Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Page Session

The day of the SCBWI First Page Session had arrived. I laid the first page of my picture book manuscript on the long table with 34 others. It would be the first time it was read aloud in front of an audience and editors. I picked up my packet of manuscripts and took my seat. It was time to begin.

A volunteer read the first page of picture books, chapter books, and middle grade and young adult fiction. Two editors would then give their critiques.

Some manuscripts were funny, clever, and made the audience laugh out loud. Others were long-winded, awkward, and confusing. I wondered to whom each one belonged.

I looked around the room at the anonymous authors. I caught small glimpses of each person's life- their interests, sense of humor, dreams, and experiences. Their voices or the voices of people they know (real or imaginary)- filled the room.

As the reading continued, I tried not to be distracted by my anticipation. It was difficult. I flipped forward in the packet. My story was next!

The volunteer introduced my picture book. She read the story quickly, while I looked up to gauge the editors' responses. What did they think? They critiqued my work, and in less than two minutes, it was over.

I wanted to call out, “Wait!” I still had so many questions.

The beginning was rushed, the editors said. There wasn't enough passage of time during the character's journey. The title was bland.

But the editors also said it was a story/topic that children would relate to. It included strong writing with good rhythm and repetition. It had a real “picture book feel”.

On my drive home, I could have been inspired by the editors' positive comments. Instead, I thought of the other manuscripts. The ones that were funny, intriguing, memorable. The ones that stirred up personal memories in the editors. The ones they wanted to read more of. Why hadn't I written one of those?

A strong trait of any editor, writer, or artist is to see potential in a work. Michaelangelo said it best: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

My picture book may have thick, rough walls around it, but tools in hand, I'm ready to start carving!

Have you participated in a First Page Session? Was it a good or bad experience?


  1. My experience was filled with the same kind of half good (wonderful) half bad (devastating) comments as yours. I purposely didnt take notes, confident that I would remember the suggestions I liked and would forget the ones I hated. Overall the insights I got from my own critique and the others in the pile helped me open my mind and revise and revise and revise. I like the first page session, and will definitely do it again.

  2. My feelings on first page sessions...


    (and I hate that word/sound)

    Don't get me wrong, I really do understand the merit. And when you KNOW yours is going to be read, that takes away some of the nerves. (some!) I think half the problem for me is that anticipation! Seriously, I get hives, whether or not mine is read. I had a horrible experience once which did make me gun shy, but my first page hasn't made it to the top of a pile since. (And I've dropped it in, scouts honor!)

    The things we do for our art! Brava to you Judy for stepping up! I know you'll carve away and find that masterpiece!

  3. I had a similar, nerve-tingling, was it good or bad? experience. One thing that really stuck was the impact of a good first sentence. I pay more attention to that first line now, and I think my writing is better for it.

  4. Wow - it sounds like an experience you learned a lot from. I've never done anything like this - so I admire you for being so brave!

  5. Bravo for participating! The "negatives" can all be fixed. Having a "picture book feel" says so much good. You can pull this off.

  6. I've had both good and bad experiences with first page sessions. I think you should feel encouraged by the general tone of your comments.

    Get out your sculpting tools and carve away!

  7. Hey Sharon:

    I've done first pages a few times and always felt much like you did.

    And I always learned something, too. That first page is so important.

  8. OOoops! Sorry for the mix-up, Sharon!! Great post. :)

  9. Thanks all for the insightful comments!