But Can’t I Send My Best Pages?

Photo credit: RLHyde on Flickr
Sharing a dose of somewhat ugly truth today.

Sometimes while scrolling through Twitter, I see writers asking if the fifty pages they have to send in a submission have to be the first fifty pages, or I see agents reminding writers that the chapter attached to their query should be the first one, not the thirteenth.

I understand the plight of writers who want to send chapter three because that’s when the story gets really excited or pages 102-152 because that’s where the best writing is, but you guys, the hard truth is this: every page needs to be your best page.

I know there are writers out there thinking yeah, my first chapter is good, but my fifth chapter is amazing and to that I say your first four chapters need to be just as incredible. Because the truth is, most readers aren’t going to care that your fifth chapter is awesome if your first four chapters are only mediocre—and neither will publishing professionals.

This is why oftentimes, when writers ask whether or not to include a prologue with a query, agents often say if you don’t think your prologue is good enough to grab me, then it needs revising or shouldn’t be there.

But this goes beyond the first few chapters or the fifty-page sample. Because if your first fifty pages are amazing and polished and beautifully written, but the rest of your manuscript hasn’t received as much attention, publishing professionals are going to notice. And you’re going to get a rejection.

But don’t just take my word for it. Literary Agent Juliet Mushens (The Agency Group) said as much just a few days ago:
Before you start querying or submitting, you need to make sure you’ve polished every page of your manuscript. You need to be proud of every chapter, you need to show it to beta readers and critique partners and you need to go through several rounds of revision on your entire manuscript. These steps aren’t optional. Not if you want someone to take your work seriously.

If you want someone to take your work seriously, then you need to take it seriously first and put the work into every single page. And that’s all there is to it.

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
"The hard truth is this: every page needs to be your best page." (Click to tweet)  
Writer @Ava_Jae shares the importance of making sure every page is your best before you start querying. (Click to tweet)


Nora Grosvenor said...

Another good rule of thumb: If it doesn't get interesting until chapter 5, consider cutting chapters 1-4.

Ava Jae said...

Excellent point. I'm surprised I didn't say that, actually, because it's so very true. Many times when an opening is slow, it's because you've started too early. Thanks, Nora!

Robin Red said...

I feel this on so many levels. I just shelved a manuscript that I put my sweat and blood into because it wasn't shining on every page, and the plot just kind of -> ~~~~~ The squiggly lines represent how it dips between "Engaging and thrilling" to "kill yourself and never write another story". Now I'm working on a manuscript (from NaNo) that really shines, every page moving plot, building tension, revealing character development, etc., and I'm scouring it for any flaws. I want to submit a diamond to agents.

Ava Jae said...

Definitely take all the time you need to turn that manuscript into a diamond. Critique partners, time, perseverance and patience are all key to becoming a better writer and creating great stories. :)

M Kinnel said...

I agree. Why would anyone want to read through your muck for four chapters before they get to the "good" stuff?

Ava Jae said...


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