Q: 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.