Posted by: Kathy Temean | April 21, 2010

Editor Navah Wolfe and Agent Susan Hawk

Last night the New Jersey SCBWI Chapter had a First Page Session in Princeton, NJ with Navah Wolfe from Beach Lane Books at Simon & Schuster and Susan Hawk from the Bent Literary Agency. 

For those of you who have never been to a First Page Session.  This is how it works: 

We limit the audience to 30 writers.  Each person brings with them, three copies of a first page.  To clarify for the picture book people, that is not what you would see on the first page of a manuscript – that could be just one sentence.  It is the double-spaced text that fits on one page with one inch margins – usually around 23 lines.

As the attendees arrive, they put one copy of their first page in each of the three piles.  The editors sit together at the front of the room and to the side we have two readers.  Both editors receive a pile and the readers get one and take turns reading through the first pages.  Once a page is read, the editors/agents comment and give their first impression about what they have heard.  Does it keep their interest?  Would they read more?  Where could the writer improve?

I know you did not hear the pages that were read, but lots of what they talked about were general observations you could keep in mind  when writing and revising your work.  Here are some of the things they said this evening.

  • Make sure you hook the reader in the first few sentences.  Give your audience something the market has not seen.
  • Too much description and set up before the story starts.  Work in the info later on in the text.
  • Too much telling.  Get to the story sooner.
  • Premise doesn’t work.
  • Not enough visual images to work as a picture book.  Let the illustrator tell some of the story through the artwork.
  • Use more of the senses when writing.
  • Good hook, but the story shifted and it took a while to get the idea of what was going on.  Need a better transition or segue way.
  • Don’t start so far into the story, that you lose the fun imagery and humor.
  • All about the adult and not the child.
  • Too preachy.
  • Main character is a whiner- not sympathetic.
  • Dialog doesn’t sound realCharacters say things that both would already know.
  • Too many stories start with the beginning of the day and an argument with a sibling.
  • Age is not clear.
  • If you write about a cat or a dog, don’t come across as though it is all about your love of your animal.  Make the focus of the story be the animal.
  • Don’t straddle the line between rhyme and prose.  Pick one and stick with it.  If you write rhyme,  it  must be perfect.  It is even worse if everything is perfect, accept one line, because the line really shouts out that something is wrong.  One thing that could help is to have someone else read what you have written to you, so you can hear how it sounds.
  • We talked about early readers.  They thought that down the road there could be more early readers brought to market, since children are starting to read at an earlier age.
  • One fictional story used footnotes to continue the characters thoughts and observations.  There was a discussion on that.  They thought it depended on the book as to whether they worked to help tell the story.  IMO I think that footnotes of the characters thoughts are distracting, but that’s me. 
  • Story jumps off fast, but needs a little more setup, so reader knows what is going on.

I have to say, both Susan and Navah were very nice and knowledgable.  We definitely will invite them to other events, so don’t worry you will have a chance to meet them, again.  

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Great summation, Kathy! I think you covered it all. One question .. did you mean too preachy? (vs. too peachy – though too sweet is a good point, too.)

    Jeanne

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  2. Jeanne,

    That is funny. I missed the “r” in preachy. Thank’s for pointing that out. You did a great job as usual. And it was nice to meet Felicia. I like her.

    Kathy

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  3. I found the session to be extremely helpful, and it was GREAT to see you Kathy.

    I thought both Navah and Susan were wonderful, their comments were right on.

    Even though both of them said they would be interested in reading more, I still revised my first page, that’s how much I learned last night from listening to Susan and Navah talk about many of the submissions they see, as well as from hearing the other first pages.

    I think one way to make the first page evenings even richer would be to have each work read by the author.

    It’s fun to see who wrote what (I didn’t get to find out who wrote the fantastic lego story, or the one about the animals and their artwork which I loved!) and I think it’s an opportunity for the author to practice presenting his or her work.

    The readers were great, (thank you readers!) but is it possible they were giving each story the tone of voice they thought it ought to have instead of one that was more appropriate to the piece? I think it may have happened once or twice. Of course an editor or agent reads submissions on their own in the real world, but again, these sessions create a special opportunity for each writer.

    I would also like to see each writer bring a copy of their page for everyone. Having the piece in front of us would be yet another way to possibly deepen the experience and everyone could write comments on the page if moved to do so.

    Ok, that’s it! Thanks Kathy, you did a super job getting this together. I’ll be at the next first page session for sure, and I can’t wait for the conference. Where did you say that comedy club is? (-;

    Very best,
    Mimi

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  4. I stumbled across this looking for something else and just want to say that SCBWI rocks. I would love to have listened to this session!!

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    • Kathleen,

      I love it when you visit. It was a very good first page session. Let me know if you ever are planning on coming out this way.

      Kathy

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