First Fifty Pages

First, thanks for your very helpful and entertaining blog; give Yapp a treat if he's the one actually writing. (he's the one proof reading)

My question is about the lack of any standardization for the original "submission requirements." Some agents want only a query letter, some a query and synopsis, but many request a query letter, a synopsis and the first 50 pages. The latter, while affording the agent a more comprehensive look, seems to me a bit over the top to request right off the bat. What makes 50 sample pages the magic number? When I pick up a book, I usually know before page 50 whether or not I am going to keep reading. Or is 50 pages just the maximum that can be crammed into a 9x12 envelope for the mail?

I can guarantee you that the first fifty pages of the book you pick up there in the bookstore is not the same first 50 pages I saw on my desk two years ago. You'd be utterly amazed at how many people don't really get their novel started till chapter two or even three. It's like they have to warm up or something.

I'm doing close editing work with a multiple published client who has a project on deadline. She sent me the first three chapters. I called her and said "take out chapter one, it's just warm up". She looked, and agreed.

The agents looking at the first 50 are doing you a favor (ha! see previous post!) by asking for this much. Rather than what I do (first ten, better be good) they'll cut you some slack by looking at chapter two to see if it picks up.

And yes, there is no uniformity in submission guidelines. There aren't any for publishers either so we'll both just have to live with it.


Eileen said...

I agree on the warm up. Best advice I got was start your stories where the trouble starts. When it's done you can go back to the beginning and see if there is more needed- most of the time there isn't. Readers are a smart and crafty bunch they don't require info dump to follow along.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad submission guidelines aren't standard. One agent isn't the same as the other and no two people like the same thing. If you do the things they like, they have an easier time reading and then they're more likely to give you slack and/or take you on and isn't that what we all want?

Termagant 2 said...

This variability in requirements amongst agents & editors means that we have to tailor our submission "package." This is good practice IMSO (In My Snarkling Opinion) for the Big Submission Time.

One thing I do, since I have 16 novels in various stages, is set up a Word folder for each book. It contains the actual MS, then files called "True Dreck proposal", "Agent Annie query", and the like. That way, if Agent Antonio Banderas (sigh) has a similar query requirement to Agent Annie, I've already done the work.

Color me lazy,

Maya said...

I think it depends on whether the writer is a plotter or a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person. The plotter has outlines and plans for everything that happens. I'm a pantser, and I use that first chapter to get myself settled into the story. However, I ALWAYS delete it before anyone ever sees it. It's just for me to, as Miss Snark says, warm up. That way, the novel starts at the point of change.

Linda Adams said...

I critted someone in our writer's group. His first 49 pages were backstory. Nothing happened except a lot of explaining and telling and yawn. On page 50, he finally got into the story.

Jude Hardin said...

I attended a panel recently with three agents and one aquisitions editor. They all said the same thing: They ask for the first fifty pages, but if they aren't bowled over after the first five, they don't read on.

So, don't expect every agent or editor to be as generous as Miss Snark. Better get the good stuff up front, because it's not likely anyone's going to see that intensely dramatic scene that starts on page 20.

Brooke said...

I don't mean to be a grouch, but I don't understand why this keeps coming up. What's the problem? Is it so difficult to find out what the agents you're targeting want to see?

They're not making widgets. They're assessing works of art. I'm kind of glad they're not aligning to ANSI standards.

The reason I suspect so many people would like to see one standard across the board is that they're not *targeting* their agents at all - they're doing a blast of submissions, figuring it's a numbers game and they'll hit the right agent through blunt force rather than precision firing.

Also: totally with Eileen on the warm-up thing.