Monday, February 22, 2010

The First Five Pages

The First Five Pages:

A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

by Noah Lukeman

Fireside Books/Simon & Schuster, 2000

Reviewed by Deborah Lightfoot Sizemore

See a submission through an agent's eyes as Noah Lukeman takes you down the list of failings that will quickly earn your work a rejection letter. At the head of the list is the obvious -- errors in presentation such as single spacing. Next the agent scans for overuse of adjectives and adverbs, for poor sentence construction, for writing that seems forced or too noticeable -- writing that gets in the way of the story.

Then comes the dialogue. Lukeman writes: "… dialogue is generally looked at second by publishing professionals, for confirmation. If, at a quick glance, our initial impression of a manuscript is that it suffers from one of the preliminary problems, we then look to the dialogue; if it, too, is poor, we needn't look any further. In this way, an evaluation of a … manuscript can sometimes take less than five seconds."

If your work makes it past a surface glance, it then will be examined for such factors as viewpoint and narration, characterization, subtlety, tone, pacing and progression. Despite the book's title, Lukeman takes his discussion well beyond "the first five pages." He offers a workshop's worth of advice (with exercises) on showing versus telling, hooking the reader with powerful first lines, bringing settings to life, and having your characters interact with the settings.

Lukeman, a New York literary agent, represents bestselling authors and American Book Award winners. Reading The First Five Pages is like looking over his shoulder as he tackles the slush pile in his office, "solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript."

But at the same time, like any agent or editor, he's looking for the 1% of his unsolicited manuscripts that deserve to be read beyond the first five pages -- that deserve serious consideration. Heeding the advice in this highly recommended book will help you get your submissions into that 1%.

To learn more about this book, visit Lukeman's website at

Deborah Lightfoot Sizemore can be found at New in paperback is Trail Fever: The Life of a Texas Cowboy, by D.J. Lightfoot (Deborah's nom de guerre) for readers 9 and up.

[Reprinted from the SCBWI Bulletin, May-June 2005]

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