Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Keeping the Golden Heart in perspective

When I entered RWA's Golden Heart contest this year, I warned myself that this was a crapshoot and that I should not expect to do well in the contest.

But, when the scores arrived back four months later, I'd forgotten all the warnings I'd given myself. The scores stung.

This happens to people in this contest every year. When the scores get returned, the message boards seem to be flooded with people trying to make sense of the five single numbers they were given.

Other contests have score sheets and score each category of judging (setting, use of dialogue, etc) based on if the entry is ready for a publisher's desk. The feedback is meant to be constructive and to help the person grow as a writer.

The Golden Heart scoring is totally different. Five judges are given the same manuscript and told to give a score from 1-9. There are no guidelines on how to arrive at the score, except for the general "excellence in romantic fiction". The judges do not have to justify how the scores were derived.

Here are some excerpts from the Frequently Asked Questions for Golden Heart Judges page on the RWA website.
As a judge, you determine what each score means based on your enjoyment as a reader of romance and your skill as a writer. Due to different interpretations, we are unable to give definitions beside each number. Someone's stupendous is another person's outstanding.

Ask yourself instead, did I enjoy what I read of this book? Then give your score accordingly.
I wish RWA would send this page to all Golden Heart entrants, regardless of whether or not they are judging. It helps to keep the scores in perspective.

Because, basically, the score tells me nothing about the quality of my work. It tells me about the reading tastes of the judges. If the judges in the paranormal category only want to read about vampires or futuristic off-planet worlds, they may not score my little historical time-travel novel highly.

Ultimately, no judges' opinions matter. It's the publishers who have the power to buy my book. The Golden Heart is just another tool to reach an editor's notice.

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