I guess we just have different taste. Not that the winners aren't good, but they didn't send me into orbit or strike me as unusually eloquent or whatnot. There were a few openings in that huge thread of entries that did make me want to read on. I hope those authors aren't discouraged. Contests are only contests. You never know what is going to strike someone's fancy.
Is there really any point to having so many of these first-line, first-page contests, though? I mean, sure, we all enter them for a lark. And these authors seemingly have it made with their openings. But that's not all there is to a book. The middle could sag, the ending could fail to satisfy, there could be some vague thing nagging at the reader that means they put the book down early. There's no way of knowing whether they can sustain whatever it is they've captured the judge's attention with. Maybe they can, maybe they can't. The only way to tell would be to read the entire book. Even the first three chapters and outline aren't really enough to judge on, although so many contests do that. I can't tell you how many times agents have asked for my full manuscript (on any of my books) after seeing a partial, and how many more times they've wanted that partial after seeing the first five pages and a blurb from the query letter, but the ultimate answer was, "I just didn't love it enough." And I never know what it was that lost them or didn't grab them. The point is that the opening isn't the only part of the book that has to be good.
We're playing Calvinball again.
I suppose these contests for openings do highlight the need to capture readers' attention right away. They give people a chance to be noticed and get that critique. And they bring a lot of traffic to the contest sites.
Still, I'm a little floored by the sheer quantity of polished openings out there that people are ready to send in. If they all have books attached, no wonder it's nearly impossible for people in the business to cope with the volume of submissions. But you knew that already.
Way to show that pluttification (multiplication, times) is just a shortcut for addition! http://yhlee.livejournal.com/1020785.html
I like the way the Wet Noodle Posse thinks. To Bickham's _Scene and Sequel_ I'd add his _Writing the Selling Novel_ and his mentor Dwight Swain's _Techniques of the Selling Writer_ (which is a hodgepodge, but it's where Bickham got all his method's bones.) And a copy of Strunk and White.
But don't get too bogged down in reading how-to books. The best way to get good at riding that bicycle is to hop on. Be sure to wear a helmet. And knee pads.