Monday, August 31

Interview with Jamie Michele, 2009 Golden Heart winner!

Hi, Jamie,
Thank you for joining us today on Wordwranglers! You won the 2009 Golden Heart in Romantic Suspense Action-Adventure category with your manuscript, Romance or Retribution!

Q: Were agents and editors banging down your door after the win?

While the win itself hasn't increased the level of interest I see in my work, there's no doubt that finaling in the Golden Heart contest makes agents take notice of you. After the announcement of the finalists' names in March, most agents I queried responded within days or hours, which is more than I can say for my pre-announcement response rate. The difference was stunning, actually. My book hadn't changed, but agents suddenly responded much more quickly about it. I don't begrudge agents for this apparent difference in behavior -- and no, I'm not just saying that to be nice. If I were an agent, I'd take a closer and quicker look at Golden Heart finalists who query me than those who are not. It's a wonderful filter for the industry, and I was lucky to be one of the few caught in the net this year.
Or, perhaps I'd just finally queried the right agents. I can't assume that they're all just arms of the same beast. While I believe that finaling in -- even winning -- the Golden Heart makes your queries move more quickly, the contest shouldn't change the ultimate result of your query. The contest isn't going to sway anyone's opinion in a direction it wasn't already going.

Q: How has winning the Golden Heart impacted your career?

I attended this year's RWA national conference, and though it was my first conference, I'm sure my networking abilities were substantially increased by my status as a Golden Heart finalist. For one thing, finalists are invited to attend several different events in which they mingle with not only each other but also the current Rita finalists. The "Golden Heart Finalist" ribbon I was given upon registration brought smiles and congratulations from most people I met, including a few editors, agents, book reviewers, and published authors.
Longer-term, though, I'll always be a Golden Heart winner. Nothing I do will ever take that away now. I can put it on my query letters, and it'll continue to get me quicker responses from editors and agents (though I have to assume that the shine will wear off after a few years).
On a more personal level, I'm often hard-pressed to understand why anyone would want to read anything I might have to say. Wearing the Golden Heart necklace while I write helps to remind me that at one point in history, several people (including a few editors) got together and decided that one of my manuscripts was pretty good. I must not suck quite as badly as I fear I do. Right?

Q: What are your plans for the manuscript now?

I'm working on revisions for one of the Golden Heart final-round judges. It's a fairly significant reboot, and I hope I can pull it off. One tiny problem with winning the Golden Heart is that you're not allowed to kick your winning book under your bed and forget it ever existed. Well, I guess I could, but I'd be disappointed in myself. I owe this book a debt. It's given me so much, I can't just ignore it now.

Q: Will you enter the Golden Heart again?

Yes, if I have something new in time for the deadline. I don't enter many contests. This was the second I'd ever entered. I get fairly mathematical about things, and the way I see it, the value I received from finaling in this contest would probably not be exactly doubled if I final a second time. It would be an honor, to be sure, but I don't think it would help my career much more -- unless it served to catch the eye of an editor or agent, but honestly, I should be catching their eyes anyway at this point. I shouldn't need to win or final in the Golden Heart twice. Once should be enough of a career catapult, and if I've got anything of interest to say, I should come out on top. If I don't, then I'm just a fluke, and I don't deserve to be published.

These are from Tereasa.

Hi Jamie!
Congrats on winning the Golden Heart! Thanks for doing this! My first question is, How many times had you entered this manuscript in contests?
One previous time, that I can recall. I'd entered the Rose City Romance Writers' Golden Rose contest, which models itself as a sort of Golden Heart practice run. I finaled but didn't win. I received incredibly helpful and lengthy feedback from the contest judges, and I used their notes (and the comments of Harlequin/Silhouette editors who'd recently rejected the same version) to completely revamp the opening chapters of my book. That revised version is the one that went on to win the Golden Heart.

Q: Was this the only time it placed?

(See above)

Q: And is the romance /suspense throughout the same, fifty-fifty?

Interesting question. I haven't charted it. My husband says it's 60% suspense/adventure, 40% romance. He's probably right. I didn't have the slightest idea what I was doing when I wrote it, so it's not like it adheres to any sort of plan. I'm going back and inserting a plan now, which is far more difficult than beginning with one, I think.

Q: What's the next course of action for you, getting an agent or did you already have one?

I'm not worrying too much about finding an agent right now. I'm very focused on revisions right now.

Is this entry a single title or targeted at category romantic suspense?
Category, though I've heard that my screwed-up heroine would go over better in single title. She's one of the things I'm revising!

Thanks much!


  1. Hi, Jamie!

    Congratulations on your GH win. Could you share with us the number of manuscripts you completed prior to Romance or Retribution?

    Best of luck in your revision process.

  2. Hi, Jamie:


    When reading over your q/a so far, I saw where you intended to make a plan for your ms. now, after the fact. Whey are you doing this?

  3. BTW, I meant WHY are you doing this?

  4. Congrats on your win, Jamie. How exciting!! After several bad experiences with contest entries, I stopped entering them. My question for you is, how is entering the Golden Heart different from entering a RWA chapter contest? Whether through your own experience or what you've heard.

    Thanks so much!
    TLC - Toni Lynn Cloutier

  5. Congrats, Jamie! The GH is a big fish.

  6. Congratulations, Jamie! It seems like everyone has a story about a contest judge who made them re-think writing because of something said on their judging sheets. Most judges are great and try to be helpful, but some comments can be harsh when the writer only sees the words and doesn't hear the inflection in the voice. My question: is it hard not to let the bad comments get to you? Is there something you do so that the bad comments don't scare you away from writing?

  7. Wow! You are all up early. Thanks to everyone for your kind words of congratulations and thoughtful questions.

    Kelsey, ROMANCE OR RETRIBUTION was my first manuscript.

    Liz, I decided that I needed more structure in the book because the editor I'm revising for told me so. Well, she didn't come out and say it like that, but her comments pointed out so many plot holes (mostly after page 50, which may explain why I was able to get away with a Golden Heart this year), that I couldn't see a way to address her concerns without fixing the underlying structure. I really like the idea of having a solid foundation upon which to lay my story, and I intend on being a more structured writer from now on.

  8. Congrats Jamie - your acceptance speech brought tears to my eyes. We were all so thrilled for you! Will this year's finalists do a blog?

    Did any big name author or agent you rubbed elbows with pass on any sage advice that we could all benefit from?

  9. Great first post! Congratulations on your win and good luck on those revisions. It sounds like there's a fire broiling under you and I know the story is going to emerge even stronger.

    On another note -- thanks for grabbing my envelope for me! It's a wonderful memento and so thoughtful that you did that. :)

  10. Toni Lynn, the Golden Heart is really just for national recognition and to get your MS in front of highly targeted (though anonymous) final judges. There's no feedback beyond your scores, and even if you final, you never know who your final judges were. It's much more expensive (often twice as much) as local contests, and is much more competitive. By and large the writers who final in the Golden Heart have already experienced some success in a local contest, whether with that manuscript or another. While there's nothing stopping anyone from entering any contest they like, the Golden Heart is an expensive, somewhat silent choice for someone who hasn't already finaled in a chapter contest.

    Local contests are awesome for not only supporting local chapters, but also for getting feedback from random strangers. The real reward, though, comes if your manuscript finals, for then it's read by an editor or agent who presumably has some interest in acquiring works like yours. But take comments with a grain of salt. If several judges tell you the same basic thing, consider the possibility that they might be right. If one judge tells you something that you think is outlandish, throw it out. My second manuscript, LOVING ABANDON, just finaled in my local chapter's "Vixen" contest, and though my scores were high, one judge thought I should have hyphenated compounds like "largely irrelevant" or "smartly dressed." I know for a certainty that she's dead wrong -- one never hyphenates adverbs ending in "ly," whether before or after a noun -- but she still marked me down on the grammar portion of the scores. So, I downed a huge grain of salt with that one!

  11. Christi, thanks! The Ruby Slippered Sisters are planning to blog. I think we're starting on the day the Golden Heart contest opens for entries this year: September 21. We're lucky to have a web designer named Liz Bemis ( among the sisters, so we're moving along very quickly.

    I DID get some sage advice, though it came neither from an editor nor an agent but rather from the business-minded husband of a very successful author.

    He advised me to stop trying to get an agent, and focus on getting an editor. Particularly for my purposes -- I'm writing category romance -- there's a ton of wisdom in his words. Though I have great respect for the services agents provide, the agent search can be distracting for a new author. We get too caught up in what a particular agent wants to see, and lose track of the fact that agents don't buy books. Editors buy books, and if we spend too much time worrying about courting an agent, we might forget that agents aren't the ones with the money. They have should be able to grant your work access to those who have the money, but agents cannot give you money directly.

    I'd like some money. Therefore, I'd like an editor. I'd like an agent, too, but right now, that's step three in my three-step plan to publishing.

    1. Write a really good book.
    2. Get an editor to want to buy it.
    3. Get an agent to keep from getting screwed by step 2.

  12. Thanks, Autumn!

    Kristina, interesting question. I just received my comment sheets from the Vixen contest, and I'm a bit hesitant to open them. Well, I opened one and got annoyed, so I closed it. An annoying comment can throw me off writing for a few hours, and I can't afford to lose that time. None of us can. My husband has offered to screen such things for me to make sure nothing too annoying throws me off, but I'm not sure I want to get in the habit of indulging my weakness. I know that if I ever do get published, I'll need to get used to hearing all kinds of criticism and random negativity from strangers who may or may not have read my books. I wish I could defend myself sometimes, but that's part of being a writer. We won't be able to defend ourselves once our books are published, so we shouldn't be able to defend ourselves in contests.

    Books have to stand on their own, so it's our responsibility to make them strong enough to withstand the forces of negativity.

  13. Thanks, Jeannie! I'm glad I got to meet you at the post-ceremony bash, however briefly. I'm so eager to read your Golden-Heart winner BUTTERFLY SWORDS when it's released from Mills & Boon. It's great to see an industry leader broadening its historical romance offerings to include a tale set in ancient China.

  14. Great first Interview. You're on your way, girl. Gook luck with the revisions and second book.


    RSS Autumn

  15. Hi, Autumn! Fellow GH finalists are in da house!

    I just read the rest of my scoresheets for the Vixen, BTW. The woman who wanted me to hyphenate adverbial compounds turned out to be a compassionate, eagle-eyed reader, so while I won't take her advice on the hyphens, I'm grateful to have had her assigned to read my entry.

    It just goes to show that one unusual or unfounded comment does not define a judge, just as one "off" sentence doesn't define your book. I'm really pleased that the Vixen contest judges put so much time and thought into grading entries, and I appreciate their attention to detail.

  16. Hi, Jamie!! Great post, and great answers to follow-up questions, too.

    I'm so thrilled about your second MS finaling in the're on the verge, sistah!


  17. I'm curious to know where most of your effort has gone in relation to this book, in terms of writing the first draft, shopping it around to agents/editors, entering contests, and performing revisions/edits. Do you have an idea for the rough percentages for this breakdown? And how do you expect this to change as you get more books under your belt?

  18. Hi Elisa! Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words.

    Blogging makes me nervous. It's nice to see so many friends.

  19. Anon!

    I love anons, and a great question, too.

    First draft: 9 to 12 months
    Second draft: 5 months
    Contest miscellany: ten days
    Agent search: four weeks

    I'm probably underestimating the amount of time I spend doing miscellaneous things like checking industry blogs or daydreaming about who will star in the movie version of my books. Also, as soon as football season starts, I'm doomed to spend a portion of the day sweating over my fantasy team.

    I'm halfway into my third book now, and I feel like I'm a faster writer than I was before. I still struggle with knowing what comes next, but I know what I'm doing when I sit down to work every day.

  20. Jamie, I have a picture of you sitting at your desk writing and occasionally fingering that golden heart around your neck. Now there is inspitation.

    RSS Rita

  21. You're a class act, Sister. Great interview, lots of good advice for others on the road. Heels clicking for your Vixen win.

  22. Congrats, Jamie! And good luck with those revisions and contests! You can do it. :)

  23. Hi, Jamie,
    Nice blog post! You have a very healthy outlook on judges' comments. That'll come in handy when(!) your books get published. I always thought of contest comments as a kind of dress rehearsal for reviewers. Sometimes they get it exactly right, and sometimes they leave you scratching your head. The trick is knowing when to wash down all those grains of salt with some tequila. :)
    Good luck with everything!

  24. Hi Gwynlyn!

    Loved your last post at on healing through the ages.

    Heel clicking for your husband's health...

    Hi Vivi! I got a kick our of your guest blog over at today. I just got back from a ten-day vacation, and my cats are just distraught. One of them was crying by herself in the basement this morning. So sad! I can't tell if they're angry that we're home or were devastated by our absence.

  25. Shawn Dalton-SmithAugust 31, 2009 at 5:40 PM

    Hey Jamie
    Congrats on your win! After you sent in your mss were there any regrets? Did you look at it and wish you'd sent something else, or made certain changes to your story? I'm a chronic worry wart and could see myself dropping an entry in the mail only to wish I could climb in the mailbox to get it back.

  26. Hi Shawn,

    Thanks for stopping by. I think I went on a trip just after I mailed off my MS for the Golden Heart, so I didn't think much of it. Months later, I joined an online critique group ( and began to think that my introduction sucked and I'd never final. So I reworked it. That second version finaled in the Daphne along with Word Wrangler D'Ann.

    But I hate fiddling with the same manuscript for months. I'm happy to be working on ROMANCE OR RETRIBUTION again, but only because I have specific guidelines to work with and a particular person I'm working for. If I were just puttering around with it for no particular reason, I'd go crazy.

    In general, I think it's incredibly important to move on to a new project once you mail off a contest entry.

  27. Rita-nominated romantic suspense author Joyce Lamb, how great of you to stop by!

    You're right about judges' comments being mere dress rehearsal for reviews. Really, unpublished authors are on ego easy street! I shudder when I think of the awful things I will hear when my books are published. It makes me want to be sure that I can stand behind them when push comes to shove.

    I need to not get riled up by incorrect grammar suggestions given by otherwise sharp judges with kind intentions. There are far worse things I need to worry about than someone telling me I need a hyphen when I'm quite sure I do not.

  28. Hi Jamie - and hi to D'Ann as well.

    Jamie it was wonderful to meet you in DC and fantastic that someone I KNEW won - I'm glad I sat at the back because I did scream a little.

    Excellent information and advice - and I too loved your acceptance speech. How fortunate you are to be married to your own hero, supporting you at every step.

    Keep writing, everyone!

  29. Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for screaming for me. I really enjoyed meeting you, too.

    My hubs truly is my one true companion. I'm so lucky to have him by my side!

    Thank you all for visiting today, and thanks to D'Ann and the rest of the Word Wranglers for having me as their guest today! If you have a moment, please visit I don't have a blog -- perhaps I should -- but I look forward to blogging with my Ruby Slippered Sisters beginning on September 21, 2009. Look for us on a computer near you!

  30. Hi Jamie...

    Congrats! What a fantastic've got to be so proud of your accomplishment. =)

    sorry I missed your post earlier in the has been a zoo! great post - great inspiration!


  31. Jamie!
    The Word Wranglers (Christi, Karan, Margie, Tereasa and myself) can't thank you enough for such a great interview! All the information was fantastic! You were a superfabulous first guest! Thank you for making this so much fun!
    I also want to thank so many friends, CPs and guests for stopping by and talking to Jamie!
    You're all the very best!

  32. Great interview! Congratulations. :-) I hope the revisions get you a contract!

  33. Congrats to Jamie and sorry for being so late to your party! Nasty internet connection died on me :-(

  34. hi, ladies.
    Jamie has left the building! Find her here:
    Thanks for dropping by!