The Vivian: Proposed Format

Updated July 8, 2020 

Please find more extensive information on the proposed format for The Vivian below. This information is meant to be a basic overview presented in order to provide members time to offer feedback before the August Board meeting. Nothing is final until the rules have been voted on by the Board. Please email comments and questions to contest@rwa.org, which is monitored by staff, by July 22.  

 

Mission Statement
Entry
Categories
Most Anticipated
Judges
Judge Matching
Judge's Contract
Judging Rounds and Scoring
Round One Rubric
Round Two Rubric
Round Three Rubric

Mission Statement

The Vivian recognizes excellence in romance writing and showcases author talent and creativity. We celebrate the power of the romance genre with its central message of hope--because happily ever afters are for everyone.

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Entry 

  • Open to members and non-members
  • No more than two titles may be entered per entrant
  • Entry period:
    • First week-Open to one entry per RWA member
    • Second week-Open to one entry per RWA member and one entry per non-RWA-member
    • Third week-Contest opens to second entries per members and non-members. 
  • Entries must not have been entered into prior RWA National contests in whole or part (this does not apply to Chapter contests). As a one-time exception, 2019 RITA entries may be entered in the 2021 Vivian. 
  • All entries must be submitted as PDFs, but submission of additional formats will be encouraged. There will be restrictions on watermark placement. 
  • We are planning for 2,100 entries, with 100 of those entries strictly reserved for the “Most Anticipated” category. If the number of qualified judges participating does not support this many entries, the final entry cap may need to be adjusted. The final entry cap will be announced prior to the opening of the contest. 
 
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Categories

Best First Published Book
Contemporary Romance – Long
Contemporary Romance – Mid
Contemporary Romance – Short
Historical Romance – Long
Historical Romance – Mid
Historical Romance – Short
Erotic Romance
Mainstream Novel with a Central Romance
Paranormal Romance – Long
Paranormal Romance – Mid
Paranormal Romance – Short
Romantic Suspense – Long
Romantic Suspense – Mid
Romantic Suspense – Short
Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements
Young Adult Romance
Most Anticipated Romance

  • “Historical” is defined as taking place at least 50 years prior to the contest date. 
  • “Long” = 80k+ words (plus or minus 2 percent based on computer word count)
  • “Mid” = 50k to 80k words (plus or minus 2 percent based on computer word count)
  • “Short” = 20k to 50k words (plus or minus 2 percent based on computer word count)
  • Categories with fewer than 40 entries will not be judged. Entrants may indicate permission for their entry to be moved to the closest category in terms of length in the event their originally selected category does not meet the minimum number of entries to be judged, or, if permission to change categories has not been indicated, the entry fees will be returned.
 
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Most Anticipated

The "Most Anticipated Romance" category has been created to celebrate romance authors who have never been published. For the first year, the category will be limited to no more than 100 entries (minimum of 40). If interest and participation in the category are high, this limit can be reevaluated in subsequent years.  

Entries
  • The “Most Anticipated” category will be open to authors who have never been published (traditional or indie) under any pseudonym.
  • Authors must enter a full manuscript. The manuscript must be complete and ready to be submitted to an agent/editor or self-published.
  • Entries may be from any romance subgenre.
  • Previous entry into the Golden Heart contest will not disqualify an entry. 
  • Finalists will not be able to enter the same manuscript into the “Most Anticipated” category again. 

Judging
  • “Most Anticipated” entries will be judged using the same format and from the same pool of judges as all other categories.
  • Judges will be made aware the manuscript is contending in the “Most Anticipated” category, and entries will be sorted by sub-genre before being distributed to judges.
  • Entries will then be judge matched to ensure the judges are familiar with the sub-genre.

Winners
  • There will be three (3) winners in the Most Anticipated category. All three will hold equal status of being the three best books (those with the highest scores) of all submitted. (All other categories will only have one (1) winner.)
  • The potential for industry professional participation in the category will be investigated.  
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Judges  

  • First and second round judges may be RWA members, authors, librarians, booksellers, book bloggers, professional critics, or book club members. 
  • Third round judges may be librarians, booksellers, book bloggers, professional critics, or book club members. 
  • All judges will go through an application process. Staff will verify credentials. 
  • All judges must agree to DEIA training and to follow the prescribed rubrics when judging. 
  • All judges will be asked to agree to a Judging Contract
  • Entrants will not be required to judge. 
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Judge Matching

In order to ensure that entries go to judges who are well-versed in the entry’s subgenre, a program will be created to match judges with the books they are most qualified to judge. 
  • Judges will be asked to identify which subgenres and sensuality levels they feel most qualified to judge, as well as which subcategories they have read for pleasure over the past year from a provided list. 
  • Entrants will be asked to categorize their entry based on sensuality and the provided list of subcategories. 
  • Judges will also be able to opt out of judging certain categories and will not judge the categories in which they enter. 
  • A program will sort and assign entries to judges based on the above information. 
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Judge’s Contract

Judges will be asked to agree to the following contract: 

The purpose of The Vivian Contest is to recognize excellence in published romance novels and novellas, and our goal is to create a contest that is equitable and inclusive. Judges must have a deep love for and knowledge of romance fiction and believe that everyone deserves a happily ever after. The ideal judge will be able to provide a fair assessment of all assigned books and will abide by RWA’s core values and our anti-discrimination policy.

    RWA policy allows for scores submitted by judges to be tracked by RWA staff from year to year. If I am selected as a judge, I understand that RWA may, to the extent permitted by law, track my Vivian scores.
The goal of all judges must be to score each book in a fair and impartial manner. A rubric, or list of questions, has been created to assist with objectivity. If each judge adheres to the rubric, then all submissions are provided the same opportunity to score well. Note, all judging scores will be tracked. Scores found out of compliance with the rubric provided are subject to dismissal. 

By signing this judge’s contract, you acknowledge that:

  1. You agree that you will review the training materials prior to judging.
  2. You are aware of the rubric and understand how to implement it in the judging process.
  3. You agree to judge all entries according to the rubric.
  4. If you cannot for any reason judge an entry fairly according to the rubric provided, you will recuse yourself from the entry.
  5. That if a conflict of interest exists between you and the author of a book you are sent to judge, you will notify the contest administrator. If the conflict of interest is deemed to be substantial such as would exist by having served as an editor, critique partner, or beta reader for the project, the book will be re-assigned to a different judge.
  6. You agree to read and judge fairly, according to the rubric, all entries that contain a language other than English, and/or an unfamiliar custom or tradition. If you encounter a language you are not familiar with, and you can’t ascertain the meaning through context, you agree to look it up either through the translation function on your e-reader or via Google Translate.
  7. As a judge, you will be given an electronic copy of a book. These books are supplied to you for the purpose of judging. You are not allowed to break publication rights by redistributing these books.
  8. You agree to keep your judging assignments and scores confidential.
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Judging Rounds and Scoring

The Vivian Contest consists of three rounds of judging. For each round, judges will be provided with a rubric that is intended to minimize bias in judging and elicit useful critiques. Judges must familiarize themselves with the rubrics and strictly adhere to them when judging entries. 

  1. Round One
    • Chapter One (or Chapter One with Prologue) only.
    • Simplified rubric with five (5) Yes/No questions
    • Three judges per entry
    • Every entry that receives seven (7) or more "yes" answers across all three judges will progress to Round Two.
    • The purpose of this first round is to establish a minimum standard for submissions. 
  2. Round Two (entries that clear Round One)
    • Full book
    • Extended rubric with 10 areas receiving numeric score responses 
    • Five judges per entry, with highest and lowest scores dropped
  3. Round Three (finalists)
    • Full book
    • Shortened rubric with 5 areas receiving numeric score responses
    • Five judges per finalist, with highest and lowest scores dropped

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Round One Rubric

Answer yes or no for each element. 

Opening Hook:
A compelling opening hook grabs the reader's attention from the first paragraphs and makes them want to turn the page.
  • Is the opening hook compelling?

Characters, Plot, and Dialogue:

Skilled elements include clearly-defined characters, plot elements that draw the reader into the set-up, and dialogue which supports the story and is realistic to the characters.
  • Does the work show skill in character, plot, and dialogue? 

Authorial Voice:

A strong authorial voice communicates with vivid word choices and lively language.
  • Is the writing dynamic and the voice unique?

Mechanics:

Clean, well-edited prose contains minimal errors in spelling and grammar to disrupt the flow of the story. Deliberate colloquial or stylistic choices do not count as errors. 
  • Is the prose clean with minimal (no more than 5) errors in spelling and grammar?
Overall Impression:
  • Would the readers want to read more?

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Round Two Rubric

For each scoring area, read the definition of that element, and choose the whole-number score that best fits that entry.

Opening Hook
A compelling opening hook grabs the reader's attention from the first paragraphs and makes them want to turn the page, drawing the reader in with intrigue and/or emotion.
  • 9-10: Opening immediately grabs and holds the attention of the reader.
  • 7-8: Opening hooks and engages the reader on many levels.
  • 5-6: Opening interests the reader.
  • 3-4: Opening somewhat interests the reader.
  • 1-2: Opening fails to grab the attention of the reader

Characters
Well-developed characters don't contain stereotypical, cliched, or one-dimensional elements. Their internal and external lives engage the sympathy of the reader, and their actions are consistent with their personalities. Use of character point-of-view conveys the tone and emotion of the story.
  • 9-10: Main characters are well-defined, and not stereotypical. The reader understands their traits and their flaws, and roots for them to grow and change over the course of the book. Their goals and motivations add to compelling narrative conflict. 
  • 7-8: Main characters are well-defined, with multi-dimensional internal and/or external lives. The reader engages with the distinct emotional journeys they take over the course of the book.
  • 5-6: Characters are nicely developed and described, with both internal and external lives that are multidimensional and not reliant on stereotypes. Their goals and motivations create conflict that is not contrived.
  • 3-4: It is hard for the reader to get a feel for the main characters. Characteristics aren't multi-dimensional or aren't well thought out, leading to unclear or inconsistent goals, motivations, or conflicts.
  • 1-2: Main characters are underdeveloped, or they are described inconsistently or using stereotypes. Their journeys aren't important to the reader, or the conflicts tied to them are contrived.

Plot
An original, fresh plot is skillfully set up and believable (or the reader is able to suspend disbelief). Plot/external conflict is realistic, fresh, and not easily resolved because of misunderstanding. Plot is sufficiently complex to sustain the story, and is made stronger by compelling characterization.
  • 9-10: The plot is skillfully set up. Conflict is realistic, fresh, and not easily resolved. Character goals and motivations are integral to moving the plot forward.
  • 7-8: There are minimal concerns with plot or moments when the reader does not easily suspend disbelief. Character goals and motivations enhance the plot's forward momentum.
  • 5-6: The plot doesn't contain fresh elements or intriguing spins on tropes. Character goals and motivations may not be integral to moving the plot forward.
  • 3-4: The plot contains major plot holes, is confusing, or is unbelievable. Character arcs and plot arcs are not integrated.
  • 1-2: The plot is weary, unclear, overdone, or cliched. Conflict does not arise from characterization or is too easily resolved. 

Climax
Believable conflict keeps the main characters apart while they work towards goals the reader can identify. These stakes build to a strong climax and satisfying resolution. 
  • 9-10: The climax of the story is extremely detailed and the reader wants to read on for the ending.
  • 7-8: The climax is detailed and the reader is invested in the resolution of all plot elements.
  • 5-6: The climax is fairly detailed, leaving the reader somewhat interested in the outcome.
  • 3-4: The climax of the story has few details and leaves the reader with questions about what happened, or there are unresolved plot elements.
  • 1-2: The stakes of the story are weak, or the climax of the story is unclear.

Pacing
The balance of dialogue, exposition, and action keep the story moving forward in a well-paced book. The story flows well, and every scene is essential. Info dumps are avoided.
  • 9-10: Story grabs the reader's attention throughout, with smooth scene transitions and a genre-appropriate balance of dialogue, action, and exposition. The romance progresses hand-in-hand with the wider storyline. 
  • 7-8: Dialogue, action, and exposition are genre-appropriate. Scenes are essential to the story. The romance and the storyline work together to hold the reader's attention.
  • 5-6: Dialogue, action, and exposition are genre-appropriate. Scenes are necessary to the story.
  • 3-4: Info dumps and extraneous scenes sometimes disrupt the reading experience. 
  • 1-2: Story has info dumps and a poor balance between dialogue, action, and exposition. Extraneous scenes and rough transitions disrupt the reading experience.

Dialogue
Strong dialogue enhances characterization, plot, and emotion when it is distinct and realistic for each character. It reveals new information to the reader.
  • 9-10: Fresh, compelling dialogue that shows great skill in conveying tone and emotion. Each character's diction and voice are distinct.
  • 7-8: The author uses realistic dialogue to spark interest. The dialogue distinguishes the characters and reflects their emotional and story arcs.
  • 5-6: The author uses dialogue and dialogue tags successfully to advance character and story.
  • 3-4: The dialogue can be indistinct, stilted, unrealistic, or repetitive. The author has issues with appropriate use of dialogue tags.
  • 1-2: The dialogue slows and confuses the story. The characters' voices are not distinct. The author struggles to balance dialogue and exposition.

World Building
The world of the story is clearly defined and complete, but not intrusive. The story's sense of time and place is built with consistent details and appropriate research. A multi-dimensional array of side characters appear as needed to enhance the story and fill out the world. 
  • 9-10: The world is vibrant, consistent, and clear, grounded in sensory details that enhance the impact of the story.
  • 7-8: World-building details are consistent, with some emotional impact on the story.
  • 5-6: The world of the story leaves the reader occasionally ungrounded. Details don't add significantly to the impact of the story.
  • 3-4: The world of the story is adrift in time or space, or has rote and dry details. 
  • 1-2: The world of the story lacks detail, or the details are contradictory and confusing. The setting lacks depth and color, or it intrudes disruptively into the story.

Authorial Voice
A clear authorial voice exhibits strong and varied word choices and uses language to enhance the narrative. Author is a storyteller.
  • 9-10: Authorial voice is unique and interesting. The writing is lively, expressive, and engaging. Word choice is vivid, precise, and inclusive, steering clear of clichés and stereotypes.
  • 7-8: Authorial voice is clear, consistent, and distinct. The writing is fluid and engaging, with varied word choice, and steers clear of clichés and stereotypes.
  • 5-6: Authorial voice is clear. The writing is fluid and readable, with somewhat varied word choice, and steers clear of clichés and stereotypes.
  • 3-4: Authorial voice is not distinct or consistent. Many areas could have benefitted from better word choice and/or eradication of clichés or stereotypes.
  • 1-2: Authorial voice is not unique or is not apparent. Word choice is not varied or precise. Language is cliched and/or perpetuates stereotypes.

Mechanics
Varied sentence structure, consistent grammar, and a story free of spelling errors enhance the flow of reading.
  • 9-10: Sentence structures enhance the pace and voice, adding depth to character and action; few/no errors in spelling or grammar.
  • 7-8: Exhibits a good mix of sentence structures, and only minor errors in spelling or grammar.
  • 5-6: Sentences are somewhat varied, with simple, compound, and complex sentences; some errors in spelling or grammar.
  • 3-4: Sentence structure is unvaried, many beginning the same way. Spelling or grammar errors disrupt the reading flow.
  • 1-2: Sentence structure needs improvement; there is little to no variety in sentence style. Writing has frequent spelling or grammar errors.

Overall Impression
In a strong book, the writing is vivid, evocative, and appropriate to the genre, and the reader is invested, eager to know what happens next. A Happily Ever After ending is defined as the main characters risking and struggling for each other and their relationship, and being rewarded with the resolution of conflicts, emotional justice and unconditional love. A Happily For Now ending is defined as the main characters risking and struggling for each other and their relationship, and being rewarded with the temporary resolution of conflicts, and the promise of emotional justice and unconditional love.  
  • 9-10: The reader is engrossed and eager to read the entire book throughout. The romance concludes with happily ever after / happily for now.
  • 7-8: The book is emotionally satisfying. The romance concludes with happily ever after / happily for now.
  • 5-6: The major conflict has been adequately resolved, but the ending is not entirely satisfying. The romance concludes with happily ever after / happily for now.
  • 3-4: The reader is not engaged with one or more major elements of the book. The romance may or may not conclude with happily ever after / happily for now.
  • 1-2: The reader is not engaged with several major elements of the book. The romance may or may not conclude with happily ever after / happily for now.

Round Three Rubric

For each scoring area, the judges will read the definition of that element, and choose the whole-number score that best fits that entry.

Characters
Main and side characters should be multidimensional and not stereotypical. Main characters should have clear goals and motivations which add to narrative conflict. 
  • 5: Main characters are fully realized, unique, and compelling, with distinct narrative voices. Character point-of-view engages reader sympathy, greatly enhancing the emotional arc of the narrative. Side characters add interest and resonance to the main characters’ journeys.  
  • 4: Characters are fully realized and distinctive, with unique emotional arcs. 
  • 3: Characters are well-developed and consistent.
  • 2: Character development is consistent with goals and motivations, but is predictable.
  • 1: Character development is inconsistent, or one-dimensional. Goals or motivations are contrived. 

Plot
An original, fresh plot is skillfully set up and believable (or the reader is able to suspend disbelief). Plot is realistic, fresh, and not easily resolved because of misunderstanding. Each scene is essential. 
  • 5: The plot is skillfully set up and consistent with the genre, while still being fresh and unexpected. Character goals and motivations are integral to moving the plot forward. The romance progresses hand-in-hand with the wider storyline. 
  • 4: The plot fits genre expectations while containing original twists. The progress of the romance is essential to moving the plot forward. 
  • 3: Character moments and fresh plot elements enhance the story’s forward momentum. Included scenes are necessary. The romance and the storyline work together to hold the reader's attention.
  • 2: The plot doesn't contain fresh elements or intriguing spins on tropes. Character goals and motivations may not be integral to moving the plot forward.
  • 1: The plot is cliched, is too easily resolved, or contains holes. Character arcs and plot arcs are not integrated. 

Conflict and Climax
Believable conflict keeps the main characters apart while they work towards clear, understandable goals. These stakes build to a strong climax and satisfying resolution. 
  • 5: The conflict is strongly integrated with the character arcs, containing intriguing details that keep the reader invested in the climax and resolution.
  • 4: The conflict builds naturally and believably from the character arcs to a well-detailed climax and resolution.
  • 3: The conflict builds naturally from the character arcs. The climax details are engaging.
  • 2: The conflict builds to a somewhat detailed and interesting climax.
  • 1: The conflict is incompletely or too easily resolved, leading to a weak climax.

World Building
The world of the story is clearly defined and complete, but not intrusive. The story's sense of time and place is built with consistent details and appropriate research. 
  • 5: The world is vibrant, consistent, and clear, grounded in sensory details that enhance the impact of the story.
  • 4: The world is complex and unique, with details that contribute to the emotional and narrative impact of the story.
  • 3: World-building details are consistent, with some emotional impact on the story. 
  • 2: The world of the story contains details that do not add significantly to the impact of the story. 
  • 1: The world of the story contains dry or confusing details that leave the reader ungrounded.

Authorial Voice
A clear authorial voice exhibits strong and varied word choices and uses fresh, non-cliched language to enhance the narrative. Author is a true storyteller.
  • 5: Authorial voice is unique and interesting, with a clear point of view and strong control of mechanics. The writing is lively, expressive, and engaging. Word choice is vivid, precise, and inclusive, steering clear of clichés and stereotypes.
  • 4: Authorial voice is clear, consistent, and distinctive. The writing is fluid and engaging, with strong word choice, and steers clear of clichés and stereotypes.
  • 3: Authorial voice is clear. The writing is fluid, with somewhat varied word choice.
  • 2: Authorial voice is consistent and readable.
  • 1: Authorial voice would improve with stronger word choices and/or eradication of clichés.
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