A Book Review And One Easy Tip That Will Save You $1,138.

Twenty-three percent of the way through the first round of revisions. Not that I’m counting. I’m always counting.

Time for a book review!

(Also, I’m not really even close to 23%. I mean, I’ve revised that many pages out of the total. But the bits I’ve already done were the easy bits. There are entire new chapters that have to be written, and entire chapters to be demolished–or moved forward into the next book–and the holes between them patched up. I have to stop thinking about it now. It’s overwhelming.)

Time for a book review!

Farnam Street Blog is brain food for business leaders–it’s quite good, one of my regular reads. Recently, they talked about the value to one’s business career of writing a novel. Huzzah, I’m on a good track. They recommended several books on novel-writing, so of course I bought them all.


I’m currently reading The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

Spoiler alert: It sucks.

Maybe not exactly “sucks,” but I almost didn’t get past the seven-page introduction, in which the author discusses the importance of keeping one’s prose tight, by repeating over the course of seven pages how important it is to keep one’s prose tight by removing extraneous words because nobody is going to read seven pages of rambling so keep your prose tight.

I am not kidding.

I kept going though. The promise was strong: Agents speak out on the deadly errors that will cause an instant rejection in the first five pages. Must. avoid. deadly. errors.

Unfortunately, that compelling concept is a salesy mask for offering up a thin volume of tried (and tired) writing advice:

  • Limit your adjectives
  • Limit your adverbs
  • Make it sound nice (really? Oh, hm, that’s helpful)
  • Get your grammar right (so glad they warned me)
  • Show don’t tell (yawn)
  • Eschew obfuscation via erudite verbosity (I made that one up. It’s better than the other items in this list, see, and that’s how you can tell I made it up)

True, the advice is good, and it is shared in a (mostly) useful and (somewhat) engaging manner. For a beginning writer, it’s probably a great handbook to keep by your side. The exercises at the end of each chapter are good ones.

I would hope, however, that by the time an author is ready to submit her work, she would have already studied these things into the ground, so perhaps it would be better billed as a book for new writers.

The book does have one saving grace, however, which is Chapter One. This chapter contains a handy list of the do’s and don’t's for manuscript presentation: How wide to make your margins, how large the font, how broad the line spacing. Much of it can be found elsewhere, and considering the poor quality of the rest of the book, I will certainly be checking my facts before following his instructions, but (assuming it’s correct), it is handy to have it all in one place.

On page 27, almost as an aside, the author mentions that a manuscript showing very slight signs of wear, may be a subtle turn-off to a potential agent. This one little nugget, it seems to me, bears expanding. A slightly worn manuscript, even if not obvious consciously, indicates a previous rejection, and may prejudice the agent against it. This seems to me to bear the stamp of truth. We humans are so readily influenced by details slightly below our awareness, and we are inclined to be influenced by the behaviors of others. This is something I might not have thought of, nor found via a Google search on my own. I will certainly be submitting only fresh manuscripts when it is time.

More of Page 27′s insights would make this book a worthy buy. There are no more of Page 27-style insights anywhere else in this book.

Conclusion: Save your money and maybe go to a convention. Not that you can go to a convention for $11.38. But you could for a hundred times that. So, just avoid buying it 100 times, and you’re in. Easy.

So. What are you reading to improve your craft? How is it?

P.S. Chapter seven. I’ve done initial revisions through chapter seven. The snow has already piled up behind me so deep I can’t see chapter one any more for the snow. Heaven help me.

Huh. My first seven chapters are almost as thick as this crappy book I bought. Now, that's encouraging.

4 thoughts on “A Book Review And One Easy Tip That Will Save You $1,138.

  1. My sister gave me a book on writing, and I was actually surprised it was any good. She doesn’t know how thoroughly I’ve scoured the shelves so she still retained optimism about the idea of me reading anything new or helpful. It’s this one. It has the occasional Christianese, unfortunately, but the moments are brief and few and you can sort of pretend they didn’t happen. It’s sad because I think the book would be more widely accessible if it didn’t. Oh well. Not my problem.

    Looks like Amazon will let me loan it for 14 days, so let me know if you want to borrow.

    • Cool! Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t really read books on writing any more, because very few have anything to say that I haven’t already read… but I like Farnam Street Blog, so I thought this one would be different. Oh well. Thanks for the offer to borrow, too–I will almost definitely take you up on that when I’m ready to get started. Then if I love it, I’ll buy it so I have my own copy. :)

  2. Ha. I recommend reading from actual agents what draws them in and what makes them go to sleep. I read an awesome article here:


    If that book is basically about how not to fail right at the beginning, these statements by agents will probably tell you a LOT more.

    The “submit a fresh manuscript” thing is weird to me because none of the agents who requested my manuscript ever asked for a hard copy. Well, okay, the first time I queried, I delivered a partial manuscript through the mail, but that was in 2006, and the agent who responded by asking for the full manuscript asked me to send it electronically. “Signs of wear” sounds sort of dated to me, though I guess some people are actually still working that way. But since we writers frequently analyze and edit the crap out of our writing, we probably have a new version to send out ANYWAY by the time someone else asks for it.

  3. Oo, great link. Yummy. Thanks for sharing that.

    Also, dangit. Now I don’t even have Page 27 to justify my purchase. Sooo… no paper manuscripts, huh? Cool.

    And yes, totally, on having a new version every time. I have to stop reading my stuff after a while because I can’t read without fixing (blog entries, client work, etc.–on client work, I have to almost literally close my eyes when I hit send because I KNOW there is something in there I could have done better).

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