Have you ever heard of the Secret Agent contest? It's held once a month at this amazing blog, and if you haven't checked it out before, you must. Basically, you enter the first 250 words of your completed work, and that month's Secret Agent reads the entries and picks one or more winners. These winners get really cool prizes, usually in the form of submitting a partial or (eek!) a full to the agent in question.
Since my MS is nowhere near ready for public critique, I didn't submit this time. I did, however, attempt to comment on as many of the entries as possible. Here's what I learned this go-around:
1) Being an agent must be tough. Agents are attentive, persistent, and patient. Really, really patient. In fact, they may be gods.
2) I'm not crazy about people starting their stories with things like, "My momma always warned me not to play near rose bushes," or "My best friend, Roberta, always said that life is like a box of crayons." This kind of beginning sets itself up for an internal monologue or, worse, an info dump. And dumps aren't pretty, no matter what color you paint them.
3) Typos are killer. Proofread, proofread, proofread. And, for the love of all things holy, proofread!
4) Prologues: I could leave 'em or take 'em, so long as they don't read like backstory. Backstory makes me a little drowsy. And it kind of makes me cringe.
5) And here's the real kicker: If you don't pull me in within the first 2 or 3 lines, you've lost me. I don't need you to start the story off with a literal BANG! (in fact, that's normally too much for me to handle); I just need you to start the story off where the story actually starts. Granted, my limited attention span has probably caused me to miss out on a few slow-building gems over the years, but it's also opened my eyes to the works of authors I'd never heard of before and just-so-happened to pick up one day, whilst wandering aimlessly through the bookstore (one of my favorite activities, by the way).
Moral of the story? I may not be an agent, but I AM a reader, and an avid one at that. So, if you want me to read your stuff (and you might not; that's your perogative), then write something true (or truly fantastical), something honest (or honestly deceptive). Write something that is worth being said. And make sure you are able, from the beginning, to get a reader to care. Because if you can't do that, then the incredible world you've spent months (or even years) building may never make it any further than a word doc on your computer.