Things I Learned While Attending My First Writer’s Conference: Part 4

Back in October I attended my first writer’s conference. It was amazing! For the first time in my short writing career I got to spend a whole weekend focused on writing with no real-life obligations getting in the way. I’ll be breaking down my experience into a series of posts. Check out previous posts:

Part 1: intro to the series

Part2: Creating tension and intrigue

Part3: Issues that will get your manuscript rejected

This week’s post revolves around the First Pages critiques. For this we sat in on a panel of agents discussing submissions from the conference’s attendees. The agents were: Kaylee Davis, Kimiko Nakamura, Jody Rein, and Alison Weiss. The rules for submission were that it could only be the first page of the manuscript. The panel got through eight different pages during the course of the hour, and I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of those critiqued! My notes below constitute the general feedback for the overall group, then I’ll go into my own first page and the results of their critique.

Artist panel for the First Pages critiques.
Artist panel for the First Pages critiques.
  1. The opening page should clearly reflect the book’s genre.
  2. Start off as far into the story as possible. Get into the inciting incident and weave the world and background seamlessly into your writing.
  3. Don’t open your first page with scenery (it’s boring and adds no momentum to the story).
  4. Short sentences accentuate action scenes. If something is happening fast, don’t write forty-word sentences describing it. Be short and concise.
  5. Be careful about repeating words when not used in a rhetorical sense.

I’ll go ahead and paste the first page I submitted for critique. Below it I will include the agents’ commentary.

Soulless: First Pages Critique
Soulless: First Pages Critique

Mammon leaned over his new touch screen tablet, fuming at the device’s inability to adapt to Hell’s environment. Worthless piece of shit. The thing had shut off after overheating. He looked around, impatient to be off. Where is everyone?

He sat at a large onyx table, in the company of the fourteen glowing orbs which hovered above it.

Mammon rubbed his temples against the incessant wails of the damned, the thunderous noise of billions of fallen souls. “Be silent!” He exhaled. That is better. Through an enormous black archway he heard the footfalls of one of his siblings.

Asmodea sauntered into the dining room, her gilded antlers glinted in the firelight. She slipped into the stone throne beside him, her lips curled up in amusement. “What is this thing?” She took his tablet and turned it over in her hands.

“I must learn a new investment software.” Mammon snatched the gadget back before his sister decided to look at its insides.

“Humans are always changing things. I must keep up.”

Asmodea snorted. “Your human life is not real, you know. You’re not really Emery Whitehall.” She reached out and tickled one of the glowing balls hovering above the table. It flitted away. The group of light clustered at the far end of the table.

“I am really Emery Whitehall.” Mammon placed the tablet between his bare rump and the back of the chair. “Emery’s life is real. His money is real. His mansion is real. He was born and he will die. I am Emery Whitehall.”

Staring at him with big yellow eyes, Asmodea licked her lips. “Whatever you say, Mammy.”

*So, overall it seemed like the agents enjoyed the read and said had they received it as sample pages, they’d of kept reading! Now the critique:

  1. It felt a little YA. The only problem with this is that it’s not YA, but the agents said that the character’s responses felt exaggerated and therefore meant for a youthful audience.
  2. Odd word usage. The agents weren’t too thrilled with words like rump and touch screen tablet. They said research should be done to keep vocabulary fresh with the times.
  3. Over abundance of description. Not all the agents on the panel agreed with this, so I think it’s a matter of taste. however, when an agent says something, I think their thoughts should be considered.
  4. Odd sexual tension between characters. The agents felt concern over sexual tension between siblings, but I did it on purpose, so even though it’s odd now, clarification will come later in the book.

This critique session was really enlightening to how agent’s react to submissions. Watching their reactions and listening to their feedback was invaluable.

Part 5 in this series will revolve around character motivation!


2 thoughts on “Things I Learned While Attending My First Writer’s Conference: Part 4

  1. I did one of those first pages critiques at a workshop this past fall. It was the first time I’d participated in one, and my heart was pounding when they started reading my page! It was a great day though, as one of the agents on the panel ended up requesting my full. I’m going to my state’s SCBWI conference next month and I really wish they were doing the first pages like they did last year, but looks like they’re not. =(

    1. my heart was pounding too. given how they’d torn apart other’s pages, i was a little nervous. but the experience was good. i’d do it again. 🙂

      congrats on getting the request! that’s impressive. too bad they’re not doing the critique at the SCBWI conference, but i’m sure you’ll still have a good time.

      good luck! i hope you get more requests. 🙂

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