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The Importance of Those First Pages

I wrote a few weeks ago about the danger of editing and perfecting the first pages of your manuscript, but not following through with the rest of the book. Today I’m going to write about how important those first pages really are and how not perfecting them can be just as dangerous as making them more perfect than the rest of the book.

The other day I read a submission that was full of errors, and I had only gotten through the first five pages. I’m not a perfectionist, or even a stickler for grammar. I understand that typos happen and we all make mistakes, but to really ignore those mistakes I usually need to be fully engrossed in the story. I need to care so much about what’s happening that I don’t care about the little things. That’s a rare so early in the book, especially when it’s a submission.

Your first three chapters set the tone of the book and the expectations of your reader. If they are full of errors, the reader will expect many more as the book continues. And I’m not just talking about typos. If the book is sloppy in the first few pages, I can only imagine how careless the plotting, characterization and research are. If those first three chapters are beautifully written then I’m going to expect beautiful writing throughout.

When editing, it’s imperative you make those first chapters shine, then it’s imperative you make the rest of the book match.

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10 comments

  1. This article is the flip side of the coin to the first blog post. (To risk using a cliche.) It does impress on writers to do their very best throughout the ms. However, there will always be a missed error (or ten). My new motto is: To read is to edit. I would like to strongly encourage writers to find a good critique group and have qualified eyes read and edit your work. They will find errors, punctuation problems, inaccuracies and plot issues you didn’t see when gazing upon the glory that is your book. Thank you, Jessica Faust, for your insights and advice.

  2. My takeaway: Your entire project has to shine, from the query, to the synopsis, to the work itself, first page through last. There are no short cuts. This is a career, not a hobby. Treat it like one even if you’ve never published anything.

    1. You will likely find a lot of typos in my blog posts. I don’t give myself much time to write and proofread I’m afraid.

  3. I know in my heart that something is wrong or isn’t right. It isn’t a major problem but it is important. I’ve taken some classes and learnt as with editors, anyone can teach a class but that doesn’t mean they are experts in that field.

    I’m now looking at characterisation and what a reader needs to know at the beginning of a story about the characters and their backstory. I am fairly sure that is where my mistake lies and pushing the rest of the story off kilter.

    Armed with two whiteboards and a shiny new journal, I am literally going back to the drawing board to find the root of the error. If the beginning doesn’t work, I’m realising the rest never quite comes together.

  4. I just went back and read my first five pages. Thank you for this. The need to create the space between writing, editing and re-reading with fresh(er) eyes cannot be ignored. With total immersion it’s like looking through a lens under the sea– easy to overlook details because of the murkiness from being immersed for so long.

  5. I find it interesting that it is the first three chapters – it feels right, but I wonder why that’s the slack we give to a book.
    And this post is convincing me I need to cut Chapter 2 again. It’s been creeping up on me as I finish the draft…exciting it may be, but it is not setting up the rest of the story the way I thought it would. If the first three is all I get until someone gives up, that’s not what I want them to see.
    *Adds more to edit list*

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