Many of the larger publishing companies in Australia receive over ten thousand unsolicited manuscripts each year. By ‘unsolicited’, I mean manuscripts they didn’t ask for and that are unagented. Authors simply send them in, in the hope their work will be picked up from the slush pile.
Now a brief moment with a calculator will tell you that the readers and editors at such a company have to plough through 27 books each day, including weekends. Obviously, they don’t read the entire manuscripts. In most cases, they’ll read the first page, though one particular editor a few years ago made a point of saying that, if she’s not impressed by the end of the first sentence, the manuscript will be rejected.
This is why your T.O.P. is so critical. It’s make–or–break.
T.O.P. is The Opening Page
I’m continually surprised, as I assess manuscripts, by writers who ignore the guidelines given on a publisher’s website.
Always format your work exactly as specified. You may think it doesn’t matter but, in fact, publishers are assessing not only your writing talent but your willingness to follow any editorial direction.
Open with a bang! If you’ve got just a single page to intrigue the reader at the publishing house, get to the point as quickly as possible.
Ensure your T.O.P. is error free. Proof–read it. Read it slowly out loud. Proof–read it again. And again. And again. Then get someone else to proof–read it. Look for spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, grammar problems, awkward phrasings or sentences that are a paragraph long.
Consider a professional proof–reader.
You may think this last suggestion is seriously over–the–top, but it isn’t. I’ve seen too many writers sabotage themselves by obvious issues on the opening page. In fact, I would say the majority of writers never give themselves an even break by ensuring their opening page is flawless.
An editor is never going to get to know what a sizzling manuscript you’ve written, if they decide it’s too much work to bring to publishable standard.
I’ve read three books in the last three weeks with errors on the opening page. One was spelling, one was punctuation, one was paragraphing—in each case, it was sufficient to bump me out of the story before I’d really got into it.
As it gets harder and harder to find a traditional publisher, your T.O.P. needs to be T.O.P.P. The Opening Page—Perfect!
Anne Hamilton is the author of 11 books, ranging from children’s fantasy to devotional theology. The current president of Omega Writers, she is interested in the spiritual reasons that writers self–sabotage. She will be speaking on this topic at the CALEB conference. Her First Rule of Publishing is: Proof–reading is very important. There is no such thing as two many proof–readers.