Post by Jenny
I hope many of you are familiar with this month’s Last Monday Book, The First Five Pages, by agent/author/speaker Noah Lukeman. Like Stephen King’s On Writing, TFFP is a must-read for writers, especially anyone seeking representation and publication. I read it for the first time a few years ago, and when I recently picked it up again, I was chagrined that I had let it collect a bit of dust on its jacket. Chagrined because this is one of those books that can and should be referred to again and again. And because I like the word chagrined (it contains the smaller word ‘grin,’ which strikes me as perfectly contradictory).
The premise of this book is the same as the age-old advice given by pinky-extending etiquette types: one rarely gets a second chance to make a first impression. In my perfect world of caramel rainbows and ninja unicorns, literary agents would look for a reason to love every query in the inbox. In reality (which includes regular rainbows but not, to my knowledge, unicorns of any kind), agents “read solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript.” Therefore, the first five pages, even the first five sentences, should be as polished as is humanly possible.
Near-perfection is a daunting goal. Noah Lukeman to the rescue. As an agent plowing through thousands of manuscripts, he realized that most of them had “the exact same type of mistakes.” Due to bad habits or laziness or misconceptions, we’ve all made those mistakes. From Preliminary Problems through The Bigger Picture—with stops at major pitfalls including Style, Dialogue, and Characterization—TFFP is filled with succinct advice (Problems, meet Solutions), Examples, and End-of-Chapter Exercises. It is a writer’s workshop compressed into just under 200 pages.
“The art of writing,” Lukeman writes, “cannot be taught, but the craft of writing can.” If that’s not enough to inspire you to dig in and build some sweat equity in your manuscript, consider this: “There is no such thing as a great writer; there are only great re-writers.” (For excerpts of Mr. Lukeman’s books, visit his website.)
Have you read The First Five Pages? If so, was it helpful?