Golden Heart Contest Preliminary Round Judging FAQ

What is a romance?

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

Scoring Overview

Each preliminary-round entry will be scored individually on a scale of 1.0 to 10.0, with 1.0 being the lowest (poor) and 10.0 being the highest (excellent). Decimals (from .1 to .9) are STRONGLY encouraged to help avoid the possibility of a tie. Judges are encouraged to think of the points system as equivalent to a classroom grading scale:

9.0-10.0: Excellent
8.0-8.9: Good
7.0-7.9: Average
6.0-6.9: Below average
5.0-5.9: Marginal
4.0-4.9: Poor
Below 4.0: Very poor

Judges do not provide feedback, critiques, or reviews.

Preliminary-round judges will be required to answer the following three questions in addition to assigning one overall score:

  • Does the entry contain a central love story?
  • Is the resolution of the romance emotionally satisfying and optimistic?
  • Does the entry fall within the category description? 

If there are three negative responses to any one question, the entry is disqualified.

Overall preliminary-round scores will be determined  using a trimmed mean (the highest and lowest scores will be discarded and the remaining three scores will be averaged).

The top 10% of each category's entries (based on the number of qualified entries received) will advance to the final round. However, no entry receiving less than 80% of the total possible score will advance to the final round.

The total possible points for any entry is 30.


Judging FAQ

1. Am I supposed to be judging these entries against the standard of "publishable"—that is, if it's at a publishable level, should we give it a high score—or against the standard of "the best book I ever read in this category"?

Often, judges will focus too much on perfection. Were the margins a certain way? Was the grammar perfect? Does it contain a marketable hook? Did the author follow all those unwritten rules we've heard so much about? While these things are definitely important, they may not necessarily hinder the read. Although we're not asking you to put yourself in the place of an editor, it is important to remember an editor will still buy a book if the margins are different and the manuscript contains grammatical errors. Ask yourself instead, did I enjoy what I read of this book? Then give your score accordingly.

2. Do I judge my entries against each other?

No. Each entry should be judged on its own merits without comparison to other entries in the judge's packet. If you believe more than one of your entries is ready "for prime time" then you are free to award more than one 9 in the group; and if the entry is lacking in all areas comprising excellent romantic fiction, then you are free to award scores as low as a 1.


3. What is acceptable format for a manuscript?

Specific format guidelines were established in the past to put all entrants on the same level playing field. Before, some entrants would purposefully use a small font size in order to have more of a manuscript read or some similar maneuver in order to create an unfair advantage. However, once guidelines were created, often judges became more concerned whether the entrant followed each particular "rule" - this took the focus off the writing.

The Golden Heart mirrors the submission process. Different editors and different houses prefer a different standard. Therefore, the only requirement for manuscripts in the Golden Heart is that they should follow general submission guidelines. Please do not be concerned with measuring margins or worrying about a particular font.

Fonts must be clearly readable. Author's name in the header is optional. Single- or doubled-spaced separations after periods are both acceptable.

Remember, your focus as a judge of the Golden Heart should always be on the writing.

If you receive an entry that in not double-spaced or the headers do not include the entry title or page numbers, please email Carol Ritter (

4. Should we penalize a writer for using Times New Roman instead of Courier?

No. We've all heard stories about authors and editors who claim to like only one kind of font. The reality is: tastes are different. An editor's bottom line motivation is to find books that will sell well. Since the Golden Heart is intended to mirror the submission process, whether an author uses Times New Roman versus Courier is not as important as whether s/he can tell a good story. Yes, an author can squeeze in more words depending on the font. But the most beautiful font in the world can't hide inadequate storytelling. The type of non-script font used in an entry should not impact the GH score. The only requirement is that the font is clearly readable.

Remember, the term "standard manuscript formatting" is a pretty big umbrella.

As a judge, the question to ask yourself is: Does the size and/or style of font impede my ability to judge the author's storytelling? If the answer is no, then as a judge, you are obligated to read to the end of each entry you receive.  If the font is clear and readable (regardless of style), then that is NOT a gross formatting problem.

5. Do I have to read the entire entry?

Judges only read the partial manuscript and the synopsis. You should read both, this is part of your commitment to the judging process. In order to maintain the integrity of the competition, read the partial manuscript and the synopsis and score it appropriately.

I recognize the entry as plagiarism of another author's work. What do I do?

An eligible entry must be the original work of the author. If you suspect otherwise, call the RWA Office for further instruction.

6. What if I know the person who wrote the entry I am to judge?

Because we are a fairly close-knit organization, and it's easy to know hundreds of people with our conferences and on-line accessibility, it would be an onerous task to give every judge manuscripts from people you've never met.

However, if you believe you cannot be impartial, contact the RWA Office immediately. A potential or perceived conflict of interest occurs if a judge has a close personal relationship with the author. In such situations, the entry should be shipped back to the Houston office where it will be reassigned.

7. If I plan on checking No to one of the questions, do I still need to enter scores for the entry?
Each entry must be scored, even if you check No to one of the questions. Three out of five judges must select No for the the same question in order for an entry to be disqualified. If less than three judges select NO the entry remains in the contest and the scores are tabulated.

8. When will contest entrants receive their preliminary-round scores?
Current contest rules state that preliminary-round scores will be made available to entrants once winners are announced.

Judging Overview

  • Focus on the storytelling above all else
  • Read the entry, both partial and synopsis
  • Answer the three questions honestly
  • Do not judge entries against each other
  • When in doubt, contact the RWA Office
  • Judges shall hold all judging and/or scoring data confidential.
  • Only RWA members are eligible to judge the preliminary round of the Golden Heart Contest.
  • A work shall be judged by the standards of the category in which it is entered without regard to the standards of other categories for which it may qualify.
  • “Novel” is a work of fiction of at least 40,000 words (as determined by computer word count) that is offered for sale to the public.
  • All categories may have varying levels of sensuality, ranging from sweet to extremely hot.