Book Review: The First Five Pages

You can go over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, changing and adding words and even the format to come up with something that ought to make an agent drop their glasses. But in reality, that agent may toss your submission before they've reached the end of page one. What to do? Get a copy of Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

This book is for the writer who has already written their manuscript (or at least a few chapters). The First Five Pages helps a writer revise, with inside information from agent and author, Noah Lukeman.

Lukeman begins with five preliminary problems that are easy to fix. Things like presentation, adjectives, and adverbs. Then he dives into the intricacies of dialogue--a comprehensive education for any writer.

The bulk of the book is reserved for what Lukeman calls "the big picture". Things like tone, pacing, and characterization. A glaring omission from this section is a chapter on plot. Why?

I'll let Lukeman tell you in his own words:

"Many writers spend the majority of their time devising their plot. What they don't seem to understand is that if their execution--if their prose--isn't up to par, the plot will never even be considered.

Agents and editors often ignore synopses and plot outlines; instead, we skip right to the actual manuscript. If the writing is good, then we'll go back and consider the synopsis. If not, the manuscript is discarded. A great writer can produce an amazing piece of writing with virtually no plot at all. To underline its relegated importance for the purpose of this book, you'll find we deliberately omitted the chapter on plot."

The chapters end with exercises that invite you to analyze your first pages. Here's one that I like:

"Remove every noun and verb from the first page of your manuscript and list them separately. How many are commonplace or cliche? Cross out each one and beside it write down a less expected replacement. Now go back to your first page and insert your replacements. Read it aloud. How does it read now?"

If you were to try just this exercise on your first page (and then maybe the rest of them), your manuscript will be stronger and more compelling to an agent who looks at it.

I've collected more information on Noah Lukeman, including a link to some free .pdf downloads of his book excerpts. Be sure to check it out.

How are your first five pages? Time to take a look at mine.


  1. Thanks for the info--I've been proscrastinating about revisions, and this gives me a good place to start.

  2. I've been working on revisions all summer. It's tough to do now, but it'll make a big difference when I query!

    What is your book about?

  3. I've been considering his book for some time, Debbie. Thanks for breaking it down. After reading this, I think it's a must!

  4. I get a lot of mine from the library, and the ones I hate to bring back are the ones I buy. : )



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