Unless you’re famous or somehow remarkable, your sample chapters are the only chance you have to get your book published. Therefore you must submit the best example of your writing that you can — even if it requires writing, editing, revising, and even throwing out everything you wrote only to start fresh.
A few years ago my literary agent told me that a publisher wanted to read three sample chapters of my book See Jane Soar. That’s when I first started searching for tips on how to submit sample chapters to book publishers.
That book didn’t get published, but my next book did. Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back only had one sample chapter and the introduction – but that was my best writing. You may only have one shot at getting published so make sure you write, edit, polish and rewrite until your sample chapters shine.
Remember that every word counts. Each word needs to be as strong and true as possible, and has carry its full weight. Writing and submitting sample chapters to a book publisher isn’t like blogging or writing lively descriptions of your last vacation on your Facebook profile. Good writing demands that you take one step at a time, writing boldly and bravely until you get to the end. And then you go back and rewrite your sample chapters until you can barely stand to look at them.
6 Tips for Submitting Sample Chapters to a Publisher
“All good writing is built one good line at a time,” said American novelist Kate Braverman. “You build a novel the same way you do a pyramid. One word, one stone at a time, underneath a full moon while the fingers bleed.”
Even if you’re not writing a novel, you’d still benefit from thinking of writing your book like building a pyramid. Every stone counts, and will contribute to an irresistible sample chapter that might win you a book contract.
1. Include your original query letter
This first tip is from literary agent Nathan Bransford, who knows more than I do about submitting sample chapters to publishers.
“When you e-mail your partial…include your original query at the bottom of the e-mail,” he says. “Otherwise, when I sit down to read your partial a week to two weeks later I have to go hunting through my files to find your original e-mail to refresh my memory, and even though I keep them in one place sometimes they’re hard to find, and it takes forever, and makes me Mr. Cranky McCrankyagent, and I’d rather be in a good mood when I’m reading your partial.”
I’d also encourage you to edit and polish your original query letter. Every piece of writing can be improved — but don’t change the premise, theme, book contents, etc of your original query to the publisher. The house is interested in what you’ve already pitched; it would be a mistake to make major changes.
2. Add a paragraph of new information
It took the publisher almost a year to request three sample chapters based on my original query letter. My writing career grew significantly in that year, so I added new information to what I’d written in my pitch. So my sample chapters included an update on my career (eg, my newest writing credits, blog statistics, participation as a presenter in writing conferences, etc).
3. Free your writer’s voice!
Several publishers asked me to submit sample chapters based on my query letters, but none offered me a book contract. I believe it’s because my writer’s voice wasn’t strong enough — I was intimidated, anxious, and fearful that the publisher wouldn’t offer a book contract. That affected my writing. I wrote timidly and anxiously…which didn’t just affect my chances of getting published. My timidity destroyed my chances of publication. So, fellow scribe, I encourage you to write boldly and bravely! What do you have to lose?
Read How to Make Your Writing Edgy and Quirky for a few tips on making your sample chapters come alive before you submit them to a publisher.
4. Edit for technique and voice separately
If an agent, editor or publisher has asked you to submit sample chapters, you probably already edit for literary techniques (and/or copyedit) at a different time than you edit for voice. Here’s a unique spin on this writing tip: when you edit for technique or copyedit your sample chapters, wear an editor’s hat. Literally. Decide what hat you think an editor might wear, and wear it when you copyedit. Then, wear your own hat or favorite clothes when you edit your sample chapters for your own unique voice and style.
Another twist is to edit different “things” on different days. For example, spend Monday focusing on copyediting your sample chapters and polishing the literary techniques. Then on Tuesday set your voice free! This will help you stay focused on editing and polishing your chapters in specific ways before submitting them to a publisher.
5. Submit the sample chapters on time – or even early
“Make sure you send the chapters on time – when they expect it,” says Elaine Burroughs of the Writer’s Canvas. “Polish it, definitely, but be on time.”
In my experience, publishers rarely give a deadline for sample chapters. That said, it’s smart to send your sample chapters as quickly as you can! Otherwise you run the risk of being forgotten, or the publisher losing interest, or the acquiring editor getting fired. Be swift yet thorough while editing, revising, and polishing.
Read 5 Steps to Writing a Killer First Chapter – How to Wow Readers for more tips on writing strong sample chapters for publishers.
6. Don’t send additional sample chapters to the publisher
“Provide exactly what they ask for, no more and no less,” suggests writer Iain Broome from Write for Your Life. “Don’t sneak an extra chapter in – it won’t go down well.”
However, if the publisher or agent requests 30 pages and your book has a natural break at 32 pages, then and submit 32 pages. I learned that most publishing houses, editors and agents expect a 10% margin on their requested word and/or page count. Use your commonsense when you’re submitting your chapters; don’t be legalistic about word or page count (but do be legalistic about the number of chapters you send! Only send what the publisher or agent requested).
Are you looking for a literary agent? Read The Query Shark’s Best Advice on How to Get an Agent.
If you have any questions or thoughts on these tips for submitting sample chapters to publishers, feel free to comment below.
Write on, fellow scribes. Write on!