Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Manuscript Tips from the Grumpy Editor

The First Five Pages:
A Writer's Guide to Staying Our of the Rejection Pile

After the calm coaching of Dan Millman (former Gymnastics coach) and Sierra Prasada's  The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication, the tone of this book seems harsh. That is not a bad thing, it is just different. If I want to be well-prepared for a job interview, I'll ask a friend to play the hiring manager and ask me some tough questions. And Noah Lukeman is an expert at being the tough editor in The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Here's an example:

Hard to follow dialogue is a malady less commonly found than those discussed previously, but one that will almost inevitably lead to the immediate dismissal of a manuscript. No agent or editor is going to sit there poring over a manuscript, trying to decipher who is saying what to whom. He will quickly become frustrated, resenting the writer for not taking the time to clarify his dialogue.

Some of us need the drill sergeant approach sometimes. And it is better to be berated in this rather impersonal way than to get it from an editor after submitting work that we think is, well, almost perfect.

Given my rebellious nature, and the tone of the book, I couldn't help smiling at some sections like the one above, and becoming rather critical of this author myself. Critical of things like his use of the word obvious or obviously, leading me to wonder why he was including this information if it was so obvious. Or the "End of Chapter Exercises" that come, surprisingly, at the end of each chapter.

The First Five Pages provides some tools for the writer's editor persona. But I think it is important to keep in mind that a book doesn't necessarily get better with each hour spent pre-editing. There is a point at which this task must be abandoned and the work released to its intended audience. This book is already seventeen years old, so keep that in mind, and be sure to learn a little about your editor before submitting something to her. Lukeman has some strong opinions about how to submit that are not true of all editors. For example, he would rather skip the synopsis and go right to reading the manuscript, while some editors do not even want to be sent a manuscript until and unless it is specifically requested.

I recommend The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile as a way to prepare for the worst in editorial feedback. But be sure you are getting encouragement along the way, and don't ever give up!