Posted On July 16, 2014 by Print This Post

Plaques, Pins, and Golden Statues By Nancy Herkness

Thousands of romance writers are dusting off suitcases, evaluating their wardrobes and polishing their elevator pitches in preparation for the 34th Annual Conference of Romance Writers of America in San Antonio, Texas.


The conference is exhilarating and exhausting-who has time for sleep with so much to do, so many people to meet? Excitement rises to a fever pitch the night the awards are presented. Most of us only dream of standing on that stage like an Oscar® nominee. Today’s guest, NANCY HERKNESS, is one of those select few to be honored in San Antonio. Congratulations on your RITA® nomination, Nancy, and welcome to RU!

Sometimes a book just resonates with readers. Luckily, my second Whisper Horse novel Country Roads happens to be one of those. It has won the Golden Quill and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction awards, and—wonder of wonders!—is nominated for a RITA® in contemporary romance. I’m pretty sure my next-door neighbors wonder why there is so much joyous shrieking going on at my house this year as I’ve gotten the surprise phone calls announcing each incredible piece of good news.


It’s a thrill to win, and I have a lovely collection of plaques, certificates, and pins to commemorate the various honors my books have received, all proudly displayed in my office. I have fingers and toes crossed that one day I will be able to add the ultimate trophy to my collection: the golden RITA statue. Although, honestly, just being nominated for it is such a huge kick that I am deliriously happy with my silver RITA finalist’s pin…for now.


This is all wonderful, gratifying stuff, but it’s not just about the ego-stroking. I also have very practical reasons for sending my books out to be judged.


1)      Hand-selling. What sells more books than any other kind of marketing? Word-of-mouth. How do you create it? Nobody knows. However, the wonderful folks who volunteer to judge published book contests are passionate, avid readers. They talk about the books they read and love. That’s a pretty good place to start that precious word-of-mouth effect.


2)      Free publicity. Winners and finalists in contests are announced on chapter websites, Facebook pages, and sometimes even in ads in the nationally circulated Romance Writers Report. All of these places reach readers outside of my own sphere of influence which equals lots of potential new fans.


3)      Marketing cachet. My books have never made any of the major lists so I can’t say I’m a “New York Times-bestselling” author.  However, my books have won contests, so I can say I’m an “award-winning” author. My publisher even markets my Whisper Horse novels as an “award-winning series.”


4)      Validation for the reader. When customers make the decision to fork over their hard-earned money to buy a book, they feel more comfortable if the book has been endorsed in some way.  That’s why the “bestselling” moniker is so valued, and why authors ask for cover blurbs from other well-known authors. If the book has won an award, that seal of approval reassures the customer that she’s making a worthwhile purchase.


5)      Validation for the writer. Publishing careers are rollercoaster rides, the ups and downs influenced by many factors that are totally out of the writer’s control. One thing we do have within our grasp is producing high quality work. Being a finalist or a winner in a contest is unbiased proof that we have done our job well.


Entering contests is not all joy and validation though. When making the decision to hit the published contest circuit, an author should consider some of the drawbacks.


1)      Expense. Generally, the entrant must provide between three and five print copies of their book. Publishers sometimes supply those for free, but more often, the author must pay a discounted price for the books. The contest entry fees range from $15 to $30, with the RITA fee coming in at a hefty $50. (Those golden statues must cost a pretty penny!)  In addition, postage for three books in a padded envelope runs just under $5.


2)      Luck is a factor. Judges are human beings and have their own preferences and tastes, so it is a stroke of good fortune when your book wins, especially in the larger contests. However, I believe a really good book can consistently reach the highly desirable finalist stage in multiple contests.


3)      Lack of feedback. Published contests rarely notify entrants of even their numerical scores. No notes of any kind are passed on to indicate why a particular book did not succeed with the judges. This makes it impossible to know what might make the next book more popular.


It’s all worth it though when your phone rings and the voice of a contest coordinator says, “I’m calling with some very good news….” You shriek and dance around your office and race to tell your family members that an expert panel of total strangers loved your book enough to declare it the best in its category.


On those gloomy days when you get a lousy review from Publishers Weekly or your publisher passes on your option book, you can trace your finger over the elegant plaque or pretty pin, savoring the physical proof that your book is considered the top of the heap. It reminds you that despite these upsetting events, you are a good writer.


So you sit back down at your desk and resolve to write an even better book, one that just might earn a golden statue.

Fleeing professional scandal and a broken engagement, veterinarian Hannah Linden finds her heart ensnared by a brilliant but damaged chef and the troubled teenage son he has just come to know.

Fleeing professional scandal and a broken engagement, veterinarian Hannah Linden finds her heart ensnared by a brilliant but damaged chef and the troubled teenage son he has just come to know.


So let’s hear from you! Writing contests: love them or hate them? Why?

Join us on Friday when regular RU columnist ADAM FIRESTONE returns.













Nancy Herkness is an award-winning author of contemporary romance.  Her current release The Place I Belong is the third in the Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance.  The second Whisper Horse novel Country Roads is nominated for a 2014 Romance Writers of America RITA™ award.

Nancy is a member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, and Novelists, Inc., and has received many honors for her work, including the Golden Leaf award, the Golden Quill award, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction award.  She graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English literature and creative writing.

A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives in New Jersey with her husband and two mismatched dogs.

For more information about Nancy and her books, visit

You can also find Nancy on:







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25 Responses to “Plaques, Pins, and Golden Statues By Nancy Herkness”

  1. Thank you for this lesson. I do feel the need for validation. But I don’t know the

    Posted by Mary Anne Edwards | July 16, 2014, 9:03 am
  2. Sorry for the last post, I have fat fingers today. To continue, I don’t know the “real” contest to enter. Where do I find them? I often wonder how author become “Award Winning”.

    Posted by Mary Anne Edwards | July 16, 2014, 9:05 am
  3. Mary Anne, thanks for stopping by! As for where to find contests, RWA’s Romance Writers Report lists most of them. They also list them on their website at Most are run by local chapters of RWA; those are the ones I enter and recommend. They are generally well-run and reputable. Please let me know if you have further questions!

    Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 9:44 am
  4. I stopped entering contests about three years ago because of the expense. I think the Indie publishers have turned the industry upside down and it will only be a matter of time before contests discontinue. I ran one of these contests several months ago, and I’ll tell you that getting good judges can prove difficult.

    Posted by Gay Ann Kiser | July 16, 2014, 10:01 am
    • Gay Ann, I’m curious as to why you think indie publishing will affect the contests. I do know it’s hard to get judges because I am a coordinator for my chapter’s contest. But we have some wonderfully loyal ones who just love reading our entries, thank goodness!

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 11:21 am
      • It’s just a hunch. I think that the intention of entering contests is generally to get an agent or editor to view your works, in hopes of getting published. Now that many Indie authors can self-publish, I don’t think as many of them enter contests now, as they did in the past. I really don’t feel strongly about contests, either in a negative or positive way.

        Posted by Gay Ann Kiser | July 16, 2014, 11:40 am
        • I see what you mean, Gay. I think you’re right about the contests for unpublished writers. There’s less desire to be pubbed by the traditional publishers these days. And it’s so much harder to a get a contract too.

          Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 12:31 pm
  5. Nancy – Thanks so much for joining us today! I’m sure you’re busy with preparations for National. I was just over on Twitter and when I looked at your page I realized why I’ve been humming John Denver all morning:

    Very clever titles!

    What’s your primary emotion about your RITA final – excitement? Fear?

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 16, 2014, 10:41 am
    • Becke, that’s so funny about your humming John Denver! He provided me with some great titles. 🙂

      Oh, I am just totally excited about my RITA final. I loved buying an evening gown because how many times do you get to do that these days? I was thrilled to get my silver finalist pin. My publisher is delighted by the recognition. The whole thing is just a ton of fun.

      However, I think I can just enjoy it because I don’t expect to win. So I am savoring all the anticipation and yet very relaxed about it.

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 11:24 am
  6. I remember how stressed I was when I went shopping for an outfit to wear to the Awards ceremony the one time I made it to National (DC in 2009). I was a basket case! It must be a gazillion times more stressful for you! I saw your dress on Facebook and it looks great on you! I hope you found shoes you can walk in. (I always want the high heels, but I can’t balance in them anymore.)

    It’s too bad you don’t get designers and jewelers lining up to dress you, the way celebrities do for the Academy Award ceremonies. Maybe one day! 🙂

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 16, 2014, 11:40 am
    • Wouldn’t that be nice to get free dresses? I’d also enjoy wearing those Cartier jewels they loan the actresses.

      Thanks so much for the compliment on my dress. I feel like a million dollars in it which is what really counts, right?

      I’ve been practicing walking in my sparkly high heels so I think I will be able to manage it. The good news is that you sit down for the ceremony. 🙂

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 12:29 pm
  7. Hi Nancy,

    I’ve entered many contests and judged them too. Feedback is crucial and the best part.

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | July 16, 2014, 3:02 pm
    • Mary Jo, that’s the thing about published contests: no feedback. In the old days, that made a lot of sense. Once a book was published, the author couldn’t change a darned thing about it so what was the point in critiquing it? With the advent of digital publishing, things are different. My publisher will fix typos when readers catch them. How cool is that?!

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 3:49 pm
  8. I never got any contest love in the unpublished contests, and finally gave up on them. Now that I’m published, I’ll re-think the contest idea. Thanks for giving me some valid reasons to do so. Good luck on your Rita nomination!

    Posted by Maria Michaels | July 16, 2014, 3:05 pm
    • Maria, all contests are a bit of a crap-shoot. However, the feedback from unpubbed contests was very helpful to me early in my career. I discovered several bad habits I had and fixed them, thanks to some good judges.

      OTOH, books which push the edges of the envelope often don’t fare well in contests. Not that I know what sort of books you write, but I’ve heard that complaint from many writers who don’t fit easily into specific categories.

      Thanks for the good wishes on the RITA! They are much appreciated.

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 3:52 pm
  9. Hi Nancy,

    Congratulations on your nomination!

    Your post is timely because I was clearing out files the other day and came across a fat folder of contest entries. I cringed when I read the first few pages, but it’s validating in a way because over the years, my writing has improved. (Okay, I’d like to believe that.)

    I entered several contests a few years ago. I submitted the one manuscript in hopes of getting good feedback. I won some contests and didn’t final in others. When I did win, I wondered about the quality of the entries. Was mine just the least mediocre of category? That’s my neurosis surfacing.

    I learned a couple of things. Reading is subjective and judges’ feedback is all over the map. It’s a feel good moment to receive positive comments, but that’s tempered by the snarky and negative remarks, some of which were rife with grammatical errors. I remember getting a 4 out of 10 because the judge didn’t like my heroine’s surname. Really? The best feedback I received was from the Ozark Romance Authors/Weta Nichols contest.

    Don’t believe everything you hear applies to contests. A negative comment…it’s one person’s opinion. Just keep writing. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it can make you a better writer.

    Thanks for blogging with us today. Have a wonderful time at the conference. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | July 16, 2014, 6:00 pm
    • Jennifer, you are so right that different judges react very differently to our work. I am sorry to hear that you received snarky comments in contests; I consider that unforgivable from a judge. And not liking a character’s surname is absurd. You have absolutely the right attitude about those unhelpful comments.

      Thanks for the crossed fingers!

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 16, 2014, 7:25 pm
  10. Congrats! Wishing you luck!

    Posted by Terri L. Austin | July 16, 2014, 11:18 pm
  11. Thanks for hanging out with us, Nancy! Have a wonderful time at National – take lots of pictures!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | July 17, 2014, 12:53 pm
  12. Becke, I loved being here! Thank YOU so much for inviting me to be your guest. I promise to take pix at RWA. Wish you were coming!

    Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 17, 2014, 1:21 pm
  13. Hi Nancy,

    We met years ago at the New Jersey conference. Your book, A Bridge to Love, was just out. I was pitching and you were so sweet and friendly to me. I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget how much I enjoyed A Bridge to Love 🙂

    Best wishes for a Rita win you deserve.

    (And I love contests which give feedback. I’ve learned some valuable tips through contests.)


    Posted by Susanne | July 17, 2014, 8:26 pm
    • Oh my goodness, Susanne, that WAS a long time ago! How wonderful of you to remember me! I’m thrilled you liked A BRIDGE TO LOVE. That was my debut novel and therefore has a special place in my heart.

      Thank you for the good RITA wishes! I’ll carry them with me to Texas.

      So tell me how YOUR writing is going these days!

      Posted by Nancy Herkness | July 17, 2014, 8:49 pm

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