Thursday, August 16, 2018

60 is the new 50

I've recently had an agent request the first 50 pages of my manuscript after being "intrigued" by my query and first 5 pages. Good news, for sure. Here's the thing: a MAJOR plot development happens on page 60; a real WOW moment (at least I hope).

I didn't press my luck. I submitted the first 50 as requested. But I really wrestled with the idea of emailing the agent and letting her know about the major plot development and asking if it would be okay to send the first 60 as opposed to just the first 50. Would that have been okay? Or did I do the right thing but just giving her what she asked for and not pushing it (even though it would have potentially meant she'd have gotten to experience a real juicy moment)?


What you didn't understand (and not cause you're stupid, but cause you're not sitting on my side of the desk) is that "the first 50 pages" really means: don't send the whole thing but let me get a better sense of the book than those first couple pages.

In other words, if you have a major plot development at page 60, send 60 pages.
The agent wants to find work she can sell, and major plot developments are often a reliable indicator of just that.

Querying is not engineering. You don't get extra points for sending exactly 50 pages and no more.

While, yes, you hear agents moan "please follow the directions" what they mean is "don't send a PDF when I need a word .doc"

If I were in your shoes, I'd email her and say "yanno Snookums, there's a major plot development at page 60 so I've sent you that as well as that earlier email with just the 50."

Honestly, if she lambastes you, you'll have some good info about her communication style which might actually be more valuable than you know.

 Understanding WHY this is a rule will help you know when you can break it. It's a rule so that authors don't send the whole manuscript. It's also a holdover from when everything arrived on paper and mailing 50 pages was less expensive than all 300+

But knowing that, you send 60 pages and NOT the whole manuscript because you know what she's really asking for.

Be super careful about knowing what agents really want. It's best to follow the directions as exactly as you can, but still, look at the bigger picture when you face a question like this.

Any questions?


Kitty said...

Someone could write a hilarious book about agents' rules and their various meanings. Just sayin'...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ha !
I saw the heading of this post and thought, YEE HAW, I'm not as old as I thought I was.
Good part...I have sent a few more pages when warranted.
Bad part...I am as old as I thought I was.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Like 2Ns, I was hoping maybe I wasn't getting as old as I thought. And I am with Kitty, you have an amazing flare for comedy while distilling incredibly useful information.

A comic with DoY and a book on publishing. Get your minion, Jeff Somers to collaborate with you on the footnotes again. You'd sell a bazillion and five copies and the comic would be syndicated into infinity.

Although, it is sort of special for the Reef to have you to themselves but that can't continue forever. After all, you ARE the Queen of the Known Universe.

Colin Smith said...

This is why we love you, Janet--getting beyond the rule to the reason why. Big virtual hugs to you, QOTKU!!! :)

In the same vein, when an agent asks for 3 or 5 pages (as you do), is this kinda like asking for the first chapter--assuming that first chapter is not super long (in which case that might be a problem right there)?

Colin Smith said...

Elise: I've been saying for ages--years, probably by now, that QOTKU and Ms. Poelle should co-author a book called SNARK AND SHARK'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHING. I agree, Jeff Somers should do the footnotes. :D

One day... one day... :)

Theresa said...

Like Carolynn and E.M., I thought I was going to get a break about the age thing.

Like Kitty and Colin, I'd like to see a book about agent rules and when to break them. I always figured there was room to add an extra page or two on a request, but never would've assumed that could go up to ten.

Kitty said...

Janet certainly has the platform for the book.

Craig F said...

Perhaps it is a conditioned Pavlovian response but fifty pages is a break point for me. If I am getting bored, confused or confounded with a book I will struggle to get to page 50. Sometimes it is worth it.

My current idea of plotting a book is to give a big bang on page one and then fill in backstory, character development and general mayhem for 35-40 pages before flooring the gas.

Even though there are no page markers in email, I think I would find a way to move that WOW moment back ten or so pages. It might help in the long run.

Brenda said...

Is it common to do a revision based on the first 50 pages?

Sam Mills said...

Yes, but you see, we were all overachievers in school and we like following directions. XD

Anonymous said...

Honestly, this blog never fails to be helpful.

Like Colin Smith, I am wondering if this flexibility applies when asked to "paste in the first ten pages." I've gone up to 11 because it was a slightly more natural stopping point, but if I could have gone to 15, again, we'd have had a plot development. But that's adding 50% of what they asked for.

John Davis Frain said...

Even when I totally agree, I have a contrarian card to play. I'm probably fooling myself here, but I like to pretend it might work. When an agent asks for a number of pages, I like to short them. They want the first 20? I give 'em 11. That way, if and when they read, they'll finish early and think how fast 20 pages went by.

Ignorance being blissful, don't answer the urge to tell me if I'm fooling myself.

As always, portions of the preceding may be embellished for purposes of example.

strokeanddistance said...

Remember these 3 simple rules:
1. Sharks only have rules in order to break them.
2. Keep your dental records handy.

JEN Garrett said...

Where's the like button for Kitty's comment. Seriously, somebody write that book! ;)

Why I think we hamster-wheel tredders forget is that we are looking for an agent that will work well with US. Do I want an agent that will ONLY want what's asked for, or do I want one that will give me a general idea of what's wanted and if I have something that fits that idea, but might not exactly fit the given parameters?

Joseph S. said...

Very helpful post today. I've fallen prey too often to the stop at ten pages instruction.

For me, Understanding someone's concerns and goals is more helpful than "here's my rule."

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, if Janet writes a book I want to be an ass-hat footnote. Ass-hat footnotes are better than regular footnotes because they are a little behind in facts and full of crap.

Badda-bee-badda boom :)

Panda in Chief said...

I'm with 2NNs and all the others who got momentarily excited about 60 being the new 50 (which everyone knows is the new 40) but then I got tired dancing around the kitchen and had to go take a nap.

So much for feeling younger.

If the DoY gets a comic, I want to be the one that draws the illustrations. Just saying.
and any book with Jeff Somers' footnotes is one I want to read. Just finished "Writing without Rules" and was gratified to see that he justifies many of my own bad habits and tendencies. Huzzah!

Joseph S. said...

Craig F

Maybe I'm wrong but I've assumed 50 pages double-spaced would be less than 50 pages in a novel - more like 40 pages in print.

Katja said...

Craig, I'm very much with you here.
I was kind of waiting for Janet to say "wait, it's getting juicy only on page 60?? That's a bit late."

Thought there'd even been a blog post on that when it was explained it should be before 50, no!? Maybe I'm mistaken, but I feel like Craig, I wouldn't be sure if I was happy to read 50 pages without yummy juice.

Also, I too have made my first pages to try and wow potential readers. Not sure if I've succeeded ;), but I seem to think in the same way as Craig.


Michael Seese said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Seese said...

Or, change the font from 12 point to 11. BOOM! It's now 50 pages.

Craig F said...

Professor Snoe: I assumed that at the fifty page request stage you still have to paste your work into the body of an email.

The body of an email does not have page breaks, or tabs. You would have to format to email protocols and not just send an attachment.

Thank you Katja

Joseph S. said...

Craig F

Yes, we post an email, and yes there's not much way (without more work than it's worth) an agent can be sure we posted 40, 50 or 60 pages. My point was that when you said you'd give a book 50 pages to grab your attention that 50 pages in a book is probably closer to 60 pages in a double-spaced Word document, and I'm assuming when an editor says she wants the first 50 pages she means 50 pages of the double-spaced Word document (but she may want the 60) (It's a big unknown).