Called “A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile,” The First Five Pages is a how-to manual on sprucing up the beginning our your novel. I’ve had this book a long time. A dear writing friend gave this to me years ago. I’m just now reading it. Covering the basics, it’s everything from presentation, to style, to dialogue, to adjectives and adverbs. The author, Noah Lukeman, a literary agent, also covers characterizations, pacing, point of view and tone.
His first chapter is on “Presentation” – what does your manuscript look like? How is it formatted? Does it look nice? We all know that a child prefers a colorful and interesting looking package to a brown paper bag. Think of an editor or an agent that way. Lukeman gives the example of a potential author whose manuscript came to him “in a substandard format, printed on a dot-matrix printer, hard to read, filled with errors, even pagination mistakes.” We may think that’s funny now, but presentation is important.
Part II is all about dialogue, don’t use too much, or too little. Keep the “commonplace” (ordinary everyday conversation) to a minimum, just enough to get it going. Dialogue needs to feel realistic, but not actually be exactly what one would say.
Part III talks about “The Bigger Picture.” It gets into Showing vs. Telling, a biggie these days. Authors of yesteryear could get away with page after page of scene setting with details, etc. Today’s readers aren’t that patient, and an editor and an agent won’t be either.
Chapters on Characterization, Hooks, Tone, Focus, Setting, and Pacing and Progression are also included.
Each chapter has examples of problems, solutions given by the author, and a few End-of-Chapter Exercises. It’s a nice little book to give you an overview of how to polish your manuscript and get it ready to pitch. The subtitle is “A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.” I have thoughts about this following.
DISCLAMER: I am an unpublished author. I share resources. I know what to do and I’ve done it. But that has not gotten me a publishing contract yet. There are many people trying to enter the writer’s market every year, as a novelist and everything in between. You can do everything right, and still not get what you want. I’m not trying to rain on your parade, just letting you know what we are all up against as unpublished authors. But we can help ourselves by doing as many things right as we can. By doing our best, we might be able improve our chances that someday (how I hate that word) we might see our “dream” come true.
What do you think? If you’re a writer from another country, leave a comment and let me know how you’re coming along.