"I Shouldn't Have to Do This"

Miss Snark,

After sending a query only, an agent has now requested a proposal and sample chapter. I don't have a sample chapter. I am an established author with three previously published books (well, two published and one forthcoming), all somewhat related to the topic of the new book I am proposing. Should I send a writing sample from one of my other works so that the agent can get a sense of my writing style? Can I send the proposal only? Or must I send a sample chapter if I have hopes of finding representation?

Advice most welcome.



This stuff drives me to distraction. I have a client who's doing this to me now: "I've published X books, surely they know I can write this one". Well, maybe.

Here's the deal. It's easy easy easy to say no. The editor can say no, the acquisition committee can say no, everyone from Adam the receptionist to Zelda the armory keeper can say no and derail your project.

Why make it easy for them by NOT doing what they want?

People get caught up in "I shouldn't have to do this, I've published before I'm a known quantity.".

That makes me think of the stories about film actors who wanted roles so much they auditioned for them...even when they were known actors, award winning actors.

The difference between making a deal and not is sometimes as simple as just giving them what they ask for, and doing it very very well.

Yes it's a pain in the ass. Welcome to the real world.


Bill Peschel said...

Marlon Brando had to do a screentest for "The Godfather." He was so good, the head of the studio didn't recognize him.

Good advice.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

It reminds me of a story that screenwriter-director Nicholas Meyer told at a Baker Street Irregulars meeting of Robert Duvall auditioning for Dr. Watson in "The Seven Per-cent Solution." The American Duvall was hardly who you would imagine for the role and what's more, according to Meyer, "He showed up in costume for his other audition that day---Arlo Guthrie." Duvall brought an audiotape of himself as Watson. Bingo---got the part.

Anonymous said...

Maybe he didn't recognize Brando because he had gained 250 pounds.

(Just kidding. Brando was a great actor.)

Anonymous said...

That said: do you even mention prior publications in a query letter? I wonder if you don't shoot yourself in the foot by giving the agent an idea that you've sold before?

T2, who hasn't had her 2nd cup of coffee yet & probably isn't thinking straight

Anonymous said...

Ah, nobody likes the real world.

Anonymous said...

It's arrogance. Yes, the author's proven himself. But the days of contracts on cocktail napkins (all right -- except for celebrities) are over. Publishers can't afford it.
You want a contract, you write a partial and synopsis or outline. None of this sitting on past accomplishments, or whining about not getting paid to write since you are a professional.

Act like one!

Otherwise, write the book on spec.

Elektra said...

Aren't you going to have to write the chapter at some point anyway?

Linda said...

I don't get this. It's not as if the author doesn't have to write the book. So, what's the big deal about writing a sample chapter of it to send per the agent's request? :)


Anonymous said...

Of course, the agent would request a proposal! What else would he sell? Hot air? If you don't have a new book planned, why look for representation? Those three books are already done deals. The proposal is for the agent to shop around to the publishers, if the agent decides to take you on as a client.

Anonymous said...

What's Miss Snark's e-mail? Anyone?

I. Myte said...

Sure Brando humbled himself for the role of Don Corleone.
But, on the other hand, lol, for Superman he kept coming up with suggestions as to how he should play Jorel, including as a stationary suitcase that he'd do the voice over for, or a sort of donut shaped thing, and again, he'd just tape his lines to be dubbed in.
As for the advice, as bill said, that's rock solid for any business you conduct. For God's sake, make it easy for people to help you meet your goals. Good ole common sense.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand--if this TW is a professional writer, surely he can knock off a sample chapter on the subject in a couple of days. Especially since he already has written about the topic and presumably has a passion for it.

No, maybe he shouldn't "have to prove anything" by writing a sample chapter, but is it really worth all the griping? Just sit down and write the thing. Given the track record, it'll probably sell anyhow, so it won't be wasted work.

I'm wondering if TW goes into a Toyota dealership and says, "Sign me up for the 2008 Camry. I don't need to test-drive it. I don't even need a picture. I'm sure it'll be just fine because the others were all fine."

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Professional" writers, those who make their livings writing, sometimes feel it is beneath them to have to write more than a one-page pitch.
Used to work.
Those days are gone, gone, gone.

Anonymous said...

OK--I can relate. I am pretty new to the whole writing game but have one book published and another under contract (don't be too impressed--it's just non-fiction, ha).

I wanted to find a new agent but, of course, I didn't want to write the evil SAMPLE CHAPTER. But I knew that even if an agent signed me without one, they would eventually need it to sell the project. Three agents offered to sign before I completed the sample chapter (but they still wanted it done). You know what? I signed with the agent who said "I like this and want to see more." I mean, who did I think I was anyway? Her feedback on the proposal helped shape the sample chapter and showed her that I was willing to do things her way. I realized that writing the sample chapter is part of the creative process. So...bottom line is that some agents will sign without a sample chapter but the best agent will want it. And the best publishers will CERTAINLY want it. Good luck!