I’m reading some contest entries this morning, and shaking my head at some of them. Do people really not know this is a business? It’s about marketing, baby. You can’t suck me in with a good first sentence and then expect I’ll keep reading for 40 pages while you set up the background for me. None of us deserve to be published just because we write lovely prose.

And, oh yes, pot, kettle, black here. I have been guilty of this myself. Entice the editor/agent in with a good first page or two, even a first scene or two, and then when you’ve got them hooked, give ’em all that backstory you’re just dying to tell. They’ll keep reading, right?

Wrong-O.

Here’s what I’ve read so far: a technically perfect first chapter, with beautiful turns of phrase and gorgeous prose–but NOTHING is happening! Nothing! It’s backstory, framed in one character telling the other one what’s happened and why. No hint of a conflict, no idea why I should care.

Next, a flawed first chapter with some really amateur grammar mistakes (misplaced modifiers, which can happen to the best of us, pronoun confusion, fear of commas, run ons)–but this chapter had conflict! It had drama. It rocked. I was totally willing to forgive the writer the mistakes because the idea was good.

And, an unbelievably good prologue and first scene that had me excited to keep reading. The prose in this one was the best of all. The story was awesome. Then, we change POV to another character and the bottom drops out. The author knew the character in the 1st scene so well, but doesn’t know the other character nearly as well. And it shows. We went from rocking and awesome to boring and plodding while I got an infodumped backstory as the character walked around. After that, I stopped for the day.

Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t set up that chapter, work so hard on the opening, and then think you can be a slacker once you’ve got the editor hooked. Ain’t gonna happen. Get the party started and keep it rolling deep into the night!

Guess I better go take my own advice…..