Monday, November 28, 2011

First Pages/Writing Contests

At many writing conferences and writing programs like ours at Hamline, agents or editors will hold a first pages session. The first page of a story is read and first reactions given. As readers, we have our own first page reaction. How many times have you heard someone say, "It just didn't grab me." or "I couldn't get into it?"

Most of us give a story more of a chance than the first 250 words, but in today's competitive publishing market, often the first page is all that is read from the slush pile of manuscripts on the floor of an editor or agent. First page advice: grab the reader, but don't confuse them. Setting needs to be clear, as does the challenge facing the protagonist. Will they be able to act on the problem by the last page, in a way that they couldn't on the first?

First pages are often the last finished section of a revised manuscript. So don't rush getting it perfect when the rest of the story is still evolving.

That said, do you have a first page and enticing title for a YA novel? If so, consider entering the contest below. It seems legitimate. At least it is proof positive that the old world of publishing doesn't work the same way any more.

Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers' Workshop, is hosting its third Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation ("with one of New York's leading YA literary agents!") Part in parentheses is from the contest web site. Some of you know how I hate the use of "!'s"

Submit an enticing title along with the first 250 words from the opening of your original YA novel. If interested, don't wait. The deadline is November 30th.

For those of you writing middle grade novels or picture books, there is another contest, but this one is for full manuscripts. The National Association of School Principals has teamed with Charlesbridge Publishing Company to select two manuscripts for publication and promotion through their organization. The first page will matter on this one, too. First round judges likely won't read past it, if the writing isn't strong.

Part of me hesitates to broadcast news of contests. On the other hand, when your work is ready, you need to find agents and editors for feedback. Anyone out there had good luck with contests? Is it a good way to break in?


  1. Thank you for the heads up, Claire! Just curious, when should a writer enter a contest or send a manuscript to an agent or editor? Has anyone out there ever wished they hadn't entered a contest? I've heard some folks say that they "know when it's time." But how? What if you've written the hell out of a manuscript? When is it okay to let it go? Thoughts? :0)

  2. When you have let it sit for a month and when you return to it, you still think it is ready to go. You only get one chance with an editor and an agent usually. They are looking for reasons to put it down, as they read so many submissions. Hope this helps. It may also be time for you to get out in the world.

  3. Why do you think submitting the work is so frightening for some of us? I know writers who don't think twice about sending their work into the world. I don't fear feedback (I've always had a pretty tough skin), but knowing that someone else is reading the work is daunting--maybe that's undermining it--it scares the bejeezus out of me. It's easy to find every reason in the world to keep the work to myself. Seems silly, but it's honest. How do y'all balance the private writing life with the public parts?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Hey Claire --

    Serendipity Lit is good -- Actually, Regina Brooks is Marilyn Nelson's agent:

    I have met Reginia -- got to pitch to her -- she said, "Girl, your synopsis is confusing as heck!" She's pretty awesome.

    Contests are one way to break in, for sure. Joan Bauer won the Delacorte First Novel contest and then went on to write all kinds of cool stuff. So I say go for it.

  6. I agree, Melinda. Two friends over the years were finalists in the Delacorte First Novel contest and it helped them get their first contracts. I thought I had heard they had discontinued it. I hope not.