I had the honor of participating in this year’s First Pages, a popular and especially fun part of the James River Writers Conference (held this year Oct. 19-21 — come join us!). Here’s how First Pages works: Brave authors submit their novel’s first page for consideration. At the conference, a dramatic reading of the selected submissions will be given in front of all the attendees and a panel of agents. After each reading, the panel will share their critique of the piece.
So today was the day that we went through the stack of submissions and chose which ones will go to the conference. We selected about 15, though it’s unlikely that all we be read at the conference due to time.
The authors’ names are left off; all we know is the genre, title and of course the first page of the manuscript. We were looking to get a wide range of genre and age groups.
With coffee and donuts in hand, we got to work and I want to share with you my general observations.
Follow the Rules!
Several submissions were tossed from the get-go, because they disregarded the requirements.
It’s important not just for First Pages, but when submitting your writing to an agent or publisher. This is especially true for query letters. Read the rules carefully and make sure your submission meets each one to the letter. Spacing, font size, margins, whatever. Remember: the default location of your manuscript is in the circular file by the agent’s desk; what you must do is to convince the agent not to put it there.
Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation
Go over your page several times just to be sure to catch any spelling mistakes — don’t rely on spell check! If you’re not sure of punctuation rules, check with a reference book. For example, we saw commas outside the quotation marks (incorrect: “Sure”, Bob agreed.), instead of inside (correct: “Sure,” Bob agreed.). Also, watch tense changes (that’s one of my weaknesses).
Read Your Story Aloud
Find a quiet room, pull up your manuscript, and read it aloud. Do not murmur it. Speak it clearly. This will solve a lot of the issues above and more that aren’t covered here. You will hear awkward sentence construction, poor grammar, breaks in rhythm or voice and more.
There is much more and I will follow up after the conference with a recap.
A sincere thank you to the writers who had submitted to First Pages. We had a great time and often wanted to read more.