Some people judge a book by its cover. I, on the other hand, prefer to judge it by the words inside. When reading manuscripts-in-progress, the first 5 pages can act like a crystal ball, predicting the writing to follow in the rest of the book.
So, if your love affair with the word “so” moves you to include it 30 times in the first 5 pages, I’m predicting a full-on wedding by the end of the book.
This ability to spot writing patterns in a book’s early pages is especially useful in reviewing and editing client manuscripts. For the record we do read every word and line of each client masterpiece. But as the resident editor-in-chief of our little literary utopia, I’m responsible for spotting patterns, themes, and big picture issues.
Here are 5 things in particular I can tell about your manuscript in the first 5 pages:
1. If you have a run-on sentence addiction. It takes one to know one and I admit, I am a run-on sentence addict in recovery, how do you think I’m doing, did you try reading this out loud, are you out of breath yet, but seriously how am I doing with my addiction? (HA!) Therefore, if the first 5 pages of your book contain a total of 10 sentences – Houston, we have a problem.
2. If you’re a metaphor mixer. Is this you? If “Mary ran like a cheetah with the speed of a race car lapping a runaway freight train that gave Stephen the impression of an Apollo rocket” – I’m going to say yes, you’re a metaphor mixer. This doesn’t mean you have to pick a single metaphor and beat it to death like a dead horse throughout your book. Try and narrow it down to one literary theme per paragraph though!
3. How your book will make me feel. 5 pages is enough time to reveal your book’s emotional thru line – happy, serious, melancholy, inspired, reflective, hilarious, optimistic or cynical. On the flip side, if I finish 5 pages and I’m not sure exactly how you want me to feel, that can be a red flag. Tell me through your writing tone and style whether I’m watching a comedy, a drama, or heck even a spaghetti western. Master this skill of specificity and you’ll hook your readers instantly, drawing them into your world through words AND feelings.
4. Your book’s organization and vision. The way you structure the very first content you deliver can offer a sense of the organization to come. Are thoughts being completed? Does each paragraph flow seamlessly into the next one? Do I have a general idea of how I will be guided from point A to point B? When it comes to the vision where are you taking me? Do I understand the overall promise of the book?
5. My reading experience. From page 1 you are orienting your readers to the experience of being inside your book with you; visiting your life, your work, your mind, or your whole world depending on the subject matter. You’re inviting people into the experience of receiving what you’re about to give them. By the end of page 5, they should have a sense of what that experience will look like.
How does your manuscript measure up? Contact me for information about my Manuscript Editorial Analysis Service!
Until next time….