Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 10, 2014

Avoiding Common Mistakes in the First Five Pages

first five pagesWe’ve been talking a lot about how to format your manuscript, so I bought The First Five Pages: A Writers Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman to see what other things might be good to share and already he has reminded me of things I forgot to mention to you that you should do before submitting.

He says, “There are no rules to assure great writing, but there are ways to avoid bad writing.” He also points out that 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.

So obviously, we want to do everything to look good and make our first contact a professional one. We want to make sure our manuscripts do not signal carelessness, sloppiness, ignorance, or defiance of the industry’s standards; that the writer doesn’t care enough to do the minimum amount of research to make a manuscript industry presentable. An editor or agent will assume that the careless presentation continues in the manuscript.

Avoid rejection in the first few minutes by making sure your manuscript is presented properly:

Paper: 8 1/2  x 11 inch standard 20 pound bond white computer paper.

Text: 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  Printed only on one side of the page.

Clean: Do not send out a manuscript that you have sent out to other agents or editors if it appears the slightest bit worn.

Eliminate: Make sure you do not send out a manuscripts filled with boldface, underlined, capitalized, or italicized words everywhere, unless you purposely want to drive the agent or editor crazy.

Printing: Do not try to squeeze the last drops of ink from your printer and send out dim/hard to see and please if anyone still has a dot-matrix printer, throw it out and buy an ink-jet or laser printer.

Spacing: Double spaced lines with 1 inch margins. New paragraphs should be indented and also dialog should always be indented. Make sure you indent enough spaces (8-10 spaces on my computer). Nothing is worse than trying to read a manuscript when the indentations are so slight it is easy to miss them. Leave a half of a page between chapters. Line breaks between paragraphs scream amateur.

Do Not Include: Artwork or illustrations throughout the pages. It screams amateur. You might feel that adding some clip art helps the editor or agent get a feel for what you book is really about, but it is not professional. If you text needs a picture to explain what is going on, then add an illustrator’s note. Try to keep them to a minimum.

If you are an illustrator and have written and illustrated your book and have a book dummy; make sure you mention this in your query and give a website link where they can visit to see your art. You might want develop a page on your website exclusively to give to editors/agents, so they could view it online. Never send in original art.

Rights: When you present a manuscript to an agent or editor you are offering all rights. Do not put “Copyright” on your manuscript. It makes you look paranoid and besides it is not necessary.

Avoid Overuse of: Question marks, exclamation points, and parentheses. The abundant use of foreign words or phrases. Noah also say to avoid the inappropriate use of fancy words; crude of vulgar language or images; graphic blood and sex, but most of all cliché. Doing this in the first five pages can lead to instant rejection.

I think this covers all of the instant cosmetic rejections. Hope this helps.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. With many agents requesting queries and partials pasted into an email, formatting goes out the window, especially when sending from a Mac to PC computer. Any suggestions?

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  2. Barbara, I think when you get a request to paste copy into an email, you don’t have to worry about the formatting. The requesting agent/editor expects that it may be a hot mess. They just don’t want the worry of getting a virus from an attachment.

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  3. I’ve read all the picture books but need to get back on the MG and YA fiction wagon! I feel like I’ve been reading a lot, but haven’t read these. A first world problem is too many good books to read. 🙂

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  4. Thanks, Tracey. From what I’ve been reading when sending sample writing in the body of an email, choose Plain Text rather than Rich Text format. Less issues on the receiving end.

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  5. I’ve read this Noah Lukeman book; it has solid advice, much like all his other books. 🙂

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  6. Excellent information. Thank you!

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  7. Coincidentally, I read a few chapters of this book at the library while waiting for my daughter yesterday. Thanks for filling in some of the info I didn’t get to read.

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  8. I’ve read Noah Lukeman’s book too. 🙂

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