Contest Summary (Part 1)

I just want to give you all a big cyber HUG! You guys are just awesome! Your kind words (along with several pots of coffee!) carried me through two long days of revisions on my Genesis contest entries.

But now my entries are back under the spotlight. I returned them for second round judging. The top five finalists for each category will compete against one another. Then the category winners will be announced at the ACFW conference held in Denver in September.

The second round judges consist of agents and editors. The historical romance judges are all editors from major CBA houses: Rebecca Germany from Barbour, Ami McConnell from Thomas Nelson, and Emily Rodmell for Steeple Hill.

I'm truly honored and excited to think that real live editors will actually take the time to read something I wrote, even if it's only the first 15 pages of my novel. I will value each and every word of their feedback, even if it hurts! But what I'm really hoping, is that the 15 pages will spark their interest to read more.

15 pages. It doesn't seem like enough for judges and editors to determine the writing ability of an author or the real value of a book. But the reality is, sometimes we have even less than 15 pages to impress. We hear stories about agents and editors passing on a book simply after the first paragraph!

What do you think? Are 15 pages really enough to determine the writing ability of an author or the worth of their book? Do you think contest judges can be fair when they only have 15 pages to look at?

I personally don't think the first 15 pages will always accurately portray our true writing level.

  • On the one hand, the initial pages may over-represent those who spend hours and hours perfecting them, but lack the ability to carry the skill through the whole book.
  • On the other hand, the first pages may under-represent those who get off to a low start, but have told a spectacular story through the rest of the book.
I'm curious to know your opinions. Are 15 pages enough?


  1. Honestly, I don't think so. Many novels I've loved, both genre and literary, took a chapter or two to get warmed up.

    But don't be faint of heart. I'm confident these editors, given their years of experience, will see a novel's true potential and charm with so little--fifteen is your luck number, right?

    Congrats again and good luck.

  2. I think they're enough to get a taste of the flavor of the book. Even if the setup is not perfect, I think if the agent likes the voice/storyline, etc, they'll request more. So I'd have to say most of the time I do think it's enough, but not always.
    :-) There's always the exception. But even in the first pages it's easy to see a writer's style (or lack).

  3. LOL I forgot to give you my congrats too! I don't think any of the comments will be harsh. Emily judged one of my manuscripts and I've received rejections from her and she's always been very kind. Also, i think Germany has a blog, which means she's probably aware of writers and what they go through. :-)
    I think you'll do great!

  4. I think for me, 15 pages is usually enough to let me know if I want to keep reading or not. Sometimes I have persevered through some not-so-hot beginning pages, only to be pleasantly surprised later on, but that doesn't happen that often. Jody, they will read your 15 pages and will love it! I don't see how they could is very well written and engaging. You will do well, I am sure. Can't wait to hear the wait really until September?

  5. I think they are enough to assess whether or not a person can write - whether or not this person has a good handle on the concepts of craft and story. Not necessarily enough to figure out if the entire thing is a masterpiece. Although I will argue that I'm so busy these days - that if a story doesn't capture me by page 15, I won't continue reading to find out if it's a masterpiece. :)

  6. Rebecca: I'm hoping editors can see the potential in 15 pages, even if it may not be perfect!

    Jessica: That's good to know about those specific editors. It's always easier to take the negative feeback when it's put on a silver platter!

    Sherrinda: You are so sweet! I appreciate your vote of confidence! It is hard to want to keep reading if the first 15 pages don't grab your attention. I rarely persevere past that if it doesn't wow me! So perhaps 15 really is enough.

    Katie: Good point. Those first pages may give a good glimpse of the writing ability, but not necessarily of the ability to carry the story to a satisfying completion.

  7. Yes, I think 15 pages is plenty to set up the scene and show your characters and show your voice!
    I am hoping and praying you are one of the ones that wins!! So happy for you!

  8. Congrats again, Jody!

    I see both sides of it, like you. And does one find perfection in writing those 15 pages?

    Best to you!

  9. Jody: If it's YOUR fifteen pages, yes, that is enough.
    You have a strong voice, excellent flow, and a great command of proper English. And that's just from your blog posts! So, your fiction MUST be awesome.

    If i were you? I'd pray for these editors and agents every day.
    Find a few verses that give you hope and encouragement, and cling to them. You can't go wrong with God's Word.

    Blessing on you, dear.

  10. Terri: Thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Janna: I'm glad you can see the 15 pages both ways! I guess we need to make sure our entire book is as good as the first 15 pages!

    Jeanette: I will start praying! And thank you so much for your encouragement! You are so sweet!

  11. I agree with what's been said, 15 pages is enough to know whether it's a story you'll like or not.

    BUT, I don't think it's enough to completely judge some things. Character layers for example. It's like an onion... you peel off a layer or two in the first 15 pages, but you go deeper as you get into the book. So to say a character only has a few layers after reading only 15 pages... I don't think that can be truely realized out of so little of a book, especially a trade length. (catagory books are different, imho. You need to get to the point a lot faster so your 15 pages should reveal more than in a trade length)

    Other things: Conflict, Spiritual relevence to name a few. You can have an idea, but a GOOD writer will throw a lot of twists and turns into a book that make you be at a completely different place in the end than you expected when you started off the book.

  12. 15 pages is pretty short-- but I think with as experienced as editors can be, it probably is a really good indication of what they need to know. Like those people who taste beer all day for the beer companies ... just to make sure every single shipment that goes out is top notch. They know from just one tiny taste whether or not a batch is off. They don't need to drink the whole glass or even take a swig.

  13. Yes, I think it is. If a writer is not quite there yet, a reader can tell pretty early on. On the otherhand, if the writer is turning out jewels, the reader can get an early sense of that too. She might wind up being frustrated because she wants to read the rest though. That's a good place to be with a contest entry. And look, you did it TWICE!

    I mean there's a difference between a story that starts slow, and a writer that's not quite skilled enough. Even with a story that starts slow, you can tell whether the writing is up to snuff.

  14. Noah Lukeman says the first 5 pages is enough to gage whether they want to keep reading or not. :)
    I think the first chapter of a book will let you know whether that person can write or whether you enjoy that author's voice, but I don't think you can get a really great handle on the story in such a short time.

  15. Krista: Like you, I think it's hard to get a feel of plot twists and turns in the first pages. We've all heard of sagging middles! So while the first 15 pages may give a glimpse of the author's skill, I don't think it gives the whole picture.

    Lady Glamis: Great analogy with beer and wine tasting! The experts in writing see so many books, that usually they can "taste" when they have a keeper or not!

    Patricia: I like your last statement, that even if the writing starts slow, the judge can still tell if the writing is good enough. But can a writer fool a judge by polishing up the first pages so much, when really they're still needing a lot of work on the rest of the book?

    Jennifer: I loved that book! But again it amazes me that we put so much time into the first five pages! It's kind of like the people who spend so much time preparing for the wedding ceremony which is here and gone, but spend so little time preparing for the marriage which is suppose to last a lifetime!

  16. Great job on getting the contest entry polished this weekend! Maybe a little celebration with an iced latte is in order?

    I think the first fifteen pages shows the skill level of the writer, teases interest, and hopefully, leaves the reader wanting more. It can't show how well a writer handles plot and it can only hint at pacing, but it's plenty to make an editor or agent request more.

    Are you thinking about going to ACFW National conference now? Wouldn't it be exciting to accept an award in person?

  17. I think the first 15 can tell you whether the author has the ability to make an engaging story and write it well. It's true that there are exceptions, but it is a good gage. If I'm not hooked in the first 15 pages of a book, I will generally not continue.

  18. Jody, congrats on getting your Genesis entry polished to a glossy sheen.

    When I first began writing, I balked at the idea of my work-of-art being judged based upon a scant 15 pages or less. However, once I began judging contest entries, my viewpoint shifted dramatically. I get a good idea of a writer's voice, skill and storytelling flair in a few pages.

    To test my theory that 15 pages wouldn't yield a different score than 50, I performed a test. I judged the Golden Pen and Golden Heart this past year. Both have 50 page entries. After reading the first 15 pages (or first chapter) of an entry, I jotted down the score I would have given at that point. I finished the entry and compared the score I gave at the end to the one I'd given earlier in the read. In most cases there was no change. In a few, there might be a .1 or .2, but rarely anything more.

    I still don't like the idea that my "baby" will be judged in contests or by readers based on those first few pages, but I do the same when I read. My goal now is to make those first pages shine.

  19. Jill: I'm registered and ready to go to ACFW! Getting in the finals was just the push I needed to make that decision! Now I need to polish up both books and get them ready to sell at the conference.

    Lotus Girl: I think the general consensus seems to be that the first 15 pages are a good gage of the writer's ability. Would be interesting to know if editors feel the same way.

    Keli: VERY interesting experiment!! You were able to see first hand that your view of the writer's ability and story didn't change much even if you have more than 15 pages. Thank you for sharing that! First impressions count for so much in the writing business!

  20. I believe with a synopsis or jacker blurb 15 standard pages is plenty. I read Noah Lukeman's the first five pages and in his opinion our work is judged much quicker than 15 pages. I'm so thrilled for you I'm going to pray for you and Eileen to glean special favor from the Lord and push you both into the winners position! can you gain representation through this? I wish I was more familiar with the contest.

  21. Still so excited for you! And what great dedication you showed to getting those pages polished up.

    If you have the synopsis to go along with it...then yeah, 15 pages is probably enough. But then again, it may depend on the book...

  22. Jody, I'm going to have to say that I believe that 15-pages is enough for any given agent/editor to know whether or not the writing is something they believe strongly enough in to warrant a request for more. Especially with a one-page synopsis attached. Even slow starting books have to hook the reader somehow to keep them invested in reading on. They get so many submissions that they've trained themselves to find what they connect with fast.

    Good luck on getting those manuscripts ready for September. I'm really looking forward to gettting to know you more there, Jody!

  23. I am still so excited for you! Congratulations on making those changes.

    It's hard to say about 15 pages. It's definitely enough to get a good idea of the writer's voice and style. Whether or not they can tell a story, though, that might take more.

    I am going to admit that I didn't know the ACFW conference was in Denver. But I researched it (am thinking finally about joining) and got so excited. I live in Denver! Denver in September is just lovely (as long as it isn't snowing) :)

  24. T.Anne: Thanks for your prayers and encouragement! I think this contest will open the door much wider to us, but we still have our work cut out!

    Melissa: Thanks! Synopsis is a good way to give a glimpse of our creativity with the way we plot.

    Eileen: Good luck to you too! Since you've already been polishing a book for the Canada conference, maybe you'll be one step ahead? Either way, I'm sure we'll have a lot of work to do to get ready!

    Cindy: You need to go to ACFW! You are right there! You won't have the transportation or hotel fees the rest of us will have! I hope you can go!

  25. Hi Jody -

    Fifteen pages might be enough if they also read a detailed synopsis. Excellent writing alone won't keep a reader. A great plot and characters are a must.

    Susan :)

  26. Hi Susan,
    I agree that we need to have a great plot and characters in addition to great writing! Blessings to you too!

  27. Hmm. Not always. Try reading the first 15 pages of GONE WITH THE WIND. There is so much more to that book than the first, slightly slow, 15 pages.


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