The other day a new writer asked me which sample three chapters she should sent to an agent that requested them? She felt her last three chapters were the strongest, and she was considering sending them. Is this a good idea or really bad?
Good thing that was an email . . . or she would have seen my jaw drop to the floor and my eyes bulge slightly. My first response was - you wouldn’t start reading a novel at the last three, would you? Then you shouldn’t expect an agent to start there – should you?
I’m a firm believer that you hook your reader with the first sentence . . . in the first paragraph . . . in the first chapter. If you can’t do this – maybe your book should start somewhere else. I once read that beginning writers should consider looking at how chapter three starts . . . and consider starting your book there. Why? Because when we first start writing – we think we must tell everything up front . . . and the book really starts on chapter three. Believe it or not – I still just to chapter three and make sure that isn’t true with my books to this day!
So the answer to the question – ‘which three chapters should I send?’ should always be the first three chapters of your book. If those aren’t the strongest, then your book isn’t ready to be sent to an agent … an editor … or even to your best friend. You should be editing, rewriting, and reworking your book until you can honestly say, yes, my first three chapters are everything they should be. If I were a reader – I would be hooked and anxious to start chapter four.
You want that agent or editor to say, “Wow – I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next. I’m definitely requesting the entire manuscript to find out!”
You might consider sending the first chapter, then choose two others after that (one from the middle and one from the end). Some believe this is an advantageous approach, giving the editor or agent a clear picture of what your book is about and how your writing style evolves a story.
The choice is yours. But if you know those first three chapters won’t get an agent5 or editor to call – you better stop – write until you know it’s the best it can be. The same goes for the rest of the book . . . because those first three chapters better not outshine the following chapters! No one said this was going to be easy!