Submission silliness

Over at The Writing Life, agent Terry Whalin tells about someone who sent chapters two and eleven as his sample chapters.

Since I sent him chapters one, two and twelve as my sample chapters, let me explain. (And no, I’m not the person he’s blogging about.)  

Unless the instructions specifically say to send the first three chapters, beginning writers are told to send their very best chapters in their proposal. There’s no excuse for chapter one not being your very best chapter, but if your best writing is in chapter eleven, then they tell you to send chapter eleven. It makes no sense to hope the agent or editor will slog through ten chapters to make it there.

I’ve been assured by editors at conferences that they can tell from a page or two in the middle whether you can write your way out of a paper bag. In fact, I’ve seen them do it. As someone who’s been workshopped since age eleven, I’ve heard that advice (“send your very best chapters”) at least a hundred times.

Is that advice ridiculous? Well, that’s another question. To him obviously, it is, and therefore when you submit to him, you send chapters one, two and three. Others’ mileage may vary.

I have to admit, leaving out chapter one is beyond absurd. If your story doesn’t start until chapter two, then your best bet is to carefully highlight the first chapter and hit the delete key. Even Isaac Stern had to tune his violin and warm up, but he didn’t record that part. Same thing with useless chapter ones. And don’t tell me it’s your prologue, either. I’m not stupid. 🙂

(Can you tell I worked my way through grad school by tutoring freshmen?)

Mr. Whalin states that in a book store, he opens to page one. To tell you the truth, in a book store, I open to the middle and read a random page where I know the author isn’t on his best behavior any longer. I want to see how the author treats me after he thinks I’m a sure thing.

As an aside: Can you tell my creativity is returning? Six months after a new baby, two months after a move, and suddenly the brain cells have begun making connections again. I want to write and submit and publicize my book. Three months after having Kiddo#3, I decided I no longer wanted to be a failed writer, and the stories in the sidebar are the result. It’s taken longer after K4, but I’m intrigued to see what’s happening, and I wonder where God’s going to take this burst of energy.


  1. Terry Whalin

    Hello Jane,

    Thank you for this post reacting to my words about submissions. Your reaction shows the subjective nature of this business. I’m convinced more than ever writers need to persist to reach the right person at the right time and the right place with their material.

    Author of Book Proposals That Sell

  2. philangelus

    I think even more, what writers are told in workshops and classroom settings is increasingly divergent from what working editors and agents want to see.

    I emerged from my MA in writing/English with absolutely no useful knowledge of how to earn a living as a writer, and this kind of advice is one of the reasons why. I knew everything, and it was all pretty much dead wrong for the real world. 🙂

  3. Cricket

    Sounds like an engineering degree.