This just in: I am not a seer.
Long story short, some anonymous hecklers and some apparently published authors submitted their first pages in the contest, and since they were not chosen as finalists, they feel that this means that either a) I’m an idiot, b) the publishing process is broken, and/or c) well, I’m sure there may have been a c but I deleted their comments because I loathe anonymous snark (as opposed to the anonymous Miss Snark, whom I love).
First of all, don’t you know that Spencer is the enemy? Why are you targeting me?
Second of all, welcome to publishing. Pull up a chair. I hope you’ll stay awhile. It’s an interesting place.
For the people who apparently believe agents should divine the publishing prospects of a work based solely on the first page of said work: uh, that’s not really how it works actually. Over 20 publishers passed on A WRINKLE IN TIME when they had the whole manuscript in their hands, let alone just the few words that came after “It was a dark and stormy night.” Publishers passed on [insert any bestseller and/or classic book here] a bunch of times. This is a subjective process in which many wonderful books are passed on. Publishing is all about matching up the right book with the right agent and the right editor at the right time. Even if an agent or editor passed up on the next huge book, it doesn’t mean they’re stupid — they might just not have been the right fit. Enthusiasm and fit are everything.
But wait, you might say: don’t agents try and divine the publishing prospects of queries all the time? Yes! We do — but this is why the (admittedly imperfect) query process is in place. A query should give a sense of the overall work, whereas judging a book based on the first page is like trying to determine how awesome the Statue of Liberty is just by looking at her toenail. This is why it’s necessary to write a good query and query widely. Subjectivity is the name of the game.
So for the people who are getting worked up about a for-fun contest on an agent blog: simmer down there, hot rod. This all goes with the territory. The purpose of this contest was to find some good first pages and have fun in the process. Aren’t we having fun?
And oh by the way — how about those six finalists? Aren’t they good?
Some people requested that I speak a bit more on how I chose my finalists, so here goes. There were many awesome first pages, but I found myself drawn to a particular group, and frankly I’m very happy with the choices.
A first page really can do (basically) four things: reveal the setting, reveal the characters, reveal the plot, and/or reveal the style. There were many first pages (just as there are many wonderful books) that started off with a wonderfully evocative setting, there were many that started off with wonderful characters, an intriguing plot and/or an interesting style. You could find all sorts of wonderful books that start with a combination of one, two, three, or four of these elements (ATONENMENT, for instance, begins with a fascinating character, Briony, organizing a play with McEwan’s intricate style).
For the purposes of this contest, perhaps because we’re judging the first page and ONLY the first page, I, personally, found myself drawn to works that revealed all four elements.
I also found myself drawn to works with a high degree of difficulty. As I mentioned in the comments of the voting thread, at first blush, some of these finalists might seem very straightforward, but it is VERY difficult to capture a pitch perfect voice and a historical setting like Heather!Anne! did (she even used the word reckon well, which is nearly impossible to do), it’s VERY difficult to ease the reader into a world while building some spine-tingling suspense like terryd, VERY difficult to simultaneously introduce a strange futuristic world while at the same time eliciting a response like “yup, I know this family” like luc, VERY difficult to master the impeccable flow of kari’s first page and then bring a smile to the reader’s face with that dialogue, VERY difficult to elicit a sense of place like Charlotte, and such an impeccable and precisely-constructed mood like Julianne.
While I can rule out some works objectively because they’re far away from publishable quality — ultimately it’s subjective. I picked four out of 675. There were many more that were good, more that I want to see more of, and apparently a few by some excitable authors taking this contest just a tad too seriously.
I went with the ones that really struck me and that I was most enthusiastic about. And at the end of the day, that’s the way the publishing process works.