Writer Idol…

The Boston Book Festival was yesterday, and I wanted to wait until after the event to write this weeks blog. Overall it was an interesting event, although most of the sessions were geared towards fans of specific authors. I must admit that, as a publisher, I found the people I met far more interesting than most of the sessions. There was, however, one session that I found fascinating—Writer Idol.

The concept was pretty simple: You anonymously submit the first page (250 words) of your novel to be read aloud. Three agents were on stage as the judges, and they would raise their hands when they heard something in the first page that would make them stop reading the manuscript if it had been submitted as a query. Only one of the twenty-plus first pages made it to the end without getting ‘rejected’, and some of the comments by the panel about people’s writing were less than charitable (to be fair to the panel, people were warned up front to expect brutally honest comments about their writing).

While the event made for great theatre, one thought kept popping into my head: this is not the way most publishers and agencies review queries. First off, if you’ve behaved in a professional manner, your sample chapters came with a well-written query letter that told me whether your manuscript is about hunky blue-eyed minotaurs, the earthquake in Haiti, or the 2012 election. Thus, I already know whether the subject would be of interest to me. Second, if you’ve included a synopsis or chapter outline I already know the plot (or thesis) of your manuscript, which again will assist me in deciding if your manuscript is of interest. In short, I already know a lot about your manuscript, your voice, and you before I have even decided to read the sample chapters.

This is not to say that your first page isn’t critical; the agents did make some very interesting comments about the importance of your working title and first page that I will share in my next blog. My point is that the other information you send with a query is just as important. If this information doesn’t grab an agent or publisher’s attention, they will likely never read the first page of your manuscript, unless it’s on stage at Writer Idol



Filed under For Authors

5 responses to “Writer Idol…

  1. “First off, if you’ve behaved in a profession manner…” and made sure you have no typos in your query letter :-), you will likely get further than most beginning writers. This was my third Writer Idol, and while I always pick up one or two interesting insights, I think this session provides the most value to those who have not yet begun to query.

  2. I think you would be shocked by the number of queries we receive with no query letter, or worse with 1-2 sentences telling us nothing more than the attachment contains a manuscript and not a computer virus (as far as the sender knows)…
    I did think the session was very informative, even for me, in that it showed what agents are thinking. My point was that it’s very easy to forget that the first page of a manuscript is not the only thing being reviewed when you query a publisher or agent.
    And thank you for pointing out the typo. 🙂

  3. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to that panel, although I did want to. I had other obligations and really couldn’t stay long, so I just made a circuit of the booths outside. It’s not a festival without overpriced food stalls.

    Boston Book Festival was alright, but I think I would have organized a few more “open discussions” where writers could gather in groups, with a single agent or publisher (like yourself) to moderate, and all talk over one another’s work. I wonder if they would like that suggestion?

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