rates of Golden Heart finalists, I would like to point out that four of the five 2018 RITA Finalists for Best First Book were recent Golden Heart finalists!

        Coincidence? I think not!

        Golden Heart finalists are AWESOME!

        2+
  25. Brenda Lowder says:

    Fabulous discussion! Thanks for tackling this! The GH has made a difference in my career already, and this is the first year I’ve entered and the first year I’ve finaled. It’s also the first year I’ll be attending the RWA coference. I love the ideas you’ve all mentioned, especially increased advertising and recombining the RITAs and GH award ceremonies. I really, really hope the GH gets saved. As an unpublished author, I aspire to this contest as a form of validation. I don’t have sales. I don’t have readers. All I have is the burning hope that someday someone will want to read my book. The GH final has made me feel that hope. I don’t want it taken away.

    4+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      The validation factor in this bruising, lonely, ever-changing business is so important!!

      The Golden Heart helps many of our very best unpublished writers KEEP GOING so they can get their books out there in the world where they belong!

      1+
  26. I’m not sure if I’d be published if it wasn’t for the GH. Finaling gave me the confidence to keep writing! Great points here and thanks to all for the discussion.

    2+
  27. suzanne says:

    I think it is imperative that RWA continue to encourage and recognize unpublished writers with the Golden Heart. It is a vey special award that motivates writers, helps them build a community, and find their footing. The Ruby Slipperhood, TGN, and Rebelles all mentored me. And now I get to give back through the Persisters, and I would love to keep supporting and giving back.

    It’s insulting that RWA basically reduced this to a money issue or a manipulative statistic about how few people the GH helps publish. It didn’t consider the intangibles–like the network, the opportunity to learn from mentors, etc.–and I’m perplexed by the lack of faith.
    I mean,does the Pulitzer make a profit? should we cancel that too? The point of an award is to recognize achievement.

    Improve the GH? Sure. Promote it? Definitely. But nix it, NO!

    4+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Absolutely, Suzanne! Part of the Board’s job is to be fiscally responsible, but the importance of this award goes far beyond its ability to make a profit.

      Even if its an expense for our organization, it’s an expense that’s worth it.

      1+
  28. Shelly Chalmers says:

    Such a great post – I’ve been fascinated reading the comments too. And Eileen and Dawn, thank you for your kind words. 🙂

    One of the comments that struck me the most when we were discussing this elsewhere (and my apologies if I’m mangling your quote with my paraphrasing!) but: if this is our Oscars, why doesn’t anyone know about it? This is true for both the GH and the RITA. It’s a big deal for all of the finalists, but unlike in other genres where this is also much more known and recognized outside of just the genre (like the HUGO), ours is not publicized all that well.

    I know I wouldn’t be published and I may not have continued writing without the GH. I tried many times to final, getting ready every year. And after I finaled, it’s my GH sisters that have kept me going, held me accountable, made me stronger. When I look at active and influential members of RWA, many of them are former GH finalists – which says something about the contest, perhaps, or at the very least the people it attracts. Never mind the opportunity this could cost to future writers should they not have the same chance to final, I feel RWA as an organzation would be weaker, because quite possibly, they’re discounting a valuable portion of their membership and their future leaders. Just my two cents. 🙂

    And Rubies, I LOVE that you have continued to feature and make GH finalists feel special, as they deserve to be. Kudos to you for helping the finalists feel like superstars – I know that’s how I felt getting featured here. 🙂

    4+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Shelley! (And thank you for YOUR kind words!!)

      You makes lots of great points here!

      And, yes, people should know about the RITA the way they know about the HUGO.

      What do we do as an organization to promote these contests better????

      0
  29. I don’t know that I have a great deal to add to this thread. Everyone has expressed my feelings so well. Might I suggest this post and all of the comments be turned into a document and sent to the RWA Board in an effort to make them realize their suppositions are completely and utterly wrong when it comes to the Golden Heart. I would be nowhere without the Golden Heart. I finished my first book specifically to enter the Golden Heart. In fact, my first three books were finished to enter the Golden Heart and two of them finaled. One helped me to get my first agent. More important, I would not be anywhere on the road to publication without the help, advice, encouragement, and steadfast friendship of my Pixie and Ruby Sisters. My first published work is a direct result of my Ruby Sister, Kate Parker, inviting me to be in an anthology with her and two other authors. My fear is that RWA is spending more time teaching writers how to make money than it is teaching writers how to write. The Golden Heart is just one way to give writers the chance to learn how to write. And separating the ceremonies has done a great disservice to both the Golden Heart and the RITA. Period.

    2+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, yes, yes, to all of this, Louisa!! I’d love have the Board survey members on this issue and have one of the questions be “Did the goal of entering Golden Heart play a role in getting you to complete a Romance manuscript? How many manuscripts?”

      And that’s a great suggestion to make all this into a document and forward it to the Board. Will do.

      1+
      • Jacie Floyd says:

        Thank you, Elisa, for bringing a focus onto this topic and corralling us into putting posting comments in a place where they can be easily added to and forwarded to RWA. It does seem their efforts to save the GH have been half-hearted at best. Maybe this big group of focused RWA members will have some impact.

        0
  30. Wow, so many comments on this that my finger hurts from scrolling! Thanks for the thoughtful examination of the board’s reasoning & sensible suggestions for how to import the GH. One thing that stands out to me is the argument that the contest only benefits x number of people. Isn’t that (faulty) logic true with any contest in the history of the world? Olympics, Oscars, RITAs…only 1 top winner per event or category, and yet these contests persist (Persisters!) and are crucial touchstones within their industries.

    3+
    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Excellent point!! Contests like this always highlight just a few out of the many, but, as you say, they are “crucial touchstones within their industries” and inspire and excite many, many people beyond just the few who reach the podium.

      0
  31. I’ve entered the GH 5 years in a row, and this year is the first year I’ve finaled (with 2!). I believe I’ve paid my share of GH fees between multiple entries/year, annual dues, and National Conference costs (this year will be my third conference).

    I’d hate to see the GH disappear. I can’t tell you how affirming it was to get that phone call. So much of publishing is rejection. Finaling in the GH is a huge light at the end of the tunnel for many unpubbed authors. I finally felt valid.

    I won’t enter again, even if I still qualify and the contest survives the upcoming board meeting. Why? Part because I feel this year is “my chance” and that I want others to have the same opportunity. But mostly because of how this has been handled. To publicly imply there’s no validity in the finalists was hurtful to me and counterproductive to RWA and romance writers in general. I don’t want to be a part of a contest the organization doesn’t seem to support. I’ll admit, this took the shine off my boost from finaling.

    I’m a 3+ year PitchWars mentor. Every year, the number of entries goes up (almost 3000 last year and I believe there will be >3000 this year). Last year, 186ish authors were chosen for the contest, so the stats are not good (each author can only enter one MS, by the way). Those not chosen are not guaranteed anything, not even a score, let alone feedback.

    Why do authors continue to enter? Not just because there’s a chance they’ll be chosen to receive mentoring.

    PitchWars promotes their mentees. Each year, over 50% of those entering end up signing with agents. Others go on to sign with subsequent MSs. Many sell (one YA former mentee is on the NYT Bestseller list). This is public information and PW promotes the heck out of this. PW does all they can to ensure the mentees are successful. THIS is why authors enter. It’s their chance at the golden ticket.

    What does RWA do to promote their GH finalists? I guess I’m waiting to see.

    If you want to increase the number of entrants (and see the contest financially viable), one way is to do all you can to make sure the finalists are successful (there are tons of ways to do that, many discussed here). Promote the finalists (not just with an announcement on twitter and in the newsletter). And give them something they need to take their career to the next level: mentor opportunities, pitch opportunities with agents/editors, etc.

    And, brag about GH success in general: book deals, signing with an agent, finishing that next book and knowing it’s even better than your GH final, self-pubbing. Heck, just staying in this career and not quitting is a success and should be bragged up big time.

    RWA could do promotion in their newsletter and via social media. For example: Where are the ’15 GH finalists now? or Meet our class of ’18! Look what sold–a GH finalists!

    Feature finalists and their success, and others will enter, then everyone will want to enter so they have a chance of winning that Golden ticket.

    0
  32. I posted this earlier, but it’s not on the blog. Please delete if a duplicate.

    I’ve entered the GH 5 years in a row, and this year is the first year I’ve finaled (with 2!). I believe I’ve paid my share of GH fees between multiple entries/year, annual dues, and National Conference costs (this year will be my third conference).

    I’d hate to see the GH disappear. I can’t tell you how affirming it was to get that phone call. So much of publishing is rejection. Finaling in the GH is a huge light at the end of the tunnel for many unpubbed authors. I finally felt valid.

    I won’t enter again, even if I still qualify and the contest survives the upcoming board meeting. Why? Part because I feel this year is “my chance” and that I want others to have the same opportunity. But mostly because of how this has been handled. To publicly imply there’s no validity in the finalists was hurtful to me and counterproductive to RWA and romance writers in general. I don’t want to be a part of a contest the organization doesn’t seem to support. I’ll admit, this took the shine off my boost from finaling.

    I’m a 3+ year PitchWars mentor. Every year, the number of entries goes up (almost 3000 last year and I believe there will be >3000 this year). Last year, 186ish authors were chosen for the contest, so the stats are not good (each author can only enter one MS, by the way). Those not chosen are not guaranteed anything, not even a score, let alone feedback.

    Why do authors continue to enter? Not just because there’s a chance they’ll be chosen to receive mentoring.

    PitchWars promotes their mentees. Each year, over 50% of those entering end up signing with agents. Others go on to sign with subsequent MSs. Many sell (one YA former mentee is on the NYT Bestseller list). This is public information and PW promotes the heck out of this. PW does all they can to ensure the mentees are successful. THIS is why authors enter. It’s their chance at the golden ticket.

    What does RWA do to promote their GH finalists? I guess I’m waiting to see.

    If you want to increase the number of entrants (and see the contest financially viable), one way is to do all you can to make sure the finalists are successful (there are tons of ways to do that, many discussed here). Promote the finalists (not just with an announcement on twitter and in the newsletter). And give them something they need to take their career to the next level: mentor opportunities, pitch opportunities with agents/editors, etc.

    And, brag about GH success in general: book deals, signing with an agent, finishing that next book and knowing it’s even better than your GH final, self-pubbing. Heck, just staying in this career and not quitting is a success and should be bragged up big time.

    RWA could do promotion in their newsletter and via social media. For example: Where are the ’15 GH finalists now? or Meet our class of ’18! Look what sold–a GH finalists!

    Feature finalists and their success, and others will enter, then everyone will want to enter so they have a chance of winning that Golden ticket.

    4+
    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      Yes to all of this, Marty! I hope the board is listening. You suggest some lovely and elegant ways to help the contest and ensure its survival. I agree that there is little, if any acknowledgment given to the finalists, much less the winners. A line in the newsletter and magazine. There could be so much more.

      PW is a great model for how a contest can be promoted and how it can grow organically. When I talk about a street team, this is exactly what I mean.

      3+
    • I shared your letdown when the Board’s article came out about the pending GH decision. I don’t know how to explain it but the success is definitely dimmer.

      I don’t want to be the last GH class, even though I wouldn’t enter next year if the contest survives and I’m eligible for the same reasons you stated, Marty. But I’ve had multiple industry professionals congratulate me on my final, and I haven’t even flown to nationals yet! There are so many authors out there that deserve the chance to experience and benefit from the Golden Heart.

      2+
  33. A.Y. Chao says:

    Yes yes yes. You’ve really hit the nail on the head here. I entered because a friend of mine told me the GH sisterhood was something incredibly special. I had no idea of the prestige or history of the contest. More advertising needs to be done, including marketing the cachet of being a GH finalist. I only learned about how special it was AFTER I’d gotten the call and I started to dig into the GH and whether I ought to make the trip across the pond to go to Nationals–a couple people mentioned it was a big deal, but honestly there wasn’t a whole lot out there that talked about the history, the cachet, the benefits and networking of being part of the GH network. Likely now anyone who was as clueless as I was would come across the debate happening now which should help in boosting numbers.

    I nearly missed the whole experience and meeting my GH sisters because I was that clueless numpty! I’m so glad I took a chance. It would be such an incredibly shame for RWA to get rid of this incredible hand-up for new writers to break into the industry.

    2+
    • C.R. Grissom says:

      A.Y.

      The GH brought us together and made us sisters! I’m so glad you decided to cross the pond to see what the Golden Heart was all about.

      Rebelles Rock! 🙂

      2+
    • Gwynne Jackson says:

      AY! Hi! I’m SO glad you were at Nationals last year. I’m so glad you entered, and that your book finaled, or we wouldn’t have had the chance to meet.

      1+
  34. So many great arguments for the GH to improve! I know the contest gave my career a huge boost and helped me sign with my agent. But, more than that, it helped me not give up. It validated that I had a tiny bit of talent. I will always treasure how special Nationals was for me last year. I think it would be a huge mistake to let the GH go.

    5+
  35. Erika Kelly says:

    I’ve won twice, and I can tell you, in a profession filled with rejection and frustration, highs and lows, volatile sales and constant uncertainty, those two wins keep the embers of hope constantly burning. Authors today run small businesses, when most of us really want to just sit in our caves and write. The Golden Heart and RITA awards give us something to strive for and a reason to celebrate. My husband and I ran into a friend’s mother one night in a restaurant, and she asked us what we were doing for Valentine’s Day. With 4 kids 6 and under, we laughed and said, Nothing. We show our love for each other every day. She didn’t smile. She waved a finger at us and said, Life is hard, find take every single opportunity you can to celebrate. The smiles dropped off our faces and we looked at each other. You can bet we took that sage advice to heart. I say the same thing about the Golden Heart. Writing is hard. Find every opportunity to celebrate.

    3+
  36. Laurie Kellogg says:

    I’m a two-time winner and seven-time finalist in the GH. The contest is what kept me going and helped me realize my dream of making a living doing something I love. I write fence-sitters that NY raved about but said they didn’t know how to market.

    In 2012 I finally gave up on traditional publishing and became an Indie author. Since then, I’ve had no problem with branding my work and have been able to earn more than I ever did at any of my day jobs (so I quit working outside my home and now enjoy the luxury of working my own hours in my PJs if I choose).

    I never would’ve done any of this if I hadn’t had the confidence and social platform that being one of the Susan Luccis of RWA gave me.

    One of the things I don’t believe RWA has considered is how canceling the GH would affect attendance at the National conference. A good percentage of attendees spend the big bucks to come because they’re finalists or their CP or a friend is a finalist.

    I believe if the GH is canceled it will be a death blow to RWA overall, and I will be very sad to see something that helped me and others so much go by the wayside.

    6+
  37. Alexsandra Thompson says:

    I am extremely disappointed that cancelling the Golden Heart is even something they are considering.

    The last National I went to was in NY, I think, and it was still a combined event at that time. It was a magical time because even though I didn’t have a novel in the Golden Heart, I was cheering on friends who did.

    I am angry and frustrated about the whole issue and I am on the verge of NOT RENEWING my membership, something I thought would never happen.

    You see, as an unpublished writer with several manuscripts on the go, it was my intent to submit for next year’s GH, even though my novels don’t fit into a neat package.

    As an unpublished writer, I cannot vote on anything that affects RWA and other unpublished writers. I already feel disenfranchised because of that, and the news that they were considering stopping the GH made me feel even more so. So why then, should I remain a member?
    I can only speak in the way I know how: In my writing.

    I have read blog posts about the issue of cancelling the GH, but can find no where to comment or make my feelings known about the GH.

    It’s certainly not well publicised, and the actual workings of the contest are a mystery to a lot of writers. It doesn’t feel to me like they want a lot of people to enter–that’s just my take anyway.

    I am not sure what the answer is the GH conundrum, but they can’t just decide to cancel it. All members need to be able to voice their opinion on it, especially unpublished writers, because the GH affects them the most.

    This is a watershed moment. We need to grow and move forward in a new direction and be bigger and better organization for all or risk becoming just another writer’s group.

    1+
  38. According to the announcement on the Board Meeting Highlights posted on the RWA site, the 2019 Golden Heart Awards will be the last. Is this now a done deal, or is there any chance to turn this decision around? I heard there were several speeches in support of the awards at this year’s ceremony.

    0

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