The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, regulars who've entered the Golden Heart are starting to get twitchy, but those of us who've entered books in the RITA are...pretty chill. Having your book be named a finalist in any writing contest depends on an epic alignment of taste, subjectivity, and luck: which preliminary round judges were randomly selected to read your book? Do they like your voice? Did you use a trope that they love/hate? Does your hero remind them of a rat-bastard ex? Are your love scenes too hot, too cold, or just right? Does your runaway enthusiasm for em-dashes annoy them to high heaven?
It's a matter of taste, the luck of the draw, the buttercream frosting on an already-delicious cake. ;-)
There are numerous New York Times best-selling authors who've never been named a RITA finalist. There are writers who've won the Golden Heart more than once who haven't sold a manuscript. Writing contests are... such crapshoots. Every judge brings his or her own likes, dislikes, abilities, interests, hot buttons and biases to their reading experience.
I have likes, dislikes, abilities, interests, hot buttons and biases of my own, which come into play when I judge preliminary rounds of contests like the RITA, the Golden Heart, or the Daphne du Maurier. To me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of contest judging is seeing whether any of the books or manuscripts I received in my judging packet is named a finalist, or is ultimately the winner. For two years running, I"ve been fortunate enough to receive the unpublished Daphne contest's eventual winning manuscript in my judging packet, including our own Tes Hilaire's Deliver Me From Darkness, which Sourcebooks very smartly acquired and published earlier this year. Just last night, I read a killer manuscript from the 2012 contest. Might I go three-for-three? But there have been other contests, and other years, where either the manuscripts selected as finalists didn't resonate with me as a judge, or a manuscript that utterly rocked my world didn't make the cut. One person's "OMG!" is the next person's "Meh." Go figure.
When a contest manuscript makes me sit up a little straighter in my chair, causes gooseflesh to prickle on my arms, and makes me think about it at odd times long after reading it, I feel...yeah. Lucky.
The luck of the draw definitely works both ways. ;-)
3/26/12 UPDATE: Someone bring over some buttercream frosting! Congratulations to the following Sourcebooks authors, whose books were named 2012 RITA Award finalists!