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Luck of the Draw by Tamara Hogan

At the time I write this, the romance writing community is eagerly awaiting the announcement of the finalists in the Romance Writers of America's RITA and Golden Heart contests, which acknowledge excellence in published and unpublished romance fiction. Over at my other group blog, 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 For two years running, I"ve been fortunate enough to receive the unpublished Daphne contest's eventual winning manuscript in my judging packet, including our own Tes Hilaire's Deliver Me From Darkness, which Sourcebooks very smartly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. ;-)

Whether as a reader, a reviewer, or as a contest judge, which factors do YOU think make a book or manuscript memorable?  

3/26/12 UPDATE: Someone bring over some buttercream frosting! Congratulations to the following Sourcebooks authors, whose books were named 2012 RITA Award finalists!

Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes (Regency)
I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler (Young Adult and Best First Book)
Hot Zone by Catherine Mann (Romantic Suspense)
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (Novel with Strong Romantic Elements)

Tammy's 2011 Sourcebooks debut, TASTE ME, was a 2009 Daphne du Maurier winner and a 2009 Golden Heart Finalist. Her follow-up, CHASE ME,  is available for pre-order NOW (Amazon | B&N)!  Visit her on the web at


  1. I so agree, Tamara! I LOVED one book I read that finaled some years ago, but it didn't win, over another book that I read for the same contest, that I absolutely hated--the hero was a wimp, the villain was unbelievable, the heroine's heroics were unbelievable...and yet, it won the Rita! So I figure it's so much the luck of the draw when it comes to contests.

  2. I read some great books this year that also didn't final. I was happy to see some new names on the finalist list, too. Sometimes I feel like judges see X author's name and automatically score her high. I try very hard to evaluate every book fairly and not based on my preferences as a reader. I'm sure I'm not perfect as a judge, but I love judging because every year I find a new awesome author.

  3. I'm with you, Tamara: Finaling in a contest is what a few people thought of your book on a certain day. I say that, because I've also not finaled A LOT, and when that happens I console myself with the same sentiment: It's what a few people thought on one day.

    There are so many terrific books being written, there just aren't enough final slots for them all.

    And PS: Sourcebooks Writing Buddy at Large, Carolyn Brown, also finaled with her inspirational title for Avalon, "The Ladies' Room."

  4. Tamara, you said it darlin'! Adding my congrat's to those who won a nomination and giving thanks for the readers who weren't having PMS the day they read them!

  5. Terry - Such a crapshoot, right? This year for the RITA I read a couple of books by authors who were new to me that I thought were absolute awesomesauce! But...noton the finalist list. On the positive side, I discovered two new authors whose work I love.

    Shana, I, too, am so glad to see some new names on the list. LONG overdue, and finally making the list this year? One of my favorite authors, Nalini Singh. Triple finalist! W00t!!!

    Grace, congratulations on your final! So well-deserved, on any day. I could read your work forever. LOVE your voice.

    Carolyn, congratulations on YOUR nomination for "The Ladies Room", even if the book was written for another publisher. ;-)

  6. I agree with the post, but it doesn't stop me from giving a big W000000000T! to the finalists. :)

  7. So true, Brooklyn Ann. It's wonderful validation! Care to join me in a W00000000000000000T duet?!

  8. The books that I read and LOVED...didn't final. Go figure.

    Last year one of the books that I loved who knows.

    Congrats again to all of the RITA finalists :)

  9. I had the same experience with the RITA this year, Colleen. The books I scored the highest didn't make the cut. On the other hand, there were so many books that were named finalists that I haven't yet read. I foresee some growth in my TBR!

  10. Books that have strong characters, a believable plot and memorable scenarios appeal to me the most. I really need logic and a HEA in order to enjoy a book. I agree that it is entirely subjective and I am at a loss to understand the popularity of some titles while other works that I love are panned.

  11. Elf, though I'm perfectly content with a "Happily for Now" if not a "Happily Ever After", I definitely need logic in my romances. Starting with COVER logic! I don't think it's too much to ask that the cover hero/heroine have, for example, the right color hair and eyes! If they don't, the book loses some credibility in my mind.


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