In today’s writing tip Sharlene Martin and Anthony Flacco, authors of Publish Your Nonfiction Book, discuss one of the nine essential elements to a book proposal–sample chapters.
Always begin with your first chapter. It’s never a good idea to toss chapter 6 at them for your writing sample and hope no one notices. If chapter 6 has your best work in it, why isn’t there some of that work right at the front to help pull readers into the book? Your purpose as an author is to demonstrate how your book will hook readers from the beginning.
Offer the first twenty to twenty-five pages of text, up to the end of a chapter and a logical cliffhanger or teaser. Even if you have more of the manuscript completed, don’t send additional pages. Your proposal
is a selling tool. All you need to do is give them enough to get fired up about you and your writing. Then politely end the conversation and allow them to go off and think about how much they want to publish your book. There is no magic number for sample pages, but the issue can be reasoned this way: Twenty to twenty-five pages should be enough to offer a picture of how the book will read and of your writing skills. More pages than that can make for burdensome reading at the proposal stage.
The “less is more” principal applies here; it leaves room for the agent or editor to come back and give a tentative yes to the book, provided that the manuscript is given more of this and less of that. Sometimes
this sort of guidance can be just the thing that a manuscript needs. So when you submit a calculated amount of sample pages instead of throwing everything that you have at them, it leaves you room to accommodate such requests—if you choose. Anyone who is captivated by your proposal will come back and ask to see what else you have. You may then reveal the extra pages, if they fit, and your brilliance will stun them all. If they don’t fit the requested changes, you can leave them in the drawer with none the wiser.
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