Why is following the directions such an ongoing question?

An agent requests the first 3 chapters of your novel. Simply for the telling of the story, you send 1, 2 and 12. How great a sin has been committed?

The first rule is ALWAYS, without exception: follow the directions.

Agents don't make this stuff up to drive you crazy or to be obstreperous. We WANT to sell your work! Most editors want to read the first three. If anything, send the first three and then include 12 if it provides information needed in the story--like the hero dies and the POV changes or something.

One of the things that makes me crazy is the sense I get from some query letters that "the directions are for other people; they don't really apply to me cause I'm special" and "if you will just read 1, 2, and 12 you'll see why the directions don't apply."

You're not special. I don't care what Mom said. Until I sell your book and we make some money you're a debit on my balance sheet. That's not what you want to hear, but it's the truth. We won't ever say it to your face but it's true nonetheless. You can be an acceptable debit by writing well and being easy to work with. You can be an unacceptable debit by having good writing and being too difficult to work with. Where that demarcation line is, is different for every agent, but every agent has one and you'll be a fool to find out where it is this early.

So, it's not a mortal sin but you're headed in the wrong direction.
Follow the directions.


kitty said...

What about an introduction/prologue (very short)? Do you send it along with the first 3 chapters?

Caryn said...

Obstreperous. Great word!

So, let's say an agent requests a partial from a query letter. What sort of things are good to include in the cover letter that goes with the partial? Do you blurb the book and put in your credentials again, like in a query letter, just adding a line mentioning that they requested the partial? Or should it be something different altogether? Everyone talks about query letters, but you never hear a whisper about cover letters once your query letter worked.

Kitty, I LOVE the icon with your name, by the way!

Dennie McDonald said...

Thanks good to know (though I never break the rules - well, almost never!)

Kat said...

I understand (as we all do, I hope) that the rules are there for a reason... but sometimes the reasons are not all that clear to us writer-types. Thanks for the post.

My worry is that if I send the first three chapters to anyone, due to the way I write, I'll be sending the first *checks* 150 pages or so. This seems extreme. I had planned on sending the first chapter, which is about 50 pages, but to complicate things I open every chapter with a fake news article, epigraph-style. I'm worried it won't be clear that this is a conceit carried through the entire novel if I only send the first chapter, and will get a "huh?" response from an agent.

On a related note, for agents that ask for the first five pages, should I be including this news blurb (a page long) or send five pages of the novel proper?

These are the questions that keep me awake nights, along with "am I too much of a perfectionist control freak?"

Miss Snark said...

a newspaper epigraph is not your writing (unless you've made it up of course). You can mention that you have these at the start of every chapter in your cover letter. Agents want to see how you write.

And if the prologue is really short, I'd send that with the first three chapters. I hate prologues though. I think they're mostly a waste of time.

rindawriter said...

Dear Ms. Snark:

I don't write novels. I just love reading your blog. It's fun, interesting, good writing...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Anna, about the cover letter for a full or partial manuscript. Keep it brief and get to the point.

Start with your full contact info, the date, the name and address of the party that requested the material and a greeting.

Next you would tell them that you are enclosing the requested manuscript...Name it. Then tell them what else you included...SASE, return postcard etc. I included..."Feel free to e-mail or call if either of these modes are more convenient."

And by all means thank them for the time that they are expending on you!

Miss Snark, could you add anything (so I could do it better if I have to do it again :-))