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Thanks for everyone’s patience while I reviewed the Picture Book Premise entries. There were some wonderful ideas and I had a difficult time choosing my favorite. In the end, it boiled down to my gut reaction.

And thus, I got a feeling of what it’s like to be an editor, inundated with multiple pitches, trying to decide which stories sounded the most appealing.

Most of my regular blog friends know that I’m a quirky, humorous writer, so it will surprise you to know the winning premise was NOT quirky or funny! (Hey, it surprised me, too!) I now understand why agents and writers don’t typically tell aspiring authors what they’re looking for. Instead they say, “I’ll know it when I see it.” If I advertised that I only wanted laugh-out-loud premises, I would have missed out on some unique ideas.

Before I tell you the winner (I know, I’m like an awards show cutting to commercial), I’d like to give everyone a few tips on how to write their premises.

Your premise is your pitch. If you have to write a query letter, it’s the whiz-bang-pow paragraph that gets the editor begging to see more. It’s also your 60-second elevator pitch. When you meet an editor or agent and they ask, “What do you write?”, it’s your chance to dazzle them and entice them to request the manuscript.

Your premise should read like jacket copy. Here’s the jacket copy from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s THE HOG PRINCE:

“Eldon Hog is fed up with mud-swallowing and slop-gobbling. He and his friend, Petunia, watch the royal carriage pass by every morning, and Eldon dreams of becoming a princely passenger.

“So it seems that all of Eldon’s dreams have come true when Miranda, a somewhat frazzled fairy, tells him that if he can break the Hog Prince spell put upon him, he will transform into a prince. SMOOOOCHES abound as Eldon searches far and wide for that magical, spell-breaking kiss. He tricks the Cinder girl, Ella (Smoooch! Eek!); Lady Aurora, spinning gold (Smoooch! Yecchhh!); and all the ladies he can find. But is it possible that true love has been sitting under his snout all along?”

Now, that may be a tad big longish for jacket copy, but see how it ends in a question that begs for an answer? You’re left hanging until you open that book and read on.

Not everyone sent a premise that sounded like jacket copy. Some only gave me one sentence, which wasn’t enough to understand what the entire story was about. I couldn’t envision the character or their predicament fully.

Others wrote a little too much detail. Remember you’re pitching a picture book, so if your premise is wordy, an editor may assume that your manuscript is full of unnecessary words. Trim down your pitch; trim down your story’s word count.

Others sent me snippets from their story, but I wanted to see that you could tell me about the story without sending the manuscript. That’s what editors and agents will ask for in a query. If they ask for a query letter but you send the manuscript instead, it may be discarded for not following instructions. (To be fair, I didn’t say DON’T send the manuscript, but you get my gist.)

And now onto the winners!

First, the person who referred the most people to my blog was MONA PEASE! You have won a picture book critique, redeemable at any time, as long as I’m still alive! LOL!

Next, I’ll tell you a little about the premise I choose without giving away the farm. Actually, the two top finalists were what you would call “multicultural” stories. They both struck me as very unique, although the winner’s premise is based on an actual event with a Latin-American folklore feel. Without further ado, the winner of the critique is VALARIE GIOGAS for THE RAIN OF FISH!

Mona and Valarie, please email me at tarawrites dot yahoo dot you-know-the-rest to discuss the details of your prizes.

Thank you to everyone who entered. There were 33 entries, out of which I had “starred” 7 premises, which I think is a pretty darn good percentage of darn good ideas. Y’all are smart and talented writers! Keep writing! Keep dreaming! Keep inspiring! (And keep reading this blog! LOL!)

It’s official! I’ve been crowned one of the worst writers in America. No, I’m not talking about the number of rejection letters piling up, but my recent success (or failure) in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Am I proud? Yes, and disturbingly so.

Now in its 26th year, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest seeks to find the worst opening line to a novel. I have received the dubious distinction of penning a sentence so vile, it received a barely-coveted 2008 “Dishonorable Mention.”

Rudy’s feline senses tingled as he watched Minerva pour a glass of milk, thrusting his tongue outward involuntarily, urging him to inexplicably lick his hand and smooth his cowlick, but he could not let Minerva know about the vampire kitten that had sucked his neck–attacking him with a feral ferocity that belied its adorable whiskered face–and how the meowing and purring that had become an integral part of their lovemaking was really just an injection of half-dead Calico.

And yet, I don’t think this was the most wretched of my submissions! For your reading displeasure…

Zander surreptitiously slid closer to the woman whose figure resembled an upside-down butternut squash as he envisioned himself splitting open her rough, dimpled skin to scoop out the pulpy innards of her flesh and devour them raw, ravenously, a primal desire that could only be unleashed during Oktoberfest.


Even the lettuce dripped with anticipation, its romaine surface glistening like Roger’s sweaty brow as he stabbed into his Caesar, pricking it with the tines the way Phyllis had poked holes in his heart; he wanted to confess how no waitress had ever affected him so deeply, defiantly pouring dressing over the top, drowning the croutons and his soul, rather than serving it on the side as he had requested.


The mountainous mountains loomed large and omnipotent before him, precipitous precipices too gnarled and scraggy to pass, so he endeavored and lamented, heaved himself prodigiously and collapsed in anguish, for he would never scale the bed linens to reunite with his beloved binky.


Immediately upon laying his eyes upon the four day-old stubble upon her sturdy legs, he longed to canoodle with her like two cautious porcupines (for he had a bristly, dishevelled beard to match), but due to professional obligations, Dr. Lovelace would unfortunately have to settle for just administering her annual pap smear.


The contortionist sulked backstage and tears zig-zagged down his cheeks like the legs twisted behind his head; his limber limbs had been catawampus and askew, jammed into awkward angles and improbable positions, only to be upstaged by a clown doling out balloon animals.


Devon’s nemesis recoiled in fear and trepidation, intimidated by the glistening edge of the enemy’s knife and the deftness with which Devon wielded its herculean power and lunged forward upon the mighty blow of the referee’s whistle, commencing a slicing and dicing the vigorous likes of which had never before been seen at the Auxiliary Women’s League annual bake-off.


The blizzard winds howled like an alpha-female wolf in heat—a she-wolf ready to mate, not heat as in temperature hot, for our story begins in the frigid north, and therefore a wolf cannot be hot, although one could argue that a wolf’s short, thick undercoat keeps them warm in winter, but certainly not hot—sniveling longingly across the bitter prairie.
Think your opening lines are as shockingly repellent?  Then start submitting! The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is already underway. You, too, can be one of the worst writers in America. (Just don’t mention it in your query letters. I doubt Random House will be impressed.)

Middle-grade and young-adult novelist Cynthea Liu needs your help creating a title for her new book.  The stories in this series of books feature young girls who travel abroad to study, get the guy, ace the exam, and return home transformed in some way.

The existing titles are puns of instantly recognizable, common phrases.  They typically reveal the country of study, the main character’s name, or the girl’s quest.  Here are some examples from the series:

The Sound of Munich
Spain or Shine
Swede Dreams
The Finnish Line
Now and Zen
Westminster Abby
Getting the Boot

Cynthea is giving away one of her famous free critiques to the person who comes up with a title for her tale of an adopted American girl traveling to China, the character’s birth country.  Ms. Liu even offers a half-page critique if your suggestion is good enough to pass along to her editor.

To read more about her book and the contest rules, please go to!  The submission deadline is Tuesday, February 19th at 4:00pm (CST).

Nathan Bransford’s first page competition was hotly contested, with a multitude of fine, well-written entries.  To demonstrate how difficult it was to narrow down to six finalists, co-judge Holly had initially selected 30 finalists–but only after her third round of review!  The judges deserve our thanks.  And Heather!Anne! deserves congratulations for being voted the most surprisingly essential first page!

For those who were not selected (and there were 639 of us), I remind you that Nathan Bransford is just one agent.  Yes, he has a talented eye, but his is not the only eye.  What he passed over this time might have been picked up by another.  Finding an agent to represent your work or an editor to publish it is a matter of matching interests.  Think of it in no less complicated terms than finding a spouse: you have to sync up on many levels to make the partnership a success.

So to everyone who entered, congratulations for bravely submitting your work.  Just because you didn’t get picked this time, don’t let the word “failure” creep into your vocabulary.  Keep writing, keep working, keep submitting, keep networking.  The successful writer’s most important trait is perseverance.  You’ll find your match someday.

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