The critical first, middle and last 10 pages

Terri-ann White

In the most recent of Writing NSW’s First Friday Club talks, hosted by author Ashley Kalagian Blunt, publisher Terri-ann White spoke about her new publishing venture Upswell Publishing. After publishing around 450 books at UWA Press, Terri-ann White has partnered with Black Inc. and Penguin Random House for representation and distribution in Australia and internationally.  Upswell’s first book will be out this August.

Two things White said that stuck with me

(1) To have any interest in publishing a work she needs to love the quality of the writing, as well as the story/plot/theme. She is attentive to the sentence, to what professor of literature and writer Joe Moran describes as that “small, sealed vessel for holding meaning.” 

I have much less interest in plot and character and all of my interest is held in the sentence, and the way one sentence leads to another and the quality of the writing. I’m a little different and I’m not looking for the standard things…but all of the genre publishing that I like will pass that test.

Terri-ann White, 7 May 2021

(2) Her method of evaluating submitted manuscripts is to read the first ten pages, the middle ten pages and then the last ten pages. If those thirty pages have piqued her interest she’ll keep going. She doesn’t take the more common approach of reading the first thirty pages/or first three chapters/or first long chapter. 

Photo by Wallace Chuck,

I immediately thought how White’s method is a useful way for a writer to check-in and re-evaluate their own draft manuscript; to focus more closely by examining fewer pages. To ask, do these pages speak and connect to each other stylistically and thematically? It must have been on my mind because later in the week, I was talking with a writer who I’m working with, and found myself saying exactly that about her manuscript. The older first pages’ style and sensibility didn’t cohere with the more recent latter pages. Re-reading the final pages, then turning to the opening again showed that the writer needed to rewrite the opening again, as if for the first time but with the whole of the novel in mind.

This method of re-reading and testing could work just as well on a more miniature scale with the short story, and especially well with the narrative nonfiction essay. 

Terri-ann White’s talk is available at Writing NSW’s YouTube channel here.  Joe Moran’s latest book is First You Write a Sentence: the Elements of Reading, Writing… and Life. 

Author: Jane Messer

Author, Mentor, Manuscript Assessor - The Bold Ink

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