Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Independent evaluation - get your first five pages critiqued

Well the holidays are over and it's time to get back to work. Well truth be told I was working all through the holidays, but I was dedicating myself as much as possible to writing my current work in progress (which is in the home stretch).  But now that others are getting back to their jobs I thought I needed to take a minute out of my writing to make a blog post.  So here I am.

Whether you are submitting to an agent, publisher, or self-publishing, the first five pages of your work are essential. They can easily make or break any chance of a sale and I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Famed agent Noah Lukeman felt so strongly about this that he wrote a book...called ...you guessed it, The First Five Pages.  

If you've not had anyone but yourself (or a loved one) look at your writing, it's almost impossible to know whether it is ready for prime time or still needs more work. I'm really fortunate (in all kinds of ways) but also because I belong to a great writer's group, and I have fabulous beta readers to give me feedback. Others, may not be this fortunate. I also have some strong opinions...and a desire to help out other writers. So as part of my New Year's resolution I figured I would try to give back and one way I can do that is by offering some independent evaluation.

So here's the deal.

I'll review/critique the first five pages for 1 - 10 authors a month. I'm not saying that my opinions mean much in the grand scheme of things, but I have at least had a few books published and have a generally good idea of what publishers are looking for. What you do with the feedback is your own business...use it, throw it away, burn it and me in effigy, but at least I'm impartial and sometimes that is hard to find.

How do you get selected?  The fickle finger of fate will decide. In other words, I'm going to use a random number generator. I'll likely not even read the body of the emails, so that won't effect the decision. Plus it saves you the time of writing something to compel me to pick yours, and me the time of reading and feeling bad because I didn't select the person who has six months to live and their bucket list includes getting feedback from me on something they wrote (not that I think anyone has such a thing on their bucket lists - but you get the point).  How many will be selected is going to depend on how many come in, how long it takes me to review each one, and how much time I can devote to this.

So what should you send?  I'm glad you asked. It would really help out if you follow these instructions (and if you don't I reserve the right to ignore your submission for not coloring within the lines). Here is what I would like:

  1. Microsoft Word document with 1" margins all around, double spaced, using 12 point Times New Roman font. Feel free to italic and bold as needed, but don't substitute underlines for such - I'd rather see the manuscript as it would appear in a book.
  2. You can send less than 5 pages but no more than 5 pages. Don't cut off a sentence midway. Also this must be your first pages. You can send me your prologue or chapter one, but please don't send me five pages from chapter 3 or your best five pages that are in the middle of your book.
  3. Email your manuscript to michael.sullivan.dc@gmail.com and in the subject put: FIRST FIVE PAGES (and yes use all caps - I need to find them)
  4. Don't "follow up" to see if I received it or to find out if you were picked.  I'm going to try and keep the admin of this to be a minimum.  If I look at it, I will respond. If I don't respond, I probably didn't see it.
  5. One entry per email address per month.  Which means that you can send the same piece (or a different one) each month. But please wait till the start of the month.  Don't send me 3 submissions in January and expect me to parse them out to the other months. 
Well that's all I can think of for right now. I might revise this as time goes on - but I think this is good enough to start the ball rolling. 

Oh yeah, one last thing. Don't submit if you don't have a thick skin.  If your work is great as is, I'll say so, but it will be more helpful to you if I look at it with a critical eye. The intention of this exercise is to learn and grow, not to have your ego stroked...and I'm not very good at "being nice." But if what you are looking for is honest...then I'm your man.


  1. Thick skin is mandatory for anyone who puts themselves "out there" in public view. Also, being an author in public view is like being naked on a busy city street...thick skin will help to keep you warm. :-)

  2. Awesome idea, Michael. I think we all have enough friends and family willing to be nice . . . a little honesty may hurt, but has far more value in the long run.

  3. This is great! Time to rewrite my first 5 pages ;)

    1. I'll rewrite mine, too.
      I've changed a lot since I was twelve and, although I still like the initial plot (with a few twists and changes), I think that the main thing I've learned is that I have to be so ruthless with things that don't quite sound right.
      I reckon that harsh criticism is exactly what I need. Especially if it's from an author I respect! :P


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