SLUSH PILE CHALLENGE October 2018 Results

Hannah Sheppard of DHH Literary Agency set October's challenge.

Hannah wanted an elevator pitch (when A (inciting incident) happens, B (character) must do C (action), otherwise D (catastrophe) will happen  although not all books will fill this structure, she wanted to be introduced to the problem and what's at stake … something that would make her care!) AND the first 750 words of the completed manuscript. Hannah was looking for novels for 9+ through to YA and was happy to look at any genre, but wanted to see diversity of character and voice.


Hannah Sheppard
We received forty-two entries from members across the British Isles and Europe for this competition. Hannah read all of the submissions. This is what Hannah told us when announcing the results:

“Thank you so much to everyone who entered my challenge – it was great to see so many exciting entries.

My winners are: 

The Girl of Fire and Fear by Ross Harrington

'After witnessing her friend being throttled to death by smoke. DC, a young girl with a tormenting power concealed inside her, must journey to battle for her life against Lord smoke who will stop at nothing to get his power back.’

This is clear and concise and pulls us right into the story. We know what the inciting incident is and what’s at stake if DC fails – although I’d work on ‘must journey to battle…’ as I think that could be clearer. The writing sample is lively and there’s an immediate sense that there’s something unusual about DC which is great to see.

A Patchwork of Glass by Clare Harlow

‘Discovering your twin has super-powers is mind-blowing. Having to take their place is on a whole other level. Shades of Magic meets Out of the Blue as an unmagical girl must free her sister from an enchantment before the walls between the worlds collapse and soul-sucking hounds invade, threatening the life of anyone in Bristol who has been touched by magic.’

This elevator pitch could be trimmed a bit – we don’t need the comparisons for this purpose – they’d work better in a cover letter and I think there could be some clarity around ‘anyone in Bristol who has been touched by magic’ but it gives a great sense of the story and world. The writing is also confident and immediate and the sense of drama in the opening is attention grabbing. 

And my runners up are:

The Search for Spud by Lizzie Strong

‘Spud, an adorable dog, smelling of roast potatoes, is Theo’s wisp – a life-affirming companion, invisible to everyone else. When Spud mysteriously disappears, he is replaced by repulsive, stinky Glumsprout. Somehow Theo must find his beloved Spud before Glumsprout overpowers him completely and condemns him to a life of negative thoughts.’

There’s a wonderful sense of fun that shines through here and we get a great sense of the story – but there’s still cutting that could be done. Think about getting rid of unnecessary words and details…

Beholden by Abigail Tanner

‘Lamppost magic is failing, the long-lost Beholden curse is being used to enslave friends and family. When his sister is kidnapped, Alfie the lamppost keeper must decide between rescuing his sister before she is enslaved by the curse or saving the lampposts and the magic which keeps the magical Realm separate from EARFh and humans.’

Lovely sense of the dilemma at the heart of this story – you really feel for Alfie and the choice he has to make and how personally it will affect him. That helps make us care.

There was such a lovely range in these entries and a lot of talent on display – but a lot of the entries didn’t adhere to the challenge – I asked for an elevator pitch and what a lot of people sent was book blurb or longer pitches. It’s really important to hone your elevator pitch – it’s great for those moments when you come face to face with an agent or editor at a SCBWI event but also after publication when you find yourself on a panel at a festival for instance – you need to be able to succinctly (ideally under 50 words) hook your audience so that they want to rush out and buy your book. Look again at the guidelines I gave in the challenge and work on producing a sentence or two that makes the reader care about what’s going to happen. Be specific – phrases like ‘and things get complicated’ don’t tell us enough – we need to know why this is important to your character. Always make sure you’re including what’s at stake in your plot – a lot of the elevator pitches didn’t include the ‘or else what?’ element that is really going to emotionally engage your reader. If you’re struggling to summarise your story as succinctly as this it may highlight a bigger issue with your novel – is there enough focus in your story or do you need to go back and hone that first?”

Congratulations to Ross Harrington and Clare Harlow from all of us at Words & Pictures. We hope they are well on their way towards getting their story published.

Well done to Lizzie Strong and Abigail Tanner for getting a special mention.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Keep writing and we hope you will be encouraged to try your hand at appropriate competitions.

Hannah Sheppard studied English Literature at the University of Liverpool where she set up a small poetry press in her spare time. She has since spent over fifteen years working in trade publishing: first at Macmillan Children's Book and more recently running Headline Publishing's YA and cross over list where she published Tanya Byrne's critically acclaimed Heart-Shaped Bruise. She joined D H H Literary in 2013 because she realised that being an agent gave her more time to do what she loves the most  using her editorial experience to develop their ideas for commercial success.

Hannah represents authors across children's fiction (from 9+ including teen and YA) and a small selection of adult fiction authors (her main interests are thrillers and romance). Hannah does not represent picture books.

She likes stories that push the boundaries, have a strong voice and, often, a dark edge  although she'd love to find a good contemporary romance too.

Follow Hannah on Twitter: @YA_Books

D H H Literary Agency are an editorial led agency run by passionate book lovers. With a range of experience from bookselling and collecting, in house editorial, and television, their agents are commercially aware, well-connected and skilled at helping authors develop their ideas.

Founded by David Headley in 2008, their agency is dedicated to discovering and nurturing talented authors, whether debut or established, providing attentive, honest and personalised representation.

Elaine Cline has been a SCBWI member for over five years and loves to write picture books, junior fiction and middle-grade. She loves writing about food. She lives by the sea and has two soft and silly cats. Elaine is a member of the Words & Pictures' editorial team, managing The Slush Pile Challenge for writers.

Connect with Elaine on Twitter: @elaineclineuk

No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.