Friday, October 16, 2009

First Pages: An American Idol for Writers

First Pages create lots of buzz at SCBWI conferences. Writers can choose to turn in a first page of a manuscript. If the page is picked, it will be read in front of a panel of experts (usually editors and agents) and an audience of conference participants. These sessions are a bit like an American Idol for writers. You hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. Everyone wants to watch, but only the brave participate. Sometimes the feedback is brutal. At least names are left off the manuscripts, so a bad “audition” won’t cost you your dignity. Every now and then, a piece will shine.

I’ve watched American Idol since the first season. I pride myself in my ability to predict what the different judges will say after a performance. This is the beauty of attending a First Pages session. As the panel responds to the pages, those listening get a better understanding of what editors and agents want to see and what turns them off. Although I’ve never had a piece read during one, I can still apply the feedback.

For example, during the last SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference, an editor pointed out that it was not a good idea to use brand names in a manuscript, because it can make your work seem dated in later years. This was new to me, and I was able to change the brand names in my work in progress to generic ones before sending it out again.

So what have you learned from a First Pages session? Leave a comment and follow my blog. On Monday, one sharer will be randomly picked to receive the AMERICAN IDOL MAD LIBS edition. Remember, I must be able to contact you to send you a prize, so make sure you leave me your twitter name or email address if I can’t find it through your blog account. I will only mail the prize to a U.S. address. Good luck, and thanks for sharing.


  1. Interesting question! I'm still not sure how I feel about first page critiques. Yes they can be valuable, but at so many conferences they seem to be a sadistic form of entertainment.

    I suppose I have learned that you need to have a hook, it can be quiet hook or a powerful hook, but you need to grab that reader in the first line and take them on a journey worth taking. And if there's no passion in the writer, there's no passion in the reader. Your voice has to come in loud and clear by page one, otherwise your reader will lose interest!

  2. I've only attended one first page session and I'd have to say the one thing I heard repeatedly was "Up the stakes. Take it up a notch. Go overboard even."

  3. Besides grabbing a reader's interest and making them want to turn the page, I learned that you don't want to introduce too many characters or plot threads on the first page. Keep it simple.

  4. I've only had my stuff read at one first page session. What I remember is that even though they had wonderful things to say about my writing, it was absolutely terrifying to hear my words read out loud! My heart didn't stop pounding until they were done critiquing and then I wanted to cry and throw up. And they had nothing but good things to say!