Monday, March 03, 2014

Query question: pages versus chapters in the query

Many agents ask for the first 3 chapters, or 30 pages. My chapters are very short - the first 3 are 13 pages. Can I send 30 pages if they ask for the first 3 chapters? Simple question, but world of difference in numbers here.

 Absent the phrase "whichever is more" or "whichever is fewer" I'd send the more. In your case 30 pages.

Here's why: way too many times what the author sends as the first ten pages is the writing equivilent of throat clearing or orchestral tuning. Warm up.  If all I've got are those ten pages I can't flip ahead and see where the story really starts. (Of course I'm sure that's not the case with YOUR book, right?)

Even if I'm not going to take your project (sad lack of taste on my part obviously) I can at least tell you that I think the story starts on page 11, or 12, or 30.

The other thing is: there's no such thing as the query police (sadly) and so no one is going to arrest you for sending 30 pages instead of stopping at 13.

Just remember to embed them in the email UNLESS the agent says otherwise. I am seeing a couple agents that are asking for attachments but that is NOT the norm.

And if an agent DOES reject you for sending 30 pages instead of 13, frankly, you might not think so now, but you're better off. Holy moly, that kind of strait jacket glued to the rules approach is bad bad bad for what you need in an agent these days.


LynnRodz said...

I'm glad someone asked this question. My chapters are very short as well and although I'm not at the query sending stage yet, it's good to know.

Yes, I would love to describe the autumn evening in Paris, but I haven't been swimming in these shark infested waters for nothing! My story begins on page one.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

"Even if I'm not going to take your project (sad lack of taste on my part obviously)..."

And I thought it was because my project sucked. I'm feeling better already.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

We all hope our stories begin on page 1, anyway. One reason we need other eyes on our work, n'est-ce pas?

Ashes said...

My story begins on page 1 now, but it originally started on page -7.

Um, I hate to question a shark but I would have interpreted the question differently. I believe the asker may have been wondering if, since they writes short chapters, could they send 30 pages to an agent who is asking for 3 chapters, given that the frequency of '3 chapters or 30 pages' seem to imply an equivalency.

french sojourn said...

My story starts on page 17 but I wanted the reader to start on page 1...should I change the story?


Another great post...thx.

Janet Reid said...

Ashley, I agree that's the question. That's why I said "Absent the phrase "whichever is more" or "whichever is fewer" I'd send the more. In your case 30 pages."

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I get a bit stuck defining "pages" because it can vary so much - a page in Courier holds fewer words than the same text in TNR 12. A page of mine will easily take 300 words (standard Word doc, TNR 12, double-spaced, decent margins on all four sides). So when calculating, can I go by the per-page word count and then just multiply this by the number required?

More to the point: If querying the QOTKU and pasting the first 3-5 pages of our manuscripts into an email, would we be safe in figuring anything up to 1500 words?

It would really help a LOT to have a *maximum* word count! Janet? (er, sorry... I mean, 'Your Majesty'?)

LynnRodz said...

I agree, Jennifer. That's why critique partners, beta readers and editors are so important. When I first started my WIP, unlike Ashley and Hank, my story didn't even begin on page 7 or 17. It began much later. Writing well is a learning process and (thanks to Janet and others like her) I'm still learning.

Unknown said...

Query Shark I love you but... I have to disagree.

My chapters are short also. In fact Ch 1-3 are 13 double spaced pages, so the person writing this and I are on the same page.

If submissions say Ch 1-3 OR 30 pages whichever the lesser, I send 30. If it says Ch 1-3 then, that is what I send. Many ask for only Ch-1. My Ch-1 is less than 500 words, but that is what I send, not more - THAT.

(i) they are submission guidelines
(ii) there are query police, they are called agents who tweet about queries not following guidelines.(iii) an author's first page, hell their first paragraph/line should be great. If the story doesn't start until page 30, then either the author in question doesn't listen to their CP/BETA readers and/or doesn't have any; therefore they should not be querying.

As an aspiring writer who, like all of us, has to tread the waters of submissions, I'm over people not following guidelines. It wastes their time, the agents time and therefore my time, because if an agent say Query Shark, wasn't reading 30 pages of someone else's MS just to tell them "you're story starts on page 28" - they might get through their submissions quicker.

As I say Query Shark, I'm a massive fan, but I think what you have inferred about query police needs to be addressed.

Unknown said...

I have what may be a follow-up question, as I'm a fellow short chapter writer and have encountered this issue.

If follow this guidance and send in the first 30 pages instead of the first 3 chapters -- a suggestion I love because I have an opportunity to pack in some of my great early chapters -- should we end our submission at a chapter break. So, if my chapters end on page 28 and page 33, should I submit 28 pages or should I let my writing stop abruptly (maybe even mid-sentence) for the sake of cramming in as much as possible?

Perhaps it seems like nit-picking, but this has always driven me crazy with page-count submission guidelines. I like a neat package, but don't want to shortchange an agent who would have read more.