I’ve been reading The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman who is a literary agent based in New York City. The book is full of insight into the world of agents and editors.
It was my naive impression that editors and agents read manuscripts with the hopes of finding one to publish. But, according to Noah, it’s the opposite. They have hundreds to plow through, so from the moment they pick yours up they are looking for a reason to reject it. Unless, of course, you are a well known author, then yours is read from start to finish and even if there are problems, they’ll find ways around them.
This book addresses more than just the first five pages. It covers everything from studying an agency and knowing why you are contacting them, to presentation, plot, pacing and progression. Each chapter has helpful examples and exercises. Lets look at hooks for instance; some writers treat them like a marketing tool to get the reader interested. That’s okay, but the rest of the book had better stand up to the hook. How many times have you felt cheated after reading the first few paragraphs of a story and just when you are getting comfy it goes flat. Not that you should keep the reader in a frenzied pace, but you must avoid the dreaded saggy middle. In his book, Noah suggests that not only each paragraph, but also every sentence should feel complete and leave the reader either satisfied or wanting more.
I did find some things that I didn’t agree with, such as, FedEx your query. The idea is that if the agent had to sign for it they'd be annoyed but would remember you. A year ago, this advice would have had me dashing to the nearest FedEx store. Now I’m more seasoned and no longer read books on writing as if they were written in stone.
If I were to FedEx my query it would most likely arrive at the agent’s door in the middle of happy hour and she’d have to stop socializing to scribble her name. Then after taking a sip of her apple martini, she’d giggle with her coworkers about the clueless newbie who had the nerve to interrupt her day. Next, she’d accidentally spill her drink on my query, shrug her shoulders, and ask for a refill. Annoying is not the first impression I want to make. If a good agent or editor receives a 1000 or more queries each month, do they want to have to sign for each of them? I think not. Writing a sensational query will get you noticed without being annoying.
I would recommend The First Five Pages as a good study aid. The exercises can help your manuscript shine and possibly get you out of the slush pile.