Monday 16 September 2013

Go to T.O.P.

By Anne Hamilton

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


  1. Agree Annie. But it is so easy to miss things ourselves. We see what we expect to see, which is why it is good to have others cast an eye over it.

    1. I know this myself - and I'm scrupulous about it. So it was with immense shock a friend of mine found an error on the first page of God's Poetry. I'd checked it a dozen times. And got seven other people to do it as well as the proofreader. So I know the perils!

  2. Totally agree, Annie. Great advice about that all-important first page. Worth going over a hundred times!

  3. Great advise and always applicable. I use many readers of various backgrounds and preferences and a professional editor. And I read my opening lines so many times I could almost quote them. I'm blessed to have so many people help me. I still find myself second guessing whether its perfect though!

    1. And their still cannot be such a think as two manny proofreaders.

  4. Just a note Annie is having internet issues and is offline for a few days.

    As a reader I don't notice the errors as much unless they are glaring like the wrong name and a few words in the wrong place. I don't pick up the spelling errors as much as spelling isn't one of my strengths. I also am like many who will see the letters and know the word without always seeing the mistake. I also have a tend to invert words at times.

    I do however know of readers who get really annoyed when they see an error. (its funny as I have to search for the error everyone else sees so clearly). In saying this if there are a lot of errors on one page then I notice one or two not so much.

    1. You're right, Jenny! Even after a friend told me there was an error on the first page of God's Poetry, I had to reread it four times before I found it.

  5. Great advice, thanks Annie. :)

    Editors weigh the first page so heavily because readers in bookstores (or online) do the same thing. Next time you're in a bookstore, watch the average consumer walk around. They'll pick up a book if it looks appealing, read the back cover, then if they're still interested, they'll open to page one. That's where the sell happens, and editors are looking for what will sell. Editors are really smart readers.

  6. Annie, excellent advice! Writers only have one chance to make a good first impression and hook the editor/reader from the opening sentence.


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