Thursday, June 21, 2007

Staying Out Of The Rejection Pile

I've just read The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman is an extremely successful agent, and if you don't believe it, look at his client list. By the way...he's not taking on any new authors.

I really enjoyed his book, A Dash Of Style, which I found to be the most entertaining and useful book on punctuation I've ever read. That's right, an entertaining book on punctuation. Lukeman shows how a writer can use punctuation to change the presentation of the written word in the same way a composer can use musical shading and tempo. I highly recommend the book.

Honestly, I didn't find The First Five Pages to be as entertaining as Lukeman's other book, but it certainly has helpful information throughout it. He begins with the absolute imperatives, the things an agent or editor looks for as they work their way through a stack of proposals and manuscripts, always looking for a reason to discard the work and move to the next one. That's what they do, by the way. They have plenty of submissions. They're panning for the gold, and if there are iron pyrites in the sample, out it goes.

Lukeman begins with a discussion of presentation: the way in which the material is written, printed, presented. If it's sloppily done, that's pretty much an automatic rejection. He cites one exception: a manuscript, done on a dot-matrix printer, worn and dog-eared, with a tiny sticky note attached, apologizing for the condition but explaining that the author was a prisoner, and making new copies was next to impossible. But unless you're doing five to ten somewhere as a guest of the state, I suggest a laser or inkjet printer and twenty pound bond.

Then he talks about the dreaded adjectives and adverbs. I'm neutral on the subject, myself. I don't try to hunt them down and kill them, but I do search for ways to show the description through my choice of verbs and nouns. If you write with this in mind, you'll end up with stronger prose. Lukeman has an excellent presentation on all this.

I'm not going to give you all the material Lukeman presents. Just like any author, he wants to sell the book, and you should buy your own copy. And don't ask to borrow mine--it's in the bookshelf in my office, replete with yellow highlighted passages and sticky notes.

There are many books that I've found helpful in honing my craft. I won't detail them all--I've done some of that in previous posts, and will do more at another time. But to that list, let me hasten to add The First Five Pages.

2 comments:

Anne Mateer said...

I like The First Five Pages, but I felt it was better AFTER reading The Plot Thickens. It seemed to make more sense that way. But since he wrote them in the other order, that's how they mostly get read.

But Lukeman is an enjoyable read, and if I have to read craft books, I want to read enjoyable ones!

One More Writer said...

I like The First Five Pages, but I felt it was better AFTER reading The Plot Thickens. It seemed to make more sense that way. But since he wrote them in the other order, that's how they mostly get read.

But Lukeman is an enjoyable read, and if I have to read craft books, I want to read enjoyable ones!