Wednesday, October 18, 2006

FAQ #5: Do I have to submit the *first* two chapters?

I am immensely annoyed because I just wrote a long thoughtful post about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (which I finished reading last week), touching on aesthetics and racism and moral points and Jane Smiley. And then Blogger ate my post, quotes and all, and licked its lips afterward, so it looks as if the writing is to be its own reward. Bah. But I want to post something, so here's FAQ #5, because again it's a quickie:

Do you prefer it always to be the first two chapters of the manuscript or can it be two chapters a bit further in provided we include the synopsis required of SQUID submissions?

You should always include the first chapter, because it doesn't matter what happens later in the book if you can't make me care about the characters at the beginning. And I really, really prefer to read the second chapter immediately after that, so I can see how you develop the situation you lay out in the first chapter. HOWEVER, if you feel the second chapter does not represent the action or tone or whatever of the novel so well as another chapter further in, you may certainly send along that other chapter instead. But you should recognize that you'll be jerking me out of the world you establish in the first chapter and forcing me to completely reorient myself in that later chapter; so you should be really confident that the later chapter is a better example of your book's overall strengths.

Best of luck to you!


  1. So a prologue would count as a first chapter, correct? And then we should send you one other chapter?

    Sorry to hear blogger ate your post. That's up there with a fallen cake made from scratch. Or my kids sticking their fingers into the frosting right after I've finished decorating it.

  2. Oh, I really would love to read your Huck Finn post with Jane Smiley references and quotes and all. But I know how painful it is to reconstruct a long post. If you feel up to it later . . .

  3. Cheryl! Hello!

    Sorry to hear about the lost Huck Finn post. Stupid computer! Stupid technology! Dang! It made me think of Hemingway’s lost suitcase filled with his early works. Sad! Sad! Sad! Perhaps you can rewrite it. Please? I love Mr. Twain with the power of thousand grad students.

    I have a FAQ, (which if not frequently asked probably should be). It’s been bugging me and I can’t seem to nail down a clear answer.

    What I’m puzzling over is this, “What are some of the elements of ‘sort of bad’ writing?” not clearly wretched writing, just almost good. Are there frequent slipups that you see on a regular basis?

    I have a pretty clear picture of what great writing looks like, for example, this awesome description from HBP...

    “The potion within was splashing about merrily; it was the color of molten gold, and large drops were leaping like goldfish above the surface, though not a particle had spilled.”

    This, to me, is a tasty example of perfect, wonderful writing, the kind that makes the reader happy and engaged. I’ve read your blog post about what makes a good book... but what makes a “close but no cigar” one?

    Kids know sucky writing when they see it. When I hear or read something un-engaging I have this visceral “euuh” feeling. Writing can be “bad” because it is too flowery, clich├ęd, jarring or, the worst sin of all, “boring”.

    What do you think?


    The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.


  4. Yes, a prologue counts as one chapter. But like Elmore Leonard, I am deeply suspicious of prologues:

    And oh, Marilyn, this is one of the absolute hardest things to define. I was sitting with a couple of chapter submissions today that just weren't making it happen for me, even though they were perfectly competent as writing and might very well have worked for another editor. But I don't want "competent," I want magic, so I ended up turning them down.

    Some of my least favorite slipups are in section II of "Rules of Engagement" on my website; I'll try to collect more examples as I think of them.

  5. This might be of interest...
    Jane Yolen was asked the very same question regarding the submission of chapters. She said ALWAYS submit the first 2-3 chapters.
    With nearly 300 titles in print, she might be right.

  6. Also she's been doing this for a zillion more years than I have. Not to mention she used to be an editor herself.

    Sorry to hear about the Huck Finn post. Generally when I'm posting, I highlight the text I wrote and hit CTRL C, and if it doesn't publish, I put it in a MS Word document for later. (Learned that the hard way, just as you did.) Saves a little cussing.

  7. Thanks Cheryl! Bring it on! I really want to figure this out.

    And thanks for the Leonard link (How can you not like something with the words “perpetrating hooptedoodle” in it?)

    Though I noticed, since we are reading HBP as a bedtime story out loud and it’s foremost in my bookish mind, that Ms. Rowling breaks most of his rules on a regular basis, (although she does it with style). Harry “snarls” on a regular basis. We know exactly what Dumbledore is wearing down to the shape of his glasses. Hagrid speaks in a regional dialect. There is weather and descriptions and prologues.

    Perhaps the exception proves the rule or more likely Rowling follows the last rule. Her stories never sound like “writing” and, with four hundred and four pages to go, for that I am grateful.


  8. Thanks for the answer!

  9. Chapter length varies so much ( Year Down Yonder,

    35 pages for Chapters 1 &2- True Confessions of

    Charlotte Doyle, 18 for pages Chapters 1&2 , Speak,

    5 pages for Chapter 1&2, How I Live Now, 4 pages

    for Chapters 1&2). Why don't editors have a certain

    number of pages to submit instead?

  10. I was thinking about that today, Ada, when I read that Penguin asks you to submit the first 10 pages of longer work . . . I could save writers paper and myself time by asking for the same. But that often wouldn't allow me to see (a) how a writer develops a full scene, as it's likely to be cut off in the middle or (b) how the writer develops the scene that follows, if I didn't have chapter 2. So I think I'll stick with the guidelines I have.

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