Is RWA's Golden Heart about to stop beating?

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Marissa D

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Busy day for romance news--first RT's closure and now this...

The RWA posted a letter to members discussing the Golden Heart Award, its contest for excellence in unpublished romance fiction--it seems it has been losing money (or rather, has been a drain on RWA finances) as well as entrants for the past several years. So the organization is soliciting member feedback about the future viability of the award and possible changes that might restore interest in it. What do you think? Is it worth saving? What changes might improve it?

I have to say (for myself) that if trade publishing's interest in acquiring romance from new authors has dropped off so radically, maybe there isn't a place for the GH any more...?
 

CEtchison

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The Golden Heart needs to be completely revamped. As it stands, it provides zero value to those who enter and is ultimately a waste of $30. But if they can change into something along the lines of a mentorship, then it shows RWA's investment in the next generation of romance writers.
 

ElaineA

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The numbers they crunched and released with the announcement to members was pretty stunning. A large-dollar cost for zero benefit to anyone but the finalists.

The whole contest thing seems to be having a hard time. My chapter is pretty robust, membership-wise, but they stopped having a contest a few years ago, and the Portland chapter is asking us to help be judges for theirs this year because they can't get enough of their own members to volunteer. It's a tough balancing act, running a contest.
 

CEtchison

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They came back and stated almost $15000 the amount spent goes to staff. Considering that likely covers eight months worth of man hours, with the largest chunk being spent December through April, it's pretty cheap.
 

frimble3

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But if people feel they aren't getting anything from it? Maybe it's time to do something else with those man-hours?
 

BenPanced

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Two common threads in the comments on the RWA forums:
  • you're spending too much on staff
  • the prize is negligible in comparison to the Rita Awards
  • you're spending too much on staff

Having set up conventions and conferences both in paid and volunteer capacity, hours spent on the events. In some cases, it's mostly admin work: finding others to do various tasks (in the Golden Heart's case, finding and coordinating the judges and their responses); setting up the venue; scheduling presenters; coordinating awards. In one position I was in, one person (me) was enough to coordinate various events at different venues scheduled over the course of one year. In the Golden Heart's case, though, it's one event that has various levels/stages over the course of one year so it's going to take more than one person to handle everything and you're going to need that line item in your budget; else, nothing's going to happen.

As far as the prize goes in comparison to number of entries and amount spent running the show, I don't think it's a simple matter of offering a "bigger" prize, as many had suggested on the forums. Even with a package that included the trademark necklace and the luncheon at RWA's conference (which, apparently, was scaled back from something on the lines of or part of the Rita ceremony, many people feeling they'd been shunted off to the kids' table in another room), they would still need to find a way to entice authors, agents, and/or editors to mentor the winners in relation to the number of entries received. And even if they were able to get the mentors, they would still need to find a way of getting the X number of entries to balance out Y number of winners to make the mentors' time worthwhile. And in the end, they are still going to need that staffing budget, possibly increasing it for COL that inevitably happen every year, because they're going to need mentor wranglers and make it worth the mentors' time and energy to participate.
 

ElaineA

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They came back and stated almost $15000 the amount spent goes to staff. Considering that likely covers eight months worth of man hours, with the largest chunk being spent December through April, it's pretty cheap.

I hadn't seen that, but it doesn't surprise me. That and the cost of the luncheon have to be pretty substantial, and $30 isn't a ginormous entry fee by comparison to other contests. I just think if I'm entering anything, getting zero feedback would be frustrating. (Although the one contest I did enter guaranteed feedback from 3 judges and it was so divergent as to be almost useless, so :Shrug: )

I don't have answers, for sure. It's a lot of moving parts I don't fully understand. But as a member, I can see why they might want to re-evaluate with an eye on other ways to spend money that might benefit more people, like inclusivity outreach and the kind of author advocacy we saw with the Cockygate nonsense, just to name two easy-pickin's ones.
 

Jeneral

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One question I have is, don't we pay for the luncheon (and RITA dinner for that matter) with our conference fee? I always assumed that was the case, as opposed to a GH/RITA expense to be covered by the contest. If the expense is paid by contest entries, wouldn't combining it back into one evening event be a smart move?
 

SusannahE

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As one of the 39 parasites who finaled last year in the Golden Heart:

1) The idea that the GH offers no value to its finalists is patently false. I received two agent requests for fulls, three editor request for fulls, and signed with an agent: all because of my final and the attention/gravitas it brought to my novel. In addition, the GH finalists form a very tight group. The advice, help, education and support I've received from my fellow finalists is priceless. Of my class, ten have publishing deals, most of us are agented, and several of us are currently on submission. Many of us are also pursuing self-publishing and are deep in the prep work of developmental edits, copy edits, and cover art.

Four of the five finalists for the RITA for Best First Book this year are former Golden Heart finalists. Funny how RWA didn't mention that...

2) The dollars spent - which are ridiculously inflated and outright misleading - are not limited to the finalist leeches. I finished my first novel because I used the Golden Heart as a deadline. My critique partner finished her first novel using the contest as a deadline. While there isn't detailed feedback, the entries receive numerical scores across five judges so the author is able to see "Do I have a love it or hate it book?" "Is my book strong but just not strong enough to final?" or "This manuscript needs more work."


And let's talk about those costs:

First, the luncheon cost is not included in the cost breakdrown provided, as RWA would still need to hold its award luncheon (the GH was added to the luncheon for the service awards, bookseller award, etc.). However, RWA DID include the cost of the emcee/keynote speaker, as well as the cost of the A/V - costs that would be incurred regardless of the GH being awarded or not. And yes, adding the GH back to the RITA ceremony would mean very few incremental costs to the overall expense of that ceremony. In addition, the RITA ceremony has a volunteer committee to help plan it, thus defraying those supposed staff costs (more on that later).

Second, RWA said the GH had two receptions. It does not. It has one, which was held for the first time last year: a meet and greet with agents and editors. The second reception includes RITA finalists and the board of directors, and that reception would still be held with or without the GH.

Third, the staff costs. The staff costs are aburd. If you break down the cost into hours, then at annual salaries of $60,000-$100,000 (being very generous) that would mean staffers would need to spend 300-500 manhours on the GH ALONE. That's seven to twelve weeks, 40 hours/week. ALONE. No RITA, no general conference planning, no working on other issues, JUST the GH. A contest that is handled mostly via software. That's why people are questioning the staff costs. Because that is a claim too ridiculous to be believed. Anecdotally, I twice emailed an RWA staffer with questions about a particular GH entry I was given to judge (it exceeded the page count and I didn't know whether I should score it or not) and never received a reply, so I highly doubt it was all GH, all the time.

Fourth, the comp registrations for the national conference for GH judges. Those aren't expenses. They are lost income or payment in kind, and they should not count against the expense of the GH as those editors might be otherwise comped for workshops/pitch sessions, or may not come to National at all if they aren't comped, therefore not incurring the lost income.

Fifth, the dreaded "so much money for the benefit of so few." Let's look at the RITAs, shall we? The 2016 audit report shows that RWA took in $119,250 in contest fees but spent $174,144 on contests. Using the (very imperfect, I know) assumption that Golden Heart expenses, as calculated in the cost breakdown, remained consistent from 2016 to 2017, then the Golden Heart would have accounted for $32,837 of these expenses, of which $17,747 would be a net loss. This means the RITA would have cost RWA $141,307 in 2016, with a net loss of $37,147 – and the RITA provided a career benefit to only sixty or so authors.

Yet no one called for the abolition of the RITA. Instead, the RITA was modified to eliminate expenses such as shipping physical books, while tiered entry and staggered submission costs were introduced to alleviate pressure on entries and increase the number of individual authors. Contrast that with Golden Heart statement, in which the board jumped to eliminating the contest as the first and only concrete solution given.

I agree the contest should be revamped. In fact, I believe RWA needs to take a long hard look at its overall mission and who it wants to serve. I do not agree with the statement's wording. I also feel terrible for this year's GH class, who now have this hanging over their head when they shold be celebrating their accomplishments. Not to mention this statement came after RWA eliminated, without any notice, the priority signup for agent/editor pitches from the 2018 finalists.
 
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WeaselFire

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The Golden Heart needs to be completely revamped. As it stands, it provides zero value to those who enter and is ultimately a waste of $30.

Well, it's a waste if you're not one of the finalists. :)

The landscape for contests like these is changing in many genres. Writers can self publish their work for less than the entry costs to most of these, with at least the claim of a published work. They also might make a little coin in the process. They have always been a lot of work for not much gain, both for the entrants and those putting on the contests, and it may just be time for them to go away.

Jeff
 

CEtchison

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Not to mention this statement came after RWA eliminated, without any notice, the priority signup for agent/editor pitches from the 2018 finalists.

And this is exactly why the Golden Heart is IMO, in its current state, a waste.

RWA can't control agent and editor interest especially when the sad reality is that most publishing houses simply aren't handing out contracts to new/debut authors at this point. I received double nominations for my first book and won a RITA for Best First Book in 2017. I have three books published with a Big 5. Ask me if I have a contract. Ask me how many authors I know who routinely hit bestseller lists had their options declined by their publishing house in the past six months.

What the members of my local chapter have told me is what they want most is feedback. As the GH stands right now, it gives you none. A single score on a sheet is not helpful in anyway. Nothing more can be culled from that than a standard rejection letter from an agent. Which is why I made the suggestion to the board that GH transition into a Pitch Wars type contest where the winners receive mentoring from an author that writes in their category, shifting the end goal to be a manuscript ready for publication whether the winner chooses the traditional or independent route.
 
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NineLimes

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I agree the contest should be revamped. In fact, I believe RWA needs to take a long hard look at its overall mission and who it wants to serve. I do not agree with the statement's wording. I also feel terrible for this year's GH class, who now have this hanging over their head when they shold be celebrating their accomplishments. Not to mention this statement came after RWA eliminated, without any notice, the priority signup for agent/editor pitches from the 2018 finalists.

Honestly, I think your post supported what RWA said - that the GH is a terrific expense that benefits a very small group of people. VERY SMALL. I sympathize that you and your class felt it was a positive experience but you are quite literally the 1% in this situation. And while you may have gotten fulls and an agent, you haven't gone on to a seven figure deal and donated your advance back to the legal defense fund or something. Therefore, YOUR fulls haven't done much to benefit the entire RWA membership.... which is what the Board is saying and opening up to discussion whether this contest is something that needs to be continued and if so, in what fashion.

(And I really don't understand the connection you're drawing between agent/editor sign-ups and the GH)

It's time, IMO, for RWA to completely re-evaluate all of the sacred cows of the romance writing world, including PAN/PRO, Ritas, maybe even local chapters. We should all be asking, in the digital publishing age, as the Big 5 dwindle, as we strive for an inclusive organization, what we want to focus on and the industry we want to build.
 

Jeneral

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(And I really don't understand the connection you're drawing between agent/editor sign-ups and the GH)

In years past, the GH finalists were given an earlier shot at signing up for the agent/editor pitch appointments at Nationals, which was one of the perks of being a finalist. That perk wasn't offered to this year's group.
 

veinglory

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As a complete outsider to RWA who has been largely a critic of them-- I think it is not about individuals supported, it is about contributing to the genre, and many commentators are seeing this through the wrong frame. All qualifying members benefit by the opportunity to enter and learn from the experience, everyone benefits by promoting the careers of excellent writers. Associations are only somewhat about giving all members tangible benefits, they are largely about a community contributing to the great good of their endeavor. Does the Golden Heart foster excellence in the genre? I would argue that is clearly does. If it needs changes, then make changes. But if RWA just cared about published authors, it would be a much smaller association. And awards are a major expression of what an organization cares about.
 

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