What Did You Learn?

April 18, 2010

Parts of a Proposal: Sample Pages

Filed under: Getting Published — Tags: , — ax20 @ 2:54 pm

And last but not least, the text itself. No matter how great your proposal, how full of information and how well-researched, if your writing is awful, nothing’s going to happen with your book. Different places have a different standard of exactly how much they want (so I recommend you check before you send things in to see what they say) but the standard is usually the first three chapters or first fifty pages. Sometimes they will ask for the full manuscript, but that’s less common.

Whatever you send them, you’d better make it good. If your first chapter is boring, it often doesn’t matter how great the rest of the book is. The people reading your script sometimes get a hundred submissions a day, they have a lot to do (often besides just reading submissions) and can’t afford to waste any time reading something that doesn’t seem like it will be great. If you don’t grab them fast, you could lose them.

Think of it this way: your manuscript is evaluated a number of times before it is published. Only one no can send it to the garbage pile while you need a yes at every level to have it succeed. Every place works differently but here’s an idea of the process–interns tend to get the first look. They write up a report of what they read, providing a summary, providing the pros and cons, and giving a recommendation of accept or reject. Usually, if they say reject, that’s it. If they say accept it goes up to the next person in the chain of command, perhaps the assistant. If they like it, it goes up to the agent. If not, garbage. The agent then may have to pitch it to his boss and team or may have final say about whether or not to send it out (it depends on how hands on the president is and the exact system) but let’s assume they can accept or reject as they please and then send out. If they don’t like it, garbage. If they do like it, it’s time to submit to a publisher. There the process begins all over again. The assistant or interns reads it, sends it up to their boss if they like it who sends it to their boss if they like it. (Many agencies have relationships with specific editors so they may be able to skip directly to the editor.) Once the editor decides they like it, they typically have to pitch the book to the rest of the editorial staff at a meeting. If the group decides it’s a good idea, THEN it can go into production. So you can see, your writing has to be good enough to connect with A LOT of people. (Not to mention the actual readers who you want buying the book.)

My point in explaining all of this: MAKE SURE YOUR SAMPLE PAGES ARE PERFECT! If they’re not great, they won’t request to read any more.

And perfect doesn’t just mean in the story and flow of your prose either. If you make a bunch of grammatical and formatting errors early on, you make it look like you don’t care enough to make this a clean manuscript. And if you don’t care why should the agent? You’d be amazed at the small details that can get your manuscript thrown out. I have a friend who was a script reader and she would toss a script if she found five errors in the first five pages. Even if they were small errors. If you spent your time reading awful work after awful in hopes of finding the one occasional good book, you’re on guard for awfulness to the point where you may become extra critical. Don’t ever give them an excuse to get rid of your manuscript.

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