Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border

Kootenai River in NW Montana, near Canadian Border
photo by Gene Tunick of Eureka, Montana

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Opening Paragraph I

Yikes! I've been a bad, bad blogger, ignoring my responsibilities to my fan. It's been a crazy spring, summer and fall, full of soccer, college visits for my equally disorganized son, and lots of writing. Just not the blog type of writing. My novel is finally close to being sent out into the world, for better or worse, and I've been doodling with a lot on potential follow-up concepts.

Aside from my infamous "positive rejections," my critique group has been having successes. Jake has an agent for his western (and it is a western, Jake - it's got horses, gunslingers and a saloon) and Angie is having some of her books e-published. This is truly a profession where you never fail, as Dennis Foley says, but you can choose to give up.

While you're poking around my blog, be sure to check out the link to Nathan Bransford's blog, the most entertaining and educational one I've found on the business of publishing. Nate has recently been conducting his second "first paragraph" contest. Over a four-day period, any unpublished author could post the opening paragraph from a work in progress. By the time I got organized there were already over 1,100 entries, and 1,364 comments had been posted before the contest string was shut down. Some of the posts were deletions of accidental duplicates, and a few others were snarky comments or gratuitous sucking-up, but roughly 95% were actual submissions.

It was an eye-opening experience to scan the first 500 entries (poor Nathan had to personally read every single one to come up with his top six). There were a lot of romances, historicals, sci-fi and fantasies, YAs and crime stories. Not many tales for younger children, erotica and memoirs. Quite a few dead parents, failed relationship, and stumbling upon bloody corpses. Of the 500, I read about 30 that would've made me take the book straight to the cash register, and an equal number that would've had me flipping pages to see what the rest looked like.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of poorly-written crap, along with plenty of decent attempts marred by preventable flaws - misspellings, poor grammar and cluelessness about the meaning of "one paragraph only." Since I enjoy reading offbeat works, none of the topics made me squirm but some of the language was off-putting. Phrases such as "nether regions" and "anal leakage" spring to mind (although the latter would be a great name for a punk band, if such groups still exist).

Imagine your typical struggling editor or literary agent, forced to wade through knee-high garbage all day at work, then dragging a stack of it home to pollute her home. What a thrill it must be to discover a writer who can actually tell a coherent stort with a flair for drama, humor or tension, an interesting voice, and some understanding of craft. Every day she receives unsolicited, handwritten manuscipts on lined paper. The agent or editor gets: phone calls about submissions that were mailed three days earlier; query letters on lavender, scented stationery with a photo of the author's children/cat/grandmother; and knick-knacks, boxes of candy and the occasional $5 bill in the hope these will entice her to look more kindly on the submission.

Well. My Old Year's Resolution is to not only dedicate myself to selfless blogging, but also to enrich the lives of agents and editors everywhere by submitting works that will bring smiles to their faces and a ka-ching to their bottom line.

Next blog: my thoughts on an opening few paragraphs, and what I submitted for Nathan's contest.

To all you authors out there, keep the faith and keep writing.

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