Last weekend when I was at the All Write Now! Conference, I witnessed my first slush pile reading panel. It’s a little different from a first pages panel and works like this.
Conference participants get to turn in the first three pages of their manuscript. During the session, the reader pulls a manuscript and then reads. The panel, in this case mostly editors and agents, listen and when someone would stop reading he or she raises their hand. Three hands up and the reader stops. All of the manuscripts made it through the first page. Many made it through the first three.
It was interesting to listen to the various panelists react to the manuscript. Some of them told why they quit reading. This was especially interesting when one person quit before the others.
Here are some of the things I gleaned from this session:
Don’t start with pure action. If you do, the reader doesn’t know who the character is. If the story is first person, they may not know gender, let alone age or anything else. The reader has to care about the character and know what is at risk before they can really care about what is happening in the story.
Just as you can be too general, you can be overly specific. Every time you mention the character’s car, we don’t need the model and color.
Summaries are a way of telling vs showing. So are flashbacks. If you have a flashback in the middle of chapter 1, trying moving it to the beginning of the chapter.
One of the most important things that I saw here was how subjective it all is. One person might quit reading long before the rest of the group. Even when three people raised their hands, they did so at different points, some reading much more than others. The lesson? Prepare your best work but understand that you may need to send it to many, many agents to find a good match.