Congratulations to the winner of the critique:
Christy! Christy, please contact me at erinknightley (at) yahoo (dot) com. Best of luck to all of you planning to enter the GH this year :)
It’s that time of year again, my friends. No, not back to school time (though it is), nor the dog days of summer (though it is that as well), no, I am referring to contest season. Very shortly, the Golden Heart® will open once more, and more than 1,200 entries will flood the offices of RWA with the hopes of becoming one of the chosen few.
Now—not two or three months from now—is when you must decide if you will enter this contest. Why? Because much like Daniel-son before the big tournament (wax on, wax off), now is the time to practice. Before the big, mean bullies (otherwise affectionately known as the dreaded east-German judge to the 2011 GH finalist) get their hands on you and decide your fate in the contest. I will pause here to say that, if you do not have aspirations of traditional publishing, entering the contest is probably not for you. But if you have your sights set on finding an agent and publishing with the major publishers, then you might want to take note.
If you have never heard of the Golden Heart® and what it can do for you, allow me to tell you a bit about it. The largest and arguably the most prestigious of all the contests for unpublished writers, the Golden Heart provides nothing so much as the opportunity to move your writing career along. Why? Because, in general, having the words “Golden Heart Finalist” attached to your name will rocket your query—and your manuscript—to the front of the slush pile.
Last year on March 25, even before all of the finalists had even been notified, agents had taken to twitter announcing their requests for finalists to contact them. Several of the finalists were contacted directly by agents, asking if they were represented and if they would send their ms for that agent’s consideration.
Yeah, I know. Crazy! It seemed like finalists were announcing left and right that they had signed with previously only dreamed about agents. And its not only agents; some GH final judges also request fulls from finalists. In my case, one of the publishers involved in the auction of my manuscript was actually a GH judge.
Now, again—all of this creates the opportunity for the author to be read. It most certainly did not guarantee success. But isn’t that what most unpublished authors with an eye toward traditional publishing want: a chance?
Even though today, almost six months after the fact, I am still in shock that I managed to be a finalist (and no, I don not want a recount, lol), I hope to offer up some tips that I believe helped me best prepare for the Golden Heart®.
1. Have a critique partner go over your entry. Yeah, kind of a no brainer, but never has your partner been more important. Ask them if anything seemed slow, or uninteresting, or too full of background info. Have them highlight passages that may work on a normal basis, but are just extra baggage when you only have fifty pages to knock the judges socks off. You may even find that in the end, your ms is better off without the extra weight anyway.
2. Enter smaller chapter contests that promise to have at least the preliminary results to you in time to tweak your entry for the GH. My personal favorite of ones I entered leading up to the GH is probably MARA’s Fiction From the Heartland contest. They promise at least one published judge and give feedback that I, personally, found to be useful. After all, in theory the judge is offering an unbiased opinion. Plus, if you final, it will put you in front of an agent and editor – bonus!
3. Edit, edit, and edit again. Try to catch every typo and missed word by putting the entry aside for several weeks, then tackling with fresh eyes. I think that fewer things can put off a judge faster than an entry full of mistakes.
4. Once you have feedback from your critique partner and contest judges, carefully review and see which of their suggestions resonate with you. If something doesn’t feel right to you, ignore it! It is only someone else’s opinion. In the end, YOU have to be satisfied with the product you are presenting.
5. Never, ever be discouraged by less than favorable feedback from a contest. Either take that feedback and try to make your writing better, or decide that that particular person’s opinion has no bearing on you. Many times, unfavorable feedback from a judge could just mean that you have a strong voice – and that is a great thing!
I hope you have found these tips to be helpful. Any contest, the Golden Heart® included, is merely a tool in a writer’s arsenal to snag the attention of professionals in the business. Many writers who never finaled in a contest a day in their lives went on to become published, and there are those who have finaled dozens of times and have yet to become published. Your journey to publication is very personal, and just be sure that whatever path you chose, you are comfortable with it.
Are you planning to enter the GH or any other contest this year? What are some of your tips?
To give you a head start on tip #1, I’m offering a contest entry critique to one lucky commenter. Simply leave a comment indicating your wish to be entered in the drawing before 11:59pm EST Friday, and I’ll chose the winner at random. Check back on Saturday morning for results!