Who doesn’t love first page sessions? Where else can you get two non-stop hours of professional, editorial feedback? They pack quite a picture book pow. (And a middle grade wallop. And a YA smack.)
But how do you get the most out of these sessions? Take care in what you submit and how you submit it. Let the editors focus on your story rather than procedure.
These suggestions are based upon the November 19 NJ-SCBWI first page session with Kendra Levin of Viking and Lauren Hodge of Little, Brown.
1. Format properly. Some submissions didn’t use standard paragraph breaks and indents. While the editors understood that these writers were eager to submit as much story as possible, the manuscripts were confusing to read. Everything ran together. Format your first page just as you would a professional submission. Honestly, you will get more out of less.
2. Use Times New Roman font. A serif font reads well. Courier, the traditional typewriter font, is a monospaced font, meaning each letter is the same width. This wastes space. If you submit with Courier, you’ll have 50% less story on your first page.
3. Research your genre. Some manuscripts felt inappropriate for the genre the author indicated. The topic, word choice and level of sophistication need to match your audience’s age. If you submit with the correct genre, the editors will spend more time assessing your writing than genre counseling.
4. Don’t limit yourself to one gender. One manuscript indicated it was for girls. If you write this on a submission, an editor will immediately think your work doesn’t have broad appeal. Let the editor decide if both boys and girls will love your story.
5. Skip the prologue. Go right to the story. Submit page one of the first chapter, not the backstory.
6. Don’t include an explanation. One picture book began with an intro about why the author had written the story, based upon an experience with her children. And here is where editor Kendra Levin was gracious and tactful. She thought the children in this author’s life were incredibly lucky to have such a playful, creative parent. But stating how children you know enjoy your work doesn’t help sell it. The story does. The intro only left room for five lines of the tale, so the editors could not comment fully. They also emphasized that if the story is written well enough, an explanation becomes unneccesary.
7. Take notes. Don’t just wait for what the editors/agents have to say about your manuscript. Listen to the comments about every page. There’s something to learn from everyone’s manuscript.
There’s more to come from this dynamic first page session. Watch for another post this weekend. And please add your own first page tips!