Ever wondered how editors and agents feel? Now you can find out!

Since I’m getting ready to head out on a solo trip to visit my grandparents for Easter in North Carolina, today’s post will be kinda short.  B/c I gots to gets on the highway, yo. 

While wasting time on the internet doing homework on the publishing biz, I happened to hear about PagesToFame while visiting The Intern (which you can also visit from my Blogroll link). In Intern’s words (b/c she summarizes it pretty succinctly):

Basically, it’s a game where writers submit the first page of their manuscript, which readers then rate on a scale from “Lousy” to “Heavenly”. If a page gets enough “Heavenly” ratings, the author is allowed to submit their first chapter for the next round. If the first chapter does well, the author submits the first 50 pages. In the final round, a handful of authors are allowed to submit their complete manuscript, which are then “reviewed” by a literary agent (though what this review entails is unclear).

Let me warn you, if you’re into writing at all or reading other peoples’ stuff–or if you just want to read someone else’s crap so your stuff looks that much better–it’s addictive.  I’ve wasted more time than I care to admit on the site.  You pick the genre that you’d like to read (Mainsteam, Romance, SciFi/Fantasty, etc.), read a random page that has a brief story synopsis up top, and then rate it.  Then (and this is the really cool part to me) you get to see how your rating compared to other reviewers.  Now, when I first saw this, I figured a lot of people would rate some of the crap much higher than it deserved, across the board, and this does happen from reviewers who don’t know what’s “good,” they just know what they “like.”  But a lot of the time I was surprised to see that the majority of reviewers agreed with me.  So it was also like  a competition with hundreds of people you don’t know, like rock, paper, scissors, but without the rock–was I a reviewer in the brilliant majority, or were the others just fools who don’t know crap when they see it?  (B/c it’s never, did I make a mistake with this vote–that’s just absurd.)

Another boon that I found about this site, other than its absolute WIN at being a time waster, was that I found myself reevaluating my own work in comparison.  Would my first page make it past “So-So”?  Would any of them hit “Pretty Good” or “Heavenly”?  If you’re gutsy enough, try posting some of your work and see how it fares.  It’s obviously not an absolute win or fail, but it might give you an idea of how READABLE that first bit is.  Your story may warm up to be great, but will readers make it past the warm up? 

Plus, as I discovered first in college while reading the slush pile on UoM’s literary journal The Pinch, reading the crap can help your writing.  Make no mistake, reading the good stuff (of all kinds) helps writers by showing you how successfully something can be done.  But reading crap can help, too, I promise.  When I was first told this, I thought it was just hype that our editor was trying to sell us so we wouldn’t look at the grunt work with resentment.

As a side note, let me pass along that reading the journal’s slush pile was usually several hours a week of (often) volunteer work.  So we were reading tons of bad writing for free.  In other cases, students had to do the hours of work as readers for the journal for class credit.  So, they paid the university money to read tons of bad writing.  Really a case of the sh*ts on one hand, the runs on the other.  And since I served in both capacities during my semesters there, I have the luxury of seeing both sides.  But it did have some perks, so I wasn’t sorry I did it.

But I came to realize that the editor was right–reading bad stuff really does help your writing, too.  Because it’s easier to see clumsy transitions and cliches in someone else’s writing.  The comma splices start to make your eyes cross, and you get great entertainment out of reading awkward dialogue to your fellow readers when you come across a sudden, abrupt love scene in the middle of what had first appeared to be a bank heist.  Lovely!  But you begin to see this stuff (even though you might have mistakenly thought you could see it before) because so much of what lands in the journal slush pile is SO OBVIOUS that you get back to your own story and go, “Holy run-on sentences, Batman!  Why did I do that [insert poor writing technique of choice]?!”  That character that you thought was so witty and earthy now shows itself as the stereotyped stock character (s)he really was all along.  And then you fix it and your story breaths a sigh of relief, like a horse when a really heavy rider FINALLY gets off.  (Your story thanks you ahead of time, by the way, for the improvements you’ll make after reading PagesToFame.)

So, I highly recommend wandering through that site.  You’ll find good stuff and bad, though whether or not you find them in equal measures really depends on how long you stay there 🙂  (But don’t bother reading the comments that well-intentioned reviewers leave–after the fifth “it was great!  I really liked it!” comment, you’ll get so angry you’ll turn into the Writing Hulk.  And reviewers won’t like you when you’re angry…) 

Otherwise, enjoy!  And have a very Good Friday and happy Easter.

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