My experiences at the James River Writers Conference this fall (Oct 19 – 21) have truly been a gift that keeps on giving. The pre-conference intensive led by Kristen-Paige Madonia (kristenpaigemadonia.com), who presented a class on “First Words,” is a good example. She advised the participants via email that it would be a “discussion that considers the creative elements likely to engage an editor or discourage them from continuing to read a submission…” She asked us to prepare the first page that we planned to send with our submission according to standard submission format guidelines: double-spaced with one inch margins and 12-point font, title and content beginning half-way down the page. I prepared my first page and ran a word count: 100, give or take. Whoa! How was I going to captivate an editor/agent with only 100 words? Exactly the point Ms. Madonia made in her class. On average, 100 words is all you have to fascinate/excite/seduce your submission target into asking to read more. As she promised, the class was enjoyable, supportive and loaded with constructive criticism. I’ve since revised my first page three or four times. Some of the changes are small, sometimes large. So far I ‘ve made no changes that require a rewrite of the entire first chapter, but the introduction to my novel gets stronger each time. Each succeeding version improves and polishes; I am learning how to make my first 100 words sparkle and shine. And the silver lining to all this work? My writing in general is sure to improve. So look hard at your first 100 words, then look again, and again. The wily charms of Mata Hari or Cleopatra will pale beside your utterly irresistible first page!