For anyone seriously considering entering the Golden Heart Contest, I have a few comments on the pursuit of entering contests.
Many contests through the RWA chapters for unpublished writers offer a variety of enticements. Usually, the final judges are editors from publishing houses looking for new authors, occasionally they are agents seeking new clients. Sometimes published authors offer a full manuscript critique as a winning prize. Some contests award a small cash prize for the top winner. Some a piece of jewelry, some the entry fee for a local or national conference. All of them charge a fee for entering. This fee is to support the individual RWA chapter.
Know your contest, understand what type of contest you're entering, and what genre/category to submit your manuscript. Make certain it's the right contest for you and your work. Be careful not to randomly enter every contest you see advertised.
I enter very few contests for a variety of reasons. The first is about money. RWA chapters sponsoring contests usually charge anywhere from $10.00 to $40.00. The national Golden Heart is the most expensive I've found at $50.00. I'm also aware of the final judges lined up for a particular contest, if they are for a publishing house I know doesn't publish my category/length of work, I won't enter. I also haven't entered any contests that accept only electronic submissions -- yet.
Most contests are for a small part of your manuscript, such as the first chapter, first 25 pages, a particular scene, and some are for query letters, some for the synopsis, etc.
One of the most important elements in entering contests is that most of them offer a critique of your work even if you're not a finalist. This is the best part about entering in my opinion. :)
Again learn as much as you can about the contest and chapter sponsoring the contest. Know ahead of time whether the contest offers critiques so you won't be disappointed if you don't receive one.
The Golden Heart does not offer a manuscript critique. However, if you final you have the thrill and national esteem of being a finalist. The final editors then read the manuscripts and make their decision in choosing one winner for each category.
Of course the best part of entering a contest is the possibility of catching the eye of an interested editor and perhaps signing a contract to be published. Very cool!