Saturday, November 21, 2009

Marcher Lord Select

I’ve been having fun with the Marcher Lord Select contest.

When I went to Denver in September I met with Jeff Gerke. He’s the editor/publisher of Marcher Lord Press, a new publishing company specializing in Christian speculative fiction. He asked for my manuscript and invited me to participate in an innovative venture he’d just begun to help him decide what novel he would choose as his third selection for the Spring 2010 list. He posted blurbs and synopses of 36 manuscripts on line and invited readers to select which one they wanted him to publish, based on that information.

The contest is in full swing. It runs in three or four phases, each phase eliminating manuscripts until, in the end, one will be selected as the winner. While I’m sure mine won’t be the final winner, it has been fun to participate, and I was pleased that mine was one of the 18 that survived the first round.

Now we’re in round two. Readers can only select six of these 18 competing manuscripts, and the selection is based on a reading of the first 500 words of the manuscript.

I’ve talked before on this blog about the importance of beginnings, so I should know better. But seeing my first 500 words in print next to the first 500 words of the other first phase winners has been a disappointment.

My first page needs some working over. I need more action and less inner dialogue if I’m going to compete with great writers like the ones who are in this contest. I found (alas) at least seven other manuscripts that have better openings than mine.

Yes, I will vote for my own manuscript, even though it means I have to (shame-facedly) eliminate two of the seven I feel are the best. But if I’d taken my own advice more deliberately I might have been able to vote for my own with a clear conscience!

If you really want to know how your beginning stands up, it helps to see it next to the competition. And if you want a great beginning, you need to look at no more than the first 500 words. Some faithful readers (like your mother) might be willing to hold out for more than 500 words before they put your book down, but many potential readers will be browsing the bookstore shelves. They’ll read the blurb on the back, for sure. Mine has a good blurb. Good enough that 70 voters in the contest wanted to read more. But the next thing readers will judge your book by is the first page. If you don’t hook them there, you’ll miss them completely. It’s those readers I want to try to reach with my beginning.

So, no matter how the contest turns out, I have learned something that might help me get published in the end—somewhere, somehow. If I can perk up my first page a bit, it could make all the difference. I’m going to go back to the beginning again, literally, to take a look at how I can make it a big enough hook to drag readers into the heart of the story. It’s worth doing, because I’ve got a great story to tell.

P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about Marcher Lord Press, check out the contest at:
You have to sign into the forum to see the entries and vote, but the sign in is free and safe, and it’s fun to take a peek at what crazy ideas Christian speculative authors are thinking up these days. You'll find the entries under the top board, Marcher Lord Select. There are two contests--a main contest and a premise only one. My manuscript is in Phase 2 of the Main Contest.


Joanna Mallory said...

I hope you make the next cut!

I've found it helpful reading the blurbs, summaries and now opening pages. Seeing so many together helps me understand the competition our novels face for editors' attention, and it shows the importance of sending our very best work.

Robynn Tolbert said...

You're the writer of Zinovy's Journey! I would normally never read a story about a Russian cosmonaut, but I have to admit, I decided to give it a chance for that very reason. I liked your first 500 words (as you can tell from my forum comments). You are one of the six I'm voting for this round.