Publisher’s Spotlight: The Arcanist

As I mentioned, my short story Inner Beauty is for Suckers was published on The Arcanist last month, and I wanted to give you all a more in-depth run-down of what they publish.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

  • In their own words: “We’re a new Medium-based literary magazine that focuses on fantasy and sci-fi flash fiction. We love magical worlds full of dragons and speculative looks at the future, and we think these two genres are important to our culture, which is why we want to give writers of these genres a new place to publish their work. One that pays them, too. (Yay!)”
  • Genres they accept: Science Fiction and Fantasy. “We understand that SF/F encompasses many different sub genres (like horror, for example) and we welcome those, too.”
  • What NOT to send:
    • No hate speech, racism, or any other offensive materials. This is a no-brainer.
    • No extremely vulgar stories filled to the brim with naughty words. We’re not saying that those can’t be good stories, but they’re stories we don’t want.

    • No excessive gore or violence unless it is integral to the story. If it’s in there just to be gross, it’s not for us.

    • No fan fiction. We want originality.

    • No poetry.

  • Word count limit: 1,000 words or less.
  • Payment: $50 per story
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes, but let them know if accepted elsewhere.
  • Multiple Submissions**: Yes, but no more than three at at time.
  • Reprints: We prefer that your story be published here first. If you have already published it elsewhere, we can look but it’s a tough sell.
  • Schedule: Rolling submissions.

Sound good?  Then submit here!

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their published stories are freely accessible on the site.  (Including mine.)  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

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Bards and Sages 2017 Writing Competition

I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I placed first (!) in the 2017 Bards and Sages Annual Writing Competition!  I got the news a couple days before we crossed over into 2018 but couldn’t share until the official announcement went out this week.  Suffice it to say that I needed those days to collect my thoughts, lest my post on the matter be a series of excitedly jumping gifs.

Celebrate
(As opposed to just the one.)

Anyway, I’m really excited about this one because in addition to being my first win, the piece I wrote, Confessions of a Post-Modern Galatea, was one of my very first completed stories.  The original version wasn’t much more than a flash piece, but over the years it was revised and revised and revised until about a year ago, when it settled into its own at just over 6k.  I’m very proud of all the work I put into it, and extremely excited to share it with the world.

You should be able to read it as part of the Bardic Tales and Sage Advice X Anthology, set to premiere in August of 2018, most likely.  (I’m guessing based on past release dates.)  And if you want to get in on the action yourself you should check out information about next year’s competition, due to post in about April.

I’m really glad I kept working on this one for as long as I did, and I’m incredibly thankful for my writing group for giving me advice, edits and support over the last few years as I worked on this and many, many other submissions.

A strong start to 2018; here’s hoping it continues.

 

“Inner Beauty is for Suckers” now available at The Arcanist!

I’m excited to announce that my latest short story, “Inner Beauty is for Suckers” is now available to read on The Arcanist!

This story was originally conceived for a prompt given in the NYC Flash Fiction Competition, about a year ago.  I’ve signed up for NYC’s Short Story Challenge this year, so if you want to flex your writing muscles and see what comes of it, you should definitely check it out.

And while you’re at it, check out the many other flash pieces over at The Arcanist!  I plan on doing a full Publisher’s Spotlight on them sometime this month, so in the meantime catch up on a little light reading to see what kind of stories they dig.

That’s all for now, folks!  Have a Happy New Year and I’ll see you in 2018!

Publisher’s Spotlight: Lamplight

Been awhile, hasn’t it?  Halloween was yesterday, and if you’re like me, you want to hold onto that spooky feeling a little bit longer.  (Especially now that we’re getting bombarded with Christmas ads…)  So let’s take a look at a publisher offering chilling tales to tell in the dark, Lamplight.

  • In their own words: “We are a literary magazine of dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest ‘The Twilight Zone’, ‘The Outer Limits’, and LampLight, Vol1 Issue 1 which is free.”
  • Genres they accept: We go for stories that are dark, literary; we are looking for the creepy, the weird and the unsettling.
  • What NOT to send: We do not accept stories with the following: vampires, zombies, werewolves, serial killers, hitmen, excessive gore or sex, excessive abuse against women, revenge fantasies, cannibals, high fantasy.
  • Word count limit: 7,000 words max.
  • Payment: $0.03 per word, $150.00 max.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Yes, but let them know if accepted elsewhere.
  • Multiple Submissions**: No.  If you do, they’ll all be rejected.
  • Reprints: Yes, provided it’s not currently available online for free. $0.01 per word.
  • Schedule:
    • 15 March – 15 May for the September and December Issues
    • 15 September – 15 November for March and June Issues

    Submissions sent outside of these periods will not be considered.

Got something perfectly spooky to send them?  Brush those cobwebs off and submit here!

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  The first issue is freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

 

The 7 Deadly (Submission) Sins

It has been quite a year.  I admit that I had a rough…oh…six months or so…. when it came to submitting my stories, but I’m slowly getting myself back together after falling off the wagon.  I haven’t been out of the game that long, but some recent experiences prompted a conversation on best submission practices.  Today we’re going to look at some of the most common problems from both authors and publishers.

Not Following the Guidelines

Let’s start off with the number one frustration from publishers: not following their guidelines.  Literally every publication has guidelines for what they’re looking for.  Guidelines usually encompass the following specifications: genre, content, length, and manuscript formatting.  They will let you know who to send it to, what to include, how to include it, and some will even let you know when to expect an answer and how much you’ll get paid.  Every publication is a little bit different, and even ones you’ve submitted to before might update their preferences.  Read the guidelines, follow the guidelines.

Not Posting the Guidelines

I’m a proponent for equal opportunity bitching, so let me take a moment to address the publishers.  Dear editors: how are we supposed to follow your guidelines when you hide them, or worse, scatter them across multiple pages?  I don’t know who got the bright idea that formatting instructions should be separated from content guidelines but apparently that’s a thing lately.  If you must do this, such as in the event of a limited-time content call that’s separate from your usual slush pile, at least link the pages to each other.  The harder the authors have to work to research your guidelines the more likely they are to screw it up.

Too Many Guidelines

This goes with the above point, but suffice it to say that if your guidelines ramble on for longer than your max accepted word count, you’re doing it wrong.  Authors don’t have time to wade through a wall of text trying to figure out what you want and don’t want.  I don’t care why you think Courier is the devil; you do you.  And frankly, you don’t owe me an explanation.  But if you ramble on about it for three paragraphs I’m going to miss your note about single spacing and headers and then we’ll both be pissed.  If your formatting is really that specific just ask for a plain text file and copy/paste it into your preferred style.  Or learn to love Shunn, your choice.

Improper Sim-Sub Etiquette

When I first started submitting, simultaneous submissions were a huge no-no.  For those who haven’t heard this term, a simultaneous submission is a story that you’ve sent to multiple publishers.  At the time, most publishers wanted to be the only one taking your story under consideration.  If they rejected it, you were free to send it somewhere else and await their answer.  As an author, this was frustrating because the wait times could be arduous.

Nowadays most publishers (but not all – again, read your guidelines) are okay with sim-subs if—IF—you let them know if it’s been accepted elsewhere so they can remove it from their list.  That said, you know what’s coming, right?  You have to keep track of where you sent the story and let them know if it’s off the table.  And don’t be shady – if a publisher says no sim-subs, don’t try to get away with it anyway.  You’ll just piss them off if you have to withdraw it.

 

Snoopy-Writer
Don’t we all.
Arguing with the Publisher

Just… just don’t.  The publishers don’t owe you an explanation regarding their inner workings.  If they say “no pdfs” assume they have a good reason for it and move on.  If they reject your story without telling you why, accept it and move on.  Most won’t give anything more than a standard rejection anyway – they don’t have time to give you notes and doing so will only mean you’re more likely to argue with them.  Rejections are non-negotiable.

Note: Arguing is not the same as asking for clarification.  In the case of unclear (or, ahem, missing) guidelines it’s acceptable to send a quick note to the appropriate contact e-mail address, although commenting on a post or tweeting at them might be faster.  Don’t pester.  Please God don’t threaten.  What are you, an asshole?  You want to get blacklisted by that editor and everyone she talks to?  No, no you don’t.  Stop it.

form rejection
I could post these comics all day.
Poor Communication Skills

Publishers, answer your email.  Update your site.  Tweet once in awhile so we know you’re still out there.  It doesn’t bode well when there’s a long period of radio silence.  Did the magazine fold?  Are they behind schedule?  Why haven’t they updated their slush pile queue list since 2013?  We get it, you’re busy.  We’re all busy.  But if queries go unanswered we’re pulling our subs and going elsewhere.  You’re only hurting potential business by not having an active presence.

Same goes for terse, rude communication.  Most publishers are professional enough that if they don’t have anything nice to say about your writing, they won’t say anything at all.  As a writer, that can be frustrating, because you don’t know if you were close to hitting the mark or whether your sub was passed around the office for a good laugh.  Still, rude rejections are not the same as constructive criticism, and as a publisher it makes you look unprofessional, not helpful.  Writers compare notes too, you know, and you don’t want the good ones walking away because you trashed-talked a newcomer.

Thinking that You’re Special

This goes for both authors and publishers.  Neither of you has time to bullshit around.  Publishers have thick slush piles to wade through, and authors want to find a home for their piece so they can get paid.  Authors, don’t ask for special treatment.  Don’t expect special treatment, especially if you willfully ignore the guidelines that the publishers have posted.  You get precious little time to make yourself stand out and you don’t want any of that attention to be negative.

Publishers, hate to break it to you, but you’re not all that special either.  If you make things difficult or put excessive burdens on your authors to do all the layout formatting (or market your publication for you…) then they will go somewhere else.  Authors have more opportunity than ever before to self-publish, or to find another market.  If you’re going to compete with the various online publications and $0.99 kindle downloads it’s important to attract and retain quality content.  Try to meet them in the middle and you’ll get better submissions – you know, ones from people who actually read and follow your rules.

 

All right folks, there you go.  Did I miss any irritating habits?  (Probably.)  Have I ruined my chances for ever getting published again?  (Depends on if publishers have a sense of humor about themselves.  …So yeah, this was probably a terrible career move.)  Are we sick of rhetorical questions now?  (Most certainly.)

Anyway, if you feel like getting in on the action feel free to post your own pet peeves and guilty confessions in the comments, and let me know what habits REALLY needs to be corrected.

 

Phobos: Deep Black Sea now available!

I’m pleased to announce that my latest short story, “The Shipwrecked Sole Survivor” has been published in Phobos Issue Four: Deep Black Sea! This issue is now available in print on Amazon.com and should be available later on for Kindle.

If you’re interested in dark tales of what lies beneath a calm sea then you will love this issue!  It contains thirteen short stories, flash fiction and poetry including one by yours truly.  Check it out and be sure to leave a review so others know what you thought!


 

You may remember Phobos from the Publisher’s Spotlight  feature for this issue nearly a year ago.  They are currently closed for submissions but be sure to check out their website and follow them on twitter for updates on their next theme.

When is a Bad Plot Excusable?

This is a spoiler-free discussion, although some general plot points might be touched on.  Can’t say the same of whatever comments are below.  You’ve been warned.

So, I finally finished series four of Sherlock Holmes last night.  As I was sitting in the afterglow, warm and fuzzy, unwilling to watch anything else lest the spell break, I was struck with a realization.  The plot of The Final Problem… did not hold up.

The more I thought about it the more I was able to unravel details that bothered me.  I’m a nitpicker by nature, so this wasn’t a new feeling, but I wondered why I didn’t notice the problems while I was watching it.  Furthermore, why was I trying so desperately to excuse its faults?

I’ve felt like this at least once before, directly after a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  I remember that same feeling of “Wow.  Such a good way to wrap up the trilogy,” while sitting in the theater, and then listening to my friends bitch the whole way home about all the stupid details and why they didn’t enjoy it.

I’ve also been that person, most notably during and directly after Avatar, which I hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.  (Ok, maybe not that much, but it’s pretty bad.)  I hate the premise.  I hate every detail.  I will concede that the visuals were all right (even downright impressive, assuming you had never seen Who Framed Roger Rabbit and/or any of the Pixar cannon.)  But in general I can’t forgive that movie.

So what gives?  Why am I so harsh on Avatar when The Dark Knight Rises has third act that basically revolves around this plot point:

RIP Adam West. You were underrated.
Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.

Well, it basically boils down to three things:

  1. Context
  2. Audience Goodwill
  3. Emotional Resonance

Context

It is entirely possible to hide a bad movie plot through fast pacing and clever editing.  For example, Memento has one of those plots that wouldn’t make very much sense (or be particularly interesting) if the story was played in chronological order.  Cutting it up keeps the audience on the edge of their seat and obscures some of the more head-scratching details.

Genre also matters.  You can maintain an audience’s suspension of disbelief based on what their expectations are.  Star Wars can play fast and loose with physics because it’s essential a space adventure series but everyone lost their minds when the crew in Prometheus removed their helmets on the planet.  (I know, I was one of them.)  The Alien franchise is a survival-horror series so we’re much more critical of any “stupid” action our heroes take.  Also, it tends to have a stricter adherence to the “science” part of science-fiction and generally takes itself more seriously.

We miss you too, Bill.
Er… most of the time.

When it comes to Avatar, the visuals were the big draw.  The people who loved it usually didn’t care about the plot.  They wanted the immersive experience of a 3D film and a rich fantasy world.  Personally, if I’m going to be blown away by visuals I’d like a simple, compact story with little room for convoluted plot contrivances.  (See: Mad Max: Fury Road.)

Context is entirely subjective.  What some may forgive others have a hard time getting behind.  Likewise, what some consider groundbreaking innovation others may see as a cheap gimmick.  So let’s move on to…

Audience Goodwill

Both The Dark Knight Rises and The Final Problem are the last installments of a franchise. In respect to context, we want them to be good because we want to say that it goes out on a good note.  At this point in both respective series they’ve build up enough audience goodwill to withstand some criticism.

And sometimes a movie is just so bad it can’t be saved.  (Looking at you, Spiderman 3.)  Context matters in this case, too.  The first two Spiderman movies were fairly successful and received decent reviews.  But what changed between 2 and 3?  Batman Begins came out and suddenly the cultural landscape of comic book movies changed.  Audiences loved the dark and gritty realism of Nolan’s take on the character and suddenly they were less forgiving of the Raimi series and its camp.  The pendulum swung back the other way in the middle of the Amazing Spiderman series, with #2 losing out to Guardians of the Galaxy, which reminded everyone that camp can be fun.

dance off
So this gets collective pass, but we can’t forgive Tobey Maguire?

This doesn’t just apply to serialized properties.  Both Wonder Woman and Captain America: The First Avenger had weak third acts but their movies held up without having to rely on previous installments.   The first two-thirds of the film buoyed them when their endings started to tank.  The reason they had so much goodwill comes down to the time spent on character development.  And that leads us to…

Emotional Resonance

When you have good characters the audience wants them to succeed.

I care about Nolan’s Batman.  I care about Sherlock and Watson.  I care about Wonder Woman and Captain America.  So when they come out on top, I’m happy about that, even if the way they got there might’ve been a touch stupid.

I’m going to backtrack and talk about Spiderman 3 again as a comparison.  I think one of the reasons that movie lost so much goodwill is because the character of Peter Parker is such a tool.  (At least in that film.)  In the first two we empathize with his struggles, his internal conflicts and related to him as a flawed hero.  By the end of the third movie we don’t care if he succeeds because he’s become so unlikable as a protagonist.

gwen stacey
In Pratt’s defense he never had to make up for a scene like this.

Contrary to that, when Batman finally passes the torch at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, I felt a swell of emotion.  During the montage of Sherlock and John solving cases together at the end of in The Final Problem I felt satisfied with how they wrapped everything up.  For once the details were just details, and I was able to let it go because of the way it resonated with me emotionally.

It’s a lot easier to forgive something that makes you happy, even if that happiness is entirely subjective.

Additional thoughts

When I originally wrote this, I put a disclaimer saying that this discussion doesn’t apply to intentionally self-aware camp, so-bad-it’s-good schlock, or guilty pleasure movies.  I want to retract that statement.

When it comes to bad movies we love, it still applies.  Either the context is there (Adam West’s Batman knows exactly what it is) or the audience goodwill is (The Room might be the worst film ever made but I’m enjoying myself so I forgive it) or the emotional resonance is (I won’t try to convince anyone else to watch Last Man on Earth but I also can’t look away.  When it’s good it’s really good.)

So what about you, gentle reader?  What gets a pass in your book?  What can never be forgiven?  Let me know in the comments and feel free to tell me how my interpretations of your beloved films are horribly, horribly wrong, while my favorites totally suck.

See you there. 😉

Publisher’s Spotlight: UFO Publishing

On April 1st UFO Publishing opens submissions for their sixth Unidentified Funny Objects anthology!  From Terry Pratchett to Douglas Adams, comedic speculative fiction is some of the most beloved of the genre and unfortunately too often overlooked by publishers.  So channel your inner comedian and get to submitting!

Not sure how to write comedy?  Check out these articles for my advice on where to get started.

  • In their own words: “We’re looking for speculative stories with a strong humor element. Think Resnick and Sheckley, Fredric Brown and Douglas Adams.  We welcome quality flash fiction and non-traditional narratives. Take chances, try something new, just make sure that your story is funny.”
  • Genres they accept: Speculative Fiction.
  • Word count limit: 500-5000 words.
  • Payment: $0.10 per word + contributor copy. Payment will be made upon acceptance. Our preferred method of payment is via PayPal, but you may request a check.
  • Simultaneous Submissions*: Unknown; my advice is don’t.
  • Multiple Submissions**: No.  Limit of 1 submission per author — even if you receive a response before the submission window closes please do not send another story unless directly invited to do so.
  • Schedule: Submissions open April 1 – April 30, 2017

Additional tips: “Puns and stories that are little more than vehicles for delivering a punch line at the end aren’t likely to win us over.  The best way to learn what we like in general is to read a previous volume. You can buy it here and also read the online stories for free.”  They also include a list of tired tropes.  Click on their submission guidelines page for details.

*This means whether they will allow you to submit this story to another publisher at the same time or not.

**This means whether you can send them more than one story at at time.

Reminders when submitting:

Read the publication:  Their stories are freely accessible on the site.  You have no excuse not to do your research and see what kind of style gets their attention.  It will also give you an idea of what’s been done before so you don’t end up sending them something too similar to a recently published story.

Read the guidelines: I don’t post everything required for their submissions, just the basics.  Furthermore, this is a static post.  Publishers change their submission requirements at will so it’s always a good idea to read and re-read them, even if you’ve submitted to them before.

Follow the rules: Do I really need to say this?  Don’t send pieces over the word count.  Don’t send content they specifically warn against.  Don’t send weirdly formatted manuscripts if they give you specific instructions.  “But Liz, I–” Nope!  No, no, no.  If you do not follow the rules you risk being a pariah to that magazine – and worse, editors can exchange notes on who’s being a pain.

Happy submitting!

Encore! Miss Moneypenny’s Guide to the Symphony.

Part two of the Miss Margaret Moneypenny’s Etiquette Guide to the Apocalypse series.

Now that society has begun to rebuild itself, you may have noticed our cultural institutions reemerging from the rubble. The monthly concerts in tribute to our Dear Leader were of course the first of these, and since attendance has been made mandatory, we think that now would be an excellent time to brush up on concert hall protocol under the new regime.

Before you Leave

Dress casually.  While in years past cocktail attire was preferable on opening night, these days such blatant displays of affluence will mark you as one of the bourgeoisie and you may find yourself gunned down in a dark alley faster than you can say “Batman’s parents.”

If any of your children have survived past the usual rate of mortality, please leave them with a caregiver over the course of the concert, preferably one who can be trusted not to sell them into slavery.  Or, at the very least, one who will be willing to share a portion of the profits with you.

At the Concert Hall

If you are late in arriving, you may be asked to wait in the lobby and later escorted into a vacant seat at an appropriate moment.  You may take your assigned seat at intermission.  If you complain about this policy you will be conscripted into lavatory duty after the performance.  If you complain about this policy you will be detained indefinitely in a dissenters prison.  Children left in the care of a babysitter may be sold into slavery if they are not claimed by a relative within 48 hours.

It’s advisable to unwrap lozenges before the performance.  Patrons who make any ambient noise during the concert such as fidgeting, coughing, or the rustling of candy wrappers will be tranquilized by the nearest usher and billed for the cost.   Those talking will be shot.  (With a silencer, for obvious reasons.)

Clapping is encouraged for the entrance of the Concertmaster, any soloists, and the Conductor/Concert Maestro.  You may also clap between movements and at the end of each piece.  Please save all texting for intermission, but you may tweet your appreciation for the performance to Dear Leader at any time.  This is acceptable because the cellphone light from tweeting is totally different than when you send a text.  Those sending texts will be tranquilized (or shot if the tranquilizer supply is running low.)

After the Concert

Remember to tip your musicians.  Symphony members used to be paid in part by federal funds from the National Endowment of the Arts, but that was eliminated in the years preceding the Great Purge.  Now their participation in monthly concerts is mandatory, so they wouldn’t be eligible for monetary compensation anyway. Their reward is their devotion to Dear Leader, as well as the privilege of not spending their days in a dissenters prison.  They are, however, accepting donations from the audience so be sure to toss some spare change in the hat they pass around between movements.

If you recognize a symphony member after the performance it is impolite to ask them at which subway platform they play in their off-time.  That information can be readily found on their twitter account.


Whether you’re a newcomer to the symphony or a long time fan, everyone should enjoy these monthly tributes to promote unity and prosperity under the new regime.  Now that you know the basic protocol of the symphony you will be able to attend the concerts with confidence!

5 Do’s and Don’ts for an Amazing First Page

At the Atlanta Writing Workshop two weeks ago, I attended their signature panel called “Writers Got Talent”—a Page 1 Critique Fest.  Participants anonymously submitted the first page of their manuscript for critique by a panel of agents and publishers.  They got through 18 entries of various genres and skill levels and I took copious notes on their feedback. While I can’t share the manuscripts themselves, I did sort through the comments and found some pretty common trends across the board.

So, without further ado, here are your Do’s and Don’ts for writing an Amazing First Page:

Do’s (and where to find examples)

1.) Set the scene.  Who are your characters?  Where are they?  What’s going on?  These are three things you need to establish in your first page in a coherent way.  Good openers introduce the reader to your world and draw them in.  It’s also a great time to establish the tone of the work or the overlying themes.

Examples: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, or 1984 by George Orwell.

2.) Have a unique, memorable voice.  A unique voice will pull the reader into to narrative and gives them an immediate investment in your characters. I also noticed that the judges were more forgiving of other flaws if the voice of the piece captured their attention.

Examples: The Martian by Andy Weir or Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger for first person narration; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and anything by Terry Pratchett for third-person POV that still retains its own unique voice.

3.) Draw them in with an intriguing set up.  You could start with some sort of action sequence that sets the scene or dive right into the premise of your story if it’s off the wall.

Examples: The Gunslinger by Stephen King, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson or either The Trial or The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.  (Tell me you don’t want to read more about a man who wakes up as a bug…)

4.) Tactile, sensory imagery is a plus.  If you’re going to start by describing the environment rather than establishing a quirky voice or introducing your main character, make sure the imagery is excellent and the scene is rich enough with sensory details to set the mood and immerse your reader.

Examples: The Scarlet Pimpernell by Baroness Orczy, Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind, Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe.  Anything gothic that relies on atmosphere could fit here.

5.) Send them something they can sell.  This is a little more nuanced, so bear with me.  Publishers are going to have their own tastes, but of the submissions that were read, humor, “classic” genre fiction (as in it read like it was written in the fifties), and tone that clashed with the intended readership were all tough sells.  Not impossible, but tough; agents and publishers just won’t accept work they can’t sell.  My advice?  Research your market and see if you can imagine your book on the same shelf as your contemporaries.

Snoopy
What not to do.

Don’ts

1.) Don’t go overboard with your action.  Your opening page shouldn’t jump around to different characters, different settings, or different points in time.  Why?  It’s hard to build momentum and investment in characters if you switch gears too soon at the beginning.  (This is also why a lot of prologues don’t work.)  Too many scenes lead to bad transitions and instead of drawing the reader in, you end up leaving them behind.

2.) Don’t introduce too many characters at once. Like with too much action, too many characters will be confusing for readers who are meeting your cast for the first time.  Even the Harry Potter series had catch-up chapters to reintroduce readers to the world.

3.) Watch your language.  The judges would get stuck on clunky metaphors and word repetition, which threw off their reading rhythm.  You’ll catch a lot of this if you read your opening page out loud, so be sure to proofread and find some betas who will be honest with you.  Ask them if there was anything they stumbled over when they first read it.

4.) Don’t fall in love with your own description.  This is the opposite problem of too much action in that it takes too long to build your momentum.  In a first page you have roughly one paragraph to set the scene and then it’s time to move on.  Keep up the pace and don’t indulge yourself with flowery prose.

5.) Don’t be cliche.  Turn off’s for the judges included pieces with stock characters, situations, or voices that were too much like what they had seen before.  To impress, you have to know what’s out there and prove you’re doing something different enough to catch their attention.  So how do you avoid tropes?  Check out small publishers in short story markets.  They’re not shy about posting what they’re seeing too much of lately.  (Don’t know any small publishers?  Check out my Publisher’s Spotlights for some ideas of who’s out there.)

Well, that’s all the advice I have for now.  Got any tips of your own?  Disagree vehemently with any of mine?  Leave a note in the comments and share your advice!