At Magical Words, Misty Massey explains how she and a couple of other writers did a panel called Live Action Slush.
Many, many times I hear writers complain how much they hate getting form rejections from editors, because such things do nothing to help them understand why the editor didn’t want to buy their story. . . . [In Live Action Slush], the writers submit the first pages of their novels anonymously. A designated reader reads each page aloud, and the three of us listen as if we were slush editors, raising our hands when we reach a place that would cause us to stop reading and move on to the next submission. Once all three hands are up, the reading stops and we discuss what made us stop reading.
That sounds like a pretty snazzy idea, although I’d sort of think agents and editors would be better than authors at this kind of thing. I think, from looking at a couple of her other posts, that Misty Massey is also an editor. Good, that sounds better.
As a related point, can you imagine Janet Reid participating in a panel like this? Well, maybe she does, sometimes. I expect she would not be quite so definitively shark-like in that kind of in-person situation. Though even in Query Shark, I don’t think she sounds brutal. Just clear.
Anyway. As always, it’s up to the author to decide how to handle the writing. But it does sound potentially useful to have experienced readers tell you, “Okay, this is where you lost me.”
I do wonder whether panelists on this kind of panel would tend to be more critical than ordinary readers, because:
a) They are listening to the pages read aloud, and I think it is easier to be critical in that format. I feel that I am significantly more critical of books I’m listening to than books I’m reading. I’m not sure that’s true, but I think so. I think the format is slower and anything you dislike — from clunky sentences to implausible fight scenes — stands out more.
b) They are specifically listening in order to be judge the book and be critical. I don’t mean this as a criticism. That mindset is intrinsic to the situation. They are listening in order to stop. They are expecting to stop. The situation is so different than when you pick up a book in a bookstore and read the first page. In that case, you are hoping to enjoy it and aren’t specifically looking for problems.
Despite all the potential caveats, though, I do like the idea of the panel. Even though I would expect a few participants to be thinner-skinned than would be idea.
Incidentally, from Faith Hunter in the comments of Massey’s post:
It would be easier to go the route of self-flagellation than to sit down and read an editorial letter. They are often (usually?) brutal.
That has not been my experience. From what I’ve seen, even editorial letters that ask you to do a ton of work are actually quite nice about it. I suspect that the class on Editoring 101 has a lecture on How To Sound Sincerely Flattering While Pointing Out Serious Flaws. In my experience, even the most perfectionist editors write nonbrutal editorial letters.