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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Should You Include Your Name on Your Golden Heart Manuscript?

The deadline to register for the Golden Heart®, RWA’s® national writing contest for unpublished authors, is just 6 days away. As a 2010 Golden Heart finalist, I’m frequently asked about the contest.

Last month, I blogged about the Top 5 Things You Need to Know Before You Enter the Golden Heart, and Top 5 Signs You’re Going to Score High in the Golden Heart.

But recently, I was asked a question, I’d never seen answered on a blog:
Should you put your name on your GH entry? If you’ve previously finaled in a chapter contest, do you need to change your title to protect your anonymity?
The Golden Heart is unique among contests in that entrants are allowed to put their name on the manuscript, but it is not required.
Some entrants are strongly opposed to doing this because they believe the work should be judged strictly on its merits. They’ve heard the horror stories about jealous judges out to destroy the most successful writers. They worry about privacy issues and psycho stalker judges.
Others see this as an opportunity for promotion. After all, if the judge sees your name every time she turns the page, she’s likely to remember it. Who knows, your entry may fall into the hands of someone who can advance your career. Maybe, if the judge thinks about the person receiving the results, she’ll bump up the scores a tad.
Both sides make valid points. But if the contest judge is more interested in googling your title than reading your entry, you’ve already lost the contest.
With a winning entry, the judge doesn’t notice the header at all. Nor does she notice the punctuation, the formatting, or the occasional typo. With a winning entry, the judge is totally immersed in the story, oblivious to time and place, until she reaches that final, horrifying moment when she discovers she has run out of pages and she will never know how the story ends unless the book is published. And even then, she is so devastated that she turns the manuscript box inside out in the hope of finding one last stray, forgotten page.
When that happens, the header is the least important thing on the page. The judge is going to give the entry a perfect score no matter what the title, no matter whose name is on the manuscript. She will follow that author’s career, delight in her successes, and rush to buy the book as soon as it’s released. How do I know? Because I’ve been that judge. Several times.
As human beings, we like to understand why things happen. Writing is subjective and the Golden Heart, with its no-comment, numeric system, offers no explanations. And so writers focus on petty details, trying to rationalize why one manuscript finaled and another didn’t. After judging dozens of contests, I still don’t know exactly what makes a perfect contest entry. But I do know, it’s not your name, and it’s not your title.
Trust me.
If the writing's strong enough, nobody cares what’s in your header.

I would love to hear your opinions on this topic. Do you think it helps or hurts to include your name or change your title for the Golden Heart?

26 comments:

  1. Great food for thought, Clarissa! I don't think I will include my name, but only so there is less clutter on the page. I want the judge concentrating on my work, not the header!
    Well, speaking of which, I'd best get back to polishing my entries... wish me luck!

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  2. Good luck, Erin. I know the judges are going to love your entry!

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  3. Great food for thought, Clarissa. Here's a little teaser to add to it. If I really love an entry, I judge it, then Google to see if I can find out whose writing captured me so completely. A few times, I've gone up to people or emailed them after the contest to tell them how much I loved their story.

    From a entrant's standpoint, I didn't ever include my name. I have a lot of friends out there, and I didn't want them to have to disqualify themselves if they see a manuscript with my name on it. Some of these people are excellent judges and I wouldn't want to pass that up.

    All this from someone who has NEVER finaled in a contest.

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  4. Hi Liz! I too have looked up people AFTER I judged their entry and I've gone on to buy their book. I love supporting new authors. Thanks for the comment.

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  5. I don't think I would put my name on my ms. I want the judge to worry about my story, not who I am!

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  6. What an interesting post! I just finished judging a contest and was hoping I would be able to follow the contestants in the future, to see how they fared. :) There were no names, so I couldn't Google them, but I suppose if I could, I would. LOL

    I'm so used to entering contests without my name on the entry -- I don't know that I would include it. I recognize a lot of finalists' names from checking out various contest listings, and I'm always happy when I see they've sold. I guess some folks could use that info to do damage. It's sad to think that would happen though.

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  7. Hi Donna and D'Ann! I think you're right. We are so used to not putting our names on our manuscripts that we don't really think about it. It's a little odd to have to stop and consider it.
    Thanks for commenting!

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  8. Interesting question, Gail. I can't remember if I did include my name the one time I took the plunge and entered the GH. But, it would be nice to know the name of the author of the story you fell in love with if you are lucky enough to get such a wonderful entry.

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  9. I did include my name in the header of my entry, but I don't think my name on the pages had anything to do with the fact that the entry finaled or that it went on to win the GH. I mean outside of a few contest junkies, who knew my name? I could be wrong about this, but I don't think so.

    After some reflection, I think a Steampunk-ish Victorian Historical in the Romantic Suspense category might have been a refreshing break from the contemporary entries.

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  10. Hi Jill, I think in your case it was definitely the great writing that hooked them. And you're right, as a judge, I love anything that steps outside of the norm. Thanks for stopping by and commenting on The Lady Scribes. Come back and let us interview you when your book(s) are released. :)

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  11. Another thought.

    Last year, I noticed that when I entered contests very often judges or contest chapter people would google my manuscript title and get to my website. So, eliminating your name from a manuscript doesn't necessarily keep you anonymous.

    Google your name and your manuscript titles regularly and see what comes up! Haha!

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  12. And thanks for the great writing/hooked them compliment! As I am up to my ears in editor's notes at the moment it is a welcome boost.

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  13. What a great post! I love the way you described the feelings of a judge who knows they have something special in their hands. I, too, have been that judge and I still follow people's careers whose entries I loved, even those who haven't been published yet.

    It's also great to be on the other side of that...when you meet someone, or get an e-mail from someone who judged your own work and is excited because they felt they'd found something special.

    Personally, I did not put my name on my 2010 Golden Heart® entry. I don't like to know they name of an author when I'm judging something. I want to judge the writing on its merit, anonymously.

    I didn't change my title, either, because at that point it had only finaled in two contests. I doubt I would have changed it, anyway. I like the title and think it fit the story. I only hope I get to keep it when it's published in 2012.

    Good luck to all entering the Golden Heart® this year!

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  14. Hi Heather! Thanks for the expert insight and congratulations on the big sale(s) of your GH entry. We're always happy to see you here at the Lady Scribes.

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  15. Great post as usual Clariisa! I actually had not considered googling a name or title from a contest. I really wish I had since I still have a book stuck in my head from a contest I judged 2 years ago and I would love to finish that book!
    I am sticking with my title - I love it and I only finaled in one contest.
    As for my name - I'll leave it off since I am not used to seeing it on an entry and it would throw me off - although I think you have a very valid point about seeing the name on each page making an imprint on the judge.
    Hmmm - maybe I'll reconsider . . .

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  16. Hi Meredith, It's so nice to see you commenting on the Lady Scribes! I am certain you will do wonderfully in the Golden Heart. Good luck!

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  17. I think if I were entering, I would leave my name off. Because of all of the social networking avenues out there, I already "know" a lot of aspiring writers, even though I don't know them or their work. If I were judging, I wouldn't want any of that to factor in to my decisions. So that's what I would do if I were entering, too.

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  18. As I read your post I was printing out my GH partial. I did leave my name off and now am glad I did. What a timely post - thank you!

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  19. Hi Paisley, Good luck with your entry and thanks for visiting the Lady Scribes. :)

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  20. Who knew there were so many do's and don'ts to the GH. Good luck to everyone entering this year!

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  21. I included my name when I entered the Golden Heart last year on both my entries. One finalled, one hit the bottom 50% I don't think either was because of my name (unless I'm hopelessly naive).

    I put my name on my entries because I beleived my work was strong and, if the judge thought the same, I wanted them to know who the author was. If I were entering this year I'd do the same. Are there people out there who might dislike me? I guess so. Would they judge one of my entries down if they knew it was mine? I don't beleive that (there's that naive thing again). I know I never care about the author's name unless its a really strong entry, and they I just care because I want to know who they are so I can beg them to find out what happens next.

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  22. Hi Barb,it's really good to hear from someone who DID put her name on her entry. I guess you are living proof that it makes no difference. Thanks for commenting on the Lady Scribes :)

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  23. Good question, Clarissa. I entered last year and cannot remember if I did or not. But had I entered this year, I would have left my name off. Like you said, if the writing is strong enough and the story is good enough, the name won't matter in any case.

    And thank you for dropping by my own blog. Greatly appreciated. :)

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  24. Add me to the lonely few who did sign her name to her MS this year. And then panicked after I sent it in. Thanks for talking me down off the ledge, Gail.

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  25. Hi Tamara, Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed checking out your blog today and we always appreciate your comments.

    I think the consensus is that the name/title doesn't matter after all. Good luck to you, Sarah. I'll be looking for your name in the finalist list in March :)

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  26. Clarissa,
    Great post,
    And I just can't bring myself to put my name on the entry- doesn't seem right somehow.
    Leaving it off makes me feel the entry is being judged on merit of the words written rather than a name or even a title.
    Suzi

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