How A Shy Writer Learned To Make The Most Of The Golden Heart Experience

Please help me welcome super-talented and award-winning romance writer Joleen James to the blog. Not only is she one of the nicest people around, she's also a four-time Golden Heart Finalist (including 2010).
Here's Joleen:

The Golden Heart experience can be a wonderful career boost, but to really get the most out of the contest you need to put yourself out there, and for a lot of us, including me, that’s tough. Attending the National conference can be intimidating, even for the multi-published. When you’re a little fish, even making a small splash can be painful.

I’ve been a Golden Heart finalist four times, and it’s taken me that long to figure out that I needed to become my own advocate, toot my own horn, because no one was going to do it for me. The first time I finaled, I pushed myself to send out three proposals to three different agents. To my surprise, two of the agents offered to represent the book. I chose one of the agents, and I let her take over. I did nothing else.

When I finaled the second time, I still had an agent. I went to the National conference. I met with editors, but again, nothing really happened. Around this time the historical market was dying. I had some tough choices to make. My agent was losing interest in me. I began to think about reinventing myself. Out of necessity I began writing contemporary romance, but I wasn’t sure where my voice fit. I’m sure this was tough on my agent. Eventually, we parted ways.

That’s when I got to work and decided I had to stand up for myself and be my own advocate. I am responsible for my career. For years I’d been content to let others dictate my career path. Once I made the decision to put myself out there, things began to change.

When I finaled in the Golden Heart a third time I began to shop for an agent, but because the book had already been rejected by the category line I’d written it for, I didn’t have any luck. Did that stop me? Nope. I won the Golden Heart for this book.
Winning the Golden Heart gave me the confidence I’d been lacking. For the first time, I took charge of my career and took a long, hard look at what I had to offer a publisher. I came up with a big, fat zero. I wasn’t doing anything to promote myself or my work. Why would a New York publisher want to take a chance on me? What did I have to offer them? Around this time I read two great books: Get Known Before The Book Deal, by Cristina Katz, and The Author’s Guide To Building An Online Platform, by Stephanie Chandler. These books opened my eyes and made me realize that I needed to offer potential publishers something more than just my manuscript.

I put up a website —this was hard for me. Again, I hate to toot my own horn, but as an unpublished author with no book covers to take up all the space on the front page of her website, I had to post something personal about myself. I listed my Golden Heart finals. I posted links to my 1st Turning Point articles. I even included the short synopses of my two most recently completed books.

At this same time my critique group submitted a workshop proposal, and it was picked up. Giving a workshop is right up there with getting my teeth drilled. I’ve presented at workshops before, and it always amazes me that the seats are filled. No matter what stage you are in your career, you have experiences to share.

In addition to promoting, I also realized I had to keep writing. I wrote two more books following my Golden Heart win. I entered the Golden Heart again, and I finaled a fourth time. This time I was ready. My website was up. My name was out in cyberspace. I belonged to several loops (although, I’m not as active as I’d like to be--I still have a hard time sharing anything via a loop, even good news—I am working on this).

I queried agents, and this time I found one. I attended the National conference in Orlando. I introduced myself to my fellow finalists, not easy for me, but so rewarding. I met new, wonderful people. I went to an editor appointment, nervous beyond belief, and I actually had the best appointment I’ve ever had. This time if an editor searches for me online, he or she will find something; see that I’m doing my part to promote my work.

Each time you put yourself out there, it gets a little easier. If you don’t take the chance you’ll never know if you missed something great. Take baby steps. Introduce yourself to your fellow chapter members or conference attendees. Smile. Send your work out. Do a guest blog or two. If you don’t have a website, at least begin thinking about the content. You’ll know when you’re ready to take the big leap into personal promotion.

For me, it’s time to learn about Twitter. I need to build a Facebook fan page. I actually want a TweetDeck. I’ve come a long way. If I can put myself out there, you can too!

Joleen Wieser James won the Golden Heart® Award in 2008 for her series contemporary book Under A Harvest Moon. A four-time Golden Heart finalist, she has also finaled/placed in several Romance Writers of America® sponsored contests, including The Maggie Award of Excellence, The Orange Rose, and The Heart of the Rockies. Most recently, she’s taken on columnist duties at 1st Turning Point, an online promotion site for authors. When she’s not busy writing, she enjoys spending time with her family at her lakeside home in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.


  1. Joleen, good for you for putting yourself "out there." Glad my blog could be one of your "out there" venues. :)

    Everyone--Joleen is out of town this weekend, but she will be checking in when she can today.

  2. Great advice, Joleen. Self promo is one of the toughest things for those of us who are private people and aren't naturally outgoing.

  3. Joleen, What a wonderful, upbeat attitude! Congratulations to you for all that you've done to forward your own career. Here's to many more accomplishments in the months ahead.

  4. Hi Gina, Gerri and Becky,

    Thanks for the comments. It's so hard to self promote, but I'm trying. Most of my goals this year, aside from writing, center on finding ways to make a mark in this very tough business. :) That said, it does get easier all the time. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Wow, Joleen. You have really taken the steps to put yourself out there. It's inspirational. And an important cog on the ladder that holds much in store for your future, eh? Best of luck!

  6. Joleen,

    Congratulations on your four GHs. I had no idea that you'd finaled(and won) that many times.

    I'm with you. I need to promote myself more. My problem is finding the time. I too need to start a Facebook fan page. I don't know about Tweeter. I'll have to investigate that one more.

    Good luck with your writing.

  7. Hey Joleen, nice to meet another shy writer. I saw you at Nationals and never knew. Like you, one of my issues is time, so everybody out there, get cracking NOW, because these are things you will need the most when you have the least time - when your book nears it's release date. Be positive, it is going to happen, maybe even sooner than you think, so find some way to fit thirty hours of work into every twenty-four. (And then tell me the secret)

    I paid someone to put up my website earlier this year, and now I (mostly) update it myself. I have a Facebook and now I'm try to figure out the Fan Page thing. I have a Twitter and 9 (count them) followers although I haven't been on in months because that is just one thing I can't see the use of, and a blog that I need to spend more time with. And that's the issue, time, because as a shy writer, I find the Internet much more my friend than in-person appearances.

    Oh well, no life is perfect.

  8. Hi Jolene,

    Great post. Very inspiring! Good for you re-inventing yourself and becoming all techo-savy!

    I have a feeling your career is going to start sizzling soon!


  9. Jolene,

    That's great advice about taking baby steps. When it comes to self-promotion, it's not always easy, especially for the more introverted among us (and I'm one of 'em!). But baby steps allow me to say, "Whew, I did it!" I can take a few more steps with a little more confidence next time.


  10. Hi Jolene,
    What an inspiring post! Thanks for sharing your story. I'll look for you on Twitter.