Thursday, 31 January 2008

A Fine Line

You will be pleased to hear that my Zen phase has passed. Total calm no longer prevails and I am nicely, slightly stressed. Yippee! (Though I did enjoy the Zen phase.)

Few will have missed the Surprisingly Essential First Page Challenge (or First Five Hundred Word Challenge, to be precise), held this week by Nathan Bransford on his blog. The contest closed yesterday, with a total of 645 entries on blogger and 29 on Nathan’s Myspace page.

I’m a fan of Nathan’s blog, but I didn’t enter this contest. And now the deadline has passed, I would like to say why.

The first page of my ‘finished’ novel starts almost halfway down the page and totals 152 words. The first 500 words = more than two pages, and includes the inciting incident, the setting, and motivation of two main characters. That’s quite a slice.

As the entries poured in to Nathan’s comment page, some of the contestants became concerned about their work being critiqued on other blogs. But, "Nathan Bransford -- Literary Agent" is neither a private, nor a quiet, little blog. Had these contestants forgotten where they had posted their pages? I imagine Nathan’s blog draws people from many levels of the industry, all over the world. Everyone, and anyone, can read the entries.

The contest is not being run by a literary agency, but on a literary agent’s blog. To enter such a contest with a hook, first paragraph, first 16 lines, or even a query, is helpful and fun. But, within the context of the blogosphere, the first 500 words of a novel is, perhaps, a step too far.

If I were to post those first 500 words on this blog, it would be a calculated risk. I KNOW I don’t get hundreds of hits per day. Far from it!

I'm not suggesting we should be paranoid about plagiarism. But, in the case of my novel, those 500 words say a lot: context, character, and conflict -- the set-up for the story.

If someone is writing as a hobby, a contest such as this can be part of the fun. But, if a writer is submitting to agents and publishers, their novel is a piece of intellectual property. It is a product they are hoping to sell.

The creative industries are tough. They are cutthroat.

In my professional world -- the fashion world -- you quickly learn the difference between offering a taster, and giving the concept away. It’s a fine line, and one easily crossed by young designers, understandably keen to impress.

But a seasoned professional, offered more than a tiny peak of a collection, can grasp the idea, spin it forward -- and run. The result: your concept lands on the high street before you can blink. Your collection is yesterday’s news.

It’s good to share our work with people we know. It’s good to take part in fun contests with people we don’t. But, when it comes to work we hope to build on in the real world. When it comes to our careers, I think we sometimes need to be careful.

This is obviously just my opinion.

So ends this serious post! :)


John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

I agree. Some popular blogs foster a false sense of community. The impression can be that only familiar commenters are reading. But I read blogs on which I don’t comment - and who am I?

Anonymous said...

I think this makes total sense. I heard about it too late to enter, but I don't know if I would have entered or not.

Mary said...

John: Exactly! It can be easy to forget those blogs are not a writers’ group, but the World Wide Web.

Booklady: I almost entered without really thinking! This has taught me to stop and think about any submission that’s outside the norm.