At many writing conferences and writing programs like ours at Hamline, agents or editors will hold a first pages session. The first page of a story is read and first reactions given. As readers, we have our own first page reaction. How many times have you heard someone say, “It just didn’t grab me.” or “I couldn’t get into it?”

Most of us give a story more of a chance than the first 250 words, but in today’s competitive publishing market, often the first page is all that is read from the slush pile of manuscripts on the floor of an editor or agent. First page advice: grab the reader, but don’t confuse them. Setting needs to be clear, as does the challenge facing the protagonist. Will they be able to act on the problem by the last page, in a way that they couldn’t on the first?

First pages are often the last finished section of a revised manuscript. So don’t rush getting it perfect when the rest of the story is still evolving.

That said, do you have a first page and enticing title for a YA novel? If so, consider entering the contest below. It seems legitimate. At least it is proof positive that the old world of publishing doesn’t work the same way any more.

Serendipity Literary Agency, in collaboration with Sourcebooks and Gotham Writers’ Workshop, is hosting its third Young Adult Novel Discovery Competition for a chance to win a one-on-one consultation (“with one of New York’s leading YA literary agents!”) Part in parentheses is from the contest web site. Some of you know how I hate the use of “!’s”

Submit an enticing title along with the first 250 words from the opening of your original YA novel. If interested, don’t wait. The deadline is November 30th.

For those of you writing middle grade novels or picture books, there is another contest, but this one is for full manuscripts. The National Association of School Principals has teamed with Charlesbridge Publishing Company to select two manuscripts for publication and promotion through their organization. The first page will matter on this one, too. First round judges likely won’t read past it, if the writing isn’t strong.

Part of me hesitates to broadcast news of contests. On the other hand, when your work is ready, you need to find agents and editors for feedback. Anyone out there had good luck with contests? Is it a good way to break in?