Posts tagged with: Golden Heart Awards

Congratulations, Omegas!

Today’s the day!  The end of an era.  The final Golden Heart Awards ceremony will be held today at 12:15pm Eastern and if you want to follow along at home, you can stream the ceremony at

Congratulations to all the Omegas!  Enjoy this moment!  You earned it!  And here’s wishing you an incredible conference filled with lots of opportunities and fabulous memories whether you take home the golden necklace or not.  We’ll all be cheering for you!

Tips from a Contest Judge

The Golden Heart opens for entries THIS FRIDAY (though the entries themselves don’t need to be turned in until January 11) – which means many an aspiring romance author out there in Romancelandia is frantically finishing or polishing their manuscripts for the premiere romance contest for unpublished authors.  And if you’re one of them, how would you like a peek inside the mind of a contest judge?

Every year I sign up to judge the Golden Heart and at least one other contest for aspiring authors.  I’ve always thought it’s important to pay it forward, but it also can help crystallize my thoughts on my own writing strengths and weaknesses by putting on my judge’s hat and analyzing those same factors in contest entries.  

I open every judging packet (though now I’m only opening attachments instead of ripping open a UPS box) hoping to find a gem inside.  I have judged contest entries that went on to be New York Times bestsellers and have been blown away by the skill and potential I saw… but I’ve also judged entries by authors that were not as far along in their development.  They may still go on to be best sellers, but their craft still had quite a few holes to fill in.

Each year the entries change, but some of the common missteps by writers early in their writing career seem to remain constant.  So if you’re entering the Golden Heart, or any contest, or getting ready to submit to an editor or agent, or hit “publish” on a self-published work, you might want to take a moment to glance through some of these potential pitfalls and see if any of them sound a little too familiar…

  1. Are you starting your book too early?  Too late? (AKA Consider the story arc.)  Your story begins when something changes, when some catalyst hits your character’s life and catapults them into the action of the plot.  If your characters are wandering through their day-to-day lives, you might be starting your book too early.  If all the interesting action happens before page one, you might be starting too late.  
  2. Are you infodumping?  Or confusing your reader by not giving them enough information to understand what’s going on? The reader wants to know all about your character, but they don’t need to know every little detail on the first page.  Concentrate on what we need to know to engage with the character’s situation.  To understand what is driving them and get onboard with their journey.
  3. Are you forcing the characters to behave unrealistically to advance the plot?  You know what throws me out of a story faster than anything else?  When a character behaves in a way that makes no sense for their situation just so the author can move the story along.  The most common one I see?  Instalust.  When your hero or heroine first claps eyes on their potential love interest and they are instantly overcome with the desire to engage in sexytimes, regardless of what else is going on.  When you’re scared for your life or in pain or at death’s door, are you turned on?  This isn’t to say that your hero and heroine can’t fall in love while running for their lives, but their bodies probably aren’t sending blood rushing to erogenous zones when they’re already bleeding from a bullet wound.  And besides, seduction isn’t instantaneous.  You want to seduce your reader, to lure them in and tease them so they keep turning the pages, urging those two characters to just kiss already!  
  4. Are your hero and heroine the only good people in your world?  You want your hero and heroine to be sympathetic, but the rest of the world doesn’t have to be jerks just to make your hero look like a good guy. He doesn’t have to be the only person in your world worthy of caring for to be the One for your heroine.  (And if you don’t have secondary characters your readers can fall in love with, how will they pine for the sequel?)

As a contest judge, I want to love you.  I want to race through your pages with ravenous abandon and give you top marks.  So help me help you.  Put me in a character I can believe.  Seduce me.  Give me an arc, development, and the juicy conflict of resistance and hope and longing.  And your book will be irresistible.

What are some of your best tips for aspiring authors polishing their contest entries? What was some of the best advice you ever received from a contest judge?

And remember you can still sign up to judge the Golden Heart.

Really? Quality, Craft, and Reader Expectations

Darynda wins a RITA!

Darynda wins the first Ruby  RITA!

Today is the day that preliminary round scores for RWA’s RITA contest** are due, and I have one last book to score. I’ve read it three times, and it’s giving me fits.

What’s the problem, you ask?

How many points do you award “The Writing” when the book features beautifully descriptive language, deep and authentic POV work, evocative love scenes…yet contains dozens of grammar and spelling mistakes? When an author uses some of the most original metaphors and similes you’ve ever read, but the book is riddled with text formatting errors?

I hold such a book in my hands, and it’s breaking my heart.

I wish the RITA score sheet had a writing mechanics category so I could acknowledge the author’s obvious creative gifts, but draw her attention to the shortcomings with writing fundamentals. Immediately after making this wish, an insidious thought crosses my mind, one that makes me wince but whose truth I can’t deny: Prior to this year, when RWA opened the RITA contest to self-published books, writing fundamentals and text formatting issues…pretty much weren’t. Issues, that is. Writing mechanics and text formatting are generally quite clean in traditionally-published books. Sure, you might find a stray typo or two, or a missing end quote here and there, but most traditionally-published books are edited several times throughout the book’s production cycle, correcting these problems before the book is released.

The book that’s breaking my heart is a self-published book.

So (she reluctantly asks), where do self-published books fit in, quality and craft-wise? In my experience, it’s a really mixed bag – and the books I received in my RITA judging packet this year bore this out.

Of the eight books I received, four were self-published—including the book that received my highest score, woo-hoo!! But to my disappointment, the other three self-published books all had problems with grammar, typos/spelling, punctuation, misused homophones (there/their/they’re), verb tense, and other writing mechanics issues that made it challenging for me, an admitted Grammar Nazi, to even begin to assess other aspects of craft and story. Two of the three books had serious text formatting issues, perhaps more noticeable in print than in digital format. One had so much head-hopping I thought I’d get whiplash.

These issues really pulled me out of the story – and while your mileage may vary, that’s where my personal quality bar is set. If I get pulled out of the story, I start losing interest. If it keeps happening, I pick up my red pen. It definitely impacts my score. I think, “If I wasn’t judging this book for a contest, I’d stop reading now.”  If I’d paid money for the book, I’d return it for a refund.

Yes, a refund. Yes, I’m serious.

I’m self-published myself, and believe me, I’m wincing as I write this, thinking about glass houses and throwing stones, knowing my own work is far from perfect. I don’t mean to suggest that self-published books shouldn’t be eligible to enter the RITA, or that there aren’t some very good self-published books out there (as evidenced by my top-scoring book), or that some small press and traditionally-published books aren’t real clunkers. But judging this year’s RITA contest – judging a random set of  traditionally-published books and self-published books by the same criteria, in the same contest, side by side, for the very first time – led me to explicitly assess my quality and craft expectations, both as a reader and as a contest judge. The fact that I even thought about my quality expectations meant that some of these books were coming up short. I didn’t need an advanced degree in statistics or analytics to notice which set of books I was having problems with.

This made me sad.

When judging unpublished contests such as the Golden Heart, I expect to have to occasionally wade through typos, spelling/grammar errors, and wonky formatting to find the strengths in a story. But to experience this when judging the published division of Romancelandia’s premier writing contest? As Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used to say on Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update”…



Tough love time: Books with typos, grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, and formatting problems have QUALITY PROBLEMS.  Books with quality problems simply can’t compete – for a good contest score, or for my book-buying dollar.

Am I setting the bar too high? Am I being too critical? Regardless of how a book is published, is “correct” really too much to expect when judging a contest awarding excellence in published romance fiction? When buying a book? I don’t think so. I refuse to think so.

<sigh> And now I know what I have to do with the writing score for the book I mentioned above. And it really hurts.


P.S.  To the self-published author whose book received my highest score..thank you for restoring my faith in humanity – or in self-published books, at any rate. I really hope to see your name when RITA finalists are announced on March 26. 😉

So, Ruby Readers… Whether judging a contest or reading for pleasure, do you have the same quality and craft expectations of a self-published book as you do for a small press or a traditionally-published book? Why or why not? How often are your expectations met?

What does the phrase ‘excellence in romance fiction’ mean to you?

** The RITA is the Romance Writers of America’s annual award for excellence in published romance fiction, and the Golden Heart awards excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts. For both contests, the score sheet is ruthlessly simple: rate the book or manuscript’s plot/story, the writing, and the characters, on a scale of 1-10 each, and the romance on a scale of 1-20. Add the scores together for a maximum total score of 50. Entrants receive a score but no written feedback.

TamaraHogan_TemptMe_100pxTamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she writes paranormal romance with a sci-fi twist. A voracious reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tamara is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

TEMPT ME, Underbelly Chronicles Book 3, was released in Oct. 2013.

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The Ball. What Will The Sisters Wear?


Today we’d like to publicly congratulate our Ruby sisters who are up for 2012 RITA and GOLDEN HEART ©awards. Ladies, you ROCK. We’re so proud of you.

The National conference is in full swing and tomorrow night the Rita and Golden Heart© winners will be announced.  Going to the festivity is always fun. Seeing everyone dressed-up is a blast. 

Earlier this week, I asked the Rubies to share what they’ll be wearing to the ball and a blurb of their book.  Let’s take a look.

First, our RITA nominee stars.

Elizabeth Essex is a nominee in the historical category. Hi, Elizabeth. Tell us what you’re wearing tomorrow night. Also, can you share a little about your book?


First I’m wearing a lovely dark blue Badgley Miska gown my eldest daughter (who is my wardrobe consultant 🙂 ) picked out for me (although it’s already packed so no pic), but I’m wearing some really fab shoes with it.

Oh, I love them! Now, tell us about your book.


My RITA nominated book is THE DANGER OF DESIRE, (Kensington Brava) and the blurb is as follows:


Naval Captain Hugh McAlden is accustomed to taking on deadly, high-stakes assignments—and being rewarded handsomely for his success. But to accomplish his latest mission, he’ll need someone more inconspicuous among his own ranks. Someone like the larcenous beauty who just relieved him of his pocket watch from under his very nose …

Meggs is one of London’s stealthiest thieves and her livelihood depends on remaining untethered and unnoticed. But when she is caught by the icy-eyed Scottish captain, she sees a chance to escape her life of crime forever. Every wary, she accepts his unusual proposition, even as she plots to cut and run at a moment’s notice.


But as Meggs and Hugh come nearer to the danger at the heart of their mission, thoughts of betrayal and distrust begin to dissolve, overshadowed by a passion worth every risk …


Thanks, Elizabeth. The story sounds awesome!  Good luck tomorrow night.




Up next is Darynda Jones whose debut book ‘First Grave on The Right’ is up for two RITA awards—Best First Book and Strong Romantic Elements.

Hey, sweetie. Tell us about your attire for tomorrow evening and your book.

I will be wearing a long black evening gown, and yes, shoes.

 (For those who don’t know, Darynda walked on stage to accept her Golden Heart barefooted.  She didn’t think she had a chance in H*ll of winning and had kicked them off. She better be prepared this time. LOL)




My Rita Stuff is First Grave On The Right.

Charley sees dead people. That’s right, she sees dead people. And it’s her job to convince them to “go into the light.” But when these very dead people have died under less than ideal circumstances (i.e. murder), sometimes they want Charley to bring the bad guys to justice. Complicating matters are the intensely hot dreams she’s been having about an entity who has been following her all her life…and it turns out he might not be dead after all. In fact, he might be something else entirely.


Loved the book. Good luck!



Hey, Golden Heart© Ladies, who is going to share first?


Kim Law: OK, I’ll go. I’m wearing an Adrianna Papell Beaded neck cocktail dress (color-primrose, a steal I found at Nordstrom’s!!), and a pair of Badgley Mischka grey satin heels with crystal accents! Here’s a picture.







Blurb for Montana Cherries in the Contemporary Series Romance category:

Some dreams are different than they seem.

With life finally heading in the right direction, Dani Wilde intends to help through harvest at her family’s Montana cherry orchard before heading east to her new life in New York City. She’s sure waited long enough for the chance! What she doesn’t expect is to find one sexy “almost-happened” from her past showing up on her doorstep with a cute four-year-old in tow. Walking away from Ben Denton a second time was going to be harder than it seemed.

New dad Ben latched onto fatherhood as if he’d never before uttered the words permanently unattached, and is now fully committed to giving his daughter the small-town upbringing he knows she deserves. But when past sparks turn to instant flames, he can’t help but want to convince Dani that his dreams could also turn into hers.


WOW! Pretty, Kim.  I want to see a pic of you in this dress.


Sally, how about you?


Me. I’m wearing a floor-length, sleeveless, deep vee-neck dress, in a wine/purple color, because how often do I get a chance to go floor-length? (Um, twice before this–the 2009 GH/RITA ceremony, and my wedding.

😛 )



Blurb for IN WOLF’S CLOTHING up for Golden Heart© in romantic suspense:


After breaking up with her fiancé and nearly losing her life because of her low-level job at a secretive government agency, Josie has fled that high-pressure atmosphere, trading her career and comfortable lifestyle for a job as a bartender, a no-frills studio apartment, and a strictly physical fling with a barfly called Lenny. But just as Josie gives in to Lenny’s efforts to make things between them more serious, she discovers that he is involved in a major international drug-trafficking operation. Horrified, her first impulse is to run, but her sense of duty impels her to report what she has heard to her new acquaintance, Peter, a federal agent who she discovers is already assigned to track Lenny’s transaction. When Peter convinces to her to stay with Lenny and act as an informant, Josie is plunged headfirst into a world of secrets and lies, of false love and real danger that will push her conscience and her heart to the breaking point.


NICE! You’ll look lovely. I just know it.  I can’t wait to see the pictures.


And the great Liz Bemis, how about you?

I’m wearing a dark blue, “slinky fabric” (very slimming) full length dress with a slight train that I made for the 2007 RITA ceremony. I’m mostly wearing this dress because I can squeeze my post-pregnancy butt into a dress that I haven’t worn in 5 years, and I’m kinda thrilled about that. Also, it has a deep enough plunge in the front that I can feed the baby Riley who, for the record will be wearing an extremely adorable tuxedo. (Because that’s just how he rolls).

Blurb for THE EDGE OF DECEPTION up for Golden Heart© in Romantic Suspense.

Every bad thing in her life came from telling the truth…

After a childhood in which lying meant surviving, Draghana Yenichek is a master of deception. It makes her a brilliant FBI Agent but lousy at personal relationships. Now, the case of her career has her hunting a brutal serial killer who raped and murdered at least three young women, all with a connection to a mail-order bride service. Dana–determined to catch the killer before he strikes again–jumps at the opportunity to go undercover as a mail-order bride and finds herself on the doorstep of Deck Murphy, a prime suspect who isn’t like any serial killer she’s ever encountered.

Every bad thing in his life came from lies…

Deck, a cop and Marine Reserve Sergeant with an inviolable code of honor struggles to return to work after being seriously injured in Afghanistan. When a mail-order bride he never requested shows up at his door, his honor requires that he keep her safe. But Dana’s web of deceit draws too tight, and Deck discovers her secrets. Furious at the betrayal, he turns her out cold. But the killer has Dana in his sights and decides she is his next, perfect victim. When Dana goes missing, Deck is forced to join forces with her FBI colleagues and vows to do whatever it takes to save her… even if it takes him far beyond THE EDGE OF DECEPTION.


And Elisa Beatty whose novel ‘The Devil May Care’ is in the Historical Romance category is going to wear this beautiful dress.

She is going to look fabulous.


Blurb for The Devil May Care:
A provincial governess learns two shocking bits of news: her long-lost twin has been murdered, and before her death she was both a courtesan and a spy. To avenge the murder and to foil a plot by the French spies who committed it, the governess must impersonate her twin and convince the French that she survived. She must also work with her twin’s former partner in espionage, who blames himself for the death, and who dreads watching his friend die again. Together, they travel into the heart of the Peninsular War, where they must learn to trust one another or lose everything they care about.


Ladies, Thank you so much for sharing your wardrobe and your stories. Good luck tomorrow night and have the time of your lives. 

((((HUGS)) from your sisters.

The Latest Comments

  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Hope your mom recovers quickly, Tammy!
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: I really love the sense of place, time and character that you’ve established in just...
  • Autumn Jordon: Kylie, Good opening. I wondered immediately what the two villains might be scheming about? I might add...
  • Tamara Hogan: Kylie and Ruby community, My apologies in advance for being scarce at the blog today. I’ll be...
  • Autumn Jordon: Also proof to IRS that this is you’re serious about being a businessand not just a hobby.