When it comes to romance writing contests, you could pull your hair out trying to figure out what’s what. Twitter alone is confusing as f***, and contests also come with inherent fear of being judged … like, on purpose. I can’t make the fear disappear, but I can clear up a few things about contests themselves.
Popular Romance Writing Contests
Let’s begin with RWA (Romance Writers of America).
Romance Writers of America Contests
The RITA Award and The Golden Heart Award: Two very similar fee-based contests with one drastic difference. For both, RWA members submit original work for judging within their subgenre. Romance must be the central theme, and the story must lead to an HEA (Happily Ever After) or HFN (Happily For Now). Finalists are evaluated by judges based on a scoring scale, and winners are announced at the annual RWA conference.
The RITA, however, is solely for books that were published within the contest year. Winning a RITA is the pinnacle of romance-author achievement. Here are the official entry guidelines.
The Golden Heart is only for unpublished manuscripts. Remember to review all the guidelines before entering. Though, the contest averages near 500 entries each year, it can help unpublished writers gain publisher and agent notice.
RWA chapter contests: Held by various RWA chapters, each contest has their own guidelines and fee structure. Generally, they’re open to original work with romance as a central theme that culminates in a happy ending (pun intended). Some contests are only for published work, but two well-known contests with unpublished categories are The Molly, hosted by Heart of Denver Romance Writers, and The Maggie, sponsored by Georgia Romance Writers.
Contests held by online writing communities and industry websites can be daunting to wade through, but can be worth the effort. For example, Wattpad and Writer’s Digest.
Wattpad: Many contests here revolve around fanfiction instead of original work, but you can always write something new that meets the criteria. For original work, their annual contest—The Wattys—is held site-wide and broken into genre. Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write is held through Wattpad. Check back often for news on contests, guidelines and deadlines.
Writer’s Digest (WD): A few WD contests are open to romance, but they might not separate romance from the other genres. Many have entry fees. Read the guidelines carefully.
Bonus: There is usually a nice cash prize involved with winning or placing in one of these contests.
Twitter is a Hub for Romance Writing Contests
Twitter is likely the most confusing of the contest communities because it’s spread all over hell with several different types of contests, but most can be categorized either writing prompts, pitch events, or mentor-style contests.
Twitter Writing Prompts
These aren’t contests, but for fun! Writers tweet lines from their manuscript or WIP, including the prompt hashtag, that fit into the length of a tweet. Each prompt operates differently and may or may not have a weekly theme.
#FridayKiss: All The Kissing’s prompt, #FridayKiss, features a new theme each week. We provide a comfortable environment for romance writers to tweet both their shmexy and sweet feels without judgement. Themes lend themselves to romance, but we’re open to ALL genres, and tweets don’t need contain romantic elements. Often, the tweets that push theme boundaries are our favorites. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @YourFridayKiss!
#1linewed: This is the most popular of the Twitter prompts. Hosted by RWA Kiss of Death, you’ll find weekly themes that run the gamut. It’s open to all genres.
Twitter Pitch Events
Polished manuscript? Check. Query letter and synopsis? Check. It’s time to develop a Twitter pitch. Check out Michelle Leonard’s “Write a Killer Kidlit Pitch” and Michael Mammay’s “Lessons Learned from #PraPit” to help you write the kind of pitch that stands out from the crowd.
Held over a scheduled time frame, participants tweet their pitches for agents to peruse. When an agent favorites a pitch, it’s a request for you to query them. They generally tweet directions on what to send, and those little hearts might help you climb to the top of the slush pile quickly in some cases.
A word of caution—research any requesting agent to make sure they’re legit.
#DVPit: A pitch event that focuses on marginalized voices, DVPit spotlights underrepresented voices and topics that often go unnoticed in larger contests. Check the guidelines for what qualifies as marginalized, and let your conscience be your guide.
#PitMad: Open to all genres, PitMad is one of the largest pitch events. The feed hosts thousands of pitches over a set time frame, and many agents take several days to cruise the feed and request after the window closes. Again, check the guidelines if you plan to participate. Don’t be that person.
More involved than a pitch events, writers enter an original work—be it query, manuscript, or other—to compete with other writers for the chance to snag an experienced mentor/coach. The mentor helps the winners revise in preparation for an agent showcase where agents review the work and might request further material.
Pitch Wars: Another Brenda Drake original, this is likely the most well-known and demanding of the mentor-style contests. If selected by a Pitch Wars mentor, you work on your full manuscript to make it the best possible version in preparation for an A-list agent showcase. The process is intense, but mentees walk away having had a condensed master-class in craft. Many mentors return yearly and focus solely on the romance genre.
Pitch Madness: Shorter than Pitch Wars, contestants submit their manuscript’s first page and logline. If selected, they polish both pieces with the help of their mentors. The revised logline and page are then posted for agents to review and request material.
Query Kombat: A bracket-style tournament, contestants submit a query and first 250 words in order to go head-to-head against other contenders (typically in the same genre, if possible). Judges vote and award “victories” to entries, providing feedback for both contenders, and winners move on to the next round with two opportunities to revise during the competition. This continues until only one entry remains and a champion is crowned. Bonus, after the first elimination, all remaining entries are entered into the agent round where requests are made.
Take Advantage of Romance Writing Contests
I know I’ve barely grazed the surface, and if I’ve missed your favorite, please share it in the comments below. Romance writing contests are a fabulous way to develop relationships within the writing community. Make sure you read and follow each contest’s guidelines, and be cordial to your fellow participants.
Finally, it’s nerve-wracking inviting judgment of our writing ability, but if we never let others critique our work, it’s near impossible to improve. To grow as writers, we must open our eyes to the flaws in our writing. Be brave.