The Downunder Finalists – Was it Worth it? By Trish MoreyDownunder began a love affair with the Golden Heart Contest way back in 1993. Joan Kilby wasn’t exactly a Downunderer way back then but we’re more than happy to adopt her. It wasn’t until 1998 that we saw our first home grown golden girls with both Fiona Brand and Cathy Sneyd finaling. It was my own turn to party five years later when 2003 rolled around.
Maybe a sluggish start, but since then we’ve had another eight finalists hail from Australia and New Zealand – Tessa Radley in 2004, Sandra Hyde and Karina Bliss in 2005, Abby Gaines, Christine Wells and Anna Campbell (our first double finalist) in 2006 and Bronwyn Clarke along with another double finalist, Mel Scott in 2007. Not only finalists, but Downunder has scored three Golden Heart wins in three successive years, with wins to Karina Bliss, Christine Wells and Bronwyn Clarke.
With success like this, it’s easy to see why the Golden Heart is now firmly in the sights of many budding romance writers Downunder. But what were the hardships and difficulties of entering the contest from the other side of the world? Finaling is obviously nice, but was it worth the effort?
There’s no doubt the Golden Heart is tougher to enter when you’re off-shore, simply due to the tyranny of distance. A package of Golden Heart manuscripts weighs enough to make your postmaster’s eyes light up with dollar signs and your hip pocket nerve start to bleed. Some of our golden girls have paid in the region of $70 to ensure their precious package arrives and arrives on time. This is on top of the entry fee, so entering this contest starts to get pricey. (Aside: Final, and you’re looking at airfares of anywhere from $2500 to $4000 and that’s just to get to Nationals and it starts to become a very expensive exercise indeed.)
Tessa Radley had a great suggestion for postage. She advises, ‘The cheapest way to enter from down under is to pool together with a group of other writers and buy a box from Fedex. Then pack as many manuscripts as you can in, and split the cost. That way you’re also able to track your entries and be certain they arrive by due date.”
Working out when you have to get your entry away is another big hurdle. Postal time (you really have to allow two weeks if you don’t choose to go the courier route) really cuts into polishing time, so your manuscript has to be ready to go extra early.
Because of this our golden girls were unanimous – the Golden Heart is not for beginners. The costs are high and feedback is negligible, so you want to make sure you send off your very best work.
But even if you send off your very best efforts, what about cultural differences? The Golden Heart contest is, after all, an American contest. Does our Aussie/Kiwi vernacular translate? Here’s what Fiona Brand had to say. “I think the cultural differences can be a small barrier, particularly with humour and subtlety, but they can also be a plus--Down under manuscripts will always stand out.”
So to summarize, it’s going to cost you a decent amount to enter, you’re going to have to keep an eye on that time line and your best bet is to send off your very best work (good advice for everyone!) and with a dollop of luck on the day, your manuscript might stand out as fresh and innovative and a worthy finalist. But was it worth it for our finalists? Listen to the evidence.
Joan Kilby says, ‘I didn't sell my GH book but having finaled definitely got editors' attention for subsequent submissions. Paula Eykelhof was one of the judges and she remembered me when I later submitted to SuperRomance.’ Joan now has more than a dozen SuperRomance and Everlasting titles to her name, as well as a RITA nomination for her very first book to her credit.
Fiona Brand sold her Golden Heart story to Silhouette Intimate Moments and now writes for MIRA and Desire. Fiona said, “I think finaling made it look like I could go places in publishing, which is useful!’ A subsequent RITA nomination for Fiona backs that up in spades.
Cathy Sneyd eventually sold her finalist story but only after she’d sold historicals to Kensington under the name Kate Silver. Now Cathy writes super sexy Victorian historicals as Leda Swan for Avon Red, and is “loving every minute of it”. As to whether finaling in the GH helped her career, Cathy says, “I don’t think that finaling in the Golden Heart made much difference to me at all. But it did give my confidence a boost when I needed it, when I was thinking about giving up because I was finding the whole business too frustrating.”
Tessa Radley sold to Silhouette Desire in 2004, her GH finalist become her second sale, after what Tessa admits was “a LOT of re-writing!” In her words “Of all the contests I finaled in, the GH is definitely the one that resulted in the most editor and agent interest. From my perspective, the number of friends I made among the finalists in my year made the entire experience a really positive one.
Karina Bliss from New Zealand took out our first ever Downunder Golden Heart win in Reno, 2005, to much screaming applause from the Downunder contingent. Karina says, “I never sold the winning ms. BUT, I did have another ms with Superromance (my first sale) and after the ceremony my eventual editor, Victoria Curran, came up and introduced herself to me, so I'm sure winning helped to tip the scales.”
2006 finalist, Abby Gaines, is now writing for both Hqn SuperRomance and Nascar while Double GH finalist, Anna Campbell, is happily penning tales (and RT top picks!) for Avon. “The double final,” Anna said, ‘got my agent to submit my manuscript. It arrived on editors' desks with that great credential behind it. Within three weeks of finaling, I'd sold at auction to Avon.” In fellow finalist, Abby’s words, “I don’t think the GH final was what made the sale, because the editor had already told me they were very interested in two of my mss. But I think it gave them a nudge to pick up the phone and make The Call!’ Abby’s finalist story in fact became her second sale.
2006 Golden Heart winner, Christine Wells, had this to say. “Scandal’s Daughter finaled in the short historical category. I sold it to Berkley after I finaled but before I won.” I asked Christine whether she thought the GH had an impact on her selling, “I don’t think it hurt! When my agent sent out submissions to editors, she put in the email subject line that I was a Golden Heart finalist so I think it does mean something!”
And here’s how Bronwyn Clarke, our 2007 winner, sees the win as impacting on her career – “The publicity following the GH final and win generated several queries to me from leading agents and major publishers, and these resulted in an agent offering representation and a publisher offering a two book contract for the winning book and its sequel.”
There you have it. So far, out of twelve Golden Heart finalists, ten have sold and we know it’s just a matter of time for the remaining two. As one of those, Mel Scott concluded, ‘It doesn't guarantee a sale though if you have a manuscript you consider submission ready then it's definitely worth a shot.’
Do you have a manuscript ready to go? Are you going to give it a shot?
Trish Morey sold to Harlequin Presents within three months of becoming a Golden Heart finalist in 2003 and is currently working on her thirteenth title for the line, but without doubt, one of the best things about finaling in 2003 was getting to know and make friends with her fellow finalists, the wet noodle posse.