If you’re interested in being published by a traditional publisher, you probably know you need a book proposal to interest literary agents and publishers in your book. That includes enclosing 1-2 sample chapters. How do you choose and how many?
Many agents are happy with one chapter to start but they often request the second (or more) before you actually sign the deal. You may want to give them two to start with. On the other hand, if you’re in a hurry, one will usually suffice–you can always e-mail the agent and ask their preference.
But how to choose with chapters to include?
A case can be made for sending your first chapter–after all, it makes the case for your book and should entice readers to buy it, devour it in one sitting and put your wisdom and tips into action in their lives. At the same time, if your first chapter sounds too similar to your book proposal, pass on it and go with a later chapter that provides more depth.
You want everything agents and publishers read in your proposal to sound fresh (a good reason to ensure differences in your query letter and the opening of your proposal as well). You also want to be sure that if you submit a chapter than can stand on its own. If your chapter includes medical jargon that is addressed in an earlier chapter, you’ll–at the very least–need to include a note that tells us what information readers will already have.
Given the above caveats, I’d use these questions for making a decision in a how-to or self-help book:
- What chapters offer the most ground-breaking information?
- What chapters have particularly compelling anecdotes, examples, statistics or stories?
- What chapters are the best written? (if you’ve already written the book)
- What chapter(s) will be easiest to write? (if you haven’t written any yet)
- What chapters answer my audience’s most pressing and common questions?
If you’re writing a memoir, find the chapters that are most compelling, dramatic or suspenseful. What makes your memoir different? Any quirkiness or unique hooks? Definitely include chapters that capitalize on this. Note: with a memoir, you’ll need 50 pages as a sample and many agents/editors will want to see the whole book after that–so make sure you are ready.
In How to Write a Book Proposal (4th edition), Michael Larsen answers the question of which chapter(s) with “send one that best blends freshness and excitement.” He also suggests asking yourself, “how you want editors to feel about your writing and your book when they finish reading your chapter: Use the chapter that will most effectively make them feel that way.”
I also advise authors to use chapters that explore the range of the book. If there’s a how to portion of the book that follows a specific structure which follows another section of the book that is more about the problem the book will solve, you may want to showcase both aspects, rather than have the book appear more repetitive with two how-to chapters.
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