The Woman Behind The Curtain

In the Land of Oz, the Wizard deftly managed affairs from behind a velvet curtain. Similarly, while we’re scrambling to finish our GH manuscripts, Carol Ritter, RWA’s professional relations manager, ensures the contest runs smoothly. Join me as Carol takes a few minutes from her hectic schedule and lets us peek behind RWA’s curtain.  

Carol joined RWA after serving for nine years as vice-president of operations and standards of the Better Business Bureau of Houston and South Texas. In addition to administering the Golden Heart and RITA contests, some of her other responsibilities include reviewing boilerplate contracts to see if publishers meet RWA’s standards as non-subsidy, non-vanity presses and handling member complaints against publishers and agents. Carol is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University and is an avid reader. She and her husband and three daughters share their home with four dogs, two cats, a turtle, and a goldfish.

  • Finalling in the Golden Heart is a huge honor and garners instant prestige. How has RWA managed to create such a mystique for this contest?

The writers probably have a lot to do with establishing its reputation. Even before I came to RWA, I remember reading books and the bios of well-known authors would mention finaling in the Golden Heart. If it’s important enough to be included in a bio, it becomes significant, adding to contest recognition.

  • The amount of work coordinating the Golden Heart is staggering. It seems finalists just finish celebrating and RWA staff (eight fulltime members) are already planning next year’s contest. How many staff members are involved in its administration and what is the busiest time?

True! As soon as we have final round scores, staff prepares a contest report for the Board meeting in July and often there are changes to the rules. Once the contest opens for entries, Donna (the receptionist) and I can handle the initial packets; however, during the last few weeks it gets hectic and all staff pitch in and help. We receive approximately eighty percent of the entries in the last week and every disc need to be checked for readability and word count.

  • How do you physically make room for all the manuscripts?

Before we moved into our new building, space was cramped. There was no extra room, and staff literally tripped over manuscripts and RITA books. Now, it’s great. Because of the Board of Directors and Allison Kelley’s strict financial management, RWA was able to purchase a building and there are now separate rooms for both the Golden Heart and RITA entries. There are movable shelves and multiple aisles, and everything can be kept organized until entries are ready to ship for judging.

  • Entries are currently capped at 1200 manuscripts. In 2009, there were 901 entries for 10 categories ranging from a high of 152 entries in the Elements category to a low of 29 entries in the Contemporary Series Suspense/Adventure. What is the average number of submissions received and has the maximum number ever been reached?

The cap was raised from 1000 to 1200 when the RITA was raised, and GH numbers are generally consistent.

  • First-round judges are General RWA members and receive their entries by mail. The top 10 percent of each category advance to the final round.  Do you mail entries to overseas judges or do you prefer they live in North America? Has there ever been a situation where a judge failed to send in their scores?

Because our membership is worldwide, we use worldwide judges although package delivery is expensive. We box and send the manuscripts out after Christmas so it’s less hectic for the delivery service. It takes about three days to prepare the contest packets for delivery.  We send multiple reminder emails to judges asking for their scores and, if necessary, will send a packet to an alternate judge.

  • For the final round, there are three judges. Are the manuscripts scored in the same manner as the preliminary round (1-9) and are the scores averaged or is there another system? Has there ever been a tie and how was it broken?

The final round is scored in ordinals. There wasn’t a tie last year, but if necessary, a tie would be broken by weighting the scores as set out in RWA’s Policy & Procedures manual. (Sec. 95.2)

  • The final-round GH entries are judged by a panel consisting of (in order of preference) three editors or two editors and a PAN-eligible published member. Are there any requirements regarding the publishing houses? Is it difficult to recruit editors or are they eager to read the manuscripts? Do the same editors always judge and are they usually junior editors?

Publishing houses must be in good standing and it’s most important that an editor is a dependable judge. Time is tight as winners’ names are required for engraving and printing. Generally, editors look forward to the opportunity of judging and many of the final judges are senior editors.

  • Several Ruby Sisters received requests for fulls from final round judges. Since the requesting judge may never be known, it’s possible finalists have booked their Conference pitch to an editor who has already read, and rejected, their manuscript. Why are the editors’ identities kept secret?

Before the winners are determined, all contest details are confidential. Following, the identity of final round judges is kept secret out of courtesy to the judges unless the editor states his/her identity can be revealed. Once scores are delivered, requested fulls are sent and editor information provided–if that is the judge’s wish.

  • Are any statistics kept as to how many Golden Heart finalists move on to be published?

We don’t keep those stats although The Golden Network may have that information.

  • The entry fee for the Golden Heart is $50 and electronic submissions are not acceptable. Are there any plans to change this fee or to accept electronic entries?

The contest has been designed to pay for itself and set up to break even. There has been some discussion about using electronic methods although this depends on budget and would be determined by the Board.

Thanks, Carol! Good luck to all writers packaging up a manuscript this year. Hope they make RWA’s GH room safely. Leave a comment and one lucky guest, drawn at random, will receive a $15 Barnes and Noble gift card.

105 responses to “The Woman Behind The Curtain”

  1. Bev & Carol, Thanks so much for pulling back the curtain! I know that Carol’s job (especially the last week in November and first week of December) can’t be easy! Thanks so much for all that you do!

    • She is busy, Liz, but always so helpful. Can’t imagine what it’s like there in December, organizing all those manuscripts. And I thought it was hard to write one….

  2. Thanks, Bev. The GH has always been a mystery to me, but I’d read somewhere that it was thee contest to enter. So I did, again and again.

  3. Kaycee Kacer says:

    This was a really interesting insight into the other end of the contest. I’ve entered the GH for the first time this year and am now scrambling to get my submission ready. It is exciting though. Thanks for the post!

  4. Pamela Cayne says:

    Great insight–thanks! I entered yesterday, now just have to send my packet to the mothership. This is my year, baby!

  5. Carol, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. And Bev, thanks for asking great questions! I can’t imagine all the time and effort it takes to keep a contest as huge as the Golden Heart running smoothly…and as a 2009 finalist who’s taking the plunge again this year, I sincerly appreciate all your hard work!

    • Thanks Cynthia! I’d love to have that library of RITA books in my bedroom for a few months. The GH manuscripts would be great reads too, but when I’m judging, I usually wish I had more pages. Good luck with your entry this year!

  6. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great info to have, Bev! All the mystique, without QUITE so much mystery.

    It really is amazing that such a small staff handles all those paper manuscripts, and gets them all where they need to go. I think it’s hard just getting my one little packet in the mail.

    Here’s hoping Golden Heart will be able to go all-electronic before too long!

    Thanks for all you do, Carol and co.!!!

    • Yes, Elisa, I’m paranoid about double checking my envelopes. Can’t imagine sending out thousands of packets to judges all over the world. Clearly, it’s a top-notch staff. Thanks again for the blog idea.

  7. Diana Layne says:

    Great interview, thanks Bev and Carol. I can’t imagine the work it takes to pull it off!

    • Thanks, Diana. They must breathe a big sigh of relief after they ship them out. At least the scores can be filed electronically so they don’t have to get them back again.

  8. Thanks, Bev and Carol, for letting us know all that goes on behind the scenes. Great post!

  9. Jeannie Lin says:

    Thanks for doing this interview Carol and great info here on the behind the scenes info about the contest. RWA must be getting ready for the flood of entries now!

    I just wanted to add that my entry last year was missing $1.40 in postage and was set to be disqualified. I sent a check, but when I called in on the day of the deadline and the check couldn’t be found! Carol’s office called me back and allowed me to give my credit card number to pay for the postage. Butterfly Swords came very close to not happening. They were just swamped with entries that day, but I’m so grateful that they took the time to help me out.

    The moral of the story is send in early! The second message is that a lot of people work very hard to make this contest happen. Kudos to them.

  10. Katrina C says:

    This was a fantastically helpful post! It’s great to get a behind-the-scenes look at the conpetition. I especially loved all the details about judges. I’d love to know more about the first-round judges. I think Laurie mentioned in her post that they’re sometimes writers who’re trying to get published, and this post says they’re RWA’s general membership. How are they chosen? Are they given training? Are they former GH contestants?

    Thanks so much to both of you for taking the time to do this!

    • Thanks, Katrina! Any General Member can sign up to judge but priority is given to GH winners, finalists, pro members and then other members. You receive your packet in the mail and send back your marks electronically. Plus if you volunteer to judge and entries reach capacity, you have an edge of someone who didn’t volunteer. All the rules are in the Policy & Procedures section of the RWA website–dry reading but has the exact info. You can sign up right on the website – let me know if you can’t find it. Just remember to volunteer in the a category you don’t want to enter.

  11. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Great post, Bev. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Carol by phone once or twice and she is always courteous and helpful—regardless of the time of year.

    One of the reasons RWA is as responsive and aware as it is is because the staff is dedicated not just to writers, but to their aspirations.

    • Yes, Gwynlyn, the staff really do give great service even in the middle of their busiest times. I actually hadn’t realized the staff was so small until this interview with Carol.

  12. rita says:

    It is mind bending what they do with all these entries. Take a look at how smoothly Nationls run. I was rattled as a volunteer- the staff not for a moment. at least they never showed it.
    I would love to have a picture of thoses stacks of boxes ready to go out.

    • Oh, Rita, wouldn’t it be neat to have a picture! That would put it in perspective.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Having received several emails from the ever-helpful Carol, I have to say that her email handle makes me giggle: critter!

      Suggestion: post a picture like the one Rita describes at the RWA National website or in RWR under the caption, “Here’s the reality, folks!”

      I cannot imagine.

  13. Kelly Boyce says:

    Congrats on making the finals, Bev! It deserves to be there!!

  14. Kim Law says:

    Great interview, Bev! You’ve unearthed some mysteries. And thanks, Carol, for making yourself available!!

    I know any time I have had to call or email the RWA office, anyone I get is super helpful. And it always boggles the mind how well they pull off the contests and conference. Kudos to all of them!

  15. Thanks, Kim! Lucky the staff is so competent in there as usually when I call it’s a minor catostrophe, in my mind anyway.

  16. Karen Steele says:

    What a fascinating peek behind the curtain. Thank you for the interview Bev!

    • Thanks, Karen. They really are helpful in there and probably anything we ever want to know is in the policies and procedures manual. I just found that section of their website this year!

  17. What interesting information, especially for someone entering for the first time. Thanks!

    I think my entry is close to ready … I’ve been fiddling with it too much. It’s time to bite the bullet and send it off.

  18. Elise Hayes says:

    I’ll add my thanks to Carol for her great work. Last year, I was running up against the GH deadline and posted my packet the day before the deadline. I was panicked that the delivery service would try to deliver it before the office opened or during lunch. Carol calmed me down– and when I checked in again with her the next day (deadline day!), confirmed the successful arrival of my entry. She was incredibly kind, professional, and helpful (and this on one of her busiest days of the contest season!). Big kudos to her and the staff.

    Thanks for doing this interview, Bev!

  19. June Love says:

    Thanks, Bev, for giving us great insight into the GH contest. Thanks to Carol for giving her time to clear up some of the mysteries of the GH. It has to be a hair-pulling ordeal dealing with all the entries, contestants, etc. A big thank you to Carol and all the RWA staff.

  20. Virginia says:

    Carol, thank you so much for the insight into RWA’s renowned GH & Rita contests. As a writer who has entered the GH, and a judge who each year looks forward to receiving my judging packages, I know from both sides how much coordination is required to handle everything with such well oiled efficiency. Huge kudos to you and the team for all the care you give to both judges and writers. THANK YOU!
    Super fact-finding questions, Bev. I’m thrilled to hear how well your entries have done. I’m looking forward to seeing your name on the shelves, with GH finalist in your credits.

  21. Thanks for stopping by, Virginia! I hope we’re all eventually on the shelf. It’s exciting to hear about everyone’s progress as they move up the ladder, from entering the GH to receiving a request and then, dare I say it, the call!!

  22. Thanks for the great article and behind-the-scenes peek. I so appreciate Carol and all the staff who make the Golden Heart adn Rita contestsrun smoothly and make it a great experience for contestants and finalists.

  23. Yay, Bev! So glad this post happened–what great information. Thank you so much for shedding a light on what had always been a mystery to me 🙂

  24. Pam Callow says:

    Thanks, Bev and Carol for showing us what goes on behind the GH mystique. Impressive! RWA really does a great job for its writers. Thank you to the contest organizers for all your effort and good luck to this year’s contestants!

  25. Tina Canon says:

    Thanks for sharing the behind the scene info!

  26. Thanks Bev and Carol for a very informative interview. I for one always love to know what is going on behind the curtain. *G*

  27. Tina Joyce says:

    Thanks Bev and Carol for giving us a peek behind that mysterious curtain. It’s amazing the amount of work that must go on behind the scenes–I can’t even begin to imagine!

  28. Anne MacFarlane says:

    Thanks for shedding some light on the whole mysterious GH process.

  29. Kathleen Bittner Roth says:

    Geat post, thanks. But it left me with one question, am I reading this right? If the final judges are editors and they ask for a full, do they ask RWA for the full we send them along with our 55 pg entry (on disc or paper) without our knowledge that it has been done? Or does RWA forward that request on to the finalist?

    Thanks, and thanks for sharing.

    • When a final judge requests a full manuscript, Carol informs the contestant that a request has been made, though not by whom. That contestant then has 48 hours to supply Carol with an updated version of the manuscript, or else she’ll send the one that was included with the entry.

      My understanding is that judge requests for fulls come in when each judge gives Carol her final placements, so it’s toward the end of the final round judging deadline. I imagine that a judge has the option of requesting a full as soon as she gets the packet of partials, but our experience last year was that they all came in the span of those last few weeks, and several even arrived a few days after that final round judging deadline.

      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Last year, one of the Regency judges made two requests for fulls within about a week of receiving the partials (it was still April!!)

  30. That was an interesting blog, Bev. Ah, the mystery of the GH contest. It’s such an elusive ghost that yields incredible results. Interesting to hear what goes on back stage. I’m always amazed at what RWA manages to pull off every year. Great stuff.

  31. Ronempress says:

    Thanks for the insider info, Bev! That did answer many questions for me.

  32. Dianne says:

    Carol and her team do an incredible job. I can’t imagine coordinating such a huge contest during the holidays. They all deserve a giant RWA thanks.

  33. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:


    I’m going to suggest you offer to do a piece for the RWR using this information. I think it would serve the members to know just how much is done behind the scenes for their benefit and the dedication of the RWA staff. The comments above seem to indicate that people like Carol aren’t getting the recognition they deserve—and we all know they deserve a lot.

  34. Thanks, Carol and Bev for this behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at headquarters. A huge thanks to all the staff at RWA for their efforts in running the GH and RITAs so smoothly year after year.

  35. Deborah Hale says:

    Great interview, Bev! I’m always amazed how the RWA staff can coordinate such a huge contest and then the National conference.

    Wishing the best to all the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood! I know I treasure my Golden Heart pendant!

  36. I was definitely wondering about this aspect of the competition as I haven’t heard much about it- thanks for the behind the scenes peek!

  37. Shea Berkley says:

    Wonderful interview, Bev! The RWA staff deserves our applause for all the hard work they do every year. I, like many who’ve posted, would love to see the organized chaos of those two rooms. Let’s hope they share pictures in the future.

  38. Annette Gallant says:

    Thank you for the great interview, Bev and Carol. A lot of the questions I’ve had about the GH and Rita contests were answered.

    One thing I didn’t realize was how much work goes into running both these contests. Huge kudos to everyone involved!

  39. Ami Weaver says:

    Wow, this was really interesting. Thanks for the glimpse behind the curtain! I always enjoy getting my GH box every year. 🙂

  40. Pat says:

    Bev, It takes so much talent and determination to work your way into and through this process. Thanks for sharing all this. I found it very interesting to be given glimpses of this. I’m amazed by what you accomplish. Look forward to reading another winner. Well done, and thanks.

    • Hey, is this the same Pat last seen fraternizing with those Crazy Crime Writers? Don’t be jumping ship–as you can see RWA has the best staff! (And thanks for your kind comments.)

  41. Katrina W says:

    WOW, I had no idea! Thanks for giving us this information. I am amazed something so complicated works so well – or maybe that’s because the people behind it are so great.

  42. I sort of wish I was an RWA staff member right now, Katrina. I’d be puffing my chest with pride!

  43. Great blog, Bev. Thank you, Carol, for giving us the scoop. I thought agents were also final judges and didn’t realize published authors were eligible to judge the final round.

  44. And I thought it was only editors until Carol enlightened me. She did say the last couple years, it has been editors but they do have that option. (as per RWA’s policies and procedures)

  45. Great information. I always wondered what went on behind the scenes for the Golden Heart awards. After hearing that the cap was set at 1200 manuscripts, I had visions of ladies at RWA headquarters buried over their heads and postal trucks continuing to unload. It’s quite a feat to orchestrate this whole amazing event and it was incredibly fun to be part of it. My hat comes off to you, Carol. 😀

    Kaylin McFarren
    2008 Golden Heart Finalist

    • A pixie visit! Folks, Linda finalled last year with Flaherty’s Crossing in the same Elements category as my first book and went on to a publishing contract. Coming out in February, isn’t it Linda? Hope all our visitors here have that same success!! Thanks for visiting the Ruby Sisters, Linda!

  46. Heidi Hamburg says:

    What a lot of information I simply didn’t know! Thank you so much, Bev and Carol.
    Heidi Hamburg

  47. Nancy Evertz says:

    Thanks for all the insights into the process.

  48. Brenna Marie says:

    Thanks to both of you, it’s great to have all these questions answered before submitting.

  49. Thanks, Bev and Carol. Great interview. I can only imagine the kaos in handling such a large contest. Kudos to the Carol and her staff.

  50. Liz Talley says:

    Really enjoyed that interview. Thanks for getting it for us. Good job!

  51. Dara says:

    Thanks for the interview! Really gives us an insight on the process.

  52. Darynda Jones says:

    Bev, this is fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!!! So many of my questions have been answered. Thank you for doing this and thank you Carol!

    Great post!

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