Sunday, 29 August 2010


Aware you may not have read popular posts from 2009 I'll be re-posting stuff every Sunday. Here's the first - my thoughts on Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.

The author of this handbook, Noah Lukeman, is a literary agent, writer and editor. As an agent he's sold over 200 titles to publishers. His client list includes Pulitzer Prize winners, and his clients' titles feature regularly on the New York Times bestseller lists. Interestingly, one of his fiction clients is Gene Hackman, the well-regarded Hollywood actor.

You can find out more at his agency's website . But don't get too excited -- he's not currently accepting queries. But it's well worth checking out the site because you'll find two very useful downloads: How to Write a Great Query Letter and How to Land a Literary Agent, both of which I strongly recommend you read.

After you've written, and re-written, your novel, put it up on a crit site for feedback, and re-edited, re-structured, and re-written accordingly, there will come a time when you'll want to start shopping it around agents. STOP. Read this book first.

The First Five Pages -- A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile is an excellent handbook for all writers, not only novelists, at all stages of development.

In two words this book is focussed on word economy; every single word in those first five pages (or first five sentences) has to really work to earn its presence.

Lukeman methodically (yea, forensically) dissects and examines, giving examples of enfeebling prose, every aspect of the writing-reading experience. Reading the book is akin to having a sharp editor sat aside you at your desk, talking you through the process of skimming a slush pile.

Each chapter is topped with a quote from a known writer and tailed with a practical exercise.

I enjoy Lukeman's prose; it's clear, cogent, eloquent, precise and sincere.

There's a lot of information and opinion here, and Lukeman manages to get it across in digestible style. One could say his tone is a bit humourless -- but, hey, do you still need sugar with your medicine?

The only advice in this book which I would advise writers to seek more specific advice is on the method used to consign work to a targeted agent. Here, Lukeman advocates using FedEx, or other guaranteed-signature delivery method. This will have some agents, such as the legendary Miss Snark, climbing walls.

I'm aware some writers find Lukeman's tone to be superior, or condescending. For others he's overly precious. What do you think?

Next Sunday: Noah Lukeman's The Art of Punctuation.

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