What To Do When The GH Call Doesn't HappenWhen I was in college, I was applying for a work scholarship that I really REALLY wanted (and needed). At one point in the process, all the administrators would leave us alone with the students currently working under the scholarship. They called it Realities of the Job.
The energy and excitement about entering the GH has been great on this blog, but there is a sad reality - there's only so many finalist spots, and most of those who enter won't final. I'll raise my hand and say I entered way more times than I ever finaled. In fact, several years ago, I participated in a blog challenge where authors posted the first bit of their writing. I posted the prologue of my first book, the one I couldn't wait to finish because I was going to enter it in the Golden Heart. I received not one but TWO scores of 1. Ouch. If you're a glutton for punishment, I dug up that old blog entry - it's here.
So since I am a member of the Wet Noodle Posse, obviously my first suggestion is to enter the Golden Heart again the next year if you're still eligible.
Second, realize that the Golden Heart, like any contest, is a crapshoot. You get five judges, who may or may not be the best judge, and who all have to pretty much agree (although standard deviation is used).
Get other feedback. When I wrote the book that scored 1's in the Golden Heart, I didn't have a critique group, nor had I entered any other contests. Chapter contests costs can add up, but you can really get the kind of objective feedback you might need. I have a critique group, but lots of authors don't (NYT Bestselling author Sharon Sala comes to mind). Even if you don't have the time or energy to commit to a full group, I'd advise finding one person whose opinion you trust (and is familiar with the genre) to give a fair read.
Dig In. Not finaling might just the thing to prompt you into writing more. I know it does for me. Anytime I received a poor contest result or a rejection, my first reaction was to go, "oh yeah?" and try even harder. I took a long, hard critical look at my writing...was I writing something different with a unique spin? Or was it more of the same? Did my writing prompt someone to keep reading or was it a snoozefest of boring things happening to boring people?
This is a great time for you - change genres, look at your plot and when something looks to be going one way, switch it to keep your reader guessing. My critique partner, Gena Showalter, often says she likes to write herself into a corner. Write yourself into a corner, then write yourself back out! Have a goal of being ineligible for the Golden Heart next year.
Acknowledge that it stinks not to final. I know it is so disappointing when you don't final - believe me, I was there. You have a lot of hope, a lot of yourself is invested in finaling. You hear all these great stories about the GH call leading to sales. That's your dream, too, and now you'll have to wait an entire year to try to achieve it. Give yourself one day. One day to be upset, mad, angry whatever. Eat something filled with carbs. Gripe to your best friend. Then the next day, get right back and start writing - maybe even into a corner. Work to make yourself ineligible for the Golden Heart! (Do you see the pattern?)
Don't Be In The House. Really, just be away from your phone and e-mail the day those calls go out. You'll drive yourself crazy. Every time the phone rings, you'll jump. Every time you get a new e-mail, it's another person announcing they finaled. Go out. See a movie, just do something. Really, coming home to a message on your answering machine is far better than waiting by the phone that's not ringing and getting down.
Make The GH Final Gravy. I'd never heard this phrase until I met my husband, but it's a good philosophy to have. Have other writing irons in the fire - queries out, other projects going, set yourself up with all kinds of rewards for setting writing goals. In other words, get your potatoes mashed, salted and buttered just the way you like them. Then, if the GH call does come, it's just gravy. One more thing to make those potatoes (your real meal) good.
Finaling in the Golden Heart is great, but it shouldn't be your goal. Writing the best work you can and getting published should be. Many, many people get published, hit NY Times, you name it without ever finaling in the GH. A GH final is fantastic, it gets your writing in front of an acquiring editor, but so does a lot of things. So my last suggestion is to keep working on those other things.
With that said - good luck!