One year ago minus one day, calls for the Golden Heart started going out. I was lucky enough to get one.
On the evening before the call went out, I was nervous. The Golden Heart seemed so incredibly important. It would be something to set me apart from all the millions of other queriers out there. It would be a stamp of approval in a way. I thought that finaling in the Golden Heart would be a huge boost in selling–it would get me agent attention, and editors would perk up and want to request my manuscript.
I did final in the Golden Heart. I did get an agent. And I did sell. . . .
Except, y’know. The book that finaled in the Golden Heart was not the book that was ready to go on the market. The book that was ready to go was the one that missed a nomination by a hair. So–no luck there. And while I had a lot of really awesome luck in the course of making my first sale, the Golden Heart final had approximately zero effect on that.
In fact, after I had signed with Kristin, I got a call from the Golden Heart coordinator saying that one of the contest judges had requested my full manuscript. She wanted my needs-revisions-oh-my-God-what-am-I-going-to-do-about-this manuscript, that happened to final in the Golden Heart. As RWA had a copy of the full manuscript, they were just going to send it along to the editor judge, no matter what I said–and I didn’t want an editor to get a copy of the manuscript and then say, “Holy cow, this Courtney Milan woman really sucks! I’m never reading anything by her again!”
That would not have been good for Kristin’s submission plan. So I called her, and we had a very befuddling conversation in which I tried to explain why a manuscript she had never read was going to an editor I couldn’t name.
The point where we made a breakthrough went something like this:
Kristin: I still don’t understand why a Golden Heart judge is requesting your manuscript.
Courtney: Um, because she liked my entry?
Courtney: And because I am a Golden Heart finalist?
Kristin: You’re a Golden Heart finalist? That’s exciting! Were you planning on telling me?
Courtney: Oh. Um. Heh. Did I not mention that?
So, yes. My own agent didn’t know I was a Golden Heart finalist when she signed me. That tells you precisely how much the Golden Heart final mattered.
BUT. And this is a big but. I am still enormously happy to have been a Golden Heart finalist–for a reason I never considered when I entered the contest: The community. The 2008 Golden Heart finalists set up a loop, tracked down all the finalists we could find (and we had to use all our collective googlefu, let me tell you). The loop has been unflinchingly supportive, warm, and caring. We met in person at Nationals. 25% of the 2008 Golden Heart finalists have sold, and I expect that percentage to rise with passing years. Some had already sold when the announcements went out; others made sales as the year went on. Three of us announced sales within minutes of each other, on August 13th (I was one of the August 13 babies!).
I’ve read books and pages for my other finalists; they’ve read pages for me. (In fact, I was out visiting a handful of them the weekend before my novella was due, and I had people staying up until 1 in the morning to give it a read through.) When I whined about how badly my second book sucked, I got a few choice kicks in the rear that I desperately needed to make me buckle down and make it work.
So just remember this. The best value of the Golden Heart is not the credential, although that is nice. It’s the community.