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The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  3,402 ratings  ·  381 reviews
The First Five Pages

Editors always tell novice writers that the first few pages of a manuscript are crucial in the publishing process -- and it's true. If an editor or agent (or reader) loses interest after a page or two, you've lost him or her completely, even if the middle of your novel is brilliant and the ending phenomenal. Noah Lukeman, an agent in Manhattan, has take
Paperback, 208 pages
Published January 20th 2000 by Touchstone (first published January 1st 2000)
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John Hannan I'm only a quarter through the book, but:

Absolutely not. The title appears as such, but it's written from a potential agent's perspective - which is s…more
I'm only a quarter through the book, but:

Absolutely not. The title appears as such, but it's written from a potential agent's perspective - which is something pretty novel for one of these types of books.

The book is lists tips to improve the chances of your manuscript both being read and being liked by a potential publisher or agent. It's a refreshing look at the writing craft, and while, as the book's title says, it's focused on the first five pages, most of what I've read so far is practical editing advice in general. I feel I've learned plenty already. (less)

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Kelly H. (Maybedog)
This isn't at all what it claims to be. I was looking for a book that would give examples of what to do and not to do in the first five pages of a book to get an editor to look at the work, the hook. In fact, he didn't think hooks are that important. Every other writing book I've read said that if you don't grab the editor on the first couple of pages, your book won't get read.

Otherwise it was another general writing book and not a good one at that. It took a long time to get to the meat of the
read this one for my Publishing in Practice class. it's always interesting to see the advice publishers give to writers wanting to be published since, well, as their possible future editors you want to know how to edit a manuscript properly. so yeah, interesting, a bit long, but funny at times, which is always appreciated. ...more
Amanda Webster
Oct 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
There are a few reasons I was less than thrilled with this book.
1. For each chapter on what might make an agent or publisher put your manuscript down, Lukeman gave an example. Unfortunately the examples were all so obvious or over dramatized that I couldn't help but think- "There's no way anyone actually writes like this!" I so desperately wanted examples that reminded me of my own work so I might catch my mistakes, and I don't feel like I got that.
2. Lukeman didn't even take his own advice, par
Rain Jeys
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all writers
Recommended to Rain by: Amazon
So once I stopped beating my wrists and wailing at the utter unfairness of how ruthless editors and publishers can be, I took a deep breath and considered the advice in this book. I hate that just one tiny mistake can make an editor drop your manuscript right away; I ESPECIALLY hate that editors read manuscripts HOPING they can find something wrong with them, so they can move on to their never-ending pile. But I get it. I don't like it, but I get it. And I deeply, deeply appreciate the author of ...more
Jared Millet
Jul 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Anyone who daydreams about being a published writer owes it to themselves to read this book and learn what they're up against. There are many, many writing books out there, but this one stands apart for a couple of reasons.

One: it's not by a writer, but by one of those evil literary agents who currently act as the bouncers of the publishing community. His focus in this book is to tell the aspiring writer exactly why their work is going to be rejected long before things like plot, setting, and c
Lee Dunning
My writing teacher recommended this book for novelists wishing to improve the very start of their book so it grabs people right away. I immediately put in an order for it and consumed it as soon as it arrived. Disappointing.

The title is misleading. This book, like several others I've read, goes over what you should and should not do in prose writing. Show don't tell. Passive voice. Dialogue tags. Pacing. Yeah, nothing new to see here. None of it is geared specifically for opening your story with
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Much of this will be review for all but the newest writers. No hot secret or sure tips to nab an agent's attention; mostly common sense advice. Still, it bears repeating nonetheless, and a little review benefits even the most seasoned of writers. ...more
Graeme Rodaughan
This guys waffling, should follow his own advice.

DNF at 9%. Unrated on policy.
Sarina Langer
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-on-writing
The First Five Pages is one of the first theory books on writing I've ever read. Because I learnt so much from it I bought my own copy, and since I'm editing my second book now I figured it was the perfect time to read it again!

The blurb isn't kidding when it hails The First Five Pages as the one book every writer needs to own, or at least read. It goes over every problem your draft could possibly have, shows you why each is a problem through examples, and shows you how you can fix it. It gives
Mar 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned

I bought this for a friend who's struggling with his first novel. Idly flicking through the pages, I realised that my need was greater than his, so he'll have to wait! Slim enough not to be threatening, and yet never facile, this is great value. I constantly refer to it, and I suspect it'll never actually be 'shelved'
Angela Blount
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-craft
If they ever compile a Writer's Bible, this ought to be one of the very first books found in it. I could have spared myself a great deal of rewriting, rejection, and insult if I'd used something like this as a guide. I began reading this while awaiting the judge scores of a contest I'd entered several months prior. To my amazement, two of my four judges made reference to this book on my score sheet as a resource that would most improve my work.

It is a mercifully quick read--and to the point--cat
Jul 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2000s, non-fiction
‘The First Five Pages’ was written for writers and it does a good job of covering every aspect of writing. This book was written by literary agent and former editor Noah Lukeman as a quick guide to the major aspects of a manuscript that needs to be looked at to help avoid being put into the rejection pile. The book covers topics like;

* A weak opening hook
* Overuse of adjectives and adverbs
* Flat or forced metaphors or similes
* Melodramatic, commonplace or confusing dialogue
* Undeveloped cha

I sure do read a lot of books about writing for someone who hasn't written anything in years, huh? I'm sorry Mr. Lukeman for not doing the exercises before moving to the next chapter but it's a bit hard when you don't have a manuscript :(

Anyway, it was again in big part things I already knew but there's always more to learn and while the big subject stays the same, each specialist has their personal experiences to share.

Overall, a good approachable guide with exercises that will hammer in the
Dylan Perry
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
A practical guide on how to improve your manuscript and to keep agents, editors, and readers' attention during those crucial first pages and beyond. It wasn't a game-changer, but I found a number of sections worth highlighting for later. Even some of the exercises--which I usually skip--have helped my own writing, particularly the ones from the similie/metaphor chapter.

If you are or know a writer looking for some help with revision, I'd recommend checking this one out. 4.5/5
Meghan Pinson
Aug 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
From the introduction:

"Agents and editors don't read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript--and believe me, they'll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter."

Noah Lukeman's book covers a lot of the same ground as James Scott Bell's "Revision and Self-Editing," (my favorite of its kind), but not in anywhere near as much depth, and from an agent's point of view. This book points out quite frank
Sep 07, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing-books
It's fairly depressing to read. (I'm between a 2 and a 3)

Not the most helpful book on editing. I prefer Lyon's MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER, Bell's REVISION & SELF-EDITING, and Browne & King's SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS. I expected it to clearly explain how to make the first five pages of my manuscript so wonderful THAT any editor or publisher would be a fool to pass the next 5 to 500 (depending on what I'm writing at the time) pages.

I suppose that was foolish thinking on my part, but I would like
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-to-re-read
Okay so first of all I will say the book addressed everything it set out to, and though it had a limited scope, I knew that from the beginning, and that in fact was an asset. I read some reviews complaining about things not touched upon- those were out of the scope, and the whys were discussed in the beginning of the book.

What I loved was how easy it is to read. I can jump to a chapter, learn about an issue, see examples, and get exercises to solve the problems. It's not this huge step my step t
Peter Jones
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I've read a few books on the craft of writing; most recently "Crafting Scenes" by Raymond Someone or another, Nancy Kress's "Beginnings Middles & Ends", of course, and the excellent Stephen King's "On Writing", .. but this is the most useful (sorry Mr King).

The premise is that Agents and Publishers have so many manuscripts sent to them, the only way to get through them is to sift through the first five pages looking for reasons to reject. This book tells you what those reasons are, and how to a
Kelly Holmes
May 23, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, writing
Summary: A literary agent and former editor shares tips on how to make your first 5 pages shine.

Review: If you're looking for a book about editing your own work, I would recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print over this book. However, if you’re looking for another slightly different list of issues to look for in your writing, go ahead and read this book.

The advice in this one was solid, but sometimes the examples given seemed constructed just for the purpose o
Tom Franklin
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
Lukeman's basic message is that any manuscript you send in (unagented) will land in the slush pile where editors are actively seeking reasons to reject it. Your manuscript will not get a "fair reading," in fact, you'll be lucky if it gets read much at all.

The first five pages? You should be so lucky. Editors will scan the first five pages to see if there's too much dialog, too little dialog, too much exposition, too little exposition. If they find Just One Thing they don't like, you're tossed w
Dec 13, 2012 rated it liked it
When you try to sell a book to a publisher, one of the things you send them is the first few pages of your manuscript. This book promises a discussion of how best to present your work to a publisher, but what it actually delivers is a detailed discussion of how to write good prose at a low level: the use of parts of speech, "show, don't tell", euphony, and so on. It makes only a brief attempt to deal with higher-level issues such as plot and characterisation, though the author has a book on thos ...more
Kendra Griffin
Jun 20, 2019 rated it liked it

Beginner to low intermediate
Format: Examples and exercises
Premise: Reading this book will keep your manuscript from getting rejected
Delivery: A book about common writing mistakes

I was disappointed with this book, but it grew on me.

Lukeman, at the time of writing (2000) is an experienced editor with the credibility to tell his intended readers—aspiring authors—the writing mistakes agents and editors are exhausted by seeing. Lukeman’s premise is that this knowledge will, as the title sta
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent guide to writing - novels, articles, whatever. Exercises at the end of each section are very helpful and enlightening.
Originally written in 2000, this book definitely features some dated advice, mostly in areas about submitting manuscripts mentioned terms like "typewriters". It is interesting to see how far technology in publishing and writing has come since this advice was first given out, but that does not mean that this book does not hold value.

There are many great passages offering advice especially for debut authors such as myself, who can learn about some of the ways to make my novel stand out from the mo
Lara Lee
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The title of this book is only a half-truth. One should take Noah Lukeman's advice and apply it to every page. I loved this book because it takes a lot of information I have read from other books and gives the "why" from his point of view as a literary agent browsing thousands of manuscripts a year. This is not a book about how to write a novel, but instead a book about how to polish a finished work. He does not cover plot or the skeleton of writing a story but focuses on descriptions, hooks, pa ...more
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I was a bit wary of the clickbait-y title, but the reviews were so good I decided to take a chance - and I'm glad I did. Many unpublished writers (that I know, anyway) are wondering how come their book didn't sell yet. Odds are that the answer is somewhere in Noah Lukeman's brilliant The First Five Pages.

Lukeman goes through a number of issues that cause a manuscript to be rejected, starting with the obvious things (spelling, grammar, and so on) before delving into issues that novice writers ten
Holly Davis
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so helpful to hear about how to improve your manuscript and make agents and editors want it from an actual agent! It was so comprehensive and goes beyond 'the first five pages' to helping you with your whole manuscript. I love how he covers a certain topic, gives examples, and then has writing exercises at the end of each chapter (essentially implementing editing strategies into your current WIP). Highly recommended! ...more
Yolanda Smith
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2019
The title “The First Five Pages” is a bit misleading, but the subtitle, “A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile,” is a more accurate description. I like the fact that the book division is based on level of importance. I disliked the fact that the negative examples were simplistically blatant. They were cheesy enough that I ended up skimming more often than not. Still, the advice and information in the book was solidly helpful.
Maddison Wood
May 13, 2021 rated it it was ok
I find catharsis in simple lessons about structure, grammar, dialogue, pacing, etc, and much of the advice in this was good. I will think about this book the next time someone’s like “why don’t you just publish a book?” as if it’s, like, easy to publish a book lol. However, this fucking guy only used examples of white male writers and if you read between the lines of his advice, what he’s saying is that he would’ve never read past the first five pages of any Black and/or woman writer lmao. When ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
Pretentious and Infuriating. It’s hard to learn anything from a book that continually insults the writing community. Why write a skill book on writing if you’re so against them? It’s hypocritical. Get off your soapbox, you’re not better than anyone else just because you managed to get published.
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In addition to being an active literary agent, Noah Lukeman is also author of the best-selling The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile (Simon & Schuster, 1999), which was a selection of many of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers and is part of the curriculum in many universities. His The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life (St. Martins Pres ...more

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