Passionate Plume Virgin Category FAQ
Thirty percent of Virgin category authors have gone on to become published authors.
The goal of the Virgin category is to teach pre-published authors how to create a marketable ‘package’ that will encourage readers to purchase their books. The package will include a compelling book description and the first 5,000 words which should introduce characters, conflict, and a hook to drag readers into the story.
Entrants will be judged on the overall presentation of both elements.
General guidelines for Virgin entries
- Passionate Ink celebrates erotic fiction in all its forms. Your story need not be a romance with a happy ever after or happy for now, but your excerpt and book description should have the promise of eroticism.
- Entries will be disqualified without refund for portraying illegal acts including (but not limited to) incest, violence with the intent to titillate, and acts involving minors or other individuals unable to give legal consent. The decision of the Contest Coordinator is final.
- Your work may also be disqualified if it does not contain an early hint of erotic content in the sales description or excerpt. Please contact the Plume committee at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
- Any entry which is found to be a plagiarism of another author’s work will be summarily disqualified and entry fees will not be refunded. No exceptions. The decision of the Contest Coordinator is final.
- To prepare unpublished authors for submitting to an editor or publisher, who will often discard manuscripts that do not meet their specifications, your work should be formatted in the following manner:
- Your story, plus your sales description, should be in one document, with the title and sales description on the first page, followed by a page break. Your story will begin on the second page.
- Use 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced, with the first line of each paragraph indented no more than 0.5 inches. Page size should be 8.5×11 inches.
- Name your file in the following fashion: author last name_title_VIRGIN
- Acceptable file types: doc, docx, rtf, txt
- For additional formatting assistance, please review this tutorial.
- Your excerpt need not be professionally edited, but you should present your most polished work. One good way to accomplish a fairly comprehensive self-edit is to listen to it using a text-to-voice app. The author of this checklist once had a very embarrassing typo that was missed by two editors and a proofreader, but was heard with a reader app. It only takes one missing letter to turn an anal toy into a pug wearing a costume. The apps will also catch missed or awkward punctuation.
- Judges’ critique and comments will be returned to all Virgin entrants.
Create an engaging book description of no more than 250 words that tells us about your whole story–not just the first five thousand words. This is not to be confused with a summary. Rather, think of it more as an ad. There are many resources available for how to create a book description, but they all have a few things in common.
Consider this line from Rebecca Yarros’s Fourth Wing.
“A dragon without its rider is a tragedy. A rider without their dragon is dead.”
This is a ‘mic drop’ line, and it isn’t from the sales description. It’s not even the beginning of the first chapter. However, it is extremely compelling.
- Brevity: No more than 250 words. You have very little time to convince a reader to buy.
- A hook: Was it difficult to breathe after you read the Fourth Wing sample? It should be. That’s the reaction a good hook should elicit. This is your elevator pitch. You have to describe a book in one sentence to someone on an elevator who wants to get off at the next floor. It needs to convince them to stay on the elevator long enough to listen to the rest of the sales description.
- Catchy language: This isn’t the place for flowery prose or complicated vocabulary. Be sure it’s grammatically correct with no misspellings.
- Keywords: Use words that describe your genre and stakes.
- Hints about the conflicts that won’t spoil the plot for readers.
- Most vendors require clean book descriptions. Avoid the use of sexually-charged words and profanity.
- Read published book blurbs from the genre in which you write, especially ones that catch your attention and are in your category’s top twenty best sellers. What words do they use? Why do you like them? Notice the language and flow. Repeat the process with books near the middle of the top 100, and again at the bottom. Do you notice any differences? This exercise will help you target your audience.
First Chapter/first 5,000 words
Five thousand words isn’t an arbitrary number. It’s a rough estimate of what a potential reader will see when they click look inside on a book’s sales page. It’s also a number many agents and publishers request as a sample, along with a query letter.
Think of it as if your elevator buddy says, “Tell me more,” and decides not to get off when you finish your sales description. Your time is still limited and you don’t want them to frantically start pressing buttons until they can escape.
Let’s consider this opening paragraph:
“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”
These two sentences are so iconic you probably don’t need to be told it’s the first paragraph of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. This opening is particularly brilliant because it hints at the genre without telling us the genre, and each word is carefully chosen to provide the most impact. Even the name of the street is loaded with meaning. When one thinks of a privet hedge, one imagines an evergreen shrub pruned into submission to conform–which describes how the Dursleys will come to treat Harry. The chapter goes on to describe Mr. Dursley’s status quo–meaning his perfectly normal, not strange or mysterious workday. But it isn’t quite normal. You see, there are owls, tabby cats on garden walls, and odd people in cloaks–all of which disrupt his carefully ordered life, introduce the conflict, and reveal a glimpse of the world the Dursleys are trying so hard to ignore. They will hold fast to the belief that Privet Drive cannot coexist with platform nine and three-quarters until the bitter end.
Contents of a good first chapter:
- Establish tone, point of view (third or first person, past or present tense), and a sense of the world you’re building–whether contemporary, historical, fantasy, etc. This need not be exhaustive. For example, you could set an historical scene by showing a horse-drawn carriage, someone reading by candlelight, etc.
- Introduce your protagonists and a taste of what their conflicts might be. This could be an external or internal conflict. Keep in mind that characters will often have multiple sources of conflict, but they needn’t all be introduced at once. Focus on one or two that the protagonist(s) believe stop them from obtaining what they most want.
- As this contest is for works of erotic fiction, which might include menage and/or multiple partners, you may introduce more characters, but they should be fully-realized if they will be part of the ongoing sexual dynamic.
- If you choose to have your protagonists meet in the first chapter, there should be abundant chemistry but it need not progress to physical intimacy. It is absolutely acceptable to not have them meet, yet you should find a way to make the reader want to see their eventual meeting. For example, your H1 might be touch averse, but has an injury requiring the services of your physical therapist H2. Or perhaps your H1 sees your H2 in passing and H1 pleasures themself while fantasizing about the H2. Even if they don’t meet in that first five thousand words, the idea is to make a reader want to know how their first meeting will go.
- An inciting incident which threatens your protagonist’s status quo.
Other things to consider:
- Keep your audience and genre expectations in mind as you write. Generally, the readers of erotic fiction require richly portrayed open-door intimacy, regardless of subgenre, and want to see heat develop very quickly. However, the development of a romantic relationship is not essential unless the story is a romance.
- People don’t usually spend a great deal of time cataloging their appearance in a mirror unless they see something they don’t expect–like someone finding their first gray hair. Use another character’s perception to describe them. In this, less is more. Give your reader just enough to formulate their own picture of what the characters look like. Use objects in the environment to describe relative size or even a character’s profession. For example, a tall man might have to duck to pass through a doorway. A medical professional might toss bloodstained scrubs into a hamper, etc.
- Measurements of body parts are unnecessary. Instead of telling us a woman’s bra size, show us how her lover cups her breasts in their hands. Show us how a partner’s hand can’t circle the girth of their lover’s erection. Remember, eroticism and sensuality is more than a collection of measurements, and readers appreciate being able to visualize intimacy and place themselves in the story.
- Make use of all five senses. Smell, taste, touch, and hearing also influence how a character perceives both the environment and other characters.
- Search through your manuscript for filter words. The words that and just for example, are often unneeded. “He could smell flowers…” can easily become, “Her flowery scent tickled his nose…” or “He smelled flowers…” The first is arguably better because it introduces an action, while the second simply removes the filter word without changing the meaning. There are lists of filter words available online, and removing them can give you space to develop your chapter.
- Beware of head-hopping. This happens when there is a point-of-view shift between characters in the same scene–hopping between two (or more) characters’ heads. Use the point of view of the character who has the most to lose/gain or has the greatest emotional investment in that particular scene.
- Avoid early backstory/information dumps. The reader doesn’t need the character’s entire history to become invested in their story. Mysteriousness, unanswered questions, and hints of the past are much more engaging.
- Avoid quoting songs, literature, movies, and other printed or recorded media unless you have obtained written permission from the copyright owner or it is material in the public domain. Remember, readers want YOUR words–not those of another creator. It is also important to note that many publishers will automatically decline a story which contains quoted material whether its use is legal or not.
- Show, don’t tell. “Baring its teeth, the dog snarled. She backed away until the cold metal of a chain link fence pressed into her spine.” is much more engaging and active than, “She was afraid of the dog.”