Review: The First Five Pages

By Noah Lukeman

Genre: Non-fiction, Writing

Rating: 1 star

It had to happen eventually: the first negative review on this site. Oh, I thought about being tactful and just saying something like, “this book wasn’t for me”, but those weasel words refused to come out of my fingertips onto the keyboard. So what follows is my unvarnished opinion. You have been warned.

I was quite excited when I spotted this in a secondhand book sale last month. It’s rare to find books about the craft of writing in these places. I hadn’t heard of the book, but it seemed worth spending a couple of dollars to check it out and maybe find one or two useful tips.

To put it simply: even given such modest expectations, I was disappointed. For a start, the title and blurb are misleading. I expected a detailed analysis of how to construct and edit the first few pages of a manuscript. That’s not what I got. Instead, Lukeman discusses flaws that will cause a manuscript to be rejected at first glance by an agent or reader at a publishing house. The idea of “first glance” is important because that’s literally all Lukeman covers: the writing faults that are so obvious they can be spotted without the need to actually read the pages.

If you have read anything at all about good writing or watched any videos about it or done any kind of course or seminar, nothing in this book will be new to you. It’s the usual stuff you’ll find everywhere: don’t overuse adjectives and adverbs, show don’t tell, avoid too many dialogue tags, and so on. You know the rest. Honestly, if you haven’t already gone through your manuscript multiple times with an eye to such things, why would you even consider submitting it yet?

Not only are the topics themselves obvious, they are covered at an elementary level, only suitable for beginners. There would be nothing wrong with this if it was clearly stated from the beginning, but it isn’t. On the contrary, the blurb trumpets:

The First Five Pages will help writers at every stage take their art to a higher – and more successful – level.

This simply isn’t true.

And the examples! They are so childishly bad that they’re no use at all. Even when Lukeman gives suggestions to “fix” them, they’re still terrible, even for a first draft.

There’s one final problem and it’s an annoying one: Lukeman talks about the importance of good style, but he doesn’t follow his own advice to write with clarity and conciseness. The text is rambling, repetitive and frankly boring.

For someone just starting out trying to write, there is some useful advice here, which is why the book gets 1 star from me rather than none. Although there are numerous books (and videos and podcasts and online articles) covering the same ground and doing it better. For anyone other than a beginner, don’t bother wasting your time.

2 thoughts on “Review: The First Five Pages

  1. Pingback: What I Read in June 2019 – Two Books

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