But WHICH Twenty Pages Should I Send?

The best books start here.

But WHICH Twenty Pages Should I Send?

Ah, the question that plagues many of the authors poring over our submission guidelines page!

While I can’t speak for the other crows here at Upstart, I prefer to begin—very simply– at the beginning.

Reading the first twenty pages of your manuscript allows me to get acquainted with your story and your characters, and to get a sense of the vibe of your narrative. It’s tougher for me to do that if I’m jumping into your story at chapter twenty-seven.

So if you’re sitting out there in cyberspace, wringing your hands over which chapters to send, take heart! The bones of a truly great story will shine through, even if you think your opening chapter is a bit on the clunky side.

I’ll make a deal with you: I promise to approach your manuscript with an open mind if you promise to approach your writing with an open heart.

So let’s start with chapter one, shall we?

  1. Let me begin by seconding beginning at the beginning. And end by, um, ending.

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  2. I think people who ask this question must never have read a book. Seriously, can you imagine starting Carrie at the point in the book where they dump pig’s blood on her? Or starting Lord of the Flies when Piggy gets killed? Or beginning To Kill a Mockingbird is watching her father walk out of the courtroom?

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  3. If a writer doesn’t feel that the first chapter of his/her book is interesting enough to capture an agent or editor’s interest, how can he/she expect it to grab a reader, especially a young reader?

    Our local SCBWI chapter has a first page night every September. Last year, a writer stood up and read the first page of her YA novel and then said she wished we had heard her fifth chapter, as that was where her book really got interesting. An established author in our group very nicely replied, “Then your book should start at your fifth chapter.”

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  4. I hate to say it but when I saw the twitter for this post I got worried! I always send out the beginning of my book and I wondered if someone else thought it should be different. Glad to know that I had it right all along! Good post though, I think a lot of us over analyze things and it is easy to get worked up over something like this.

    I’d say- You have a deal!

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  5. Some books have their heart in mystery, some in drama, some in love and so on. But the best books are those tempered with all those page turner addicting details that are the secret and discovering of characters, a new world, new rules and everything that can make you want to never stop reading it and even become part of it. So please, start at the beginning and let the book take you!

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  6. Whenever I start to feel insecure about the first twenty pages, I remind myself that those pages are exactly what the reader is going to see first. That thought alone is motivation enough to make sure those pages, and the rest of the story, are polished until they shine.

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  7. I’ll second this emotion: Give us the start. If it doesn’t “get good” until later—like, page 50—then by god, dump those pages and wonder why you’d ever want to start a book that doesn’t get good for a long long time.

    Hear, hear!

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  8. My darling Hubby, who is tired of seeing different versions of chapter 1, doesn’t understand why I can’t just start slowly and work up to the action. I explain to him some readers will go to the bookstore, if you are fortunate and they like the title and cover, they will open the first page and read a bit. If you don’t have them hooked immediately, you’ve lost a sale. I keep that reader in mind as I craft the best first scene I can.

    Then I do the same with the rest of the book.

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  9. […] to ask for 20 pages pasted into the body of the manuscript. (To see which 20 pages, refer to this post). I’m finding that the 20 pages gives me a great chance to read a good chunk of a manuscript […]

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  10. I realize I’m a little late to the party for this particular post, but I just have to say I think that was beautifully put, Danielle. Thank you.

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