Wednesday, March 5, 2014

COSCBWI Meeting Feb 2014: First Pages

February's COSCBWI meeting was packed to the gills with eager writers and illustrators ready for a critique!  Critiques are so important to both writers and illustrators, and are a wonderful way to improve one's work.  During the February meeting, members were invited to bring the first page of their middle grade or young adult manuscript, or the first 500 words of a picture book manuscript, to share with the group.  Members read each story aloud, then gave constructive feedback on what was great about the piece, and what could be done to improve it.  (And as any seasoned writer knows, there is always room for improvement!)

Here are a few tips and considerations the group discussed:

1) Make your first page as interesting as possible.  You want to entice your reader to turn to page two.  (Then page three...then four...until they can't stop reading!)  Think about the "hook" that will make your first page stand out, and read published books to see what makes a first page memorable to you.  Is it a first page that makes you laugh?  Is it one with a sense of mystery?  A strong voice?  All of the above?  Read, read, read, then revise, revise, revise!  

2) Make sure you don't "info dump" on your first page and give too much back story.  You don't want your reader to be confused about who the main character is and what they are doing, but you don't need to talk about every branch of their family tree or give detailed descriptions of what their cat ate for breakfast.  (Unless it's a story about a family trying to get their sick cat to eat.  Or about a family of cats trying to decide what to eat for breakfast.  Or about a little boy who doesn't want his family to eat his cat for breakfast.  Or...) 

3) If you're an author/illustrator, don't finish an entire book's worth of illustrations before querying your manuscript.  It's a lot of work and risky, considering an agent might suggest you make your boy character a girl, or an editor might think your city setting should really be a desert!  Instead, prepare a book dummy and one or two polished illustrations to show them what you can do, but also allow wiggle-room for professional feedback.

4) If you're writing a picture book, be sure to read recently published books to see how the genre is trending.  Word counts in picture books are getting smaller all the time, and text is becoming very integrated with the illustrations.  Understanding the highly-competitive picture book market can help you hone your manuscript until it's just what agents and editors are looking for!  (Plus, it's just fun to read picture books--which is why you're writing them, right?)

Since COSCBWI does at least one First Page Critique meeting a year, I have three past summaries you can check out, too!  (You can find them herehere, and here.)  The discussions always tailor to the types of manuscripts members bring in, so you may find some helpful tips and tidbits from these prior years.

The new COSCBWI website is still under construction at the moment, so be sure to tune in to the Facebook group for all the latest news and updates.  (It's under "Central Southern Ohio SCBWI".)  You can always send me a question here on my blog, too, and I'll get it where it needs to go.  March's COSCBWI Illustrator Meeting will be on March 12th at 7:00 PM at the Upper Arlington Tremont Library.  March's COSCBWI Writer Meeting will be on March 26th at 7:00 PM at the Upper Arlington Lane Road Library.  I hope to see you there!

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