Monday, August 12, 2013

Writing Tips - The First Five Pages

Every writer should own a copy of literary agent, Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages. If you've ever been rejected for any type of writing project, this book is for you.

As the subtitle states, it's a "Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile."

I've read this book. It is small but filled with so much information about how to make your manuscript the best it can be. Lukeman gives examples and writing exercises to help you learn. He knows what he's talking about. As a literary agent he sees messed-up manuscripts every day. He knows what it takes to make a manuscript acceptable.

If I were you, I'd follow his advice.

I couldn't possibly cover every single item from his book in this post, but I can give you an overview and pick out one or two points that will show you how to improve your manuscript.


From Noah Lukeman's Introduction: "There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing. This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing. We all fall prey to it, to different degrees, even the greatest writers, even in the midst of their greatest works. by scrutinizing the following examples of what not to do, you will learn to spot those ailments in your own writing; by working with the solutions and exercises, you may, over time, bridge the gap and come to the realization of what to do. There is no guarantee that you will come to this realization, but if you do, at least it will be your own. Because ultimately, the only person who can teach you about writing is yourself."

Most importantly, you need to get your manuscript noticed. It's probably been sitting on an agent's desk for months waiting for some intern or editorial assistant to read it. The agent won't even see it unless your manuscript makes it past the intern. Like it or not, the intern will be reading your manuscript with an eye to find fault so he can get through it as quickly as possible and move on to the next one.

Here are a few things you can do to help better position your manuscript on the agent's desk:

1. Devote extensive time to research. The number one reason the aspiring writer gets rejected is because he has approached an agent or editor inappropriate for his work.

2. Let an agent or editor know why you're contacting him specifically. Use your advance research and be specific. A better way of catching an agent's eye is to tell him off the bat that you noticed he agented a specific title and that your manuscript is similar.

3. Approach agents and editors with care. Know their requirements for submission. If you are submitting to an editor that only takes agented submissions, be aware and submit to an agent first. The best submission is a one-page query letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). Agents and editors are more likely to open smaller envelopes than larger ones because they know the larger ones contain manuscripts that require time to read. Time they don't have.

According to Lukeman, "...the quickest and easiest way to reject a manuscript is to look for the overuse, or misuse, of adjectives and adverbs."

Lukeman gives us six reasons why manuscripts stuffed with adjectives and adverbs won't work:

1. More is less. When a string of adjectives or adverbs is used, they detract from each other.

2. It can be demeaning to the reader when the writer fills in every last detail for him. It assumes he has no imagination of his own.

3. It is often preferable to leave things blank and force the reader to use his imagination - that way he makes the text his own, becomes more fully engaged in the manuscript. He won't set it down if it's his.

4. Writers who overuse adjectives and adverbs tend to use common ones -- usually ones they've heard used in the same context before -- and the hackneyed result is immediately apparent.

5. Adjectives and adverbs often, ironically,'weaken their subjects.

6. Finally, the overall effect of a text encumbered with adjectives, adverbs and the inevitable commas in between makes for very slow, awkward reading.

Noah Lukeman continually stresses the craft of writing, because ultimately it comes down to this one question. Ask yourself if you knew you'd never be published would you still write? If the answer is "yes", then you are truly writing for the art of it.

If you want to be a writer. Be a writer. Don't let anything get in your way.