I found a great little article the other day that might be of interest to others: 7 Reasons Agents Stop Reading Your First Chapter
The paragraph before the "7 Reasons" is this (an interesting way to "test" that first chapter!):
I recently attended the Writer Idol Event at Boston Book Fest. I t was not for the faint of heart, but for those willing to brave public ridicule, it was a great way to get helpful feedback. This is how it worked: An actress picked manuscripts at random and read the first 250 words out loud for the panel and the audience. If at any point a panelist felt he would stop reading, he raised his hand. The actress read until two or more panelists raised their hands, at which point the panel discussed the reasons they stopped, or in cases where the actress read to the end, they discussed what worked.
As for the 7 Reasons, I agree with all of them, surely, but avoiding them is easier said than done. Because writing a novel or short story is so much harder than non-writers will ever know. It's hard, in terms of hitting that "sweet spot" - getting the writing, the plot, the characters, the conflict just right. Stirring and mixing all the "ingredients" together in the proper order, in the proper amount - then, not over-mixing or under-baking (which, now that I think about it, reminds me of my "stew" post a few weeks ago).
Still, it's helpful - crucial, in fact - to know the pitfalls, to be highly aware of them. Because, how else will we avoid them?