Sunday, March 27, 2011

First Pages Bugaboos

Many people enjoy the First Pages sessions that again will be a part of SCBWI Western Washington's 20th anniversary conference in just a few weeks. As we've collected the many (many!) entries this year, we thought it might be helpful for future years or other events to share some of the reasons that a few entries have been disqualified:
  • Improper formatting, specifically, a "first page" that starts at the top of the sheet of paper instead of roughly one-third of the way down the sheet. As noted in the submission instructions, First Page sessions provide feedback on first pages as if they were received by an editor or agent as part of a submission, and as such, they must comply with standard manuscript formatting. That means the "first page" is really only a partial page. (It's not necessary to put a separate title page on submissions, either, but those we just discard without disqualifying the entry.)
This formatting guideline does not apply, of course, to the query submissions — but be wary of sending a query that looks like you tried to put as many words as humanly possible on the page. You won't be blacklisted for margins and white space, we promise.
  • Slovenliness. We've disqualified three entries, so far, for having big coffee or water stains that blurred the print on one or more of the copies. These appear to have been made prior to being put in their envelopes. Your first page, or any submission, should make your best impression.
  • Improper formatting, specifically, single-spacing (except for queries). See #1 above. Manuscript pages should virtually always be double-spaced, even for novels in verse. Queries can be single-spaced. If you're not sure how to handle new paragraphs, look it up. Manuscript formatting generally uses indentations to indicate a new paragraph, not block formatting with extra line spacing.
  • Insufficient text. For picture books, a first pages session is feedback on the first page of a manuscript text, not a dummy or the book as you imagine it laid out. If you only have seven words on your first page, or less than a complete sentence because you intend the sentence to be finished on a subsequent page, the editor and agent don't have much to react to. It's not necessary to lose lines with lots of blank space between stanzas, either; you can indicate stanzas if you like, but for this purpose, you don't need to. And a wordless picture book is not really an appropriate submission for this particular kind of session.
  • Similarly, if your first page is no more than your title and an epigram or a quote from a song or a poem, next time, send a submission without that front matter. There's no point in getting editor/agent feedback on nothing but a title and a line by Bob Dylan, 'cause we're pretty sure Bob won't be in the room and wouldn't change the song based on feedback anyway. Even if the epigram is written by you, you'll probably get better feedback if you just start the story and save the epigram for a full manuscript submission.
  • Craziness. I suppose if this bugaboo applies to you, you won't know it, but based on the query submissions, we're a little worried about a few of you. Maybe you just shouldn't put quite that much of your personality into your letter?
We have loads of great submissions, too, so the First Pages sessions will be great. Remember that the submissions read are selected randomly (once we've disqualified just a few), so there's no guarantee that any one will be read (and the number we've received will definitely preclude that), but everyone in the room will be sure to learn something. See you soon!


Martha Brockenbrough said...

A super-useful post, Joni.

I'm sorry I let my crazy out in the application. :-)

arbor16 said...

This cracked me up!