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.