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The Value of Sample Pages in a Query

As I’m sure you’ve discovered by now, what every agent wants to see with a query is different, whether its sample pages or a whole proposal. And of course how they evaluate those materials is also different.

These differences are very clear in a video Kim, James, and I did on how we read queries.

So when an author asks,

How important (for lack of a better word) are those sample pages we are suppose to include alongside the query?
What if you like the query and not the sample pages ? 

I understand literary agents do not like prologues, but would you rather have the prologue as the sample pages, or the story proper?
What if the prologue is as vital to the story like Clare Mckintosh’s ‘I Let You Go’
It would be nice to hear/read your view on this.

The best I can say is, “it depends.” But I can also give my own thoughts.

Sample Pages

As stated in the video, I don’t always read those sample pages. Some agents do. I read them when I’m intrigued, but not quite intrigued enough to know for sure that I want to read more.

I can tell you that if I like the query and don’t like the sample pages you are going to get rejected. The sample pages can save a query from rejection, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had a situation where the query has saved the sample pages from a rejection. Because when it comes down to it, the writing is what really matters.

Prologues

I always recommend authors use the first chapter in sample pages. In my experience, with new authors, most prologues sound the same. They don’t often present the book in the best light.

Absolutely there are exceptions to this rule and I ahve read some absolutely mind-blowing prologues. But there’s no reason to risk it. A first chapter should always read as if it can stand alone, separate from the prologue, so present it that way. The agent can read the prologue after requesting the rest.

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13 comments

  1. Great to know your thoughts. Just wondering what must a prologue have in order for it to be acceptable, say you get a request for a partial and then want to include it? Or do you mean most books shouldn’t have prologues?

    1. Thanks for the question Kim. I’ve written a lot on prologues elsewhere on the blog. The problem I see is that prologues many prologues (especially from debut writers) feel like backstory or are the same (I see a ton of prologues in which the serial killer is torturing the victim). My suggestion is that authors should look very closely at their prologue to see if it’s necessary and if it’s really the best place to start the story. That being said, sample pages can be from the sample chapter, but the submission upon request can certainly still include the prologue.

      1. Thank you for your response! *Exhales* I’m glad to hear this. I came up with my prologue after 2 years of revising my beginning and much head banging against hard surfaces, so I kind of freaked out at the idea that no-one will ever read one, even in a full request. So relieved to hear that that isn’t the case.

        But I’ll be leaving it out of samples most of the time now and see if that helps. 🙂

    2. Hi Jessica.

      Thank you for yet another informative post!

      Instead of a sample page included with a query, how likely will it be that an agent visits an author’s blog / website if a sample chapter has been posted there. Only asking because I’ve just spent the last few months building a site (now the work begins promoting it) and trying to find some clever ways that might get an agent’s attention as well as potential niche readers.

      1. Carolyn: I think it’s great to have that material on your website, but it’s unlikely an agent will move away from the query to the website instead of just requesting more material.

  2. I have a killer prologue, Jessica. My issue is trying to get mainstream traction where the writing is a poetic form (free verse).

    The reason I became an indie publisher was because I don’t think it likely that anyone will take it on.

    Readers generally praise the prologue as a hook.

    Brilliant to read your thoughts on it. Much to learn about industry and agent perceptions, here.

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