PDA

View Full Version : Beyond queries and page one... How many pages matter most?



Mikaelra
10-17-2015, 11:46 AM
This is more of a "discussion topic" than an exact question...

I totally understand that a query letter and page one of your book are BY FAR the most important. In fact, the first paragraph of your query letter is pretty much the deciding factor.

But let's say your potential agent reads past your query and past your first page. When it comes down to it, how many pages matter the most?

I know there's not an exact answer.... But my gut tells me the query and the first twelve pages matter the most. If those first twelve pages are fabulous, the agent is primed to take you on.

If they are primed, they will read further...

My instinct tells me that the query and the first thirty pages are what seals the deal.

I just have a sense that reading those first thirty pages is the prime time when an agent is deciding to take you on or not.

I also understand your whole book is important; not just the opening. And I know you are supposed to be completely done before you start pitching. Although I've been hearing several thoughts to the contrary about that???

Again, I am just wondering: When exactly is the turning point? How many pages, on average, must an agent LOVE until their answer is Yes?

I know there are so many variables it's impossible to truly know...

But I like thinking about it, and all thoughts are welcome.


Thanks in advance,
Michael

Osulagh
10-17-2015, 12:03 PM
Depends on the agent and the story.

Agents are readers; they will be hooked by a book like any others, and that depends. Sometimes it's on the first sentence, sometimes on the last.

The point is: All your pages matter, but the first should be especially golden.

Treehouseman
10-17-2015, 12:03 PM
-- Again, I am just wondering: When exactly is the turning point? How many pages, on average, must an agent LOVE until their answer is Yes?

ALL of them, in my experience. I once had a book fall apart in the last 20 pages. And the yes went to a no pretty quickly.

---I also understand your whole book is important; not just the opening. And I know you are supposed to be completely done before you start pitching. Although I've been hearing several thoughts to the contrary about that???

Whenever I hear "you don't have to be finished to pitch" it generally comes from 3 camps:

A) The Non-Fiction one, where a person with a LARGE platform (a blog, media show or a celebrity) pitches the project as a proposal first.
B) Someone who has already sold one book and needs to propose a second as part of a 2-book contract
C) A banana.

Don't listen to group C.

Aggy B.
10-17-2015, 04:28 PM
Well, there's a reason that agent typically request somewhere between 30-100 pages as a partial. It's enough space for them to see how you build conflict, what your sense of pacing is like, what the writing style itself is like, etc. So, in that sense, that first 30-50 pages in particular need to be strong.

Naturally, I think every page has to count but middles are typically messier, so if there's any part of your MS that is less polished that might be it. (Not saying you shouldn't polish it, bit middles are one of those things that can be structured a lot of different ways. I cut out massive chunks of subplots in the middle of mine and restructured around the key plot points.) Knowing which middle is best sometimes depends on market.

One thing that helped me (in addition to being very familiar with three act and four act structure) was to pick up some published books that had similar types of plots and figure which pages certain things happened. MC receives bad news on page X. MC leaves on journey on page X. First complication, second complication, etc. And then I polished the hell out of the end because it all had to hang together.

As far as not having a finished MS. That's a bad idea unless you are rock solid about knowing how long it takes to write a book, and you've finished so many that there is no doubt that what you pitch is what you'll write and it will be the appropriate length.

Most sold-on-a-pitch books are by previously published authors. If you don't have prior published work to point to, it's a bad idea to try and sell on a pitch. (Different than selling a multi-book deal.) Selling on pitch usually means more deadlines. And so many things can happen that can derail your work. And the whole idea that you can query something and then finish it up while waiting for responses is an exercise in stress.

Aggy, needs caffeine

lizmonster
10-17-2015, 04:52 PM
My instinct tells me that the query and the first thirty pages are what seals the deal.

The query and the first 10-30 pages are what get you a request for full. The whole book is what does or doesn't get you representation.

Based on my personal experience, of course, and reading agents on Twitter.

Captcha
10-17-2015, 04:56 PM
Another voice for "all the pages matter". That's why agents request fulls instead of making offers after reading partials. And why getting a request for a full is by no means a guarantee that you're going to be signing with that agent.

This post feels like you're looking for shortcuts, OP, and that's rarely a good idea. You're going to have to make the whole book excellent eventually, so why not take the time to make the whole book excellent now, and query when the whole thing is as strong as it can be?

Undercover
10-17-2015, 05:53 PM
As Treehouseman said it's typically with non-fiction with a proposal of a book that's not completely written yet. Rarely on fiction. Be sure to read the guidelines. They might even say, don't query unless your book is complete.

I would say your query and first chapters have to be really strong, like others have said, to get you a full request.

ElaineA
10-17-2015, 06:37 PM
The query and the first 10-30 pages are what get you a request for full. The whole book is what does or doesn't get you representation.

Based on my personal experience, of course, and reading agents on Twitter.

Seconding this. I have had 1 request for full on the query alone, purely on premise. And I have had requests for full based on anywhere from 10 pages to 3 chapters sent with the query. I have not received offers of rep on any of them (yet, ohpleasegod, yet). I don't think there's any magic to guessing what an agent will do. As Oslaugh says, they're readers. You never know what's going to charm the socks off any one reader. They're also agents. We don't know what yet unpublished books are already on their list.

One thing I've read in many agent blogs and interviews is how disappointing it is when the partial pages really shine, and they get the full and it clearly hasn't had the same attention. I've definitely been guilty of this. We focus so much, even here on AW, on first impressions. Hook me in 3 sentences, hook me in 200 words, etc. Fine, hook, but it's not enough to hook. The story has tho HOLD the reader, start to finish.

Latina Bunny
10-17-2015, 06:54 PM
All the pages. You can have an awesome "hooky" first line or two, but if the story falls apart after (or doesn't live up to those lines) or doesn't have something to keep holding the reader's attention for the rest of the story, then it's pretty much game over for that particular book.

Toothpaste
10-17-2015, 07:45 PM
Another for all the pages. Yes often a partial is asked for and therefore it's important to have those pages be sparkling, but that's just the first hurdle. More partials are asked for than fulls and more fulls are requested than offers of representation. This means, ultimately everything has to shine.

Personally for me, if I was an agent, I'd be more interested in the middle and the end knowing how hard authors work on their partials and knowing how much more challenging, in general, authors find the middle part to be than writing the beginning. I mean how many beginnings have how many authors written and then not finished the book. Actually finishing a book, making it compelling all the way through, to me THAT's the biggest thing. And the rarest thing. Obviously you have to impress all the way through, but I think if you have a killer middle and ending, an agent is more likely to help work on the beginning with you, than the other way around.

Mikaelra
10-17-2015, 08:07 PM
Good thoughts everyone! Thank you.

Treehouseman: I am still chuckling at the banana line. :)

Jamesaritchie
10-17-2015, 09:04 PM
Twelve pages just makes no sense. It's completely arbitrary.

The simple fact is that the first page are three are so important because these are the ones that will make an agent or editor request a full. That's it. Beyond this, every page matters. Agents and editors will read until they encounter a stop sign put there by the writer. This stop sign may be on page one, or page twelve, or page fifty, or page three hundred, but wherever it is, when it says stop, agents and editors obey.

But I will make on distinction. Bad writing, along with atrocious grammar and punctuation, is what stops agents and editors on the first few pages. Bad writing early is a massive stop sign. If the writing is bad, particularly the dialogue, but all writing, then nothing else matters, and it's over as soon as it starts.

Once the writing appears sound, however, story and character take over, and it can take a good deal more reading to see if these hold up. Story covers everything form whether the book starts in the right place, to place and flow, to mood and tone, to whether the ending is worth reaching.

Character can also take a while. Is the character a person we want to spend time with? Is the character real? Does the character speak dialogue you would expect form a real person. What about character development? What about character arc, if the story is one that requires it?

Bad writing stops anyone from reading instantly. Often with the first sentence. So does atrocious grammar. These other things can take awhile, but page twelve is meaningless in every way.

This is what matters" An agent or an editor must see dollar signs in order to rep you. Dollar signs do not manifest until the entire books passes the test. Writing, grammar, story, character, on and on, are al required to paint dollar signs. Twelve pages won't cut it, even if they're the best twelve pages ever written.

tiddlywinks
10-18-2015, 12:27 AM
Another voice added to the "all of them" camp. I think I remember reading somewhere (it might have been a post on here or an agent blog, can't remember) one agent's story of how he'll read to page 175, looking for reasons to put the book down. Then, if he's made it to that point, he's reading to read the story and you have him hooked unless it jumps the shark. But he still reads the whole thing. So all the words matter.

Thinking about it, it might have been puttputt's intern story thread? Good stuff in there if you haven't read it.

Don't query before your book is as polished and as good as you can make it. The whole book. Because you want to give your characters/story the best possible shot, right? After all that blood, sweat, tears and swearing that has gone into those words? Yes! So if someone tells you you have a soggy middle, fix it. Pacing grinds to a crawl somewhere? Fix it.

And then turn it loose into the wild.

Princess Amps
10-28-2015, 09:42 PM
This was good info. Ugh. It makes me wanna write, but I'm at school now. T.T

When you guys say pages, do you mean single or double spaced? Just curious.

Also another thing to add. I was having trouble with wordcount, and a mentor told me that if I polish up my MS, but still have the high word count, I should still send it out. An agent may fall in love with it, or have advice on what to cut. Though he warned not to send it to too many agents. Don't want to burn bridges.

I've been really tightening my plot, so hopefully I wont have to resort to this.

TerryRodgers
10-29-2015, 04:07 AM
Double space.

What is your genre and word count?

JetFueledCar
10-29-2015, 04:15 AM
Another voice added to the "all of them" camp. I think I remember reading somewhere (it might have been a post on here or an agent blog, can't remember) one agent's story of how he'll read to page 175, looking for reasons to put the book down. Then, if he's made it to that point, he's reading to read the story and you have him hooked unless it jumps the shark. But he still reads the whole thing. So all the words matter.

Darn, you beat me to it. The one thing of value I had to offer in this thread. :cry:

Cathy C
10-29-2015, 02:51 PM
-- Whenever I hear "you don't have to be finished to pitch" it generally comes from 3 camps:

A) The Non-Fiction one, where a person with a LARGE platform (a blog, media show or a celebrity) pitches the project as a proposal first.
B) Someone who has already sold one book and needs to propose a second as part of a 2-book contract
C) A banana.

Don't listen to group C.

There's also group D) Didn't realize it was a stupid idea.

Listen closely to group D). I'm part of it. I made the mistake of submitting to the publisher I really wanted for the book with the first 30 pages . . . when 30 pages was all I had written

The publisher LOVED the 30 pages and offered me a slot that had just opened because someone's book got delayed to the next season. The problem? They needed the completed manuscript by the end of the month, 18 days from the date of the letter. :eek:

Now, could I have simply admitted I didn't have it done? Sure. I could dash the editor's dreams of staying on schedule for that month's release catalogue. But what would be his reaction to a later re-sub? Probably not so good.

Long story short, I sent a cheery "Let me polish it up a little and I'll get it right over to you." A little... :ROFL:

He and I laughed about it later, but it was 18 days of hell while it was happening. No sleep, stomach problems, neck and shoulder pain and at the end, I wound up taking off a few sick days from my day job, which were very nearly true by then.

I got it done, and it went off without a hitch, but lesson learned. Never again.

Jamesaritchie
10-29-2015, 06:09 PM
Much like Cathy, I queried my first novel when I'd written only four or five pages, thinking I'd have months, or years, to finish it before I landed an agent. But one week later the agent I queried called and said she knew an editor who needed a novel just like mine sounded. Trouble was, he needed it now.

Instead of saying I hadn't actually written it yet, I asked for enough time to do one more draft. I just didn't say that draft would be the first. The agent said sure, but she had to have the novel in hand by the first day of the next month.

I'd never written a novel, never even attempted to write a novel, so I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I promised she would have it, and she did. I pretty much ate and slept at the writing desk, and finished the novel in twenty-one days. I sent it to the agent, she loved it, and sent it to the editor, who bought it.

I do not recommend trying this. Writing a novel in twenty-one days is hard enough, but writing your first in twenty-one days, and making the first draft good enough to sell, is murder. It all worked out, but it was not a smart move, and that was the toughest three weeks of my writing life.

Finish the novel, polish the novel, and then query the novel.

I can sell a novel now based on a query and a brief outline, and then I'm given a pretty reasonable amount of time to write it. It almost never works this way for a first time novelist.

Anyway, do not query with the mindset that it may take an agent six months to respond, or that you'll have to go through fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and fifty agents before finding one who says yes. If the query is good, and if you send along the first few pages, just the first three to five, and they're equally good, the first agent who reads them is likely to respond, and to do so quickly.

Neither agents nor editors say no to what they consider good writing that fits what they're looking for. If your query, and your first three to five pages, makes an agent or editor see dollar signs, you'd better have a finished, polished novel ready to go, and every page should be as well written as you can possibly make it.

And why wouldn't a writer want every page to be as well-written as possible? Every page, and every section. If the opening is slow, make it faster. If the middle sags, put it on a treadmill before querying. If the ending is weak, strengthen it. If you find any page that you know could be written better, then rewrite that page.

But know when to stop. Don't keep rewriting and editing until you're just stirring mud. Every page is important. Every word is important. More than anything, story and character are important. But so is know when to stop working on it.

Once you do stop working on it, and start querying it, leave it the heck alone until an agent or editor asks for it. Don't even look at it again. If you do, you'll start tinkering again, and what you end up with won't be what you're querying. This is bad.

KTC
10-29-2015, 06:14 PM
If you're looking for which pages matter, you're doing yourself a disservice. ALL OF THEM.

Like others, I too queried without a book. I didn't expect a bite. I got one. Wrote the novel in 4 days...because I didn't want to appear unprofessional, or like I was wasting an agent's time. So I wrote it and sent it. Thank god it was picked up. I slapped myself silly after that fiasco.

Jamesaritchie
10-30-2015, 01:04 AM
If you're looking for which pages matter, you're doing yourself a disservice. ALL OF THEM.

Like others, I too queried without a book. I didn't expect a bite. I got one. Wrote the novel in 4 days...because I didn't want to appear unprofessional, or like I was wasting an agent's time. So I wrote it and sent it. Thank god it was picked up. I slapped myself silly after that fiasco.

Four days? I can't even type that fast. I can't even think that fast. Though I know a writer who wrote and sold a 100,000 word novel in four days.

For me, that task would not involve writing, it would involve black magic. Or at least a dead black cat, a crossroads at midnight, and making a deal with a fella who wears sulfur as aftershave.

KTC
10-30-2015, 04:32 PM
Four days? I can't even type that fast. I can't even think that fast. Though I know a writer who wrote and sold a 100,000 word novel in four days.

For me, that task would not involve writing, it would involve black magic. Or at least a dead black cat, a crossroads at midnight, and making a deal with a fella who wears sulfur as aftershave.

I usually write all my novels now in 3 days.

Of course, I spend a few months editing them. I have a five second attention span. If I write in one sitting, I stay with the story and complete it. If I try to write through, say a year, I have to read everything prior to continuing on with the story. It's just my broken mind. We make tricks for ourselves when we need to. For me, it's become the three day novel or nothing at all.

Mary Love
11-12-2015, 03:12 AM
But know when to stop.

This is an area that scares me: How? How to know when it's good enough? Can't it always be better?

As a newb, I want to step out with my most polished work, but as a newb, I also know my capabilities are weak in editing and perfecting. It's a vicious cycle. I always think, heck with the editing, I should just scrap this &*^%$%^ and write another book, maybe I'll get luckier. But I know I really need to pause and learn to edit. Maybe I need lessons, but I still feel like I could do edit my work forever...

- - - Updated - - -


I usually write all my novels now in 3 days.

Holy novels batman! How long are your novels?

TRezvani
12-08-2015, 12:09 AM
I usually write all my novels now in 3 days.

Whoa. Just whoa.

Anyway, add me to the chorus of "make all your pages amazing." Even though I've revised and polished my novel countless times, I still feel like the first chapter of my novel is the weakest chapter. Unfortunately, this is what agents will see. I can't wait to get to 50 posts so I can get some critiques on it here in AW-land. :)

Jamesaritchie
12-08-2015, 06:18 PM
This is an area that scares me: How? How to know when it's good enough? Can't it always be better?



Yes, it can always be better. This is precisely why you have to know when to stop. If you keep rewriting, revising, and editing until it's as good a sit can possibly be, you'll still be working on this book when you die.

The saying is that a book is never finished, it's only abandoned. Learn to abandon yours.

This has never been a problem for me. I assume it's pretty good as I write it, and more than good enough after I edit each page. The truth of this, however, is born of experience. The only reason I assume this is because my work sells, and because I sold the first draft of all my early stories. I've also sold many first drafts because deadlines forced me to do so.

Submitting what you write as soon as you can is the only way to learn whether it is or isn't Good Enough. For new writers, I think the best approach is one I know a great many writers practice, and did since the start. Write it. Finish it. The do a second draft. Then submit it and start working on something else.

It's a complete myth that a story has to be perfect to sell. It doesn't even have to be close to perfect. It just has to be Good Enough. And if it sells, you will have the chance to make it better before it's published. Smart writers take full advantage of this chance.

Read this, all of it, but pay particular attention to what Robert J. Sawyer says about Rule 3. What he says also applies to novels. http://www.sfwriter.com/ow05.htm

JamesGaberel
12-23-2015, 12:51 AM
I liked the Sawyer page Jamesaritchie. I tried to follow this one when I wrote mine: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/how-to-edit-your-book-in-4-steps. It worked pretty well, especially the reading out loud part. I did have to do an R&R, but it made my book so much better.

mayaone
12-26-2015, 01:13 PM
Much like Cathy, I queried my first novel when I'd written only four or five pages, thinking I'd have months, or years, to finish it before I landed an agent. But one week later the agent I queried called and said she knew an editor who needed a novel just like mine sounded. Trouble was, he needed it now.

Instead of saying I hadn't actually written it yet, I asked for enough time to do one more draft. I just didn't say that draft would be the first. The agent said sure, but she had to have the novel in hand by the first day of the next month.

I'd never written a novel, never even attempted to write a novel, so I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but I promised she would have it, and she did. I pretty much ate and slept at the writing desk, and finished the novel in twenty-one days. I sent it to the agent, she loved it, and sent it to the editor, who bought it.

I do not recommend trying this. Writing a novel in twenty-one days is hard enough, but writing your first in twenty-one days, and making the first draft good enough to sell, is murder. It all worked out, but it was not a smart move, and that was the toughest three weeks of my writing life.

Finish the novel, polish the novel, and then query the novel.

I can sell a novel now based on a query and a brief outline, and then I'm given a pretty reasonable amount of time to write it. It almost never works this way for a first time novelist.

Anyway, do not query with the mindset that it may take an agent six months to respond, or that you'll have to go through fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and fifty agents before finding one who says yes. If the query is good, and if you send along the first few pages, just the first three to five, and they're equally good, the first agent who reads them is likely to respond, and to do so quickly.

Neither agents nor editors say no to what they consider good writing that fits what they're looking for. If your query, and your first three to five pages, makes an agent or editor see dollar signs, you'd better have a finished, polished novel ready to go, and every page should be as well written as you can possibly make it.

And why wouldn't a writer want every page to be as well-written as possible? Every page, and every section. If the opening is slow, make it faster. If the middle sags, put it on a treadmill before querying. If the ending is weak, strengthen it. If you find any page that you know could be written better, then rewrite that page.

But know when to stop. Don't keep rewriting and editing until you're just stirring mud. Every page is important. Every word is important. More than anything, story and character are important. But so is know when to stop working on it.

Once you do stop working on it, and start querying it, leave it the heck alone until an agent or editor asks for it. Don't even look at it again. If you do, you'll start tinkering again, and what you end up with won't be what you're querying. This is bad.
Thank you for wonderful advice, especially about working too much on it and stirring mud. I feel that I've been doing that with my first pages which weren't as strong as the middle and end. I'm still not liking my first 10 pages which is also not good. Aloha

mark r henry
01-03-2016, 08:45 AM
I like the feel of this idea http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-...ook-in-4-steps (http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/how-to-edit-your-book-in-4-steps). think I'll give it a try as I've had a hard time going back to my first finished book and working out the bugs.