Which Sample Chapters Should You Send to Agents?

sample-chaptersQ: When agents ask for sample chapters, which chapters should I include? I feel that my strongest chapters fall in the middle—is it OK if I send those? —Davey K.

You wouldn’t start reading a novel in the middle, would you? Seems silly to ask an agent to do so.

Your goal with the agent (just as with your future bookstore customer) is to hook him into your story with Page 1, so always send the first few chapters of your novel. If those aren’t some of the strongest in your manuscript, then the tough truth is that you shouldn’t be querying yet. Instead, you should be editing, rewriting and reworking until they are. You want the agent to read them and say, “Oh man, this is dynamite. I wonder what happens next? I’m going to request the entire manuscript and find out!”

Keep in mind that that rule applies specifically to fiction. With nonfiction you have a little more flexibility. Often chapters from nonfiction books can stand alone (which is why magazines and newspapers regularly publish excerpts from them as articles), so it’s not essential, from a story standpoint, to send sequential chapters.

Some people think you should still send the first chapter, but you can handpick after that. In fact, it may be advantageous to send your first chapter and then one from the middle and one from the end. This would help give the agent a clearer picture of what your nonfiction book is about and how you plan to present it to readers.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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6 thoughts on “Which Sample Chapters Should You Send to Agents?

  1. Kizar Sozay

    I’ve been self-publishing e-books for several years and riding that roller coaster. I’ve decided, after a dismal experience several years ago, to try to find an agent for print rights. In my first go around of getting rejected with lightning speed, it was all SASE and snail mail. Now its mostly electronic submissions.

    Problem is, most agents want the sample pages in the body of the e-mail. When you cut and paste, all the formatting goes away. No one is going to read that. Is there a way to save a word document so that the indents, the hard returns, etc remain? Looked all over and asked around. What say you?

  2. JohnA

    The normal UK agents’ requirements include the first three chapters – though occasionally, a word or page count.

    I have a short prologue – it needs to be there; I’ve already looked at including it in the first chapter, but that would create too long a pause, almost a hiatus, between that part of the chapter and the next. Using chapter count, would agents expect me to count the prologue as one of, or in addition to, the three chapters?

    Thanks in advance for your advice.

    1. Brian A. Klems Post author

      While all editors likely have a different take on this, I would read it as “Send your first three chapters plus your prologue.” Better to err on that side then be turned down because you didn’t send enough.

      Hope this helps,
      Brian
      Online Editor

  3. pacanime

    I agree with the idea that your first chapter should be the best, or at least one of your best. However, when you write a set of short stories, where each story is a piece within itself, then I think you would have some leeway. I think episodic fiction would be a hit with more people. Same character, different short stories, all in one book. I dislike the 500 plus page novel. Usually too slow.

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