One night last week, I entered the “First Paragraph” blog contest that Nathan Bransford was hosting. After copying and pasting the first lines of Jim and Jack into the official comment thread, I got the message that it had been added but might take a while to show. Then I went to bed.
The contest concluded the next day, and that afternoon I checked to make sure my comment had actually gone through. As I maneuvered through the blizzard of entries to comments posted around the time mine was, I happened to read many of the competition’s paragraphs. Some were bad, some were decent, some were fashionably stark, others were the purplest of prose. Then I found mine. After reading everything else, I didn’t even think it sounded that great.
It’s one thing to know that there are millions of writer-wannabes out there, all searching for the same brass ring, but it’s quite another to wade through the slush pile and see that for oneself. Everyone thinks his or her manuscript is the next bestseller, and almost all are certain to be wrong.
I once read a study which purported that (generally) everyone thinks they are good-looking. No matter how homely a person might be, when they see themselves alone in a mirror, they can fully appreciate their own uniqueness. It’s only amongst the masses that one falls short, and the tall, dark and handsome are the ones who always seem to get the girl. However, there are many who might prefer the nice guy with the good sense of humor, if they only got to know him.
I suspect that it’s similar when submitting one’s manuscript, which is why “knowing someone” in this business can make such a difference. Like a well-meaning friend setting up a blind date, a referral affords the opportunity for agents and editors to give a manuscript some individual attention, hopefully allowing them to recognize Mr. Right. That’s why contests like NB’s are so popular – the prize of getting one’s work in front of an agent is like winning The Dating Game. Things might not work out, but at least you have a chance to strut your stuff.
Alas, I didn’t win, but here’s my first paragraph (and just a tad more), of my Half Moon Island History-Mystery, written for gifted boys aged 11-16* who enjoy books like My Side of the Mountain and A Separate Peace:
—–Jack awakened early, the island still in slumber except for the songbirds, whose warbling kept him from rolling over and going back to sleep. Drowsy, he listened for their different voices, identifying a cardinal and then a robin. A mourning dove cooed its gentle trill, and he could hear the distant tapping of a woodpecker. A jay screeched overhead, breaking the peacefulness of the moment. Jack rolled over in the half-light to peer at his identical twin, asleep in the other bed. He was lying on his back with his mouth open, a light snore issuing with each breath.
—–“Jim!” Jack whispered. His brother remained motionless, pajama-clad legs entangled in the white cotton bedspread. With a grin, Jack reached over to the desk and tore a corner off some scrap paper.