Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Educational Opportunity

Agent Nathan Bransford is currently holding a First Paragraph Contest.  There were over 2200 entries last time I checked.

Can I just tell you, I'm as excited as an elf on Christmas!  Not to enter, you understand, but to have the chance to play Slush Pile Reader.

Processing a giant stack of unpublished writing samples simply isn't like regular reading. I'd bet brain scans would show it has more in common with evaluating a sackfull of beans.  Even if you want to appreciate each individual bean, your brain is wired to categorize and generalize.  You recognize common characteristics and get progressively faster at dismissing almost every bean as typical of a type almost the instant you lay eyes on it.

Agents, editors, and undercompensated assistants have provided myriad lists of these fatal traits, but no advice makes as stark an impression as reading the slush pile yourself.  Contests like Nathan's are as close as most of us will ever get to that education.


  1. After (skimming) about 1,500 of them, I began to consider creating a website where people could read opening paragraphs and then mark the place where they lost interest. It might be useful to writers to find out how good they are at hanging onto the reader's attention.

    That contest certainly is an education, though. There's so many paragraphs that do nothing wrong, but just don't stand out. Eek.

  2. Exactly! Though I must say yours stood out to me. Of course, I'm biased now :)

    Is that from your WIP, the novel on submission, or something new?