MisCon 28: First Page – Make or Break

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

Panel title: First Page – Make or Break
Panel members: Sheila Gilbert, Peter Kent, Patrick Swenson, Mark Teppo, Betsy Wollheim
Panel description: In this panel, you’ll get a first-hand look at how editors react when they read the opening page of your submission. Submit the first page of your story or book to be randomly read aloud by stuntman Peter Kent. Our panel will stop Peter when they would stop reading the submission and tell you why. Submissions will be handed in at the beginning of the panel. Submissions will not be returned and not all submissions will be read.

Instead of transcribing this panel, I thought I’d include a list of the elements that the editors do no want to see in their submissions. A fair number of people submitted first pages (including myself), but the editors were very tough. No one made it through.

Personally, I found the editors’ reactions very informative. For one, I need to set fire to my first line and write another one. And second, I need to be cognizant that whatever elements I introduce into the story, people are going to jump to conclusions even though I’m going to subvert the tropes later on. Hint: editors don’t like mail-order bride assassins even though it’s not about mail-order bride assassins. (For anyone wondering, this was a biopunk story. It’s pretty clearly implied to be so two-thirds of the way down the page, but they never got that far. And frankly, I don’t think it matters what you wrote later if no one can get past the first line. It’s a fail, no excuses.)

Anyways, enough about my own awful prose. Here are some general things the editors don’t want to see:

  • extremely long run-on sentences
  • bad phrasing
  • poor conversation
  • overwriting
  • putting your own feelings into the narrative
  • furry porn
  • starting the story with sound effects
  • starting with the character waking up
  • bodily functions
  • too many things in a list
  • unnecessary information
  • too much description of female characters
  • being too gratuitous
  • a removed narrator
  • too much stuff going on
  • extraneous detail
  • being sexist in the description (all women beautiful, no description for the men)
  • starting with dialog (hard to do well)
  • too much description in action with no focus
  • wasting time telling what the story is not
  • the narrator telling things after the fact (it biases the reader and removes immediacy)
  • making it obvious how the story ends