A repost of a blog post I had published on the ACFW blog in January 2015.

It started with an email that thousands of other writers received. It was an invitation to participate in the ACFW First Impressions contest. Of the ten or eleven criteria for entry, the most distinctive was that you had to be an unpublished author. That’s me.  I have a manuscript that is very rough. It is a full story but needs some serious re-writes. I’ve played with the characters. I’ve even started to write the second book in the series. As a member of ACFW and a participant in our local chapter in which the members are actual published authors with contracts for more books, I knew it was time to step up my writing game and the First Impressions contest was the way. This was my first contest.

Telling others in my writer’s group meant I couldn’t chicken out. The entry had to be five double-spaced pages from the first chapter. The contest judges would be looking for all the elements of a good first few pages of a book. Was there a hook? Were the characters compelling? Was the writing engaging? Does this passage lead you to want to read more of the story or book?

I began by pulling out the first chapter of my well-aged (and a little dusty) manuscript. I must have looked like “Edward Scissorhands” editing, re-writing, cutting, showing and not telling (how many times have we all heard that). Having scheduled plenty of time before the deadline, I enjoyed the process; to continually work the words and sentences creating a solid story and a smooth cadence. After multiple versions it was ready.

The entry was complete. Admittedly, I opened it a few more times to review before pressing send. I was sending the first five pages of my first novel off to strangers who are going to JUDGE them. Needless to say it was a little intimidated. Will they love it? Will they hate it? Will they tell me to do readers a favor and quit writing?

The results came. I wasn’t a finalist; but I wasn’t a loser. The feedback from the three judges was encouraging and very constructive. I learned a lot from their comments. All of the judges liked the story and said it was compelling enough to want to read more. It just needed some clean-up.

As a non-published author being a part of ACFW can feel like being at the children’s table for the holiday. The first time you’re invited to the grown up table can be a little scary, but you go. You listen and learn.

The First Impression contest was a great way for me to start learning more about improving my craft. If you are reading this and you are at the table with me, let me encourage you to be open to letting someone more experienced give you feedback. When my book is published, I will be available and willing to cheer you on.

Enjoy the journey.