Most literary agents will ask for a few samples pages to go along with your query letter, or will eventually ask for you to send along sample chapters. These pages are an extremely important part of the querying process. While the initial query letter is meant to attract the agent’s attention and make him/her want to read your manuscript, the sample pages you provide show off your writing style.
I’ve had many writers ask me how they should format sample pages and requested material. If you are asked to paste sample pages into an email as part of the querying process, make sure the format isn’t messed up after copying and pasting from your manuscript document. Double-spacing and paragraph indents are not necessary when manuscript text is in the body of an email. The more stylistic changes to the text, the higher the chance something will mess up on the other side of the exchange.
When you’re sending in attachments (like requests for partials or full manuscripts), you want to make sure you follow these guidelines:
1. Double space your manuscript. This makes things so much easier to read on a screen (and most agents read manuscripts on a computer or an e-reader).
2. Use a plain, common font like Times New Roman. Don’t get fancy. Your text should be in size 12.
3. Don’t do anything weird to the page layout. Use regular page margins and include page numbers if possible.
4. Include your query letter as the first page of the manuscript document. This is really helpful to agents.
5. Name the document the title of your manuscript. This is really important. Do not use my name as the document name; this may help you keep things organized, but it is confusing for the agent. I download way too many requested partials and full manuscripts that are named “Maria Vicente” or “P.S. Literary”. The document should be the title of your book.
And a few tips when it comes to submitting sample pages:
Follow the directions. If an agent’s submission guidelines ask you to submit the first five pages, then submit the first five pages. Ignoring the agent’s request is a mistake made far too often. If your sample pages end in the middle of a sentence, I’d suggest including the next few words to conclude the sample (but don’t include one or two extra pages of text to end a chapter). If you’re asked to submit three chapters, then only submit three chapters.
Edit more than once. Your manuscript should already be revised (never submit to literary agents unless your manuscript is polished), but you want to go over your sample pages again before sending anything to an agency. These few sample pages gives a first impression of your writing style, so you want them to be free from errors.
Consider the strength of your first chapter. Too often writers will submit pages from the middle of a manuscript because it is a “more interesting” scene or “shows off the writing” better than the beginning of the book. Your manuscript should shine from the very first paragraph. Of course the story is going to improve as someone reads along, but your opening pages should be captivating. If you picked the book up at a bookstore and read the first page, would you want to continue reading?
Remember that your query letter is only the first step to winning over an agent. Your sample pages need to deliver what your query promises, so you need to spend extra time critiquing and editing those pages before hitting send.