Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Speed Submissions

by Raelene Gorlinsky

At the Florida Romance Writers conference last week, we had a speed-submissions session. I've participated in this type of event at several conferences. Basically, writers anonymously submit the first page of their manuscript. For each, the moderator announces the genre and reads the first page aloud. Then a panel of editors/agents has only a few minutes to provide their initial response. Did they like it or not and why, what problems were immediately apparent, would they keep reading past that first page?

Participation requires considerable courage from the author, since some other attendees may recognize that as your book and will be hearing the frank public comments from the editors/agents. But this is a fast way to get a critique of the start of your story, know if it even has a chance in its present form of getting attention. And it's enlightening to hear the different responses. Remember, editors and agents all have their personal tastes, and one person will say they loved it and another will hate it. But I have noticed that, on these panels at several events, editors/agents do tend to focus on the same things within each submission, there was general consistency about what does not work.

It's important that writers be aware, as one of the editors pointed out, that "We are looking for reasons to reject." No, that's not being mean, it's being realistic. Editors are swamped with submissions. We have limited time to review them. And more importantly, there are only so many slots available in a house's release calendar. We need to get through those hundreds of submissions and weed the stack down to the few that are (in each editor's/agent's own opinion) the best and most marketable. We're not going to spend time reading past the first page if we have immediately hit on problems or gotten the initial impression that this story is "okay but not great". We want great!

So if you are at a writer conference and have an opportunity to participate in something like this event, give it a try! See the start of your story through an editor's eyes.

10 comments:

Jory Strong said...

Cool idea. Maybe it could be incorporated into Romanticon somehow.

ECPI Editors said...

Actually, Jory, we do have it on the Romanticon agenda, as an event for aspiring authors!

Raelene

Terry Odell said...

Been there, done that, have the scars. Although in speaking with the agent afterward, she said something to the effect that they were being exceptionally snarky to be 'entertaining.'

(Word verification: "parve" -- Blogger is going Kosher?)

Jeanne St. James said...

I never heard of this before. An interesting concept. But Terry mentioned that the editor was being snarky for entertainment purposes. I just think that's mean. They are ripping apart someone's work for "entertainment" purposes? The comments/suggestions/critism should be real.

ECPI Editors said...

Uh, actually, I think I know which person Terry meant. SHE may have been trying to be entertaining (she popped in late), but the rest of us were trying to be helpful and factual. Several of us had discussed beforehand that we wanted to be frank, but not cruel.

Raelene

ECPI Editors said...

Uh, actually, I think I know which person Terry meant. SHE may have been trying to be entertaining (she popped in late), but the rest of us were trying to be helpful and factual. Several of us had discussed beforehand that we wanted to be frank, but not cruel.

Raelene

Terry Odell said...

Ralene - I was referring to a RWA conference a couple of years ago. Not your recent one.

Jeanne - it's all a crap shoot anyway. There are hot buttons for editors and agents -- in this case, it was any story not set in the US, and they were doing cold reads. My opening scene was one of those "show the hero in his normal job" and he was in the middle of a covert op in Panama. The rest of the book was set in the US, and one HOPES that under typical agent query reading, she'd have seen that in the query letter before reading the pages.

But when one's on the submitting end, one doesn't know whether an agent doesn't want to see kids or dogs or stories with curly-haired heroes. I had a rejection from an editor because there was a plot thread dealing with a meth lab -- and these were the BAD GUYS and they got their come-uppance, but she said it was an automatic rejection point for their house. Who knew?

Flick said...

I wish I'd had the chance to do that a while ago. I feel more confident in my first pages now, but oh for the chance to hear someone's opinion who mattered when I was honing my craft. Trouble is - I wonder if it's like American Idol - Pop Idol in the UK. Are there lots and lots of people who haven't got a clue that they just can't do it? How do you say it's awful without wrecking someone's dreams? Much easier to say no in an email or a letter so kudos to all who took part. I take it those you critted don't have your home addresses!!

Ashlyn Chase said...

We had a one hour workshop like this, but with only one editor at one of our regular RWA meetings a couple of years ago. She may have been the one doing entertaining snark elsewhere, I don't know, but she did some of that here.

One writer went home and cried after her page was dissected and has since quit the group...which is probably a good thing. If she couldn't take that much of a critique, she'd probably have become suicidal over a rude rejection or a bad review.

Our group has chosen not to do this again because of that member's experience. It's too bad.

It takes all kinds of guts to put your baby out there for others to judge, but as long as the comments are constructive and on target, I see it as a great opportunity for the thicker skinned.

Terry Odell said...

And there's the key ... "comments are constructive"

Saying, this gets the big R because it mentions Panama on page 1 is NOT constructive. Especially if you've been watching body language and facial expressions, and it was clear there was interest to that point.

Another editor did this alone at a different conference, and she let everyone finish their alloted pages and then DID give helpful advice. It was clear SHE was the one who felt uncomfortable -- having to judge and make comments on listening. I know I'm more of a visual person, and would have a lot of trouble giving feedback based on something read aloud.