Jeaniene took some time to write about mechanics, so I thought I'd make a couple of observations about behavior.
300 Words: This was an arbitrary, upper limit. I was amused, in an understanding way, at just how many hooks kissed that number or close. We all want to say as much as we can about our work to get people to like it. But if you get a guideline like 300 words and you can make a clean case for your work with fewer, go fewer. Otherwise, you run the risk of padding with nonessential dross that takes away the energy of the hook.
5 pages: Same thing. Some of the second rounders "edited" to get to five pages. Not all books have a clean break in a scene at the end of page 5 (or 20 or 50). It was a limit imposed more for judge's time than for any magical editorial point. If something broke clean at page 4.5, no one would have been penalized. If you went over, maybe--because we had to draw a line. But the five pages are enough to give a sense if you want to read more. We obligated ourselves in this contest to comment. An agent or editor doesn't do that. If they get to page 2 and don't like what they're reading, they stop. If they get to page 5 of 6 and like what they're reading, yeah, they'll keep going. Which leads to...
No Reading Guarantee: As I said, we obligated ourselves to read. Agents and editors do not. They will stop reading when they lose interest whether it is the fourth page of a five page synopsis or the first paragraph of a thousand page manuscript. Just because someone asks to see more pages based on a hook, does not mean they read them all. Just because someone asked for the full manuscript based on a partial, does not mean they finish the novel. I noted, though, that a few people here and there in the comments said something along the lines of "if you read the whole thing/first three chapters/ten full pages, it would make sense." Maybe. But probably not. If a manuscript is too confusing or vague, agents and editors do not continue reading in hopes it gets better. They stop in fear it will get worse. They simply do not have time to give that much slack to the hundreds of submissions they get. If you think you're being rejected because someone didn't give you a chance, that's not the case. You are having your chance. You're just not taking advantage of it. I don't say that to be mean or harsh. The bottom line is that no matter how complex or simple your story is, you have to maintain interest to keep someone reading in either case.
Submitters and Commenters: As a judge and co-mod, I really have to thank you guys for your response. Egos are involved here. They wound easily, sometimes surprisingly, over the simpliest, innocuous comments. I was impressed with the grace people had in receiving criticism and the sincerity commenters had in supplying their own critiques. You guys were great. If someone acted up, we probably would have politely warned them and deleted their comment. Fortunately, that didn't have to happen.
The "Losers": It sounds lame--especially coming from someone as competitve as me--but there really were no losers here. Whether observing or participating, something somewhere was said that is going to stick with you as an advantage in your writing. As I said above, I know I picked up a thing or two, and I wasn't competing. I hope you all feel the same.
If anyone has any questions about the submitting process in general, feel free to ask in the comments. If you think it's a stupid question, don't. I've always said there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. I--and anyone else who chimes in--hope we don't do the latter!
Mark Del Franco