Jul 3, 2013

IWSG: All the Doubts

Today is the day of the monthly Insecure Writer's Support Group. It is hosted by the amazing Alex J. Cavanaugh and is the chance for writers to voice their insecurities, stresses or provide sunshine and hope for those of us who feel like we are traversing the eternal tunnel of someday.

I have entered a few contests online. Some of these contests require either a 35 word pitch or a 150-250 first words excerpt.

Here's the problem.

1. I think I hate myself my continuing to enter these things.
2. The concept of my story is complex.
3. I have a great first line, but the real concept of the story doesn't get solidified until about word 300.
4. I get great feedback when people do a first page read and it's significantly weaker when people just read the first 250.

One of the values of these online contests is getting feedback, from new readers, which essentially is what most of the readers will be if this book goes to publication. But I can't decide if I'm limiting myself, if I'm putting myself through undue stress for no good reason. I mean, when I sit down with a book, I don't stop after the first 250. I understand the value of strong starts, but....?

Am I trying to talk myself out of these when they are serving a good purpose? Do I really need to revamp for a strong 250 or is a strong first page still okay? Do you enter contests? Why? Why not? 


JeffO said...

I critted one of the recent 'first line' competitions, and I saw a few cases where it looked like the writer contorted themselves horribly to shoehorn some extra hook in the line for it (I see this with 'first 250' contests, too; how convenient the placement of that cliffhanger/hook!). The thing is, I don't think I've ever put a book down based on the first line alone. Some people would, just as some people would put a book down if they opened it and saw the word, "Prologue."

I think the value in those contests (especially the first 250) is that they can indicate potential problems in your work. In the end, it's like any other criticism--you have to weigh what they're saying with what you're trying to accomplish.

Oh, the ones that kill me are first line contests where people will respond to a five word opening line with something like, "This doesn't sound like [insert genre here]." That makes me crazy.

Anonymous said...

I've entered a few blog contests and won a few books, but normally I don't bother, I enjoyed reading about your insecurities great. post.


J. A. Bennett said...

Don't worry about being judged on the first 250. Contest aren't the end all be all of your publishing career. Sometimes it's better to cold query so you can give out the first chapter. Hard though, becasue responses are less likely. I've been there, keep going and something is bound to happen!

Laura said...

I think as long as you have a great first page, the first 250 words don't matter. It's hard to make 250 words stand out by themselves, anyway!

David P. King said...

You're doing a great thing by sharing what you have to the masses. That shows you're able to take feedback. As for feedback, take from it what will help your story. Someone will always have something to say about it (me included) when someone else may find nothing wrong with it. There's no right or wrong - just what works. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think if you know it's strong on that first page, even if it's past that word mark, that's what matters. I think agents and publishers might judge that quickly, but readers don't.

Stephanie said...

Well, I'll never say you shouldn't edit to make every part of your story the best it can be, whether it's the first sentence, the first paragraph or the first chapter. Best, of course, being subjective.

However, all contests are not for everyone. Certainly a contest to write the most thrilling opener is not for me, because that's not the sort of book I write.

I think entering a contest requires the same measure of attention that submitting to an agent or editor requires. See if it's right for you, and don't change your story in a way that makes you unhappy.

Jai said...

I think it is great that you are entering contests. I haven't done that - yet.

As a reader I'd say if you know you're going to have me hooked in 300 words or so - I wouldn't worry about trying to boil it down into the first 250, you might do more harm than good.

Andrew Leon said...

Real people (meaning people outside of the publishing industry) don't care about the first line or the first page or the first anything. In all likelihood (I think it's something over 80%), they are reading the book on the suggestion of a friend, and they've already bought into it. Almost no one puts down a book they have already decided to read after just one page. The number I've seen most often is 50 pages. You have 50 pages to make a reader want to keep going. The only people that care about this first page stuff are agents that are trying to sift through hundreds of these a day.

MollyMom103 said...

I haven't had one contest really lead to any actual success. I find that it's meeting people that really seems to get the opportunities rolling.

Julie Luek said...

I've entered a few nonfiction contests and never won, but for me, the real value is in the practice and refining that comes from the contest, rather than the actual results. Still, sigh, it would be such a boost!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I stopped entering contests of any kind when I received two completely opposing views on the first 25 pages of a manuscript. Not that some of the feedback wasn't useful, but it kind of ended the attraction for me.

ilima said...

I am a firm believer in online contests. Two of my CP's landed agents through them, and I even got an offer of rep from an agent through one (though I signed with someone else). I know how stressful it all can be, but they are so worth it.

Tia Bach said...

I have found contests to be worth it, but they are very subjective. You can do well in one and not well in another with the same piece. So keep that in mind.

Wishing you all the best!

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